Teenage Parties? Leave it to the Woodstock generation, and their obvious infallibility

An edited version of this story was republished by The Spinoff on November 8th, 2017.

I spent an hour chatting with the woman dubbed ‘Momma Doof’, who defied conventional parenting ‘best-practice’ by somehow remembering what it’s like to actually be a teenager.

As we draw toward the end of 2017, the thick nub of New Zealand’s self righteous nanny state has re-emerged from its winter slumber, casting shame on those acting haphazardly at that explicably reasoned age of 16, or thereabouts. In both Hamilton & Rotorua, a few dozen students are now facing sanctions for liberating themselves of clothing in the annual silliness that comes with ending 13 years of formal schooling. Meanwhile, students at Rangitoto College were advised that ‘adulting’ would be banned via the prohibition of makeup, and further south, police have shown their willingness to break up innocuous gatherings of teenagers – with full riot gear.

“It had barely started” says Teresa Soper, still incredulous that more than a dozen mostly boyish looking police officers arrived at her property unannounced, despite what she says had been a cordial relationship with law enforcement up till that point. Soper rattles off her various meetings with police leading her to believe she’d be legally compliant provided a few ‘slight adjustments’ were made. So, what cuts her the deepest? “Well, we missed the chance to make some charities a bit of money”, laments Soper who had been consulting local kaumatua about the best use of any excess funds she’d collected through the sale of tickets.

Last week, police charged Soper with providing a space where minors consumed alcohol. Affectionately known as ‘Momma Doof’, for the past couple of years she had been organising parties for teenagers to congregate, under the watchful eye of adult supervision. Her motivation was simple; she was petrified about her daughter sneaking out the bedroom window at night and acquiring the wrong sort of company. Soper tells me that after a bit of ‘trial and error’ her crew managed to formulate some fairly common sense rules; including no hard liquor, no weapons (both enforced through bag checks), no fighting and to leave when asked.

“We charged a small admission fee to cover the costs of security” advises Soper, referring to what she called her ‘Guardians of the Doof’. These guardians were a dozen adults dressed in fluoro identifiers, enforcing the rules and ensuring the safety of patrons. She’d also included a ‘time out’ space for teenagers that had had too much to drink, a ‘safe space’ for female teens, and a makeshift urinal for the lads. It wasn’t just a good ole’ fashioned ‘kiwi-as’ piss ups either, Soper had a hospitable, funky barn space kitted out with a BBQ area and its own raised DJ booth, aiming to keep teenagers of all walks sufficiently entertained.

Soper accomplished this in a setting nestled far enough away from the suburbs that the music could be blasted without it inconveniencing any of those more ‘civilised’ types, you know, the teenagers’ parents. And she isn’t shy to rattle off the professions of a few rather distinguished persons whose private school kids were often being dropped at the party’s front gate by their (probably grateful) parents.

“The parties were also used to raise awareness about the consequences of alcohol abuse and Class A drugs.” explains Soper, keen to point out that the purpose of these events is much deeper than whose kids it was that were in attendance. She doesn’t supply any of the liquor herself and confirmed that teenagers found to be possession of drugs were asked to leave. Soper also relayed a few heart-wrenching stories while we chatted on the phone, personal events in the life of her daughter that gave some context to her decision to pursue a more engaging approach. Soper claims she’s happy to leave the deconstruction of New Zealand’s teen drinking culture to the experts; what matters to her most is how she can manage their drinking in a safer way.

That’s not a bad effort from a mum that just wanted to ensure her daughter was keeping good company. Without Soper, it is fair to say a few hundred Christchurch teenagers each weekend have been left muddling through the weekend largely of their own accord.

That didn’t stop a ferocious mob from the concerned mothers league joining the pile on though. Fairfax contributor Mary-Ann Scott opined that Soper wouldn’t be the ‘cool mum’ for long and asked if she had considered the prospect of 1 of the 400 attendees brandishing a knife. Perhaps Scott believes that knives are confined to bush doofs, perhaps handed out in goody bags at the entrance? She hasn’t quite explained why it would be better for the hypothetical knife-wielder to be among the same kids, only with no adult supervision or first aid available.

Knives (and liquor for that matter) are ubiquitous in New Zealand and at least Soper made some arrangements to deal with such anti social behaviors. Not to mention that our Government has listed “reducing the social destruction caused by alcohol” as one of their four national priorities to reduce crime. If evidence-based policy wasn’t so much less appealing than knee jerk responses, we might be asking Soper’s advice instead of charging her; as it stands, her record of 0 violent incidents in 2 years of events makes an interesting contrast to outcomes elsewhere across New Zealand.

