30 December 2021

Own a bookshop? Beware of TVNZ journalists

In 1993 Lindsay Perigo resigned from TVNZ as a journalist/presenter declaring its news as "braindead", and a lot has happened in that time. From its one time commanding role claiming "more people get their news from TV One news than from any other source" (copied from US network ABC at the time), it is facing a declining market, as a whole generation gets news, of sorts, from online sources, and those who don't want to be talked down to like 12 year old schoolkids look elsewhere.

But never fear, TVNZ is out there to ensure that you are aware of misinformation and it is even patrolling bookshops to check if they are stocking books and magazines that.... shock... print inaccurate information, or even write about conspiracy theories.  

At least twice in the past month (I don't want it daily) has TVNZ engaged what it calls investigate journalism into the horrors of there being, perfectly legally, books and magazines published and even more appallingly, sold by bookshops across Aotearoa.  

Books that challenge Māori nationalism

Some weeks ago TVNZ broadcast a piece purportedly reflecting an English literature tutor, Brittany Rose, who is "disgusted" by finding books in a bookshop that "raised red flags"(!) for her because... they contained opinions she didn't like.  Frankly I think Brittany Rose would happily have flown red flags in the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in China, because she would have made a great Red Guard:

The books were filled with pages warning of the dangers of a so-called greedy, tribal elite.

And descriptions of Māori as violent savages who were saved by colonisation.

“It just struck me as incredibly insensitive, ill-informed and damaging. It's potentially harmful to propagate views that are anti-Maori. That's not at all what we should be having on shelves of our bookstores,” Rose said.

Colonisation devastated Māori, claiming land and lives.

University of Auckland Senior Māori studies lecturer, Dr Daniel Hikuroa, was equally disgusted.

“That's something I would hate for my daughter to stumble across at bookstores but on the other hand I would like for them to understand that it's hate material is what it is. It's hate material. It's designed to drive wedges between peoples,” he said.

I'm not going to go into the details of the books, not only because I haven't read them, but because it is somewhat besides the point. You see, Rose is not so concerned about refuting these books she wouldn't buy in a shop she doesn't own, she is worried about them being "insensitive, ill-informed and damaging", because the views are "harmful".  By extension, TVNZ is sharing this concern by giving a platform to someone who trots out the high-status "insensitive" and "damaging" claims about opinions she doesn't like. It's not enough to be offended nowadays, you have to claim differing views are "harmful".  Harmful to whom? People who can't handle a rigorous debate?  Surely if the books are THAT weak and woeful, it should be easy to dismiss them as poorly written drivel easily refuted.  

How does she know how well they will sell? How does she know that those buying them are going to agree with the books? How does she know the books don't contain facts in among assertions and false claims?  

It doesn't matter, Brittany Rose wants them removed, and by extension, TVNZ. 

The books were published by Tross Publishing, which must be immensely grateful for the free publicity, and although it refused to be interviewed on air (unsurprisingly given it is clearly designed to be a hit job, author John Robinson did send a statement to TVNZ:

I absolutely reject the untrue charges made against Tross Publishing. I believe in equality, decency and accuracy and oppose the divisions in to-day's New Zealand. I am appalled by the ridiculous claims of wrongdoing which implicate me. I am being damned without a hearing.

Given the wording of the TVNZ report it is hardly surprising Tross Publishing did not appear on camera, as it is clearly of a monolithic perspective:

The company has been publishing books that condemn things like treaty settlements and the Waitangi Tribunal for years.

But they are still being sold by big franchises, including Paper Plus and Whitcoulls.

BUT? So does TVNZ say that Paper Plus and Whitcoulls should NOT sell books condemning treaty settlements and the Waitangi Tribunal? What if a radical Māori publisher produced books saying treaty settlements and the Waitangi Tribunal are sell outs? So TVNZ has made it clear what opinion it has. Some books shouldn't be sold.

Then TVNZ puts out this line:

There are calls for stores selling the books to promote balance.

Does TVNZ seriously think bookshops should sell books with a wide variety of views on public issues? Did it even check? No, of course not. There is little difficulty in finding books that advance Māori sovereignty and nationalism, but that would damage the shock-sound bite nature of the story.

Race Relations Commissioner Meng Foon is quoted as saying:

But what really disturbed me about this was the idea that freedom of speech is about being able to have any opinion and go unchallenged

This is Orwellian nonsense, it is actually Brittany Rose that wants to have opinions unchallenged, and TVNZ that is advancing an agenda of a monolithic view on Treaty of Waitangi matters. Freedom of speech is not about having opinions unchallenged, but it is about being able to write and publish opinions and not have the state, by proxy, campaign to stop your books being able to be sold.

The report concluded with a most sinister line:

1News has asked for clarification as to why the books can be purchased at both stores.

The right response (if the bookshops don't want to just say, piss off we can sell whatever we want and we aren't answerable to the state) would be "the books are legal, we embrace freedom of speech including challenging points of view held by academics, media, politicians and journalists, and encourage our customers to buy a variety of books".

Conspiracy magazines

So on 29 December TVNZ broadcast a story about how Auckland Airport newsagents were selling magazines that contained content about conspiracy theories around Covid19, and included misinformation about vaccines etc.  It queried, once again, why newsagents were selling magazines that contained such material, unfortunately this story is now only contained on the full length recording of the 6pm bulletin online. The whole story was based on the outrage that a newsagent would sell titles that publish nonsense.  

So what?

Now I carry no flag for Tross Publishing, some of its titles may be worth a read, others not so much ("A Plague of People" looks like Malthusian nonsense), but it's not the point at all. The state broadcaster should not be engaging in a witch hunt of either publications or bookshops that are acting legally, just because a fragile wanna Red Guard is offended by their content.  

Nor do I care much for little known magazines on a shelf, because before I buy something I tend to browse through to decide for myself if it is worth reading.  If not, I wont buy it. Amazing to TVNZ, I think almost everyone does the same thing. 

If TVNZ journalists want to criticise books or magazines, they should write book reviews, not sound-bite hit jobs demanding to know why a bookshop is selling a book. 

Maybe the books wont sell, maybe the bookshop wont restock them,  because the marketplace of ideas is what determines how most of the book and magazine media world works. Of course TVNZ journalists don't worry about that, although it is a State Owned Enterprise, it isn't going to be allowed to go under.  

From the age of five to ten my parents owned a bookshop, it was independent and could legally only open five days a week (before even Saturday retail was permitted), but it was a six-seven day a week job running a business.  They sold a wide variety of publications from encyclopaedic non-fiction through to trashy paperbacks, through to comics, soft erotica, cards, stationery and even coal. It's a lot of work, and I'd be appalled if any state journalist entered their premises to interrogate them on why they are selling some books or magazines.  

This is the point. If TVNZ actually wants to engage in journalism, instead of engaging in a Maoist style witch hunt to find businesses that have the audacity to sell publications that it thinks is wrong, it could choose to either engage in an honest, balanced debate between people with diametrically opposed views, whilst being an honest broker.

However it isn't an honest broker, it's partisan. It should have just ignored the magazines at the airport, because the likelihood is they wont be around for long. 

It should have told Brittany Rose that bookshops everywhere sell books that some people find upsetting and offensive, and that maybe if she is that fragile she should just not buy the books and tell others to not do so, or write a blog post.  

Of course the irony was this story was broadcast the same night about Hong Kong authorities raiding the offices of Stand News for publishing a seditious publication.  No, NZ is a long way from that, but it is the same philosophical principle that someone is publishing something that TVNZ disagrees with, and that it should be accountable to the state broadcaster for it.

Maybe former National Cabinet Minister Simon Power, soon to be CEO of TVNZ, might do something to change this culture of finger-wagging school prefect style petty-authoritarianism.  Or will he, like so many on the "centre-right" just take his money, run it competently, and be too much of a scared little mouse to take on a culture that has been 30 years in the making.

