Saturday, December 03, 2011

QUOTE OF THE DAY: On John Banks & ACT

“The likelihood of Banks transforming himself into a standard-bearer for [ACT’s] values and principles is as great as that of Ahmadinejad converting to Judaism.”
                 - Lindsay Perigo, from his post “The Mortification of ACT: Malpractice by Cactus

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Thursday, December 01, 2011

A new political alliance?

Guest post by Mark Tammett

As the recent Christchurch earthquakes amply demonstrated, an emergency often brings out the best in people . In these situations individuals tend to put aside their differences and spontaneously co-operate to address the common threat to life and property – whether that be pulling co-workers out of the rubble, delivering food to strangers, or helping to shovel out liquefied muck from their neighbours' driveways. Folk exhibit a focus and determination that’s often not seen in their daily lives.

These situations provide an object lesson in what can be achieved by individuals identifying a common goal and putting aside their differences. The co-operation may be only limited, or even temporary, but tangible gains can thus be made.

In a way, all large and successful companies have to achieve a similar outcome. In a small business you might be lucky enough that every person you work alongside has compatible ethics and personality type. In a big corporation this is never going to happen; statistically it’s not going to happen – and certain people just aren’t going to get on. So it comes down to how senior management can channel those differences towards a common goal – in a way that allows both the goals of the company and those of disparate individuals to be achieved. Two individuals may not like each other, and outside of work want nothing at all to do with each other, but they will co-operate and function with each other effectively if they have a common goal within the business.

In a political context, we face a similar threat to our life and property that’s almost as serious as the earthquake. That threat is runaway government expenditure, and the seeming inability of the large political parties to address the train wreck that is surely coming. Our current welfare state is unsustainable, and is an historical anomaly that cannot continue for much longer. Either it goes, or our relative prosperity has to go.

A large number of individuals in New Zealand are aware of this threat, and to varying degrees want to do something about it. In voting behaviour or political affiliation they are spread across a range of parties – Libertarianz, ACT, Conservatives, and perhaps even a reasonable proportion of (very quiet) Nationals. I would estimate that individuals in this category comprise perhaps 10-15% of the voting public.

However they also disagree on a lot as well. Which means at election time, votes get dispersed and made ineffectual. They are either spread amongst the smaller parties so their vote is less than the 5% thresh-hold - or in the case of the Nationals, buried under the pragmatism of the party machine, which places priority on getting elected ahead of anything else.

The political party that aligns most with my beliefs is Libertarianz. However with their radical agenda I struggle to see getting elected in my lifetime. I hope I’m wrong, but I don’t think I am. They present consistent policy on a wide range of issues, but for most voters it’s too big a chunk to digest. Even if people agree with the gist of it, they struggle to see how we can practically go from what we have now to what Libz proposes. So they cast their vote elsewhere.

imageBy the same token, I don’t believe toning down the message is the right solution either. The average voter may know nothing at all about explicit political philosophy, and have no inkling at all of the unsustainability of our welfare state – but they can  sense insincerity a mile off. If you don’t say what you mean and mean what you say, people will know. You cannot ‘trick’ people into freedom. If you try, voters will sense you’re hiding something, and run a mile – and that I think largely explains the current unpopularity of ACT.

So what do we do then? We want to encourage co-operation in a political context, so we can make some real and tangible gains in rolling back the state. But we can’t afford to to ‘tone-down’ or moderate our true beliefs either.

Well here’s one scenario that I can see which is realistic, and starts to roll back the stage from the 2014 election onwards:

