20 April 2022

Submit today on the Rotorua District Council (Representation Arrangements) Bill

David Farrar's Kiwiblog has an excellent submission on this absolute travesty of basic individual rights and liberal democracy.

This debate about this issue has been muted. Stuff reports it, with taxpayer funding from NZ On Air, without ANY discussion about the implications for liberal democracy.

What is proposes is a form of racial gerrymandering that means that Māori Ward Councillors on Rotorua District Council will represent fewer people, but with the same amount of power as General Ward Councillors. 

As Farrar says:

This bill would give the Māori ward three Councillors for an electoral population of 21,700 and the General ward three Councillors for an electoral population of 55,600. This means the vote of someone on the general roll will be worth only 39% of the vote of someone on the Māori roll in terms of Ward Councillors, and 58% in terms of the whole Council. 

It debases the votes of non-Māori ward voters, and for what? To seek to equalise representation not on the basis of counting heads, but by valuing the votes of Māori ward voters 2.5x more than non-Māori ward voters.

Let's apply this to Parliament?

Extend this to Parliament (assuming no change in the number of seats) and the result would be this:

General Electorates: 36. 1 MP for every 89958 voters

Māori Electorates: 36. 1 MP for every 7591 voters

In essence it multiplies Māori roll votes 11 fold compared to non-Māori. The exact impact on Parliament is difficult to forecast for multiple reasons, as no doubt there would be more candidates, but also the impact on emigration (let alone immigration) would change the demographic as well (some advancing this policy would like that). 

It could be assumed that the majority of Māori Electorates would vote Labour, and some would vote Te Pāti Māori, maybe one or two could go Green or even NZ First.  

How would that affect the list seats? It is entirely possible to leave them as is, with one person one vote and let proportionality come to play, but that is likely to create an overhang. Let's say based on the current Parliament, that one in seven of the Māori electorates go to Te Pāti Māori, which would mean it gets 5-6 seats. Even if it got double the party vote of 2020 (which would be 2.34%) it would only be entitled to around 3 seats in Parliament, so Parliament would grow by 2-3 more seats in total.  Advocates of such a change might say the overall impact would not be significant, because ultimately National would get most of its MPs from the list, so proportionality might be retained overall, but the effect would be dramatic.

Moreover, if you can argue for electorates that require 11 general roll voters to elect an MP, but 1 Māori roll voter, then you can argue that Māori party voters get the same magnification of impact.

and that would truly be the end of liberal democracy as we know it, and is internationally recognised on the basis of one person one vote.

This sort of gerrymandering is seen in corrupt democracies, which try to construct constituencies that have small numbers of politicians representing large numbers of people who politicians want to reduce the franchise for, with higher numbers for the preferred group.  During the dying days of apartheid, the South African Government argued for its democracy to enable white South Africans to have a veto of decision making over the black majority.  This was rightly decried as racist and unacceptable. Going from total white minority rule to white minority veto was not advancing the rights of all South Africans.

However, there is a movement in Māori politics that is antithetical to liberal democracy and individual rights. Te Pāti Māori MP Rawiri Waititi said it clearly when he thought Aotearoa had a great future "but not necessarily as a democracy". 

It isn't exactly rude to ask if the Green Party of Aotearoa or the New Zealand Labour Party share his view. 

Now I'm highly sceptical of liberal democracy as a tool to protect individual rights, and Waititi is dead right when he raises concern about majority rule. Unfettered democracy does enable mob rule and does enable injustice, but the contraints on this should be constitutional to ensure basic rights are not overriden. I have a lot of sympathy for calls for tino rangatiratanga for everyone.

However, nobody advancing this change is caring remotely for the rights of individuals to peacefully go about their lives, this is about advancing power, albeit at the local government level, to regulate and tax people's property and businesses.

You have only a few hours to express your opposition to this racist travesty of a Bill, that has NOT been advanced by the local MP Todd McClay but rather Labour list MP Tāmati Coffey.  Labour, the Greens and Te Pāti Māori are all advancing it.

It deserves to be voted down in flames, and it deserves your submission in ardent opposition to it.

Either go here:

https://www.parliament.nz/en/ECommitteeSubmission/53SCMA_SCF_BILL_121327/CreateSubmission 

or here:

https://www.protectyourvote.nz/

now.

16 April 2022

Is New Zealand abandoning independent foreign policy by backing Ukraine, or is Bryce Edwards missing the point?

Bryce Edwards in the NZ Herald declares that the NZ Government’s “independent foreign policy” is “virtually dead” because the Government has chosen to support Ukraine. It’s quite a take, particularly if I give Edwards the benefit of the doubt that he isn’t part of the “tankie” left that thinks Russia isn’t entirely at fault, or that Ukraine isn’t worth supporting because some of Russia’s claims about “Nazis” are true (I will take it for granted he isn’t part of the “tankie” right that sees Russia as a bastion of conservative Christian values against a decadent corrupt West).

NZ “falling into line” with Five Eyes and NATO assumes that it resisted supporting Ukraine, and in supporting Ukraine it is doing so somehow subservient to Western powers. This is an extraordinary position to take, reminiscent of the self-styled “anti-imperialist” peace activists whose stance against imperialism never extends to powers, such as Russia and China, that are antagonists towards Western liberal democracies.

Edwards believes it needs more debate and analysis, and he is not wrong, but to infer that a country cannot have an “independent foreign policy” if it provides military assistance to a UN Member State that has been attacked in a conventional war by another, is a curious interpretation. It infers that NZ has no interest in supporting a UN Member State that is a victim of such an attack or that there is no moral interest in doing so either.

You see international relations is primarily a matter of national governments asserting policy that is in their national interest. Although most proclaim that their foreign policy has an ethical foundation, ethics are largely secondary to national interest, and national interest is indisputably linked to the government of the day remaining in power.

An independent foreign policy for NZ puts NZ’s interests first, and within the boundaries of that, it can seek to promote an ethical vision of foreign policy. Although the Ardern Government proclaims loudly about its ethics, but it know it cannot take that too far, otherwise NZ would trade with much fewer countries and for what end?

Neutrality and foreign policy independence are quite different concepts. NZ is not obliged to support NATO, it did not provide support when NATO struck Serbia to deter potential genocide in Kosovo (having done little when Serbia supported “ethnic cleansing” of Bosnia and Croatia (let’s not mention Croatia’s “ethnic cleansing” of parts of its territory of course)).  That is foreign policy independence, but it is not neutrality. Switzerland and Sweden are neutral.

Edwards cites MP Golriz Ghahraman and former National Party communications advisor Matthew Hooton who essentially claim the decision to support Ukraine is not based on substance of either national interests or ethics.

Ghahraman claims that it is about “appeasing allies”, which is cynical sneering about contributing to a collective effort to defend a nationstate that is a victim of aggression. NZ’s commitments to reducing greenhouse gas emissions are arguably almost entirely symbolic and demonstrative as well, in terms of impact in reducing climate change, but that isn’t seen as “appeasing allies or trade partners”. Hooton appears motivated to sneer at Labour’s claim of an independent foreign policy, which isn’t particularly interesting. He has an axe to grind, as does Ghahraman, who is one of the most left-wing and anti-Western MPs in Parliament, is hardly supportive of either NATO or any military action from Western countries (given her biggest foreign policy focus appears to be criticism of Israel and silence against the authoritarianism and terror expounded by Hamas and Fatah).  She even retweeted a call by tankie UK MP Jeremy Corbyn (who bemoaned the fall of the Berlin Wall) demanding the State of Palestine be recognised days after Ukraine was invaded.

Ghahraman focusing on her highest foreign policy priority

Matt Robson is unsurprisingly in the Ghahraman camp (shocking that a former hard-left MP would be antagonistic towards Western powers) and makes the dubious claim that the Ardern Government “has drawn us into the largest nuclear-armed military alliance in the world, Nato, and has signed up to the encirclement strategy of Russia and China”.

This is deranged stuff. NZ is no member of NATO. NZ has no treaty obligation to defend any NATO member states (through NATO) or vice versa. Furthermore, the idea that there is an “encirclement strategy” is straight out of the Moscow and Beijing playbook of foreign policy conspiracies. There’s no evidence of such a strategy, but Moscow has touted for 20 years the paranoid claim that the West is keen to invade it, and China constantly claims that the West wants to contain and stop its growth.

