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Upset by Offset

Written By: - Date published: 7:23 am, February 7th, 2019 - 52 comments
Categories: Deep stuff - Tags: , ,

In the gym, a guy was asked why he worked out and his reply was “so that I can drink more”. The funny thing is, it makes a lot of (common) sense, doesn’t it?

There’s a whole offsetting industry built around the idea that (environmental) harm or damage in one area can be offset or paid off in another (e.g. ETS). Do you want to pollute (this planet) then simply buy some (carbon) credits and all is well (and forgiven).

You don’t want to pay your workers enough to live off and raise a family? Don’t worry; the Government will offset your Scrooge behaviour with tax credits and WFF.

The uber-rich appear to pat themselves on the back for their generosity and philanthropy hoping or even believing that this somehow offsets the humongous inequality gap that they helped creating and maintaining at all cost. Coincidentally, money can offset much bad behaviour, all the way to the justice system, or the Tax Office.

Let’s tax the hell out of them, that’ll fix it! The more they earn, or the wealthier they are, the more we’ll tax them. Redistribution will cure inequality; treat the symptom, but not the cause.

Tax cuts for the rich, you say? A marvellous idea, old chap, but it’ll need to be offset with a rise in the GST rate to be fiscally neutral. Don’t worry about the poor; we’ll offset it by a rise in the minimum wage and a token increase in benefits with a few more new allowances for good form.

Whole books have been written about the moral-religious question whether a good deed offsets bad behaviour (e.g. a sin). From a more pragmatic perspective, it may be more useful to think in terms of intended and unintended consequences.

If it is unavoidable, because it has already happened or because it is inevitable, certain actions could offset the unintended consequences to re-balance, repair or correct the harm inflicted. Usually, the scales are not tipped back to the old equilibrium; that’s life, they say …

On the other hand, when unintended consequences are entirely avoidable, the excuse of being able to offset the harmful behaviour doesn’t wash. The only right thing to do, in terms of intended consequences, is to avoid harm in the first place. We also know this as “prevention is the best cure” or the medical (ethical) principle “do no harm”, for example.

Why continue (with) a socio-economic and political system (or paradigm, if you like) that knowingly and willingly produces unintended consequences, on the one hand, and invents all sorts of ingenious (read: complex and complicated) measures to partially (at the best of times) offset these, on the other hand? Is this a form of madness? Or some kind of sado-masochistic club or cult where you can’t check out any time you like let alone leave alive?

Are we unable to change because it is some kind of self-referential and self-reinforcing system (think: the Matrix)? I don’t think so. The fact that we’re mesmerised by offsetting prevents us from taking real action and treating the root cause of the disease that’s killing humankind and this planet for that matter.

Every journey begins with waking up, getting up, and then a single step (unless you’re a sleepwalker). Most people don’t want to wake up and they hit the snooze button as fast as they can to return to and stay as long as they can in La-La land where everything is perfectly offset and nothing bad ever happens. I could get upset about this but maybe I’ll just have a drink instead and watch one of those new shows on Netflix before going to bed; tomorrow is another day … [must remember to set the alarm]

52 comments on “Upset by Offset ”

  1. Gosman 1

    ALL political systems create unintended consequences, both positive and negative. You would be living in a fantasy world if you thought they could be avoided.

  2. Robert Guyton 2

    I’ll just chop down this ancient forest this one time…

  3. WeTheBleeple 3

    The law of diminishing returns aka flogging a dead horse.

    The rich run charities and take poor people’s money for them. Then they claim philanthropic tax dodges.

    • greywarshark 3.1

      The words to remember, for me, from the above vid are:

      ‘increasing any factor of production beyond its optimum,results in declining marginal returns in output and eventually returns go negative’

      Economics can be so useful used as a tool for shaping thinking about decisions.
      We are being fed economics (neoliberal variety) as our nation-wide religion that rules us all. So let’s embrace all the things the economists have thought out, not just the bits that suit the upper class and their aspiring in the middle class.