  1. We form a new political alliance. Not a new party, but a new alliance. For instance, and purely for the sake of this discussion let’s call it GERA – the Government Expenditure Reduction Alliance.
  2. This new alliance is focused on achieving a limited and tangible objective: confronting the biggest ‘emergency’ of our current era by drastically reducing government expenditure. We invite a variety of parties to put aside the things we don’t agree on, and be part of this alliance for the 2014 election. It might include Libertarianz, ACT, and even the Conservatives.
  3. Outside of the election campaign, each party, or even individuals within each party continues to focus on whatever issues are important to them. These may be consistent, or they may be inconsistent (depending on your viewpoint). In the case of certain Libz members it may be marijuana legalisation and abolition of the RMA; for ACT the removal of business red tape; for Conservatives the dangers of the ‘demon drink.’ Whatever – to each their own. Unlike the big parties we don’t try to pretend we agree on everything.
  4. However when it comes to the election campaign, we put aside those differences, and campaign on the earthquake-sized economic disaster and the one objective we all do agree on – runaway government expenditure.
  5. GERA’s specific policy for the 2014 election campaign would need to clear and consistent, and also very concrete and specific. Something the average person can clearly understand. For instance it might be a reduction in government expenditure by 10%, or 20 or 25%, via the elimination of specified government departments, all of which are listed and costed out in detail – combined with a reduction in all tax brackets by 2% (or ten) percent across the board. It’s a modest goal, but something that’s politically realistic in the short term – and attacks the government departments or services that most people can do without.
  6. GERA makes it known that if they achieve MP’s, they will not compromise on any level on this policy. Not one iota. If any of the major parties needs their support to form a government, they will have to implement GERA’s policies in total. The GERA platform is modest in terms of our ultimate goal, but it’s a pill that the bigger parties will be able to swallow it if they have to.
  7. I can easily imagine GERA getting 5-10% of the party vote, perhaps 10-15% - and I can easily imagine them holding the balance of power.
  8. One of the major parties agrees to form a government with GERA, on the basis that GERA will not compromise on their limited bottom line. GERA’s policy is implemented, and we start the process of rolling back the state.
  9. Next election GERA comes up, and we redraft another specific policy platform that continues with further changes in the right direction. We continue to roll back the state incrementally because we can command enough vote to hold the balance of the power.

imageSounds easy doesn’t it? And it is.

There is at least one challenge I can see with this, however, something that requires a bit more thought. How would we deal with voting on other matters put before parliament - issues that all members wouldn’t agree on? For instance if a law proposing some form of alcohol prohibition was proposed by the major governing party - Conservatives might be in favour, but Libz would be against. Or the converse would apply if a law providing for liberalization of marijuana were before parliament. If we’re to keep the alliance together, how do we handle this?

One option I can see is that we have the following simple rule: all GERA MP’s will abstain from voting on any issue that is not part of the core GERA platform for that election. This ensures that all members of GERA, and all voters who gave their vote to GERA cannot end up assisting a law they don’t agree with. The result will be same as if the GERA MP’S weren’t there – which is what would happen anyway if GERA was never formed.

Some might protest that this approach is only tinkering. That it doesn’t achieve the radical overhaul needed. Well of course it doesn’t, but it’s at tangible first step. How do you eat an elephant? One mouthful at a time. More importantly, it sets the scene for further and more significant change in latter years. If the average voter doesn’t miss the government departments we abolish in 2014, and can see the tangible benefit of the tax cut in their pay cheque every week, they’ll be motivated to vote for more of the same next election. Along the way, they might start to learn about individual freedom, and why it’s consistent to apply that principle across the board.

It’s often said that political change can only happen once the required philosophical change has happened within people’s heads. I largely agree with this sentiment, but I would add an important qualification: this is not a linear process. Most people do not change their philosophy as a result of reading or listening to speeches, and then go out and implement that in practice. They learn from both hearing the philosophic theory and seeing the results of that theory in concrete practice. A good philosophy encourages good politics, but good politics also encourages good philosophy. People need to see with the tangible benefits of freedom in their own lives.

The scenario I’ve outlined would set up a virtuous circle - whereby people would see the concrete results of greater individual freedom, even if it was only in a limited context. This would encourage philosophic change that was sympathetic to more freedom, which encourages more political change, and so it would go on.

Mark Tammett is a Christchurch engineer and long-time liberty advocate.

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Burlingham house, El Paso Texas, by Frank Lloyd Wright

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Very much not a Frank Lloyd Wright house, yet it is exactly that. Well, sort of.

His only house designed using south-west USA’s indigenous adobe construction, Wright designed the house in 1941 as a modest 2400 square foot house to complement the rolling sands that

piled [the site] with sweeping sands, continually drifting in swirling lines that suggest waves of the sea.