Then there is Peter Dunne’s claim that moving away from UN-mandated sanctions is significant. This infers that the UN is somehow neutral, yet it is obvious that UN-mandated sanctions in response to Ukraine would not exist, because Russia as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, can veto any UN sanctions. The UN is absolutely impotent, so the choice is simple in foreign policy:

· Do nothing, because the UN is impotent. Effectively showing zero interest in punishing Russia for invading a neighbour.

· Join traditional Western allies and others in sanctioning Russia.

Edwards does say NZ should seek UN reform, but that is absolutely not going to happen without the consent of the Permanent Five, and that isn’t going to happen whilst two of the five are aggressive revanchists (which one has proven and the other has indicated it wishes to).

Dunne claims “New Zealand will now find it more difficult to resist United States' and British pressure to become involved in similar situations in the future”. Really? Why? Besides, why would it NOT want to be involved in similar situations? Does independent foreign policy mean turning a blind eye to Russia or China invading a neighbour? If so, why? Is it for trade, or is it a desire to not be allied to peaceful liberal democracies against aggressive tyrannies?

Edwards continues “there's a sense in which the New Zealand Government has been slowly but surely edging further into the Ukraine war, discarding any neutrality”. Hang on, neutrality? Since when has NZ had a policy of neutrality in international conflicts? Wasn’t the last significant step in NZ foreign policy to simply remove itself from the US nuclear umbrella and prohibit nuclear weapons but stay in ANZUS, or do some really think NZ is trying to distance itself from other liberal democracies so it can… wait for it… be NEUTRAL when another liberal democracy is invaded?

The claim that this is the biggest change in NZ foreign policy in 35 years is highly questionable. If NZ did become neutral, that would be news, but it has NEVER been, despite some on the hard-left in the Greens and Labour wishing it were so.

Edwards infers that it isn’t a conscious and willing decision to back Ukraine, but a “concession” from “demands”, which implies that the Government didn’t want to help Ukraine. That is worthy of debate, although it is not clear that is the case.

He bemoans that “alternatives to war and aggression are hardly being discussed at the moment”. Whose aggression? Russia is the aggressor, Ukraine is not. Russia chose war, Ukraine did not. What is the alternative? Surrender? This is the morally bankrupt talk of the tankie Stop the War Coalition in the UK, which pleads for “peace”, but by taking a “pox on both their houses approach” is effectively siding with Russia. Is defence of the weak against aggression by the strong to be questioned when the cost of supporting the weak is so low?

He's right that NZ has done little on refugees, but that is beside the point.

His final point is both naïve and frankly ridiculous:

Abandoning UN processes for imposing economic sanctions and going to war, as New Zealand has done with Ukraine… just returns the world to a place where the international bullies are free to threaten and dominate smaller and poorer nations. That isn't the type of world we claim to want, but one which our current actions are leading to.

Why?

1. UN processes cannot impose economic sanctions on Russia.

2. International law allows nation states to go to war to assist allies in the event they are attacked, without the need for UN Security Council resolution.

3. NZ providing military assistance to Ukraine has NOT made the world a place for bullies to dominate smaller states. That’s so preposterous to be silly. Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014, Georgia before that. NZ is virtually irrelevant to Russia.

4. NZ assisting Ukraine is demonstrating a more unified resolve against Russia and is a sign to its ally, China, that a similar approach may apply if it seeks to say, invade Taiwan. That could very likely make the world a safer place.

The alternative to all of this, is for NZ to be neutral. That would put NZ in the position some would like, like India, of straddling the liberal democracies and the authoritarian aggressors. Some naïve peace activists may think this is advantageous, and some may see it so from a trade point of view, but Edwards hasn’t mentioned trade, at all. If NZ were neutral, Moscow and Beijing would cheer. If NZ imposed no sanctions or few sanctions, it would be seen as a place for the rich and powerful from both countries, and their allies, to place themselves and their money. It would be seen as a weakening of the liberal democracies, and as Beijing has already done, they would point out how Wellington is more “even-handed” than Canberra, London and even Warsaw, Tokyo and Helsinki.

I don’t know if Edwards thinks the counterfactual of neutrality on Ukraine is in NZ’s interests or is even morally defensible. It’s difficult to see how it would be, unless your vision of NZ is one that thinks there is no essential difference between Ukraine and Russia, or between the United States and China, and that is a bleak, dark and disturbing vision indeed.

10 March 2022

The price of powering civilisation

The crisis in Ukraine and the growing embargo on buying oil and gas from Russia is, of course, creating the greatest crisis in energy since 1979. A crisis over half of the population has never experienced, and it is exposing in clear view the irrationality of energy policies in many countries from the past couple of decades.

Until recently the history of energy policy for humanity has been largely driven by a mix of scientific discovery and innovation, and market demand. As the late Julian Simon once wrote, humanity moved from using wood as a primary source of energy, towards coal in the 18th and 19th century (which saved many remaining forests in Europe from decimation), and then towards oil in the late 19th/early 20th century because of price and capacity.  This also paralleled the rise of electricity, largely generated by burning coal, oil and gas (but also some locations, like New Zealand and Norway, benefited from geography and geology enabling hydro). Nuclear emerged in the mid 20th century, but has been constrained to electricity generation (in jurisdictions not taken over by fear, resulting from hyper-catastrophising) and naval propulsion. 

As the world has become ever more electrified, the demand to generate electricity has been fed primarily by fossil fuel burning, albeit the efficiency of this has grown exponentially. The energy intensity of refined fossil fuels has meant their portability literally enabled aviation to become not just viable, but the dominant means of long distance passenger transport, consigning long distance intercontinental rail travel in the United States and Canada to leisure trips.

The economic impacts are palpable, and all of the rhetoric and hysteria from environmentalists about the evils of fossil fuels ignores what they have enabled in the standards of living for billions.  Goods, services, trade and travel are on the scales they are today because of this.

The push to slow down the effects of climate change has resulted in policies that are almost monomaniacally focused on cutting CO2 emissions at any cost. Sure, there are sound reasons to be encouraging a transition towards energy sources that create fewer emissions that contribute to climate change, but there is little point being concerned about climate change if thousands of people literally freeze to death in winter, or starve due to collapses in food production, or the inability of essential goods to be transported long distances. 

So when tyrannies control much of the energy that powers global economies, and the risks of actually going to war with them to stop their aggression are too high (due to the aggressor's possession of nuclear weapons), then cutting off access to that energy has a price, and you're paying it at the pump.

What the crisis in Ukraine has exposed is how utterly vapid and empty the likes of misanthropes like Extinction Rebellion and other environmental extremists are, because there is no easy path away from fossil fuels.  As wonderful as advances in solar and wind energy are, they still have some significant limitations.  Both require significant storage capacity to be sustainable and useful in their own rights, completely unlike fossil fuel or nuclear generated electricity.  Moreover, for most transport, fossil fuels (or biofuel equivalents) have no cost effective or feasible rivals, yet, for aviation, shipping or heavy road freight transport, or indeed many industrial processes like steel production.

One question New Zealanders might ask is what position the country would be in regarding oil and gas supply if the Ardern Government hadn't stopped enabling new exploration of oil and gas in 2017.  Removing this ban today would have no effect, as it takes years to invest, explore and gain any results, but had it happened in 2017, then there might have been a contribution to global supply. The Ardern Government has deliberately decided to constrain supply of oil and gas, not on economic grounds, not even considering national security, but to virtue signal.

The Ardern Government advanced a radical approach to climate change policy, not just to make a contribution equivalent to NZ's largest trading partners, so NZ would be in-step with those it competes with, but to virtue signal.  To cut net emissions by 50% by 2030 is not going to make a measurable difference to climate change at all, but it is all about Ardern and Shaw looking good on the international stage.  

Yet the oil and gas exploration ban does absolutely nothing to contribute to that, at all.  

The wisdom of the US in enabling unconventional oil and gas exploration has disconnected it from being too concerned about oil and gas from Russia (and the Middle East).  

Germany too, with its Green Party Climate Change Minister advocating a natural gas national reserve and to keep coal fired power stations available for energy security, is learning the value of reliable supply. 

New Zealand, on the other hand...


08 March 2022

NZ's Russian sanctions a step forward, but it's far too constrained

The Russia Sanctions Bill is welcome, but one big questions has to be asked. 

