When you put a price on it, it’s for sale.

Claire Browning at Pundit has got a must read piece on the mining-our-national-heritage business.

Firstly, she catches Gerry Brownlee spinning a wee bit when he supports the case for digging by citing a world bank report listing NZ as second only to Saudi Arabia in terms of natural wealth per capita. It turns out that…

…our ranking was overwhelmingly attributable to pasture and crop land (68%) and, ironically, protected areas (19%). The subsoil assets category comprised a tiny proportion (3%).


Secondly, she points out that National do not appear to be kidding.

Senior ministers don’t come out punching hard, in a fight they’ve voluntarily bought, which they must know is going to be a knock-down drag-out fight, without a degree of commitment to something or other. Tim Groser invoked this image, allegedly dear to the public heart, of a Conservation minister who “goes around with knobbly knees and shorts and releases kiwi into the wild. I am a champion releaser of kiwi into the wild … but I’m sorry, we’ve got to grow up”. Gerry Brownlee liberally salted his soundbites with words like “hysteria” and “paranoia”, and blustered on Morning Report about how what we’d just heard was an “incredibly biased piece of reporting but not anything more or less than I expect from Radio New Zealand”.

She’s right. It’s no coincidence that this was first signaled in a speech to the Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy. When you then go on to announce a ‘stock-take’, that’s also not an accident. (I’m actually kind of amazed that the Government is using that ‘stock take’ language as something to supposedly calm our nerves and allay our fears.)

I’m a bit disappointed by the pushback I’ve seen so far. It appears to have accepted the framing set up by Brownlee and is responding almost solely with arguments around the 100% Pure branding and the negative effects on the tourism dollar that might be felt through the mining of our National Parks, wetlands, marine reserves and who knows what all else.

The problem with this is that it puts a dollar value on those assets. Put a price on them and they are for sale. These assets are not for sale. That is the point of them. They were not land banked to be used in case of increased demand for lignite. Not all of these lands are pretty little tourist spots either. By making it ‘tourism vs mining’ we allow National to be able to carve off wetlands and other habitats because ‘tourists never go there’. These lands are protected because of their intrinsic value, any money we may earn off them through tourism is nice of course, but that is merely an allowable activity, not their purpose.

Labour’s opposition has got some potential problems. Given their recent history National will have some room for maneuver. I think the mocking ‘absurd’ tone could work. It focusses on the fact that these are schedule four lands, and moves outside of Brownlee’s framing of monetary value only. It is also not anti-mining per se, which is important, (for Labour), given Labour’s historic ties.

On that note, here’s Levon Helm singing a Steve Earle song about mountains, and mining

17 thoughts on “When you put a price on it, it’s for sale.

  1. You are dealing with people who are trying to increase NZ prosperity. Frame the argument in terms of a Greens desire for yurts and living standards from the middle ages for the benefit of Gaia and you will fail.

    The argument needs to be made on economic terms whether you believe things are for sale or not.

  2. That would be true if it was a matter of trying to directly convince the National Party. But it’s not. Quite frankly, I think National’s mind is made up. If they are going to change tack it will be because of public opinion.

    (I’ll choose to interpret your first sentence as meaning that National is limited to that goal, rather than implying that others do not share it. And I don’t believe I mentioned yurts, or that they are the only other framing available. Our National parks are actually quite popular I suspect.)

  3. It is ridiculous to tie up a third of a country irevokeably for all time. The mid point of the discussion, to evaluate if it is possible to gain the resources with minimal disturbance is a very sensible approach. Industry used to and still does in places where there are no controls to rape the environment. That is wrong but no more so than the current NZ situation.

  4. Phil Sage,

    While it may be more effective in the short term to convince them within the framing of their own ideology, doesn’t that just reinforce the status quo?

    If you believe that some things are not for sale shouldn’t you try to convince people of that rather than just show them that in each case the price would be unaffordable?

  5. Everything has a price/value – it just depends on what value judgements you use in you assessment.

    Counterfactual analysis would be useful – Is mining more environmentally unfriendly than farm conversion (and loss of forests), housing subdivision and town/city growth? How about a dam or a wind farm?

    Yes mining does have an impact, some mining can have significant impacts, others can be very minor – have you ever travelled between Roxborough and Millers Flat (Central Otago), the area was subject to considerable mining and than the land was refilled and turn from scrubby rubbish into fertile land adding considerably to the landscape and poviding social (recreational) and economic value to the locals.