It was finally built in 1985, 26 years after Wright’s death, as “a 4,900-square-foot sprawler .. [with] a swimming pool and underground garage” in a park-like setting that wouldn’t disgrace Pakuranga.

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Not exactly what the great man had in mind.

Nonetheless, it is officially the world’s only Wright-designed adobe house.  And you can own it for just US$4.75 million.

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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Steve Jobs on “living a life that's fully your own”

While governments loot and destroy, creators still hold up the world.

So now the election’s over, let’s draw inspiration from the productive and good rather than just focussing on the venal and disgusting. In that vein then, here’s Steve Jobs in a 1995 interview “speaking about about the importance of living a life that's fully your own, rather than accepting limits imposed by others…”

and “…on the importance of being willing to act in pursuit of what you want.”  Says Diana Hsieh, at whose Noodle Food blog I first saw these (and whose descriptions above I pinched), “I love the benevolence in the initial discussion of asking for and giving help!”

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Roll out the barrel…

From today’s Parliament Watch:

Election | Rookie MPs Take Grand Tour | Stuff.co.nz
Goodie bags containing iPads and smartphones and instructions on how to maximise your free air travel and accommodation perks – it must be induction day for Parliament's new MPs…

See what happens when there’s no real perk-busters around?

Morning myth busting: “the government can always pay”

The myth behind all modern economics, which is to say Keynesian economics, is that “the government can always pay.”

It was one of the myths that allowed governments to think they could get away with bailouts,  backstops and efforts to “stimulate” their country’s economies with truckloads of borrowed money (a failure of economic theory now exploded by the failure of all economies to be so “stimulated”).

But the debt is now due for all that senseless borrowing. And they can’t pay. They just can’t. There isn’t enough money in the world to pay all the debts they all racked up in a vain attempt to turn bad times into good.

That is the root of the problem in the US, in Japan, in Greece, in Italy, in Spain … and now in Germany.

Because last week saw the beginning of the collapse of even German government bonds (the market for which hit the jitters last week) which suggests the myth that “the government can always pay” is being exploded. 

If even the German government can’t attract buyers of its debt, then what’s the future for every other government? Including ours?

Fact is, the worldwide bubble for government debt is finally bursting.  And when it finally does, we will witness a momentous change in market behaviour.

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“None of the above”

While we in EnZed were having an election to which only two-thirds of voters showed up, Egypt was having its first election since, well, ever—and everyone showed  up.

imagePeople queued for hours just for the chance to vote--a hard-fought right in this “fledgling democracy,”* and a great sight in a country riven for centuries by dictatorship and worse.

Which led many folk here at home to complain about the million adult New Zealanders who stayed home on election day (many of the complaints amounting to “if you don’t vote, you can’t complain about what you get), and to denounce them for taking their right to vote “for granted”—as if not voting was an insult to those who fought and died for the freedom to vote. 

But is it really an insult?

If you have the freedom to vote, then you also have the freedom not to vote. And if nothing on offer is worth getting out of bed for, then a vote for “none of the above” is actually a very rational choice.

So quit complaining about the non-voters. A freely chosen non-vote is still a vote.

* * * * *

* Yes, it is a great sight seeing people able to vote in a country normally suffering under brutal dictatorship. But the prospects for long-term democracy, or for real freedom, look awfully dim when you realise the party still most favoured to win the final vote is the Muslim Brotherhood—the organisation which gave birth to Al Qaeda, and from which so many Al Qaeda operatives are still drawn.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Support for Banks is support for the Conservatives

It looks like ACT’s Minister of Rhyming Slang knows on which side his bread is buttered, and is intent on keeping the butter flowing no matter who and what he sells out.

Because just three days after being elected on the ACT ticket, John Banks is already talking up his prospects as a Minister, talking publicly about  rebranding and redirecting “his” ACT  party, and talking noisily about merging it with Colin Craig’s Moral Majority –“a class New Zealander” according to Banks.

Colin Craig at least is happy to muse publicly that this will require the departure of the libertarian wing of ACT—i.e., the folk who got Banks over the line in Epsom this year.

