Posts Tagged ‘earthquake’

May 31st, 2011

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TEDxEQChCh: Christchurch- the City of Innovation

It’s been 10 days now since the amazing day that saw 700 people pack into the Aurora center to be inspired around the rebuilding of Christchurch. As one of the organisers it was a relief to see the event run smoothly and generate the kind of excitement and energy we had alway hoped for. This couldn’t have happened without a huge amount of support from a huge army of volunteers and of course a bunch of committed organisers. The photo stream is now up and shortly the videos will be going up. I can’t wait to see them and write about them individually though some have already here, here and here. For me, some strong themes emerged from the day which I think are worth mentioning.

- Cities are about people. That should be our first and foremost consideration.

- Community participation and engagement are key. Listen to the people and you will find out what they want.

- Sustainability. We need a city that is built to last. That means thinking ahead to what the future will bring.

- Innovation. This is a time to embed innovation into the new city. With so much creation ahead, it’s time to really bring this to the fore.

- Branding. It’s time to look beyond the Garden City. Let’s be known for something different, something new. Anything.

I’m going to start with Christchurch: the City of Innovation. That’s what we do. We are a city of ideas, inspiration and invention. We attract the best and smartest to live in our amazing city. We are a talent utopia.

What’s your branding for the new Christchurch?

April 22nd, 2011

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Danger: Moral Hazards Ahead

Capitalism and free markets.

What a great idea. It’s a shame no one has actually tried it out or bothered to let homo rationalus economicus that it’s an urban myth. We operate mainly in a state sponsored system of capital markets underpinned by arcane and often opaque trading rules and regulations.

The provision of capital is key to any functioning economy and has been since the beginning of time. Each empire had its own approach to coinage to support trade and the governing class or head of state. The first pillar of modern capitalism was established in 1694 with the formation of the Bank of England. Thus began the first stirrings of the fractional reserve banking system and the modern financial system.

I’ve previously covered the many bailouts experienced by the banking system and the Bank of England itself and in some ways our current malaise is no different. The central precept of free markets is that they should operate on their own merits – caveat emptor.

I’m not going to discuss that fallacy here but focus on the problems of bail outs. Why should a failing business be rescued by the state? The simple answer to that is when it has implications for the national economy or issues of national security (often regarded as twos sides of the same coin). We have seen the fiasco in the US, the UK and Europe. We have seen the banking system bailed out, private companies bailed out and yet we still hear the mantra of free markets, trade and market liberalisation and privatisation repeated.

Here in NZ we have seen South Canterbury Finance bailed out and most recently AMI. On both occasions the government intervened to provide capital from taxpayers for businesses which had clearly failed. In the case of SCF depositors were guaranteed under a standard deposit guarantee framework but bondholders also benefitted to the tune of $350m. Those bonds should never have been covered under a deposit guarantee scheme. Investors enjoyed a big free lunch here at the expense of the taxpayer. In the case of AMI, the government intervened to support an insurance company who didn’t have enough reserves on hand post the February 22nd quake. The government could easily make a good case for supporting AMI, in terms of providing it with backstop liquidity but in doing so it needed to be very clear that it was suspending any belief in free markets.

The moral hazard is clear but the implications have not been explored. On one hand the government wants to bail out private companies who are clearly responsible for their own position. At the same time they want to promote policies like privatisation because, wait for it, private companies are more efficient than public ones.

It’s very clear that the neo-liberal dream is in tatters but no one seems to want to wake up and smell the reality. Market morality is indeed quite hazardous.

February 25th, 2011

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Christchurch Quake: Time for Public Money and a New Deal

I was at University when the quake struck, eating my lunch and reading a paper on “Native Rights”. I didn’t hang about and immediately dived under the table as I didn’t like the look of the walls and ceiling lights flailing about like paper decorations. When the first shake had finished I headed outside quickly and sat down whilst the two big after shocks rocked the surrounding buildings. The University seemed reasonably unscathed……nothing like the CBD which is 5 kms to the East.

