25 August 2010

The Green view of freedom is eerily Leninist

It is hardly surprising that the Greens oppose voluntary student union membership. After all, such organisations are the training grounds for all too many leftwing political activists, and having such undisciplined access to power and money is a great entree into how the state works.

The great ideological myth around student unions has its direct parallels with the Rousseau view of the "general will" taken to its logical end by Marxism-Leninism.

It goes like this:
- Students are an identifiable collective body of people with a common set of interests. As they are deemed to lack power, having a representative body is in their interests to put the "student view" to the university and more widely to government.
- Student unions can provide that representation, and as such embody the "general will" of students. As long as they are elected, regardless of turnout, the student union can perform this task.
- The "general will" is comprised of the interests of students. Those who disagree with the student union are against the interests of students. As the media, government and universities listen to student unions, this proves they are seen to be representative;
- Students who disagree with the student union are a minority. Their views would only be legitimate if they were carried by the union. If it isn't the view of the union it doesn't represent the 'general will" of students, and could possibly be against it;
- The strength of students is dependent on the strength of the student union. Allowing anyone to opt out of the union would be seen as weakening the expression of the general will of the students. It is an attack on students.
- Students collectively can decide to allow for opting out of membership of their unions, but if they choose not to allow that, then students can't complain. It is the general will of students whether or not they want voluntary student membership.
- Those who wish to contradict this are "anti student" even if they are students.

That twisted perverse logic is what Gareth Hughes is expressing.

He claims making all student unions voluntary somehow takes away the right for students to choose because to him students have a "collective brain".

It's complete snake oil and quite disgusting. If students want to be represented by a student's union they should feel free to set one up by choice or join one, by choice. If they don't then let it be.

It is a diversion to claim universities would charge the same money and fund the association itself. Universities shouldn't do that either.

It's so simple. If students don't want student unions (and their services) then they fail.

Most importantly, if any individual student does not want a union to represent her or him, then the student union should get the hell out of the way.

and the unreformed Leninist merchants of Orwellian collectivism should not get in the way of this!

23 August 2010

Australia sits on the fence

As much as some on the left and right might want to make of it, there were not two profoundly differently views of how Australia should be governed offered by Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott. Neither offered inspiration and indeed both may be in parties quietly wondering whether the previous leaders of both major parties would have had a better chance at winning.

Julia Gillard offered a vision of "the state is here to help", which sold the total lie that somehow the Australian Federal Government had anything to do with Australia largely escaping the global financial recession. Indeed, it is more that Australia escaped in spite of the Federal Government's efforts to waste the money of future taxpayers by borrowing and spending pork like it was going out of fashion. None on the left in Australia care to note how without a Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, without laws that forced banks to lend to those who could not afford to pay and without net Federal government debt (one of the positive legacies of the Howard administration), that the banking sector down under was far less vulnerable to the vagaries of the property bubble.

Ah but Australia does have a property bubble right? Well yes, and that is something that Gillard and Rudd have helped maintain, with a great deal of help from China (and its neighbours) treating Australia as the great mining pit of the southern hemisphere. Nobody can start to pretend that the key reason for Australia's immunity from recession and having its property bubble pricked is the maintenance of high commodity prices whilst China still rides a wave of immense increases in domestic productivity, fueling domestic domestic.

So Gillard tried to sell the snake oil that Labor saved the Australian economy. The biggest snake oil of all was that somehow the Federal Government deserved a share of mining profits over and above existing taxes.

Tony Abbott rightfully knew this, and confronted both that and the persistent claims that Australia should kneecap its economy to help most countries in the world grow their CO2 emissions. However, he himself was a little more disconcerting. It is clear his social conservatism turned many likely Liberal voters off. The poor results for the Liberals in Melbourne likely reflect that.

Yet as much as Gillard and the ALP might like to play on it, neither she nor Kevin Rudd (hardly socially liberal himself) have a glorious record on personal freedoms. The attempts to employ a Singapore/UAE/China style filter on all Australian ISPs smacks of the nanny state par excellence. Bearing in mind that New Zealand politicians sometimes have the tendency to follow our cousins across the Tasman, this was rather disconcerting.