28 December 2021

High and low-status opinions for 2022

It's an age when there are, in the words of UK economist Kristian Niemetz, "high-status" and "low-status" opinions.  The former will get you praise, open doors in circles of media, academia and even political power, the latter will get you labelled as "controversial" or worse, and may even see you ostracised by your employers and others, ultimately leading to you having zero access to media.

While high-status and low-status opinions have always existed (it was once "low-status" to think women shouldn't be given the vote), the past approach of essentially ignoring low-status opinions in the hope they would go away or be confined to tiny circulation magazines circulated within small societies is no longer valid, and the list of low-status opinions has become long, and the intensity of reaction to low-status opinions has grown.

It used to be that people on the so-called liberal left (I prefer to call the postmodernist left) had low-status opinions, but this has changed dramatically over the past few decades as the post-modern liberal (as opposed to classical liberal) philosophical positions have moved on from dominating some parts of academia and media to being dominant across most media, the education curriculum and most politicians.  Now the postmodernists define high-status opinions, and the mainstream turns their way.

Unfortunately the main reaction to high-status opinions is simple vituperative anger about this, and a postmodernist "right" has emerged which isn't a vehicle for rational countering of such opinions, but a panoply of conspiracies surrounding them. Whether it is partly a desperation to have as large a base of counter-culture (which is conservative right) or reflects the actual industry behind it surviving on attention (Infowars is absolutely a counter-culture factory of postmodernist manufactured drivel sprinkled with facts and issues that deserve attention), is unclear. However both are fundamentally irrationalists.

So within that context, I give you a bunch of opinions for the year ahead, which don't try to be high-status, but could do with some amplification in the year ahead.  

In no particular order...

Equity is an anti-concept that means equality of outcomes and is ultimately unachievable.It's an euphemism for taking money from some people (at the moment a mix of future generations through borrowing and the poor through inflation) to give to others. It's worse than the other anti-concept "redistribution" (which assumed some sentient entity distributed property already). It assumes people's wealth, health and lifestyles can be evened out through state power, that they have insufficient agency over their lives. It's telling that the most poverty inducing policies instituted by governments in recent years - around inflating housing demand and curtailing supply, and now feeding inflation, get next to zero attention, whilst people are hired on above average salaries, paid by taxpayers to do "equity analysis" of micro-economic reforms.  Run a mile from politicians who want to advance equity.

Both private cars and bicycles are incredibly liberating technologies that have given literally billions across the world unrivalled opportunities for prosperity, social life and joy, and continue to do so despite a very small fraction of their users getting killed or badly injured. Neither should be belittled, banned or treated as incompatible with life in cities or the countryside.  The offer freedom to travel when and where you wish, and limits on this are best decided by property owners deciding what space to give up to parking them, and that most roads (set aside motorways and bicycle paths, built for each to be separate) are about them sharing space. Users of both should tolerate each other, and respect the fact that nobody really knows why anyone is travelling the way they are. Cyclists should recognise that without motorists paying fuel tax and RUC, there would be much less road space and much poorer maintained road space for them, and motorists should recognise that a bike takes up little space and does zero wear on the roads.  Councils, if they have to own and run roads (I don't they do, but that's not for now), should stop pitching them against one another, and manage the relationship between them by treating them as customers, and let adjacent property owners help determine who has what space. Councils should also not forget that absolutely everything motorists and cyclists consume, gets delivered by a truck or van, and that's not going to change.

The state is no more responsible for relieving you or your family's poverty (setting aside specific cases where it caused harm by the actions of those in its institutions), that it is responsible for ensuring you wash, have a good sleep and have a social life. Poverty is a natural state, it requires your own actions more than the help of others, to get out of it and stay out of it. You own your life.  If you suffer from poverty, your own decisions matter first. If you are concerned about poverty then you own decisions matter too, because you can do far more for poverty by helping directly either financially or more crucially, with time, especially for the children of those in poverty. Mentoring and guidance is undervalued. You can do much more for child poverty than the self-styled Child Poverty Action Group, which literally does nothing but campaign for higher benefits. Do that if you like, but you're kidding yourself if you think meeting with your high-status friends for coffee to talk about how awful poverty is and how benefits should be raised does anything for anyone in need.

Criticising, insulting and shaming the People's Republic of China (PRC) and the Communist Party of China (CPC) isn't racism, as much as Beijing wants to rally Chinese people into thinking attacks on the regime are racially motivated. They aren't (NZ has enough historic anti-Chinese racism to point to). Chinese people are also not the Government of the PRC or the CPC (unless they are spokespeople officially or de-facto). Don't assume anyone you think is Chinese is an agent of Beijing, especially if you claim to give a damn about freedom in Hong Kong or Taiwan, because such an assumption IS racism.

However, any business, institution or organisation that submits to the requests, protests or objections from any totalitarian regime (like the PRC) to police language is morally debased and should be avoided. You can trade with people you don't like without becoming an arm of their agitprop.

Individual sovereignty over your body, and private property rights are both extensions of the same thing. You can't believe in one without the other, unless you don't really believe in the one in the first place.  It's a high status opinion to debase property rights, among lefties. Some conservative righties debase individual sovereignty. 

Biculturalism is a racist concept and is almost as dismissive of the diversity of humanity as any form of monoculturalism, and it is designed to replace one form of ethno-nationalism with another. If you think Koreans, Arabs, Tongans, Croatians, Jews and Tamils should be shoehorned into a dominant identity of the "other", then you're no better than those who wanted to shoehorn Maori into assimilation. 

Colonialism resulted in grotesque acts of violence, theft and atrocities that most New Zealanders have little knowledge of, and just because it may have been worse under the French or Germans, doesn't make British colonialism morally justified. Yet to portray it as irredeemably evil and undertaken by people of unspeakable turpitude is as wrong as to portray pre-colonial Maori society as a wonder of self-determination, justice, respect for human potential and dignity coupled with sustainable environmentalism. Human history across continents, civilisations and peoples are difficult to judge by standards that were largely non-existent at the start of some lifetimes today.  Maori were people who came to this land, largely eking out an existence, and were able to thrive because they, like all other human civilisations, applied reason to their environment.  

Nobody today is carrying the virtues or vices of their ancestors, wherever they came from. If you come from a lineage of successful doers of something it literally means nothing about your capability or your moral standing, and likewise if you come from a lineage of violent psychopaths.  Your chance to be or do something is now. You can carry a sense of wonder and joy about what may have been done (or indeed dismay and sadness), but you aren't them. You are, in part, a product of your parents, and your wider family, but if you claim pride that someone of your ethnic background invented the telephone or navigated across the seas, then it's false. You might want to commemorate ancestors who achieved great things, or to apologise for their behaviour, but separate your own esteem from those who actually achieved something, so you can achieve yourself.  The emerging trend of collectivist guilt or pride around people of your race or identity is empty at best, psychopathic at worst.

Your feelings have no impact on the merits of any ideas. If your reaction to an idea is that it caused you hurt feelings, and that's all you have, then you don't have an argument and you might just contemplate whether your hurt feelings are based on reason, evidence and a point of principle. Nobody can or should care how you feel about an idea before expressing it, assuming their idea isn't just to insult you.

By and large, it doesn't really matter what youth think on almost any issue. Most have little clue about history, the concept of opportunity cost, the complexity of a modern society and economy of billions of individuals, or how easily their own minds are sponges for the philosophies and ideas expressed at school, at home or in media they consume. There is a reason regimes ranging from the Nazis to the Chinese Communist Party to Ali Soilih of the Comoros embrace elevating youth as a vanguard for political change. They are easily duped to be finger-wagging, violent enforcers of a monolithic point of view. 

Almost nobody who talks about diversity means it. Diversity is ringfenced across the intersectionality of post-modern identity group collectivism. Diversity of ideas and perspectives from individuals is undervalued, as academia and increasingly public policy practitioners talk about "ways of thinking" linked to race or sex. 