Not to be outdone, Kidspot Managing Director Heidi Boulger then seized the opportunity to offer up her own wisdom to Chris Lynch on Newstalk ZB. It appears “motherhood” and “online entrepreneur” are now clearly sufficient qualifications to meet Newstalk’s stringent editorial standards for “credible public health expert”. Boulger offered up pearls such as “‘it’s illegal” and “they’re underage teens”, leaving no doubt she is capable of summarising most of the relevant facts; missing only the legal nuance of whether the barn constitutes public or private property, which appears to be a one of the determining factors in whether Soper was within the law. “I don’t think it’s a good idea” Boulger then states, after being presented nothing short of generous wind direction by Mr Lynch.

Notably, neither member of the peanut gallery managed to support their opinions with evidence or actual research, opting instead for a drive-by slight at a mother who had the temerity to take a more progressive stance toward teenage social deviance. Scott or Boulger probably don’t even care about Soper’s parties, they’re just enjoying the publicity that a bit of virtue signalling in the media has delivered for them.

Among the hand flapping of a few high school principals, pushed into the public sphere by a media that has long realised the cost advantages of sensationalism over journalism, it has almost been forgotten that the teenagers of today are literally the grandchildren of the original Woodstock generation (err, the music festival not the shitty bourbon) whose lives seemed to pan out alright after a few years of questionable behavior. And through a heavy dose of moral panic offered up by our 4th estate, the condemnation has widened beyond those too young to remember where they were when commercial aeroplanes slammed into New York office buildings and onto people like Soper, who have dared provide an element of pragmatism when marshalling such unenlightened beings as today’s youth.

So, shouldn’t Teresa Soper, despite any faults, be in the running for New Zealander of the Year? Instead, she’ll be facing court for choosing evidence-based harm minimisation instead of our country’s hypocritical, draconian and entirely futile attitudes toward liquor consumption. It’s a culture that’s not only inextricably linked to the plaid shirt, rugby mad, hyper masculine characterisation of New Zealand men but also the dearth of stringent regulations and social programs to ensure Kiwi teens are not socialised into a life of alcoholism in the first place.

Perhaps it’s Soper’s own daughter that sums it up best when she took issue with the criticisms levelled at her mother; “I’ve never needed to sneak out of home to be with my friends and I’ve never been in a car with a drunk driver” states Libby. “I don’t need to – I’ve got a cool mum.”

TL;DR  Progressive thinking in New Zealand can lead to you being charged for not falling within the parameters of established social norms, because you know, there’s surely only one way to raise children.

P.S  If you’re passionate about this topic and would like to make a donation toward Teresa Soper’s legal defense than no amount is too small.

Teresa Soper

ANZ

01 0635 0235145 00

Put ‘lovedoof’ in the particulars.

 

Negative gearing: More distortion than a shitty dub step track

Have you heard the latest joke? The housing market is cooling off and it’ll be affordable again sometime soon!

Heh, that old chestnut. Conveniently popping up in our news feeds every time politicians feel the pressure to address self-made distortions in the Australasian housing market. 

I cannot just help but wonder why that is.

With only a few days until the next New Zealand General Election such objective sources as ‘Barfoot & Thompson Realty’ are on hand to spin us another yarn about increasing housing affordability. So, millennials, break out that 180k you’ve got laying around, the average Auckland sale price might fall to $900,000 over the next two years and you too can take advantage of blah blah, etc, etc.

Last night ‘The Block NZ’ managed to climb its way into the national conversation, its contestants wore turgid expressions as the auction process confirmed they would not be rich, that after spending the entirety of winter putting up with Mark Richardson.

In what has been an incredible assumption of egg before chicken, the comparatively lower auction prices this years’ season finale are being used to claim that the Auckland housing market is now in a state of decline.

Not perhaps that there is an election looming and that housing policy is in fact one of the few areas of substantive difference between the major parties and their allies.

No, of course not, lets just gloss over that little nugget of context. 

Kiwis and Aussies could be forgiven for thinking that the pillow fighting among our respective governments is a sign of a cultural chasm that has opened up so deep that it threatens to rip apart that oft talked about, all-conquering ANZAC spirit that we share.

But the presence of that same 91 year old beneficiary of the state stamped onto our respective banknotes suggests that we still have plenty in common with one another. It is in fact a shared culture exemplified by many things; an affection for oval shaped ball sports, a pair of ugly looking steel bridges and a f**kin’ stupid housing policy.

