Sunday, December 7, 2014

Biased BBC Typical of State Broadcasters

British Prime Minister David Cameron and his finance minister George Osborne this week attacked the BBC as biased, accusing it of systematic exaggeration in its coverage of the Cameron Government's mini-budget, known as the Autumn Statement. What seems to have particularly riled the Tories is the claim by a BBC political reporter that the budget would take Britain back to the economic conditions described in George Orwell's novel, The Road to Wigan Pier. The only thing about this that surprises me is that Cameron and Osborne are surprised by the obvious left-wing bias of the state broadcaster.

Here in New Zealand the media, and in particular the state-owned broadcasters, show similar political partisanship. A few days ago I was in a taxi and the cabbie was listening to Radio New Zealand National's Morning Report programme, which has a heavy focus on coverage of local political affairs. Now, I stopped listening to National Radio during the 2008 election campaign when the station made no attempt to hide its hugely biased coverage in favour of then Labour Prime Minister Helen Clark over (successful) centre-right National Party challenger John Key. I was tempted to ask the cabbie to turn it off but decided it would be interesting to see whether National Radio's coverage of politics had become any more even-handed. There followed the most appalling radio interview I have heard in a long time. The reporter, unable to bait her cabinet minister interviewee into conceding what she wanted, resorted to the sort of petulant hectoring one would normally only hear in a drunken pub debate. This endured for five minutes with the cabinet minister maintaining her position calmly and the reporter becoming ever more belligerent.

Of course there is a very logical reason why state broadcasters should be biased towards left-wing political views and that is that state ownership and forcible tax-payer funding of broadcasting services only makes sense to those with Socialist views. It is simply self-interest and self-preservation.

There was perhaps a legitimate economic argument in favour of the state getting into broadcasting in the early days of radio and television, when the entry costs were a high barrier to the private sector, particularly in small countries like New Zealand. It could be argued that if the New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation hadn't established a television network in New Zealand in 1962 then this country may have gone without television for many years after that. Personally I think this is doubtful and in a free market it wouldn't have taken long for small, local television broadcasters to become established (and deregulation in 1989 proved this by quickly leading to the establishment of the privately-owned TV3). But even if such economic arguments had some legitimacy years ago, in the current environment when anyone with a personal computer can set up their own Youtube channel or streaming radio channel, such arguments are ridiculous.

The answer for David Cameron is that he should privatise the BBC. It is the dominance of the BBC and Radio New Zealand through state funding and protection that gives them their political power. In a highly competitive market, the biases of one broadcaster would not matter. 

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Ferguson, Missouri Shows Race Relations in America Still a Long Way to Go

Living in New Zealand it is hard to appreciate just how big an issue race is in America. Sure, we have a few tensions around Maori historical grievances but it is nothing compared to the racial firestorms that periodically break out in America between African-Americans and other races. The most recent example is the riots in Ferguson, Missouri, following the decision by a grand jury not to indict white police officer Darren Wilson over the fatal shooting of black youth Michael Brown.

I think it is likely from what I have read that the grand jury made the right decision in this case. However, there is no doubt that America's law enforcement agencies have become far too trigger-happy, with many recent examples of innocent Americans being shot by over-zealous, and even downright sociopathic, police officers (such as the killings of Samantha Ramsay and Keith Vidal or the shooting of Robby Tolan in his parent's driveway or of 70-year-old Bobby Canipe, who was reaching for his walking stick). Many shootings by policemen involve black victims and you have to think the Ferguson protestors have a valid point. 

The real cause of the race relations problems in Ferguson and across America is a vast historical legacy of bitterness that isn't easily overcome. For almost two centuries Africans were transported in appalling conditions to serve as slaves in North America and, as if that were not enough of a crime against humanity, their descendants for multiple generations inherited their bondage. Millions of Americans spent their entire lives being owned by another human being. Slavery was finally abolished by President Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation in 1862, although it took another three years for the Union troops to enforce the proclamation throughout the South by defeating the Confederacy. It has been less than 150 years since then and to appreciate how little historical time that is, consider that there are likely to be people alive today whose grandparents were born into slavery. And, of course, it didn't stop there. Reconstruction after the Civil War led to another century of discriminatory 'Jim Crow' laws in the South that only ended with the Civil Rights Act and other measures in the 1960s. So, the wound is still very raw.