Critical theory poisons public policy.  From the absurdity of a US university treating Asian students as "white" (because they outperform other ethnic minorities), to the almost complete void of interest in the underperformance of boys in most developed country education systems (PDF), the intellectual vacuum of critical theory in explaining differences in performances by group around power-race-sex intersectionality cliche's is palpable. The absurdity of it was seen in UK statistics that reveal that every ethnic group in Britain, other than Roma/traveller, outperform white British children in education. Post-modernist critical theory categorises everyone into multiple overlapping collectives, which together determine how oppressed or oppressive you are deemed to be, and if statistics don't bear that out, then they are ignored. Like Marxism-Leninism, which played a broken record of Orwellian doctrine to justify itself, critical theory cannot cope with evidence that demonstrates that entire collectives can thrive better than the "white supremacist" society they are being oppressed by. Critical theorists brushes aside talk about cultures of value education and achievement, or the value of stable family structures.  As with anything, there is value in understanding why people have tendencies to be more comfortable hiring those from a similar background to themselves, but critical theory is poison. 

Freedom of speech is always fragile when a culture of neo-authoritarian philosophical uniformity pervades the transmitters of education and power of universities, media and politics. Well intentioned endeavours to address threats and abuse towards people for whatever reason have now become opportunities to treat some opinions, some culture and some language as "unsafe". Like Chairman Mao's Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, the policing of language has become de riguer and expected. The debate about science and matauranga which resulted in the authors of the Listener listener being accused of racism was one example, as are the calls by trans-activists to de-platform those who reject their views.  Although the debate over so-called "hate speech" laws is an explicit example of how the state is seeking to ring fence speech, it is a culture of intolerance and lack of resilience about words that is infecting education and media across the Anglosphere.  It is important to stand up for the right to express views that many or most regard as distasteful, and for young people in particular, to be exposed to contrary opinions so they can be debated without being dragged into pejoratives or shut down because someone's words hurt their feelings. 

Socialism is still morally bankrupt and practically destructive, and capitalism is still the most moral and efficient social system discovered by humanity. Capitalism really is the unknown ideal.

Abortion isn't just a medical procedure it's a procedure to terminate a potential life and it is a debate about where the line is drawn between the foetus having rights as an individual or not. As someone who would almost certainly not exist had the laws been different when I was being born, it's actually worthy of a debate that it seems neither side interested in it is really that willing to have. That's why debate about its so fraught. It seems reasonable to treat abortions in the first trimester as being up to the mother, but in the last trimester to take into account the potential viability of the foetus, and somewhere in between is a point of debate. Unfortunately most on both sides of this debate take fundamentalist positions, ranging from treating a fertilised egg as a human life that overrides the mother, through to treating a foetus that would be viable outside the womb as being a rare case that isn't worth debating or acknowledging as having rights (for fear it brings down the entire debate).  

Anthropomorphic climate change is real, consequences are likely to be more negative than positive, but it isn't a catastrophe that needs every local authority to act.  It is New Zealand's nuclear free moment in the sense that, like the nuclear-free policy, whatever New Zealand does has zero effect on the issue. None, it doesn't matter.  What matters is being seen to be following along with New Zealand's trading partners, by embracing technology and markets to get out of the way of people transitioning away from fossil fuels where it is efficient to do so. New Zealand already has the tools to do this, it's just that the enviro-catastrophe movement isn't interested in actual reductions of emission, it's really a group of neo-puritans who want to ban, tax and subsidise their way to a much more controlled and centrally planned future.

Religious and political fundamentalism is dangerous and the still most dangerous fundamentalisms as seen in Islamism and in nationalism.  

Debates about trans-genderism are debates mostly about women and girls. When girls or women decide they wish to identify as men, that threatens no men, but when boys or men decided they wish to identify as women it has consequences, because of the gendered nature of violence against women and girls, and the reasons why certain property and activities have been protected from girls and women. There are other debates to be had about allowing children (those not yet adults) to permanently terminate their fertility, with medically unnecessary procedures and interventions, but the big issues are around where trans-women fit in spaces for women.  I have no skin in the debate, but given the vituperative reaction to those debating it, it's worth defending the right to the debate.

and finally

Neo-puritanism is growing as an ideological trend. Traditional puritanism sneered at drinking alcohol, (women) dressing provocatively, erotic material, gambling and other activities seen as contrary to good Christian living. Today, neo-puritanism is seen in health and environmental finger-waggers. The health finger waggers want less sugar, less fat, less salt, less taste or to finger-wag over eating animals or animal products.  The environmental puritans damn driving, flying, shopping, using plastic.  Most recently is the NZ Government's announcement that it is going to ban anyone who is 14 from 2023 onwards from buying tobacco products. However, they come together in the Green Party which finger wags over gambling, alcohol, "unhealthy" food and "unsustainable" living. The paradox being the party's advocacy for legalising cannabis, albeit to put it under the highly micro-managed regulatory environment wanted for alcohol. While there is nothing wrong in people getting messages about living healthily and especially to target communities with self-destructive practices, the tiresome winsome neo-fascism of modern day neo-puritans deserves to get a pushback, especially since in the age of Covid 19, health neo-puritanism has had its greatest (and all going well temporary) push.  

Unfortunately neo-puritanism is now about policing language (if it "causes harm").  To all neo-puritanism the right response is "fuck off and leave me alone" or a simple "this is none of your business".

PS: This is my 3000th post, albeit I have posted haphazardly in recent years whilst I have been earning a living, so thank you to all who have read and not complained about the evolution of my writing style.

08 December 2021

So Te Pāti Māori opposes one-person one vote liberal democracy?

 What to make of this?


The MP of Waiariki, thinks that to implement the Treaty of Waitangi, Parliament should have 50% representation from Tangata Whenua and 50% representation from Tangata Tiriti. Presumably his reason for doing this is because it "isn't fair" that a majority, in a liberal democracy, without constitutional limits on power, effectively mean the tyranny of numbers. This is a view that on the face of it, I sympathise with.  

Anyone who thinks a democracy can protect the rights of people under any jurisdiction, in itself, is a fool. So he has a point... perhaps if liberal democracy in New Zealand actually protected individual rights (which include the right of any group of individuals, such as Iwi, Hapū or Māori in general to organise on voluntary grounds), including property rights, then Waititi and his supporters could avoid fearing some sort of backlash, racist or otherwise, against living your life peacefully.

However my fear is that he doesn't really just want to be left alone, but actually wants to wield power much more widely, (although I am open to being proven otherwise, as he is far from being a conventional politician).

It's important to know what it means to want a 50/50 Parliament with half of the representation being Māori and the other half Tangata Tiriti, because according to his colleague, Debbie Ngarewa-Packer, it isn't the population being split in two, it's the population being split in three.

Before you jump to the conclusion that this is simply a nationalist grab of power that has nothing to do with liberal democracy, you need to understand it isn't just about race, it's actually about political belief as well. You might assume Tangata Tiriti are the people who are entitled to live in Aotearoa because the Treaty of Waitangi established a framework to enable peaceful co-existence between Māori and settlers, but apparently not.

Writing in the NZ Herald, Debbie Ngarewa-Packer (list MP), claims the population of New Zealand is classified into not two (!), but three types of people:

  • Tangata Whenua (people of the land. Māori);
  • Tangata Tiriti (people of the treaty); and
  • Everyone else.

Ngarewa-Packer wrote rather obliquely what she meant by all three groups in that same article.  It's worth quoting to get the gist of her meaning:

Tangata tiriti are people who don't argue the existence of Te Tiriti o Waitangi as our founding document. They promote the partnerships it intended, moving away from transactional engagements, preferring lifelong relationships.

They are secure in themselves and know we are equals, one as tangata of the whenua (people of the land) and one as tangata of the tiriti (people of the treaty). ...

Tangata tiriti understand te tiriti didn't create special rights for Māori - we already had Māori social structures and systems of lore in place....

They're comfortable loudly declaring they're recovering racists, and they teach anti-racism, extremely secure in knowing their place side by side with tangata whenua ushering in a new Aotearoa.