Why only have sanctions that can be applied to Russia including those backing Russia (like Belarus)? Why can it not be generic to enable sanctions against any state that egregiously invades another that is either a Permanent Member of the UN Security Council or an ally of it? The People's Republic of China is the obvious example, but it is entirely possible that China or Russia might veto sanctions against the DPRK, or Iran, or Syria. 

Sure, it is complicating that the People's Republic of China has quite a free trade agreement with New Zealand, but is the Ardern Government that enamoured with the UN Security Council that it wont empower itself to impose sanctions at little notice in the event of a similarly attack elsewhere.

Is it not more powerful to have an autonomous sanctions bill that can be applied as required? 

Hopefully this legislation will get passed quickly and NZ can join the rest of the civilised world in sanctioning the Russian state, Russian politicians and businesses.  However, the entire performance over this shows how weak willed and morally unsure the Ardern Government is when facing real aggressive war, especially when it tries to show off how much it wants "disarmament" with Minister Twyford.

Nearly a year ago he made a speech about disarmament.  It's so utterly full of vapid platitudes that are almost sickening:

It would be comforting to think that, thanks to our rebelliousness in the 80s, and our relentless global advocacy ever since, nuclear weapons were no longer a threat to everything we hold dear.

Do you seriously think that NZ's anti-nuclear policy has had a remote impact at all on reducing the threats of nuclear war? 

How about this:

Youth are the ones whose futures are stolen by the countless billions of dollars spent on weapons every year that could be invested in health, education, and environmental protection if we had a more peaceful world.  

Well I think there are millions of youth in Ukraine who right now wish that much MORE was spent on their defence. Do serious people think defence spending occurs in a vacuum? Most of Europe has benign relations with war unthinkable, but that wasn't achieved by peace activism, it was achieved by having a continent of open free liberal democracies with mutual interests.

The rest of it is nice hippie like platitudes, but that is all. It's utterly without value, and offers nothing to confront those who regard human life as expendable. The value of peace is very little if you don't value freedom and the autonomy of people to be free from aggression.

and NZ does next to nothing to deter aggression, anywhere.

 

 

07 March 2022

New Zealand's foreign policy signals virtually no virtue

The war on Ukraine and more specifically the war on Ukrainian people is heart-breaking, revolting and has rightfully appalled most governments around the world. The response of many countries have been wide ranging sanctions. The Financial Times summarises many of them imposed by the US, UK, EU and other Western countries like Canada and Japan including:

  • Travel bans and asset freezes for Russian and Belarus politicians and officials
  • Bans and sanctions on banks, including prohibitions on trading and borrowing by financial institutions
  • Bans on Russian companies raising finance and bans on trading with major Russian companies
  • Restrictions on technology exports, including aerospace and telecommunications 

Australia has imposed its own series of autonomous sanctions, including banning exports of oil exploration technologies, prohibiting financial institutions from providing credit or loans to Russian financial institutions, military or petroleum companies. 

Even scrupulously neutral Switzerland has imposed asset freezes on certain Russian individuals. 

How about New Zealand? The Wall Street Journal has highlighted it for shame.

Well it has done the following

  • a travel ban on Russian officials "involved with the invasion" (even though none could ever travel to New Zealand under current rules that prohibit entry to NZ for non-permanent residents/citizens without specific visas)
  • Prohibit exports to Russian military and security forces
  • Suspended bilateral foreign ministry consultations.

It's literally pathetic. Now the Government has since announced it will be looking to pass legislation to go further, but given NZ's foreign policy is awash with virtue signalling, this looks very much like very little virtue at all.  The constant declaring of what they might be thinking of doing is par for the course for this government led by someone who wants global acclaim.

Look at two of NZ's virtue signalling foreign policies:

  • Anti-nuclear policy: This has achieved absolutely nothing to enhance the peace and security of NZ or anywhere else in the world. However, it is the height of virtue signalling against the US, UK and France.
  • Climate change policy: NZ's contribution towards reducing climate change has infinitesimal impacts, but the Ardern Government wants to be "leading" global commitments to reduce climate change, regardless of the economic cost. It's a showcase designed to encourage others to go further, rather than to simply follow in concert with NZ's major trading partners, but in actual impacts it is almost "net zero".

Yet when a nuclear-powered sovereign state attacks another sovereign state, NZ is found wanting. Of course the Government rejected Gerry Brownlee's bill for multiple reasons.  Minter Ellison Rudd Watts gives various reasons for it being rejected.  

It concluded that "it is likely that the specific regime proposed would have achieved little more than political signalling (and some counter-productive signalling at that)". Yet that has been at the forefront of so much foreign policy to date.  The "counter-productive signalling" is being able to act outside multilateral organisations, but this is exactly what the problem is today. A Permanent Member of the UN Security Council is waging war, and multilateralism wont address this, as much as well-meaning NZ lawyers might think this is "counter-productive" they aren't likely to be victims of war waged by Russia, or indeed China. (Note the lawyers call Ukraine "the Ukraine", unfortunately). 

However the lawyers mainly opposed it because "if passed, the Bill would certainly have further complicated the regulatory compliance obligations of New Zealand exporters, importers and trade facilitators".  Do they seriously think Ministers would impose sanctions in some manner that doesn't take into account the impacts on those trading and investing in sanctioned countries? How is this remotely different to NZ having to impose sanctions mandated by UN Security Council Resolutions?

I'm not going to say Brownlee's Bill was perfect, but its timing deserved more attention. It certainly shouldn't have been rejected because moral equivocating Marxists like Teanau Tuiono think it might create "further risk of politicisation of sanctions rather than fairness and equity" (code for sanctions on regimes he quite likes). 

Now NZ sanctioning Russia would largely be symbolic, but it is also about plugging gaps in the global financial and trading system.  The New Zealand Dollar is apparently the tenth most traded currency in the world, so NZ does actually need to plug the risk that it will be used to subvert sanctions from other jurisdictions.  Fonterra has already announced it is suspending exports to Russia. 

Russia takes 0.49% of NZ's exports by value (27th place), slightly less than Egypt. Whereas about 0.97% of NZ's imports come from Russia (19th place), with NZ being a net importer from Russia. The main export is dairy products, the main import is oil products. 

There is no good reason to hesitate. If Switzerland... SWITZERLAND... which until recently refused to join the United Nations in order to remain neutral, can impose sanctions quickly, so can New Zealand.  

To say it can't do it quickly is of course a nonsense. The Ardern Government has demonstrated that when it sees urgency, it gets legislation drafted and passed under extraordinary urgency when it wants, and did so for Covid 19. It could get legislation drafted and passed in the coming week if it wanted to.

The difference is that the Ardern Government didn't plan to have to deal with actual war, war that shows the limits of the United Nations, war that was predicted for weeks in advance.  

It really does need to join the rest of the world, and quickly.


04 March 2022

The purpose NATO exists for should be abundantly clear - the future beyond Ukraine is a new Cold War

During the Cold War, NATO was to the West what the Warsaw Pact was to the communist bloc. Both sides faced off at the Iron Curtain. So when the Cold War ended, and the Warsaw Pact dissolved (mostly because once the jackboot of the Red Army had been removed, most eastern European states were full of citizens that just wanted to be liberal democracies), the question was raised as to why should NATO still exist?

Francis Fukuyama's "End of History" was proclaimed, President Bush proclaimed a New World Order, after the UN Security Council endorsed collective action to expel Iraq from Kuwait. The new Russia was, in fact, a liberal democracy, had dismantled its centrally planned economy, and was now working with Western countries. Sure there was still tension and rivalry in the Middle East, with concerns over Iraq and Iran, the simmering Arab-Israeli dispute, and of course the Korean peninsula, but in Europe, the belief was that liberal democracy had won.

Except of course, it hadn't quite. 

The New World Order declared by Bush was no nefarious shadowy view of the international system, but one which would AT A BARE MINIMUM not tolerate one state taking the territory of another.

That is what the war to expel Iraq from Kuwait was about, and it is why Saddam Hussein's regime was not destroyed at the time. The New World Order was not about regime change, it was about protecting international borders from aggression.