Make no mistake the housing situation is a mess on both sides of the Tasman, and it is impacting just about every metropolitan area with more than two supermarkets in its city limits.

The housing market is so f**ked in Auckland, it is making Hamilton a more appealing place to live.

Because of that, housing in my beloved hometown is now pretty well f**ked too.  

Bank of New Zealand Chief Economist (whom I affectionately consider as the curly haired face of fascism in this country) played a straight bat for the ears of home owning baby boomers recently, berating those desperate to get onto the housing market by suggesting they were either whiny, wasteful or expecting too much.  

He was of course merely engaging in a bit of low-brow millennial bashing, using the sort of language that would have appealed to his investor buddies, whose explosive growth in their property portfolios no doubt gives them better erections than the more conventional diamond-shaped blue pill they’re typically prescribed.

It was also a lazy argument that bordered on plagiarism, which in context made his seriously shit remarks that little bit more ironic.  

Housing is a complex issue, beyond the musings of economists there is an idea being touted by some politicians that it can be addressed by transforming everyone’s favourite “f**k off we’re full” slogan into a nationwide immigration policy.

While immigrants usually take a couple of generations before they’re discussing stock options down at the country club, they are already good for some things; in this case, taking the blame that might otherwise fall on the type of people who donate to political parties.

It’s also important to remember that it is immigrants doing the jobs we can’t be f**ked doing ourselves – such as shift work in hospitals, working in one of our genuine growth industries (prisons) or even wiping the asses of our parents as they begin to populate retirement villages.

Those new migrants will all need somewhere to live too. So, we need to build more homes to at least keep pace with their arrival.

But, there is something else driving demand at such a breathtaking pace; it’s the unseen incentives we give people to park capital in the real estate market.

This obscene policy is called ‘negative gearing’. It’s a process only allowed to operate so liberally in our two fine countries. While it’s banned entirely throughout most of Europe and the United States.

It is practically undisputed among top economists, people such as Philip Lowe, the Reserve Bank Governor of Australia, that negative gearing is a contributor to the considerably over-inflated housing market we’re all chained to.

Negative gearing is defined rather succinctly here.

“It is when the cost of an investment is greater than the income earned from it. For rental properties, costs can include interest payments on a loan or mortgage (but not the principal payments), and expenses such as maintenance, rates, water, insurance, depreciation, accountants and agent fees.

If a property owner has a loss on their investment, they can claim a tax deduction and offset that loss against income earned elsewhere.”

Housing investors are almost always borrowing money to fund their new purchases, and with any mortgage, the amount of interest paid in each installment is more at the beginning of the loan. Therefore, in the first decade at least they can write off such losses against their personal income taxes because their interests costs are high.

This makes property a compelling option for investors, because while they may not be earning the passive income you’d typically hope for from a rental property, they’re able to limit their tax burden while watching the equity in their investment home skyrocket.

After a few years the investor can reach a cost equilibrium but also a substantive capital gain. Provided enough equity has been realised, those same investors can buy another home.

And another one

And another one

And another one

And another one

And another one

And another one

The result is that more people are competing to buy the same number of homes, which pushes prices even higher. When the investor finally secures that shitty old run down ex-state house for 700k, they then need to rent it out for a weekly amount that at least keeps within range of their monthly mortgage repayment.

The end result of this madness is that housing in Australasia has become a multi trillion dollar ponzi scheme that would make Bernie Madoff gush from his federal prison cell.

Even old mate Tony conceded that by ending the practice it will have some impact on the housing market – he must have wanted to shower after admitting that.

It’s also around this moment you start to realise why New Zealand has over 41,000 people (about 1% of the population) either sleeping rough or in woefully inadequate forms of housing (read: cars, garages and boarding houses) throughout the country.  

Census data from way back in 2011 puts the Australian number at over 100,000.  I would bet the value of a week’s’ rent for my tiny studio apartment that the figure is higher now.

How else could we fix this mess?

Clearly, you could do nothing and hope for the best – it’s certainly what the Property Council of Australia and New Zealand Property Investors’ Federation would like you to do.

OMG DID YOU SEE THE BLOCK LAST NIGHT??!! 

Or, you could drastically cut immigration as suggested, boot a whole lot of people out and then transform the country into some form of agrarian utopia by pushing people from the cities and into farms (google ‘Khmer Rouge’ for further information).

