Saturday, June 20, 2009

The Value of "Big Brother"

Andrew D Atkin:

Many people are concerned about the idea of the government having a record on so much of everybody's details. The idea being that it can and will lead to a Big Brother society where the state can breathe down everybody's necks, and somehow fiddle with their lives as they see fit. As it seems, a lot of people hate the idea of surveillance camera's and are virtually terrified of the more extreme idea of micro-chipping humans for surveillance and security purposes.

But how bad is all that, and what about the plus-side of a society based on micro-chipping and extensive surveillance? We never seem to hear about the plus-side, so I would like to express my view. Personally, I believe that there is a strong and reasonable case for the/a government to progressively invest in widespread surveillance, and in particular with the micro-chipping of humans using physically embedded passive-RF tags. The following is my argument.

Firstly, if the government wants to know all about any particular persons mundane details then they can already do so. The banks, Inland Revenue and other organisation already have you on file, and the government can ultimately access those files if it believes that it really needs to. Likewise, if the government wants to use this information against you--unreasonably and unjustly-- then they already can. So if you want to fight the latent abusive power of Big Brother, then really you are already too late.

Secondly, I have thus far never heard of the government abusing anyone's privacy--with respect to personal information--in New Zealand. So far, by my outlook, the only people who have any real reason to fear a surveillance society are the fraudulent or latently fraudulent.

Model system:

Take the scenario of passive-RF tags being implanted in all citizens living in New Zealand. The RF tags could then be integrated with an intensive network of discrete scanners which keep a record of when and where everybody was, from all over the country. It would be very easy to do this. The scanners would be cheap and the cost of storing and sending the information would be trivial. So, in turn, everybody has an explicit location-history on record on a centralised database.

The embedded chips can also replace all of our plastic cards (details are stored and accessed automatically online) and would be biometrically linked for the sake of totally secure transactions. All of this would be linked with surveillance cameras which also hold a long-term record of events. Surveillance cameras are important for accountability with respect to violent crime.

So what would be the effect of this so-called Orwellian Nightmare? I would confidently guess that it would lead to the virtual end of all crime, except for people who are forced into truly desperate conditions, and except for crime which is domestic.

With an accountability foundation like this it will be extremely difficult to commit any real [public] crime and get away with it. This means less police and security guards (I believe the presence of these people create the true 'Big Brother' atmosphere in our society), and more trust within society in general as people feel more safe and secure in all public environments. It also provides a highly efficient and reliable system of law enforcement for when crimes are committed i.e. the surveillance and RF tag records make it much easier to prove both guilt and innocence.

Micro-chipping, with its complimentary systems, can be an extraordinarily powerful tool for the enforcement of the rule of law. And indeed, this can lead to the relaxation of laws on its own as society would not need to be as guarded as it is today. To create a simple example: If you had a networked scanner/s integrated into your personal home, then you would never have to lock it and you could let trusted friends come and go from your home irrespective of whether you are there or not in person. An uninvited intruder could not escape accountability.

Micro-chipping is also extremely convenient. As the system progresses it could eliminate the wallet; and in theory, over time, it could even eliminate the need for paper. The far-reaching room for administrative automation is extreme.

Of course records on people's motions should not be freely accessibly to just anyone. Government officials of any class should need a real reasons to review anyone's records. There should be a legal barrier-to-access to the database. People should not have to fear their private information getting into other people's hands inappropriately.


The practical value of surveillance and micro-chipping is clear. It has vast potential for social protection. The question ultimately is: Would the system be abused by any given government, and to a degree that could not justify its implementation? Again my view comes back to the fact that the government already has the power to ruin your life if they really want to. Most (if not all?) countries have some kind of 'secret service'. Personally, I think we would only be better off in doing the "Big Brother" thing properly with micro-chipping. It could save society huge amounts of money and grief, and create a distinctly better atmosphere (of trust and openness) amongst society in general.


Addition: 10-4-14:

From Rome to today:

Take a look at the Spartacus slave revolt back in ancient Rome. When the Romans got the revolt under control, they ended up nailing all the slaves and thousands of soldiers to crosses, including their genitals. A hideous punishment for slaves and incompetent soldiers.

But why did the Roman elite do this? My best guess is that they were terrified. They knew in their time that all you have to do is put a sword in every slave's hand and you've completely redefined the power structure of your society. Hence the need for such an incredible and grizzly deterrent.

We don't do this today probably because we just don't need to. People are prosperous which in turn weakens the drive for rebellion, and dissent is easily quelled - surgically. My point is that a high-tech big brother "police state", in an affluent society, will only take us further from the threat of those horror shows akin to ancient Rome.

We only end up with goon-squads in our face when governments are scared of losing control. And taking away a governments ability to deal with unlawful behaviour surgically will only amplify its intrusion.

A robotised police force:

Imagine if we could get the entire world on file, so computers can quickly scan and check your identity with visual-recognition programmes. (The technology is here, and some people are already using it, integrating it with Facebook). Then imagine integrating the technology with autonomous and remote-controlled robots, such as the MAARS system pictured above. The government could then have someone killed simply by blacklisting their name. The robot fleet will seek-out blacklisted identities and, once recognised, kill them in less than a second or so. The ultimate in surgical don't-bother-trying-to-fight-it warfare.

If that sounds terrifying then note that the latency in being able to do this will ensure it almost never needs to be done. No doubt this is the way things are going, and we should see highly effective robotised police forces being developed soon. It will also leave us with a successful war against terror and, hopefully, the enforcement of human rights globally.

Smartphone money:

Another interesting technological move will come from smartphones. Download the transaction application with a modern smartphone, that also employs biometric identification access, and you can exchange money with a friend about as easily as you can exchange it with cash (in fact more easily because you don't have to look for change). It will simply be a matter of opening up the app, taking a photo of your friends QR-code (presented on their phone), and typing in the amount of money to be exchanged with a simple calculator.

