Welcome back to Sunday reading. It’s been a pretty interesting week in New Zealand politics, if you’ve been reading. But that’s not what this is about, so we’re not going to talk about it.

Here’s a thought-provoking factoid about technological progress, from humanprogress.org:

As the BBC recently pointed out, our prehistoric ancestors needed to gather and chop “wood 10 hours a day for six days… [in order to] produce 1,000 lumen hours of light… That is the equivalent of one modern light bulb shining for just 54 minutes, although what you would actually get is many more hours of dim, flickering light instead.”

Even when better alternatives, such as candles, became available, it was still prohibitively expensive to light the house for the common person. Further, the first candles were produced from animal fat and not from the clean burning paraffin wax we use today, producing a flickering smelly flame.

It wasn’t until the 18th century that spermaceti candles, which were made from a waxy substance found in the head cavities of sperm whales, and were much less time-consuming to produce, became more readily available. But even then, reading light remained very expensive (not to mention terminal for the whales). George Washington calculated that five hours of reading per night cost him £8 yearly – well over $1,000 in today’s dollars.

The light bulb changed everything.

By 1900, 60 hours of work could provide 10 days of light. The light bulbs would burn 100 times as bright as a candle, steadily, and inodorously. By 1920, 60 hours of work could already pay for 5 months of stable light. By 1990, that increased to 10 years of light. Today? 52 years.

And progress has not stopped yet. LED lights continue to become cheaper and cheaper.

The amount of labor that once bought 54 minutes of light now buys 52 years of light. The cost has fallen by a factor of 500,000 and the quality of that light has transformed from unstable and risky to clean, safe, and controllable.

Intriguing.

On a different note, if you’re looking for a great read on how zoning reform and rapid transit tie together to make a better, more equitable city, I’d recommend this recent essay by Dan Savage, in The Stranger, a Seattle paper. It’s interesting in part because Savage is best known as a sex advice columnist. That says something about the degree to which new urban thinking has permeated pretty widely across society.

The only thing worse than listening to suburbanites bitch about being stuck in traffic? Listening to local politicians pretend they can actually do something to Make Commutes Great Fast Again.

Way, way back in the ’50s and ’60s, people got it into their heads that they had a constitutional right to live in the suburbs and drive in or through the center of a city—to jobs, to stores, to stadiums, to hookers, to suburbs on the other side of the city—going seventy miles an hour. Our local politicians can’t bring themselves to tell these entitled shits the truth: It’s never going to be the 1960s around here again, when expressways were expressways, not parking lots. We can’t build our way out of this. We can only build alternatives to cars, aka mass transit. (Preferably rapid transit, which is grade-separated transit. Without taking lanes away from cars, which we aren’t going to do, BRT is not rapid transit. It’s an oxymoron.) Mayors and city council members and county council members in cities with with functioning mass transit systems don’t have to make serious faces and reassure entitled drivers that they’re gonna do something to speed up their commutes.

This is how a conversation between an elected official and an entitled suburbanite might go in New York or Chicago:

“My commute is awful! I sit in traffic for hours!”

“Then take the train.”

“I don’t want take the train.”

 

“Then sit in traffic, asshole.”

Sit in traffic or take rapid transit: those are your options, when you live, work, or play in or near a big, thriving urban center with a functional rapid transit system. New York, Chicago, Portland, D.C., London, Paris, Vienna. Complain about your commute and you’ll be told to pick one: traffic (that you and your car help create) or transit (that you and your taxes help subsidize). Politicians in cities with functional (that’s functional, not perfect) mass transit systems—where they still spend a lot of money maintaining roads—don’t have to waste billions of dollars on bullshit tunnels supposedly designed to “preserve capacity” but really intended to assuage the irrational anger of entitled drivers whose votes they need.

He also takes on gentrification and displacement:

Housing scarcity—exacerbated by the ridiculous amount of this city zoned for single-family housing—deserves as much blame for the displacement crisis as gentrification. More. And unlike gentrification (“a once in a lifetime tectonic shift in consumer preferences”), scarcity and single-family zoning are two things we can actually do something about. Rezone huge swaths of the city. Build more units of affordable housing, borrow the social housing model discussed in the Rick Jacobus’ piece I quote from above (“Why We Must Build“), do away with parking requirements, and—yes—let developers develop. (This is the point where someone jumps into comments to point out that I live in a big house on Capitol Hill. It’s true! And my house is worth a lot of money—a lot more than what we paid for it a dozen years ago. But the value of my house is tied to its scarcity. Want to cut the value of my property in half? Great! Join me in calling for a radical rezone of all of Capitol Hill—every single block—for multi-family housing, apartment blocks and towers. That’ll show me!)

[…]

There actually is something we can do about gentrification and displacement. We can’t stop it. Snark can’t halt tectonic shifts. The thing we can do? It’s the same thing we can do about about traffic: build a truly regional, truly rapid transit system. A comprehensive regional rapid transit system will make displacement—being forced to move from one neighborhood to another by economic forces beyond the control of our local elected officials—less devastating and less isolating for those who will inevitably be impacted.

But not all cities are facing the same challenges. Some are shrinking, not growing, as the economic forces that spun them into existence dissipate. This isn’t just happening in the American Rustbelt and north of England: As a Financial Times report by Kate Allen shows, it’s a global phenomenon:

The city of Yichun in north-east China’s Heilongjiang region grew in just decades from a scrubby outpost near the Russian border to a boom town, thanks to its staple industry: logging. More recently Yichun has begun to struggle; its population fell by 111,000 between 2005 and 2015 according to UN data. Decades of unsustainable deforestation had taken its toll.

