Entries tagged as economics
Tuesday, January 8. 2002
Some time ago, Phil Agree’s Red Rock Eater newsletter had a pointer to a former IMF official who had turned on the IMF for the policies it foisted on third world countries; one item he noted as a piece of silly new orthodoxy was the push to get everyone to adopt or tie to the US dollar as a currency, for reasons that made no sense to me. After all, if attacks on the currencies of Malaysia and the United Kingdom provide a lesson, it’s that trying to peg one’s currency to a particular amount or even range can have a disastrous effect for the national treasury and, by extension, the taxpayer. Who would be me. In a marketplace where currencies are freely tradable, currencies will tend toward the value that people think it should (or at least, the people who buy and sell money).
It was also got a lesson from living in the UK which appears to elude many people across the political spectrum—namely, that while a strong currency may make your dick hard, the economic benefits are less clear cut. The area I lived in, Stourbrige, had a nearly dead glassmaking and pottery industry; the demise was due to the fact that the difference in the strength of the pound against the currencies of Eastern European nations with glassblowing industries (such as Poland and the Czech Republic) meant that one simply could not produce glass in the United Kingdom that could compete in the market.
So when I started to hear various idiots, mostly on the right, but including some (such as Pete Hodgson) nominally on the left, complain about the weakness of the dollar and begin to agitate for New Zealand to peg to the Australian or US dollar, I began to worry. This, it seems to me, would be an unmitigated disaster. The US dollar is worth a lot of money because the US has more than a quarter billion people who form the richest consumer economy in the world (for now) and is an economic, political, and millitary powerhouse (although all but the millitary will almost certainly erode in my lifetime—well within it). People, therefore, buy US dollars - to buy its goods, to trade with the vast US market, or to use as a medium of exchange, since it is considered a trusted currency in a way that the rouble or the peso or the New Zealand dollar is not. New Zealand has none of these characteristics.
In order to prop the New Zealand currency up to the levels of the US dollar, the New Zealand government would have to spend a fortune (of my money) to buck the market’s perception of our currency of simply not being that valuable. And having done that, what would the benefit be? We would have a strong currency. If we were a country which imported raw materials and exported scarce, highly manufactured goods, this might be a win, but we aren’t. Instead, we are a country that imports huge amounts of manufactured products (everything from cars to computers to clothes), and exports primary products, usually lightly manufactured (with some honourable exceptions, such as the more research-intensive parts of the agricultural economy). In those more sophisticated areas where we do foot it to any degree, such as making movies or supplying IT talent, we do so in large part because we have a weak currency and because a US company can spend a beer budget and buy champagne Kiwi talent. In the short term, spending all the taxpayers’ money to artificially propping up the currency would let already well-off New Zealanders go on a spending spree. In the long term, it would destroy our export industries and bankrupt our taxpayers as we bought, not a better healthcare system or education, but a strong currency.
This is basically what’s happened in Argentina - in the years since their currency was tied to the dollar, they’ve lost any competitiveness in the industries they used to have, and now they’ve run out of money. Oops. (Of course, it isn’t as simple as that, but it’s a major factor).
Thursday, December 20. 2001
I’ve become a little irritated about one aspect of the relentless Lord of the Rings hype. Nothing to do with the film per se but rather the spin offs; no not the Burger King merchandising, but rather the huge push for the main benefit for New Zealand being tourism. Ahh, yes, tourism, that purveyor of McJobs. I’d like to think we could do a little better.
One of the reasons Peter Jackson was entrusted with LoTR was not the New Zealand landscape. A number of movies have been made here on that basis, and they have not been made by New Zealanders, nor have they (by and large) generated a significant boost to New Zealand’s collective bottom line; most of the money has flowed in to the McJobs of the acting world in the form of work for extras. Not, I might add, that there’s anything wrong with being an extra, any more than there’s anything wrong with being a kitchen hand, but unless it provides stepping stones to the better jobs, it only guarantees a ghetto status for the country relying on it.
No, Jackson’s ace in the hole is the fact that it was possible for him to assemble a vast array of movie production talent, from the production crews through to the post-production teams. Jackson has, in fact, been doing more to promote the much ballyhooed “Knowledge Encomony” than all the conferences full of supply-side nutters will ever achieve. The work generated by Weta covers a huge range of disciplines - animators, systems administrators, camerapeople, lighters, riggers, set builders, the works - many of which are decently paying jobs that provide excellent opportunities for marketing New Zealand expertise overseas.
But what does the hype in New Zealand push? Tourism. Pushing millions more people into making New Zealand look like every other tourist destination in the world. One could ask locals in Hawaii what they think of the idea of becoming a tourist “paradise”, but I believe they’re too busy exorcising their frustrations by shooting at surfers.
Of course, it’s tempting to conclude, as the government fast-tracks legislation to drive down pay rates for any job offering much more than the average income, that the government of the day is committed to ensure New Zealand is a country where no-one can aspire to enjoying anything significantly better than a McJob; with legislation to effectively ensure that any employer can drive down any job paying more than $45,000 per annum to that level.
But that’s allright, we’ll all get to enjoy working in tourism!
On a lighter note, it’s amusing to read a review of LoTR that points to the scriptural references the reviewer noticed. But he’s obviously never picked up that Tolkien disliked allegory.
Wednesday, November 21. 2001
I was looking through old copies of Unlimited for a pointer to an article they ran on OECD finding about New Zealand’s quality in business managers, spurred by a client company’s claim that salaries for staff are going down, but for managers are going up (and a national trend of higher increases in management salaries rising higher than staff salaries); the article had shown the breakdown of the OECD’s demonstration that by every measure New Zealand was poorly served by the competance of the people running companys in this country, with capabilities consistantly rate in the the bottom half of OECD nations, and below the likes of Russia and Vietnam in some. Oddly, though, New Zealand managers and boards imagine themselves in the top eleven and five in the world respectively, which is presumably why they keep paying themselves more as New Zealand companies fail to perform for their shareholders.
What I found was this illuminating piece; I say illuminating because it pits Rod Oram against Roger Kerr; Oram points to real world measurements of company and managerial performance and show New Zealand managers are wanting. Kerr whines about government, while using studies he’s commission specifically to show (in the face of internationally accepted measurements) that what one might call the management classes are just fine.
(How far out are those studies? Well, as Oram points out, one of them essentially claims that economics is a zero sum game—in which case, we might as well become Marxists, since the leading proponents of lassaiz-faire are now arguing that we’re just fighting over the same share of pie.)
What’s interesting about this is that it reveals that Kerr is a statist. While some proponents of the Boston school of economic thinking are statists when it suits (that is, when things go badly, everything is the fault of the government; when things go well, it is the virtue of selfish enterprise); Kerr appears to believe, every bit as much as Muldoon or Mussolini or Stalin that the state, not the individual is the sole determiner of the wellbeing of a country.
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