The first part of which is kind of what happened in Perth, except it wasn’t Government-directed; the decline in the resources sector caused a mass exodus of the formerly employed; many of them Kiwis now returning home to greener pastures.

That’s another reason negative gearing sucks; if growth flatlines and the economy tanks (in the way it has done in West Australia) the housing market will collapse in an even more dramatic fashion, leaving a lot of people in negative equity (where their mortgages are higher than what they could sell the home for).

So, negative gearing must go or be significantly curtailed, because even if the market stutters for a few months in times of uncertainty (as it is currently doing) it will simply rebound at some point if nothing is done to fix the structural issues created by artificial demand.

In the long run, negative gearing is a ‘no one wins’ type scenario for just about everybody – except the boomers who have cashed out already, and of course the banks, politicians, and lobbyists who awarded themselves the liberty in the first place.

TL;DR?  The housing crisis is an issue of both supply and demand. In times of uncertainty, demand will taper off. However, unless you change the underlying structural issues in the market, demand-driven distortions will inevitably return.

 

Super Polarise Me:  Why can’t we have a sensible conversation about immigration?

Have you ever made a reasonable point about immigration, only to be immediately derided as some sort of ‘bigoted asshole’ or ‘deluded liberal’?

You could be exactly one of those things. Or, you could be neither.

It could be you are just trying to make sense of a world most of which you only know through newspapers or television. Maybe you have already picked a ‘side’ thinking there were only two options; a false dilemma presented via limited media offerings.

Deluded liberals have been ‘telling off’ bigoted assholes for a while now, and as such many bigoted assholes have learned to STFU and wait to express themselves at the ballot box – a place they can make a whole heap of collective noise without fear of public shaming.

It started about 20 years ago when the children of bigoted assholes voted in a new round of bigoted assholes to represent them. Fearing a shrinking support base, representatives of bigoted assholes took a new approach; looking outward, they no longer rallied against the new found rights of the indigenous persons, but instead sought to demonize newly arrived minorities.

In 1996, bigoted assholes voted Pauline Hanson into the Australian Parliament. In New Zealand, Winston Peters morphed into a bigoted asshole. Then the bigoted assholes gave Jean-Marie Le Pen a shot at becoming French President. A decade or so later, the biggest bigoted asshole of them all was elected President of the United States.

There is no shortage of academic literature, often written by deluded liberals, explaining how the politicians representing bigoted assholes have come to be so powerful. But very little of it critiques how they themselves, those within the intelligentsia, have failed to usefully reason with bigoted assholes.   

On the campaign trail, deluded liberals want anything from dramatic increases in immigrants to literally open borders. They will point to the hopelessness that pervades developing countries and the misery of war torn nations, they demand that we agree to take more refugees than ever before and ask fewer questions on their arrival. Quite often, deluded liberals don’t believe in God, but they are willing to import thousands of immigrants that do.

Anyone that dares question the moral superiority of deluded liberals will immediately be labelled a bigot, or in fact, a bigoted asshole.

Rather disingenuously, bigoted assholes will often suggest that before accepting foreigners, we should do a better job ‘looking after our own’. The bigoted asshole will point to inequality at home, despite regularly voting for parties that offer virtually no respite for those in need.  More often than not, the bigoted asshole will have a disproportionate fear of terrorism and will link that to immigrants.

At best, bigoted assholes seem oblivious to the fact that if it were not for immigrants working in our hospitals, IT departments, aged care and correctional facilities, our core public services would be in a perpetual state of crisis.  

Bigoted assholes and deluded liberals have one thing in common though, they are tribal in their beliefs.

The polemic nature of immigration debates (all over the Western world) results in the ‘shout down’ of some fairly reasonable quantitative measures, while populists dog whistle to the lowest common denominators of their base and ensure that any meaningful discussions will quickly devolve into a spectacle where race and culture are conflated and confused.

The brinkmanship of absolute collective denial that these two groups exhibit then crowds out the public debate in every possible way.  

The plague of polarization extends throughout the Anglosphere and acts to stifle any constructive discussion about how we best integrate new migrants into our respective democracies. The media then feeds this chasm of political cooperation by frequently reporting the immigration politics in other parts of the West, through practically useless 60 second sound bites that provide virtually no critical perspective.

Politically, the bigoted assholes are winning. But they are aided by deluded liberals who have long since abandoned ‘real politics’ for deeper and more abstract philosophical discourse.

So why is it we can’t we have a sensible conversation about immigration?  

Is it entirely unworkable that we expect migrants to uphold [insert name of liberal democracy here] values?