The city is now classified as one of China’s “resource-depleted” cities, and the lack of ground cover means that it suffers from devastating floods.

Yichun is not alone in its economic struggles. Last year China announced a five-year financial support package for its north-eastern rust belt to help the “resource-depleted” cities cope with bankruptcies and cover environmental clean-up costs.

Yichun’s economic rise mirrored the booms that previous generations of industrialising cities have enjoyed, stretching right back to the first cases of industrial revolution in places such as the cotton towns of north-west England.

Yet some emerging cities, such as Yichun, have begun to catch up with their counterparts in the developed world in another way, too: their economies have peaked and they are deindustrialising.

Here’s a map. The entire article is fantastic:

Locally, Dunedin has been deindustrialialising, first rapidly in the 1980s and 1990s and then gradually with the slow trickle out of long-established manufacturing businesses. In The Spinoff, Peter Newport reports some local views on the future of Dunedin after the closure of the Cadbury plant. (Other than Dunedinites switching to Whittakers.)

In terms of having a relationship with a city, Dunedin is my first love. But now, on frequent visits, I worry a lot that this Edinburgh of the South is losing her charm, looking tired and losing her way. To me, this gorgeous stone-clad stunner of a city is looking dangerously close to drifting backwards rather than forging forwards. It’s a very fine line.

And that dangerous word I really feel so nervous about using is: Dour. It’s so powerful because it sounds and looks like what it means. Relentlessly severe, stern or gloomy in manner or appearance. It’s a truly awe-inspiring word of Scottish Gaelic origin.

But don’t worry. This is a love story that will probably have a happy ending. But first here’s the problem.

Dunedin has really bad weather, if you like warmth and sun. It’s great weather if you like romantic sea mists, driving Gothic rain or winds that would make even a sturdy wooden sail boat creak and groan. It’s weather to drink whisky to.

The tiny airport is a very long way from the city and even a Thursday night in Dunedin can look like someone’s deployed one of those freaky neutron bombs that kill people but leave buildings intact. The moody red reflection of slightly old-fashioned neon signs in the slick, wet streets completes the impression of a place where you might not want to schedule your next company celebration or family holiday. I well remember my car getting locked into a parking building that closed at 6.00 pm.

[…]

That doesn’t mean, however, that the city is without hope. Quite the contrary. It’s just not likely to come from where you might have expected it. To navigate to the good news and how Dunedin is going to get to that great future that we all want the city to find I spoke to some of the key players in town. They were all wonderfully honest, direct and insightful. They left me feeling that things are going to be OK. Perhaps even better than OK…

Go on and read the whole thing. It’s an interesting on-the-ground perspective on the forces that the Financial Times conveyed in charts and maps.

Since we’re talking disruption, here’s an interesting chart: On average, European right-wing populism (or, if we’re not being PC, fascism) didn’t change after the global financial crisis. The countries with stronger fascist tendencies beforehand tended to be more fascist after the fact. Interesting.

On a different note, I think everyone in the transport world is trying to figure out what’s happening to Uber. They have disrupted the taxi market and promised to disrupt travel in general. But is it sustainable, both in terms of corporate culture and financial performance? I am increasingly skeptical that they will survive, let alone justify their current $70bn valuation. Ride-hailing apps will continue to have a role, but Uber’s wilder promises may not come true.

In the Houston Chronicle, Chris Tomlinson offers a pithy take on the whole shebang:

Uber’s financial situation needs attention as urgently as the behavioral problems.

At the last capital raise, Uber claimed to be worth $70 billion, an absurd number for a company that owns little more than some software and a huge data set. The company lost $2.8 billion last year and another $708 million in the first quarter of 2017. There is currently no CEO or COO in place to stop the bleeding.

Uber is popular because it operates in most major cities and its cheap. But the company’s investors are subsidizing every ride a customer takes because the fare only covers a fraction of the costs. The only way the company could make a profit without raising rates is to get rid of human drivers.

Since autonomous taxis are still a decade away, and raising rates will drive away customers, Uber’s investors need to find someone else to cover the company’s losses. That means taking the company public with an initial public offering. To attract new investors, Uber needed to get rid of Kalanick so that is operates more like a company worth $70 billion.

Now I understand that supporters believe the $70 billion valuation represents Uber’s potential to revolutionize personal transportation in the future. But no one can make the case that if Uber’s assets were liquidated tomorrow, it would be worth more than Ford, General Motors or Toyota.

To close with something controversial, Satyajit Das (Bloomberg View) writes that “the old are eating the young: around the world, a generational divide is worsening“. The rhetoric is emotional but the numbers are stark:

A significant proportion of recent economic growth has relied on borrowed money — today standing at a dizzying 325 percent of global gross domestic product. Debt allows society to accelerate consumption, as borrowings are used to purchase something today against the promise of future repayment. Unfunded entitlements to social services, health care and pensions increase those liabilities. The bill for these commitments will soon become unsustainable, as demographic changes make it more difficult to meet.

Degradation of the environment results in future costs, too: either rehabilitation expenses or irreversible changes that affect living standards or quality of life. Profligate use of mispriced non-renewable natural resources denies these commodities to future generations or increases their cost.

