Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Decongesting Auckland


Andrew D Atkin:

An explanation on how to get rid of congestion, and a look at how futile rail investment is in a city like Auckland.

As always, the simple facts from the Smart Growth camp never get out. This is my attempt at achieving that.



Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Housing Affordability: New Zealand

Andrew D Atkin:

Here is my latest video. The focus is on the MUL's.

It's 20 minutes long.

Do you like it? Don't be afraid to link the video to your Facebook page!

This doesn't just apply to New Zealand. It applies to all places around the world "suffering" from Smart growth policies.



Additional links:

 The Real Deal: Housing in New Zealand

 Green Sprawl: Why not?

The remarkable mega-cities of the future

Affordable Housing: Is there any hope?

Hugh Pavletich:

Performance Urban Planning

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Social Welfare and Social Evolution

Andrew D Atkin:

In a nation where people are well fed and well housed, it is infinitely more important to halve the child abuse than to double the wealth.

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This speech/statement is directed toward the New Zealand political arena, especially the ACT party (which I am a member of) and of course anyone who is interested.

Watch the 8 minute video if you prefer to listen.




The problem:

Before the welfare state, welfare was given through families and charitable organisations. We always had social welfare of sorts, only it has now become centralised and nationalised. The nationalisation of welfare has had a critical effect. The stigma of receiving welfare has largely gone.

No longer is the welfare recipient directly accountable to the charitable hand. They do not have to knock on the tax-payers door, put out their hand, and say "I need your help" which is humiliating and likewise puts pressure on the individual to not get into a dependency-situation in the first place. Instead the recipient just gets an automatic WINZ payment paid directly to their account, each week. It's painless - and reliable.

The welfare state was established with good intentions, but it has led to the interpersonal separation between the giver and receiver. The stigma associated with welfare dependency has been further eroded by the fact that the modern New Zealand economy has been engineered so that so many people, including people associated with the middle-class, are also welfare recipients, to a degree. In short. When everyone's doing it, it makes it easy for you to do it too.

The final result, is we've created a specific welfare class, and we're supporting it to breed without limits. Anyone can now have as many children as they want, no matter their financial status, because the state will pick up the slack for the sake of the children, and there will be no serious stigma's associated with the event. So we hand them the cheque - and we make it easy for them to take it.

Well, okay. That's the modern game. But are we happy with it? The fact is modern welfare policy comes with a major long-term impact, as it supports people to breed who could not be described as strong, and they can breed to whatever capacity they wish. This does and has expanded the size of the classes associated with heavy welfare dependency.

Now this wouldn't be such a great concern, in a relatively rich society, if it wasn't for the fact that the welfare class, as a group, is also associated with: serious child abuse, low intelligence, criminality, poor health, drug abuse, and poor educational performance. As a society we are disproportionately investing our resources into the physical reproduction of those who are weaker - not stronger.

From a Darwinian perspective you would describe our welfare state as 'an evolution in reverse'. The stronger are being forced to support the families of the weaker, and before they can even provide for a family of their own. I for one am worried about this situation. Yes, I know. What I said is ugly and will make many eyes grow wide. But what I said is real, extremely important, and that is why I am saying it.

The Solution:

Now you would think the solution was simple enough. Just go back to the days where welfare recipients had to directly confront the hand that feeds them. Let painful social pressures drive personal responsibility. But of course it's not that simple.

Once you have an entrenched dependency situation, you cannot reverse it without serious distress. To remove or seriously restrict national welfare today would be to leave hundreds of families in catastrophic poverty, until our society as a whole finally adapts. That bridge would be politically impossible to cross short of an economic crises on the level of the great depression. I don't think it's an ideal solution regardless.

We just can't go up to a young woman, tell her if that she gets pregnant then she's on her own, and then in the scenario that she does get pregnant force her to abort her child or adopt it out because she can't afford to take care of it. And as long as those women know that this is the game, as it is, many will continue to get pregnant knowing full-well that the state will accommodate them - facilitating the long-range social degeneration of our society.

The only other solution I can think of to this mother-of-all social problems is the introduction of breeding licences. Insist that people meet a basic criteria of fitness before they can go on to have children. If you think this sounds heartless then think again of what I'm asking for. I am simply asking that children be born to parents who have the ability to take care of them - emotionally, physically, and within reason financially.

We test people before awarding them a licence to drive a car, and we rightly do this to be sure enough that they will not harm others when driving. So is a licence too much to ask of latent parents who might otherwise harm their children, like so many parents do? Is it really right to let anyone, no matter their status, have as many children as they want and with the state behind them in full support, no questions asked? I would describe the latter as a recipie for disaster, and in part a disaster that we have already come to.

But breeding licences are politically difficult also, of course. Because for this policy to be effective it must ultimately come with the threat of forced-contraception. If a woman gets pregnant without a licence, and by reasonable measure she is not fit to take care of her child, then there must be consequences. I say we should let her have that one child because that child is human and should be respected as such, of course, but the price of an unlawful pregnancy must be forced-contraception thereafter. At least until the woman's condition develops whereby she can be later awarded a licence.

Rights?

There is the final question of rights. Does a woman have the right to breed, regardless of the opinion of the state? I would say yes, but if she wants to breed in our society then she must also conform to the conditions of our society. The wider society has rights too, as that society must live with and deal with her offspring as well.

So yes, we as a society do have the right to lay down some serious rules on human breeding, and I believe it would be wise for us to do as such. Otherwise we embrace the status quo and whatever it is that our status quo will lead us to. Personally I don't like where it's going and I want to see a change in direction. A big change.