    The problem is not that there is a value on land, its about how you assess that value (being clear about what your value judgements are), consider the counterfactuals and allow competing interests to be debated.

    Your case would be stronger if you didn’t start from a reflexive anti position, but built a logical case that explains why your value judgements are valid and more likely to result in a better outcome for all new Zealanders. Otherwise its just opposition for the sake of opposition.

  6. A video advertising the new zealand 10-20% pure brand which I thought you might be interested in putting on your blog

  7. What would Hayek say writes,

    Everything has a price/value – it just depends on what value judgements you use in you assessment.

    Where does slavery fit into your model?

  8. These lands are protected because of their intrinsic value

    And what is that value, exactly? The value to whom? To our ancestors? To our descendants? To the nation itself?

    You write as if the foundation of national parks is something that came with a foundational statement that was universally accepted. That’s not the case.

  9. Anita – you are trying to resort to reductio ad absurdum by say “where does slavery fit into your model”.

    In rebuttal slavery is a form of forced labour in which people are treated as the property of others and deprived of the right to leave or receive compensation. There is no freedom to contract and therefore no ability for either party to conlude a mutually beneficial agreement that improves the welfare of both parties.

    I’m struggling to see the logic in you reducto ad absurdum argument and its link to price/value?

    What you could argue alternatively is that your value judgements hold that the conservation estate is worth more in its current state and with its current rules than any alternative.

    So far you have no addressed this point by presenting a logical argument why your value judgement is valid.

    In its absence the counterfactual argument of allowing resources to be traded between consenting parties so that they are allocated to the preferred value judgements each party is equally valid, and dare I say it both ensures society can fairly determine what they value for intrinsic worth and that which has an alternative use.

  10. I am trying to establish that there are classes of things for which the statement

    Everything has a price/value – it just depends on what value judgements you use in you assessment.

    is not true.

    If it’s not true then there is a reasonable discussion to be had of whether the national park land is one of those classes.

  11. A few quick replies:


    the ‘intrinsic’ language comes from the Conservation Act:

    Functions of Department

    The functions of the Department are to administer this Act and the enactments specified in Schedule 1 to this Act, and, subject to this Act and those enactments and to the directions (if any) of the Minister,—

    (a) To manage for conservation purposes, all land, and all other natural and historic resources, for the time being held under this Act, and all other land and natural and historic resources whose owner agrees with the Minister that they should be managed by the Department:

    where ‘conservation’ under the Act is defined as:

    Conservation means the preservation and protection of natural and historic resources for the purpose of maintaining their intrinsic values, providing for their appreciation and recreational enjoyment by the public, and safeguarding the options of future generations

    (emph. mine)


    I don’t accept that price and value mean the same thing. Some things (with very real value) are, as they say, priced beyond rubies. That said the only relevant counterfactual in this case is conservation.

    YOu might only place an economic/monetary value on all things, but that doesn’t mean I need to. It may mean I fail to convince you of some things, but no matter. That’s what makes for horse races.

    At the moment the land is protected, and acall me an conservative fuddy duddy if you like, but it was done so for a reason.

    It is up to National to make the case. If they want to do it honestly, and I’ve seen little evidence for that, then they have to explain why the intrinsic value currently recognised for these lands, is worth surrenduring for some lignite or whatever.

  12. Pascal’s Bookie,

    I seem to remember that there have been cases where the government has agreed to exchange land within the conservation estate for other pieces of land. This has been, at least in theory, to improve or consolidate the total estate while giving up protection of some individual bits of land.

    I think that’s an interesting addition to the interpretation of those definitions, in that it gives the sense of managing the larger holding rather just the individual components.

  13. PB – you say you don’t accept price/value mean the same thing, you maybe trying to carve out for yourself a semantic difference, but you are not presenting a consistent logical position for that difference.

    You say “you might place and economic/monetary value on all things but that doesn’t mean i have to” – your argument is essentially, you value x and I value y. Since we have established positions we can now haggle, you have implicity attached a value (and therefore price – price being the next best alternative value judgement).

    PB – yes your right, National should make a good case for deciding that some conservation land should/could have an alternative use and what factors and value judgements were used to make that decision. this would enable the public to critically assess and determine if that case was one they supported or not.