      • greywarshark 3.1.1

        And further this bloke says that there have been about 24 civilisations before our own. And why aren’t they kicking and bouncing still – because they keep on developing complexity and as they grow it becomes unsustainable. Oh damn.

        That’s what I note about the computer-tech society. I am supposed to carry my cellphone with me everywhere – one company didn’t want my landline number. Sometimes its good for say an airline or other updating you all the time. My bank and others dont want to send my statements by mail. Teenagers and younger aren’t being taught how to write – they are doing everything on line. Unintended consequences from that?

        Cellphone – a small easily losable machine with a lot of personal data and needing regular recharge. Lose it and you’ve lost all your stuff. Landline with answerphone sits and collects messages with no stress. Less complexity.

        Computer – a gatekeeper to everything – costs, each one has its own OS. Needs energy. Needs a central system to handle messages that have no form unless printed out on another complex machine.

        Pen and paper are cheap and portable and immediate, pencil even better. Less complexity.

        Assert, exert, your manhood/womanhood – open a door today. Yourself!

  4. Dennis Frank 4

    Climate-change is a global problem, man-made. Humanity has never encountered a global problem before – even the world wars were regional, never global. Expecting humanity to act as a whole to solve the problem is unreasonable.

    “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” [George Bernard Shaw, Maxims for Revolutionists, 1903]

    So, to make global progress towards solving the global problem, we must persist in being unreasonable. Rationality, product of the 18th century Enlightenment, is part of the problem. Forget it!

    • Gosman 4.1

      Serious question here Dennis. How do you envision being ‘unreasonable’ in resolving the problems caused by AGW?

      • Dennis Frank 4.1.1

        Lateral thinking. It has never been considered rational. It is the source of all invention and most innovation. As to examples that could be applied to AGW, that’s a topic for sunday discussion (Future & How To Get There)…

        • patricia bremner

          Or we grow up.
          We stop seeing our own needs as paramount.
          We stop telling ourselves we are individuals and realise we are interdependent beings on our increasingly fragile spaceship, and start co-operating so we all may survive.
          We argue about various examples and situations, when our big failure is truly co-operating to achieve a clearly defined goal.
          I’ll ask ” How do we co-operate to avoid the carbon calamity?”
          We can’t offset that.

          • Dennis Frank

            ”How do we co-operate to avoid the carbon calamity?”

            Assuming it is not intended as a rhetorical question, best to recycle it under the sunday topic, don’t you think?

          • Gosman

            Meaningless twaddle. Most people are well aware that we are all interdependent. The whole point of free market economics is based on that principle. The real issue is how you develop policies around that idea. Even the basis of Carbon offsets is based on that.

    • soddenleaf 4.2

      Balance kept China ticking along until Western capital spewed out of Europe, now China is at the forefront in destroying the planet. Progress was always going to destroy the planet, Gaia shifted the oxygen balance and crashed a whole bunch of organisms. Good bad, neither, just is. The fallacy of this thread is order, order is oxymoronic, nobody needs it, would exist had it existed, and furnishing it just harms us more. Take inflation matching tax bands, its neolib control, strangle govt income, reduce its capacity and reduce govt responsiveness, since what it doesnt measure ministers ant answer questions about, like how are tgey goibg to spend, save. Bridges underhande .attack on Democracy

  5. Andre 5

    On the other hand, when unintended consequences are entirely avoidable, the excuse of being able to offset the harmful behaviour doesn’t wash. The only right thing to do, in terms of intended consequences, is to avoid harm in the first place.


    The action that causes harm and the action that (might) remediate harm are independent actions. The only linkage between them is manufactured by those wishing to relieve you of some of your money.

    If your behaviour has consequences you’re aware of that’s nagging on your conscience, figure out how to reduce or even eliminate that behaviour. Whether it’s flying, eating meat or whatever.

    Don’t kid yourself you can make it all good by doing this other good thing. If the other good thing is worth doing, it’s worth doing for it’s own sake, not just as penance for that bad thing you just did.

