Saturday, February 26, 2011

Breaking New Zealand out of the economic doldrums: An idea.

Andrew D Atkin.

The popular issue in my home country today seems to be: "How do we get the New Zealand economy to really grow?"

Well, what New Zealand needs to do is focus on capitalising on its natural advantages. New Zealand has the ability to develop and sell lifestyle property developments to a global market that are second to none. The far-reaching value of this could be revolutionary to the nations development.

Here is how it can be done, and in my view how it should be done. It's an idea that I have preached for some time, but I would like to provide a condensed vision (and a condensed explanation) with a specific model that should give some food for thought.

As follows:

New Zealand's (potential) resort-type lifestyle property developments are worth as much as they are accessible. In short, this means New Zealand could dramatically increase the value of its developable land if it can also increase the performance and efficiency of its/a transport system, and of course its telecommunications systems.

No comment needs to be made for modern telecommunications, but the ULTra PRT system (or similar) provides new opportunities especially applicable to future property development in New Zealand.

The ULTra PRT system:

In short, ULTra is a PRT (personal rapid transit) system that I have long believed has vast potential for New Zealand property development.

ULTra is fully automated (no drivers) and operates with off-line stations so there is no start-stop operation along the route, making it particularly efficient for many applications. Riders only travel with people that they want to travel with - like a car. ULTra has finally been developed, and its first installation is Heathrow airport - ready for in-service operation.

Note: There would be some superficial changes in an ULTra system designed for residential and long-distance applications.

An "ULTra vision" for New Zealand:

The vision I have in mind [and to stress this is only a best-guess idea, for the sake of providing an example] is an ULTra-loop that runs from Auckland up around the northern coastline, and back again. The following image is self-explanatory. (Red = the proposed ULTra line. It crudely indicates where the mainline might go - supporting coastal property developments).

The northern part of New Zealand, in particular, has a beautiful climate, topography, and a vast interesting coastline. And virtually no nasties like chronic weather extremes, snakes, crocodiles, flying cockroaches etc. The soils are fertile and it's richly green. It is also close(ish) to Auckland - a modern city with a population of about 1.4 million.

Model ULTra installation for New Zealand:

For a long-distance installation you will need to make the roads double-laned each way, for the sake of total-system reliability. You need to be able to get a faulty vehicle off the mainline quickly.

The cars should be electrically powered with battery back-up so the vehicles can self-power when required. Most of the cars should be small 2-seaters, with some being larger multi-purpose vehicles. Other vehicles will be for freight.

An ULTra road will be much cheaper to construct than a traditional road because it is narrow, and supports a fraction of the load of a more typical road designed to accommodate trucks.

I would imagine a constant operating speed of about 80km/h which is energy-efficient, economical and very safe. High-speed bypass lines could always be built in the future if desired.

With corner-banking built into the ULTra road there would be almost no side-forces, making the system particularly comfortable for a New Zealand [hill-ridden] context. You don't need to drive and you can work or sleep on it.

The economic effect:

Obviously something like this would be developed over decades if it were to ever go ahead. But you hardly need to build a 1,000km ULTra line all at once to actualise, potentially, a substantial economic reaction.

What we can offer to the world is exceptionally cheap living (especially cheap housing) and in a resort-like environment which should be very attractive to a vast portion of the global market. And that spells: human resource magnet. Not only would you create demand supporting a boom in property development (goodbye recession) but you also lay a foundation that would be attractive to start-up companies that are not interested in paying out big wages to compensate for their staffs exaggerated living costs.

Note: Refer to Phil McDermotts piece relating to this. We need to realise that personal costs and company costs are ultimately linked - what you give/take from one hand must ultimately come out of the other. Artificially driving up living costs is no way to promote positive economic development.

What kind of growth?

Some industries will be dependant on very close access to a large city, such as Auckland. But many others will not, and many parts of others will not. The latent demand for just about any kind of industry located on my proposed ULTra line is as good as bottomless. New Zealand is tiny relative to our 6.5 billion-population world.

One good example is health: Gerald Celente, the famous trends forecaster, has recently said that anything to do with health will be a major growth industry in the future. How can you fault that? The industrialised world is getting older and sicker. Medical industries/services based along the ULTra line could provide an international service to a demand that we could never saturate. Remember cheap (yet high quality) living systems means that we can import good doctors and technicians etc, for less pay. And also ULTra-based hospitals (and other) can be built for much less than traditional hospitals. (I won't go into detail on this here, but with the ULTra system you can build out - not up).