    That said Anita’s post was not about national’s case per se, rather that the conservation estate could have a value.

    Anita – you initially never said ” I’m trying to establish thatthere are classes of things for which the statement – Everything has a price/value – it just depends on what value judgements you use in you assessment. Is not true”

    You asked “where does slavery fit into your model” – are you shifting the goal posts for a logical debate?Regardless I answered and that answer is consistent with the statement that everything has a price/value. So no a national park/conservation estate does not have a special exemption clause, neither does water, air or many other abundant goods.

    If you disagree then I am looking forward to your explanation for not creating incentives to address pollution.

    The conservation estate is not a special case, highly valued by many yes, but it is not exempt from societies value judgements and therefore pricing.

  14. The conservation estate is not a special case, highly valued by many yes, but it is not exempt from societies value judgements and therefore pricing.

    The conservation estate is a special case – if our judgements were made through the lens of cold facts instead of value. The conservation estate was put aside for the future of all New Zealanders. Big business attempts to nibble away at the icing – or indeed any part of it – must be resisted now and at all times. Unless you’d really like a floating McDonalds on Lake Waikaremoana for the great grand children of the Urewera to work in?

  15. One of the value judgements I see is that of a temporary loss for the good of the nation which at the end of a brief period returns for the use of future generations. A worthwhile temporary loss in my opinion.
    We have, as my wife reminded me at the weekend, the person who is transforming old gravel pits into wildlife sanctuarys. Beside SH1 in South Canterbury I believe. The principle applies to both farming and mining … wetlands being drained for agriculture while unproductive land turned into wild life reserves.
    Common sense utilisation of our country for the benefit of all with sensible restoration for future generations. As for slavery, many people enter into disagreeable situations for the money to create a nest-egg to do the things they want to do in the future.

  16. WwHs

    you say you don’t accept price/value mean the same thing, you maybe trying to carve out for yourself a semantic difference, but you are not presenting a consistent logical position for that difference.

    I’m not just saying it, I’m meaning it, and I’m not trying to carve out a semantic difference, I’m saying that I find there is one already there.

    Value, is entirely subjective, and dependent not only on the individual but on the way in which they are judging the ‘asset’ in question; what it means to them.

    An obvious example is when people talk about something having sentimental value. The item is personally loaded for them with emotional meaning that enhances it’s value. This is also real value. It may not be able to be ‘priced’.

    As Anita alluded to, people also have value that cannot be priced. We don’t allow slavery because we (now, and in our society) believe people have intrinsic value. Value that derives solely from being people. A value that we have constructed a rule for that says. “Not for sale, at any price”. A value that can only be judged as an end, rather than a means, if you like.

    Many people have things that they say are ‘not for sale’. This rarely if ever means that the thing has no value to them. I can’t believe that you are unaware of this, and so I struggle to see what you find so hard to understand about the difference between value and price. This means that there is no haggling on the agenda, even though two people have values x and y for the asset. If a slaver showed up at my door, there will be no haggling for my son. And it is not because I don’t value him.

    I am not claiming here that I value doc land as I do my child, but only that there are in fact, classes of things that we value in way that excludes price, and that generally speaking, as recognised by the Acts, DOC land is one of those things.

    I’m not arguing that DOC lands couldn’t be priced, that would be silly. Anything could be priced. ‘People’ used to be priced after all. I’m arguing that opponents of mining on DOC administered land should be careful not to limit their arguments to those about the extrinsic values of those assets.

    There is an intrinsic value that is recognised and that the government has a duty to protect. If they are going to mine, then they need to be held account for the destruction of that value. It may be that NZ is happy for that to happen, so be it. But people who care about those values are going to make their case felt, and it would help greatly if the political parties that represent them help make that case. Afterall, it’s what they’re for.


    I could be happy enough with land swaps or something like it, but the land would have to have the same intrinsic merit. We’d have to be careful to make sure that we get wetlands for wetlands, habitats for habitats etc. What if the mine is to be in part of a larger area of reserved land, and the swap is in another part of the country? That sort of thing would annoy me. The larger the conserved areas the better the conservation I would imagine.

    Also, and too, who would pay for these swaps? Hopefully the miner rather than the taxpayer.

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