    • Gosman 5.1

      All human activity has opportunity costs involved. Trying to acknowledge this opportunity cost and mitigating the negative impacts of it is not a bad thing. The trouble for much of the Green movement is that they try and argue that you can decide to be “environmentally pure” with no negative opportunity costs. That is dishonest and borders on being an outright lie.

      • Dennis Frank 5.1.1

        Not disagreeing with this, but since it doesn’t match my experience of life in the Green movement, it probably requires use of examples if you want to make your point more effectively…

        • Gosman

          Example 1 – Calling for a reduction in extractive activity such as mining and forestry in places such as the West Coast on the basis that other more “environmentally friendly” industries can take up the slack such as tourism. The trouble is tourism has a massive negative environmental consequence as well, especially international tourists coming here via air travel.

          • Dennis Frank

            Yes, I think that’s a suitable example. Greens do need to take account of downsides of policy implementation. The Green principle of true-cost accounting applies. Some Greens tend to view the upside of policies and discount the downside – seems to be a natural consequence of idealism. I agree that a balanced view integrates pros & cons. Holism.

            • greywarshark

              To paraphrase a saying ‘A tourist is a tourist, but a a unique forest is a smoke’. That phrase came from a cigarette loving society!

              The tourists go to the West Coast to look at the trees and animals, cutting the trees – you lose them for another 30 years, you decrease the animal numbers, and you lose the tourists. Bad consequence. Perhaps off-setting by tourists would go some way towards paying for their carbon use and enable the SI West Coast to have an economy. Better still if they had a Wrap-around care for the tourist who would stay longer in the area, welcomed by friendly locals who would have events arranged for them in the community, a local hall with dancing similar to the past. A walk through the forest, by a sparkling stream with a knowledgable wildlife local pointing out features. A visit to a farm talking about their interesting practice of upending a clay pan to get top soil, and of course if they went organic there that would be a plus. Also lots of food forests could be grown! Having a number of cook-ups of venison and fish in season, with midges kept at bay, finishing with a short concert,; then up or down the coast to the next town that would give these urban strangers a taste of small town living. That would give the tourists an understanding of different styles of living, and leave more money in the Coast so maximising their tourist take.

              I have seen the opposite in London where a bus of American tourists hopped out to see the Crown Jewels, practically ran around the showcase and back on the bus to the next thing. So looking at lessening impact on greenhouse gases produced by tourism could have a consequence if numbers could be limited instead preferring ones who would stay longer and pay more rather than the gawpers. The unintended consequence of going for more tourists in NZ, as we are now, will be that those who really would enjoy coming here and soaking up the sights and the atmosphere can be put off by the sheer numbers of gawpers, which is an unlovely word for unlovely humans.

              There are a lot of consequences in using trees for the main income on the SI West Coast. It would be argued that it was going to be selective logging, picking the trees out judiciously with superior non-damaging to the environment methods. But that would not be taking in the unintended consequence of the wheeler-dealer who cannot resist cutting out, while he is in the area and in a hidden valley, a nice handy grove of well-grown trees that he knows he can sell on, no questions asked. Out in the bush, the bush lawyer reigns!

      • You_Fool 5.1.2

        “The trouble for much of the Green movement is that they try and argue that you can decide to be “environmentally pure” with no negative opportunity costs. That is dishonest and borders on being an outright lie.” [CITATION NEEDED]

        To me, much of the Green movement is about trying to get the actual costs of our activities recognised.

        Offsets are evil evil things, as they suggest that the true cost is below the actual cost. Take air flight, Ait NZ allow you to offset with carbon credits… So in reality that offset is actually the cost to the climate of your actions (at least as costed by our society at the moment), so really should just be part of the price of all airfares.

        That cheep shit you are buying, that has a human/social cost involved as well… living wage will “ruin” the economy by driving prices up? Guess what, that price increase is the value our society places on human suffering.

        • greywarshark

          Being environmentally pure or aiming for purity in other areas, is to my mind impractical and unreasonable. Only occasionally is purity absolutely necessary, ie no stoats at all in wildlife refuges. Other examples:

          But where it has not been absolutely necessary is for instance, in banning cigarettes in jail has upset the prisoners who enjoyed a moment of satisfaction and drop of stress that the cigs gave them and also the system of cigarettes as internal currency in some prisons has been broken and this was a useful system to prisoners.