Conclusion:

The ideal model is one where the state backs parents to do their best for their children, because the far-reaching impact of inept parenting is more profound than any other social dynamic we know of.  Where parents step down the state must step up.

But married with that policy must be some level of control, to suppress the reproductive opportunities of parents who cannot realistically be trusted to bring happy and healthy people into this world.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Human Instinct and Evolutionary Psychology: Some perspective

Andrew D Atkin:






















Some time ago, as an experiment, lions were introduced into Australia to see how they would cope (Australia had lions in ancient times). As it happened, the lions had no problem at all catching and eating kangaroo's that were basically defenseless and plentiful. The interesting result was with the way the kangaroo-bounty affected the lions behaviour.

The groups of lions, who were normally rivals, lost their territorial instinct and started socialising with each other. This is clear evidence that lions are not a territorial species by default. Territorialism for lions is a secondary response to food scarcity. So, when lions have a given degree of anxiety about food, this in turn translates to tension which induces territorial reactions to other groups of lion.

This is a good example of a sophisticated relationship to primary instincts in a higher animal. A more basic territorial species would not react like the lions. They would be territorial regardless of the environmental conditions. The lions, much more sophisticated, have an environmentally-responsive switch that turns territorialism on or off, depending on the circumstances.

Humans are of course the most sophisticated species of all. In turn we should have the most sophisticated relationship to our instincts. And clearly we do. When the living is good humans are placid and reasonable, when the living is tough we become reactive and harsh. Violence, cruelty, craving for power and domination, indifference and self-centeredness etc, etc. are behavioral traits linked to stress and insecurity. Sure, they are human traits and they're perfectly natural in themselves, but they only become manifest insofar as the environment switches them on.

[Please note, the environment can be--and to varying degrees always is--psychologically internalised from childhood. This is the story of neurosis, and it explains why an immediate change in the environment does not always lead to an appropriate change in behaviour.]

What this means:

My message to evolutionary psychologists is to please stop theorising as though the human brain doesn't have a neocortex. The neocortex clearly communicates with the primal brains (brainstem and limbic system), leading to sophisticated instinctive responses to the environment. And human instinct is not weak, it simply has many switches.

However, we can see why psychologists sometimes think in a context as though human instinct has a mind of its own, in isolation to the reasoning neocortex. This is because it often does operate in blatant isolation to the neocortex.

Example: Take a man terrified of flying in a plane. He knows full well that his fear is irrational, but he can't help being terrified anyway. This instinctive reaction is coming from the triggering of old traumatic material in his mind, and the reason why his neocortex can't tell his brainstem to "shut up" is because the link between the two brains (neocortex and brainstem) is literally severed, in part, due to the function of repression*, and so the brainstem in this case becomes excited in isolation to higher-level cognition.

Indeed, it is the highly neurotic individual (compulsive, and somewhat out of control) that we find ourselves describing as "acting like an animal". Can I correct that? "Acting like a more primitive animal".

And this is what evolutionary psychologists need to appreciate (and study). Thinking in ignorance of trauma-imprint theory (here) is inducing them to make some false deductions on human behaviour, and the role of our ancient instincts. For example, it was asserted by some psychologists a while back that we feel terrified talking in front of groups because it reminds our ancient brain of the threat of tigers. Nope - the human brain is not that dumb. It has more to do with the threat of personal exposure and humiliation, which is a feeling more heavily exaggerated in some people than others due to childhood imprints in this area.

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*The generating source of the over-reaction is fully isolated from the neocortex (repressed) and likewise cannot be muted by the neocortex.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Achieving Meritocracy

Andrew D Atkin:















We all work for ourselves - not our companies. That is the problem.

In my never too humble opinion, meritocracy is everything. If you can get the right people in the right places, then it's hard to fail. Revolutions become unnecessary as rational reform becomes automatic, corruption becomes trivial and self-sterilising, and mistakes are quickly rectified and learnt from.

A fantastical scenario of course, but it's worth looking at how we might get closer to that ideal.

The most potent disciplining force we know of today for driving a merit-focused reality is, from a general outlook, competitive free markets. But even the private sector is still highly traditional and less merit-focused compared to what it could be, in my view.

Relating to large organisations in particular, I would like to introduce an idea for reforming how the power structure works to the end of optimising merit.

Most would agree I think that virtually every employee in an organisation works first for themselves - not their company. They are only interested in their company's success insofar as it equates to their own. And they are only interested in a subordinate's or superior's success insofar as it equates to their own. This is a problem because it leads to internal competition of the type that leads to unprofessional bias. If you think that's not true then look at the way you choose your words so carefully when talking to your boss - a direct expression of the (rational) fear of unprofessional bias. (I would also describe it as a communication breakdown, but that's getting off track a bit).

Unprofessional bias equates to hiring/firing/promotion/demotion decisions that are not based squarely on merit. This obviously damages efficiency and the bottom-line. Not only do you get more b-grade people holding positions that they shouldn't, but you signal to the more talented that they're wasting their time in the organisation they're in (so they go elsewhere).

The less meritocracy you have, the more toxic your selection criteria becomes. In a worst case (and sometimes realistic) scenario you may have no choice but to be corrupt to even get ahead at all.

So how do we reduce bias and toxic incentives, and improve merit?

One of the best ideas I can think of is to simply externalise personnel decisions so that all final-say recruitment decisions, from the bottom to the top of an organisation, are made by a specialised body that does not run the company operationally and is only answerable to the shareholders. A parallel hierarchy, if you like - an "external court".