However, much as I sympathise with the historical plight of African-Americans, I don't accept the idea of 'white guilt' as it is contemporarily applied to Americans (or New Zealanders). Americans of European descent today are not responsible for the crimes of their ancestors. Prejudice is about pre-judging people (which is the very root of the word) on the basis of some collective trait, and Americans of European descent should no more be judged by their racial make-up than African-Americans, for to do so would be to pile one wrong on another. People should be judged by their actions as individuals, not tarred by association with the deeds of their forebears. The founding fathers of America got it right when they said that all men are created equal and have unalienable rights. The fact that they did not practice what they preached does not lessen the truth and utility of their famous words today. The answer to America's bitter racial legacy is to reaffirm and hold fast to those great truths.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Scientific Achievement Pales in the Face of Political Correctness

We live in strange times indeed. This week the scientists at the European Space Agency were celebrating their achievement in landing the Philae robotic craft on Comet 67P. Lead scientist Dr Matt Taylor should have been enjoying his time in the spotlight but little did he realise that to many media outlets and commentators the important thing was not his amazing scientific triumph but the fact that he was wearing a shirt with images of women on it. The images weren't of naked women, just women with the sort of clothing that female rockstars and many other young women like to wear - sexy and somewhat revealing but hardly indecent.

Matt Taylor has nothing to apologise for. His shirt was a little tacky for my tastes but it was nothing any reasonable person should take offence over. This is just another example of the professional offence-takers in the cause of identity politics going overboard. At a time when entire cities of women are being raped and enslaved by Islamic militants in Iraq, and young girls are being forced to endure genital mutilation in the name of that religion (even in cities in the West), those who protest against Matt Taylor's shirt reveal themselves to be cowardly hypocrites. Matt Taylor was an easy target, who the offence-takers rightly assumed would back down and offer a tearful apology. Were the offence-takers to tackle the extreme misogynistic bile that spews from the mouths of imams in the mosques of their own cities, they know they risk getting their throats cut.

Matt Taylor is a scientific hero and should be lauded as one, whatever his sartorial inclinations. As for the offence-takers, they should grow a spine and take on those who really do intend offence to women.

Note: If you've been wondering why I haven't been very prolific in my postings recently, I had an accident on my motorbike a few weeks ago and have been recovering from a broken leg. It is frustrating having to get about on crutches but I am recovering speedily thanks to the marvellous skills of the medical professionals who have treated me and the amazing advances in orthopaedic surgery that mean I will be back on my feet within the next few weeks.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Is It Possible to Create New Wealth?

My fellow blogger, Lindsay Mitchell, directed readers of her posts to the maiden speech of newly elected ACT Party MP, David Seymour. I found the speech a little weird, to be honest, but that was more about Seymour's use of language than what he was trying to say. In the speech he posed an interesting question - is it possible for anybody to create new wealth?

If anyone has any doubts about the answer, they need only look at the graph below, which shows that as the population of the world has increased exponentially, income per person has increased at a much greater exponential rate [source].

Human Population Growth and Income Per Person Over the Past 2000 Years

Clearly wealth is not a zero-sum game. This is contrary to the dire predictions of those who believe in Malthusian catastrophe and the theory of limits to growth popularised in modern times by the doomsayers at the Club of Rome.

A zero-sum game view of wealth is the primary economic frame of reference for the political left-wing. Socialists believe that the wealth I accumulate I take from others. Clearly their view is not supported by the facts as the second graph below (ibid) illustrates - as global wealth has continued to increase exponentially over the past few decades, the number of people below the global poverty measure (in absolute terms, not just proportionately) has dramatically decreased. Note that this decrease coincided with the period of greatest economic liberalisation and retrenchment of the state in more than a century.

