Friday, 28 November 2014

Pub crawl

Manitoba's small town hotel bars seem to be going the way of Britain's local pubs. The Winnipeg Free Press's Bill Redekop tours a pile of the hotels I once attended in Southern Manitoba.
When an opportunity arose to buy the Notre Dame Hotel, he liked the idea of being his own boss and took the plunge.
Despite five banks turning down his request for a mortgage on the old hotel, which started out as a men-only beer parlour a century ago, Mondragon was energized. The beverage room is in the centre of town, and seemed to have decent traffic. It seats 50 but can hold 80. It also had a restaurant and beer vendor. The town has a population of about 600, with another 400 on its periphery.
His first year, he reinvested $30,000 into upgrades including a new musical sound system.
Mondragon threw street parties, costume parties, theme parties, formal gown parties where women wriggled into their old wedding gowns for a night, light'n' bright parties (neon spandex wear), pyjama parties, toga parties and brought in musical acts. The events were good but they should have supplemented his income, not been his life support.
He hired an expert chef and expanded the restaurant hours, even offering 6:30 a.m. breakfast. He lost money every month but one. He finally closed the restaurant, something that's still a sore spot with people in town. The beverage room now doesn't open until 12:30 p.m. and he's had to cut staff and increase his own hours. After four years, he has yet to take a paycheque.
"You burn out. If you're working for nothing, you're motivation goes fast," he said.
But is the rural beverage room worth saving?
Gary Desrosiers drives a school bus but not for kids.
Desrosiers has owned the Brunkild Bar and Grill on Highway 3, about half an hour southwest of Winnipeg, for 16 years. With all the changes to liquor laws -- from banning smoking to tougher drinking and driving laws -- he knows people are shying away from beverage rooms. After all, if you lose your driver's license, you can lose your ability to earn a living, especially in rural areas. And it's not as though people can call a taxi or take a bus to get home.
Well, they can at the Brunkild Bar and Grill. Years ago, Desrosiers bought a bus and began transporting people to and from his bar. His bus service picks up people from Winnipeg to Carman, and all points in between. He then drops them off again at the end of the night.
He's on his third bus. It holds 30 people but most times he carries from 15 to 20. The bus goes out once or twice a month to pick up some group or other. Sometimes it's University of Manitoba students from faculties like education or agriculture, such as when the aggies hold their "drink the town dry" events. He'll get a call from people who are bored at a house party, and bus the entire crew to his beverage room. Desrosiers only charges for fuel but that can run about $100 for his old gas guzzler built in 1979.
While transporting patrons, he's also picked up stranded motorists. He once picked up a family -- parents and three children, including an infant -- on a lonely stretch of highway after 2 a.m., in bone-chilling cold, and brought them back to his beverage room.
The bar as refuge? That's exactly what it is, said Desrosiers. Where do you want people drinking? he asks. He doesn't wait for an answer.
"The bar is the safest place. You have sober, experienced people to look after you. How many people are murdered in a bar versus murdered at a drinking party? I literally, under the law, have a duty of care."
Desrosiers acknowledged there isn't much sympathy among the general public for beverage room owners. But one of the effects of tightening government regulations on rural hotels is people have begun converting their garages into little private bars and having crowds over. The garages are insulated and furnished, and people can smoke and drink liquor at retail prices.
Tough business. Rural population decline, and rural ageing, doesn't help; that likely explains tough times in Mariapolis. I'm told Notre Dame, though, is in better shape than it was 20 years ago. The smoking regs may have done some of it. I wonder if anybody's there looked at the data on local pub custom and the change in the drink driving limit from .08 to .05. We always had a designated driver, but the increment from .08 to .05 could be chilling. It's pretty testable: if it's the drink driving limit, you'd expect a differential effect on bars serving lower population density catchments with the change because required driving distance to get to the pub would be longer.

Our farm was seven miles south of Notre Dame on PTH 244. I spent a bit of time at that hotel.

HT: Mom.

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Herne Bay and Property Rights

A correspondent tells me that this flyer's been showing up in mailboxes around Herne Bay.