The effect of this would be that any subordinate can speak freely (though you would expect respectfully, of course) to any superior because they're no longer threatened by their bosses all-powerful and potentially non-negotiable (and even hidden) opinion. A subordinate can have their trial in an objective "court" for performance appraisals and applications for higher positions. Their professional future will not be dictated by the singular opinions of their supervisors, of which can be bias (or even outright misrepresentative) for any given number of reasons.

What this system would do is simply enhance objectivity and openness in decision making, and that in turn allows for the evolution of a more precise meritocracy. That can only be a good thing - at least if you're a shareholder.

But, you would think that if this was the way to go, then surely we would have done it by now? Surely the shareholders would have woken up to the idea that their in-house 'old boy's clubs' might be taking them for a bit of a ride, and likewise review how their hierarchies are formed?

Nope. The world is a slow learner. For example, shortly after the Asian crises a couple of decades ago I remember seeing a documentary about a company based in Japan. This company had an extreme tradition-based hierarchy that they were forced to reform for their survival. They brought in some recruitment experts from America who were in turn given the power to completely redefine who went where and did what within that company, and of course in the name of objective merit. Sadly it took a desperate situation for the obvious to be actioned in practice. But like they say, turkeys don't vote for an early christmas. Initiatives like this will usually need to come from shareholders. Your executive officers probably won't be interested.

A star company focused on Merit:

My favourite company, Google, is moving in this more scientific direction with their thinking and techniques. Google is so massive as an organisation that it can make a study case out of its own recruitment structure, and to the end of testing to see if they're getting the best results in terms of having the best people in the right places. No traditions and assumptions - just data.

One (great idea) they've introduced is mandatory surveys given to subordinate staff where they rank their managers on given variables. This has apparently been highly effective in increasing managerial performance and transparency, and curiously the act of having these surveys alone has been shown to increase their performance (yep, as you would expect they take more care with how they relate to their staff).

Another curious thing Google has done is tested traditional credentials to see what they're really worth. Their own research has indicated that the on-the-job performance difference between a straight-A student and a 'pass' student is almost negligible. Their findings have induced them to not take grade-point-averages very seriously anymore, and so they don't.

[Good link on Google, here]

(I wonder if they'll test for the value of experience soon? Speaking personally, I would bet they'll find a rapid diminishing-return with that one as well...all depending on the type of job of course).

Conclusion:

But again, look at how long it takes to wait for people to do the obvious. Achieving Merit needs to be taken seriously. The significance of having a company run by the best people you can get is just too important, especially in an age of ever-greater innovation where being competitive is not as easy as just conforming soldier-style to a prior-established structure.

Google understands this only too well and they have taken real action to that end. I salute them. I hope other's will learn from their examples too.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Importance of 'Depth' Psychology

Andrew D Atkin:



















When you put monkey's in a bad zoo they tend not to breed. In this sense they act abnormally (yet normal, relative to the environmental pressures).

Now imagine I brought a behavioural psychologist into the scene and asked him to cure my monkey's of their infertility. The behavioral psychologist, trained in Pavlovian conditioning, then gets to work setting up a head-mounted apparatus that delivers electrical pain to my monkeys (for negative reinforcement) coupled with a small dried banana dispenser (for positive-reinforcement).

Over time, my monkey's are pushed and pulled with reinforcements into all different kinds of behaviours, and eventually my behaviourist even gets them to mate and have babies - in spite of the bad zoo. Hence the monkey's are cured of their abnormality, and act normal.

But are those monkey's really normal? Of course not. With behavioural conditioning all I've really done is layered one perverse reality over the top of another. However, the difference is invisible to the eye of surface-level research because the behavioural outlook, by definition, is blind to the deeper "why" behind the behaviour.

Now imagine I had another zoo, nice and green and spacious, for another collection of monkey's. In this good zoo I find the monkey's breed and with no external influence required. However, there is no difference between the outcomes between the good and bad zoos from the behavioural perspective. The monkey's all seem the same - they breed all the same.

So why should we care for the difference? What does it matter if different animals do the same [supposedly ideal] things for different reasons? Well, imagine if we opened the gates on the conditioned monkey's living in the bad zoo and the non-conditioned monkey's in the good zoo, too.

With this change in the environment we could get very different reactions. The monkey's in the bad zoo could very well let out their "craziness" and run-rampant all over town, or maybe just huddle together in terror because the change made them desperately insecure. Conversely the monkey's in the good zoo might just look at their opened gates with amusement, going for a wander beyond them for the sake of satisfying idle curiosity, to return later when they get hungry or lonely.

My point is the behavioural perspective can't tell the difference. That is, they can't predict how animals will or won't react to change when they don't understand the 'why' behind their behaviour. Your perfectly normal monkey's that are acting normal but for only abnormal reasons could nonetheless be a ticking time-bomb; or maybe just incredibly miserable and under deep stress (most definitely, from my example).

Obviously the same can be said for humans. Our behavioural perspective toward humanity, generally provided by the psychology world today, often tends to ignore real needs and real feelings. The focus is about "outcomes" rather than sincerely satisfied people. And when we get the outcomes we want we hang them on our walls like a trophy, all the while ignoring the human realities--the good and the bad--behind it.

Indeed, we tend to just assume people are happy because they act how we think they should act, for a satisfied life. But is a breeding monkey (or human) that doesn't really want to breed happy? I doubt it. And will they join the next Hitler show just after we thought we trained them to be morally perfect, for if that opportunity ever exposed itself to them? Quite possibly. A 'conditioned' morality is very different to real humanity (here).

Behaviourism certainly has its place, so long as it knows its place. But it's depth psychology that looks closer and deeper into the human condition to give us insights into who we really are and what we're really doing to and with ourselves. It can tell us what behaviourism can't - and what we need to understand. It's depth psychology that can help to tell us if we're really normal or just playing some socially-conditioned game.