Much happened after that. The war in the Balkans ultimately saw NATO action to deter Serbia from engaging in genocide in Kosovo, following the genocide in Bosnia and Croatia (not all from the Serbian side of course).  Hum.anitarian intervention became an addition to the New World Order as countries were confident that international cross-border war was a thing of the past

9/11 changed all that, although the attack and overthrow of the Taliban in Afghanistan was justified as a response to the aggression of 9/11, the subsequent attack and overthrow of the Saddam Hussein regime was not. Overthrowing Saddam was a settling of old scores and an attempt to demonstrate Western military dominance against potential threats. What it did was show the West incapable of occupying and transforming a nation state without enormous loss of life, or in the case of Afghanistan, ultimately a lack of political will to pay the price in money and lives to institute government that was closer to the ideals of liberal democracies with Enlightenment values. This culminated in the weak withdrawal from Afghanistan last year

Yet Russia had already tested the limits of the New World Order a few years ago and found it wanting. Not only had Russia effectively annexed Abkhazia and South Ossetia from Georgia (which had started in the 1990s),  but the 2014 annexation of Crimea under the Obama Administration (after Obama famously ridiculed Mitt Romney in the 2012 election campaign for claiming Russia was a growing threat) showed the West was unwilling to enforce post Cold-War borders against direct aggression.

NATO expansion has been occurring, with all of the former Warsaw Pact nations now NATO members, and the three Baltic states, all of which had been invaded and occupied by the USSR during WW2. The expansion of NATO to defend former Soviet republics was deferred, not least because of concern of provoking Russia.  Both Georgia and Ukraine have wanted NATO membership, and the results of denying it are now seen in the destruction of Ukrainian cities.

As much as the Western nations will crow about economic sanctions on Russia, and much global unity on condemning Russia, it has done nothing to stem the bombardment and the growing occupation of Ukraine. As much as it is significant that Germany has finally unhooked itself from equivocating on Russia, by stopping the Nordstream 2 pipeline, Russia knows its oil and gas supplies keep much of Europe from grinding to a halt. This is predominantly due to the virtue signalling policies of the EU in energy and the environment which have stopped Europe from pursuing domestic sources of fossil fuels as an alternative, in favour of trying to save the world. Unlike the US which wisely enabled fracking, and is no longer dependent on oil from the Middle East, Europe in transitioning from coal has become reliant more on Russian fossil fuels whilst it inches towards renewables. Even more disturbing, the inexplicable decision of Germany to abandon nuclear power as a bizarre reaction to the Fukushima disaster (even though Germany neither has earthquakes or a risk of tsunami) has further weakened European energy security. Russia, of course, funded and supported anti-fracking activists.  

In the coming weeks and months there is a likelihood Ukraine will fall to Russian tyranny, without a shot having been fired by Western liberal democracies in support of the principles they are meant to be defending.  For the first time since 1968, tyranny has advanced in Europe.

Disturbing as this is, what will be just as disturbing is what the Western response has to be. A return to the clarity that an attack on NATO means war with all of NATO, which includes the risk of nuclear war.  A rearming of European countries, which means a reprioritisation of public spending towards defence, at least matching the NATO target of 2% but realistically needing to go for 3% and above. Permitting expansion of NATO to any liberal democracy that meets the conditions for membership.

It goes beyond Europe though. In the Pacific, a reassertion of the defence of Japan and South Korea, but most importantly a clear assertion by the United States that it will not stand by if Taiwan is attacked by the PRC. It must become too risky and too dangerous for the world's two largest tyrannies, Russia and China, to go any further.  The single biggest risk now is that Russia and China perceive that there wouldn't be any pushback if they go further.

It's too late for Ukraine, we got here due to weak US Presidents, and by that I mean not only Biden, but also Trump and Obama. We can speculate endlessly about whether Putin would have risked attacking Ukraine under Trump or not, and the answer is far from clear.  About all that is clear is that Trump was unpredictable, and that unpredictability was probably a deterrent, but Trump was also a man whose positions on issues was not consistent.

All that can be done now is for a firm redline to be set, by Biden, by NATO and all of its allies, that the West is willing to go to war to defend the borders of liberal democracies.  It is frightening and plenty of people politically on the far-left and right will oppose it, but it also means that Western liberal democracies need to spend more on defence, and less on virtue signalling, "rebalancing/levelling up/building back better" and to strengthen their economies to be resilient against dependence on Russia and China. Allister Heath outlined it starkly in the Daily Telegraph here:

For the first time in more than 30 years, we face a truly existential threat. Our enemy is a hostile state armed with nuclear weapons, a large conventional army and led by an empire-building psychopath: the danger to the European powers is orders of magnitude greater than the very real risk posed after 9/11 by al-Qaeda and Islamic State.

This new conflict will almost certainly be long, complex and extremely expensive. It won’t be like fighting the Taliban, or Saddam Hussein, or lone wolf actors. It will require us to relearn strategies, tactics and virtues at odds with the hyper-emotional performative stupidity and instant gratification of the Twitter era. Our elites will need to reprogramme themselves psychologically, economically and militarily, read some history, become more serious and austere, and knuckle down for a lengthy fight.

The implications for Australia and New Zealand from that are going to be stark. The easy ride of China buying so much, and selling so much back is about to come to an end.

There is some hope, but as Heath wrote:

Yes, Russia is staggeringly weak, a decaying nation with a population much less than half that of the US, and a GDP far lower than that of New York state. But it has nuclear weapons and needs to be deterred and eventually defeated. We must also send a signal to China, a country that is immensely richer and more sophisticated than the Soviet Union ever was, that the West is serious once more. This is a new Cold War, and we must urgently contain the authoritarian powers at war with liberal democracy.

28 February 2022

The international system is turning against freedom and liberal democracy

The last monumental change in the international system occurred in 1989-1991, with the end of the Cold War, driven by Mikhail Gorbachev's unwillingness to keep a jackboot on the throats of Soviet citizens and just as importantly, its satellite states, along with the US and the UK and their allies being willing to try to put international relations back on some sort of legal footing.  The Gulf War was a test of that, with the UN Security Council generating unprecedented international support for action to evict Iraq from its occupation of Kuwait.  It is difficult to underestimate the optimism of the time, with half of Europe freed from Marxist-Leninist dictatorships (including some of the most evil in history in Romania and Albania), the end of Cold War tensions between the former USSR and the USA, and even though China brutally suppressed dissent in Tiananmen Square, it seemed to accept a new world order based on rule of law.  Victory against Iraq at the time indicated a willingness to not tolerate territorial aggression.

So much has changed in 30 years. 

9/11 was critically important in refocusing Western attention on Islamist insurgency, but it paralleled change in Russia, as the relatively benign Boris Yeltsin was replaced with the altogether more sinister, ex. KGB official, Vladimir Putin. Russian liberal democracy has been wound back so much, it is little more than a fascist, organised crime syndicate running an authoritarian militarist dictatorship. China having become rich with capitalism under Marxist-Leninist rule, has seen the rise of Xi Jinping, who takes inspiration from Mao's era. Except now instead of being a gnat with a few nuclear weapons, China is the world's second largest economy, with businesses from Europe to North America and Japan all heavily invested in it. China is a major trading partner of many economies, and its requirement for local partners and investors has enabled it to steal intellectual property from some investors, and then copy what they do, at a lower price.

For much of the last 30 years Russia and China were content maintaining their regimes and growing richer. Russia on oil and gas (although this was severely dented for some years once fracking made the US in particular, capable of supplying its entire domestic demand), although little else. China on being a manufacturing hub. However, both have become bolder as Western liberal democracies have become weaker defenders of the international order.

Western liberal democracies have been damaged by 

  1. The war to overthrow Saddam Hussein: This demonstrated how utterly incapable Western democracies are in nation-building, and their lack of capacity and willingness to occupy and transform a defeated enemy. The blood and treasure lost in Iraq, and even the aftermath of the limited intervention to overthrow Gaddafi in Libya, have not been seen as worthwhile in most liberal democracies.  This has caused most to want to withdraw militarily.
  2. Weak Western commitment to the international system: President Obama was committed to a future of US pulling back from conflict, and this was followed by European powers that by and large took the same view.  When Russia invaded Crimea, the Western reaction was one of resignation.  When Russian-backed separatists in Donetsk shot down a Malaysian airliner, only the Netherlands and Australia demanded explanations so vocally. Obama's "red-line" over Syria using poison gas against its own population was backed up by little.  Trump for his bluster, has largely been uncommittal on anything. Biden is yet to be tested, but looks and sounds weak.
  3. Western ideological self-hatred: The weak commitment has been backed by both right and leftwing apologists for Russia and China.  Ones on the right regard China as a great business opportunity that shouldn't be disturbed. They also see Russia as a "traditional Christian" state, that has "understandable" interests in neighbouring states. They downplay Putin's authoritarianism. Ones on the left are back in the Cold War, thinking it is "time" the West stopped dominating, after all, it's Western capitalism that they blame for most of the world's ills.