The point is we have the tools ready to go for a practical cashless society. Every transaction, including location, can be recoded and will be ultimately viewable by the government (using a search warrant). So how on earth do you operate a black market with technology like that? The answer is you can't.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

New Zealand Immigration

Population regulation in New Zealand

By Andrew D Atkin

One political issue that never seems to hit the headlines in New Zealand is the issue of national population control via immigration. I want to make a specific note on this because I believe that immigration is one of the most -if not the most- powerful levers our government possesses to control the wealth-structure of society, and more.


New Zealand has a record of maintaining constant population growth through immigration, and this net growth has been accelerated over the last decade or so. So what are the economic consequences of this?

The immediate national effect of greater immigration is a greater number of people as a ratio to productive assets and infrastructure (public and privately owned). This in turn increases demand for jobs and material goods relative to the supply, until the developing supply catches up to demand*.

Likewise, employers are enabled to employ people for less pay (especially unskilled people) and also sell their products/services at a higher price. The market value of their productive infrastructure therefore increases because it is more profitable. However, of course, it is not more profitable because it is operationally more efficient, it is more profitable simply because labour is cheaper and the sale prices are higher.

If you crudely split society into two classes of 'owners' and 'workers', you can see that increasing immigration favours the owner class over workers. Understandably, every owner of capital wants their product to be in a condition of scarcity to the market. "Too much" immigration can and does achieve exactly that.


To spell out the impact of immigration, we can model what would happen in New Zealand if we were to control immigration in a way so as to make the population permanently static in size.

The first industry to be impacted would be the construction industry. Their productive infrastructure is currently at a capacity to support historic levels of population growth. So, because the demand for new houses would rapidly decline, their industry would in turn be forced to recede and liquidate until it is only of the size necessary to, essentially, provide the services of replacement, refurbishment and maintenance only. This adjustment would be painful for the industry. However, there would soon be a natural moderate glut of housing, roading and other infrastructure which would mean cheap houses, less roading tax and cheaper electricity etc.

The market value of commercial and industrial industries would drop significantly because they would then not be so profitable, but they would only be less profitable because they can no longer charge high prices to the consumer. They would not actually be less productive, or at least not less productive in proportion to the remaining population.

On the employment side there would be more physical infrastructure relative to the available workers. Employers would in turn be forced to pay workers more to keep them, and likewise this will further reduce an employers profitability in conjunction with the fact that they cannot sell their products at prices so high.

The ultimate effect of a static population is clear. You achieve an effective wealth distribution amongst workers and at the owner classes expense. You do this by reducing the very relevance of material wealth by inducing a developing glut of material infrastructure. Indeed, you could quite easily make New Zealand universally prosperous simply by freezing immigration-induced population growth.

The complaints from the owner class would be acute to say the least, but the reality is you would increase the productivity of workers per capita and distribute the fruits of the infrastructure more evenly. Productivity per-capita will dictate the real level of prosperity regardless of the abstract monetary values placed on industrial and commercial infrastructure. Relating to prosperity, money is only a trade medium. It is the productivity level that counts with respect to functional material wealth.


So what should New Zealand do with its immigration policy? Personally I do not support an elimination of population growth without substantial warning, so as to allow industry to prepare for the event so as to reduce unreasonable losses. Deliberately and unfairly eliminating or drastically reducing the market value of a given industry can be as unjust as deliberately inflating its value. However, I certainly do not agree with New Zealand's status quo either. Our immigration volumes are too high relative to our ability to achieve supply growth, and the effect of this is and has been towering house prices, poor relative wages, and alround exaggerated price inflation. Though a happy ownership class, of course.


You would think that socialists who cry out for wealth distribution would be pushing hard for a reduction in population growth so as to achieve the effect that I have just described. Ironically the opposite is true, at least within New Zealand. Socialist leaning political parties within New Zealand (and this includes the National party, I believe) have increased immigration with all its anti wealth-distribution effects. Why? I can only speculate as to their ultimate motives, but what too much immigration too soon does is create the need for "Robin Hood" style public policy as we typically know it. It creates the very poverty class that socialists claim to want to remove, and likewise it leads to the introduction of intensive social welfare systems and a large supporting tax-and-subsidy cycle i.e. "the nanny state". The greater a governments tax-and-subsidy cycle, the greater their influence over a nation as they can and do likewise regulate how and when those tax funds will be spent.

Something to think about? As we can see, immigration issues go way beyond just the 'type' of people that we import. It is the quantity factor that is so important.

International socialism:

Some advocates are interested in increased immigration for the sake of sharing a rich country's wealth with poor countries. Though helping out poor countries is commendable in my view, I do not believe that increasing immigration is the best way to achieve this.

I believe that much better results can be achieved with free trade, strategic technological investment, and the promotion of philanthropy. I do not believe that undermining the social structure of western societies will be the best method for international socialism in the long-term. I believe that the advantages that exaggerated immigration provides for poorer nations is trivial relative to the internal social costs for the more prosperous nations, due to the wealth imbalances that come with it.

*Government regulations can and often do aggressively inhibit supply development. Land zoning laws are a classic and serious example.


I have included the following Audio by Gerald Celente. Gerald Celente believes that an anti-immigration focus (such as what I promote) will be a trend throughout the developed world in the years just ahead. To say, I certainly agree with Celente's fundamental ideas on where he believes the New Zealand economy should be focused, for the sake of its prosperity and overall security [as he indirectly expresses]. I personally believe that most countries, including New Zealand, would be best off if they focused on developing a high level of independence with respect to the essentials i.e. food, energy and housing etc. Compared to most nations, this is something that New Zealand thankfully already has, at least to a large degree.


Note: Economies of scale:

People tend to believe that more people in a country will automatically mean better economies-of-scale. This is true, but only up to a point.