The prevailing approach to dealing with these problems exacerbates generational tensions. The central strategy is “kicking the can down the road” or “extend and pretend,” avoiding crucial decisions that would reduce current living standards, eschewing necessary sacrifices, and deferring problems with associated costs into the future.

Rather than reducing high borrowing levels, policy makers use financial engineering, such as quantitative easing and ultra-low or negative interest rates, to maintain them, hoping that a return to growth and just the right amount of inflation will lead to a recovery and allow the debt to be reduced. Rather than acknowledging that the planet simply can’t support more than 10 billion people all aspiring to American or European lifestyles, they have made only limited efforts to reduce resource intensity. Even modest attempts to deal with environmental damage are resisted, as evidenced by the recent fracas over the Paris climate agreement. Short-term gains are pursued at the expense of costs which aren’t evident immediately but will emerge later.

This growing burden on future generations can be measured. Rising dependency ratios — or the number of retirees per employed worker — provide one useful metric. In 1970, in the U.S., there were 5.3 workers for every retired person. By 2010 this had fallen to 4.5, and it’s expected to decline to 2.6 by 2050. In Germany, the number of workers per retiree will decrease to 1.6 in 2050, down from 4.1 in 1970. In Japan, the oldest society to have ever existed, the ratio will decrease to 1.2 in 2050, from 8.5 in 1970. Even as spending commitments grow, in other words, there will be fewer and fewer productive adults around to fund them.

Budgetary analysis presents a similarly dire outlook. In a 2010 research paper, entitled “Ask Not Whether Governments Will Default, But How,” Arnaud Mares of Morgan Stanley analyzed national solvency, or the difference between actual and potential government revenue, on one hand, and existing debt levels and future commitments on the other. The study found that by this measure the net worth of the U.S. was negative 800 percent of its GDP; that is, its future tax revenue was less than committed obligations by an amount equivalent to eight times the value of all goods and services America produces in a year. The net worth of European countries ranged from about negative 250 percent (Italy) to negative 1,800 percent (Greece). For Germany, France and the U.K., the approximate figures were negative 500 percent, negative 600 percent and negative 1,000 percent of GDP. In effect, these states have mortgaged themselves beyond their capacity to easily repay.

As a young person, it’s hard not to feel aggrieved at this injustice. I’m not necessarily that worried about the fiscal burden – tax rates were higher in the 1950s and 1960s, and that wasn’t a dystopia. But I stay up nights worrying about the damage we’re doing to our climate and the damage to our democracies caused by older voters’ embrace of terrible ideas like Donald Trump and Brexit.

So here’s a recommendation if you’re an older person looking to make responsible decisions about things with long-term ramifications. Rather than focusing on what you think would be best, ask some young people what they think would be best. And then follow their advice, even if you don’t personally agree.

Because here’s the truth: Young people are generally better educated, not because old people are stupid but because educational attainment has generally increased over the past 50 years. We’re more financially prudent, as shown by our higher savings rates. And we’re acutely aware of the problems that we’re going to inherit from older generations, and – by and large – voting or campaigning to prevent them before they happen.

That’s it for the week. Enjoy!

Share this

50 comments

  1. Yip, Powerful stuff. “Rather than focusing on what you think would be best, ask some young people what they think would be best.” There’s a lot to be said for giving the vote every man, woman and child. Parents are at a far better age and stage to be making the right decisions for their children’s futures than the grandparents’ generation are. This is the only way I can see to stop the aging population from preventing the huge social changes required.

    1. Heidi, you are totally wrong. The young are idealistic without any realism and frequently greedy and selfish. Parents are selfish too – for their family. Only grandparents have experience. When you have a serious operation or you have a house designed and built do you want young enthusiastic surgeon on his first case or a new architect and first time builder? I’m saying running a government is similarly complex. I know the elderly are less quick to appreciate new concepts; they also certainly are not infallible but at least we don’t make the same mistakes twice.
      Guessing you are younger than me. Please cut out your comment and keep it until you have your 1st grandchild.

      OK another way of looking at it is governments collect and spend money. They redistribute it. It is therefore essential that they know the meaning of money (Karl Marx got it right “Wealth is Labour”). A 17year old working for a living always have knowledge of money but most 25 year old PhD students don’t. I would restrict the vote to tax payers. Of course that might impact some pensioners.

      1. As a rule, I’m in favour of expanding the voting franchise, rather than contracting it. Heidi’s suggestion sounds like a more radical version of proposals to lower the voting age to 16. We’ve already lowered the voting age from its original level of 21 to 18 without any catastrophic consequences. Your proposal, by contrast, sounds like a return to the limited franchise for male landowners that we had in the mid 1800s.

        Note that I wasn’t suggesting enfranchising or disenfranchising anyone, merely that the old should consult the young and take their views seriously, because the young will live with the consequences the longest. That tends to focus our minds on the important issues.

        On a slightly more antagonistic note – apologies for that, but it is heartfelt – I’m not going to give any credence to the idea that the Boomers are responsible stewards of future generations’ interests until they all start voting to stop climate change, both at the polls and with their wallets. If I have to hear another fucking lecture about how irresponsible and short-sighted my generation is from people who have stood by and let the planet cook, I’m going to scream.

