21 November 2022

Voting age is about power

For all of the posing and posturing, most of the arguments to extend (or not extend) the size of the electorate to include 16 and 17yos come with a big tinge of self-interest around power.  It's been proclaimed that it is "discriminatory" that they don't get a chance to vote, but almost every argument extended to this can be applied to 15, 14 or even some 13 and 12yos.  Paying taxes doesn't give visitors or tourists a vote, and plenty who pay little to no taxes get to vote.

No, it's an exercise in emotionally laden performance from those in politics who get an advantage from having more fungible brains to convince to give them power. It's hardly a surprise that there is strong leftwing support for the idea, because it is widely perceived that most younger people (certainly the more politically active ones) are leftwing, because they are lured by the idea of more government, which can make good stuff compulsory, cheaper or free, and bad stuff banned or more expensive. This is, after all, the predominant philosophical bent pushed through state education and much of the media. 

Plenty on the right oppose it because they fear it threatens their ability to exercise power, because the ways they want to exercise power are not as marketable to young people when the prevalent culture scorns the values of conservatives and libertarians.

For me, it's rather simple. If there were to be an age when an individual is an adult, in terms of powers to contract, to be treated as an adult in the justice system, and to not have age based restrictions on what you can and can't do with your body, then that should be the age of adulthood.  At present it is a mix of 16 and 18, but few on the left think 16yos should face the same judicial treatment as 18yos, and almost none think they should be able to buy alcohol, be prostitutes and even buy tobacco. 

There is a curious cultural disjunction between those who want younger teenagers to vote, and demand they be given "a voice" for their often ill-informed, inconsistent views (and they have no monopoly on that), but also think they need "protection" from the consequences of their actions.  They aren't old enough to handle being intoxicated, to face adult court and prison if they initiate force against others,  and although it is often cited that they can "have sex", it's a serious criminal offence if anyone takes photos of them doing so or even possesses them, even with their consent.  So many who want to give them the vote also deem them vulnerable.  So which is it?

Consider that almost all of the same Parliamentarians who are supportive of letting 16yos vote, think they need protection from advertising of alcohol on TV (that so few of them watch), but also don't think they should be permitted to buy cigarettes (because they aren't deemed fit to make decisions about their own health).  They do think they should be able to apply for a firearms licence and drive though, so work out the philosophical basis for that (clue - there is none). 

So let's not pretend this is about young people having a "stake in their future" because the politicians eager for their votes don't think young people can make competent decisions on what they ingest or what photos are taken of them.  

If politicians want to argue that 16 should be the age of being an adult, then all well and good, let it be and let them accept the consequences for what this means, and they can vote.

Otherwise it's just a call for "more votes for my side, to help me do what I want to you all"

After all, if you don't trust young people to make decisions about themselves, or take the full legal consequences of their actions, why do you trust them to make incremental decisions on who should have power over others (politicians)?

14 November 2022

Who cares about one-person one-vote, when you can have one vested interest, one-vote

The so-called "Review into the Future of Local Government"was quite a review.

It didn't review whether local government is needed, and if so, what it should and should not do.  No, you see the philosophy of the Labour Government is that local government is essential, and should be empowered to do whatever "The Community" (Councillors) think it should do.

The review sees the problems in local government not a lack of confidence that local government is competent in providing services (e.g., to not provide a basic service without making the public sick) so that government routinely takes it off them, nor that it has played a major hand in creating the housing crisis (by making it difficult and expensive to build new housing), nor that is has played a major hand in limiting competition in supermarkets (by consulting with incumbents about whether a new one should be built in an area, in competition with it), not even how often local government chases totemic projects that are unnecessary.

No, you see the Ardern Government is concerned about:

  • Low levels of voter turnout (which largely reflects that the public thinks local government is boring and their votes make little difference)
  • There is limited representation and undervaluing of Hapu/Iwi and Maori as a critical partner (heaven knows why unlimited representation would be a good idea, and how is the undervaluing calculated objectively? Is it just a feeling?
That literally is what the executive summary says is the "problem" (page 08) (PDF) as beyond that is a statement of the solution. 