          And people smoking cigarettes can enjoy a cigarette, a break outdoors, and a few words with fellow co-workers which tthey wouldn’t get otherwise in this oippressive, mean work environment dedicated to efficiency over people.

          100% predator free is a bold announcement of intent for NZ outdoors. But removing alkl feral cats will likely be a disadvantage as they both harm some wildlife but also are predators on other smaller predators.

          • left_forward

            I hear what you are saying in regard to complex environment issues that sometimes create contradictions, but your examples are flawed IMO.
            Addicted smokers may enjoy a cigarette today, but certainly will not enjoy lung disease later. Smoking is not an essential part of enjoying a break and employers are not acting oppressively when they seek smoking restraint at work from their staff.
            The weight of evidence in relation to smoking does justify collective action to minimise the negative health effects on individuals, families and populations.
            In a similar manner the weight of benefit of controlling feral cats outweighs the dis-benefit of the contradictory loss of some ‘predator’ control (which of course is ‘rats and mice’ as compared to protecting rare and endangered native bird species).

            • greywarshark

              Action to limit smoking is definitely a good thing. But you talk about lung disease later. There is a lot of disease around – picking on one thing and trying to eliminate it altogether is the utopian thing that leads us to our present debacle in the world. Doing what is reasonable to lessen harm is what is appropriate for the greatest good. A good consquence.

              Po-faced people want to stop others from doing what is mainly harming themselves (and of course will require medical help later, as will breast cancer, prostrate cancer etc etc) . As I said before it is utopian thinking, and a lot of time is spent working on one little piece of our human frailty, while there is an ocean of it around us that could be improved out-of-sight by more concern about it, and less on the effects of tobacco. An unintended consequence that becomes a disadvantage.

              Let’s turn to alcohol overuse and over-selling and try to limit bar hours, and enforce the offering of food with each drink. Lager and sandwich slab, sausage roll etc. Result in better health and less drunkenness. Better health because calories would come from food (and other nutrition) not just from the alcohol. A good consequence.

              Then we would have to ensure that there are reasonable health and safety standards; a consequence of the interminable po-faced h&s demands which go to extremes, is they make it too hard and costly to serve food at some outlets.

              Incognito put –
              From a more pragmatic perspective, it may be more useful to think in terms of intended and unintended consequences.
              If it is unavoidable, because it has already happened or because it is inevitable, certain actions could offset the unintended consequences to re-balance, repair or correct the harm inflicted.

              I think an action that improves a situation is worthwhile, even if it doesn’t completely eliminate or cure but – rebalances better, or acts to repair or correct.

              • gsays

                In regards to smoking in prison: I saw that as no more tHan being ‘hard on crime/mean to prisoner’s, nothing more, nothing less.

                Just some raw meat thrown by (I believe), by Collins to her constituency.

              • Descendant Of Smith

                “picking on one thing and trying to eliminate it altogether is the utopian thing that leads us to our present debacle in the world.”

                Well not really. Smallpox, leprosy, rubella, clean drinking water, children working in mines and the progress on malaria are all pretty good examples of consciously working to eliminate things in order to make the world better.

                Since 2000 malaria deaths in all but one continent have reduced by 60% to 80%. Asia they have reduced by 44%. When less children die birth rates decrease. When there are less children born population growth slows.


                Finland’s progress on infant mortality is astounding.


                • greywarshark

                  I did say:
                  Doing what is reasonable to lessen harm is what is appropriate for the greatest good. A good consquence.

                  I think all the things you say fit in with that. I was talking initially about tobacco which isn’t a terrible disease like the ones you mentioned which as you say have been lessened greatly or knocked out. There is no need to go flat out on stopping smoking cigarettes, but trying to make them less toxic. and carry on with prevention schemes would be wise. The price has gone so high that the poorer people who use them are becoming involved in theft as perps or customers. So the government and agencies are not being intelligent in carrying the price higher every year; counterproductive. Also in setting a zero target; they are repeating the mindset of the marijuana debacle we are in.