        1. Peter. your comment about ‘male landowners’ hit home even though that wasn’t exactly what I was saying. Of course a healthy society is for everyone and therefore beneficiaries should have just as much right to make comments as heavy taxpayers. (Of course as soon as a beneficiary buys anything he is a taxpayer of GST).

          Reducing voting age to 18 has had one consequence that is unfortunate: a reduction in voting rates for the young. The later you get it the more you value it. [Note do you like the USA where the president has to be over 30 – would that applied to all MPs have been good for the National party last week?]

          Since a change from 21 to 18 was only increasing suffrage by about 6% then it could do little harm and a similar argument could put it as young as you like. Especially when you realise how the young tend to copy their parents until they leave home. I do take a rather old-fashioned and maybe right wing view that anyone who joins the police or defense force having committed to risking their lives for our country should be entitled to vote.

          We would need a very long blog to cover all the issues raised by the issue of Climate Change. It seems rather obvious that we should listen to the experts and if you do they do publish margins of error and those margins are becoming smaller and smaller. My guess is that things will be worse quicker than expected in terms of sea-level and temperature changes and therefore international politics (just consider 5 metres of higher sea level to Bangladesh with say 80million refugees!). However I also suspect James Lovelock was right and that it is too late to do anything about it now. Even the complete extinction of the human race tomorrow would make little difference.
          Even if I’m wrong (quite probable) and the world can be saved the problem is whatever NZ does will make little difference. Our current policy, the last I heard about it, was to pay other countries $14.2 billion (just over $10,000 per household) in 8 years time. And then continue to do so until the issue is solved. Having lived in countries less virtuous than NZ I’m concerned who will be spending our money and how. Happy to learn more if you have any useful links that do more than virtue signal.

          1. For a start, I think we need to give up on climate fatalism. A worrying large amount of warming is baked in by this point, but every *additional* bit of warming we can avoid is essential.

            Here’s what we can do to address it, both globally and locally:

            1. Invest in renewable electricity generation as fast as possible. Solar prices actually are now competitive with coal-fired electricity, meaning that it’s unexpectedly cheap to avoid increasing electricity emissions. Wind farms are also cost-competitive in windy places. India, Africa, and the Pacific need to use these technologies as they grow, rather than building lots of coal. We can help them with technical assistance and (especially for NZ in the Pacific) foreign aid.

            2. Transform our transport system as fast as possible. The faster we can achieve scale and cost efficiencies in manufacturing batteries, the faster we can decarbonise the car fleet with electric vehicles. But that’s not going to happen overnight, so in the interim we should make a transformational shift in public transport and cycling provision, and move towards full-cost pricing of roads and parking to ensure that the incentives are right to drive less.

            Note that when EVs do start becoming common on the road, we’ll have to generate quite a lot more renewable electricity to fuel them. So planning for that would also be good.

            3. Change the incentives facing our agricultural industry. Cows are fine, but indefinitely increasing their numbers to produce more cheap commodity milk powder is a bad strategy environmentally and economically. So we need to get that under control, and shift incentives towards having fewer cows but producing higher-value products from the milk. I don’t have a full set of answers, but surely managing agricultural water use properly would be a good start. Investment in R&D to reduce farm emissions is also something that we could lead on.

            4. Tweak the Emissions Trading Scheme to give it some teeth to reinforce the changes described above.

            5. Participate actively and in good faith in international climate agreements. This isn’t about ‘virtue signalling’, whatever that is. It’s about getting the best out of NZ’s relatively well-trusted foreign affairs professionals to prod along other countries to keep their own commitments to cut emissions. But that’s not going to be possible if our credibility is undercut by underperforming domestic policies.

      2. Bob, my nephew and niece have refused to learn to drive and my son is resisting it too. This is because they know our burn-the-fossils shindig cannot continue, and they don’t want any part of it. My mother and mother-in-law, on the other hand, put real pressure on me not to get rid of my own car as a younger mum, because “what would I do if I suddenly needed it?” Lucky I didn’t listen to their aged advice. I’ve been far better off without it.

        I haven’t seen my nephew and nieces in Australia for 7 years because both they and I understand that we have to severely restrict any overseas travel. My parents and parents-in-law, on the other hand, seem to be on a mission to burn as much aviation fuel as they can afford. Year after year.

        I love all the above people. But I know who has actually taken to heart the immediacy of the problems that face us. I know who I trust with a vote.

        1. I’m impressed by people willing to make sacrifices for their beliefs.
          I don’t have a car of my own – finally gave that up 2 years ago but I must admit to borrowing my children’s cars all too often.

        2. Peter: Climate change. in reply.

          Apologies for sounding fatalistic; I can see what you mean but it wasn’t what I meant. I’ve been interested in this subject for over 30 years and it has become popular. We do have to decide what our target is – depending on the price paid to what extent we should learn to life with global warming and to what extent we try to return to some imaginary ‘normal’. The sums of money being discussed are so large that they are hard to grasp.