Instead of scoffing at the proposition, are liberals really sure that we can’t identify a small but crucial set of values that potential immigrants will need to share if they are to flourish in their adopted country?  

Is it fair to say that these values that form a part of our liberal democracy, are not always the construct of dark hegemonic forces – and that to dismiss them in such a manner is, frankly, absurd?

Meanwhile, can the bigoted assholes accept how useless ‘citizenship tests’ are, particularly when they themselves would be unlikely to pass such a test?

Could they ponder for a moment the ridiculousness of having a test that evaluates someone’s adherence to white anglo norms in a land where their ancestors invaded and displaced those that once had their own set of norms?

Can we not critically evaluate issues that are linked to immigration without such discussions immediately devolving into an ideological shit fight?

It doesn’t seem that way.

I have some ideas, but I don’t want to labelled a deluded liberal or a bigoted asshole.

TL;DR?  Bigoted assholes want more assurances, deluded liberals want a more caring approach to migrants – these two things are needn’t be mutually exclusive of one another.

Peek-a-Boo! Aren’t you a cute widdle taxpayer…

Tax cuts bring voters to the yard the same way babies are enchanted by a game of peek-a-boo, and a good game of peek-a-boo never gets old. The theory surrounding peek-a-boo’s longevity is ‘object permanence’. In other words, babies find the game fun because there is an element of predictability about the outcome.

Last week New Zealand’s Prime Minister Bill English traded questionable pizza toppings for adulthood by popping up on TV to ‘surprise’ the country’s voters. English stated that if the trajectory toward surpluses continues, taxes in one form or another will continue to fall. The excitement among middle class New Zealand was palpable, and it is perhaps one of the many reasons National has been coasting toward a 4th term in Government.

Not everyone is happy though. Some New Zealanders are contending, or dare I say lecturing, the rest of the country in what they believe is being overlooked; government expenditure will need to be increased in real terms if core public services are to be maintained at the rate which they are currently.

So in times of ‘excess’ milk & honey, Governments can either hand money back (in the way Mr English has prescribed), pump it into public services or put some of it aside for a rainy day. In essence, that is the crossroads New Zealand is at right now, we are hauling in about 2% more than we are spending which leads to a question of what we should do with the leftovers.

To inform that discussion we should perhaps be looking across the ditch.

In Australia, the opposite is taking place. With an economy no longer buoyant from activity in the resources sector, growth has been stalling while budget deficits have become the norm. Meanwhile, the public have enjoyed tax cuts in the past decade furthered by both major political parties.

To reverse such deficits the Australian government has 3 options at its disposal:

1. Further rein in costs; or
2. Issue debt; or
3. Grow revenue.

In other words, once all that possible ‘efficiency’ in the public service has been realised (option 1) the government can either fund excess spending through loans (option 2) or increased taxation (option 3).

And that is where Australian politicians are trapped; however you look at it, tax increases are political suicide. If you’re a millennial voter in Australia, the effective personal tax rate paid by your parents has only ever fallen throughout your lifetime. So, good luck telling millennials that their taxes need to increase at the same time they’re trying to save 80k for the deposit on a house. Equally, you will get short shrift telling boomers they will need to open their wallet at the exact time they are making a final dash toward retirement. That only leaves deficits, and a government that campaigned on ending them.

The conditioning of voters to accept tax increases under no circumstances is a concern that has frustrated both economists and academics alike, “Why do Joe Public continually demand tax cuts and still expect the central government to provide a high quality of services?”. In a recent Political Science Association Conference I recall similar sentiments; academic staff were musing as to whether the public understand how the ‘social contract’ extends to taxation. “Have these ghastly neoliberal oligarchs brainwashed the populace into believing that lower personal taxes will lead to unfettered, year on year prosperity for all and sundry?” cried one, into his empty champagne flute.

Irrespective of the cause, rhyme or reason, increasing taxes to cover shrinking revenue, after years of reducing them in various ways, is a bit like changing up a game of peek-a-boo. Suggesting that taxes be increased to pay for stuff may sound plausible, but it creates uncertainty, which makes the game less fun. In effect, it would be akin to disappearing mid peek-a-boo and then having another adult continue the game.

So, if Mr English does indeed win in September he’ll need to decide how long he wishes to keep up the game with taxpayers before the political establishment becomes locked into a cycle of deficits. Because if it gets to that point, the toys really will go out of the cot.

TL;DR? Taxes are more offensive than spaghetti pineapple pizza, but if we keep cutting them, so help your God if we never need to raise them.