So neither deserved endorsement, and neither got it.

Instead, Australia has rather quaintly dabbled with the Green Party, which if it was honest would effectively shut down much of Australia's primary industries if it could. Like Green Parties elsewhere it blends some social liberalism with a warm cuddly embrace of higher taxes, more government, bans, compulsion and an anti-Western foreign policy.

However, its single House of Representatives MP wont be the deciding factor, it is the independents. The big question is what pork they will demand for their constituencies to grant Gillard or Abbott a majority.

The longest standing independent is Australia's Winston Peters - Bob Katter. Katter was with the National Party, and resigned because he was opposed to privatisation, deregulation and free trade.

Oh and just before those on the left get excited he was also a fan of the politician that has been perhaps Australia's closest example of genuine fascism in recent times - Joh Bjelke-Petersen. The man who banned street protests, who had his political opponents in his own party under Police surveillance reporting directly to him.

Although Katter was with the Nats (and is a climate change sceptic), his father was with the ALP, so where he swings could be about the amount of pork he gets.

Other independents are ex National or Liberal (Rob Oakeshott andTony Windsor) and left because of differences over whether Australia should be a republic or of a clash of personalities. Both of them are likely to be warmer towards Abbott. Another possible independent is Andrew Wilkie, an ex. Green (and ex. Liberal), who is probably warmer towards the ALP.

So who knows what will happen.

However, if it is about pork, the danger is that the "winner" gets tainted for giving preferential treatment to certain electoral divisions (a "division" is a constituency in the Federal Parliament). Let's hope Australian taxpayers don't get such a blatantly raw deal.

18 August 2010

So what now kiwi lovers of less government?

Some voted for National in 2008 to get rid of the big government "the state is sovereign" leadership of Helen Clark. Labour openly preached what it saw as the benefits of government spending more on health, education, welfare, housing and subsidising business. It also created new bureaucracies, gave local government almost unlimited powers to do what it wished with ratepayers' money and sought to tell people how they should live, for their own good.

Labour unashamedly embraced big government, a partnership where the iron fist of state regulation, tax and subsidy would direct the economy, and all major areas of social policy.

National was thought, by many, to offer something different, a change in direction, suspicion of the state, belief in less taxes, less state intervention in the economy, and being more open about choice in education, health care and superannuation.

After all, National offered part of this in 2005, and to a limited extent went in that direction (haphazardly and inconsistently) between 1990 and 1999. Isn't it fair to assume a change in government is a change in direction?

Well no. You see this National government runs deficits, doesn't reduce the size of government, spends more on state health and education, maintains the national superannuation ponzi scheme and has continued to subsidise and interfere with the economy. Property rights are no better off. National is being what it is used to being - a conservative party that keeps what Labour did before and tinkers.

To be fair to National, John Key didn't offer too much more than that in the first place. So some thought it was right to vote ACT.

Bringing Sir Roger Douglas back into the fold gave some hope that a Nat-Act coalition could see one of NZ's two bravest former Finance Ministers having a key role in Cabinet. After all, if Labour scaremongered over Douglas, it wouldn't be hard to ask why Clark, Cullen, Goff and King would complain about a man being in Cabinet who THEY all shared Cabinet with. However, John Key (and the National Party) are political invertebrates.

So ACT got Rodney Hide as Minister of Local Government. Well that was something. Time to reverse the Labour/Alliance "powers of general competence" granted to local government, time to at least cap rates to inflation, time to have local government protect rather than abuse property rights.

No. Not only did it mean none of that, but the Nats took Labour's Royal Commission of Inquiry into Auckland Governance, and implemented almost all of its recommendations. A new big Auckland council, with almost unlimited powers to do as it wishes.

Is that what ACT voters wanted? Bigger, stronger local government?

No. Same with the dabbling with the "hang 'em high" crowd represented by David Garrett.