And what would that be worth to the New Zealand locals, in direct terms? Well, I have a workmate who has been in real pain for months with a hernia that our public health system cannot yet afford to fix!

The list of opportunities goes on virtually forever. Here is the picture: What you are doing with my idea is creating a fertile "agar plate" for growth. If you give the global market a good reason to base their operations in New Zealand, then they will do so. What I believe I am proposing is the cheapest way for New Zealand to effectively do this. It's that simple.

I am talking about using new technology to capitalise on our natural advantages. This is how New Zealand can prosper in a globalised economy.


I will keep it short. The ULTra system may use as little as 10% of the energy of standard cars, for a given distance traveled. ULTra paves over a negligible amount of land. The housing supported by the ULTra line can be based, say, 100-200 meters away from the beach and built in good taste (beauty before fashion!). "Sprawling" low-density housing tends to promote rich and diverse replantation. ULTra supports efficient access to local farms for minimal food-miles (and top-quality food).

The black status quo:

If you like my vision then you are most certainly not going to like the Auckland Super City's vision. Theirs is a vision of forced urban intensification - the direct opposite of what I have proposed.

It's an institutionally embedded ideological vision that would be thrown out of an honest court of law in less than 15 minutes, because its premises are so weak. Sadly that court does not exist - only a few decades of anti-sprawl propaganda. (The type of propaganda that makes people subconsciously assume that New Zealand is 20% urbanised, rather than 0.7% urbanised. The latter of course being the truth).

Please see my "Smart growth?" article to find out what's killing Auckland and New Zealand today.


Addition: 28-2-11

Here are some images of the Northern coastline (that I ripped off the internet) typical of New Zealand, to give non-Kiwi's a feel for what the country is like.

There is nothing "barren" about a typical New Zealand coastline. The landscape is just too broken up.

And the Auckland Super City's vision is more akin to the following...

And that wouldn't be so bad if it wasn't forced. The Super City will have Aucklander's living in this vision, whether they like it or not.


Update: 02-11-11

Here is another transport system which I have long believed has serious potential - SkyTran.

SkyTran is moving forward rapidly in its development as the following video suggests. It could represent the cheapest (in terms of infrastructure) and certainly most energy-efficient way to integrate the northern coastline with Auckland, as my prior image indicates. It certainly wouldn't do everything (it doesn't need to), but as a general support system it can drastically improve the efficiency and feasibility of mass-coastal development in New Zealand.

Google's driverless cars:

I can appreciate that PRT systems like ULTra will be made largely redundant with the development of full-automation technology in cars (these technologies are moving forward so quickly!). Link here. As this is the case, then systems such as ULTra may be applied mainly to special applications for new townships that want to eliminate cars from their immediate area; that is, used for facilitating resort-style property developments.


Update: 17-04-14:

Good talk by Sir Paul Callaghan, relating to the relationship between the importance of NZ lifestyle and economic development. 

Callaghan is also very right on the fact that NZ's isolation does not have to mean much in terms of economic development - we just have to be a little more selective in what we do, and there is of course vast allowance for that. But if we don't create a foundation for business to want to develop in, then we will continue to economically castrate ourselves. Another critical point he made was that the government cannot pick winners. So true. The best that can be done is to simply lay the foundations for business to do as it will and can.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Should we be screening for Psychopathy?

Andrew D Atkin:

It is estimated that 0.5% of woman and 2% of men are psychopaths.

Take a look at America. They're zapping people with (arguably) dangerous scanners at airports because a given passenger might be a threat to the public. Fair enough? Maybe. But going by history, statistics and still our present, we must admit that the most profound public threat is and has been governments - not individuals or isolated groups of individuals. Governments are where the most incredible and vast acts of terrorism have typically come from.

So where are the controls to protect the public from the threat of the wrong hands acquiring great power? Where are those "political scanners" for the public interest, and who can argue that it does not make sense to employ them?

Well, it looks like we now have the tools to clinically recognise psychopaths, whether those psychopaths want to be recognised or not. Modern research using advanced brain scans has shown that there are distinct differences between a psychopaths brain and a normals. But first let's review what a psychopath actually is:

What is a psychopath?

The type of psychopaths that we should be focusing on are corporate psychopaths, as they have been termed. These are people who do not care about others to a "reptilian" extreme, are fake, manipulative, diabolically self-serving, but are people who do not tend to end up in prison due to their intelligence and self-control.

Corporate psychopaths can actually be worse than the types you will find in prison because they are particularly good at obtaining power; and, eventually, being highly destructive from their positions of power.