Relevant 'depth psychology' link here.

Monday, March 17, 2014

What is a community education system?

Andrew D Atkin:

















Well here's how I would envisage it. For a start community education means community education, and therefore bottom up - not top down. So it would be based on what the local community wants, and not what the state wants. State is not community.

In community education I would expect the teachers to communicate openly with students to get their input, because how the students feel and function, and what they think, would not only be in the teachers commercial interest (their students are customers) but the students mind would be regarded as the teachers responsibility to both understand and respond to. So the students would be serious participants on what and how things are done.

Teachers would work closely with students to see where they (the teachers) have gone right and wrong, and how they can improve in general, as the students are clearly their most critical information-feedback source. For young children especially, I would expect parents to be closely tied into the loop providing feedback and input.

Also the community (teachers, students and parents) would work together to define the educational curriculum, and the entire structural nature of the learning process relating to both learning time and location. The teachers would understand that their role in the relationship is to serve and facilitate, so they would work primarily to consult (like a doctor) and not dictate (like a policeman) on how/what education is done.

Students and parents would have the power to seek alternative relationships with teachers and schools, at their will. A bottom-up community is self-defined, which likewise requires freedom of association.

So with community education the community is in control, working to build the education system, and the relationships, that everyone really wants and with the central focus of course being service to the students and parents. State regulations would be weak or virtually non-existent. The state's opinion has nothing to do with community education, by definition.

The status quo:

Obviously we don't have community education today (in New Zealand). What we have is state education - top down. The power of the community is so superficial that you could say it's practically non-existent - all core objectives and processes are dictated by the state.

And indeed, the character of modern education is quite blatantly statist. Teachers don't talk to the students on the level of process. Teachers have no professional interest in what the students personally think. They don't even survey them. What students think of their teachers, their classmates and their learning process is virtually moot. The students simply get what they are given.

Instead, what we do is just test the students, and in turn we base our ideas of the success and/or failure of our system on those tests. At the risk of sounding a bit dramatic, I will say that we treat students more like livestock than human beings.

How do you achieve community education?

Pretty obvious. The free market. Deregulate and privatise education. A free market education system basically means a demand-responsive education system. That is, an education system that the students and parents want, and not necessarily an education system that the state wants.

But alas, the extreme political left, with all their self-righteous ranting (backed by a massive army of state educators ie. feeders of the status-quo) have been telling us that the free market is the enemy and the outsider of the community. This camp, strangely and ironically, claims to be all about community yet are in fact clearly about the state.

Though state educators often say they want freedom from the state, to do things as they wish, they still insist on having the state provide them with their forced-attendance market and protected tenure (as the state does). No, most teachers are not interested in answering to the community - and they don't. They just don't want to be accountable to anyone.

The far political left hate the idea of community education to such a great degree that the [socialist] Green Party of New Zealand, for example, has vowed to outlaw charter schools for if they ever get the chance to do so [charter schools are a very luke warm version of community education...but still mostly statist].

Conclusion:

All I can say is please be clear as to what real community education is. It's bottom up - not top down. And by definition it requires the free market for its evolution - not state regulation.

Our long-standing system, which is inarguably authoritarian and statist, humiliates the student by not engaging them as at least equals in their educational process. Why have we tolerated this? Because we believe that that is the rightful and natural place of children - and the state.

When a child grows up with controlling parents who dictate their every move without negotiation, the child comes to believe that they have no rights too. Oppression becomes a culture, a mentality and a way of life. From here we may not even see it for what it is. We may come to really believe that strangers housed in a far-away location somehow have the right to dictate six hours of our child's daily life, as we have.

But alas, for most children schooling as we know it is merely an extension of a comparable home life. And so is corporate culture of which schooling is suppose to adjust us for (good link). Again that's why we tolerate it - it's simply "natural" for us. We are half-way socialists living in a half-way socialism. And although many confused souls would disagree, socialism is not community. It's simply centralised [to the state] control.

What would happen if we had a true community education system? 

If education was allowed to form from the bottom up, and with the government providing financial support only as required, then my best guess is that the entire game would dissolve into homeschooling clubs. People would realise that there's simply no need to institutionalise a child's development, and that it's an expense and inconvenience that they can happily do without.

You would still have teacher/schooling services, but you would have a different kind of teacher. You would have a teacher operating as a true independent professional, who is successful in the free market (or they wouldn't exist), and likewise a teacher who will respect the free market and its strengths and not advocate for state control - because they just don't need it.

You can see that when you create a wrong system you end up with wrong people. The best (would be) teachers are probably the ones who don't and couldn't participate in the current system. They're the people you will never hear of.

Role of the state:

In my view an ideal education system should not be stateless.

The role of the state should be to check for gross developmental problems and child abuse, and schooling can assist in this. Also there is something to be said for ensuring that children don't grow up in cults, which a family can be in its own right. The hallmark of a cult is it shuts itself off to external influence, allowing the members within it to develop bizarrely eccentric ideas and cultures. There is a lot to be said, I believe, for ensuring that all children are exposed to a broader social world, and broader ideas, at the critical ages. Make sure they know that the world is round!

However, I believe the role of the state should be drastically cut back from where it is today. It is unnecessarily (and appallingly, I feel) too invasive and restrictive.

More on education here.

Example of community education here.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Democracy at its worst?

Andrew D Atkin:
















The forces of democracy have driven resources away from the fertile population, and to the point where we, as a society, are struggling to breed - well. This situation needs to be reviewed.