ACT had potential, it did believe in less government once, it did have senior leaders who would talk the good talk. As flawed as Rodney Hide is, and Sir Roger Douglas, there were more than a few occasions when one could say "bravo".

However, ACT's first real chance at power (it wasn't part of the 1996-1999 National led governments) hasn't just been disappointing, it has even seemed counter-productive.

So what now?

The obvious answer I would give is to offer Libertarianz, although some may say it is still a small party, and many have harbour hesitation whether those within it have the capability or the interest in stepping up to be a serious electoral option for the next election.

So I might suggest this, from afar. It is time for those within ACT and National, who do want less government, less tax, the shrinking of the state consistently, to contact Libertarianz. To attend at least one meeting, and talk about how to move forward.

You don't need to agree with all of the policies, but to believe in the principle of much less government.

No one else is going to do it.

14 August 2010

Morally bankrupt feminists

It's awfully nice to sit in Cambridge, England as a female academic. You can enjoy a comfortable upper middle-class lifestyle, choose to study as you wish, travel as you wish. You don't need to rely on men to defend your rights, indeed you can associate with whomever men and women as you wish (and who wish to associate with you). You can be unmarried, married, a mother, childless, heterosexual, bisexual, lesbian, chaste, atheist, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist or whatever. You can pose nude, or live the life of a hermit. You have a range of freedoms delivered through law, but more importantly culture and modern social norms that are the envy of many in the world.

So why does Priyamvada Gopal writing in the Guardian think that what the West offers women in Afghanistan is

"little to offer Afghans other than bikini waxes and Oprah-imitators"


In the affluent west itself, modernity is now about dismantling welfare systems, increasing inequality (disproportionately disenfranchising women in the process), and subsidising corporate profits.

You see she opposes the military intervention in Afghanistan, whilst also opposing "misogynistic violence". Yet she offers the women of Afghanistan absolutely nothing in return.

Her claim is that "The real effects of the Nato occupation, including the worsening of many women's lives under the lethally violent combination of old patriarchal feudalism and new corporate militarism are rarely discussed."

Her evidence for this is patchy. Besides scorning a single book about something called "Kabul Beauty School", she trots out the usual Marxist/new-left rhetoric which is more about language than substance.

The patriarchal feudalism of Afghanistan is appalling, but the Taliban was the codification of it as law - with all women and girls effectively property of fathers and brothers The phrase "corporate militarism" implies a sinister profit-driven military mission, an assertion which has little substance when there are now substantive efforts to extricate national armies from Afghanistan.

However, it is party of this privileged academic's view that the West is not worth her pissing on, in comparison to Taliban run Afghanistan.

Her hyperbole continues:

"The truth is that the US and allied regimes do not have anything substantial to offer Afghanistan beyond feeding the gargantuan war machine they have unleashed."

Gargantuan? By what measure? By the fact that much of Afghanistan remains outside allied control?

What does she have to offer?

The usual vacuous bleeting "social justice, economic fairness, peace, all of which would enfranchise Afghan women".

Nonsense. Peace existed IN Afghanistan when the Taliban was in charge. It enfranchised no Afghan women. "Economic fairness" is the typical Marxist platitude which means "give the people I support more money by taking off those I don't support". Quite how this is meant to happen spontaneously is curious, but since she doesn't have to say what it is (and you'll be accused of being foolish for not knowing what the hell "fairness" is), then it doesn't matter of course.

Finally "social justice"? Does she expect that if Afghanistan is left well alone, that the culture and traditions of that society, with the heavy dose of Islam than runs through it, will produce "social justice"?

Is she just stupid and naive, or is she simply part of the cadre of leftwing feminists who hate the relatively free and open West that grants them unparalleled choice, economic opportunity and individual freedoms who overly romanticise cultures that have none of it?

She believes in "radical modernity", and with the exception of her neo-Marxist buzzwords, says nothing about what this looks like or how to get there. However that's ok. Like all of the West's critics you can damn what is happening, claim the West is, in effect, little different to stoneage patriarchal tribalism, and feel you've done your bit to spit on the USA and carry a torch for Afghan women.