Tangata tiriti accept and appreciate the reason they live in Aotearoa is because te tiriti gives them citizenship and mana equal to tangata whenua. This doesn't denounce their own culture, it strengthens their stand on the whenua they've chosen to live on. 

So it's not just about not being Māori, you have to buy into a whole ideological set of beliefs and views to earn the status of Tangata Tiriti. This includes accepting the reason you get to live in NZ is because the Treaty gives you citizenship on the land you've "chosen" to live on. 

The fact you may have been born here (or indeed your parents were as well) and may be born of any mix of ethnic or migrant origin is irrelevant to her. Identify as Māori, and you have an automatic right to live in Aotearoa, but if not, you have "permission". It's not "blood and soil" nationalism, but it certainly isn't "equal".

It is akin to granting someone a residency visa,  you should be grateful "we" let you stay, but your entitlement to stay depends on you behaving.

Part of it is that you need to embrace the Māori nationalist version of "original sin". No matter your background or your thoughts or deeds, or being English, Pasifika, Chinese, Jewish, Indian in descent you are a "recovering racist". You must admit it, and preferably evangelise to others about your and their racism, and of course your "privilege". Although it's unclear if being distantly descended from settlers in the 19th century who occupied land taken from Māori is more privilege than having fled Vietnam on a boat in 1976.

So that's your path to being Tangata Tiriti, although it's far from clear how that could be policed.

Of course, like mild nationalists, the definition of the "other" group is more by inference. It's everyone who doesn't support this view of the New Zealand constitution or the rights of citizens or politics. If you don't think you are racist, don't think you have NZ citizenship as of right, rather than permission, and don't buy into Māori-only seats at local government, then you're the others. You're not Tangata Tiriti, you are racists and possibly white supremacists ("white" being quite a wide definition presumably). There isn't much tolerance in the Ngarewa-Packer world for debate and discussion about the role of the state and individuals.

The whole ideological foundation of this is not one that treats the smallest minority as the individual, and individuals each with indivisible rights and freedoms, but one that collectivises everyone into groups, each with different rights.

Now I have quite some support for Māori wanting control over their own affairs, including their property and to run their own institutions, as long as it shrinks the central government role (and taxation alongside it), it's all consistent with my philosophy. I really don't care if Waititi or Ngarewa-Packer and others want to live their lives in peace with businesses, schools, hospitals etc. I don't care about your race or background if you want to do that, I want a state that simply protects us from each other.

but I do care if the purpose of this is to create an ethno-nationalist defined autocracy, where some citizens are more equal than others. Even if the Tangata Tiriti category is magnanimously expanded to just mean everyone who isn't Tangata Whenua, it still destroys equality before the law and government. A government which gives more weight to your votes because of your ancestry is a racist government, it doesn't treat people as individuals, it treats them as members of collectives, and that's a path that leads to tyranny.

It's certainly not a view held by any other political party in Parliament, I should hope.

30 November 2021

What to hope from a new National Leadership?

National almost certainly will lead the next change in Government, so it matters.  

So what could I hope for from Luxon, Willis and the others?

Here's some ideas...

  1. A declaration of principles that form the basis for making decisions on policies.  I don't remotely expect it to be anything as radical as where I would go, but I'd expect some recognition that individual freedom matters alongside personal responsibility for your life, that a property-owning market-oriented liberal democracy is worth promoting and protecting, that people should be treated on their merits and their deeds, not their background, their family, race, sex or other irrelevant factors. I'd like to hope that there is a strong belief in robust debate and freedom of speech, that seeks not to frighten people into silence, but also a belief in playing the ball not the person.  
  2. Differentiation from Labour based on principles.  This means defaulting not to spending more taxpayers' money but getting out of the way of individuals, businesses, community groups, Iwi and others in addressing social issues. That the answer to problems isn't necessarily more state, a new Ministry of X, a new law, a new tax or a new benefit or subsidy.  A belief that making a profit isn't a bad thing, but defrauding people is. A belief that there should be consequences for harming others, such as not being allowed to remain in a taxpayer owned house if you abuse, threaten or become a nuisance to your neighbours.  
  3. Policy that is thoughtful not knee-jerk opposition. Take Three Waters. The status quo is a disgrace, and National implemented Watercare for Auckland some years ago, albeit it is far from perfect. So just make local government do the same for their water assets, give them the powers of SOEs to borrow and spend, and enforce rates being cut if people are to be billed for water.  It's easy to lazily object, it's much harder to present a solution that achieves change that is sustainable. Which leads right onto....
  4. Don't leave reform to Labour. Labour ALWAYS reforms sectors when in power.  It's about to seriously unionise industrial relationships with Australian-style monopoly union agreements, it will merge RNZ and TVNZ, there is Three Waters, it is funding Kiwirail directly from the National Land Transport Fund, it is merging and abolishing DHBs. Stop being a party of next to no change, and present a vision of structural reform that fits with your principles, to serve the interests of taxpayers, of consumers and to enable competition and choice for the public.
  5. Consider your vision of the Constitutional relationship between the Crown and Maori (if you have one).  You can do nothing and concede you believe in nothing and let Labour constantly define it, you can bluntly oppose the Labour vision of unilaterally redefining the relationship between Maori and the state, and accept the Critical Race Theory view that is so prevalent, or you can proclaim a different, optimistic vision, of Maori self-determination that doesn't follow the "Us, Allies and Racists" vision Te Pati Maori has of the people of this country. Don't get too tied up in the use of the word Aotearoa, it's important people can choose freely what language they use, but do note the importance of the growth of Maori power, influence and language use as being in a way that wont threaten the rights of others. You have to do it.
  6. Reform education on a model of devolving power. It's free schools, but it is also devolving as much power as possible to schools, stringing them together with a light-handed view of common curriculum and testing standards. Allow new schools to be set up and for school funding to be transparent, regardless of school ownership. Devolve teacher pay and conditions to schools. Abolish zoning, give schools free reign to expand and contract. If you don't think or know why education reform matters then ACT deserves to beat you.
  7. Climate change should be about moving with the world, not ideological sacrifice to virtue signal.  Abolish the Climate Change Commission, review use of the ETS and focus your policies on the ETS and consider the net impacts of policies on climate change.  Don't worry about Greenpeace and the other enviro-anti-capitalists, because they'll hate you anyway, and they are just adjuncts of the Green Party and claim what you do is causing wildfires and hurricanes, but don't put up with that. Make it clear what you are doing, and why, and if people want to walk, bike, put up solar panels and take steps to reduce their own emissions, then good for them, they'll pay less under the Emissions Trading Scheme (which most people don't understand). 
  8. Reform the public service. It has grown exponentially under Labour, in part due to Covid, but it has tacked on so much that is unnecessary and a drag on taxpayers.  Consider that the Office of Classification (the censor) tweets film reviews, and the Human Rights Commission comments on housing policy. It's bloated, and the coming need to balance the budget must come from that not from tax rises which leads to...
  9. No tax rises.  Given the state of public finances, you can't afford to promise any significant tax cuts, unless you look to completely reform Working for Families etc, which you aren't likely to do.  So be the party that promises to keep a lid on taxes, and you should legislate for inflation adjusted tax bands at the very least.  Once the budget is in surplus, you can then start lowering taxes.
10. Covid rules are truly temporary. Whatever system of rules are in place at the time of the next General Election, they need to be proportionate and fit for purpose. The easing of the pandemic should be clearly followed by moving not just to "Green" status, but to a future where MIQ has limited if any role, where vaccine mandates are unnecessary. It's not ignoring Covid and taking no steps, but recognising that a pandemic justifies a temporary response and when that is no longer needed, then the laws supporting it are no longer needed either.


and this is very mild indeed

04 November 2021

Three Waters: The wrong solution to the right problem...

I've already written about what the problem is and what is wrong about the Three Waters proposals and what an alternative could be.  So let's be brief here...

There is a major problem with the status quo

The records of territorial authorities in managing fresh, waste and stormwater infrastructure vary wildly, and some are absolutely dire. People have died as a result, and annually thousands get sick.  Anyone who says the status quo is ok is kidding themselves.

