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  1. Lefter 58 ~ The Wrong Turn versus the Perfect Car

    November 19, 2012 by emweb

    I don’t necessarily believe in constant growth, economically. Is there any reason for a growth fixation other than pure profit?

    The current model means success is usually measured by percentage of year-on-year growth, as well as by financial returns. On the small scale, you’re not supposed to be focused on setting up a successful small business – you’re supposed to be fixated on the long term success via more branches, heightened recognition, potential franchising opportunities or the possibility of a hefty sale price for your brand once you reach a certain critical mass. Why isn’t it acceptable, or even desirable, to want to be really good at running your small business on one site? NZ has a huge number of small businesses, but these expectations add to the high number of small business and startup failures.

    While we celebrate, or at least discuss, sustainability, the economic fixation with growth is anything but. It leads to results like monopolies, slash and burn expenditure lowering, weakening of control and, eventually, collapse. The centre doesn’t hold.

    One area where economics and industrialisation coalesce and have done for over a century is the automobile industry. With manufacturing in general, we long ago departed from the axe analogy which goes like this: once upon a time, you bought an axe, and when you splintered the handle, you replaced it, and when the head broke or became impossible to sharpen, you replaced that. Ad infinitum. Perhaps you upgraded that axe haft to a better wood, or that head to better steel. And this is possibly still true, at least for a few axes, but if the axe maker has also since followed the pattern for most other goods, the handle is irreplaceable for some reason to do with materials and manufacture, or the head is attached by a proprietary device, or integral even, or you simply can’t find a replacement, or it can’t be added on outside the factory, or the cost of shipping an axe head to you is the same or more than just buying a new axe, since the composite parts are not stocked. So most people these days do just buy a new axe, since even if it is possible to replace the shaft and/or head.

    Back on that original axe model: 100 years ago, a good axe (a bad axe being highly undesirable, not to mention dangerous) was a major expense. Part of that cost, if you like, can be predicated towards the longevity of that product through the possibility of continuous and sustained replacement.

    Now we just buy cheap stuff.

    With cars, in Japan the government had a policy of no warrant of fitness for seven years. You blithely drove your new car for seven years. Then the test was so unbelievably strict, most cars failed even on cosmetic damage like scratches, so most got rid of the car and bought a new one. This was done expressly so Japanese people bought new Japanese cars every seven years, as a terrific boost to the local industry and a considerable barrier against entering the car market in the first place.

    Ironically, as a consequence, the canny Japanese manufacturers built their cars to last about that long – why engineer cars to last longer when they are just going to be crushed? Trouble is, New Zealand started rescuing these vehicles from the Japanese crushers and importing them as ‘used imports’. A seven-year-old Japanese car that’s been sold in the Japanese home market is rubbish. But that’s another story. (But with so many on our roads, I do think there’s at least some merit to keeping NZ’s strict every-six-months WoF regime.)

    By the way, a Japanese car designed for sale, new, in New Zealand is an excellent car with much longer life and all round reliability built in than a seven year span. That’s why the phrase ‘NZ new’ – even on a used vehicle – fetches a higher price. It really does mean a better car.

    Thing is, cars are just consumables now. A car manufacturer wants you to love their brand, and replace your car with another from their brand. Some car companies do have loyal customers, so this does work to some extent. That’s also why individual models evolve, becoming bigger and more luxurious, as both expectations and (hopefully) bank accounts expand. Compare a 20-year-old and ten-year-old Corolla or Civic with the current models and you’ll see what I mean.

    For New Zealand, by the way, the two largest groups of new car buyers are fleet followed by retirees. It’s hardly a massive market.

    But why do we have cars like these? Apart from the oil and petrol they burn and the heating and pollution they add to the atmosphere, a short-life car is full of hard-to-recycle and replace parts that all ends up as very highly developed, manufactured, assembled, maintained, marketed and delivered across the seas … land fill.

    This is absolutely crazy.