          1.Renewables. Yes to solar – it is getting more and more successful. I doubts about wind – once you allow for the carbon released in building them and their average performance. Without government subsidies few would have been built..NZ is 80% renewable electricity but a move to electric cars will increase demand – not sure how much.
          2. Transport. Surely cycling is insignificant.Public transport – when I use our AT buses they have big diesel engines and are empty. Does anyone actually work out how Carbon they are saving?
          3. You are right about cows producing methane. Maybe changes to their diet and some GM to the cows will reduce their output. Cleaner waterways etc are a different issue.
          4. Tweak the Emissions Trading Scheme – not sure what you mean. Is this an internal NZ trading scheme and does it apply to all activities – I know in the past they tried to ignore agriculture and forestry?
          5. International climate agreements. Well we have done so and I cannot imagine any NZ government doing a Trump. But it seems we signed up thinking we were a virtuous country that would be a winner. But now we realise we made a voluntary commitment to save 30% of our 2005 totals which were about 84Mt of CO2 or equivalents. This is proving difficult since it is government policy to increase our population, increase tourist numbers, increase dairying and 80% of electricity is/was renewable. The easy savings have been done and that was subsidising home insulation. (More can and should be done). We will be paying taxes of about $10,000 per family because of this commitment.

          Virtue signalling: the action or practice of publicly expressing opinions or sentiments intended to demonstrate one’s good character or the moral correctness of one’s position on a particular issue. Perfectly OK but only if accompanied by action. At least Heidi isn’t driving. What I would like to learn is: what is the cost of a Mt of CO2 for the Paris agreement; is it a variable i.e. could it increase? do we pay on an ongoing basis against an estimated 2030 target? Or will it be one big bill in 2030? if we are a net donor (as seems probable) who gets our money and what do they do with it? Who audits our totals and who audits other countries? (I’m a skeptic because I remember how Spain used to falsely report it fish catch and if Spain is dodgy there sure are worse countries.

      3. If the young were so inferior for most work, cities worldwide wouldn’t be bending over backwards to attract them. The reality: in a fast-changing world, idealism and the rejection of “how things are done” is a major path to wealth-generating positive change. The value of age and experience continues to be eroded by the exponential influence of technology. The main remaining advantage of being older is first dibs on scarce resources.

  2. “It’s the same thing we can do about about traffic: build a truly regional, truly rapid transit system.”

    Had my ride through NZ’s largest ever roading project today. Smoothest ride I’ll ever have. They could have cut the ra ra on the loud speaker.

    I measured the lane width in the tunnel, for those that were interested. It’s 3.25m inside edge to inside edge (of the white lines).

    Leaving Hendon Ave afterwards, trying to turn into New North Rd, I couldn’t get a right turn green arrow, because I wasn’t a car.

  3. Lets not forget that the electric light in all its forms was only possible because of the discovery of electromagnetism, and as a direct outcome, the discovery of how to manufacture, distribute and use electricity “on an industrial scale”.

    The truly big “household” names of that era like Faraday, Tesla, Edison, Marconi are not as well known by the public today for these achievements. The only corporation with any of these names on the world stage to speak of is Tesla.

    And thats a recent, tacit acknowledgement of the pure genius Tesla was, which is overlooked today and he is seldom remembered for anything but his showman tactics, fixation on making the future arrive too soon, and outright weird behaviours.

    But the corporations they helped create or inspire [like General Electric, todays GE], live on, even as their founders are forgotten.

    The harnessing of energy in all its forms (creation, distribution and consumption) is what allows society and our cities to function, but also to exist in the first place.

    The downsides of most of the energy we use today is now plainly obvious with Climate Change now a definite part of the landscape. So the “status quo” we currently have in many things we have had is clearly not sustainable and changes simply have to be made – there is no alternative.

    In many ways, the fossil fueled energy booms of the 19th and 20th century are finally beginning to be eclipsed by the discoveries and knowledge of the fundamental forces of the universe that was first discovered 100-150 years ago. And fossil fuels will be relegated to a smaller part of the 21st century energy story, but will not disappear entirely for many reasons, as fossil fuels have their uses. Burning them in combustion engines or to make electricity is not one of them.

    Its clear to any reader of recent or not so recent history, that oftentimes, technology [like evolution] simply takes a long path to get to where its going as you have to run up a lot of blind alleys before you succeed.
    But it gets there eventually.

    None of the modern inventions like Solar panels, or LED lighting were recent, they were invented/discovered decades [or over a century ago], but the technology need to make them in the volumes and economics required as well the perceived need/desire for them has only just caught up.

    Of course, the planet has lots of time left to get it right [about 4.5 billion more years we’re told], but as a species, human kind however does not, human kind is living well beyond the planets capacity to support it and has been for some time.
    So these inter-generational issues talked about are not new, or a mere intellectual exercise, they’re small, local (but still important) events, that are being repeated in myriad ways around the globe but are colectively playing out in a very much larger theatre.

    Specifically with regards Uber, its quite simply a company with a glorious future behind it.

    The truth with Uber is that their business model, like almost all the DOT COMs of the late 90s and since was quite clearly unsustainable since day 1 and has become apparent how unsustainable it is even more so recently.

    They have almost nothing technology-wise that cannot be copied or duplicated by their competitors.
    They may have a big data set, a billing platform and a bunch of drivers and customers, and possibly some patents on some of these things, but none of these things are impossible for anyone else to reproduce.

    In essence their killer technology is their “lead” in being a first mover.

    But there have been plenty of technology companies throughout the ages who thought they were gonna make a killing by being first, but whom we forget even existed once they fail and disappear.

    While first mover is an advantage, being too early is about as bad as being too late, and I think Uber has been way too early for its (and its private shareholders) own good.

    The now well known antics of the CFO and CEO are evidence of this, lack of a clear sustainable way forward for the company. They want driverless cars, right now. But they don’t exist yet.