Firstly, economies-of-scale are radically different for different products and services. Economies-of-scale are vital for the production of cheap laptops for example, but not so much for hamburgers. There is a saturation point with size where you end up with no per-capita increase in production efficiency with greater production volumes. What's more, saturation points are themselves highly variable due to changing production technologies (and other).

So does New Zealand need more people to optimise the per-capita efficiency of its economy? Hardly. Firstly, New Zealand already enjoys a largely optimised economies-of-scale with its well developed trade links; in terms of production New Zealand is not really a 'small' isolated country. And due to its relatively small size, it can comfortably compete with other nations in more niche markets.

You don't have to have massive production volumes to achieve high per-capita incomes, you just have to trade and be more selective in what you do.

Operation Population Control?

A Plausible Conspiracy Theory:

By Andrew D Atkin:

So you dont want to have any kids? Or maybe just one or two? Fair enough. Good even. But why not? Because you are you, and you just don't want to. Again fair enough, But remember that you, like all of us, are the conclusion to a developmental reaction to your given environment. So then, how do you know that someone did not engineer your environment specifically to ensure that you be the way you are - that is, a person who does not want to have any children? Maybe they have? Speaking in developmental terms again, we are the product of our environment and likewise the product of whoever has control over that environment.

I wouldn't be too quick to assume that social engineers do not understand the human animal, and to the point where they could not master their desired outcomes via environmental controls.

We don't like to think in these terms because we like to believe we are sovereign. But none of us are sovereign to the environment which we grew up in and could never get away from.


Immediately after WW2 we had the baby boom within the industrialised Western world. The baby boom was in part a reaction to the prosperity provided by industrialisation moving into mass-production allowing more people to finance large families. Further supporting the boom was a lack of contraception, the social belief that it was best to have large families, and also improved medial care and nutrition which in turn dramatically reduced infant mortality rates.

The rational response to the observation of the baby boom--from a far sighted social-engineering viewpoint--should be "population panic". It would be obvious from a macro-scale outlook that the human population of the industrialised world would rapidly explode out of control, and to levels that would eventually be catastrophic. Catastrophic first for the natural environment as it would be progressively reduced to nothing more than a global farm, and then to humanity itself.

It would be catastrophic for humanity due to the lack of biodiversity weakening the biosphere of which all life is dependant, and also as an ever-expanding human population would quickly be forced to turn in on itself in competition for food. And indeed, that is exactly what would eventually have happened if the baby boom had not stopped.

So here is the question: "Did the baby boom stop on its own accord as a consequence of practical contraception and greater personal security from greater relative wealth, or were the conditions for the termination of the baby boom deliberately induced by some level of governmental (and/or other) intervention?"

I do not know, but there is a good case to suggest that the government or some other higher-level social-political force would have intervened. Why? Because it should have intervened. They had nothing less than a population time bomb on their hands, and they surely would have understood that. The ultimate need for active population control would have no doubt been obvious for most social scientists immediately following the baby boom.

If the baby boom stopped from incidental causes, then that is not something that a controlling political force could have anticipated in advance. Indeed, they would have had every reason to believe that the baby boom would probably not stop on its own accord, because all animals, by nature, go through aggressive population growth in response to abundance. Why should humans be any different? All animals are designed to multiply and expand. On top of this, they had a society that was heavily religious, with the catholic church being anti-contraception and pro large families. How do you compete with that in a traditional democracy?

So that is the conspiracy hypothesis: I believe that there is every chance that modern public policy has been fabricated for the purpose of creating conditions conducive to population control, within the developed world in particular. It may have been done deliberately beneath [direct] public awareness because the powers that be would have understood that a democratic majority, at least at the time, would not have accepted direct control (which means compulsory caps on the number of children people can have) if the question were to be openly put to them.

The governmental attitude could easily have been: "This is one argument that we cannot take to the people, because this is one argument that we cannot afford to lose". By keeping quiet about your objectives you can avoid suspicion of which could otherwise too easily lead to political exposure. This can likewise protect your plans. The safest way to win a debate is, basically, to not even have a debate in the first place.

So where is the evidence?

Here are some anecdotal clues. However, the ultimate motives behind the interventions I cannot validate. Regardless, they appear distinctly anti-reproduction in themselves:

-Urban geographic intensification policies (called "Smart Growth").

Smart Growth policies have the direct effect of making people poor at child rearing age (about 20-40 years) by radically forcing up house prices, often leaving people with financially crippling mortgages within that time of their lives. This makes having children much harder as the individual has less surplus wealth to afford them. High-density living in conjunction with planned social mixing also increases social tensions and makes more of a "human zoo" environment. Animals do not tend to reproduce in bad zoos.

-Increased social dysfunctionality through less personal accountability (reducing the deterrent value of prisons) creating more crime, and greater unemployment through the manipulation of government policy.

This also creates more of a "human zoo" effect, and erodes prosperity due to the fallout economic costs.

-The promotion of spurious childcare programmes and new laws which ultimately serve to make having children very hard work and ever more costly.

-Non pro-family indoctrination in schools. i.e. an overwhelming "life is all about careers" message.

-Very significantly extended education with now compulsory secondary education, and also the massive expansion of tertiary education. This further erodes wealth (where education investment is not rational in productivity-supporting terms...and most of it is not rational in these terms), particularly for young people at child rearing ages.

-The progressive destruction of universal prosperity with over-regulation, expensive government programmes of questionable social value, the promoted addiction of "false value" material items, and the generation of chronic wealth extremes of which further isolates wealth from young families.

-The aggressive promotion of contraception and the legalisation of abortion.

-The promotion of so-called women's liberation to help drive women into the workforce and likewise encourage them away from their child rearing role.

-The promotion of premature sexualisation, which I believe actually achieves the [intended?] opposite in that sex itself becomes de-sexualised.