The international system is led by actors that have proven unwilling to deter or confront Russia from irredentist behaviour.  Russia currently occupies not just Crimea, but Abkhazia and South Ossetia in Georgia, it also effectively backs a rogue breakaway entity called Trans-Dniestr in Moldova, and is Belarus's biggest friend.  

Russia's narrative that if Ukraine joined NATO it would provoke it was complete nonsense, as it is clear that HAD Ukraine become a NATO member some years ago, the chances of an attack would have been more remote.  

For what it's worth, the international reaction to the attack on Russia has largely been uniform and positive. Widespread condemnation, and the emergence of sanctions and increasing military and economic aid and assistance.  Yet it still looks pathetic for Ukraine to not be subject to military support from powers that completely support it politically and ideologically. Russia's vile defamatory narrative that it is "de-Nazifying" Ukraine (against its Jewish President!!??!) is laughably absurd.

Indeed, the Russian ethno-nationalist narrative Putin is expounding is absolutely fascist.  It is blood-and-soil, historical revanchism, that blanks out the USSR's alliance with Nazism that backfired, and glorifies the Soviet defeat of the USSR.  See this Twitter thread for an excellent summary of that, and how Putin now uses revival of WW2 myths to bolster Russian nationalism.

Let's be crystal clear, Putin is a nationalist neo-fascist.

Of course the West cannot directly intervene against Russia, not least because the price could well be risking nuclear war. What it CAN do, is make it crystal clear that it will use all necessary means to defend NATO member states, which means including nuclear weapons. Russia is only deterred by the risk of overwhelming force.

There have thankfully been very few voices seeking to downplay Putin. However, in NZ Chris Trotter, who has valiantly stood in favour of freedom of speech has revived his tankie instincts over the "tragedy" that the USSR collapsed. The Green Party's Golriz Gharaman has OPPOSED New Zealand sanctioning Russia unilaterally, implicitly accepting that Russia vetoing UN sanctions is preferable, but also essentially claiming sanctions just hurt ordinary people so shouldn't proceed.


Of course then she is happy to share a platform with Roger Waters, who supported Russia's invasion and annexation of Crimea and Noam Chomsky who actively supports the Russian imperialist narrative.

Maybe she is more concerned about Palestine and attacking Israel, than actual imperialist warmongering, which simply reflects the weak-willed vacuousness of hard-left anti-Western so-called "peace" activism.


By contrast the Australian Greens, have got a backbone:

 


as do, it appears, a lot of governments that we perhaps otherwise didn't think had it in them. Finland and Sweden actively discussing joining NATO. Germany finally capitulating to cancel Nordstream 2.   Then there is this magnificent speech from Kenya.

We can only hope that the brave people of Ukraine, finally having some support (except direct military assistance) against Putin, can hold out and Putin can be rolled back into some capitulation.  Putin wants ALL of Ukraine for himself, but he will likely have to resort to accepting a ceasefire in the Donbass, unless he is willing to unleash a fury of weaponry that may cause more Russians to turn against him.

Let us hope that this puts paid to the PRC's ambitions to attack Taiwan.  A firm resolve is needed.  Ukraine is a test of the international system, a test of the resolve of the USA, under a President who has looked weak from day one (with the withdrawal of Afghanistan having been such a mess), the UK and France, the EU and the community of liberal democracies

14 February 2022

About those protests

I’m of two minds about protests generally.  On the one hand freedom of assembly and freedom of speech come together in protest marches, and so they are a key part of a free society, especially protests which challenge Parliament, an institution which derives power directly from counting heads (in this case heads that choose representation). They are particular potent in societies that are not free because people literally risk their lives in order to get the attention of others, so that they might just break down the order of the system of power.

On the other hand I’m not a great fan of protests in liberal democracies, because they rely on the idea that because you can get a few hundred or thousand people to walk with some signs that this grants greater legitimacy to a political position than if it were held by one person. I’m no fan of counting heads rather than what is in them. Yet there is a place for them to highlight injustice which isn’t being reflected through mainstream discourse, through the media or through politics more generally.  

The protestors in Wellington would put themselves in that category, because their views are not supported by most politicians or media. Beyond debating vaccine mandates, I don't support much of the other rhetoric that seems visible.

I don’t support vaccine mandates for private property and private businesses, it should be the choice of individuals as to whether they get vaccinated, and whether their staff or customers must be vaccinated or not on their premises.  However, the health system is dominated by taxpayer funding and state owned institutions and as such, the state must decide as to whether it simply wants to promote vaccines or require vaccines for its employees in such facilities.  It has the right to do that, based on evidence and if you don’t like it, then you should be free to work privately, for others who wish to pay for your services.  There is a case for doing all that is reasonable to protect the vulnerable in a pandemic.

I’d be much more sympathetic if the protest was against how opaque this government is, how evasive it is over OIA requests, Parliamentary questions and the effort involved in managing narratives. This is everything from MIQ to Three Waters to inflation. For a government that has largely had support because it kept Covid19 at bay, the litany of other outcomes are worthy of protest. Housing costs that have skyrocketed (because of monetary incontinence and decades of supply constraints), inflation spiralling at nearly twice the rate of Australia, ICU capacity that is second bottom in the OECD per capita (after Mexico), at mediocre educational performance by global standards, and much more. Imagine the fear of this government (or any) if tens of thousands marched for housing.

I don’t have time for those who think there is some grand conspiracy around vaccines, or who tout quackery. Those engaging in quackery deserve to be challenged as much as they challenge others. Yes, there are also a few flotsam and jetsam that joined the protest that are vile and distasteful, including actual fascist/racial supremacists inciting violence, and some anti-semitism, and they deserve to be challenged, they ought to be confronted by protestors, and anyone who threatens violence should be arrested.  

What protest do you want to be on with this sort of vileness?

There is good reason to be wary of such people given Christchurch, but I am loathe to condemn the majority of protestors with such a label, although it has become a common trend to simply treat those they dislike as being “fascists”. Don’t be mistaken, such types deserve to be ostracised, condemned and monitored, and the protestors ought to know by now that letting such elements be tolerated utterly decimates sympathy they will get from many people. Yet what of those who oppose vaccine mandates and find that some of their fellow travellers are Nazis? What do you do if a largely anarchic protest attracts totalitarian eliminationists? You kind of have three choices. Confront the Nazis, ignore the Nazis or don't go and surrender the issue. To do the former requires some collective effort and will, the do the second is damaging and evasive, and to do the third might seem like surrendering the issue that matters to you. None of those types believe in individual freedom, not remotely.

Other protests do go down dark paths of promoting violence though, and it doesn't get the same attention from the left when it's not in power.

You see when lefties go on a protest that results in paper face beheadings of John Key, Bill English and Judith Collins 


a protest backed by Labour and the Greens (called Aotearoa is Not for Sale), you’re just meant to blank that out. Meanwhile, Jacinda Ardern thinks there is something sinister about the anti-mandate protests to be "imported" (in that they are no doubt inspired by similar protests overseas), but it is just fine for BLM and climate change protests to be inspired by similar protests overseas. You see implying the anti-mandate protestors aren't "real" Kiwis is just the sort of noxious rhetoric seen by some of her nationalist opponents against Ardern and other leftwing politicians. It's not only mindless, but toxic as well. 

See it's awfully ironic when organisations like the Victoria University of Wellington Student Association (VUWSA) (which once warmly defended forcing students to belong to and fund it) openly take a conservative view of protest. when it almost certainly wont support this approach to protests when it comes to backing its own causes, which almost always are about demanding more of other people's money and more government. 

There are good reasons to arrest anyone who is threatening anyone, or vandalising property, and those inciting violence, but the recent trend for some politicians to treat the protestors as being somehow lesser citizens is both unfair and counterproductive. It’s hard to spin your way out of this, and people who feel treated as second class citizens (literally) are much more willing to hold out when they feel they have nothing to lose. They are also more likely to be aligned to seriously sinister types when they are the only ones giving them any form of succour. 