It's morally bankrupt. Bankrupt because without major intervention, the prospects for serious change in the lives of Afghan women are glacial. Bankrupt because with intervention there have been positive changes, but nothing remotely on a scale necessary to make Afghanistan a haven for basic individual rights.

However, anti-Western fifth-columnists like Gopal would reject that. She would damn a wholescale military and political occupation that, as in 1945 Japan, would instigate a constitution, government and laws that would explicitly protect the individual freedoms of Afghan women, girls AND men and boys, and create a secular state. Her interest in Afghan women is exactly the type of tokenism that she accuses Western nations of applying. She believes Western powers treat the plight of women in Afghanistan as a way of gaining sympathy for continued military action. She is not entirely wrong, but the motive is not a mythical "corporate militarism", but part in parcel with the need to defeat the Taliban. It is one of the clearest examples of the Taliban's moral bankruptcy.

No, you see for her the plight of Afghan women is part in parcel of her being able to blame the West for it, and not only that but to deny the blatant differences in the rights and freedoms of women in the West with those in pre-modern societies.

Toby Young in the Daily Telegraph goes a step further, in claiming that the very same feminists remain muted about the treatment of women in Iran. They don't want to join what they see as "racist" or "far-right" criticism of Islam, so the case of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani gets neglected. Young says that with few exceptions, notable Western feminists keep their mouths shut:

"We’ve heard nothing from Germaine Greer, nothing from Gloria Steinem, nothing from Jane Fonda, nothing from Naomi Wolf, nothing from Clare Short, nothing from Harriet Harmen."

Another case is now that a 14 year old girl in Abu Dhabi is now in prison for "consensual sex" with her school bus driver. She claimed rape, and in much of the Western world the issue of consent would be irrelevant, but this is the UAE. A stone's throw from Iran and similar moral standards.

You'll notice that the standard leftwing feminist blogs are silent on all of these cases.

See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil makes it better does it?

What is this silence about?

Is it fear that damning Islamists will result in retribution? In which case these feminists are like the meek little girls they never wanted to be treated as, and don't deserve to hold their heads up as defenders of the rights of women.

Is it the very racism they may accuse others of? That is, that women in "those" countries live in different cultures and it would be wrong to judge their torture and abuse by "our" standards. "Exhibit A" in moral bankruptcy.

Is it the fear that damning systems or countries that are not Western aligns them with the very West they all live in, enjoy the advantages of, but continue to criticise? Maybe so. However, is this not just childish political tribalism that keeps one morally blind to the seriousness of what is being ignored?

Or is the more honest point that none of them know what to offer? Without the use of force to overthrow tyranny, it isn't obvious how to confront brutal well-armed dictatorships of one kind or another. Yet if thousands or millions of women in the West confronted the embassies, politicians, companies and media of those regimes that have warped moral standards around women surely it would make a difference. Would the likes of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad have quite as much moral fortitude if most of the Western feminists weren't docile in the face of his butchering clericocracy?

As Toby Young says, we don't know, but if would be nice if those who claim to care would speak up:

"Could the West’s self-appointed defenders of women’s rights have done anything to prevent the wholesale slaughter of their sisters in the developing world if they’d taken up their cause? Could a feminist outcry today about the plight of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani do anything to prevent her death? We will never know, but it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that their continuing silence reveals the moral bankruptcy of their movement."

10 August 2010

EU = socialists that are out of touch

There is a budget deficit crisis in most EU Member States, which of course is meaning they are no longer particularly keen on funding the European Commission's endless demand for more tax victim money to fund feather-bedding of farmers in western Europe, grand infrastructure projects in eastern Europe, ridiculous projects (such as duplicating GPS and CNN) and the jobs for life in Brussels.

The EU is seeking a 5.9% increase in budgets this year, which is laughable given virtually all EU Member States are cutting their overall budgets, some on a grand scale, to live within their means.