Our version of cultural sexualisation (western world) seems to me to lead to the trivialisation of sex which, in my opinion, damages the human pair-bonding function by effectively promoting promiscuity and likewise the de-personalisation of sex. I believe that much of this promiscuity may have resulted from confusion in many young people's minds as to the natural place of sex, and also social pressures deriving from the promoted idea that casual sex is inherently normal. In turn, the damaged pair-bonding function erodes the family unit by compromising its ability to even evolve in the first place, in a natural way. The final result may be the reduced capacity to experience the desire to have children, as the development of the emotional conditions to (want to) do as such have been undermined.

Also note that making a "hook-up" culture by de-stigmatising sex before marriage helps to delay marriage, which in turn helps to delay the beginning of a family and ultimately its size.

-The generous investment in social security for pensioners.

This mostly eliminates the motive to have children for the sake of being taken care of in old age.

-Public policy's [relating to my former observed policy trends] reinforced with the promotion of "political correctness".

Political correctness works as an assault on objectivity, because it encourages people to believe that there are "right" and "wrong" things to believe in, and on primarily emotive (or attitudinal) as opposed to objective grounds. A simple example: The popular term "climate change denier" helps to suppress objective debate on carbon-induced climate change, because if you do not believe that carbon-induced climate change is real (or acceptably validated) then not only are you foolishly wrong, but you are also some kind of Nazi-flavoured dork? i.e. emotional pressure driving people to believe the "right" things on non-objective grounds.

From my outlook, that's what 'political correctness' effectively is, and functionally achieves. In short, political correctness is propaganda. It's about winning an ideological war without objective debate.

....These are just some observations. I'm sure others could be suggested.


The reason why this is a rational conspiracy theory is because it does actually make sense. You don't have to find a "Mr Bad Guy" in the theory because the baby boom did indeed need to end. And historically it was unlikely to be endable by public consent. In turn it might, quite understandably, have been decided that population control would have had to be indirectly facilitated to stop the baby boom.Personally, I would not be surprised if post WW2 public policy was heavily affected by the single question: "How do we stop the baby boom?".

China is an interesting contrasting example. It shows us how seriously at least one government has responded to the population problem. As China is a dictatorship they do not have to ask, they just dictate. And as we know they have dictated a one-child only policy. Interestingly, they are also going through explosive economic development due to their lack of regulatory constraints [not like what the western world has enforced on itself] and also due to the intensive economic investment in China provided from the western world. Is this their reward for accepting direct population caps? Indirect conditions do not have to be enforced? I for one would not be surprised.

I totally agree with the need for population control. Indeed, the need for it is so clear that to me it should not even be open to debate. Debate what? The argument for the otherwise inevitable road to hell on earth?

However, using indirect methods, if that is what's really going on, is terribly inefficient and causes a lot of unnecessary grief. I feel that the democratic industrialised world is ready to accept population caps. The sense of it is too clear, and we are, generally, no longer rooted in outrageously irrational religious traditions.

--If we do introduce population caps then they should never have to be less than 2 children per-couple, and for periods of time 3 or even 4 person caps would be acceptable as many people will volunteer for only 1 or even no children. What's more, with modern technology we can further lift caps for a time as our capacity to accommodate more people [in a planet-friendly way] advances. However, the green light for more children should not be given until we can know that we can safely accommodate them. It would be irresponsible to simply guess about our infrastructural and technological capacity. We need to look and plan before we leap, so to speak.


Addition: 5-01-11:

Kings and Queens...and cullings?

One idea I have heard about is the idea that history's Kings and Queens instigated wars for the sake of culling back their excessive populations. The idea is a curious thought, because as I see it it is at base plausible.

Put yourself in a Kings position. You see your subjects breeding and they (inevitably) breed to the point of near over-population, within the relevant geographical area. So what are you going to do? You know obviously enough that if people can't eat then order goes out the window, as people become desperate. And that, in turn, is a direct threat to your kingdom and likewise your privileged position; because your status (and wealth) is ultimately an abstraction, and an abstraction which exists only insofar as your subjects agree that it exists. Desperate people are only too capable of ignoring--and maybe changing--those 'abstract' ideas and rules.

So you need active population control to protect your kingdom. But how? Organising a war is probably the best--and back in time probably only--way to do it. A war is or can be a relatively short-term and 'surgical' way of protecting your kingdom from the fundamental threat of resource-based disintegration.

Is it evil to co-ordinate a war for the sake of controlling your populations? Yes and no; because the alternatives are probably even worse for the [otherwise starving] populations. At least with well co-ordinated national wars you don't have to put up with the never-ending misery that comes from the (otherwise) ongoing inter-tribal wars. You can get the death-phases over and done with quickly.

For all we know population-control programmes may have been going on since the beginning of recorded history. Just a thought!

Addition: 13-01-13:

Interesting talk on population control.

It seems there are two central things that need to be (and have been) done: Providing easy access to contraception so that women can make the choice to have less babies, and also creating the conditions that ensure women want to make the choice of having less babies. Driving woman into schooling, and later careers, seems to be central to the latter end. Note woman's liberation (feminism) has been highly instrumental in helping to guide woman away from the traditional (baby making) lifestyle too.

Now all that remains is the dreaded eugenics question. As we control populations we also, unavoidably, control which groups do and do not breed and to what degree. Alas - the eugenics question is affective and unavoidable. You can't have active population control without eugenics.


If we take it as a given that education is central to population control, then the "strange" changes within education that we have seen in New Zealand (and elsewhere) can be understood in the context of population control.

First appreciate that education, at least for the later years, is only 'signalling' (to use Bryan Caplan's term) insofar as it does not provide for direct vocational training (and most of it doesn't). In short, this means education does not create the mind, but merely tests for it. Or better described; it doesn't form the sculpture - it takes a sculpture that's already formed, runs it through a battery of very expensive and years-long tests, and then slaps a label on it (ready for sale to an employer).

