Cannabis and its relationship to funding gang activity: My letter to Paula Bennett and its response

Hi Paula – I write to you in your capacity as Minister of Police.

 

In this Stuff news article: http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/crime/90502569/police-hit-back-at-cannabis-haul-criticism

 

The officer involved said something to the effect of “Removing cannabis and grow operations hit crime rings where it hurt most, their finances”.

 

Would you agree that legalising cannabis and allowing the free market to sell cannabis, would be a more effective way to remove this source of funding from gangs? After all – I don’t believe that gangs make much money from selling alcohol.

 

 

Kind regards,

 

 

David Johnston

 

 

The response:

 

Dear David,

 

I am writing on behalf of Hon Paula Bennett, Minister of Police, who has asked me to acknowledge your email of 17th March 2017 concerning legalising cannabis.

 

Your correspondence has been noted, however the legalisation of Cannabis is not on the government’s priority list.

 

Thank you for taking the time to write to the Minister of Police.

 

Yours sincerely

 

Jeff Penno

Like with my letter to Andrew Little, it seems both National and Labour hold the same position with cannabis – ‘it’s not a priority’.

Let’s pay people $50/week to use contraception.

First – let’s be clear that I support a Universal Basic Income (UBI). The policy I suggest here could be used in additional to a UBI (ie. people would receive this allowance on top of their UBI), or in the context of our current welfare entitlements, as a less costly, less universal UBI.

The allowance

The proposal is simple. We give people of reproductive age $50/week if they are taking long term contraception (ie. IUD, depo, or implant).

Because the nature of our biology dictates that long term contraception is only available to women, only woman of ages say 16-40 would be eligible for this allowance.

The woman would, upon having her contraception installed, get a signed certificate from her doctor, which she can then take to her welfare office to start receiving her allowance. In the case of contraception that requires renewal (eg. depo), she would be required to bring this certificate to the welfare office every renewal period.

The contraception and doctor’s visit would be paid for by the state.

Someone women don’t suit certain certain kinds of contraception. Fortunately there are three different kinds – so it seems unlikely that a woman would be unsuitable to all three. In the case that she is – she could be given an alternative (eg. condoms if need be), and still be eligible for the allowance – unsuitability would need to have strict criteria.

The allowance wouldn’t be means tested; all women aged 16-40 would be eligible, regardless of whether they’re unemployed, a single mother, or they earn a million dollars a year. The reasoning for this allowance, is that it would provide people with immediate short term incentive to take contraception – making the default position to be not having children. 

Why? Decision making – the discount rate

This necessity for this policy comes down to an economic concept called discount rateIf I were to offer you $1000 now, or $1000 in a year’s time, it would make sense that you would choose the $1000 now, as you can make some use of it now, even if just to put it in the bank to earn interest.

What if I offered you $1000 now, or $2000 in a year’s time? Depending on your situation, you might take the money now, if say you had a power bill you desperately needed to pay; if you were already plenty flush, you’d more likely take the money in a year’s time, 100%pa being a pretty good return on investment. If I was offering $1000 now, or $10,000 in year’s time, you’d be even more likely to put off taking the money.

The exact ratio of how much money I’d need to offer in order for you to delay, is what determines your discount rate. The higher your discount rate, the more money I’d need to offer you to delay; or in other words, the higher your discount rate, the less the same dollar now, is worth in a years time.

Discount rates also apply to costs. Imagine if I were selling you a new phone and you can pay $500 for it now, or $1500 in three years’ time – depending on your discount rate, you might, or might not think that the three years’ time deal is a good deal.

This same decision making factor applies to taking contraception. There’s an immediate cost of taking contraception – the time spent going to the doctor, the cost of contraception etc. There’s also a cost of not taking contraception – the potential that you have a child, (or face the decision of having an abortion), the corresponding time and money costs of raising a child.

Because of peoples’ discount rate – the cost of having a child is reduced – it’s in the future and abstract, compare to the immediate real cost of using contraception. Additionally – New Zealand’s welfare entitlement for children discounts the cost having children for those not already employed by giving increased welfare entitlement.