The response from Member States has been to look askance at this, as the EU is acting as if there isn't a recession and isn't a fiscal crisis across Europe. The Eurorats simply want to close their eyes and ears and continue wasting money as usual - bearing in mind that almost all of what the EU spends money on is destructive to economic growth (the only good thing is to police Member States from introducing discriminatory interventionist policies).

So what is proposed? The EU will liberate Member States from this burden, to make them all full of glee that they don't have to worry any more about paying for the EC (the European Commission being the bureauratic arm of the EU).

Instead, the EU will impose a tax on the PEOPLE of the EU. According to the Daily Telegraph, the EC is pushing for the powers to impose pan-European taxes on financial transactions and air travel.

This somehow is meant to be palatable to Member States because it wont be their burden, it will be the EU taxing the public.

You see the EU only thinks of itself and Member States as the legitimate actors here, the long -suffering European taxpayers are merely cogs in the machine of the grand project.

Take this quote:

Janusz Lewandowski, the EU budget commissioner, said: "If the EU had more of its own revenues, then transfers from national budgets could be reduced. I hear from several capitals, including important ones like Berlin, that they would like to reduce their contribution."

Note the euphemism "revenues". Not revenue from selling goods or services to willing buyers, or making investments in commercial businesses that generate dividends or capital gains, no it is revenues taken by force, where the only sliver of accountability will be voting for the European Parliament, where every vote has the fraction of influence of a vote at a national level.

What is astonishing is the bizarre belief that somehow having Member States to reduce their state contributions (but have the people living in the Member States pay new ones), is somehow a great achievement?

The UK Government is thankfully having none of this, with Commercial Secretary, Lord Sassoon (who despite the name doesn't have great hair) saying "The Government is opposed to direct taxes financing the EU budget... The UK believes that taxation is a matter for Member States to determine at a national level and would have a veto over any plans for such taxes". None of the Liberal Democrat wishy washiness about Europe there.

However, it does show how the EC is a funny little world isolated from political and economic reality. It should face budget cuts, which would make Europe far better off as a whole, although the French would object as the biggest beneficiary of the status quo.

The EU's only value today is maintaining open borders and in rules that stop national governments providing assistance to their own businesses or in protecting local businesses, beyond that it is a project of tired old failed Euro-socialists whose own vision of the state has just been demonstrated to be a recipe for stagnation.

CER's last hurdle

The largest barrier to free trade between Australia and NZ looks like it finally has a good chance of being addressed according to the NZ Herald.

For decades now Australia has blocked imports of New Zealand apples on spurious grounds of biosecurity. I participated in a couple of CER bilaterals in the 1990s where this was the key issue (I was fighting for another sector) and Australia would never relent. CER offered no recourse if Australia kept blocking access other than the political ones. Naturally for NZ, access to Australian markets was far more valuable than for Australia to get access to another market the size of Melbourne (if you're generous).

So the WTO, hated by the Greens and the anti-free trade luddites, has proven its worth once again, by showing up the Australians for being protectionist hypocrites - calling for free trade in agriculture through the Cairns Group at the WTO, but unwilling to offer it to its closest trading partner.

It wont be easy, no doubt the socialist Gillard and farmer friendly Abbott will both reassure Australia's cosseted apple industry that they will appeal, but it's simple - you cannot block New Zealand apples under the excuse that they all contain fireblight and will ruin your precious crop.

So good on the WTO, it needs some words of support, especially since neither the President of the United States nor the "President" of the European Union nor the Prime Minister of Japan have any interest in free trade!

06 August 2010

The joy of capitalist "exploitation"

"The misery of being exploited by capitalists is nothing compared to the misery of not being exploited at all"

So said economist Joan Robinson writing about underemployment in South-East Asia at the time.

(hat tip: The Economist Leader, 31 July 2010).

05 August 2010

Damn, missed...

Iran's military leader, who runs a regime that executes children who are raped, executes teenagers who have sex outside marriage, has avoided being despatched to the only place he deserves - oblivion.