The characteristics I highlighted have been directly correlated to distinct differences within the function and structure of the brain. Psychopathy runs way deeper than just an imperfect upbringing. It has a genetic base, and probably a major epigenetic base (epigenetic = genetic 'switching' via the womb environment).

This is why psychopathy is basically incurable. The damage is just far too primary for existing therapies to reach. When someone's neurophysiology makes it truly impossible for them to care about others there is only so much you can (and can't) do. A psychopath couldn't care even if he wanted to. Again, that is how deep-set the damage is.

As I personally see it, psychopathy is a kind of socio-emotional autism. The psychopath experiences no emotional meaning in being a "part of" and "with" other people. Indeed, findings have suggested that their mirror neurons are dysfunctional. Mirror neurons are an essential part of our capacity to understand and relate to others on an interpersonal level.

The following is a great little documentary "I, Psychopath" which can give the reader a feel for what a corporate psychopath can be like:

Why are corporate psychopaths good at obtaining power?

Because they're living in a chess game might be a good answer. Psychopaths are happy to do whatever they can to win. They are the personification of ruthlessness. They can also be very cunning as they can (and do) naturally think of strategies that normals would never consider (due to morality). So the psychopath sees and exploits more opportunity.

In a competitive world the intelligent psychopath can be extremely competitive. That is the problem. Remember it's hard to win an election by telling people the truth. The psychopath can warmly lie to your face, much too easily.

Screening? Yes!

The USA's political system was built in a manner specifically to protect against corruption. The founders were realistic about the fact that the highest of places tend to attract the lowest of people, so they created a governmental organisation based on the separation of powers*.

This is the kind of thinking we need today. We need to stop wasting time throwing eggs at rotten politicians, and instead create controls to stop them from becoming politicians in the first place.

Sophisticated psychological profiling moves in this direction. We need to make it uncompetitive to be a psychopath, and luckily now we can. All prospective politicians should be expected to go through psychological testing, and their profiles should be made public via the Internet. Yes, this is intrusive somewhat, but it's a price that they should be expected to pay considering the importance of their positions.

Psychological testing for teachers and fireman has already been introduced in some parts of the world. See here for an excellent article on this.

Not just politicians?

Personally I do not think that New Zealand's political scene is overrun with psychopaths. Speaking intuitively, I think you would be more inclined to find them hidden away in your bureaucracies.

I believe that psychopathic testing should be applied to powerful public servants, and it should be applied to powerful players in the private sector as well. Basically, once an individuals official influence reaches a certain substantial level, they should have to accept open psychological testing.


Though psychopathy is a particularly nasty problem, it is certainly not the only one. There are also the problems of zealotry and group-think - more "normal" problems that virtually all of us suffer from to given degrees.

If we can somehow screen for other concerns for a more complete profile, then that would be a good idea too. But again, psychopathy is a particularly dangerous attribute that we should definitely go out of our way to look for, using compulsory testing.

27-6-11: An involved letter was sent to me responding to this post. I gave it a dedicated post here.


*Unfortunately it seems to be breaking down today because those 'separate' powers are getting ever more infiltrated by the same corrupt interests. So the separation is becoming cosmetic, so to speak.


Addition: 21-2-11:


Imagine walking up to a new born baby and shooting it in the head, in front of the mother, and just to let everyone know who's boss. Obviously this unimaginable vulgarity takes either pure psychopathy or extreme insanity. But it's the sort of thing that goes on where psychopathic dictators have been in charge.

Psychopaths are everywhere, but usually we don't get to see them acting-out North Korea style. But that is only because psychopaths need power to be visible. The successful psychopath is not self-destructive.

In our society we have created intensely strong behavioural social pressures that allow us to live in the illusion of our "civil society". It's a dangerous illusion, because we can (and do) start to believe in the fairytale that everyone is such a lovely person...because we don't get to see what that "lovely person" is doing to their children, in their own home. That is, we don't get to see them when they have the opportunity to be the tyrants that they might very well be.

If you give someone the opportunity to treat an entire nation like they do their children, then they will do it. They will do it because scaling up the game does not change it - they are the same subjective psychology, living in the same psychological world. Power only exposes corruption - it does not create it.

Again, the tyrannical parent who ruthlessly rules over his 4 children with that absolute feeling of entitlement will do just the same to 4 million, if given the chance.

You can see my point. It is more than important to create controls to block psychopaths from positions of serious power. The latency for tyranny is just too real and prevalent. Even if we can't see it directly it is everywhere. Go by the child abuse statistics.