There are nine (!) sections of recommendations, which is apt for a government keen on bureaucratic bloat.  They are separated into the following sections, which I'll summarise:
  • Revitalising citizen-led democracy:  This is mostly about consulting more, with more community engagement.  However, it also includes "chief executives to be required to promote the incorporation of tikanga in organisational systems".  This is cultural reform of local government, it isn't just using tikanga as part of the consultative process, but it is including it in how local government runs. Quite what this is meant to achieve is unclear, but given the problem definition is so narrow, it appears to address the second problem.  What actually matters though is that the problem with local government is NOT consulting with the public, indeed nothing stops homes being built, supermarkets being built, transport infrastructure being built and anything been done in a city more than consultation.
  • Tiriti-based partnership between Maori and local government:  This is a fundamental, quasi-constitutional view that sees local government as not simply representing local residents and responding to their needs, demands and issues, but introducing co-governance so Hapu/Iwi get equal say in what happens in local government, compared to mere voters/residents.  It goes beyond consultation and engagement, to include "genuine partnership in the exercise of kāwanatanga and rangatiratanga in a local context and explicitly recognises te ao Māori values and conceptions of wellbeing". Genuine partnership, after all, means sharing power and this in relationship to government and self-determination.  It seems unlikely that local government could go against Hapu/Iwi in any decisions in this context.  It also seems unlikely that this could see local government taking a perspective that values more individual freedom, choice, competition and property rights, rather than one that values the exercise of power of numbers over individuals and their property and businesses.
  • Allocating roles and functions in a way that enhances wellbeing:  This is a serious level of waffle, largely because the term "wellbeing" is now the catch-all term from socialists to prioritise people's feelings over property (particularly other people's), freedom, economic efficiency and individual rights.  The main recommendation here is that central and local government review the functions of each level of government based on the concept of subsidiarity (a concept that would support individual freedom and choice if bureaucrats and politicians didn't think they knew best), local government capacity to "influence the conditions for wellbeing" and for te ao Maori values to underpin decision-making.  Frankly, given its record, the less allocated to local government the better.
  • Local government as champion and activator of wellbeing:  This is basically a recommendation to grow local government to spend more of your taxes (of which there would have to be more), making you feel better. It is a thoroughly statist view that claims local government can be some sort of innovator and experimenter in enabling "social, economic and cultural and environmental wellbeing".  This is so completely ludicrous that is deserves to be laughed at. Local government ran electricity distribution for decades and hardly innovated at all.  Local government can't even contract bus services to pay by EFTPOS, unlike the entire retail sector has done so for over 20 years, nor can some of them even manage to penalise bus operators for cancelling services.  The greatest innovations have come from technology and processes introduced by the private sector, and the idea that the great fist of local government can slam down on a city and innovate across all aspects of people's lives is the fantasyland of hardened socialists in the local government sector.  The main innovation local government can engage in is to get out of providing much of what it does, and get out of the way of people and businesses to build homes, businesses and voluntary organisations, and grow their communities through their own initiatives.
  • A stronger relationship between central and local government: This is code for "give us more money we are not accountable for raising from taxpayers", but the recommendations are basically a need to study more on "building on the current strengths and resources" and to "support genuine partnership" with "opportunities to trial and innovate". Well for over 30 years central government has been taxing motor vehicles using local authority roads and raising enough money to pay on average half the cost of maintaining and improving those roads.  That partnership exists because central government told local government it had to stop running its own works department monopolies and run professional asset management over its road network.  There is no need for a "stronger relationship", as local government doesn't need to do more!
  • Replenishing and building on representative democracy:  The one recommendation that may make sense is to make the Electoral Commission run local elections, but the rest is a wishlist of activism around local elections. Introducing STV as a voting system for local government doesn't get me excited one way or the other, but let's note that with low voter turnout, a more complex electoral system doesn't actually deliver much.  Lowering the voting age to 16 is a standard leftwing policy primarily because they know they are more likely to benefit from persuading young minds of the sort of wellbeing nonsense seen in this report, although by no means are there recommendations to give 16yos the legal status of adults across the board (e.g., criminal law, alcohol consumption), and why not 14yos or 12yos? A four year electoral term in the absence of one for central government is simply bizarre.  Why does being able to change local government LESS frequently, BUILD on representative democracy?  No, it's about giving councillors more time to do stuff without being challenged.  
  • Equitable funding and finance: As with all terms with an Orwellian element to them, you should always run a mile from the word "equitable", because it always means anything but.  There is some merit here, in that central government should taken into account with all of its decisions, its impact on local government (which should actually be ratepayers and residents). However the rest is just putting the hand out for more money.  It wants "co-investment" by central and local government to meet "community wellbeing priorities" (!).  It wants central government to tax people more to create a slush fund called the "intergenerational fund for climate change" which would no doubt be tapped to waste on pet projects for local government to virtue signal about (given that almost all sectors local government is involved in are already covered by the Emissions Trading System).  The perennial desire for local government to get new means to tax, while retaining rates are there.  This is a manifesto to take more money from you, and isn't remotely "equitable", but reflects desires from local government to do more without being able to convince ratepayers to let them force them to pay more. 
  • System design: Central and local government are apparently meant to work together to create a Tiriti-consistent structural design for local government (whatever that means) to give effect to a bunch of design principles.  It wants more "shared services" and a "digital transformation roadmap" for local government, again none of this is based on achieving actual outcomes based on performance.
  • System stewardship and support:  The recommendation here is that government decide on the best form of stewardship, being the way by which local government is responsible for what it does and does the best that it can do. However, why is this a problem? Is it because local democracy is a very poor incentive on local politicians to make wise decisions when it is about spending other people's money (especially money borrowed from people who can't vote yet) and about other people's property? Could it be that the best way to manage this is to keep local government to a minimum of "public good" elements that cannot be efficiently or effectively provided by other entities? Isn't this just an admission that local government is bad at making important decisions on long-term issues?
Of course the key issue of this report is that it recommends that mana whenua sit on local councils, with full voting rights.  These representatives would have the same power as elected councillors, except of course, residents/ratepayers would have no power to remove them (except for those few that may be involved in mana whenua processes to select their councillors).

