New Zealand: The Outside of the AsylumWe constantly rank at or near the top of international measures of transparency, lack of corruption, economic freedom, and personal freedoms. Every day my Twitter feed brings me new stories of how absurd the rest of the world is getting.* The US Department of Labor wants to ban farm kids from working on farms. The TSA destroys personal liberty and dignity in a vast theatrical demonstration that does less to stop terrorists than it does to enable TSA agents to mule drugs across the country. The American CFTC bans event derivatives as serving no useful purpose.
Meanwhile, in New Zealand, our Ministry of Labour worries about safety standards on quad bikes but nobody would dream of banning kids from working on their parents' farms. Our airports encourage travel, only imposing idiotic security measures when they're required as condition of flying back into the Asylum. And, iPredict provides an events derivatives market that brings us ever-closer to Arrow-Debreu worlds.**
We've been backsliding a bit since 2005 or so, and especially in Christchurch this past year, but we still retain a comparative advantage in not being utterly insane. A sane regulatory environment is what has Peter Thiel investing here. We're sanely considering disallowing software patents. Our anti-piracy legislation sanely demands that rights-holders compensate ISPs for some costs in delivering infringement notices. We sanely spend very little on national defence, knowing there's pretty much nothing we could do to deter somebody who could put up sufficient blue-water navy to get here.
Instead of having activists worried about the threat to our "100% Pure" image if a place that already markets itself on mining tourism opened another mine, we could have worries about our 100% Sane image whenever we deviated from sane policy.***
The customs inspection queue at every airport could have big signs welcoming new entrants: "Welcome to the Outside of the Asylum." It would be great.
And in the international departure lounges, we could have big signs warning people that, in the Asylum, whether their pastries will attract 20% VAT will depend on whether the pastries are supplied hot or supplied cold with ready access to a microwave. Or that, inside the Asylum, wardens may relieve you of your cash on flimsy pretext if you're stopped in a forfeiture corridor. Or that, inside the Asylum, all of your web traffic may be monitored by the wardens for the inmates' protection.
If you're reading this from inside of the Asylum, you have my sympathies. I'll head out to the beach with the kids this weekend to put up some decorations to make the Asylum a bit prettier.
* Recall Wonko the Sane:
One day, after coming across a set of detailed instructions on a set of toothpicks, John Watson, distressed and fearing for the world's sanity, built The Asylum to put it in and help it get better.** Just this morning, New Zealand's top political blogger started tweeting claims that both the opposition Labour leader's chief press secretary and his advisor quit. As the leader's performance hasn't been awe-inspiring, this could be early warning of a coup to come. Less than an hour later iPredict launched a contract on it and asked him to put his money where his mouth is. He has, and invites those who disagree to give him some of their money. As of 1:40 Friday afternoon, an hour after contract launch, we've had 121 trades and a price of $0.6755. I've no money in that market as I have zero information on which to trade. But I love that here, outside of the Asylum, it is dead simple for a legal market to open real money contracts demanding that pundits put their money where their mouths are. Just imagine how much more sane American talking-heads shows would be if there were real money markets where these guys could be held to account. I chalk it up to a lack of demand for sanity inside the Asylum.
The Asylum can be described as a four-walled house turned inside out.
To elaborate: the ceiling turns outwards, the furniture and carpet rests on the coast, the door one would normally believe to lead into a house leads outwards to a lawn with benches and walking paths, an area John calls "Outside the Asylum", in which is mounted the instructions for the toothpicks to discourage going back in it.
*** Sane policy is neither right nor left, it just requires a commitment to acknowledging tradeoffs and setting policy consistent with desired ends. More and less redistributive systems are both eminently sane in pursuit of different goals. But there are more and less sane ways of getting there. Helping poor people by giving them money is sane. Helping poor people by giving home heating rebates to the elderly is insane, as is helping poor people by cutting the GST on fresh fruit. Do we really want to risk our 100% Sane image?