Anecdotally – this is reflected in doctor’s offices, where a sexually active young girl, who is not on contraception is asked ‘well what are going to do if you get pregnant?’ responds with, ‘I don’t know – receive a benefit’.

An allowance for contraception provides immediate incentive to use contraception – using contraception becomes a lot more worthwhile if you’re receiving $50 a week to do so.

Why is this necessary? What’s wrong with having children? 

Firstly – global warming. The single most significant thing you can do to blow out your carbon footprint is to have children. We shouldn’t be cavalier about bringing an additional person into the world. It should be a well considered decision – which is what the allowance seeks to do – change the default from ‘having children’ to ‘not having children’.

Secondly – the social cost of additional people.

I think that the investment required to raise someone who is able to contribute to society in a meaningful manner has increased.

Where one hundred years ago – an illiterate person could have a child, and that person grows up less educated than the average person today, that person could still make a useful contribution to society – working as a labourer in a factory or building roads. This is a little glib, but all that was required to produce a useful human being, is having the person healthy and limbs intact.

Now – technology is quickly outstripping our requirement for human labour,  increasingly – those jobs machines can do.

Just being educated also won’t enough. Computers are increasingly taking on intellectual jobs – for example it’s conceivable that doctors wont be required in the future – as evidence by Watson’s ability to diagnose a patient where doctors were not.

Point is – it’s not enough to accept raising a healthy child as successful parenting – there’s a rising bar for what’s required for someone to comfortably navigate the society of the future. Even if all that ‘raising the bar’ means is ‘having parents who really wanted to have you’.

And to do that – we should be delaying parenting until people really want to (enough to forego the contraception allowance), at a point where they’re presumably more prepared and capable as parents.

Immigration

There’s another reason that I think we should be raising the standard of parenting – we can make up a short fall of unskilled and semi-skilled labour via immigration.

There is an existing tension where unskilled or semi-skilled labour in New Zealand are concerned with immigrants taking their jobs.

In a global society, with increased global cooperation I don’t think it’s fair for New Zealand to shut the doors to vast numbers of people in lesser off countries to preserve the jobs of the people lucky enough to be born here.

At the same time – I’m not proposing a fully open door policy, I think cultural tensions need to be managed, but this is out of scope for what we’re discussing here.

By having less children ourselves – that increases our ability to import labour – which is a good thing, because it means that we can select the kinds of education and skills we have to fill the gaps, rather than having to reskill or acccomodate people with skills that we didn’t choose to have.

Addressing criticisms:

“This will cost a lot of money”

Using this page from Stats NZ I estimate that 802,700 are women in the 15-39 age bracket, and using this page  2,510,000* people are employed.

That gives a cost of approximately $16/week per employed person.

Personally, I’m perfectly ok spending this kind of money, and I think many other people would be too. Especially if this program was shown to reduce money spent on sole parent welfare – the cost does not seem like a lot.

*nb. Employed counts as doing at least one hour work, so this number includes people working part time. I had a hard time trying to find fulltime employment statistics.

“This is unfair, because only woman can receive it.” 

Actually, I think this is good measure to address the gender pay gap.

“This is eugenics.”

The entire reason for making the allowance applicable to all women aged 16-40, is avoid the demographic targeting slippery slope.

“This targets the poor, because they’ll be more affected by the monetary incentive than a rich person.” 

I agree that a poor person’s decision making will be more affected by this allowance than the wealthy.

However, what’s important to highlight is that this is giving people free money, where they wouldn’t have received it before. If someone doesn’t want to subscribe to the scheme, they don’t have to.

I would be concerned if the existence of the allowance was used as a reason to cut other entitlements. For example – it wouldn’t be fair to reduce unemployment benefits with the rationale that the cut can be made up with the allowance. But given that only woman are eligible for this contraception allowance – this is quite nicely mitigated – as you couldn’t cut unemployment welfare without affecting the men, and you couldn’t apply unemployment welfare unequally between sexes.

