Tuesday 22 February 2011

Christchurch's Agony

Christchurch, New Zealand. Tuesday, 22 February 2011.

MY OWN HEART, and I’m sure the hearts of all Bowalley Road’s readers, goes out to the people of Christchurch this afternoon.

The images broadcast live by Television New Zealand have been deeply disturbing. Clearly there have been fatalities and many, many people are injured.

Much that was old and beautiful, like the stately Christchurch Cathedral, has been damaged or destroyed.

The implications for the New Zealand economy are daunting.

Rebuilding Christchurch cannot now be left to the Market’s invisible hand. It will take all our hands, working through the public instruments of our common purpose, to make good this tragedy.

If we learn nothing else from today's disaster, let us learn that we are frail and wholly contingent beings, whose only solace in a vast and unheeding universe – is each other.


Liz said...

I stand with you on that Chris. I have family down there. Thankfully now everyone is accounted for but I am also missing friends there and I have no way to know if they are okay. This is a terrible tragic day they didn't deserve this.

Jack said...

‘It will take all our hands, working through the public instruments of our common purpose, to make good this tragedy.’

Well said, Mr Trotter. This is not a time for point scoring – by anyone.

We can be ‘prepared’, but we can never really be prepared. We can be ‘ready’, but we can never really be ready. Disasters happen. For that matter, accidents happen too; not everything is somebody’s ‘fault’.

I must be getting old. (Well, chronologically I am.) But I remember a time when communities – of which corporations and politicians were very much a part – just ‘mucked in’. Point scoring by competing media and competing politicians was set well and truly to one side.

The thrust was: let’s just do what needs to be done. And let’s worry about the ledger later. The result was not always a glorious victory. But it was generally a pretty worthy attempt. Let’s give it another go. Who knows, we might even get to like it.

john said...

Regarding the rebuilding of Christchurch,especially the interesting old character buildings, I think we should take the Japanese approach. Many 'ancient' Japanese buildings were basically built after WW2 in concrete rather than brick or wood. So, I say build a new Cathedral,make it look the same as before, but build it to 21st century standards and build it to last.
And if there are whole blocks or stretches of streets that need rebuilding,do the same thing, keep the look, but make them 21st century buildings - and above all don't let each individual property owner go their own way. Let's not replace Christchurch's character with cheap developer-driven sterile boxes with a 20 year life span.

Napier and Hastings after the 1931 quake got Art Deco, Art Nouveau and Spanish Mission?

What will Christchurch get? "Modern Tickytacky"? "Developer Monstrosity"? "Glass Box"? Or something better?

Anonymous said...

The market's invisible hand will operate in tandem with the latest National benefit restrictions.
Working class people in fractured Christchurch are facing hell.

Victor said...

My deepest condolences to all who have lost loved ones in this awful tragedy and my best wishes to all waiting for good news. May it come soon.

I agree that we should avoid making political points at a time like this.

Even so, I hope that the need to rebuild Christchurch is taken as an opportunity for stimulative investment in public infrastructure rather than as an excuse for cutting state expenditure elsewhere.

As Standard & Poor reminded us just last week, New Zealand does NOT have a bloated and inefficient state sector. It does, however, have a pressing problem of non-governmental indebtedness, which can only soar further if rebuilding is financed in the normal way.


I love Napier's Art Deco. But I agree with you that graceful Christchurch should be rebuilt as close as possible to its original form. We should take Warsaw as our model.

john said...

@Victor: Warsaw! A brillant suggestion. I agree. If the Polish communists had the imagination to do that for Warsaw, then surely NZ can do that for Christchurch.

XChequer said...

Anonymous. As part of the working class of Christchurch, I thank you for your prediction of my impending entry to the fifth circle.

However, I think I for one will be avoiding that through sheer determination as will most of us all. With the the help, aroha and support of Aotearoa and the International community, we will prevail in a way and with a purpose that would make General McArthur look lazy.

Thanks for giving us the motivation to prove you wrong.

Richard McGrath said...

The people of Christchurch suffer the violence of a 6.3 strength earthquake, and you propose yet more violence!

What, after all, is the 'invisible hand' you so despise but the sum total of the choices of free people?

The 'public instruments of our common purpose', on the other hand, is a euphemism for the coercive asset-stripping system of wealth redistribution employed by governments.

The difference between the invisible hand and the Nanny State lies in how they treat the common man: either as a free agent trading with others for mutual benefit, with the right to exist for his own sake; OR as an expendable means to an end, a slave to others who may determine how his resources of time and money are allocated.

I have friends in Christchurch; we have offered them our home to stay in for as long as they wish; many other New Zealanders have made much bigger contributions to the quake victims.

Surely the examples of private charity we are now hearing about on a daily basis are a much nicer response to the human misery caused by this disaster than John Key announcing a tax hike and then holding a gun to everyone's head to raise the money required for what he considers needs to be done.

Victor and John - it's a wonder Poland had many people of talent left to reconstruct Warsaw after the Nazis had murdered most of their Jewish population. Prior to that, of course, the Soviets had already massacred 22,000 Polish army officers, professionals and other members of the intelligensia in the Katyn Forest in 1940.

Chris Trotter said...