Young people in New Zealand have three major burdens that older generations never had to face:

1. Exaggerated educational demands before working.

2. A massive welfare state, expanded in size from increased life expectancy coupled with relatively early retirements.

3. Chronic housing unaffordability.

The result of this being: Child rearing is delayed to ages that are well removed from the biological optimum. People now tend to have children in their mid to late 30's when they should really be having them in their late teens to late 20's. And they have smaller families or often no family at all, and this especially applies to more intelligent young people who tend to attend higher education for longer. Leaving us, dare I say it, with a probable biological dumbing-down of our society over the long term. Some researchers have suggested that we're already well on our way down this path.

How can we call ourselves a rich and civilised country when we cannot even afford to have kids at biologically competent ages, or at least not without significant stress? And why is this happening?

Destructive democracy is part of the problem. For the sake of explanation, I will say that democracy at its worst is a 60% majority voting to turn the other 40% into their personal slaves - a perfectly legitimate position in a pure democracy. Democracy is just democracy, and whether or not it facilitates justice is of course another story. With too many people voting on the back of self-interest as opposed to principle, problems can and will occur, as they have.

With the centre of political gravity migrating to an ever older age group, it's to be expected that the younger generations will be (and have in fact been) progressively ripped-off by the older generations. We see this in New Zealand today with politicians refusing to raise the retirement age (meaning, eligibility to a government pension) even as the pressure on young people becomes serious, and as life expectancy (duration of retirement) has increased so much.

Young people have also been ripped-off by house price inflation. House prices have been artificially inflated to about twice the price of what they should be, and politicians are scared of letting these prices correct because the older generations--that great political majority--naturally don't want to see that happen. The latter group are the sellers - not the buyers.

The other great burden is Education. We used to have an education system that quickly sent the non-academic on their way, out to work and produce, which in turn avoided the waste that comes with over-education. Now we have a system that drives as many people as possible into tertiary education which puts a huge tax on the nation and the individual, and forces the more capable youth to spend even longer in study and only to differentiate themselves from others. This just means less time working and earning and more time accumulating debt, in what can be best described as an "educational arms race" of which in principle should never have happened. [Bryan Caplan provides a good talk on this, here].

Conclusion:

This is probably the biggest social issue of our time, second only to the problem of mass child abuse (here). We can't do what we need to do because in a pure democracy the vote rules - not justice or a respect for long-term outcomes.

We are suffocating the healthy human family through what is ultimately democratic greed and short-sightedness, and it obviously must be stopped - somehow.

Solutions:

The solutions are clear enough.

-Engineer an education system that links education to real professional relevance, to avoid unnecessary waste and late fertility (here).

-Stop brainwashing women into the idea that they should have careers before babies. Plenty of time to start a career once your youngest child is, say, seven years of age. Give young people more time and freedom to follow their instinct and socialise (find a mate), and support them to have children young with the help of their parents and the state, and de-stigmatise dependency (we are a tribal animal at the end of the day, naturally co-dependant). Sure girls and guys can functionally do it on their own, but if you're over-burdened and stressed-out you'll find that no time will be "quality time" with your children. And what you give to your children in those earliest years and months (here) they take with them for the rest of their lives.

-Increase the retirement age from 65 to 75, or even better get rid of the pension altogether and replace it with a standard benefit akin to a sickness benefit for those who can no longer work.

-Eliminate the Metropolitan Urban Limits that choke off land supply that make housing absurdly expensive (here).

-Ration healthcare away from people in their last 1 or 2 years of life, and re-prioritise investment to the young. This basically means letting nature take its course, and letting people with serious conditions that are incredibly expensive to manage die naturally. [Note the included image on New Zealand's healthcare costs].

I know that sounds heartless, but respect that when people are close to death with a seriously weak body they are not generally experiencing a high quality of life, and the far-reaching value of prioritising healthcare/resources to the young will have a long-range social value far in excess of keeping old people alive just that little bit past their expiry time.

















-Make child-rearing easier. Look at building new property developments to be more family-friendly, so that bringing up children can be more fun and less expensive and strenuous (here). Also inform parents that what really matters is what happens in utero, birth and infancy (here), and that "hot housing" kids with extra-scholastic programmes has virtually no (measurable) long-term impact on the child. Ie. Just get it right where it really counts - you don't have to waste your time and money with the other stuff.

Real solutions:

The problem with some of those solutions is that you will struggle to find the political will to deploy them. You'll simply get a giant vote going to people like Winston Peters' who, as a professional politician, specifically targets (bribes) old people for votes as though the needs of the young don't matter. Where the political gravity is, is where the policy will ultimately follow.

One idea is to give young people the vote, but as a "family vote". Let parents vote on behalf of their children until their children reach the age of 18. This will redirect the centre of political gravity much closer to where it belongs. It's not ultimately ideal that children don't vote for themselves, but it's ideal that their interests are more fairly represented. A family vote is better than no vote.

At the least, it will help to end this "war" on the healthy human family. I can appreciate the we need to control populations, and it's good that people cannot comfortably have more than 2 or 3 kids to that end, but damaging the human family is not the way to do it. Population control, as required, needs to be achieved with direct measures as I have spoken about before (here).

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Addition: 20-04-14:

Housing affordability:

The included video below provides us with the most penetrating look into the current government's thinking on housing affordability I have seen. Interestingly the national housing minister, Dr Nick Smith, has declared that the target for "affordable" housing will be 4 to 5 times the median household annual income, instead of the generally accepted measure of 3 times (Housing is considered affordable if the median cost of a home is, say, $150,000, when the median household income is $50,000 ie. 3 to 1 ratio). The incumbent National government has also declared that we can forget about achieving housing affordability (even by their measure) for another 20 years.