Appreciating this, we can see that removing the old School-Certificate system (where we failed one half of the country just because the other half did better) was one of the worst things New Zealand could have done for educational efficiency; because the old School-Certificate system represented a highly efficient form of 'signalling' through education. The general result:

What we have today is a massively bloated tertiary sector created by huge government subsidies; many more superfluous courses for low ability kids; easy access to "higher" education for students of low academic ability (no longer screened out by School-Cetificate, and other); and even more time/money wasted in even longer tertiary courses for the top-ability students to have to conform to, to prove their natural status. And, students with large student loans.

All of this has been allowed to happen for no true extra educational [human-developmental] return at all.

So, what we have done is mad unless you appreciate it in terms of population control. We've herded an incredible number of women into our education systems, and on top of this we've driven them into often seriously hefty debt. This, among other things, locks them into a dependency on a professional life - a life where it's very hard to have more than just 1 or 2 kids, if that. This is the great value of allowing education to bloat itself out so radically. Was that always the idea?

Also note that education is becoming feminised. In America the curriculum is so anti-boy that many kids have to be drugged (ritalin) to make them conform to it. Does driving boys out of schooling put more pressure on woman to be driven into it ie. having to compensate for the now comparatively redundant male bread winner? You do have to wonder.

Finally, you have to look at the eugenic impact of this kind of (supposed) population control. The brighter kids are having less children. They're the ones diving into years of educational investment, and debt, to become "all that they can be". The lesser intelligent kids are having the larger numbers of children. This suggests we're being slowly dumbed-down as a society. And the fact that we can't even talk about it is also very interesting.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Smart Growth?


By Andrew D Atkin:

This article illuminates the inherent foolishness of forced urban geographical intensification (cramming people together in high-density developments against their will).


Confession: Once upon a time I believed that sprawl was inherently bad and that public transport was good. I even came up with some loose ideas based on this belief. But as time went on, and a bit of homework was done, I quickly came to realise that some of my ideas were based on false assumptions (that we are all fed) and likewise my views, and ideas, were updated.

I hope this piece helps others to update their views, too.




And the urban planners debated and debated as to what would be the best way for the people to live their lives. And all the while they forget to consider if it was even their question to ask in the first place.

The following is my video introduction. I chose to provide this due to the seriousness of this particular issue.

My claim is that urban Intensification in Auckland is a serious logistical mistake. It leads to substantial economic and social costs, and in exchange for an almost negligible environmental gain. The following is my argument.

1. If Auckland sprawled all the way to Hamilton and just as far northward, it would house well over 50 million people. The populations of the developed world are stabilising and may even decline soon. Clearly there is no reasonable argument to preserve farmland, of which there is plenty and is hardly affected by sprawl.

-Correction Note: New Zealand is about 0.8 percent covered over (geographically) in urbanisation. I will use Ministry for the Environment figures. (Others claim, maybe more accurately, that it is only 0.7%).

2. Sprawl can be ugly or good-looking - the same can be said for high-density developments. Aesthetics are an issue of design, not development type. 

3. Intensification leads to much more traffic congestion than with sprawl. With the ARC's intensification goals, cars will become basically dysfunctional. Most people want a car and to be able to use it, regardless of the proximity of a train station. 

In turn, the ARC may be more likely to export as opposed to inhibit sprawl, as chronic intensification seriously interferes with people's chosen lifestyle i.e. accelerated brain drain.[Which is being actualised today] 

4. Due to the effects of greater congestion impeding smooth traffic flow, high-density development does not lead to real increases in transport efficiency. This fact has been demonstrated with existing high-density cities.

Traffic congestion damages economic efficiency and growth. If the gap between New Zealand and Australian living standards slips any further, things could get serious - if they are not already. 

Respecting the need to have a competitive city, it's questionable whether Auckland can even afford restrictive zoning.

--Population growth produces congestion, not sprawl as such. As jobs progressively move out to the city fringes along with the sprawl, city expansion helps to keep the development of congestion under control as new traffic is largely localised to the fringes.

--Intensification increases public transport demand, but no way near enough to justify the impact that it has on the existing road network. Transit-oriented development is basically an act of forcing an entire city to evolve to meet the needs of a rail system, and at the expense of the operability of cars. 

Nevermind the fact that most people far prefer their private, cosy and more economical cars, and only option for rail on the strange presumption that everybody else will use it. And nevermind the fact that in any circumstance public transport will never achieve market share above about 20% (in Auckland). 

5. Higher traffic densities greatly increase pollution in terms of what people actually inhale. New Zealand has an asthma epidemic. [We also have very dirty cars]

6. Intensification dramatically escalates the cost of land via restrictive zoning, as increases in demand cannot be met with an adequate increase in supply. Restrictive zoning is necessary to force people into high-density developments. This makes life very tough for young couples trying to buy a home to have a family, who are particularly intolerant of high-density living. 

This in turn reduces fertility at biologically competent ages which in turn increases infantile trauma. Infantile trauma is the most significant component (for most individuals) producing mental sickness and other general health and development problems. It also forces parents to "outsource" parental duties for their young children, as they must work longer hours to pay for their costly homes. 

This does nothing for their child's development or happiness, not to mention the parents own well-being.

--Overall this is the worst effect of Intensification. It unfairly concentrates resources away from the people who need them the most, and the negative effects of this can be far-reaching and even inter-generational. In evolutionary terms, this situation is completely backwards.

7. Current house prices in Auckland are inherently insecure, as median house prices are far higher than their actual construction cost/value. 

When restrictive zoning is removed [and it ultimately will be to keep Auckland competitive] there will be a huge number of devastated people with $500k mortgages on ~$250k houses.
If New Zealand does not independently correct its house prices (via the removal of restrictive zoning) then the global market ultimately will, as people consistently refuse to invest in Auckland's unattractive housing market and economy. 