Local authority democratic management of the Three Waters is democratic socialism at work notice the Greens are opposed to Three Waters because it challenges their own philosophical point of view.  This is not a model anyone who believes in capitalism, free enterprise, individual rights, user pays and less government should ever support. So National and ACT supporting winding back the reforms is one thing, but it is pure political opportunism to not suggest that there needs to be fundamental reform.

ACT after all was once founded by some of the greatest reformers in New Zealand's history, but that seems to have been forgotten in favour of tinkering which only has merits around the edges.

In the 1970s and 1980s, electricity blackouts were far more common, primarily because the incentives and governance around local authority politically controlled power retailers and distributors, receiving power from a central government politically controlled generator and grid operator, were appalling. Gold plating in some places, underinvestment in others, with undercharging of residential consumers, overcharging of commercial consumers.  That's democratic control of the means of production, distribution and supply, and it's a failure. Chronic underinvestment, lack of innovation, service breakdowns and no serious accountability. 

This is in spite of Labour giving us in 2002 the Power of General Competence for local government in the Local Government Act 2002, which gave local government to pursue any activity to advance the social, economic, environmental and cultural "well-being" of their community. That statist mumbo-jumbo encouraged local government to take the eye off of core infrastructure, and engage in whatever they liked that they thought was good for everyone. It is hardly a surprise that water wasn't that sexy to politicians who were empowered to get involved in any sector they saw fit.

The Clark and Key Government's effectively endorsed the status quo.  The current system is a FAILURE of the philosophy of this government, that political control of infrastructure and funding services through taxation, not user fees, and running services based on bureaucratic and political incentives, not commercial, is preferable to the much-hated model of free enterprise, private investment and capitalism.

You're absolutely deluded if you think there is real accountability in a local authority politicians risking being voted out because the sewers are broken.  After all they are ALL responsible, and ALL pass the buck either to officials or central government for not giving them more of other people's money. By and large, many local politicians are statists more often than not they distrust markets, distrust the private sector and don't like losing control. It is not surprising that in some cases the lack of water infrastructure hold up property development, because far too many local politicians want to allocate infrastructure through central planning funded by taxes, not commercial incentives funded by user fees.

Water should not be subject to political control from either local or central government.

So what about the Iwi involvement in governance?

So why is Minister Mahuta and the Ardern Government looking to turn water on its head, to take it off of local government (in practice) and to share governance with Mana Whenua? Presumably because she sees this as a way of strengthening the application of the Government's philosophy around the constitutional arrangements of the country, by implementing the concept of Te Tiriti partnership in governance of a sector of the economy, even if it doesn't involve any assets owned by Mana Whenua. 

Obviously water in rivers, lakes, harbours and other waterways are deemed a taonga, but these do not define water infrastructure assets. Those assets affect waterways, in particular either drawing from them or discharging into them, but that's a reason why Mana Whenua should absolutely NOT control Three Waters, but have a role in applying their property rights up against water service providers.

There is an obvious role for any entities in the water sector to consult and engage with Mana Whenua regarding the use of public waterways, and discharges into them. Indeed, the idea of Mana Whenua having ownership rights on at least some such waterways that need to be respected by water entities is entirely consistent with private property rights and a free market economy.  However, to blur this by giving them a say in governance of the water entities blurs this, and weakens accountability regarding outcomes over waterways. Although Peter Cresswell is right to consider providing some Mana Whenua control as a form of privatisation, it is a fiction because they can neither sell it, nor hold any financial accountability for failure (nor benefit from success). Mana Whenua are obviously consumers of water infrastructure as most everyone else is (whether as individuals consuming water and waste water services, or property owners protected by stormwater infrastructure). 

There is no more reason to include Mana Whenua in governance here than in other sectors of the economy. Either be transparent about it, set up companies and hand over shares (and let them get dividends and pay tax on that income), or just ensure the consultation and engagement process obligations exist for the new entities.  It is difficult to see what is added by including them in an opaque governance process other than the potential for cronyism, indecision and blurring of interests between consumers, property owners, custodians of waterways and the provision of infrastructure distinct from those waterways. The irony is that this Government has pushed and pressured local authorities to introduce separate ethnically defined Maori wards for local government, but is now seeking to dilute local authority power, and so the scope of influence of those elected to such wards. It would be much more effective to include Mana Whenua participation with the regulator, as this ought to be the key entity monitoring and enforcing performance around drinking water quality and discharges from waste and stormwater. Good public policy avoids conflicts of interest, so it is much better if Mana Whenua do not have a governance role in water assets, but rather a regulatory role as property custodians of waterways.

This appears to be an opportunistic move by Mahuta to appease the Maori caucus and sideswipe Te Pati Maori (or even ingratiate herself with it, if Labour needs Te Pati Maori support after the next election, which is an entirely plausible scenario).  

It's a poor governance model for water and for Maori, as consumers of water services, but also custodians of waterways.

Success depends on getting the right level of investment and in ending taxpayer funding of water infrastructure

Is there a case for reform? Sure there is.  In fact it is palpable.

So reform of water is needed, the current model is broken, and reform ought to take water away from being funded by ratepayers and be funded by consumer, through user pays of some form of another.  Matt Burgess from the NZ Initiative is right that a mix of commercial incentives and user pays are necessary to achieve the purported goals of the reforms.  He further notes in NZ Herald (paywall) how local authorities have used the inability to pay for water infrastructure as a reason to delay or oppose property development, harming housing supply. 

However, Labour politicians have for years been distancing themselves from successful reforms their predecessors implemented in other sectors that have never been seriously revisited, such as in electricity.  The bogeys of unpopular privatisations from the 1990s haunt the 2020s, even though this isn't privatisation, there is great fear there could be privatisation.

However, there are two approaches to this.  One is simpler, just leave it up to local authorities to decide whether or not to own shares (Three Waters "rules out" shares!) in water companies, or to divest themselves of it to use in other sectors.  This has happened with ports, airports and bus companies.

I much prefer issuing shares to both water consumers of fresh and waste water (those who own property or rent properties they live in) and property owners (for stormwater), and let them decide whether the public wants to own water infrastructure.

This is a complete anathema to Labour, the Greens and doesn't even seem to warm the cockles of much of the National Party - genuine PUBLIC ownership by giving the public shares. Shares in companies that charge for the use of their infrastructure, of both private and government landowners (Councils will have to pay for stormwater infrastructure protecting their roads, for example).  

I believe the public would embrace being given shares in these companies. Now they will need to raise capital, but they will be in a much better position to do this with the powers to borrow, powers to directly charge for water infrastructure and to raise capital in markets.

Watercare Services are already partway there, but the 2002 Local Government Act diluted the provisions for Local Authority Trading Enterprises, hindering their ability to borrow against income.  Watercare services could fairly easily be converted into the shareholder model.

We've been here before - with roads - and Labour abandoned reform initiated by National, to take control of local roads off of local authorities.

The case for reform of water has parallels to the case for reform of local roads that the Shipley Government tried to implement up till 1999.  

The Shipley Government had a proposal called Better Transport Better Roads which sought to take local roads off of territorial authorities and placed them into half a dozen or so roads companies.  The difference being that central government was looking to put its own roads (the State Highways) into a roads company too.  The roads companies would be required to deliver high standards of service to road user, and would be fully funded from road user fees (road user charges and fuel tax), but empowered to let road users choose between paying road user taxes or paying them directly.

A major flaw of the proposal was that it wouldn't regulate rates down after removing rates funding of roads, but you can see the parallels with the Three Waters proposal.  The merits were that National saw that councils in many cases didn't adequately fund local roads, and that there was too much diversion of council attention onto politically sexy activities (stadiums, conference centres, art works and sports events), moreover it wanted to move to a model of full user pays - and that roads ran as businesses, with the ability to borrow and directly charge road users, would do that.