Let's go through the purported rights here enumerated:

  • The right to object to neighbours' putting up a 4-story building that "steals daylight, privacy, perhaps views, and devalues your property".
    • Some of this is legitimate; a process that facilitates Coasean bargaining with truly affected neighbours would be better. 
  • The right to have ample on-street parking available whenever you might want it.
    • Unless they've bought an easement from Council providing guaranteed spots in front of their houses, this is no more a right than having an unconstrained commute with no traffic.
    • Pragmatically, this stuff should be handled by putting in time limits on parking on residential streets with exceptions for those with residents' passes. Hand out two per house and let them on-sell them if they want.
  • The right to have the neighbourhood look as it always has looked.
    • Again, unless they've gone and purchased easements from the neighbours preventing substantive changes to properties, there's no right here. 
The rights that are missing:
  • The right to use your owned property as you wish;
  • The right to change how your house looks, even if some other people who don't own your house don't like that anything anywhere ever changes.
  • The right of others to join together buy a property on the street with their own money, from a willing seller, and to put up townhouses to live in.
The "If you think your home is your castle, think again!" line is a howler. If it's my castle, I can paint it purple and change the front gate without getting resource consents even if the Herne Bay Residents Association Incorporated doesn't like it. 

The trouble with urgency

The Key government is rushing some counter-terrorism legislation through Parliament under urgency. There's one day to make submissions on legislation too complicated (for me) to understand in one day.

And the CAPTCHA is broken on the Parliamentary website, preventing online submissions. Note the input-error line at the bottom of the clip below, HT: Farrar.

Remember Helengrad? What should we call this?

Victoria Street

After the Christchurch quakes, City Council locked down the downtown in endless planning. Then central government didn't like Council's plan and put in the CCDU instead: not really an improvement, although at least they backed away from daft light rail plans.

Fortunately, CCDU was limited: they could plan the central city, but only within prescribed boundaries. Outside of the boundaries, things could still happen. Enter Richard Diver:
It is true that more than anyone else, Diver has been disrupting the tidy plans of the bureaucrats by throwing up buildings faster than they can blink. They had this lumbering Blueprint plan for the city core. But Diver has raced ahead, populating Victoria St with 10 office developments in quick succession - half of them now open, half on the go - creating his own alternative CBD on the city's northern corner.
No doubt Diver soon became a problem for the official rebuild - the Blueprint masterplan drafted by the Christchurch Central Development Unit (CCDU), the specially set-up arm of the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (Cera).
Small-scale redevelopment in Victoria St was fine. But the grumble became that Victoria St was being allowed to run riot, siphoning money away from where the government plan wanted it to go.
There were mutterings that Diver's buildings were cheap and temporary. He might have his A-grade tenants for a few years, but they would shift down to the classier city core eventually.
Diver laughs. There are some good-looking buildings out there. And the tenants have been investing millions on the interiors. "The amount of money they're spending on the fit-outs, they're not moving in a hurry."
It was another blow to the CCDU when high-flying software firm Telogis took the top four floors of 104 Victoria St, Countrywide's refurbished ANZ building.
The Blueprint has a designated innovation precinct over on the CPIT side of the city. But it is happening too slowly. Meanwhile Victoria St is fast returning to life, abuzz with bars and restaurants.
Read the whole thing. Really really great stuff.

Meanwhile, in CCDU/CERA land, John Roughan reports on Roger Sutton's SimCity visions:
As Christchurch waited for something constructive to happen behind the barricades, it became evident that Sutton was not Superman and Cera was just another bureaucracy. But he could still talk the talk and clearly enjoyed his celebrity.
Rather than restore life to the city centre as quickly as it could, Cera was demolishing most of the remaining buildings. It saw the city central as a blank canvas for civic planners to design what they pleased.
Not long before they issued their "blueprint" a group of out-of-town media were invited by Earthquake Minister Gerry Brownlee to see the progress. Sutton joined us for coffee in the delightful little mall of shipping containers that private enterprise had created amid the demolition cranes and debris. I expressed disappointment at the wider sceneand he replied with a sarcastic reference to the design of downtown Auckland.
It was a surreal moment. Nobody knew what to say. What can be said to someone who raises the aesthetic deficiencies of Queen St when the core of his city is lying in ruins all around? [emphasis added]
He didn't seem accustomed to criticism, he was used to being admired.
Maybe he'd have liked Queen Street's aesthetics better if they there ran Visible G-String Fridays.