    Somewhere along the line, when manufacturing first became a big factor in the world, we diverged. At first, industrialisation’s promise was to deliver good products mass manufactured for economy of scale, delivering uniformly good products at an achievable price to a new range of consumers. For a while, industrialisation delivered on that promise.

    This was revolutionary, but what has tit become? Now a car is essentially manufactured as a revenue gathering commodity on an ever shorter journey to landfill, with various people clipping the ticket on the journey.

    Cars did not need to become like this, but it’s partly because of that growth fixation. The Ford Model T, for example, was seen as a starting point when it left a Ford factory. Even Henry Ford declared it so.

    My mother used to say “Why aren’t cars made of bouncy rubber? They’d be safer to travel in and would hardly be damaged in scrapes and collisions.”

    She had a point. But that would put panelbeaters, third-party manufacturers and parts suppliers out of work. But so what? Because … why hasn’t a car manufacturer developed an extremely sturdy, mass-manufacturable chassis that can be adapted endlessly? Axles go on, wheels, drive-train, transmission, one of four body shapes, and includes some kind of economical standard engine.

    ‘Bolted in’ are be the operative words. Although I don’t think standard bolts, I think some sort of special, super strong bolts that need a certain tool to undo, but that can’t come undone by themselves. You buy the bog standard car and you get the tool with it. The car is warrantable straight out of the factory in any country it’s sold.

    From then on, buyers can buy better or different bits and change them themselves. Want to swap the carburettor for fuel injection? Bolt off, bolt on, fire it up. Axles? Wheels? Body panels? No problem.

    Don’t trust yourself? Go to a mechanic.

    As this all fosters, rather than displaces, third party specialists and bespoke parts makers. Even body makers. Also, your entry into your first new car would have a much lower price point, but you could end up years down the track with the original chassis, but having evolved it through three distinct body styles and many other modifications. You could go to four-wheel-drive, a hybrid or diesel engine, automatic transmission, more power, leather seats, tinted windows … all easily, rather than at great expense.

    To me, this makes absolute and perfect sense.

    Yet it’s the polar opposite of what we have.

  2. Lefter 43 ~ By the balls

    August 31, 2011 by emweb

    “A moral collapse over generations …” That’s the UK’s Prime Minister’s excuse for the recent English riots. David Cameron calls his country a “broken society” and to accentuate what, to him, is essentially a class war, he keeps using the word ‘fight’, as in “We must fight back …”

    It’s always the easiest response of somebody of his position. Rather than try and understand, it’s easier to demonise. He couldn’t be further, in every way, from the typical ‘shopping rioter’ he’s so afraid of. It’s also a very easy way to gain support with the other fearful members of the British middle and upper classes. It’s so obvious.

    Myself, I find it deeply ironic that while the West trumpeted the Arab Spring and the way it was co-ordinated by Twitter, Facebook and Blackberry messaging, suddenly, in London – Effendi! – the shoe was on the other foot, and the government is now considering ways to limit these social network communications systems.

    I found it disturbing but emblematic that England’s politicians were coaxed back with visible reluctance from their luxury holidays abroad to deal with angry looters trapped back home in the summer heat.

    It could happen here – the gulf between the haves and have-nots has widened considerably. While cutting benefits and services, at the same time modern life means the spoils of wealth are continually dangled in front of everyone’s eyes. iPods, BMWs, bling, designer clothing … But New Zealand has a Rugby World Cup to distract everyone.

    But will it?

    I don’t like rugby. At my Auckland school, it was an emblem of the bully culture perpetrated by both students and staff. Then the 1981 Springbok Tour sealed a profound dislike of the game and all that it signifies in New Zealand culture.

    In England, they differentiate the two codes, soccer and rugby, as ‘a sport of thugs, played by gentlemen and the sport of gentleman’, played by thugs.’ In New Zealand, it’s just a thugs’ game played by thugs. And the game here is run by thugs.