                  Other things you mention are efforts to fight disease that have been successful, it is good if there is a breakthrough or even if it is just lessened. We had a doctor here who got into controversy as he tried to alert people to his concerns about sudden deaths of babies and trying different preventative methods. Our rates have decreased since then.

                  I hope the researchers will be working hard on tuberculosis. That is a really nasty disease and there is a new strain that is a killer. Perhaps some dedicated group will break the code on that.

            • greywarshark

              I think you still argue for utopian conditions, producing hopeful theories to back your statement. Perhaps you should look at the video above about making decisions on a marginally effective basis – see 3.

              • left_forward

                Thanks g…, I don’t disagree with the guy talking about the law of diminishing returns, but it is not utopian to make the case for a process that discerns the optimum basis for action, such as the weighing up of returns (benefits and dis-benefits) that I outlined in my previous comment.

                I think that collectives of people, who are able to think and act freely, can contribute to such a process and form a consensus when for instance it becomes clear that it is not desirable for the collective or society to encourage smoking (just as we can collectively agree that it is not desirable for a small child to play on the side of a busy road).

                This is perhaps a critical principle of democracy and is sometimes (not always) appropriate to collectively agree on a constraint on general freedoms – I don’t think that is utopian.

                • greywarshark

                  To be able to separate out the immediate and important from the ‘could be better’ is something that is important. Just because someone gets a desire to change something to what they think is a better way, and everyone else gives an easy positive response so that there appears to be a consensus, doesn’t mean that it follows that there should be a change to match that consensus.

                  Agreements on how things should be done fairly and reasonably are good, yes. But there are always pros and cons that need to be considered and one person may see the cons. It isn’t appropriate to apply a general principle to an individual situation. Also consensus is a hammer to crack a nut, and encourages conformity.

                  I think it is far better to decide what outcomes are wanted and how to get them, and work back from there and the affects of different methods of working. Consensus setting targets is impractical because the target is just a wish grabbed from the air. Quite often the target will be set by someone who is not going to take responsibility for meeting it. That gets contracted out these days, to someone usually underpaid and under-resourced.

        • Gosman

          I gave an example and the person I gave it to agreed with me.

        • soddenleaf

          The green movement takes its victories where it can get them, but all change is easy when you are in power. Those interests in control and order are indelible etched into govt. It’s easy to convince govt not to change and crush disorder, its hard to remove the invisible gun pointed by systemic interest at govt. And then the question immediately arises, why is the new systemic parasite unwilling or incapable of doing similarly. The idea that we were not, as a species, going to radically overrun the planet like insects before us… …of course we need to justify why biodiversity is essential, why keeping co2 levels down, etc by being another of those indelible parasites on govt. can’t do that if the neolib destroy govt.

  6. Poission 6

    Why continue (with) a socio-economic and political system (or paradigm, if you like) that knowingly and willingly produces unintended consequences, on the one hand, and invents all sorts of ingenious (read: complex and complicated)

    The argument for more is less,and less is more is always convincing in regard to regulatory controls (often promulgated by elites to enhance entropy)

    Haldane has some convincing arguments in regard to complex regulation.

    it is not difficult to spot this tail-chasing problem in the financial regulation sphere. For example, the shift to a highly-complex risk-weighting system for bank assets has resulted in the average amount of capital banks assign to these assets halving over the past 20 years. Why? Because complex rules have generated both
    the incentives and the means to exploit regulatory loopholes. That is why simple measures of bank leverage, untainted by such complexity, were ten times better at predicting banking failure during the crisis than complex regulatory alternatives (Haldane and Madouros (2012)).

    What is true of financial regulation is true too of tax. For example, studies have analysed the incidence of tax evasion and avoidance across different countries. They have found that the single most importantdeterminant of tax evasion is often the complexity of the tax code (Richardson (2006)). The greater the
    complexity, the more numerous the loopholes, the greater the incentive and means to exploit them.