Local authorities HATED it, SO DID LABOUR. Labour complained that it was taking away local democratic control and would be a precursor to privatisation.  Of course roads companies weren't going to be sharing governance with Mana Whenua either.

This is a chance for worthwhile reform that engages the public and gets incentives right

But the Ardern Government has been dishonest with local government. It consulted, and didn't like the response it got, so it is doing what it wants anyway. Minister Mahuta claimed on TV that 30 options were looked at, but only a handful are depicted in the consultation documents. 

It is also completely uninterested in letting the allocation of resources and investment be determined by user preferences and market forces.  Water reform in the UK has been extraordinarily successful, with similar issues to New Zealand, through commercialisation and privatisation. It's pure blinkered ideology to ignore that, but Labour need not privatise water to get many of the benefits of a commercial model that applies user pays.

Three Waters reforms as they stand risk creating entities with poor incentives for efficiency, poor incentives for high quality customer service and poor incentives to avoid gold-plating or green-plating investment from funding provided by central government. There will be poor incentives for users to use water more wisely, and without generating a return on capital little indication as to what are the most efficient use of resources across the sector.

However, given the grotesque level of malinvestment being directed into other sectors (see Kiwirail), it's hardly surprising that the Government doesn't really understand the merits of stepping back and letting a sector be professionalised away from political and bureaucratic control of investment.

26 October 2021

Extinction Rebellion is a club of self-congratulating sociopaths

The passive aggressive militant wing of the Green Party - Extinction Rebellion (XR) - is looking to disrupt Wellington... yes Wellington... in the next few days, to make its latest "point" that nobody is taking climate change sufficiently seriously. 

However, it is literally impossible to appease this group of sociopaths, who follow on from the British equivalent that has been generating a lot of news, because of their passive aggressive blocking of major roads, stopping people going about their lawful business and generating MORE emissions due to the queues and idling of vehicles as a result of their aggression.

You see XR isn't a protest group intended to win public opinion, or change public policy, it exists to disrupt and it exists to generate mayhem.  IR isn't, of course, a terrorist group, because it doesn't intend to kill and destroy property, but it DOES act in ways that may consequentially result in people's death and it harms their property.  UK IR founder, Roger Hallam admitted several weeks ago that he would block an ambulance carrying a dying patient, without blinking.  This is full-scale sociopathic misanthropic behaviour.  But why?

In 2019, IR stopped Wellington, extensively disrupting its main bus corridor.  Buses...  XR demands at the time were reported as follows by the NZ Herald:

The Extinction Rebellion movement makes three demands to governments.

Activists want them to "tell the truth" by declaring a climate emergency, to act and halt biodiversity loss and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and to create and be led by decisions of a Citizens' Assembly on climate and ecological justice.

So the first has happened, the govt launched a bioversity strategy in 2020, it has a draft Emissions Reduction Plan (which is unnecessary, but still fits into XR's political persuasion) and the only thing that hasn't been done is to set up a "Citizens' Assembly on climate and ecological justice" (which XR, of course, would want to dominate).  New Zealand HAS a citizen's assembly, it's called Parliament, and it elected a majority Labour Government, supported by the Green Party, that buys into XR's philosophy and agenda.

So is XR satisfied? Of course not.  You see it isn't interested in public policy or even using the tools of a liberal democracy to convince people of the merits of their argument.  It's something else perhaps ...


It's a club, it's a social club for angry sociopathic misanthropes, whose hatred for other human beings, their choices and their priorities is absolutely palpable. They don't care what their impact is on others, they have just given up on the processes of a free society of using free speech and the processes of parliamentary democracy to convince the public and decision makers of whatever merits their positions hold. For they have no serious demands, after all when politicians essentially meet their demands, they create new ones, it's endless, because it's not about politics, public policy or even the public. It is about them.

The members join this organisation in part to support a cause, but what they find is a community of like minded people, who share disdain for the general public, for mainstream politics, and they are bound in their misanthropy and their thrill from planning ever more disruptive and extreme activities to bond themselves to each other.  This explains how the Insulate Britain (XR by another name) mob have taken to gluing themselves to the road, which is going from misanthopy to masochism.  It's not rational to do this in relationship to promoting a cause, except by the acclaim it generates within their social circle and associated organisations, like Greenpeace and the Green Party itself. Some members of the public may support their cause, but many will despise them, which they love - for it mirrors what they think of the public.

The media attention they get is gold, because it means they get recognised within their own club and associated like-minded more moderate clubs. That gains social status, for the reward of that is worth it for them. 

You see political and protest groups are social clubs which give members esteem for being more and more staunch and attention seeking. It's what binds radical political organisations that are outside mainstream thought, like communists, fascists, nationalists, religious zealots and the like - and XR IS a group of this-worldly-religious new age misanthropic zealots. Take this from the XR Wellington website:

we condemn racism, and advocate for the impoverished and the non-violation of Papatūānuku. We are people who belong to the Great Pacific Ocean.

Treating the planet as a God, to not be violated and believing they are owned by an ocean is just loopy new age bullshit.  Then ...

We are agitating that there is a return to the etiquette and lore established by the forebears pertaining to our obligations bestowed on us by a greater power. We encourage unified community, folk, and national undertakings.

Only comfortably off, elite, middle-class new age purveyors of mysticism could swallow this quasi-religious nonsense, with a suffix of collectivist hippy talk.

it continues...

Loving kindness to all life and life systems is paramount, it is just that we devote time to mourn the loss of our siblings, of nations, of all life. From utter grief proper action will emerge to truly remedy our condition.

Loving kindness except to human beings peacefully going about their lives, making a living, engaging with family, friends and others. Do they mourn all life? Including the thousands of microbes and tiny insects they kill daily with their bodies? Is this grief just an exercise in reinforced group onanism?

But then the truth comes out...

Disregard and omit accusing and belittling one another, because the real blemish on Papatūānuku’s bountiful countenance is humanity and his exploitation and corruption. We are on a course of discovering and exercising how to ameliorate this affliction, whilst we rectify and perfect the canon of human regulation.

Don't be rude, because we hate humanity using the planet to survive, which is an "affliction". Never fear, they are going to "perfect human regulation".  Where have we heard that before?  Methinks they want a Year Zero

These are sociopaths, they deserve to be ridiculed, laughed at and scorned for their sociopathy. It is a club of well off misanthropes who get pleasure from distressing others, harming them and getting publicity for their extremism. 

So if you see any, just laugh at them, but if they get in your way, recognise it isn't peaceful, it is passive aggression - it is a form of violence to block people's freedom of movement. 

This is what they deserve.... just move them out of the way and get on with life...

oh and don't vote Green, because the entire philosophy of XR is just the Green Party philosophy writ large.  

16 October 2021

Emissions Reduction Plan on transport isn't really about cutting emissions

With the NZ Government releasing its draft Emissions Reduction Plan that it intends to present at the COP26 conference in Glasgow, it's worth reviewing what the Government wants to do to us so it can proclaim bountiful levels of virtue signalling, although New Zealand's significance at this is vastly exaggerated by its politicians. This is all about the USA, China, India, the EU, Russia and Brazil after all

I'll leave aside for now whether the target of "net zero" will actually generate any net benefits or not, for now take it as given that the Government wants to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs). I'll also just focus on the transport policy proposals.

There has been much wailing from radical environmentalists about how weak it is, which you might think means you should be relaxed about it. However, you should not, at least in terms of transport policy.

You see it was some years ago that the only economically rational intervention needed to reduce emissions in transport was introduced – the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS). The ETS effectively puts a cap on emissions across around 50% of NZ’s emissions, including all domestic transport emissions. 

If you fill your car with petrol or diesel, part of the price includes the cost for fuel distributors of buying emission units that you effectively use when you burn fossil fuels.  There is a fixed supply of these units, and Government policy is to reduce this supply over time (although there was a blip lately), so the price will go up. 

As the price goes up, businesses and consumers respond, which for transport means they might change the vehicle the own or use, drive less, drive differently, change modes of transport, or just pay up and save money elsewhere.  