Unfortunately no MPs will talk to the protestors in part because they are fearful of violence from the protestors, but also because they know they will be hounded and vilified by media and other politicians for doing so. The only way to nullify that would be for one MP from each of the parties in Parliament to agree to talk with a few representatives - that would help to reveal whether this is just about mandates or not. 

It might also give the protestors some reason to move on, because they might feel that they have been heard.

UPDATE: David Seymour does appear to spoken to someone at the protest, and while the cynic might say it's because polling is looking not too great for ACT given Luxon seems to resuscitated the Nats, I'd like to think he actually is embracing the idea that mandates need to be phased out.

03 February 2022

Auckland light rail - some thoughts UPDATED

The Government's announcement that it has chosen a nearly $15b option to build a single light rail metro line from Wynyard through the Isthmus to Mt Roskill then Mangere and the Airport utterly astonishes me, Although I obtain some schadenfreude from the urbanists upset that it isn't a street tram (in part because they WANT it to take away road space from other traffic), I remain utterly gobsmacked that the amount of money concerned and the hype surrounding what it is mean to do doesn't appear to have much concern at all from The Treasury.

On purely opportunity cost alone the idea that it is worth spending that amount on money on ONE fast tram line ought to be shades of the Think Big debacles of the 1970s and 1980s.  Sure it is easy to question whether some of the motorway projects the National Government advanced were the best use of road users taxes, but this is in another league.   If you were to put all of Kiwirail on the market, and even guarantee ongoing operating subsidies for commuter rail in Auckland and Wellington, I doubt you would get one-tenth of the capital costs of that single line - that ought to put in perspective what this is about.

What gets me the most is that the very basic pure public policy questions surrounding this project haven't been asked, it looks just like a politically driven legacy project, fueled by Phil Goff on the one hand, with Michael Wood and Grant Robertson willing to jump on the boondoggle.

Of course it has an "indicative business case", which like all massive government projects aren't business cases at all, because there is no business here. Auckland Light Rail will never generate a financial surplus of revenue over operating cost, let alone a return on capital.  Of course, large government transport projects rarely do, but the language used is instructive, because some companies will make a fortune from Auckland Light Rail, in construction and technical consultancy.  A common assumption that NZTA historically used for major projects was that 15% of construction costs were consultancy and technical advisory services, and there are multiple companies circling around that trough, after all it's over $2b in fees. NO consultancy has a commercial interest in being critical of this opportunity to obtain serious bonuses for their New Zealand operations. 

Anyway, what about this business case (PDF).

It says:

The following sets out the problems that the proposed investment in rapid transit will address:
• A high reliance on cars is adversely affecting the climate as well as increasing harm from injury and pollution
• Increasing congestion will further disrupt and lengthen travel times, threatening investment and quality of life
• Some communities have worse access to public transport connections, creating inequity and reducing social cohesion

This is frankly pathetic.  So the problems are "too much car use", "congestion" and "poor public transport connections".

Even if you leave to one side the absurdity that high reliance of cars in Auckland is adversely affecting the climate (like a child urinating in Lake Taupo is poisoning it), climate change policy is addressed through the Emissions Trading Scheme, which caps emissions from transport.  The efficient tool to address this is to lower the cap, increasing the price of fuel, so people drive less. If this is about climate change it's a monstrously wasteful way of doing it, and it wont have any meaningful impact.

The claim of "increasing harm from injury and pollution" is questionable.  MoT resources state:

and there is no evidence of increasing pollution, largely because engines are getting cleaner and there is a growing number of low and zero emission vehicles.  However, it doesn't really matter.  If you think a primary reason to build a light rail metro is to address injuries and pollution on the roads then you're a moron.  You can reduce injuries by better enforcing drink driving laws, speed limits, traffic light violations dangerous driving, not build a light metro line.

Then there is congestion.  The reason there is traffic congestion is that demand for roadspace exceeds supply and politicians choose to price that roadspace the same, everywhere in NZ at all times. Price it higher at peak times and locations and congestion will ease. Price the roads properly and there is more space for buses, and buses can run more frequently and reliably, but that's not exciting for politicians.

Building a light rail metro wont ease congestion, although it WILL provide a fast link, given that passengers are forecast to not be willing to pay more than a small fraction of the cost of building and running it, suggests they don't value time THAT much, and more importantly, that congestion isn't bad enough for them to pay a lot more to avoid it. 

"Threatening investment" by whom? If you think Auckland Light Rail will relieve congestion across Auckland you're a moron, in fact you're a moron if you think it will relieve congestion on the corridor it will serve too.

Finally there is the badly worded "Some communities have worse access to public transport connections" worse than what? This is no doubt true in some form, but do you really think $15b is best spent on a single light rail metro line when you could almost certainly spend a tenth of that on frequent cross-city buses and bus priority measures to seriously uplift the city's public transport network? 

After all this connection will be nice for people in Mt Albert and Mt Roskill wanting a quick trip into the CBD (remember only 13% of Auckland jobs are in the CBD), noting that Mt Albert already has a railway station connecting to the City Rail Link underground electric railway under construction.  Who wants to go from Mt Albert and Mt Roskill to Onehunga and Mangere? I doubt many do.  From Onehunga, the light rail metro will probably be slower than the existing train service, and from Mangere it is quite the indirect route to the CBD, but it is good to get to the airport.  Remember that, this will be a slow route from the airport into the city centre, but be marginally useful from Mt Roskill.

Then take this utter drivel from the "business case":

Using public transport to travel from Māngere to the city centre takes more than twice as long than using a private vehicle. As a result, private vehicles account for 85 percent of all journeys to work by Māngere residents

According to the census (using this remarkable visualisation), the number one destination for people from Mangere Central to work or school is Auckland Airport

It's a logical non-sequitur to claim that because it takes twice as long to go by public transport to the city centre than by car that this means that most journeys to work by Mangere residents are by car, because in fact only 5% of them actually work in the city centre.  

So when it estimates that nearly 32m rides will be taken on this line by 2051 you have to take it with a pinch of salt.  In 2019 there were 103m rides across ALL railway, bus and ferry routes in Auckland, so to expect ONE line to carry about a third of that is ludicrous. For that travel it is going to cost $109m a year to operate, so it needs to charge $3.40 per fare to break even on operating costs, but that's not going to happen is it? It is meant to have the capacity of 32,600 people per hou, this is not far short of London's Victoria Line (at 37, 226), does anyone seriously think that EVEN with intensification there is going to be that level of demand on this line?

So given THOSE problems to solve, Auckland Light Rail is an abject failure, it doesn't address any of these effectively.

So I'll make some not-so-bold assertions, that I would happily have refuted:

  1. Auckland Light Rail will make next to no impact on traffic congestion (and the business case ADMITS this on pg. 59. 
  2. There isn't going to be continuously growing demand for travel on this corridor to and from the CBD.  In fact, Covid19 and changing work trends mean that the norm will be that people wont be in offices five days a week, which completely undermines the case for large scale peak transport capacity in cities
  3. For 1% of the cost of this project, there could be some significant improvements in bus reliability and travel times along corridors, with bus rapid transit, bus priority measures at intersections and use of road pricing
  4. For 3% of the cost of this project, Auckland could have an interconnected cycle lane network across the whole city
  5. For another 6% of the cost of this project Auckland could have a comprehensive network of bus lanes and bus priority measures, higher frequency services AND payment using contactless debit and credit cards which would address all of the social issues, and encourage people to drive less.
  6. Auckland Light Rail not only wont and cant stop urban sprawl, but also is unnecessary to support housing intensification, primarily because most jobs are still not going to be anywhere along the proposed corridor.  Furthermore, housing intensification along the corridor will have a marginal impact on housing pricing

and no, there is even LESS point building the slow tram along the street that the Greens want, because they mainly want it to take away road capacity.  Tradespeople, freight and delivery are unimportant to them, it's just the war on driving, so that rightfully has been dismissed.

Auckland Light Rail is an incredibly expensive folly, it isn't transformative (but the money it costs COULD be transformative in more subtle, more geographically spread and more effective ways that aren't so exciting to politicians) and it is almost certain there wont be anywhere near enough demand to justify it. 