To: Richard McGrath

Yet again, the readers of Bowalley Road are vouchsafed a glimpse of the conservative mind.

There is nothing useful to be said to a person so far gone in his hatred of the generous collectivism that defines the human species.

Someone so utterly incapable of understanding what the spontaneous altruism of Cantabrians in the hours and days following Tuesday's quake reveals about the deformed social relationships imposed by laissez-faire capitalism, and who is convinced that purely private charity is all that's required to repair this disaster, merits only our pity.

Richard, you are lost.

Chris Trotter said...

To: XChequer

Not sure you've actually read this posting, XChequer.

Fifth Circle of Hell? Working-class?

Try again.

Victor said...

Richard McGrath

Get a grip on yourself. It really would be 'nice' if 'nice' could fill bellies, prevent diseases, provide shelter and rebuild a city.

But 'nice' alone can't do these things. They require commitment, organisation and policy. In other words, they require a government. And government can only exist by taxing the income we draw, with varying degrees of equity, from our common social product.

Meanwhile, the fact is that, Communism or no Communism, Warsaw was rebuilt after 1945 to look not hugely different to the way it looked before the Stukas struck.

Yes, bits of it were defaced by Stalino-Gothic. But the city as a whole remains a place of beauty and a testament to a proud people who draw strength from their past, with all its misfortunes.

I think there's a good lesson for us there, in this dark hour of our national life.

Richard McGrath said...

Chris - I make a distinction between collectivism and co-operation, and between altruism and benevolence, on the basis of whether humans are treated as cattle or as living, thinking, rational, moral independent beings.

You appear to have no qualms about sacrificing the hopes and dreams of New Zealanders far removed from Christchurch, in the name of rebuilding that shattered city and the lives of its people. You seem to assume the need of one person, or group of people, is an automatic claim on the resources of other innocent people. I do not.

Personally, I do not presume to tell people what to do, or suggest that the government do it on my behalf, just because I think I have all the answers.

Contrary to your claim, there is no reason why the private sector could not rise to the challenge of dealing with what has happened in Christchurch, for it is not one huge 'collective' problem - it is literally hundreds of thousands of individual people affected in different ways by the earthquake, with their own particular needs, which need to be defined and managed individually and appropriately.

Richard McGrath said...

So, Victor, the private sector is incapable of commitment, organisation and policy. First I knew.

As for tax, for you to posit that taxation is moral is to condone a situation of 100% taxation, i.e. slavery, if that's what a majority of MPs wanted.

And as far as 'nice' goes, if you believe voluntary trade and co-operation doesn't work, then you must accept the doctrine of forced equality, that some people can be sacrificed, in part or in total, for the betterment of others.

I'm sorry, but I believe humans can (and should) pursue their life goals without needing to resort to coercion and extortion in their interaction with other people. Others on this thread clearly do not share this view.

XChequer said...

Thanks Chris. I may be a little thrown by whats happened here but am pretty sure my cognitive functions are in reasonable order - not to mention the fact that I can still read.

My message to Anonymous was that despite his presumption that the Nats welfare reform in conjunction with inherent capitalist tendencies to cheapen the average Cantabrian worker, I can tell you that we will not let that happen. This is the time when true socialism shines. This is the time when all of us - blue collar, white collar or no collar - we are all bound by common purpose and belief and I'm adamant that we will NOT let a mere government, whose term is transitory in the scope of this disaster, repress us anymore than nature already has.

Victor said...

Richard McGrath

Of course the private sector is capable of commitment, organisation and (in a narrow sort of way) even of policy. But its purpose is profit and not the public good.

This is not to say that the search for profit is necessarily opposed to the public good. Nor is it to say that the public good can be pursued without also allowing for the pursuit of profit. But the pursuit of profit will not alone provide for the public good. Some other element or elements are required.

As to your other points; to take 100% of incomes in tax would lead to widespread human misery. It could never be moral to create such misery, just as it can never be moral to rely on your imaginary hidden hand when people are starving or (as in Christchurch at present) without homes or in need of health care. There is no reason to restrict our choices to the unlovely combination of Pol Pot and Gadgrind.

I have not said that voluntary trade and cooperation don't work. Both of them are, to my mind, good things and essential to the existence of a good society. But they are not enough and there is no reason to assume they are enough.

Similarly, there is no logical reason why the abandonment of your extreme individualism should lead to forced equality, irrespective of whether or not you think this would be a good or bad thing. When HM the King of Saudi Arabia this week increased welfare entitlements to his subjects, he was certainly not invoking an egalitarian spirit.

Finally, I do hope you stay off New Zealand's roads, as for you to drive on them, would, given your frame of reference, mean that you were making use of the fruits of coercion and extortion.

will said...

Well said Richard. There are more who share your views on this site than you would think. We just don't normally waste time commenting. Why are we reading this blog? A genuine attempt to understand a mindset that has brought such appalling misery and death to the world.

Chris Trotter said...

Sorry, XChequer, my bad.

XChequer said...

I could also be being a bit snappish and tender.

Anonymous said...

If the people owned the land we could build demonsration houses/ communities where people could get the feel and vote. People could buy the buildings and rent the land and the rents could reflect the value of the land. That way the capital gains go back into the community and urban renewal can follow a plan.