As it stands today, I would [unfortunately] recommend to young New Zealander's to move to Australia, rent and save better money, and then wait for the bubble to burst.

First home buyers are pressured to buy into the market because they need a home and to get on with their lives, that is why this is such a serious issue - we can't just say "It's your own silly fault". 

There is also the fact that new home buyers often don't realise how risky the market is, because they are young and don't have the time to learn everything about everything, and of course this further compounds the problem. 

People who are already rich can afford to play games with their surplus - first home buyers can't. In principle at least, it's extremely important to keep house prices stable and accurate. To clarify: High demand, lower interest rates (facilitating affordability) and speculative investors have all fuelled the property boom. However, it's restrictive zoning that has allowed this boom to happen in the first place. 

Quite simply, if people could build new homes at or near construction cost on the outskirts of Auckland they would not touch the established property market as it stands today. This would inevitably lead to a rapid price correction overall. I explain more intensively on this issue here: Explaining New Zealand's property disaster

8. New Zealand's current economic growth has been fuelled by the boom in property prices. People have been borrowing (on their houses) with confidence from their new found "wealth", and this has led to an increase in consumer spending. 

The problem is they're borrowing on wealth that doesn't really exist, and that spells trouble. When the bubble bursts people will find themselves with an uncomfortable debt-to-asset ratio, and they will then focus on paying off debts as opposed to consumer spending. This will inhibit growth and maybe even send us into recession. 

--True economic progress should not be defined as an increase in economic activity, but actual increases in the efficiency of the economic machine. New Zealanders are not earning more/hr, they're just borrowing and working more - we have a highly active but inefficient economy. 

This is not what I call progress, but it's what we have to show for our current restrictive zoning induced economic "growth". New Zealand's "good times" have led to no real economic progress, and the economy has been riding on a bubble. Sooner or later we will have to answer to our misinvestment and pay off our debts. It will hurt.

The following video presents an interview with Peter Schiff, a now famous and vindicated economist. He clarifies my assertion with the American example. America has been subject to the same basic property dynamics--and economic consequences--as New Zealand.

To add to Peter Schiff's commentary: Say a group of people who supply water for a city are outlawed from expanding their enterprises, for as they otherwise would in response to natural population growth. The effect would be a developing under-supply of water, and in turn the price of water would increase. Potentially the price would increase massively because water is considered an indispensable "product" to the consumer. In turn, the market value of the water supplier's infrastructure would be increased hugely, because the market value of infrastructure is primarily based on its profitability.

There is nothing different to the water example I just modelled and what has happened with the New Zealand (and American) property market. It is obviously a nonsense to consider the escalation of market value as induced by a deliberately enforced under-supply as real wealth creation. Government economists cannot be this stupid or ignorant. There must be corruption with respect to the implementation of these policies.

9. Money talks: If people didn't care too much for low-density living then the cost of land would not dramatically escalate, as most people would "merrily" move into apartments as soon as suburbia gets a little costly. 

We can see that it doesn't work that way - people will typically pay almost whatever they have to or can. By restricting the supply of land we heavily compromise real living standards by making it so much harder for people to obtain their most valued and important asset. 

Due to the serious fallout effects (which are now demonstrated), restrictive zoning should not be tolerated until a decisive and objective argument for its necessity can be established. That 'decisive' argument has never been established. 

10. Intensification leads to "social mixing". Speaking simply this forces people to live amongst the most socially troubled sectors of society, regardless of their personal preference. 

We can't pretend that most people don't find this scenario depressing and stressful to tolerate.

11. Planners often believe you get better "community" with high density development, and they frequently use this argument to help justify Intensification. The modern community is not significantly geographically defined, and nor does it need to be. Most people prefer to privately choose their company, though of course a good-natured relationship with neighbours is desired. 

Regardless, it's not the place of councils to socially engineer people's lives - people should have the freedom to live where they want, so long as they are not unreasonably affecting others or the environment.

12. Some people oppose sprawl because it interferes with their physical view.

Any individual that chooses to buy or build their home on the outskirts of Auckland does so with the understanding that their view may be affected by further expansion of the city. In turn they should accept this, especially as they themselves have affected other people's view for the luxury of building/buying on cheap land.

13. There is the idea that building our cities at a higher density is justified for the sake of our children's future. I do not understand this argument as the next generation will probably want low-density living just like the present generation, and low-density living is in fact sustainable.

14. Greater construction and operating costs associated with sprawl (if they exist) should be passed on to those who choose to live in low-density developments. With fair taxation there is no argument for outlawing sprawl on the bases of cost. 

--I will point out that the cost of Intensification can be greater than sprawl when it equates to a large amount of disruptive "demolish and re-build", as it frequently does. Intensification is more reasonable where existing infrastructure is operating under capacity.

15. There is the argument that we will need to use mostly trains in the future because we're running out of cheap oil, and therefore we should prepare for this by basing Auckland's development on electric trains. 

How about a 500kg composite/aluminium 2-seat 30kw plug-in electric car, with a small 20kw ultra-efficient diesel-electric generator that is only periodically used when the batteries run out (of range)? 

This affordable and proven technology would cut automotive oil dependence to less than 5% of what car owners use today. Higher priced oil will lead to changes in the type of cars we buy - not our lifestyles. 

Update 18-1-2012: The following video gives us VW's latest concept car, achieving an extraordinary 260 mpg It is very similar to what I just hypothesized. It is too extreme, using expensive carbon fiber, but this would not matter if it were a network-based vehicle used throughout the day. Also there are much more affordable composite materials being developed, such as hemp-based composites.

Update ends: 

Respecting all the present and emerging transport technologies available to us, transit-oriented development has got to be the most inefficient and impractical alternative. In terms of reducing carbon emissions and oil dependency, transit-oriented development will ultimately prove to be a waste of time - in any circumstance cars will never be compromised in performance and/or economy to a point where public transport could be broadly competitive. 