    If any when they go public the straight jacket of SEC rules will put an even tighter ring on their antics to date.
    Ultimately leading to a big failure.
    So by the time, driverless cars are a reality for Uber, they may not be in a position to make use of it.

    All that doesn’t mean though, that Mobility as a service has no future, its just that the “Uber brand” [and probably even the Lyft brand] of mobility are perhaps not going to be the long term future of the product.
    We truly don’t know how that future will manifest.

    There is eveyr likelihood that driverless trucks and buses will revolutionise our lives in the short to medum term than any number of Ubers or Lyfts will. Especially in an urban context.

    Where the move to robot trucks and buses could completely upend the economic models that planners and their bosess make their livings from predicting today.

    And just like when Edison and Tesla fought so hard to make their respective electricity systems (AC for Tesla, DC for Edison) the “winner” in the race. Today the world has moved on.
    We do not care which one actually won all the many skirmishes that occurred along the way, as both systems are in use today, and both clearly have their merits and uses an neither is the sole answer to all energy needs on its own.

    In NZ we have both AC based Hydro generators (e.g. Clyde dam) and high voltage DC generation (Benmore Dam).

    So to echoes of the century old Telsa/Edison electricity standards war still reverberate – right here, right now.

    So traffic or any other kind of planners who care to hang their future hats on the success of a few Ubers or Lyfts [especially] as way to cure the current problems that seem to plague us.
    They are well advised to take a wider and longer term view.

    That doesn’t mean not getting involved either, but maybe we need to keep for more than one iron in the fire at one time? And be keenly aware that the future will most definitely NOT occur in the exact way and in the timeframes we assume it will. Or in the way that the Ubers of the world tell us it will be.

    We also cannot simply take a back foot and say, we’ll simply leave it to “the market” to fight it out and determine our future. Because we collectively have a stake in that future [after all, to repeat that corny line “Its where we will spend the rest of our lives”], we, businesses and our governments [both local and central] have to all become active participants in creating/determining and ensuring that future.

    While we still may not actually like the future we end up with via this process. Which will be a messy one.

    We can be assured that if we don’t take an interest, then the future we get given will be a hell of a lot worse.

    And on that point we can make a step in that futuristic “new world”, ourselves, all us aged 18 or over, this 23rd of September.

    Which is just under 3 months from today. And the rules as to what you can and cannot do are a lot stricter because of that milestone now than they were even just the other day.

    But I will say it should be obvious that who we choose to elect then will help decide how, in what form and when the future will arrive for far more than the next 3 years.

    So rather than staying away from the polling booth, or repeating how you voted the last time or times.

    Maybe before the 23rd, take step back, a deep breath, a good look around, then choose to:

    (a) vote

    and

    (b) make that a vote for the kind of future you think we all should aim for.

    Then:

    (c) keep lobbying politicians of all ilks to ensure ALL can get that future even after the votes are counted.

  4. WRT issue of building more motorways not solving congestion problems for suburban commuters. I think Christchurch will be an excellent case example. Unlike Auckland it is just starting its motorway induced sprawl process. Christchurch is building northern and southern motorways which will induce more people to live to the north and South/west of the city and commute in at 100km/h down these new motorways. It is estimated given current growth projections that by 2043 Greater Christchurch will have 80,000 more cars on the road. Now a lot of these new automobile travelers will be in new peripheral subdivisions, satellite towns and lifestyle blocks. But they will not stay there, most will travel into Christchurch for work, to access services/shops, education, socialising…. maybe not to the mono-centric centre…. probably there will be polycentric destinations. Yet the existing road system in Christchurch is fixed in size -so congestion has to increase. Motorways do not change that equation -they just funnel more cars into the same small network that cannot realistically expand (it is very difficult to widen roads, increase the no. of road connections etc after the fact). The only thing that will speed up commutes is if more people travel by more space efficient means -walking, cycling and public transport. To do that the hidden subsidies of the private vehicle need to be removed. Car parking minimums need to be abolished. Cars need to pay for the congestion they cause.

    1. Brendon: it will be interesting to see how Christchurch develops. Given a little intelligence they may produce a good long term plan.
      It seems all cities are gripped by a star shaped design. It made sense when we were riding horses or walking. It was also the initial design for computer networks but thanks to Ted Codd and the America defense force they realised that a star design was not only severely lacking in resilience and flexibility but it was also inefficient compared to an intelligent network design. So start with the nodes you can’t move: airport, port, historic buildings and then add nodes for educational centres, main hospital, sport and heavy industrial being guided by ease of access and then finally multiple nodes for retail, light industrial and paint in the rest as residential as required.

      1. Bob in the computer world is there anything analogous to when one system of data transfer is getting overloaded that having alternative systems to route data through can help?

        1. Yes that is the internet. Any message is broken into a series of packages and is sent to the nearest node where it is then sent via whatever the computer (router) judges to be the best route; if a packet goes to an overloaded node it is returned and resent by a different route. This means you can send four sentences say A B C D and each gets its own packet and in theory each can be sent a different route (that is a series of nodes – not sure how many you would go through if you are reading something on a computer in say Canada). They can arrive in the wrong order say A C D B but the final computer rearranges them in sequence.
          A similar event happens when my wife and I take two cars to travel to Albany – there are two main routes SH1 and Albany Highway but you can reach each of them by maybe a dozen routes. And yes she usually gets home first.
          Note most American cities are based on square grids of streets and avenues. Auckland North Shore is designed with main highways along the tops of ridges – just imagine walking or riding a horse in a straight line on our Auckland clay.