These changes would mean the vehicle fleet would change, or there would be more use of public transport (putting fare revenue up), or more walking and cycling (increasingly the economic merits of improving those facilities), or there will less demand for more road capacity or carparks, or people will make savings elsewhere. As demand evolves, then so will how existing infrastructure and services evolve, as they always have.

However, nobody joins the Green Party trusting individuals and businesses to simply make the best choices and to be free. You join the Green Party because you believe it is ethical and necessary to use the power of the state to compel people to do what you think is best for them. Banning and taxing what is “bad”, subsidising and making compulsory what is “good”, the Greens are fundamentally illiberal, and this Labour Government has outsourced climate change policy to that ideology. After all, the Nnew Labour Party of Jim Anderton Jacinda Ardern is a party of the big mother state.

The proposals here represent the most radical shift in transport policy and regulation of the transport sector in over forty years, taking it away from the current model, which seeks to reflect user decisions and choice, to one that regulates, taxes and subsidises planners' choices.

So let me start by reminding you throughout all of this, NOTHING the CCC proposes here will reduce emissions without using the ETS to reduce the emissions units available (which would put up the price of petrol and diesel). ALL of these proposals below reflect an ideology of central command and control, all for ZERO net impact. 

You might think the Climate Change Commission (CCC) would be focused primarily on reducing emissions, but its strategy for transport is much more than that (p.54):

Decarbonising transport also offers opportunities to improve the wellbeing of New Zealanders. Air pollution, crashes and congestion from traffic impose a large cost on our health, environment and economy. For many people and communities, transport is not affordable or accessible. The transition could make transport more inclusive, safe, healthy and resilient, and better support economic activity. 

Now if reducing emissions was seen as generating other benefits that may be all well and good, but this rather glib statement is used to justify a level of intervention in transport policy that has been unheard of in New Zealand for over forty years.  

You might see the link between lower GHG and lower air pollution, but fewer crashes?  For example, reducing the number of road crashes by reducing the amount of driving is like reducing the number of workplace accidents by reducing the number of jobs. Less congestion could ONLY come if there were a significant drop in motorised road traffic, which starts to give you a hint about what this is really all about.

The claim that for “many people and communities” transport is not affordable or accessible is equally glib and nonsensical.  Where's the evidence? Are there chronic problems in people accessing work, school or other facilities? If so you'd think they'd be mass unemployment and businesses struggling to access labour. New Zealand per capita car ownership is amongst the highest in the world.  However, I doubt the CCC thinks owning, let alone using a car is “inclusive” or “safe” or “healthy”.

The CCC's plan focuses on three main strategies to reduce emissions:

1. Reducing reliance on cars and supporting people to walk, cycle and use public transport. 
2. Rapidly adopting low-emission vehicles and fuels. 
3. Beginning work now to decarbonise heavy transport and freight. 

SO let's start...

13 October 2021

Mandatory vaccines?

First let me be clear, I'm in favour of Covid 19 vaccines.  Sure, a tiny minority have severe side effects and a small number of people can't take the Pfizer vaccine (and that's important, because government should not act in ways that are harmful to such individuals), but by and large it is highly beneficial for there to be widespread vaccines to reduce deaths, hospitalisation and illness from Covid 19.

The bigger philosophical and political question is whether they should be compulsory or whether the state and private businesses and citizens have the right to require vaccination status to be demonstrated to access their services or property.  This is where individual rights collide, and the role of the state SHOULD be to ensure the proper delineation between those rights.

For any owners of private property it should be very simple, it should be up to the owner as to whether or not to require vaccination status to enter that property, whether as a customer or not. It is your property after all.  The basis for your decision should be up to you and the public will decide whether or not to go there. Assuming New Zealand achieves vaccination rates in at least the high 80s%, then many will decide that it isn't safe to enter some premises that are laissez-faire about vaccinations, other may be relaxed about doing so. So be it.  It is private property.

What about employment? Any private employer that wants to only hire people who are vaccinated, should feel free to do so, as long as it is explicit in the employment contract that vaccination is required or that the employer may, from time to time, require employees to take preventive steps to protect other employees or the public. This should be clear for any new hires or any existing hires with such a term in their contracts. For existing hires with no such terms, it is problematic to require vaccination, but it is not problematic to take other health and safety measures voluntarily if there is concern about a non-vaccinated employee, or indeed if there is a risk to the business because customers do not want service from a non-vaccinated employee.  Ultimately, a business should not be able to force an existing employee to get vaccinated, but that employee also cannot force the business to act in ways that undermine it.

So what about the state sector?  If it is treated like the private sector, then the same rules should apply to employment. New employees can be required to be vaccinated and existing ones cannot, unless there is provision in their contract to enable it. However, given the state imposes lockdowns on the entire population and businesses because it treats Covid 19 as a national emergency, it seems only reasonable that those that work on the frontline, for the state, in enforcing this, are required to take steps to minimise transmission of Covid 19.

Those working at the border, Police and other emergency services, managed isolation and quarantine all should be vaccinated, as they are at the frontline of the state's strategy to contain Covid.  Beyond that, it is rational for all working in the public health system to also be required to be vaccinated (although it should be possible for private medical professionals to operate, without taxpayer funding, without vaccinations if they so choose).  Taxpayer funded private facilities should be little different, except that a private facility should be able to opt out of receiving taxpayer funds if it wants to operate sans-Covid vaccines.  That's private property rights.

What about everything else? Teachers and school staff should be a matter for the owner of the schools. The state can mandate vaccines for state schools and require those who want to continue receiving taxpayer funding to have such a mandate, but it should not mandate it for fully independent schools (or anyone providing private tuition).

Why does this matter? Because private property rights, contract law and personal sovereignty matter. You should absolutely be able to prohibit anyone from accessing your property, including business, without being vaccinated (or if you so wish, if they are vaccinated), but you reap the consequences if nobody wants to go there.  You should absolutely be able to choose only to hire people who are vaccinated or who are not, but existing employees should not be forced to be vaccinated, unless there is provision in their employment contracts enabling this.  Employers might change the duties of the unvaccinated, and take steps to protect other staff or customers if need be, and if the business loses customers because it doesn't have a fully-vaccinated staff, it might also decide if it needs to make staff redundant as a result, but it shouldn't come to compulsion.  

Further to that, whilst it is entirely consistent with the defence of a country that entry into it can be made dependent on both Covid tests and proof of vaccination, it should not be necessary for citizens or permanent residents (but other options, such as managed isolation, can be used to protect the country from infection). It should also not be necessary to have a "vaccine passport" within the country's borders, except for businesses that choose to use it to enter their property (that includes airlines and bus companies).

So no, there should be no mandatory vaccines for private citizens not employed by the state, nor mandatory vaccine passports to travel internally, but property owners and individuals have every right to impose their own rules on who they allow onto their property, who they hire, trade with and interact with.

You don't have a right to force someone to get vaccinated, but you also don't have the right to force someone to employ or trade with you if you choose not to.

06 October 2021

Taiwan looks like being the critical test of the USA's resolve

Since the death of Chairman Mao, beyond a few moments of tension, the governments of the People's Republic of China (PRC) and the Republic of China (Taiwan) (ROC) have, until recently, by and large, accepted the status quo with some degree of comfort.  I'll use their official names because it matters, and because the efforts to control the language emanate from Beijing, and I'd rather treat the two governments the way competing governments for territory have been treated elsewhere - as two sovereign states.
You see the Korean Peninsula has two governments on it, both claim de-jure legitimacy over the entire territory of Korea. The Republic of Korea (ROK) in Seoul and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) in Pyongyang, both being rivals who have fought to the death to conquer and destroy the other. The DPRK to this day displays its maps including the whole peninsula, as it claims the south is illegally occupied by the United States which governs the south under its "fascist puppet-clique".