Fares wont pay a cent towards its capital costs, and even property taxes that could be levied to pay for it, wont pay for more than a small fraction of the project. Ratepayers aren't willing to pay for it, and there isn't enough money raised from motoring taxes to pay much towards it either. It needs to be scrapped, and Auckland transport planners (and both Auckland and national politicians) need to focus on how to make existing networks work better, rather than the exciting fetish of a big shiny high capacity boondoggle....

UPDATE:  Of course taxpayer-funded radio (RNZ) discusses light rail with a critical view from.... the Green/left perspective.  The argument Matt Lowrie from the urbanist blog Greater Auckland is partly opportunity cost (it's cheaper to build a slow tram than a fast metro, so there is money to spend on... more slow trams), but then he's quoted as saying it is needed for Wellington, Christchurch, Hamilton and Tauranga? It's economic insanity, but why should anyone be surprised that state radio regards a different perspective to only be from its own tribe of Green Party supporters.

18 January 2022

Should universities be teaching a common ideological line?

 Arif Ahmed in Unherd writes:

Now imagine being a clever, white 18-year old, not at all racist and not at all privileged either, away from home for the first time, in a lecture or class in (say) sociology, or politics, or philosophy, where a lecturer asserts, perhaps quite aggressively, that white people are inherently racist. Your own experience screams that this is wrong. But do you challenge it? Of course not – after all, it may have, and could certainly be presented as having, the effect of “marginalising minority groups”; and your own institution has told you, through formal training and via its website, that this is racism and we must all stand up to it.

So you keep quiet. So does everyone else; and the lie spreads. Repeat for white privilege, or immigration, or religion; perhaps also, given similar training and encouragement, for abortion, or the trans debate, or… Repeat for a thousand students a day, every day, for the whole term. There is in Shia Islam the most useful concept of Ketman. It is the practice of concealing or denying your true beliefs in the face of religious persecution. At best our hypothetical student spends her university career – possibly, the way things are going, the rest of her life – practising a secular form of Ketman. Or worse: habitual self-censorship of her outer voice suffocates the inner one too; she starts to believe what she is parroting; she denounces others as racists, or transphobes or whatever; and then after three or four years, starts working for a publisher, or a media outlet, or a big corporation...

Ahmed is a Professor of Philosophy at Cambridge and as you might assume from his name, is hardly claiming Britain is without racism given his own experience...

Genuine racism and racial discrimination do exist – there is less now than 30 years ago, but you still notice it. You notice or hear about slurs, pointed comments, racist graffiti or physical violence; you notice being overlooked.

I remember looking for a room to rent when I first started working in London. All my white friends had found one pretty quickly. But for some reason, whenever I showed up to see one it had “just been taken”. I’ll never know how much of this was racism in my own case; but I do hear, and I have no reason to doubt, that similar things happen today.

And hardly anyone thinks this is "ok" or rational or moral. It continues to shock me when I hear of racism because I almost never experience it myself. However, simply expressing vehement opposition to racism and wanting people to be treated as individual, on their merits, is regarded by the post-modernist collectivist anti-racist lobby as being "racist". There is only one way to tackle racism, and that is to buy into the whole post-modernist structuralist philosophy that analyses the world into competing, zero-sum intersecting groups of people, with the dominant powerful group being the "white heterosexual CIS-gendered men" who have laws, organisations, institutions, beliefs, structures and systems designed to privilege them over people of different races, gender, sexuality etc.  Structuralism states that power seeks to replicate and sustain itself, so racism exists because that powerful group, of oppressors, needs racism to exist.  Of course capitalism is seen as being a part of this, as is liberal democracy, as is every single philosophy that counters structuralism, because naturally, the inherent characteristic of humanity is that people with power, hold onto it, and try to exclude others, because they fear the loss of power.

To the post-modernist structuralists (of which Critical Theory is a subset), "anti-racism" cannot mean a classical liberal or libertarian view, such as Ayn Rand's description of racism as the "lowest, most crudely primitive form of collectivism".

That position is, with direct parallels to the Marxist-Leninist position around class, that who is expressing opinions is almost more important than what opinion is being expressed.

Marxist Leninists regarded that if one of your parents had owned a business or land, then you were obviously not of the working class, so your opinions not only did not count, but were by definition tainted by not having enough "class consciousness". Your life was one inherited from an oppressor, so you not only could not be allowed to be near power, but you needed to atone for your inherited privilege, so regardless of your skills, merit or capability, you had to be at best demoted (USSR), at worst silenced or eliminated (Democratic Kampuchea).  Post-modernist "anti-racists" use exactly the same philosophical stereotyping based on race.  If you are "white", your opinions are automatically to be thought of as suspect as best, you are deemed to be privileged and it's probably best if you just keep quiet, because when you DO express an opinion, it is assumed you want to assert your privilege, and you want to silent the truly race conscious.  

Note also both Marxist-Leninists and post-modernist "anti-racists" give only a cursory pass to those of the preferred groups (working class or ethnic minorities) as long as they tout the "correct line".  Working class people questioning Marxism-Leninism are at best misguided and needing re-education, at worst traitors working alongside class enemies. Similarly, racial minorities questioning "anti-racism" either need re-education, or are treated as "Uncle Toms". 

Of course Marxism-Leninism saw a few versions of its implementation, from Tito's relatively liberal approach (which allowed some civil society and localised debate and engagement) through to Pol Pot's absolutist totalitarian eliminationism (whereby anyone deemed to potentially be risking ideological dissent was eliminated). The stage of post-modernist anti-racism is not quite there yet, as white people (don't forget they are all treated as uniform, although the experiences of just about any white migrants from non-Anglophone backgrounds are hardly without racism) can be re-educated to have race consciousness and be aware of their privilege (which absolutely exists in certain contexts, but is far from universal and far from as simplistic as is touted), and learn to keep quiet and not oppose the now predominant academic and increasing dominant media and corporate ideology.

Ahmed notes that for all of the prioritisation of opposition to racism, universities are remarkably silent on a whole host of other worthy causes to oppose but why?

Racism is bad, but so is much else. And yet our soi-disant “anti-racist” universities rarely if ever call themselves “anti-genocide” or “anti-corruption” or “anti-censorship” or (for that matter) “anti-corporate-bullshit”. In summer 2020, you could hardly move for universities making fatuous assertions of “solidarity” with victims of racism. But you won’t find similarly prominent (and probably not any) support, from the same sources, for free speech in Hong Kong or for the non-extermination of the Uyghurs. But then upsetting China might affect your bottom line.

Of course Ahmed is writing from the UK, which statistically sees the worst performing group being white working class boys (three identities there) and the best performing being Chinese boys and girls, followed by ethnic Indians. The idea that institutional racism is the number one cause hindering social mobility in the UK seems questionable at least. In the US, the shadow of legally mandated discrimination towards African-Americans continues to be large, but it's far from clear that university mandated ideological uniformity assists in addressing this. Similarly in NZ, there is an obvious gap in outcomes between Māori and non-Māori education, health and incomes, which clearly is in part a legacy of past discrimination, but again if there is a goal to address issues that particularly affect people from some communities, then how does ideological conformity help address that?

Ahmed believes that there needs to be an ideological purging of universities engaging in ideological training. 

The obvious solution is the immediate and permanent scrapping of any kind of politically or ideologically oriented training or induction. It has no place in a university.

Then, enforce explicit institutional neutrality. In February 1967, the President of Chicago University appointed law professor Harry Kalven Jr to chair a committee tasked with preparing a “statement on the University’s role in political and social action”. The upshot was the Kalven Report, which stated in the clearest possible terms both the essential function of the University and the essential requirement for political neutrality that followed:

The mission of the university is the discovery, improvement, and dissemination of knowledge. Its domain of inquiry and scrutiny includes all aspects and all values of society… A university, if it is to be true to its faith in intellectual inquiry, must embrace, be hospitable to, and encourage the widest diversity of views within its own community… It cannot insist that all of its members favour a given view of social policy.

These words should be installed in 10-foot high neon in the office of every Vice-Chancellor in the country. And their universities should commit, publicly and non-negotiably, never to take a corporate stance, in any direction, on any political or social question. 