    2. Since this post is also about climate change, in a short century from now if we do not reduce carbon emissions, the Canterbury plains will be the last remaining large arable land in the southern hemisphere. Why are we covering them with houses?

  5. “On average, European right-wing populism (or, if we’re not being PC, fascism) didn’t change after the global financial crisis.” I’m sure you’re correct but despite increasing European terrorism it doesn’t seem to have got much worse. (Whatever happened to the National Front in the UK?).
    An equivalent chart for left-wing virtue signalling would be appreciated. All those Syrian refugees that left-wing politicians were going to share their houses with – rooms still empty they say.

    The movement of the population to better weather is interesting and hard to explain. In Victorian times it was the cold and wet cities that boomed (Glasgow, Aberdeen, Dundee, Invercargil, Dunedin, Bradford, Leeds, Manchester) but people had worse heating and clothes. Now it is South Island to North, Auckland to Keri Keri, North of England to London and UK to France and Spain. What is the explanation? Maybe we used to spend more time in the outdoors – working obviously but also walking and later cycling to work, visiting friends, getting to school and most games were outdoors. Now we have cars, warm buses (no longer open air) and we play Basketball and other games indoors. Conclusion – we are a generation of wimps.

    It is time I moved to Dunedin and bought a row of houses for the price of my Auckland home and then I could travel on one of the loveliest railways in the world or simply drive my gas guzzler into or through the city centre whenever the mood struck me. It really is a great city once those pesky students leave town.

    1. Bob – if those “pesky students” leave town then there will truly be nothing left to Dunedin. Let’s face it – it is a student town now, and a student town without students is no longer a town, but merely an empty shell.

      1. Guy: sadly you are right – but it sure left plenty of semi-empty pubs suitable for pensioners like myself when I was there last year. maybe I would appreciate students better if they weren’t all so young.

        1. I didn’t know that either. Interesting. Thanks.

          You have reminded me that Inverness Scotland is one of the fastest growing areas in Europe.
          Bummer, that is another good theory shot down.

      1. And also recently, its not just people but electrons moving south at ever greater rates.
        Thanks to dry Autumn/winter conditions down south where the Hydro lakes are and lots and lots of rain in the Central North Island catchments that keep those Waikato river power stations running at full bore.

        So much power heading south that Mercury Energy has revised up its revenue forecasts to the NZX recently.

        Earlier today it was some 300 Mega Watts of electricity crossing the straight each hour to satisfy the demands of all those power hungry south islanders.

    2. “What is the explanation?”

      Simple, we used to get sick and die a whole lot more often by living dangerous, unpleasant lives.

      In Victoria times the average life expectancy was under 30. That means that, on average, half the population died before reaching 30 years old.

      1. Life expectancy was so low then because high infant mortality skews the average; if they made it out of childhood many lived to a fine old age. Though of course still fewer than after the discovery of good drainage and antibiotics.

      2. “In Victoria times the average life expectancy was under 30. That means that, on average, half the population died before reaching 30 years old” – it doesn’t mean that, because you’re confusing the mean (the average) and the median (the point with half the population above and half the population below). While they may be similar, the more skewed the population (eg by high infant mortality) the more likely that are to be different. For instance, to use a recent example the average income of the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea is around GBP150,000, the mean income about GBP25,000 – that’s because there’s a relatively small number of people who are very rich indeed and a lot who are pretty poor.

  6. I find the original article to be grossly offensive.
    I’m supposed to ask some “young” (undefined) person or persons (number undefined) and then vote the way they tell me even if I disagree with it? Does that include Todd Barclay and his tobacco lobbying? So if I asked him I would vote to relax laws on tobacco, no? I’m not about to do that.
    The whole premise is based on some belief that the “young” are some monolithic block and so are the “old” (also undefined). That’s just Bollocks.
    The arrogance of the writer is just breathtaking.
    Don’t lecture me on how I should cast my vote.
    I generally support the aims of this blog but it’s getting bloody hard to come on here and discover a lot of disgusting ageist comments. Just Incredible.

    1. Yes, that is what I’m suggesting, in some cases. There are some long-term policy questions, like climate change and superannuation policy, where older voters will die before experiencing the full consequences of their decisions. In those cases, I think that it *is* more responsible to go and get some information about the preferences of the people who will bear the costs.

      There are obviously a whole bunch of issues where the costs and benefits of policy decisions are incurred on a shorter timeframe, and I don’t see any problem with older people making up their own minds on those without considering the views of young people. Tobacco laws would probably fall in that category.

      If the idea of asking others’ opinions before making decisions offends you, I suggest that you harden up.

      1. I do hope I live long enough for you to get your goldcard and see if you change your mind.

        It you believe what the climate scientists are predicting as most likely (one or 2 millimetres sea level ever year) then when you die at an average age and assuming you are 25 now then very little will have happened so on that basis you shouldn’t have a vote either.
        I am a skeptic and rather suspect things will be much worse than predicted – certainly worth acting on that basis. Whether right or wrong on climate change I insist on my vote.

        Like HarryMC I feel shocked that I’m having to write and defend democracy – it seems to be wasted on the young who can’t grasp the concept.