As I said, transit-oriented development is neither a necessary nor realistic alternative. --Unless there are more significant advances in battery technology, we can eventually electrify main roads to compensate for the range deficiency of batteries. So even if the use of oil was effectively outlawed, there would be no real problems. 

Indeed, guideway electrification may come much sooner than needed for no other reason than it is already commercially viable.

--With computer-controlled electrically based cars we can also develop exclusive guideway networks that facilitate automotive platooning. This means we can build economical over and/or underpasses that accommodate as much as 10X the traffic/lane, providing the ultimate solution to both congestion and pollution. 

Our technology base is already well developed to support this [platooning is relatively easy with electrically-based cars], and we should see some demonstration systems coming through in the next 5-10 years or so. I speak more intensively on transport here: Automated Transport Network

16. People like the idea of public transport investment because it is more energy efficient than cars and therefore more "sustainable". This is a myth. Worldwide, public transport has about the same real energy efficiency levels as cars. From application to application, you will see variances where sometimes public transport is more efficient relative to cars, likewise sometimes cars are more efficient.

Regardless, there are cars available today that are about twice as energy efficient as a typical public transport system, and they can be made even more efficient than that. In turn if we want to reduce energy consumption, it would be more reasonable to employ an 'eco-tax' on fuel as opposed to over-subsidising public transport. For the objective of reducing energy consumption, there is no argument for having a bias for public transport. 

--By far the most significant immediate thing we can do to reduce transport energy consumption is invest in congestion-charging. 

17. Another argument for Intensification is that it supports urban renewal. This is about as rational as idealising a horse-and-cart renewal. The reason why urban environments are decaying is because people would rather be somewhere else. Urban decay is not a problem, but an expression of consumer demand.

Irrationally forcing people to be where they don't want to be is a problem, and that's often what urban renewal means. 

18. In conjunction with the expressed concern for urban renewal is the concern about the health of established retailers, as though we should be taking action to protect those established businesses from the effects of sprawl. This is another false argument. 

If people prefer to do their shopping at big-box stores and at the expense to traditional retailers, then that is simply economic development. It makes no sense for a government to protect a given industry from the effects of competition, and if it were to do so then to be fair they would have to provide that protection for all tax-paying industries. 

Of course that would be foolish because it would freeze economic development.

19. Restrictive zoning can eliminate the backyard for many or most people. This in turn can makes it impossible or extremely impractical for people to grow their own food. Likewise, there may be no defense against genetically modified foods, or foods compromised by plant breeding for variables other than nutritional quality (and at the expense of nutritional quality), or foods that are nutritionally compromised due to long storage times. 

Of course it also takes away a defense to market price variations for food.

21. Smart Growth requires high-rise building construction. 

High-rise construction has the image of efficiency with its scale, but in truth it can be anything but efficient.

To explain: A single-story structure only has to support itself, whereas the bottom floor of a double-story structure must support itself and also the story above it. The effect is, of course, progressively exaggerated the higher you go. You will notice how much concrete and steel is required per-floor in a tall high-riser when you look at a construction site. 

Massive material investment is required to build tall structures that can support their own weight, and also resist high winds and earthquakes. Single or double story structures (especially made from wood) typical of low-density suburbia require nothing of the structural mass of high-risers, for a given living area. They are obviously also much safer in the event of a major earthquake.


Sprawl has been irrationally demonised for decades to a point where people "instinctively" believe it should be stopped, even though the picture presented of "the nightmare" of low-density living is so often grossly off centre to how most people actually find it. 

If sprawl is so bad and people don't want it, then why do we have to make it illegal to stop it? 

If people typically want to live in high-density developments, then why do they have to be [basically] forced into them?

It's true that cars have had some negative effects such as pollution, and they have generally had a major impact on killing the otherwise peaceful and aesthetic atmosphere that our residential areas could otherwise provide [in particular where residential areas have been poorly designed]. Car-based cities can also be rather punishing for those who cannot drive. 

However, transit-orientated development does not make sense in a predominantly car-oriented market. A 'transit city' jam-packed full of cars is still much worse than a low-density city built to more properly accommodate them. 

Though Intensification does have it's place to a minor degree and in very specific areas, it is not a solution to any of our fundamental urban problems. I believe that large scale Intensification is almost entirely destructive - you get the worst of both worlds.

Note: We should be honest about the fact that though many people do not want development in greenfield areas, public perspective of how environmentally destructive this is has been mostly conditioned through the media. If the anti-sprawl sector of the public read this paper would they still be enthusiastic for Intensification? I am sure that at the least they would be asking questions. 

I believe that where public opinion is based on poor or "impressionistic" perspective, we should not dogmatically respond to it without at least first providing some unbiased education.

Finally, if Auckland Regional Council must insist on higher density development, then at the very least they should impose this policy on new subdivisions only. They should make the new developments medium-density, composed mostly of terraced housing in short segments, and no higher than 2-stories. This way it will not lead to significantly aggravated congestion, and the medium density developments can be built in an aesthetically co-ordinated way (rather than making a mess of established suburbs).

An Intensification focused growth strategy should be for medium-density fringe development (no green ring), with established areas being essentially left alone. You would still have an over-inflated property market, but to a lesser extent, and providing more attractive alternatives for people that cannot afford detached houses.

By directly regulating the nature of fringe development to provide higher density, you can create higher densities without increasing the cost of land, so it makes far more sense for the social advantage. Naturally, with this type of development the alternative to cars would be buses, not trains, but there is nothing wrong with that in a low density ~1.2m pop city like Auckland. 

Buses are much more efficient than trains, especially if congestion-charging is employed.

--We should also not ignore that low-density development in itself can be regulated for environmental and maybe lifestyle advantage. We can insist on mostly small-size car usage in new developments, and design circular subdivisions made up of single-lane one-way roads so as to reduce the need for roading. 

