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Booze barons calling the shots

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’d realise that New Zealand has a destructive heavy drinking culture that pervades all sectors of society.

With an estimated 70% of all Police incidents involving alcohol and young people between the ages of 17 and 19 making up the highest proportion of inebriated offenders, there is no doubt that over consumption of alcohol is costing society dearly.

Just how costly you might ask... In 2005/06 it was estimated by Berl Economics (PDF) that the cost of harmful alcohol use was $4.4 billion in diverted resources and lost welfare, which is over four times the amount of tax revenue gained. However taking into account the full social and economic impact from alcohol abuse increases the costs dramatically.

Last year, the Law Commission made a number of recommendations to try and curb the harm caused including a split drinking age of 18 for bars and 20 for off-licence purchases to 20, implementing alcohol limits for ready-to-drink beverages, reduced opening hours and increasing the excise duty on alcohol by up to 50%.

(More) Original story here.

9 Apr 2012

Scrap the lotto

Politicians encourage irresponsible gambling in order to avoid facing America’s desperate need to raise taxes
In the days following the historic Mega Millions lottery, there’s been no shortage of drama. Rather than capping off a crescendo of excitement, the drawing ignited an explosion of who-won-it speculation. News organizations breathlessly reported the stories of false victors, lost tickets and state officials envisioning a revenue windfall from possible winners in their income-tax jurisdiction. Almost completely ignored in the hysteria was any examination of America’s problematic obsession with lottery mania.

The word “obsession” is no overstatement. According to the Consumer Federation of America, one in five Americans believes playing the lottery is the best way to secure his or her long-term financial future. The nation is so devoted to this form of gambling, in fact, that ABC News reports a boom in lottery ticket sales even during a recession. That translates to a record $50 billion spent on lottery tickets every year.

At that level of spending, the lottery is being seen as an investment and the trouble is that from a financial standpoint, it’s the worst kind of risk to take, because the chances of a return are so slim. Buying a lottery ticket isn’t like purchasing a volatile stock or even like playing the slot machines — both of which provide a comparatively reasonable chance of occasionally winning. On the contrary, most lotteries give you odds that are quite literally worse than your chances of being hit by lightning. Considering that, using one’s dwindling income on lottery tickets is a near guarantee to make one’s economic situation far worse – and according to estimates, that chunk is a troublingly large share of income for those who can least afford it.

Cornell University’s Garrick Blalock explains the trend by noting “that when people are feeling desperate, they are more likely to stop by the gas station and buy five lottery tickets, hoping they get a big windfall.” It’s a wholly irrational hope, of course. But at an individual level, at least the initial impulse to buy into the jackpot fantasy is vaguely understandable – we are, after all, hard-wired to believe such fantasies, especially in a media environment that tells us our wildest dreams are just a single wager away.

(More) Original story here.

By David Sirota, Tuesday, Apr 17, 2012

Limits to Growth – of Stuff, Value, and GDP

by Brian Czech
I’m starting to think that perpetual growth notions are the Achilles heel of the human brain. They pop up like munchkins on a Whac-a-Mole machine. You smash one and up come two.

A recent example comes from Tim Worstall, a business and technology writer for Forbes. Like the long lineage of Homo polyannas before him, he assures his poor readers that we can have perpetually growing GDP without using more resources. He uses a variety of the old "growth is more value, not stuff" argument.

Worstall says, "It really is true that as value increases we have economic growth. And how are we determining that value? Through the market prices that people are willing to pay for them. And what is the determinant of that? Well, actually, it’s us. Our own often arbitrary and always subjective estimations of what something is worth to us. Which isn’t, as I hope can be seen, something that is bounded by any physical limit at all."

What evidence does Mr. Worstall have to support his notion that our estimations of value are unbounded? I don’t recall having or hearing of an experience where something just seemed to increase in value more, more yet, and forevermore. Do you? Now it may have seemed that way for some short period of time with something like coffee. But unless you’re moving into ecstasy ad nauseum – an oxymoron if there ever was one – the value of the experience was bounded. Right?

Original story here.

Global oil production trouble - it’s not just Iran

Oil Map It’s not just Iran driving up oil prices. From South Sudan to Canada, over a million barrels of oil a day are not available to world markets.

It’s not just Iran driving up oil prices. From South Sudan to Canada, over a million barrels of oil a day are not available to world markets.

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- All the attention may be on a loss of oil from Iran these days, but production outages in a variety of spots worldwide is causing about one million barrels of oil a day to sit on the sidelines, helping push oil and gas prices to near record highs.

In places like South Sudan, Yemen and Syria the oil is offline due to violence. In Canada and the North Sea it’s due to technical problems.

Original story here.

By Steve Hargreaves @CNNMoneyMarkets April 5, 2012

The Race for BTUs

The world’s major central banks -- including the Bank of Japan (BOJ), the European Central Bank (ECB), and the Federal Reserve -- appear to have finally won a major battle in the deflationary war that broke out five years ago in 2007. While the ultimate victor is yet to be determined, it now seems likely that a period of nominal growth could ensue for another two years, perhaps even longer.