    Third, complex regulatory frameworks tend also to be inequitable. They advantage those best able to exploit the cracks, navigate the uncertainty, squeeze through the loopholes. This tends to be those with the deepest pockets who can afford the most sophisticated risk-modeller, the slickest tax accountant.
    Complexity, in other words, acts like a regressive tax.

    That is why big banks (using in-house complex models) typically hold far less capital than smaller banks (using simplified, standardised alternatives) even when their underlying exposures are identical. It is one reason why Warren Buffet claimed to pay a lower tax rate than his secretary. And it is why, over the recent
    past, regulatory and tax arbitrage have both become high-growth industries. They are toxic exhaust fumes from the Heath-Robinson vehicles history has created.

    Turning the red tape tide

    Andrew G Haldane, Executive Director, Financial Stability and member of the Financial Policy Committee (BOE)

    • AB 6.1

      They have found that the single most important determinant of tax evasion is often the complexity of the tax code
      Yep. And that’s why complexity of tax arrangements should be regarded as prima facie evidence of evasion. If the tax affairs of a company or individual cannot be readily understood by the man on the Clapham omnibus, then they’re cheating.

      • Bewildered 6.1.1

        The tax code is complex because the world is complex, trandfer pricing, estsblishing place of domicile in a globalised world, worldwide income vs local income, capital vs income, place of tax law, choice of tax law, losses and profits over time, depreciation and investment, interest and dividends, avoidance vs evasion The best we can ever hope for is global tax harmonisation but country vested interest will prevent that been comprehensive

  7. greywarshark 7

    I think talk about making tax codes simpler is one of the foremost methods of the wealthy avoiding tax, and is itself the biggest loophole. That’s my feeling based on some observations.

    • greywarshark 7.1

      So do you think they should go for Douglas’s’s flat tax of 20%. Looks so simple, that even a child of five could understand it all. Groucho Marx – Send for a child of five!

    • Bewilderd 7.2

      Tell me how the wealthy avoid tax, be keen to know as I pay a shit load

  8. Robert Guyton 8

    So, we’ve destroyed much of life here on this planet, but we’re taking a look now at a fresh start on another planet. Off-sets, they’re gold!

    • patricia bremner 8.1

      That thought occurred to me as well Robert.
      We sweat the small stuff, talk pie in the sky, look for forgiveness, (offsets) while wrecking our planet.
      Totally sad, our throw away lives, which like everything else we are throwing away.

      • greywarshark 8.1.1

        Don’t include me in about throwing our lives away. Robert was talking about another planet. I am agin it. I vote NO money be spent on space projects like this you dollar-eyed freaks.

    • Bewildered 8.2

      The ultimate off set, humans gone every thing back to normal pretty quick, I suggest that’s how some die hard environmentalist see it

  9. Ad 9

    This is the tool used now across most of Australasia on infrastructure projects.

    Naturally, with all measures, you get offsets across the whole dashboard of reporting areas. They are inbuilt into any system of performance measurement.


    You will see a massive programme of measures and offsets announced prior to Budget 2019, because that is what the government is committed to.

    In the words of the Prime Minister: “What gets measured gets done.”

  10. CHCoff 10

    Rather the imperialistic dollar to be filtered out by the citizen dollar.

    Citizen Dollar (?): First 15k tax free paid for by FTT or new band for the highest earners. Any NZ owned & operated business that is part of it’s sector association is eligible for trading in the citizen dollar too (perhaps tax free also). With the exception of natural monopolies, the NZ demand & supply of the citizen dollar economy, automatically elects a third of parliament that is proportionate to it’s NZ demand & supply.

    That would then aid a catalyse into our trading status in the world, via win win trade where culture is a sustainable and growing asset in the deals to go with the numbers & volumes. Racing to the top, not the bottom.

    So the source of Govt. being and remaining a living document is it’s people.
    Before the peace becomes more peaceful, or the war becomes more warful, it is Govt. in that sense.


  11. Pat 11

    the assumption is the consequences are unintended…..what if the consequence is the intention?

  12. greywarshark 12

    Did we get offset from the main point you made? What do you feel and think about the direction. I hope you are not disappointed.

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