        1. “I feel shocked that I’m having to write and defend democracy – it seems to be wasted on the young who can’t grasp the concept.”

          You are literally the only person in this thread arguing for restricting voting rights. Voting is generally considered to be a cornerstone of democracy. In your first comment, which was responding to someone else’s suggestion to *expand* voting rights to younger people, here’s what you proposed:

          “I would restrict the vote to tax payers.”

          1. Unlike you I quickly admitted I was wrong. (I was rather thinking about Socrates attitude to democracy at the time) That is what being old does – make you realise you can be wrong sometimes. That is why young people should talk with rather than lecture old people.

            Meanwhile you are the one wanting voting on Climate change restricted to the young. And you are young and inflexible and when Trump and Brexit occur (neityher would have had my vote) you want to change the rules.

          2. I never said I wanted voting on climate change restricted to the young. What I actually said was that the old should consider the views of the young when voting on long-term issues.

            You seem to be responding to what you *fear* that I’m saying, rather than what I’m *actually* saying. I suggest reading more carefully.

          3. “I stay up nights worrying about the damage we’re doing to our climate and the damage to our democracies caused by older voters’ embrace of terrible ideas”

          4. Exactly Bob, no suggestion that the elderly shouldn’t be allowed to vote, just that they should be less selfish when doing so.

          1. I fear what you say will be true unless you vote wisely.
            Compare the parties and do not trust the ones that claim foreign immigration solves everything – after 70 years hasn’t. Some fundamental changes are needed to get our GDP per capita back in line with the rest of the modern world.

        2. I have my Supergold card (thanks, Winnie!), and my mind is clear – the old (like me) need to stop screwing the young. I find it rather worrying that some of my peers seem to interpret consideration for other demographic groups as an attack on democracy – 65+ years of living should have have developed the ability to not misinterpret an argument, and sowed the seeds of some generosity of spirit.

    2. You may be putting it a little strongly because most of the article didn’t specify age. However you have a point since at the end he writes ” I stay up nights worrying about the damage we’re doing to our climate and the damage to our democracies caused by older voters’ embrace of terrible ideas like Donald Trump and Brexit.”.
      ideas are just ideas – they can be challenged and debated but he implies that rational argument is a waste of time. So why is he writing if he doesn’t want to be persuasive? Abuse will win him no converts.

      I prefer what Gareth Morgan says about being surprised how well his Tax policy is accepted by the predominately pensioners who come to political meetings [you know he is proposing a wealth tax and reduction in superannuation to pay for decent child support].
      I have an unfortuante instinctive dislike of Mr Trump and heard nothing to correct my image so I won’t mention him but I cannot understand why Brexit is considered so dreadful in NZ. Please ask yourself would you like our government to move from Wellington to Canberra and if not why not.

      1. I’m convinced that disdain of Brexit from progressives in different jurisdictions is a sort of signalling effect. I.e., it’s more that you don’t like the sorts of people who voted for Brexit (ostensibly), therefore you oppose it more viscerally than is warranted.

        1. You might be right. There were 3 mild correlations for voters in who were favour: age, race, poverty. Progressives are unwilling to admit the third is something real. I can see why the people at the bottom with little future resent the middle class lecturing them. They have real live experience and the progressives have platitudes.
          The one good lesson learned is that all the media and all the political parties with MPs can all agree (Remain!) and the ordinary people can have a mind of their own.
          It gives me hope for the next election in NZ but I wish I could find a party I agree with on everything.

        2. No, I actually think it’s a terrible idea on the merits. A huge chunk of the UK economy is related to trade with other EU countries, and exiting the EU will erect a whole bunch of trade barriers, which will in turn reduce living standards in the UK.

          And for what? To cut the supply of builders and nurses by cutting immigration? That’s also a bad idea when you need to build more homes and run a health system to cater for the needs of an aging population.

          This would be like NZ dissolving the Closer Economic Relations agreement with Australia, thereby raising trade barriers for around 30% of our exports and throwing a pall of uncertainty over all the New Zealanders living in Australia. That would be a bad idea, and so is Brexit.

      2. “Please ask yourself would you like our government to move from Wellington to Canberra and if not why not.”

        This is why you can’t understand strong opposition to Brexit; you don’t understand the European Union.

  7. An interesting opinion piece, many points you raise I agree with. But where we diverge is when you generalise as “I stay up nights worrying about the damage we’re doing to our climate and the damage to our democracies caused by older voters’ embrace of terrible ideas like Donald Trump and Brexit”. Don’t assume it’s the older voters fault. At that point you tossed your critical thinking into the garbage. The young want change, they need to involve themselves in the political process and VOTE. What Brexit and DT election has shown is that they don’t. Yes, I am retiree and I hate short term solutions that politicians come up with or putting systems and processes in place that become subservient to their ideologies without one ounce of critical thinking about what good it does nor how it does stack up, whilst feeling great about pandering to their followers.

    1. Yep – what the hell does Brexit have to do with climate change?

      The author couldn’t help himself this week with some material/digs of dubious accuracy (Godwin’s Law came into play). Suggest that the good and relevant parts of this blog post relating to transport and urban design be retained, and the rest be detached and posted on the Standard.

      1. Given that EU environmental regulations where a big part of the Brexit debate climate change appears to have a lot to do with Brexit.

Leave a Reply