China has the same, albeit on a much less balanced scale. The ROK and DPRK both govern roughly similar sizes of territory, if not populations and not remotely economies. The PRC on the other hand is a giant against the minnow of the ROC. Like its ideological comrades in Pyongyang, the PRC has never treated the territory of the ROC (Taiwan) as anything other than renegades that need reunification into the motherland.  The ROC on the other hand is barely the ROC at all. Brave but unrealistic rhetoric of "retaking the mainland" faded away after the semi-fascist President Chiang Kai-Shek died in 1975, given the US stopped seriously thinking about assisting in that endeavour after the early 1950s.  Very few in Taiwan now think that the ROC will once again fly its flag over Nanjing and replace the PRC, what they really want is to be left in peace, which is only reasonable.

ROC (Taiwan) today is a sovereign state that is in so many ways unlike the stultifying military state of Chiang Kai-Shek, being a vibrant liberal democracy, open economy and basic freedoms that are absent under the PRC.  Whether or not people in Taiwan want to declare formal independence and unshackle themselves from the legacy of the ROC wouldn't change how they manage their own affairs, except for one shadow overhanging them - the PRC's demand that they succumb to its control.

Xi Jinping has clearly made a play, far beyond the rhetoric of previous PRC leaders, to take military steps to take (not retake, as the communists never had it) Taiwan and the islets under its control.  Let's be clear, the PRC never revoked its "right" to do so, but that had largely been rhetorical.  Note also that from the late 1990s through the 2000s relations between the PRC and the ROC improved significantly, with direct trade and investment allowed, along with direct mail, flights and travel permitted. The pre-Xi strategy regarding Taiwan was to treat it like "just another Chinese province" in the hope that this would make people of Taiwan feel more relaxed about a future with the PRC, but also interlink their economies so the economic dependency of Taiwan would shift from exporting to the world, to trading with the mainland.

Xi has now blown all of this up in his quest to take a more aggressive stance.  What is Xi's motivation? Is it to distract from problems at home? Is it to claim glory that even Mao could not succeed?  Is it to demonstrate that the PRC of the 21st century can be the leading power in the Western Pacific and show its neighbours that the USA is no longer in charge?  Probably all of this, and given this it is absolutely essential that the USA, with its allies, make it clear to Xi that none of this will be accepted.

It should be crystal clear to Beijing that any military aggression towards ROC forces, or territory, will be met with a military response in support of the government in Taipei. Why? Because the international order depends on it, and because the consequences of the alternative are likely to be much more destructive to international peace and security, than taking on Beijing on a limited scale.

What matters?

1.  International rule of law and the value of peace: The PRC can proclaim endlessly that Taiwan is an "internal affair", and there is no shortage of proclamations from Beijing about the principle of "non-interference in each others' internal affairs" (a principle Beijing has broken more than once in many countries), but fundamentally ROC (Taiwan) is de-facto and de-jure an independent sovereign state. It has all of the characteristics of a sovereign state, and only lack extensive international formal diplomatic recognition SOLELY because the PRC prohibits it. The Cold War saw most countries recognise the PRC when the PRC and ROC were in diplomatic competition, because the PRC was more useful as a bulwark against the USSR.  Since the end of the Cold War, the growth in the PRC economy has meant this has continued to be more important than ROC (Taiwan).  The ROC dropped the insistence of choosing between Beijing and Taipei for diplomatic relations, but the PRC continues to bully the international community into the legal fiction that the ROC (Taiwan) isn't a sovereign state and has no rights that Beijing does not "let" it have.   So from that, the idea that any government can use military force to address its dispute with another government is unacceptable under international law and the UN Charter.  

Furthermore, it doesn't even matter if the PRC treats the ROC (Taiwan) as its own, it does not justify military force to win an internal dispute. The reality that Beijing knows is that the ROC (Taiwan) is independent, because it acts independently.  Countries cannot be allowed to just declare that they have the right to inflict force on another sovereign entity to take its territory.  It's a norm of international law, and if the PRC wants to be a respected member of the international community, the latter must make it clear than attacking ROC  (Taiwan) territory is an unacceptable risk to international peace and security (even though Beijing would veto any action in the UN Security Council.  The message must be loud and clear that no power can just exercise force to take territory and try to overthrow government that it doesn't like. Russia did the former with barely a blink internationally, under the Obama era, Biden cannot let this happen to Taiwan.

2. Dissuading further aggression:  If the PRC can "get away" with taking parts of the territory under the control of ROC (Taiwan) or go further, then it will embolden it to go further. It has territorial claims of India and Pakistan, and of course its ongoing active claims in the South China Sea.  There is little sense that Beijing is expansionist in the way the USSR was, but the willingness to use military force (and the likely casualties from that) if not resisted by forces outside Taiwan will generate new interest in settling scores or supporting those that may want to settle scores.  As crazy as it is, this might include the DPRK seeing Beijing as willing to back it, once more, in an attack on the ROK.  Intervention is about deterring more military force. If Beijing takes Taiwan, there are the Senkaku (Diaoyu) Islands just to its north-east, controlled by Japan, that are claimed by Beijing (and in fact Taipei too). Expect them to be under pressure, and if the US wouldn't defend Taiwan, would it really defend the Senkaku Islands? If not, how vulnerable would Japan feel and how abandoned by the US?

3. Pax Americana remains intact:  Since 1945 the Pacific has been dominated by the peace established by US victory in WW2. The USSR had limited impact on that, but the PRC wants to remould the international order to suit its needs, one of those is to expand its sphere of influence and to demonstrate that it is the leading naval and air power in East Asia.  If the US demonstrates that its commitment to Taiwan's defence is toothless, then it will be a transformative end to Pax Americana.  The implications of that aren't just in the US feeling shame and impotent, but the reaction of other governments in Asia.  The ROK, Japan, the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, India, Vietnam will all wonder if they are safe in a Pax Sinica (Marxist-Leninist). Given the PRC has WMDs, there would be some fear in Seoul, Tokyo and Delhi that the US's nuclear umbrella has just folded up somewhat, and more disconcertingly they should all develop or expand their own.  ANY of this will aggravate the international order in Asia, as a nuclear armed ROK and expanded nuclear India will raise temperatures and risk.  Japan will be unlikely to embrace nuclear weapons, but it will want to expand militarily to deter the risk the PRC will take islands near Taiwan that are under dispute, next.  

So if you worry less about Taiwan, worry more about what is next, Asian powers seeking to contain the PRC with WMDs.  Beyond that must be the effects this has on US power elsewhere, such as in Europe. 

4. Liberal democracies must be protected from tyrannies: It is almost least important, but morally it is easily the point that pulls the hardest at emotions. ROC (Taiwan) is a vibrant, liberal democratic capitalist country of free people. It demonstrates that China can be a liberal democracy, and that Beijing's long held excuse that China "cannot become a democracy" because it would be "ungovernable".  ROC (Taiwan) has, like the ROK, transformed itself from essentially a dictatorship into a free and thriving liberal democracy. It should not be able to have that destroyed by the world's deadliest dictatorship (60 million Chinese killed through famine and executions in the Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution).  ROC (Taiwan) has been a model international citizen, it has been peaceful, productive and constructive internationally, it represents values that the US should hold dear, and which promote peace and development globally.  If Beijing has snuff that out with only some stern words from Washington, then Washington will have abandoned any pretence about leading by some moral imperative.

So there should be clear solidarity with ROC (Taiwan).  It should be no doubt at all that if the PRC attacks military forces in Taiwan or any territory, that there will be intervention to counter this, and that unilateral sanctions will be imposed on the PRC by liberal democracies. The UN is toothless on this, not least because the PRC has a veto in the UN Security Council.

There are lots of reasons to be critical, historically, of Pax Americana after 1945, with a good list of mistakes made, and behaviour that is not becoming of a country that proclaims itself to be in favour of freedom.  However, there is little doubt that a world led by a flawed semi-free liberal democracy is better than one led by a Marxist-Leninist one-party state.  

(Oh and don't doubt that the Socialist Republic of Vietnam is much more on the side of the USA than the PRC)