I salute the National party's honesty, but this declaration is nonetheless profound. They have and intend to wipe out housing affordability for an entire generation. And note this problem has nothing to do with the natural cost of housing construction and everything to do with artificial cost inflations. This is by design. Governments do not give us housing affordability, they take it away, and as it certainly seems they're not going to give it back, at least not for a very long time.

So what will the demographic impact be? Well, we can see that with costly housing we're creating hardship for people between the ages of about 20-45 (the fertile years) and this particularly applies for people who insist on buying a home during this time, as opposed to just renting.

Now, from a long-term social engineering perspective, the fertile years are the only years that really count as it's that time that defines the status of the following generations. So although expensive housing will suppress breeding in total, the fertility-impact will nonetheless favour people who rent and not buy - which will mean poorer people, in practice. May I be blunt? We should see an even greater bias for poorer and less intelligent/educated people dominating the breeding populations. I'm not saying this is a bad thing, I'm just describing the demographic trend we seem to be creating. The reader can decide for themselves if they're ok with it or not.









Monday, February 17, 2014

Where the Smart Growth zealots got it right - but wrong

Andrew D Atkin:

Smart Growth proponents are always beating up on sprawl, saying it's soulless, unwalkable and ugly. Well I agree - there are many bad examples of it. But you don't need to outlaw it (in any circumstance) you just need to look at where we went wrong with it in the past (when it was wrong) and look at how it can be improved.

In my view (and of course this can only be a subjective appreciation) the key problems with typical sprawl are: Building houses in grids rather than cul-de-sacs; excessively wide roads and inadequate exploitation of one-lane roads; wasted space with large front yards that no-one spends any time in; and running footpaths/cycleways alongside the road as opposed to segregating them into back streets.

The result is a harsh, industrial and often ugly atmosphere where people are living too cosy to roads and cars alround. And it's completely unnecessary. You can easily afford one-lane/way roads in a cul-de-sac context integrated with only a minimal footpath for access (2 feet wide, on one side of the road only) with the main footpath segregated generally behind and in between the properties. Get rid of large front yards and leave the front of the properties only large enough to support adequate off-road parking. You don't have to worry about noise pollution and privacy loss from being close to the road, as these concerns can easily be designed around when constructing a house.

By having the main walkway in between properties the walk becomes far more pleasant, and depending on how you design it more scenic. Cars ruin the walk and the bike ride, and make it less safe.

Ultimately the purpose of this format is to keep cars and traffic away from people more. This thinking was integrated with my ideal for low-density property development based on driverless car technology, but for the most part it can also be applied to new developments today, with or without driverless technology. The following image is an extract from my ideal:















Two other key things in good design (to be sure you don't go catastrophically wrong) is to build houses with big verandas (generally) and avoid primary colours. Take a look at the included image to see the humanising difference a big veranda makes. The top house would look just as nasty as the bottom house if it didn't have the frontage.
























Leaving plenty of space for rugged plants, spots of forested sections (not carpet sprawl), plantation boundaries instead of fences, and slight topography modifications with shallow and subtle slopes can all make a vast difference as well. All of this can leave you with a relaxing zero-sterility atmosphere that any high-density model would struggle to compete with in appeal, for the great majority of the market.

You don't need to build new developments as high-density to make them walkable. If distances are too far to walk for some people, then they can bike. If they're too lazy or physically inept still they can use an electric-assist bike or move closer to the shopping centre. Whatever - it's not a problem. But I would argue that the thing that really makes sprawling cities unwalkable (or more specifically, car-dependant) is not the distances and lack of density, but the traffic we have to walk/bike with. Walking just isn't a pleasant thing to do with the way we've designed our cities. And increasing density will and has only made traffic worse and walking less pleasant still. The latter is not a solution.

Realistically, new developments built at scale will soon be supported by driverless cars, either totally or in part. The technology is here. When anyone within the development can default to some form of 'pod-car' as required, no-one can argue that cities must be built at high-density to the end of achieving greater walkability, in any circumstance.

So there you go Smart Growth people. In part you point to a real problem - but your solution is wrong. New-builds should not be forced higher density. You don't solve sprawl by killing it. We should have better-designed sprawl. The problems we see with sprawl today are easily fixed, and without dictating to people a high-density lifestyle (and unaffordable housing).


Friday, January 31, 2014

Generation Zero: The Flipside

Andrew D Atkin:


















If you're a young person who wants to join Generation Zero and help fight the good fight, and save the world from global warming, then it's important that you read this.

Generation Zero doesn't seem to want to expose you to the other side of the story (they blocked me from their Facebook page for trying to do just that) but I do. Note that a truly informed opinion is an opinon grounded in the other side of the debate, so please hear me out.

From my experience the leaders of Generation Zero do not operate in a sincerely objective manner. They have their ready-made conclusions and if you tell or show them how they are wrong (I tried) they will simply get defensive. They will either outright ignore you (usually) or respond with childish counter-arguments. Alas, you can only challenge someone when they are first prepared to challenge themselves!

Generation Zero believes in and promotes forcing a compact city form as an idealised goal, to the end of (supposedly) reducing carbon emissions and improving our quality of life. This position is clearly solidified in their ideology, and that is not going to change - facts be damned. It's a shame, because they could have established themselves as an honourable organisation pushing for innovative solutions to carbon reduction, but instead they have become a bigot-level thinking advocacy group set to do more harm than good.

From here I will develop a list of counter-responses, quoting their spokesperson, Sudhvir Singh, and others.

