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The Curse of Politically Engineered Research


Hugh Pavletich
Performance Urban Planning
New Zealand

December 4, 2009

On November 20th 2009 information was leaked from the Climatic Research Unit of the University of East Anglia , casting serious doubt on climate research carried out within this institution and other institutions around the world.

While the vintage media has generally not reported this event, it has erupted on the internet and led to senior researchers temporarily standing down from their positions, as investigations commence both within the institutions concerned and by others outside.

Whether one accepts to whatever degree or rejects the theory of the human influence on climate, is not the major question. The central question is whether or not the researchers involved have firstly, carried out this work to professionally acceptable standards, and secondly, whether the research they have done to date can be trusted.

The Pew Research Center poll results released a month prior to the events at the University of East Anglia, found that Americans in answer to the question - “Is there solid evidence the earth is warming?”, found that in April 2008, 71% said yes, but that by October 2009 this had slumped to 57%. In answer to the question whether people thought warming was caused by human activity, the support over this period had fallen from 47% to 36%.

The importance of this event, now referred to as “Climategate”, cannot be overstated.

The reason for this, is because the leaking of this information from the University of East Anglia, has provided a long overdue “shock” to the public regarding the dangers of politically engineered and financed research – and the risks and consequences of perverse public policy outcomes.

Should those involved be found to have failed, institutions and peoples reputations will be wrecked.

It is now “showdown time” for those involved with climate research.

Climate research has attracted massive amounts of public (and to a much lesser extent – private) financial support, as Bret Stephens explains within this recent Wall Street Journal article " Climategate: Follow the Money" (subscription required - secondary reference)

Mr Stephen’s of the Wall Street Journal states that last year Exxon Mobil provided some $US7 million (0.0027% of its net profits of $US47 billion) to climate research, sprinkled around a good number of institutions.

In contrast however, governments have been exceeding generous with their taxpayer’s money.

According to this Wall Street Journal article, the European Commission’s most recent appropriation for climate research comes to nearly $US3 billion, and that’s not including funds from the EU’s member governments. In the United States, some $US1.3 billion to NASA’s climate efforts, $US400 million to NOAA’s and another $US300 million to the National Science Foundation. Even the seriously stressed State of California with 12% unemployment, is piling $US600 million in to its climate research initiatives.

According to the research by the HSBC, the above figures are small compared with the estimated $US94 billion that will be spent globally by Governments on “green initiatives”, such as ethanol and other alternative energy schemes. That most of these schemes are likely counterproductive and in economic and social terms, destructive, appears to be beside the point.

Consider for example, the impact of ethanol production on global food prices.

Politically engineered research has led to perverse outcomes in many areas of our lives. As just one example, what we should and should not eat, as Tom Naughton explains superbly, within the video Fat Head (his entertaining take on climate research as an encore).

Those involved within the urban development sector, such as the writer, have long been bombarded with politically engineered research throughout our working lives. So blatant in fact, that the writer has sometimes referred to it as “the sun rises in the west research”. To illustrate the extraordinarily poor standards of local government land use research in New Zealand (common throughout the Anglo world) it is suggested the recent report Housing Stock and Housing Demand by the Tauranga City Council be read closely. With a population of slightly more than 100,000, rather amusingly, this small Local Authority is experiencing difficulty in coping with growth.

Bear in mind while reading this Report, that Wendell Cox of Demographia, St Louis, Illinois, USA and the writer, authored on an unpaid basis, the first Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey in early 2005 through to the 5th Annual Edition released January this year.

This Annual Survey of housing affordability, is based on the very simple Median Multiple (median house price divided by gross annual median household income) and covers the 265 major metropolitan areas (regional this year in the case of the United Kingdom – due to that country’s slow data release) of the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Ireland, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

Much of what I have written these past five years, can be summed up within one simple paragraph –

For metropolitan areas to rate as “affordable” and ensure that housing bubbles are not triggered, housing prices should not exceed three times gross annual household incomes. To allow this to occur, new starter housing of an acceptable quality to the purchasers, with associated commercial and industrial development, must be allowed to be provided on the urban fringe at 2.5 times the gross annual median household income of that urban market. The fringe is the only supply or inflation vent for an urban market. The critically important Development Ratios for this new fringe starter housing, should be 17 – 23% serviced lot / section cost – the balance the actual housing construction. Ideally through a normal building cycle, the Median Multiple should move from a Floor Multiple of 2.3 through a Swing Multiple of 2.5 to a Ceiling Multiple of 2.7 – to ensure maximum stability and optimal medium and long term performance of the residential construction sector.

So the staff and elected representatives of New Zealand’s Tauranga City Council, and others of course, have had five years to follow up researching and exploring workable solutions to this serious issue.

The Tauranga Council Housing Report commences by discussing the Demographia Survey, but fails to note that the United States is included within these Annual Survey’s. No small point - as all the “affordable” (at or below 3 times household incomes) metropolitan areas are within the United States and Canada.

Indeed – the reason why Wendell Cox and the writer got these Annual Demographia Surveys underway, was to attempt to explain these important issues in the simplest and clearest terms possible.

This small Local Authority of Tauranga in New Zealand has a problem, in that its housing has bubbled out to 6.6 times household earnings. Following the discussion of the Demographia Surveyv within its Housing Report, it then falls over in to a convoluted and illogical defense of its current controlling smart growth / urban intensification failures. Little wonder the recommendations are for further interventions.

It is clear in reading this Housing Report, that the authors of it do not have an elementary understanding of housing market dynamics. It is not altogether surprising urban planners have a poor understanding, when it is realized that the economics profession, generally, is only now beginning to understand the real structural dynamics of housing markets as the writer explained earlier this year.

The question that needs to be asked is – what do all these unfortunate examples have in common? It seems very clear that they are not being promoted to actually solve the problems or perceived problems.

The answer is that those promoting these “solutions” are simply in the game of expanding their own control and influence. Protecting and expanding their empires. Nothing more – nothing less.

C. Northcote Parkinson explained the reality and nature of bureaucracies, with great wit and perception within his book Parkinson's Law over half a century ago. Yet – most people have little understanding of it and are “reaping the consequences”.

As citizens and their employers, it is our responsibility to turn the tables on the out of control political elites, so that they know clearly that their duty is to serve us.


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