It's become de riguer among most leftwing/social activist circles to treat phrases like "diversity of views" as "providing a platform for Nazis", which is a red herring specifically designed to shut down debate or inquiry. After all, if there were only two points of views, the "correct" one and "being a Nazi", it isn't hard to see most people thinking it's best to avoid the latter, but it's dishonest, disingenuous and repugnant to treat queries of an ideological position as being akin to genocidal racial supremacy. However, post-modernist "anti-racists" continue to play the game of the Orwellian Marxist-Leninists who treated every opponent as if they were the worst possible people in the world, when in fact that was exactly what they were.

Te Pāti Māori list MP Debbie Ngarewa-Packer's line that you're either Tangata Whenua, Tangata Tiriti or a racist is a reflection of this. You're either racially (and ideologically) correct, ideologically correct or you're irredeemable. 

This reductive approach suits ideological tyrants who don't want to debate or discuss the merits of their position, which they see as philosophically moral and just, and any derogation from that line as being immoral or unjust. Why debate and discuss what is obviously right and just, unless the person debating is at best wrong, or at worst just wanting to oppress people?

It's an authoritarian philosophy that tolerates no dissent, it may tolerate questions for clarification, but anything beyond that is a leap from the just and righteous into the unjust and intolerable.  

Universities should let a "thousand-flowers" bloom, and should promote robust and resilient discussion and debate. If not, then they really are just sheep factories, like the universities seen in totalitarian countries, whereby ideology comes before inquiry. Universities should be places where people who are radical activists across the political spectrum, whether by identity, class, liberalism, the many strands of Marxism, but also religiously based philosophies, can speak, can collaborate and express themselves, and also be ready for responses to their beliefs and positions. 

The big question is who politically will stand up for universities being universal for the sake of students and the public, who own them? 

05 January 2022

NZ political parties: Having low expectations in 2022

Given I have been in a summery mood to write, I thought I'd pontificate on NZ political parties for 2022, across their past performance and future prospects.

Labour: Labour has "kept us safe" (it says), has propped up the economy through massive borrowing and embarked on a radical programme for change, albeit not one ambitious enough for the leftwing Twitterati.Whether it be replacing the RMA with similarly planner oriented legislation, de-facto taking water out of territorial authority control into a part-Iwi governed quango, merging RNZ with TVNZ, radical interventionism for climate change whilst mostly ignoring the ETS, embracing critical race theory in social policy, introducing a de-facto capital gains tax for investment properties, growing the welfare state and dramatically growing a client-state of artists, writers and other creatives (which the Taxpayers Union has been gratefully Tweeting on).  

This keeps the base happy, makes the Greens look irrelevant (they are), and proves above all that Labour IS the party of change and reform in NZ.  

Labour MPs don't waste their time in power, they use it turn the country left, towards more government, more taxes, more spending, more regulation, more public servants, greater embrace of identity not individual based policies, and to further cement the dominance of the professional provider unions in education and healthcare. 

Labour's greatest asset remains Jacinda Ardern. Women love her in quantities that are difficult for other parties to counter, and as long as she commands that demographic, Labour will be able to scrape together a third term, albeit never again on its own. 

The biggest risk is non-performance. Housing is a disaster that may only stabilise at best, and then again only if immigration remains zero and construction continues to surge on. Inflation may or may not get out of control, and if it does, expect high interest rates to decimate some businesses, farms and mortgage holders. However, Labour has one main trick to play - smear the other side as "nasty mean people who don't want to give out as much money as we do, and be kind".  After all, the narrative that National would have "literally" killed thousands because of it questioning Covid policies, will play well for many, but only so much smiling and nice words can be a response to giving preferences for a foreign DJ to enter NZ three times in a year for "economic reasons".  

With performance on most measures beyond Covid and propping up the economy through borrowing looking poor, the other risk for Labour is looking out-of-touch and elitist. It looks like a Government that grants favours to favoured groups and individuals, because it IS. The party for the working people that is more looking like the party for its friends in entertainment, sports and media, professional elites (through unions) and civil servants. However, to lose, people have to believe in a viable alternative...

National: After a year of self-evisceration and internal soul searching, along with some poorly drafted attempts at steering politics in various directions, it has a new leader and a fresh start.  Luxon is an asset because he isn't tainted with past government performance, but what can National offer a tired public? Despite his valiant and indefatigable efforts, Chris Bishop is unlikely to convince enough people that the Government has performed poorly on Covid, although he certainly can grab the constituency of those stuck abroad whilst Labour grants MIQ spots to minstrels and thespians. 

National can play tales around government waste, and there is plenty of it about, with concern over the cost of living and inflation. It can try to argue that educational standards and dropping or the old right wing favourite of being "tough" on crime. It has chosen to take the side of local government on Three Waters as it hasn't the spine to argue for a better model than a modified status quo, and its arguments over Māori issues are woeful for their lack of clarity, when much of the public is crying out for a reassertion of belief that liberal democracy should be one person one vote, rather than Iwi co-governance.  It has shown little interest in arguing that the climate change agenda of the government will not only harm agriculture but inflate the cost of living.

National's instincts are, like most conservative parties, to argue that Labour is changing things the wrong way and National will reverse that. National rarely offers contrary agendas to turn back the tide towards more government and more regulation, because it is too desperate for power and too scared of principles to rebut Labour on not just the means, but the ends.  An example is its opposition to the light rail project in Auckland, but the criticism is that "nothing has been done about it, but reports". By what intellectual contortion can you both oppose a project AND oppose it having not been advanced?

Competence with the economy, competence with healthcare, addressing crime and cutting waste are themes National might take on, as well as brushing aside Labour's obsession with identity politics. It would be nice if National actually stood for reversing some of Labour's policies, wouldn't it? 

Greens:  The Greens are part of the government, but really rather invisible. Which may be for the best.  Labour has embraced the Greens on environmental policy and identity politics, with the Greens basically standing for MORE spending, MORE taxes and MORE bans of stuff they don't like.  The Greens want a wealth tax, so they can spend more on stuff they like (like higher benefits, trains and high-status trendy "new Green" businesses), and want a much more enveloping big mother state. James Shaw is the reasonable face of a group that includes outspoken and out-of-touch far left radicals like Ricardo Menendez-March the Marxist Mexican and Israel hater/defender of genocidal rabble rousers Golriz Gharaman.  The more they speak the more votes the Greens lose, but for now, the Greens have a core leftwing base, and with Chloe Swarbrick as an electorate MP, will feel more secure than before electorally. What's hard is selling what the point of the Greens are, when Labour embraces so much of its agenda? However what's easy is that most of the media give the Greens a very easy ride, and don't confront what is a radical socialist identitarian agenda that wants a big state in terms of spending, regulation and interference in people's lives and businesses.

ACT: Paradoxically, in policy terms ACT has never be LESS libertarian, but with its most libertarian leader (it's all relative though). ACT hasn't put much of a foot wrong, so the key is to remain outspoken on the issues the Nats wont deal with.  Confronting identity politics and being tougher on crime, along with government waste ought to be a core mix of libertarian and conservative values, with Labour's attempts to weaken freedom of speech being front and centre. Given National almost always is unwilling to take on Labour on principle and present radical policy ideas, ACT should take this role.  Three Waters?  Just say no to the status quo, and require councils to commercialise water, invoice consumers and cut rates proportionately, and put shares in the hands of ratepayers directly. Education? Let charter schools expand, and convert public school governance into a fully devolved model to fund all costs, including teachers.  Healthcare? Tax deductible private insurance to relieve the public sector, and focus the public sector on emergency and chronic condition care. Forget poorly targeted stunts like sharing a code for Māori to obtain vaccinations, and instead sponsor useful research into addressing social issues based on cause and need. ACT should be the party that says what National is afraid of saying, that free enterprise works, that personal responsibility is critical to a healthy functioning society, and that treating everyone as individuals with dignity is better than the identitarian view of people as either oppressed or oppressors.

Te Pāti Māori: Radical ethno-nationalists that have done well to promote their vision that the New Zealand Government is a racist white supremacist project that continues to engage in genocide against Māori, and unless it dismantles liberal democracy and institutes a Parliament whereby Māori have half of the seats and Pākeha the remainder (and which dismantles other white supremacist institutions like property rights), then Māori will always be "colonised".  It would be laughable if it didn't get people elected to positions of power. Labour might need Te Pāti Māori after the next election, so don't laugh too much, but the absurd positions stated by its two MPs from time to time need to be highlighted and laughed at.