The damage of the Feb 22nd 6.3 shake is way worse than the Sep 4th 7.1 quake. No doubt this is due to the depth and the proximity of the epicenter. But this post is not about the earthquake, it’s about the economic impact and the re-building to come.

The cost of this disaster is only guessable at the moment. Numbers from $10 to 16bln have been thrown out but it could be anything. There is no doubt that this is a complete rebuild of the city’s infrastructure and central business district. Added to that is the viability of the eastern suburbs. They were affected badly and there will be questions over ground issues when it comes to re-building.

I want to go back to 1936 and the First Labour government which introduced low interest loans as part of a system of public finance to rebuild the country’s post-war economy. Think of it as New Zealand’s New Deal. The Reserve Bank governor can direct this at any time. This is certainly one possibility.

What I would like to see is fresh new money being injected directly into the economy by the government. The Treasury can action this at any time. The New Zealand economy has been struggling for a few years now since the GFC hit and deleveraging started. Business is struggling and cash is constantly tight. This latest quake will have finished off many business hanging by a thread.

I am proposing the Treasury create $5bln of new interest free money and credit it to the Government Earthquake Department for use in the rebuilding of public infrastructure. This is real money (not debt) and it will flow through into the economy thus giving it a boost as well as providing liquidity to the economy.

The money supply will increase by $5bln but I don’t believe there will be any inflationary risk. We are currently in a period of deflation and deleveraging with falling house prices and economic stagnation. NZ needs all the help it can get and there has never been a greater need nor a better time for this proposal.

It’s time for a New Deal. Please pass this on if you can.

October 9th, 2010

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Resilient Systems : Lessons from the Christchurch rumble

Non-stop media coverage aside, it does feel like we are experiencing more frequent natural disasters. . Perhaps we should call them natural events since they seems to happen with such regularity that we should be very well prepared and learn to live with them. It was somewhat ironic then that the city of Christchurch should receive an international Civil Defence Award prior to the recent 7.1 earthquake. The response to the earthquake was very impressive from the Civil Defence HQ downwards into the community. Of course nothing is perfect and it’s probably telling about our level of expectation that some were unhappy about how the council handled things. The fact that no one died is quite incredible, due to a combination of strict building standards, low population density and the time of the quake. But what was of interest to me was how the city residents responded. There was a definite feeling of everyone looking outwards and willing to help. The fact that the city could get back on its feet so soon was testament to the resilience of its people.

So what makes systems resilient? Simply the ability to bounce back from a shock or unexpected event. Generally this is applied to ecosystem shocks: the ability of ecosystems to regenerate. But people can be resilient, in the way they respond to shocks such as the loss of a loved one. Communities can also be described a resilient if they can recover from an event which effects the whole community. More and more resilience will become a major part of any community planning scenario. Christchurch has done well in this area and I am sure lessons will be learnt from recent events.

When we look at building resilience into our systems it’s worth looking at the key stress points. During the earthquake a couple of these stressors became clear: one was money and the other was the exchange of  services. People needed to buy stuff yet with power down there was no way of paying via the usual channels and many people didn’t have cash on them. Also people needed to exchange goods and services but again there were problems with communication, power and availability.

It’s at a time like this that we see the promise of local community currencies come to the fore. One such system was the Lyttleton Timebank which operates in a small and geographically constrained community. This is a perfect setup for a successful community system. More and more these type of systems will become part of the fabric of a successful and resilient communities. Watch a story about them here

About

"I’m a Londoner who moved to Christchurch, New Zealand in 2002. After studying economics and finance at Manchester University and a couple of years of backpacking, I ended up working in the financial markets in London. I traded the global financial markets on behalf of investment banks for 11 years. Since moving to NZ, I have been an angel investor, budget advisor, director, trustee, mentor and business consultant. I'm currently a Councillor at Christchurch City Council and a Trustee of the Volunteer Army Foundation and the Christchurch Arts Festival Trust. I write about the intersection of economic, social and environmental issues."

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