This will not be high-quality growth. And little of the growth will be real.

Commodity prices will surely eat away at most, if not all, of any gains that may occur in global GDP. Additionally, while non-OECD growth actually has a chance of achieving some GDP gains in real terms, the prospects for the OECD are not as encouraging.

It’s important to put yourself in the minds of OECD policy makers. They are largely managing a retirement class that is moving out of the workforce and looking to draw upon its savings -- savings that are (mostly) in real estate, bonds, and equities. Given this demographic reality, growth in nominal terms is undoubtedly the new policy of the West.

While it’s unclear how long a post-credit bubble world can sustain such period of forced growth, what is perfectly clear is that oil is no longer available to fund such growth. For the seventh year since 2005, global oil production in 2011 failed to surpass 74 mbpd (million barrels per day) on an annual basis. But while the West is set to dote upon its retirement class for many years to come, the five billion people in the developing world are ready to undertake the next leg of their industrial growth. They are already using oil at the margin as their populations urbanize. But as the developing world comes on board as new users of petroleum, they still need growing resources of other energy to fund the new growth which now lies ahead of them.

This unchangeable fact sets the world on an inexorable path: a competitive race for BTUs.

Original story here.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012, 9:57 pm, by Gregor Macdonald

Time Running Out for Sustainable Future:

Worldwatch maps sustainable ’good life’, warns great changes must be made before it’s too late.

The planet will not be able to sustain levels of consumption typical of today’s ’consumer class’ without irreparable consequences to the globe, according to the just released Worldwatch Institute in State of the World 2012: Moving Toward Sustainable Prosperity. They have proposed a redefinition of ’the good life’ as one that aligns with sustainable practices and have mapped out a hopeful plan leading up to this year’s Rio+20; however, the plan’s window of opportunity is quickly closing.

"The aspirations of the original 1992 meeting in Rio collided with a set of painfully sobering developments, including unfriendly politics, orthodox economics, and a dominant culture of consumerism. The 20 years since then have made it clear that necessary change is not merely technical, but encompasses changes in lifestyle, culture, and politics," states Worldwatch.

"There won’t be much point in revisiting the Rio+20 conference in another 20 years to try to figure out what went wrong," says Worldwatch President Robert Engelman.

Common Dreams staff, Tuesday, April 3, 2012

R.I.P. The American Suburban Shopping Mall

Writing on Newsweek’s web site, Tony Dokoupil suggests that the end may be near for enclosed regional shopping malls as we have known them:

"But what makes Xanadu [a huge mall under construction in the New Jersey Meadowlands] extraordinary is the fact that it is emerging just as the American mall-that most quintessential of American institutions-is in its dying throes, if not already dead. Moribund malls have not gone unnoticed amongst industry analysts and Web sites like that feature photos of hundreds of now-abandoned sites.

by Kaid Benfield, December 9, 2008

Fisheries Management: Sustaining The "Wicked Tuna"

Bluefin tuna is one of the poster children for overfishing. So one might expect that "Wicked Tuna," the National Geographic Channel’s new series about bluefin tuna fishermen in Gloucester, Massachusetts, would take a fairly conservation-minded perspective on fishermen’s efforts to capture these majestic giants, some of which can grow to more than 1,000 pounds and more than eight feet in length.

In fact, National Geographic deals its viewers a fairly even-handed look at the bluefin tuna. And ultimately, the takeaway message may be that ironically the best way Americans can help save this fish is by supporting New England’s artisanal bluefin fishery.

Bluefin is an internationally managed species. The fish migrate across entire oceans over the course of their lifetimes, through international waters and in and out of multiple countries’ jurisdictions. So their management falls to an intergovernmental body: the International Commission on Conservation of Atlantic Tunas, or ICCAT. This organization’s effectiveness is questionable at best, and the word most often used to describe it is "dysfunctional."

by Michael Conathan, Apr 2, 2012

We Screwed Up: A Letter of Apology to My Granddaughter

I became politically active and committed on the day 20 years ago when I realized I could stand on the front porch of my house and point to three homes where children were in wheelchairs, to a home where a child had just died of leukemia, to another where a child was born missing a kidney, and yet another where a child suffered from spina bifida. All my parental alarms went off at once and I asked the obvious question: What’s going on here?

Today my three kids are, thankfully, healthy adults. But now that grandchildren are being added to our family, my blood runs cold whenever I project out 50 years and imagine, "what their world will be like at middle age" assuming they get that far and that there is still a recognizable ’world’ to be part of. I wrote the following letter to my granddaughter, Madeline, who is almost four years old. Although she cannot read it today, I hope she will read it in a future that proves so much better than the one that is probable, and so terribly unfair. I’m sharing this letter with other parents and grandparents in the hope that it may move them to embrace their roles as citizens and commit to the hard work of making the planet viable, the economy equitable, and our culture democratic for the many Madelines to come.

Mar 28, 2012