There is also a recently developed transport system called 'Ultra' which can revolutionise low-density property development

My point is Intensification is not the only alternative to some level of environmental advantage - it is only the most costly. Regardless, there is no doubt in my mind that the future lies in the development of low-density living in the long-term. 

Intensification strategies cannot survive because they seriously contradict consumer demand and can be shown to be totally unnecessary and environmentally irrelevant. Our investment should be based on improving sprawl, not inhibiting it. 

Real debate:

I believe the real argument with the Intensification issue has been poorly defined. It's been dressed as Intensification versus Sprawl when really it's: Forced Intensification versus Individual Choice.

Realistically, the only honest argument for inhibiting sprawl and therefore individual choice is environmental, as whether or not it's better or worse to live in a high or low density development is a question for the individual to answer - it has nothing to do with anybody else*. This means there is only one essential question we should be debating on: 

Are the fallout effects of forced Intensification worth the environmental advantage? 

The only environmental advantage achieved from Intensification is that you save a very small amount of farmland from roading. Remember Intensification does not lead to real increases in transport efficiency.

By my perspective Intensification achieves scant environmental gain relative to the cost - it does not make sense. Surely we would be better off letting people live where they want and without undue cost, and then from there devote our resources towards more substantial environmental concerns?

--How about a major tree planting programme for soils prone to erosion? If we're concerned about farmland, then environmentally this would be far more significant. Speaking for myself, I would be quite happy to have some of my taxes go towards something like that.

*There has been confusion over the difference between individual and democratic choice. Imagine the government conducted a survey that determined that 80% of the public believed that pink bathrooms were more ideal that blue bathrooms, and in turn outlawed blue bathrooms on the grounds of democratic preference. Obviously that would be ridiculous because bathroom colour in a private home is a concern only for the individual resident - it has nothing to do with anybody else. Of course the same can be said for lifestyle choice.

Interfering with people's decisions of which only concern the individual (on the grounds of apparent public perspective) is not democracy. That's just playing silly games, and wittinging or not an abuse of power.


An absolutely sustainable society must mean a "closed circuit" society. This means we take nothing more out of the earth and put nothing new into it i.e. a totally recycling society*. 

Though a degree of sustainable development should be targeted and achieved today, the need for absolute sustainability is a very long way off and would probably never be required.
I define an absolutely sustainable society as a totally recycling society, because that is the only form of society that can inarguably go on forever, without ever exhausting its resources of which it is dependant. Hence, it can therefore be defined as absolutely sustainable.

Note: Defining our current society as 'unsustainable' is ultimately impossible because our societies are (and always have been) evolutionary, so the character of our resource dependency is always in flux. 

This is why sustainability projections that go beyond 100-200 year timelines should be considered irrelevant, and why any model of a planned 'sustainable' society should be continuously open to review. 

Optimum sustainable forms will constantly evolve in response to ongoing social, industrial and technological advancement. 

Agenda 21:

Agenda 21 is a prominent international planning document [apparently] designed to structure our world into a sustainable form. It aggressively promotes Smart Growth planning as "an answer".

Agenda 21 is extremely poor policy. It completely contradicts the status of our technological infrastructure (especially with respect to transport), the facts about low-density development, and also our ability to adapt low-density developments into an absolutely negligible eco-footprint, even with vast population growth. 

To make a simple picture: Our cities could be built like treehouses, where dense fauna grows under all our low-density buildings of which could be easily and cheaply mounted on 6-foot high stilts (providing interesting and beautiful views, for that matter). The supporting ULTra transport system can also be put on stilts if you really want to go crazy with this. 

Human settlement could be nothing more than a canopy over a biodiversity "utopia". In fact we can even increase the biosphere's footprint by also employing roof-top gardens, and by progressively greening our deserts as human settlements might expand into them. We can also build low-density floating cities which weave out into the oceans, creating major man-made ocean ecosystems in the process, providing all the sushi we could eat. There is also a lot of potential with tunneling. 

So how far do we want to go? All these crudely suggested alternatives are far more efficient, humane and ecologically sound than Agenda 21's Smart Growth madness. 

The following image brings attention to how little land is required for transport, in particular if we move to full-automation network-based transport. With the ULTra system or similar, we need nothing more than two concrete "rails" (no more than about 12 inches wide) to support a one-way network of roads. 

Modern 'sprawl' can look as the image suggests: overwhelmingly Green, and not paved over. 

There is indeed no reason why humanity cannot sprawl out all over the Globe, creating and protecting ecological habitats in its wake.

And how about a "green home"? Concrete walls supporting a wire mesh for creeper plants 
should do it. It should be rather cheap too.

Economic environmentalism:

Effective environmentalism must be economically based. This means we should ask ourselves how much we want to spend (directly and/or indirectly), and then from there prioritise to ensure that we get the maximum environmental profit for our cost. If we do not insist on this approach then the environmental label becomes open to abuse - we end up with people wildly throwing the term 'sustainability' around as justification for virtually any kind of uneconomic or socially controlling venture. 

When this happens (and it certainly does) we can see that environmentalism becomes more of an excuse than a respectable purpose.

There is nothing wrong with caring for the environment, of course, but environmentalism minus the cost-benefit analysis leads to waste and at the expense of both the environment and society. Again, environmentalism must be prioritised to maximise the environmental benefits to costs.


1. Here is a good link to learn more about Smart Growth and resource issues in New Zealand today, for those who may develop a serious interest. I personally learnt quite a lot from Owen McShane's site.

Centre for Resource Management Studies

2. Hugh Pavletich's site, Performance Urban Planning, links to an abundance of NZ-related articles, and his news-clip video is a must watch. 

3. Here is the direct link to Phil McDermott's blog, as forwarded to me by an anonymous in the comments. Being a specialist and professional in this arena, he certainly comes from a more detailed angle than what I do, which many readers might find useful.