It's taken three years, but I think most folks are now on about the same page on the Christchurch debacle. Hopefully this kind of approach is never ever repeated.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014


This should be fun.

2014 Public Finance Great Festive Debate

The Government Economics Network and Chair in Public Finance present:


Andy Williams reckoned “Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year.” Yet while a fine singer he was no economist and so at this event two teams will debate the lessons that economics provides on this season.
Speakers for and against include Eric Crampton, Head of Research, New Zealand Initiative;Patrick Nolan, Principal Adviser, New Zealand Productivity Commission;Bronwyn Croxson, Chief Economist, Ministry of Health; and Anne-Marie Brook, Principal Adviser, The Treasury
See our flyer for more information.
11 December 2014
3.00 to 4.00 pm followed by refreshments
G.02 and G.03, Ground Floor, MBIE, 15 Stout Street
RSVP by 4 December to Libby or call 04 463 9656
I didn't express a preference for either side on this one; I'm to be arguing in the affirmative. Since I'm contrarian, and since the horrible inefficiency of Christmas is now well-established, it would have been perhaps more fun arguing for the efficiency of Christmas. I'll endeavour to go a bit beyond the usual deadweight-cost inefficiency arguments in making the case against Christmas.

Explaining Daddy's day at work to the kids will be even more fun than usual come 11 December.

Previously: Coase and the Whos.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

No, sir, I don't like it

Rob Hosking in The NBR:
The plain fact is, the country's security service got caught up in the political games of election 2011. Wilfully or accidentally, It became a political arm of the party in power and not, as it should be, a neutral government agency.
That is scary stuff.
Scary indeed. Read the whole thing.

Not entirely convinced that the government really ought to be rushing through stronger powers for the security apparatus until they've sorted out perhaps a few better control mechanisms preventing partisan use of the security apparatus.

Fixed costs in small countries

Yesterday's column over at hit on some of the ridiculous self-imposed fixed costs of government policy in New Zealand. A taste:
We could argue about the ridiculousness of the implementation of the New Zealand regime, or we could ask the more important question: why does this office [Office of Film and Literature Classification] exist at all? Why does a country of four and a half million people have an office for film classification when so many neighbouring countries, similar to New Zealand in culture and norms, already have their own systems? Every rating decision involves cost to the would-be distributor: the classification fee charged by the Censor’s Office, plus the hidden cost of the time, effort, and hassle involved.
In a better world, the government could simply require that programmes distributed in New Zealand carry the classification of any other trusted country’s ratings board: Australia, Canada, America, the UK, or others. It’s pretty rare that a locally produced film wouldn’t be intended for eventual international release; if the filmmaker weren’t already seeking an international classification, self-rating by the local producers could also work well.
Worse, when a body like the Censor’s Office exists, local industry can use it to try to block competitors’ imports.
Slingshot and other ISPs’ global-modes, allowing Kiwi customers to sign up for Netflix as though they were American, is just parallel importation applied to digital content. Local rights-holders supported the Censor’s Office attempts at blocking those services, with pious appeals to protecting the children from unrated content. We should properly see the Censor’s Office as a non-tariff barrier to trade in film and literature, which locals can exploit anti-competitively.
New Zealand has rather a few of these local fixed-cost-raising regulations. If you’re a doctor with a stellar reputation in Canada, you still need to go through New Zealand registration; that requires placement in a New Zealand hospital, and placements are limited. Would you, as a tourist in Canada, be at all worried about being treated by a Canadian doctor in a Canadian hospital? No. But that same doctor cannot move to New Zealand and set up a General Practice without jumping through the hoops.
Perhaps there could be reason for a short course training foreign physicians to recognise diseases prevalent here that aren’t as common elsewhere, but beyond that, the government’s increased the cost of medical services in New Zealand by imposing an unnecessary fixed cost on the system. Similarly, I simply cannot understand why building materials that have been deemed suitable for other wet and shaky environments, like Japan, British Columbia, or the American Pacific Northwest, aren’t simply deemed to be good enough for the New Zealand market as well.