The argument that this policy would be bad for the poor is an interesting one – because essentially it argues against giving more money to the poor.

“This might cause people to delay having children until it’s too late.”

The argument here is that for a couple who both work lower wage jobs, they might keep putting off having children while they earn that extra $2600 a year, and it eventually be too late.

There’s a couple I’d make here:

Firstly, we have Working for Families in New Zealand, which serves to assist families on lower incomes – and I wouldn’t propose scrapping that.

Secondly – I think people who really want to have children, $50/week wouldn’t be enough to put them off. The $50/week really serves as an incentive for those who don’t really intend to have kids right now.

 

The time I woke up surrounded by cows

When I was about eighteen, and living in the South Island, for some reason I’d hitch hiked to Takaka, at the top of the South Island.

It my first time there. People told me that there’s a bridge just outside of town, that was a good camp spot.

But the thing is, turns out there’s a bridge on either end of town. I hadn’t gone through the other end of town, so I didn’t know about that one, so I assumed it was the one that I’d gone over when I first came in.

So I go back to that tent, and there’s a paddock. The weather’s fine and it’s summer, so I just sleep out under the stars.

That night I had a dream that a cow bit me.

I wake up in the morning, and open my eyes, and there’s all these cows standing around me staring at me.

I’d slept in a cow paddock.

It looked a bit like this:

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I’m considering leaving New Zealand: my letter to Andrew Little, and its response.

I wrote Andrew Little (leader of the opposition in New Zealand, as well as Jacinda Ardern (deputy leader), Grant Robertson (spokesperson for Employment) and Clare Curran (spokesperson for ICT)  an email:

Hi Andrew, Jacinda, Grant, Clare.

I’m a 31 year old IT professional who’s been working in Wellington for four years since I graduated with my computer science degree.

I’m writing to tell you why I’m currently looking for work in Melbourne.

Firstly – there’s the standard reasons many New Zealanders leave New Zealand:

– I’m hopeful that I’ll earn more money in Melbourne.

– I’m yet to have an OE and I want to see the world.

There’s also the IT specific reasons – I enjoy the culture of Wellington – but a lot of the work here tends to be for government, which isn’t the best place to do IT. It seems that Melbourne (and cities like Berlin) have a more exciting, fast paced IT culture.

But also another reason I’m looking at moving. It’s really hard to find cannabis in New Zealand. 

 

I know this sounds absurd – but hear me out.

Firstly – be aware that it’s much harder to find cannabis now, than it was ten years ago. The Guardian even wrote about it. 

I think that this is probably the result of the police being good at their job, and career criminals finding it it more profitable to be involved with meth than cannabis, as well as the relative isolation and small population of New Zealand.

I think often politicians adopt the attitude that ‘Yes, cannabis is illegal, but it’s tolerated, we turn a blind eye to it, and its illegal status doesn’t really affect those otherwise law abiding citizens who smoke’. But this isn’t actually true. Let’s look at the options someone like myself has:

– Not use cannabis. (I’ll address this in a bit).

– Purchase cannabis on the blackmarket. This puts me in the awkward position of having to ask the people I know if they know where to find cannabis – and – in my experience, they don’t. I end up having to purchase some from gang controlled tinny houses – where it’s low quality and very expensive.

– Grow my own. ‘Grow your own’ appears to be the growing sentiment in the cannabis community. The problem with this is that it doesn’t suit everybody’s living situation. For example if you have a strict landlord, or you have flatmates, then you’re inviting trouble. I could rent a grannyflat for the purpose of having the privacy of growing on my own cannabis, but this would be around $200/week extra – or the cost of $10,000 a year.

Now you might say ‘if consuming cannabis is so much trouble, perhaps you’re better off not smoking it’. And you might be right. Where I’m currently at, I’m considering that smoking cannabis isn’t right for me – I tend to get more done when I’m not smoking.