Banks, I’m sure, is equally aware.  And just as happy at the prospect. It’s just that he’s not talking about it. Not publicly. Not yet. Except to say:

He [Mr Craig] is interventionist when it comes to social policies but the ACT party has people who are not. And that's where we would have to talk.

He does not say who he would have to talk with. Or how he would reconcile that problem.

But it’s clear enough already what he intends. And clear enough now that support for Banks from this point forth is support for the Conservatives in 2014—whether with a small ‘c’ or a large one.

Might I suggest then that those being taken so shamefully for granted decide now where their futures, and their principles, really lie. Because it’s just possible that in 2014, in Epsom and elsewhere, the folk they will be fighting are those they so recently supported.

And vice versa.

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Monday, November 28, 2011

DOWN TO THE DOCTOR’S: The real election result

_McGrath001Libz leader Dr Richard McGrath looks at who really won on Saturday night.

Let's check out the real result of Saturday night.

Total number of eligible voters by 5 p.m. Friday 25 November         3.054 million
Number of unregistered potential voters                                                     0.27 million
Total number of possible voters                                                                       3.261 million
Number of people who actually voted                                                           2.014 million
Number of people who did not vote but could have                1.247 million 
Turnout (number of voters/number of possible voters) =     61.8%

So, revised totals for the parties:

National                 29.7%
Labour                   16.7%
Greens                  6.6%
Winston                 4.2%
Cons                     1.7%
Others                    2.9%
And the winner, with 38.2% of possible votes is: NONE OF THE ABOVE

Together, a National-Labour 'Grand Coalition' would only have incorporated 46.4% of possible votes.

Which means no party has a “mandate” to govern as a result of this election.  The people have spoken: All the political parties on offer are dogshit.

And 45 seats in the new parliament should be left empty to reflect the real views of all New Zealanders.

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Sunday, November 27, 2011

Thoughts on a sunny morning

It's beautiful this morning. But that's everything to do with the weather, and nothing to do with politics. Or the election.

Yesterday' election finished up as a ringing endorsement of no-one.

Labour got 150000 votes fewer than last time.

National got 100000 fewer, with the votes of around one-third of the country's eligible voters.

Don Brash won no more votes as leader than Rodney Hide had been on track to make

Hone won his seat, with his dream-team of celebrity whingers in tow, but only 7000 voters in total rated him in his own electorate, and the rest of the country told the whingers to go to hell.

So the winners were really those folk who stayed home yesterday and didn't vote. Around one million of you.

And Winston.

And the Greens.

And MMP, without which neither of these entities would have a political future.

And John Banks. National's 63rd MP. 

Banks's survival as Act's single solitary MP might at least relieve AT's congential caucus infighting, but it will kill the ACT project stone dead--kill it far more effectively than if the Party had missed out altogeher on an MP, because with Banks as their lone voice no-one in the party, least of all the keen, energetic knowledgable youngsters who are its core , will be able  to preyend any longer they are  a "classical liberal."

Banks is not a classical liberal, or any kind of liberal. If the future for ACT is Banks and only Banks, then ACT has no future. 

Time perhaps for freedom  lovers of all persuasions to combine together to form a real freedom party ready for 2014--a Party of All Talents that combines the talents and abilities of freedom lovers from acros the board.

Because  in three years time, after Global Ginancial Collapse II, this country is going to be desperate for the answers only a real freedom coalition can offer.

Let's start talking now.

And what about the future for National under MMP? 

Well, that future was so clear it makes you wonder about the supposed political acumen of Mr Key and his strategists. This election sees his party at a historic high water mark of support, yet under MMP it is still struggling to pull together a government. And when National's high tide goes out, as it inevitably will, under MMP  it might struggle to form a government ever again.

Yet John Key did not bother to spend even a cent of his enormous political capital to campaign against MMP.

So this election's winners are few indeed.

And they don't include Phil Goff. Or the people of Christchurch, who in a sign they might have developed Stockholm Syndrome, voted to keep and even add to their National  MPs. 

So perhaps they, and and the rest of the country, deserve what they're going to continue to get:  More of the same, with knobs on.