Generation Zero quotes are in bold. My responses in normal font:

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1. What you might not know is that in 2013 we experienced record hot temperatures on both sides of the Tasman. Unsurprisingly, the international scientific community released another major report concluding that temperatures are going to continue to rise this century, and that humans burning fossil fuels are “extremely likely” to be the underlying cause.

Local temperatures will always fluctuate, always have, and often quite radically. Global temperatures have not changed in the last 15 years. It's the global warming that we need to focus on.

Though I am not arguing against the idea of problematic anthropogenic global warning in this post, what I said is nonetheless a fact, known to Sudhvir Singh, and should be stated. His indirect impression-creation that global warming is already here and perceptible is manipulative and wrong.

2. We're missing our opportunities to move towards a low carbon future...our national transport funds are almost completely dedicated to building roads and encouraging car dependency at the expense of other transport options.

I bent over backwards trying to explain to these people that cars can be (and have been) made to be highly efficient, and there is nothing intrinsically wrong with car dependency - at least for those who want it. VW, providing a most striking example, has made an experimental car that uses about 10% of the energy of a standard car today. This is just the beginning of where modern transport technology can go.

I explained to Generation Zero that you have to look at context in determining transport efficiencies because whether or not public transport is more or less efficient varies radically, depending on how the mode is used and the climate it's operating in. All of it went on deaf ears.

By far the biggest carbon reductions can come from improving cars and their operating climate - not suppressing their use. Transport in most countries represents only about 10-15% of total energy demand, so if you can reduce the basic energy consumption of cars to anywhere around the 10% mark, from where they are today, they can then become an essentially moot concern.

Really we just need to put an eco-tax on fuel consumption - not force people into public transport, of which can be and often is more environmentally destructive than cars.

3. We called on councils to avoid relentless and expensive sprawl and instead develop visions for liveable cities with greater housing and transport choices that keep the best and brightest talent in New Zealand.

Good lord where have I heard that before? A direct copy-and-paste of Green party and City Vision hogwash.

Firstly, sprawl is generally cheaper than intensified development. Intensification requires demolish-and-rebuild for greater capacities whereas sprawl requires simple add-on's at the fringes - rightly paid for by those who wish to live in those developments.

And what is a liveable city? I suppose that's subjective. But a liveable city is certainly not a city that leaves you with diabolically unaffordable housing (Auckland's reality today - due to Generation Zero policy ideals), and it's not a city controlled by planners who believe it's their role to control demand rather than just co-ordinate it.

Sudhvir Singh also speaks of keeping the "best and brightest" in New Zealand with anti-sprawl policy. Oh boy. You cannot hope to keep good people in your locality by depriving them of their personal housing choice, by making the family home almost completely unaffordable (a natural necessity of forcing higher densities). We see this in Amercia today. Places like Houston, Texas, that allow sprawl have the highest population growth rates within the USA today. Go figure, Sudhvir!

Also, recent surveys have shown that over 85% of the New Zealand market wants to live in detached homes. Don't talk about people's supposed attitudes towards housing, Generation Zero. Just look at the facts and respect consumer demand. Forcing people to live in high-density developments is not choice.

The following is a snapshot from the NZ Herald website, displaying their survey results on housing preferences, from about 10,000 people.

























Sudhvir also refers to sprawl as "relentless". Ok, so you just got this picture in your mind of sprawl rampaging out into the wilderness gobbling up all what's left of the farmland and forests. Right? That's how you propagandise without outright lying: Leave out the key facts - induce assumptions instead. Speak with suggestions - don't give real perspectives.

Well, you will never hear it from an organisation like Generation Zero, but you will hear it from me and the Ministry for the Environment: Only 1 part in 125 of New Zealand is covered over in artificial surfaces. Globally, urbanisation accounts for only about 1-2% of the total land area.





















Furthermore:

The elephant in the room behind the argument for forced high-density development is the Metropolitan Urban Limits. If it's true that people want to live in a high-density city, like Generation Zero says, why then do we have to (artificially) make fringe development so expensive? Why are we so afraid of the competition?

Why do we have to make it so that only rich people can have the choice of living in new low-density townships? I made the point to Generation Zero that they need to explain how, exactly, we justify doing this. How do we justify making fringe sections sell for $300,000+ instead of a more natural $50,000-100,000, by artificially restricting land supply? In this question lies the real conversation. But of course I got no answer. The propagandists and (more realistically) the propagandised almost always avoid the real conversations.

4. We presented our nationwide speaking tour to over 2300 people in 14 locations across New Zealand asking Kiwis “What’s the holdup?” to action on climate change. We rated local body election candidates in major cities, grading them on their commitment to solutions for a liveable low carbon future. We took to this information to voters online and offline, including over 50,000 flyers, to keep our elected representatives accountable. To cap off the year, Metro Magazine awarded us ‘the best new political force’ in the country.

And that is why they scare me. Public opinion rules the world and Generation Zero are high on (misguided) conviction and low on shame.

Generation Zero targets young people (who realistically don't have a clue) to do their advocacy for them. What can I say? I would love to have an army of children to post all my pamphlets for me, for what I believe in, but I would never have the nerve to use people who don't really understand what they're pushing to work for me - no matter how right I believe I may be.

I expressed this point to Generation Zero, and that I thought it was a bit creepy that they target children for promotional ends. That was when I got blocked from their Facebook page and with all my previous and highly-informative commentary (and links) wiped out. I guess it was a bit too close to a sensitive truth.

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21-02-14:

Paul Young, from Generation Zero, is arguing for light rail, Bus option numbers don't add upthat he strangely calls affordable (nope, it's always terribly expensive) for Wellington central.