    It’s the same old story, though: the wealthy making money out of working class pursuits, in the process becoming so greedy as to make those pursuits unaffordable. At the same time, it represents an escape to a very tiny proportion of the underclass – a path to glory and money, however temporary, as a rugby star.

    After decades of corporate sponsorship, monster salaries and Rugby Union greed, no one should be surprised at rorts on tickets, hotel prices going up dramatically, pubs charging admission for the duration, the crazy prices of supporter shirts – and wait till you hear of the profits made in some quarters from Rugby World Cup-related construction and infrastructure. Meanwhile, the country will most likely post a considerable loss.

    Will it be good for the country? Almost definitely not – that’s not the experience of other countries, anyway, hosting similar events. But a win might make National’s race to govern with a full majority an even stronger possibility. Shudder.

    In England, some working people even take out mortgages to pay for their soccer season tickets. All the profits go to the super rich, who have the fans literally by the balls (pun exercised in full cognisance).

    Here in New Zealand, we could be heading for the same situation as England – ‘shopping riots’ by the angry dispossessed. Would John Key bother coming back from his luxury pad in Hawaii for that?

    Except that support for rugby has been waning for years. It’s just that no one’s admitting it. Even a few years ago, there were 160,000 New Zealanders signed up to play soccer but only 110,000 signed up to play rugby, yet the dumb and virtually single-sex sport is still considered the national game.

    By contrast, despite the numbers actually playing, there were three times as many ACC claims for rugby injuries. So it’s already costing the country plenty.

    In Auckland, every weekend there is constriction on every soccer field while there are often two or three rugby fields standing empty right beside them. Yet the council still prioritises rugby.

    And I’m supposed to appreciate thugs travelling to my city to enjoy their thugs’ game.

  3. Lefter 9 ~ so, you’ve lost your job?

    March 8, 2009 by emweb

    I’m an early adopter – I got my recession nearly two years ago. I was made redundant, not due to the recession, but due to management stupidity and intransigence in the face of long-term and clear evidence that there were problems with the section I was in charge of. But that’s another story.

    Now I still often only earn a half of what I used to earn, but we (my family and I) have managed to hold on. Best of all, I am much happier, as I always disliked working for a sexist, myopic fool. (Now I’m self-employed – the only fool I have to work for is me, and I’m much easier to put up with.)

    I may not be the best advisor in the world, but here’s what really helped me:

    1/ Get fit. Many jobs preclude you from keeping yourself in shape. Now you may not have much, but you do have time. Getting fit and keeping fit keeps you positive and flexible, both mentally and physically.

    As a sports coach in my spare time, I’ve noticed it’s the fitter players who can take the knocks. It’s the same for you. Get fit – even walking a circuit of your neighbourhood will lift your spirits and may remind you what a great place we live in. And don’t slow down for the hills – get your lung and heart rates up a bit. And make it a routine, rain or shine. And smile at people – smiling lifts your spirits.

    2/ Go through your grocery bill with a highlighter, swiping everything that costs, say, over $10. Think about how much you need those things. Cut out those that you don’t need or are obviously bad for your health (but don’t omit all treats).

    3/ Hang on to what land you have, if you can. Its value will come back – and it may be all you have.

    4/ Don’t burn your bridges. New Zealand is tiny. It doesn’t matter where you end up, someone will know someone who knows you. If you did bad things, they will catch up, so either put them right or stop doing them. You need all the support you can get.

    5/ Rebuild your networks – in your family, in your neighbourhood and with former colleagues and classmates (for example, complete the free sign-up to

    6/ Stop moaning. People are more inclined to assist positive people.

    7/ Get some work. Regular low-paid work is much better than no high-paid work, and you can eat.

    8/ Become ‘virtually visible’: that means people need to be able to find you online. That means joining, for example, Plaxo ( LinkedIn (, business-oriented networking sites people use to locate and contact people for work and work related things. They’re both totally free to join and they can both lead to better connections and opportunity.

    You can write your profile once; you don’t need to visit and update every day (it’s not FaceBook or Bebo). Make sure you’re clear about what you can do and what you’d like to do.