However – I don’t need prohibition to make that decision for me. Even if I’m not smoking cannabis – I still find it frustrating not being able to make that decision for myself. Also, even if I’m not smoking regularly – I might want to smoke over the New Year period at a music festival – but the cannabis situation is so dire in New Zealand that I might not have that option. I’m better off attending a festival in Australia, if smoking weed is something I want to do at it.

So – I’m considering leaving New Zealand – for opportunities abroad, not just solely for the availability cannabis. But the cannabis issue feels the straw that breaks the camels back. It feels like politicians (except for the Greens) don’t really care about what’s important to me, or many of other New Zealanders, and that’s incredibly frustrating.  I get that Labour, quite rightfully feels like housing is a more important issue – but Labour can address more than one issue at a time – and I wish that they’d tackle this low hanging fruit already.

David Johnston

Here is Andrew Little’s response:

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Dear David Thanks for writing about the decriminalisation of cannabis. Labour’s key priorities are housing, health, jobs and education and that’s where our focus is.

I’m personally very uncomfortable about increasing access to cannabis, particularly to young people. The scientific and medical evidence I’ve seen says that most of the cannabis available in New Zealand has high THC content and for still developing brains, that poses health risks. Finding a formula for decriminalisation that means you could mitigate those health risks would be extraordinarily difficult. We will not make holding a referendum on cannabis a priority when in government.

We firmly support cannabis products being available for medicinal use, however, where its use is prescribed by a GP or specialist where a person has a terminal illness or chronic pain.

Thanks for writing

Yours sincerely

Andrew Little

Leader of the Oppostion

PDF

Who’s to blame? Russian paid trolls.

This part of a series where I hypothesise how Donald Trump came to be elected.

That Russia interfered with the US election is not an unsubstantiated conspiracy theory.

The current understanding is that:

  • It was Russian hackers who hacked and released Hillary Clintons email server
  • Russian paid shills and bots congregated social media like Twitter and /r/the_donald to post and promote pro-Donald / anti-Hillary content.

Here’s Republican Paul Ryan agreeing that Russia interfered with the US election:

Here’s Mitch McConnell condemning the Russian interference:

What’s still in question is whether Donald Trump and his campaign were directly working on orders from Russia – there’s currently no concrete evidence for that. With every link between Donald Trump’s campaign and Russia that comes out, it looks worse and worse.

Who’s to blame? Cynical establishment politicians

This part of a series where I hypothesise how Donald Trump came to be elected.

I think it’s a fair criticism that Hillary Clinton must have been a bad candidate to have lost to Donald Trump.

That isn’t to say that I necessarily think she would have been a bad president. After all – Obama did make her his Secretary of State, and I do respect Obama’s judgement on many things. I don’t know what to make of the ‘Hillary Clinton is a corrupt warmonger, in the pockets of wall street’ arguments, they smell of fringe conspiracy theorying to me.

But I do think that Hillary Clinton appears to be an insincere politician who panders to political winds, rather than bravely sticking to idealism.

Her about turn on the TPPA is a good example, from calling it ‘the gold standard of trade agreements’ to saying she opposes it. I’m not sure I believe her when she says she no longer thinks it’s right for the US.

It’s fair to say that a huge amount of Trump’s support base was from people who felt that neither Democrats nor Republicans represented their interests. This video here gets into it well:

I sympathise with the sentiment – but I can’t abide accepting Trump’s hateful rhetoric as the price to pay for shaking up the system. I’d much rather have a slow moving establishment politicians, than four years of Trump’s rhetoric.

The 2016 election wasn’t just defined by Trump though – there was also Bernie Sanders who gathered a significant chunk of Democratic support in the primaries, and polled  better than Hillary in head to head polls vs Trump.

The pet peeve I have is politicians’ resistance to announcing that they’ll end the drug war. I think that there are many policies, like this one, that politicians agree with, but don’t want to announce, because their research shows that it won’t be politically popular with certain demographics (eg. social conservatives, religious).