I don't think much of liberal democracy, as it is not very effective at protecting individual rights, but it does have one useful function, in that it provides an effective process to remove politicians if enough people are fed up with them.  This proposal destroys this for mana whenua representative.  It institutes the principle that you can be taxed, regulated and governed by people you have NO say in being selected or being removed.

Sure you probably think you have little say in who is in local government, but you certainly do have a say, even if those you voted for did not get elected.  You will not do so in Ardern's "new democracy" as described by Willie Jackson.

And if this is good enough for local government why is it not good enough for central government? After all, the nationalist MP for Waiariki Rawiri Waititi has already commented on his opposition to liberal democracy.  Now this is a sentiment I have some sympathy for, because majority rule does NOT protect individual rights.  If Waititi and indeed the Labour Party simply wanted to set Maori free to live their lives as they see fit, and largely govern themselves (within a framework of rule of law that protected individual rights including property rights), I would be in favour of that.

However there is no possible way that the New Zealand Labour Party wants to let people live their own lives as they see fit in such a way.  The review of local government is about growing local government, it is the idea that wellbeing comes not from what individuals, families, colleagues, friends, communities, businesses and societies do, but from what government does - and the main tools of government are ones of coercion by taxation (and dishing out financial favours to preferred individuals and groups) and regulation.

The Government should, of course, throw this report in the bin, and hopefully if there is a change in government that is exactly what will happen.

There is a desperate need for a review of local government that will decide what roles and responsibilities it should have and what ones should be taken away from it, and that would do much more to enhance wellbeing, by enabling more housing to be built, more businesses to be developed, more competition in retail and the economy, the environment and society to grow with local government being barely visible.  It may manage some parks, have a fast, efficient planning permitting function, deal with neighbourhood noise and pollution complaints, and ensure rubbish is collected.

In the meantime though, the idea that elected politicians should be replaced by mana whenua representatives with MORE power to increase rates, establish new taxes and pass bylaws (and ban property development) is just a form of petty nationalist authoritarianism eating away at an already flawed system.