    9/ Cut down or discard your weekly debts.

    10/ Hey, at least we live in New Zealand. Plant some seeds in your garden or some pots. You can even get these free from friends and neighbours. There’s nothing like some fresh basil, at the very least, to top that budget meal.

    Next post, I will tell New Zealand how to prosper through this recession. I’ve worked it all out and it’s actually easy and very doable, and it’s not even unprecedented.

  4. Lefter 5 ~ Politically Correct

    December 10, 2008 by emweb

    Bizarrely, as I write this, two young men with swastika tattoos are washing the house. The house washing people didn’t say anything about neo-Nazi operators. It’s not like the firm was called Himmler Housewash or anything. 

    ‘Politically Correct’ is one of the catch phrases people seemed to love to use to label all sorts of sins of the Left, and of the Labour Party. 

    But what does it mean? 

    Being politically correct means you don’t act on racist, sexist, or homophobic assumptions – or that you try not to, assuming you’re aware of these tendencies in yourself. You live and let live. You don’t promote racist or sexist acts. You try and be mindful of the rights of others and to treat people as your equals. 

    What on earth is wrong with that? Every major philosophy and religion in the world says essentially the same thing.

    You have to wonder if those who rail loudest against ‘the PC brigade’ are the worst recidivists of racism and sexism. It’s easy to assume they hate the strictures of being politically correct because it’s the antithesis of their real beliefs. And if their real beliefs are the antithesis of being PC, you probably won’t want much to do with them as they are not rational, reliable human beings. 

    When people ask me, with a withering tone, if I’m politically correct, I say ‘Yes, I am.’ Then I ask them ‘What’s wrong with that, exactly?’ It pays to challenge people on these statements as, unfortunately, you’ll discover they don’t often know what they mean. They just like the easy put-down. But it’s time to pull the rug out from under their feet, especially as National sets about dismantling the structures that attempt to keep our society decent and fair. 

    So explain what it means, then ask them to explain what is so wrong with treating people with respect. Be proud to be politically correct.

  5. So, I’m left wing

    November 19, 2008 by emweb

    Most Kiwis won’t say what their political affiliations are; this may be similar where you live. I find this frustrating. I was shocked when I went to Holland, though, over 20 years ago. You’d meet someone and they’d say “Hi, I’m so and so, I’m a journalist and a communist.”

    In New Zealand, you might know someone six months before you even got an inkling of where their political affiliations lay and even then, you might be guessing for months or years more before you had a clear picture. Just asking a Kiwi who they voted for is often considered a real social gaffe.

    For me, I wish New Zealanders would get over it. It’s pathetic and shows our immaturity as a nation. I wonder where it comes from? Farmers? In theory we have one of the biggest personal spaces in the world. Don’t come too close … Maybe our political space is as off limits as our personal space? But probably it’s because the wealth of the nation is so firmly rooted in agriculture it’s considered, at a deep level, weird to be anything but a National supporter. Anything else is an aberration so don’t ask. It would be as gauche as asking someone if they had piles. 

    But hey, the world is changing.

    Of course every discussion about left and right begs the question: what is ‘left wing’? Well, it aint ‘communism’. Not if you consider the Chinese, Russian, Albania etc systems ‘communist’, anyway. Those were (are, in the case of China) right wing systems of social control almost from the get go. While they did spread the wealth a little better than the systems they replaced, how hard would that have been considering their extremely iniquitous predecessor regimes? Any gumby could have arranged better distribution, but as soon as the state control ratcheted up, they were heading towards full-on fascim realy fast. But hey, good old George Orwell sussed that out long before most outside those systems did, right? Clever man, that Orwell. 

    Only a facile git would level the ‘Communist’ slur at someone who’s left. Which is not to say original Communist theory wasn’t left wing, at least in some major aspects. 

    To me, boiling it all down, the left puts people first, the right puts money first.

    I will discuss this further.