Especially in a two party system, there is an incentive to remain as politically close to the opponent as possible – the idea being that it’s more about winning those swing votes, than winning over people who are already aligned your political leaning.

But I think people see through this game playing. If politicians were willing to be a bit more honest about their genuine political views – then they’d at least appear more credible – even if they piss of some of their potential support base.

Addendum: Perhaps this comes back to being the fault of the public again. Politicians do what they do, because research shows that it works. If people were more ok with voting with politicians who honestly expressed opinions that the voter disagreed with, then perhaps we’d have more honest politicians.

Who’s to blame? Racists and hateful people who are sick of being polite about it.

This part of a series where I hypothesise how Donald Trump came to be elected.

 

It’s quite clear that a significant chunk of the US hold anti-mexican or anti-muslim attitudes, and these people loved Donald Trump’s rhetoric.

This video contains examples:

Obvious caveat: This is from a comedy show, and obviously they’ve cherry picked their interviews to find the most interesting and outlandish soundbites.

Also – this shouldn’t be taken to say that this represents all Trump supporters – but I think it’s clear a significant amount of Trump’s support is from people who don’t like immigrants  and/or gays/transgender people, and don’t want to be polite about it.

Who’s to blame? Unprincipled Republicans.

This part of a series where I hypothesise how Donald Trump came to be elected.
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I googled ‘unprincipled republicans’ to get this image. 

When Donald Trump eventually won the Republican primaries, all Republicans by and large got behind him and endorsed him at the Republican National Convention.

It seems like Republicans desire to gain power and push their agenda, trumped their unease with Donald Trumps alarming rhetoric or basic incompetence.

Even Republicans who seem like a voice of reason, like John McCain endorsed Donald Trump John McCain endorsed Donald Trump – though he later withdrew his endorsement.

For context here’s:

Who’s to blame? The media.

This part of a series where I hypothesise how Donald Trump came to be elected.

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During the Republican primaries, I think the media saw Donald Trump as boon.

Not seen as a serious contender, I think he was seen as a good source of interesting soundbites that would draw viewers and sell advertising. Trump was always saying something crazy, such as attacking one of the other Republicans, which the media would then pick up and make the focus of the news that night.

Essentially – the media the fed the troll – giving the air of attention to the person saying the most outlandish stuff.

This has been part of an ongoing trend of dumbing down in the media. I think the media have got lazy and instead of providing intelligent, informed news, they’ve been providing the public with news that the public wants to see. This is reflected in the clear trend of soundbites getting shorter.  A provocative Donald Trump insult is a more attention grabbing sound bite that an informed policy outline can fit in nine seconds.

Addendum: The public is also to blame. The media produces inflammatory content, because that’s what the public chooses to view. If the public were more discerning with what they choose to watch or click, the media would be more incentivised to produce more intelligent content.

 

I don’t understand why the reaction to National’s super announcement is even a thing.

National recently announced an election policy of raising the age eligibility to NZ Superannuation to 67. 

Labour’s immediate response was to say that they’ll keep at 65:

 

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Here’s the thing. It’s not like National’s policy is pulling the rug out from the under the feet of people here expecting the retire in a couple of years. National’s policy doesn’t take effect for another twenty years.

Twenty years. That’s so far in the future that for most people it doesn’t really warrant serious consideration, in terms of what career decisions they make or where they buy their house.

The discussion has been framed as a baby boomers vs millenials thing – but this policy really doesn’t affect baby boomers. Baby boomers will be well into their 80s by the time this policy takes effect.

This really affects generation X – people who are about 40 now – or the children who were born to baby boomers who were about 30. (These generational categories are awfully grey, but assume that baby boomers were born 1945-1955).

Perhaps this policy is just clever politicking by National. They harness the baby boomer resentment by announcing a change to the pension, while not actually doing anything.

If anything – it’s Labour that fumbled this one – allowing National to frame the political divide, while Labour is firmly in a reactionary position.