14 August 2011

Libertarianz in 2011

Libertarianz members are having their annual conference this weekend.   I've been a member of the party for 14 years, so it is hardly surprising that I have supported it every election since.   However,  as I get old it raises some fairly fundamental issues about my participation in politics and my desire to change the terms of the political debate in New Zealand, and change New Zealand public policy.

The first time I was ever able to vote was 1990.  I voted Labour.  Why?  Because for months beforehand I watched National oppose the privatisation of Telecom, with Jim Anderton.  Because for the years before I watched Roger Douglas transform the economy, largely in a rational and extraordinarily courageous manner - for little he did was popular or for short term gain or popularity.  I was less than comfortable with the new bureaucracies for "Women's Affairs", "Youth Affairs", the reintroduction of compulsory unionism, and the new leftwing racism and subjectivist mysticism seen in the creation of the Treaty of Waitangi industry, but I grew up under Rob Muldoon.  I saw National as the party not of free markets, but of kneejerk resistance to change.

Yet in 1993 I voted National, for I saw the same courage in Ruth Richardson.  I despised National's embrace of an authoritarian feminist agenda for censorship, the sellout on education and Jim Bolger's ridiculous embrace of electoral reform, but the big political push at the time was from the authoritarian thieves of the Alliance, and the bottom feeder Winston Peters and his personality cult of followers.   Of course, Bolger sacrificed Richardson on the altar of pragmatism.

In 1996 I voted ACT, because I hoped that following Roger Douglas's first act, there could be hope of a National-ACT coalition implementing further reforms, especially exposing the health and education sectors to competition, and choice.  However, ACT was profoundly disappointing.  From talking of abolishing income tax, to flat tax, to lower tax.  More fundamentally, I had moved on philosophically.  I had read Hayek some years before, but had now read The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand and became an objectivist.

My philosophical position became clear.  I had long been an atheist, but as an objectivist I had a rational grounding for not only believing in small government, but also an ethical basis for capitalism and for life.   I joined Libertarianz.

Of course it isn't very hard to become disheartened belonging to a small political party that has not come close to being elected.  However, there has been influence, with terms like Nanny State being used more and more, and political discourse starting to talk about government not being the solution to everything, but it would be fair to say it hasn't met expectations.

The alternatives have not been promising either.  ACT under first Richard Prebble and then Rodney Hide, was all very well talking about economic freedom, but personal freedom was uncomfortable.  Simple libertarian points like questioning the war on drugs or censorship were not where ACT could go - for it had more than a few fundamentally conservative backers.

Of course there was also Don Brash and the National Party in 2005, campaigning in part to end the leftwing racism that had the state privilege Maori above others, regardless of their need and personal position.  However, that campaign was ruined by the mainstream of National, which like Bolger in 1996, prostitute it all to try to win elections, and which is conservative in the small "c" sense.  As in do as little as possible to change.

So the issue has been and remain simple.

Do I remain pure and honest and principled, and continue to put my full New Zealand effort into Libertarianz, or do I compromise and put efforts into ACT, or even National to influence those that do have entrees into actual political power?  Are they in conflict?

This election, libertarians nearly faced an obvious answer.   Rodney Hide's performance in ACT has been roundly disappointing.  He's been little different from a National Minister, with his great performance being in largely implementing Labour's local government policy.   The only crowning success will be Roger Douglas abolishing the compulsory membership of the University branches of the Labour and Green Parties known as student unions.

Don Brash led ACT looks like it could be different.  Despite the blunderings of some who are incapable of being truly racially colourblind AND wise to how others can portray it,  it may be different.
As I get older, I get impatient, and I want change to happen sooner rather than later.  I have priorities for change which are focused around education, reform of the welfare state and protection of property rights, as well as a fundamental shift of the criminal justice system away from victimless crimes, but being focused on deterrence and protection of the public from the violence of others.

I also want a cultural change, a philosophical change that embraces the celebration of creativity, producers, innovators, science and reason.  One that embraces self-esteem and personal responsibility.  One that resists the post-modernist cultural meme that everything is ok, that all cultures are equal, that no values are more important than others.  One that celebrates life, that treats the inviolability of the bodies and property of others as sacrosanct, that embraces honesty, good will and benevolence in human relations.  Not the nihilist claims over the property of others, demand for rights that are actually demands on other people to be forced to surrender their bodies and property.  Most of all rejection of the racism, sexism and collectivist bigotry of the left, as well as of the far-right. 

In politics, I am keeping an open mind.  Beyond that, there must be other means and other ways to change the terms of debate.  However, my hope is that Libertarianz knows it is more than a party, but as a touchstone for those who believe government should only exist to protect people from the initiation of force by others, whether internal or external to a country - and that it is a monumental job to change a culture where it is considered absolutely normal for government to initiate force, and there is a preponderance of political parties who embrace MORE state violence.  The Greens, for example, are a party that positively embraces ever more state violence, in the warm, smiling shrouds of "fairness and equality".  

So I wish Libertarianz well.  It is the party I am most likely to vote for in 2011.  Yet I am keeping an open mind.  I would not be unhappy if there was a National-ACT coalition that saw substantive changes in education policy alone, to break the back of the dominant state sector, or which torn up the RMA in favour of private property rights or another major step towards more freedom.  However, I am yet to be convinced that there is enough substance for me to positively support ACT.  

Even if I did, it does not mean Libertarianz does not have a role.  However, it does have to be more clever about its messages and it needs to remember that the mass media only understands easy concepts.   For me, it is less government, more freedom.  It is about consistently believing that government shouldn't spend other people's money taken by force to give to others.  It is about believing laws should only exist to protect people's bodies and property from force or fraud, and that human relations should always be voluntary.


Lindsay Mitchell said...

Very well expressed as always.

But you getting "old" and "impatient"?

Spare a thought for the Libz members who are in their sixties and seventies and still hanging in there.

I haven't decided who to vote for either but my prescription for a better world most closely matches the Libz.

Richard McGrath said...

Thanks Scott. The recent conference (held at the same time and about 100m from the National Party one in Wellington) went well. Watch this space. We may yet do enough to win your vote!

Shane Pleasance said...

Scott, I just took over as President of the Libz - but was unable to attend conference due to the weather and flights. I recorded my opening address on YouTube - link here

Much to be done - your support appreciated.