I am extremely familiar with Wellington and the Newtown/Kilbirnie/airport area. I live there. I have not gone into serious detail with this rail V bus question for Wellington, but with Wellington central's size and topography pushing for a rail-based system ahead of buses is simply bizarre. The demand is not there to justify rail over buses and never will be. Wellington is simply too small and already too built-up. Thankfully Wellington council is not taking the rail option seriously either.

I'll respond to quotes:

Officials claim bus rapid transit could cater for up to 6000 passengers per hour in each direction. However, this seems to assume 60 buses, all 100 per cent full. Guidelines from the United States Transportation Research Board indicate a realistic maximum is around 80 per cent of that: 4800 per hour. This is before considering whether other regular bus services would need to share the spine corridor. Spine study modelling had 21 buses per hour doing this, including the Airport Flyer and Brooklyn routes.

Do the maths. How many buses can you put on a road at any one time - or a dedicated road? Far more than 60. You can also employ articulated buses if required, and with modern technology you can even platoon buses to create literal road-trains. The theoretical capacity of buses is enormous and vastly beyond what Wellington could ever realistically utilise - now or in the foreseeable future.

Paul is making references to official statements about bus systems that don't really apply. Also, if you're going to look at employing rail, which requires a dedicated guideway, then an apples-to-apples comparison requires that you also compare rail to bus systems operating on dedicated guideways. Appreciating that buses have the ability to park off-line at their stops, incredible capacities can ultimately be achieved if a dedicated line (like what rail has) is employed. Also, dedicated guideways would only need to be employed in the demand hot-spots, unlike rail which requires dedicated guideways for the entire network. [Interesting piece on Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) here].

Buses are always a much cheaper system to run and construct than rail. They are also more responsive to real demands, flexible, can be built with high energy-efficiencies (congestion charging and express services would do a lot to that end, and employing hybrid technology and regenerative braking with mechanical flywheels could alone cut fuel by 50% at least), and buses are far more reliable because when a bus fails you just take it off the road; by comparison when a train fails it blocks the entire line until it's sorted out (with passengers having to be rescued by buses).

Considering the huge opportunity and large sums of money at stake, this decision is too important to let politics get in the way of the best outcome for our city.

I couldn't agree more but that is exactly what you're doing, Paul. Getting all those kids who don't have a clue to push your rail ideologies (on virtual faith), threatening to politicise what should be an engineering decision. Building a train in Wellington central is a mad-man's game.

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04-03-14:

Generation Zero are celebrating this article on their Facebook page, and embrace it as a reason to invest in public transport. It reminds me of Sudhvir's reference to some study that (apparently) showed that walking makes us feel as good as falling in love - an inherently spurious isolated research finding of which probably controls for nothing. (You can know you're looking at dodgy science when people claim to have measured the unmeasurable!).

Generation Zero needs to take a course in serious thinking. Firstly, the article hyper-linked above that suggests that young people are ambivalent to driving obviously tells us little. Young people are ambivalent to driving, when they are, because they just don't need to drive. They have parents to taxi them, no kids to drive around themselves, and no job to get to...and other. In any circumstance an article like this can never be translated into a public policy conviction as it tells us nothing in itself about what we need to know, to know how to develop a modern transport system.

I should not have to point this out. But I do because Generation Zero have their pre-conceived ideals (and a lack of commonsense) and as it seems any 'loose' article that backs up their ideals is embraced without serious consideration. Generation Zero has been brainwashed into the idea that public transport is inherently virtuous. It's these "default" assumptions that lead to this kind of empty and undisciplined thinking.

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17-04-14:

More rubbish from the dump. Same old rubbish...



And my broken-record response (I had to do it)...

Biofuels:

Would it be cheaper to just plant trees/plants to offset carbon, rather than spending huge money and energy on refining plants so as to turn them into liquid fuel? Almost certainly. Think new plantations - not biofuels. Enormous room for re-greening on this planet.

Public transport:

It's not more energy efficient - but it is potentially less carbon dependant. But so are cars. Cars have been built to be 10x more efficient than they are today, experimentally using diesel based hybrids. 

An enclosed motorcycle is potentially incredibly efficient - vastly more efficient than public transport; and scooters--especially electric scooters--are already vastly more efficient.

Why the bias for traditional public transport?

Clean cities:

High-density cities concentrate emissions over a given area so are less healthy than low-density cities (people inhale more crap, basically). High-density cities also induce higher psychological stress, as discovered by recent research findings (ref. Scientific American Mind). 

Covering longer distances can be done cheaply and efficiency depending on how you do it - and with a minimal footprint. It's the re-accelerations in an urban environment that consumes most of the energy - not the cruising between the stops.

http://andrewatkin.blogspot.co.nz/2011/12/green-sprawl-why-not.html

The overwhelmingly most significant thing you can do to reduce carbon emissions is employ electronic congestion charging throughout the cities, to avoid stop-and-go congestion. This should be at the top of your agenda.

http://andrewatkin.blogspot.co.nz/2010/12/congestion-charging-yes.html

High-density cities are only created through force - making land outrageously expensive via artificial land rationing, so people can't afford the quarter acre section. This ruins disposable income, economic investment, and likewise makes environmental investment very hard (no money left!).

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09-05-14:

A great video by Bryan Caplan that Generation Zero (staff and founders) need to watch. (I really do love people who can see the truth of things in its most simple form!). Dare to ask yourself, Gen' Zero...."Was I wrong?". It's painful, but all of us need to learn to do it, sooner or later.



....More to come