Poverty is Rapidly Declining, The Economist June 2013
So why do Socialists continue to claim that my gain is someone else's loss? Some of them just may be gullible fools and we can excuse their stupidity. The rest are frauds - they know better but advocate their doctrine out of a petty and spiteful view of humanity. These are the truly dangerous ones. Like the monstrous Ellsworth M. Toohey in Ayn Rand's novel The Fountainhead, the frauds claim to represent the poor and oppressed but actually are pursuing far less noble interests. They can't create wealth themselves so want to deny anyone else the opportunity to do so, preferring that everyone is poor than some people other than themselves are wealthy. Of course, they see themselves as running their utopian, egalitarian world, enjoying the benefits of wealth and power without ever having to earn it.

One of the reasons David Seymour is in Parliament, and we have a pragmatic, centrist government rather than a diehard Socialist one, is that in the recent general election New Zealanders rejected the politics of envy. They voted for politicians that they thought would allow new wealth to be created so that they themselves can enjoy the benefits of that growth. In other words, they recognised that a rising tide raises everyone's boat.

UPDATE: If you want a real life example of an Ellsworth M. Toohey, there is none better than Paul Krugman, the economist and New York Times columnist, who is now calling for the greatest innovator in the publishing industry in the last 50 years, a company that has enabled writers such as me to bypass the traditional book publishing oligopoly, to be hobbled by the US Government.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Self-Determination, Nationalism and Maori Treaty Rights

The New Zealand election campaign brought with it the usual xenophobia from looney right-wing parties such as New Zealand First and Conservative, and at the same time we heard that the Government is to guarantee the Maori tribe Tuhoe some degree of self-determination under a settlement of their Treaty of Waitangi land claim.  All this was against a background of the Scottish vote on independence from Britain and the territorial gains by the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), and it got me thinking about self-determination and how far it should be taken as a matter of rights.

I am a keen student of American history and I am particularly interested in the Civil War, that most ignominious conflict in US history. At a political level the US Civil War was about self-determination - the right of the states to determine their own laws versus the right of the US federal government to impose overarching laws on the states. Of course, it was also about the morality of slavery but that was in many ways secondary as a cause of the conflict to the issue of 'states rights'.

My views on self-determination come from my libertarian politics and the Objectivist philosophy on which those political views are based. I believe that individuals are inherently sovereign and that governments are (to borrow a phrase from an important American document on the subject) "instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed." This means that self-determination, if it means anything at all, must apply at the individual level - in other words I should be able to determine how I am governed. But many would say that individual self-determination is impossible, or at least in practice it would amount to anarchy. After all, how can the individual self-determination of 4.5 million New Zealanders (or 300 million Americans for that matter) possibly be compatible with good government?

The answer is, it depends on what you mean by "good government". The American founders defined the ideal as government that protects the rights of its citizens, that is the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. To those good men, government had no other function than to protect the individual rights of its citizens. Good government is, by their definition, the collective expression of the self-determined and voluntary will of the people to protect their rights. They understood rights as being inherent in man and that the rights of one individual could not infringe upon the rights of another (their heinous error in not applying rights to slaves notwithstanding). They accepted that in order to maintain individual rights, governments must act to prevent individuals abrogating the rights of others and should arbitrate in disputes over rights between individuals. In other words, they understood that as long as governments only protect individual rights and do nothing else, there is no inconsistency between individual self-determination and collective government.

Taken to its logical conclusion, self-determination means that any group of individuals should be able to decide to opt out of any existing governing structure (be it nation, city or neighbourhood) and set up an alternative. This is, of course, exactly what the American founders did. Which brings me back to the Tuhoe, the Scots and ISIS. The problem with all of these groups' aspirations for greater self-determination is that none of them wants to protect individual rights. Tuhoe want to impose a traditional form of Maori government, wherein political power was seized by the strongest and most brutal members of the tribe, and women, slaves and outsiders had no rights at all. The Scots independence campaigners wanted to retain and enhance their socialist economy wherein taxpayers are forced to part with an ever-larger portion of the fruits of their labour to pay for whatever the government wants to spend it on. And the Islamic State rebels want to impose Sharia law wherein women and 'infidels' are second class citizens and no one is free to choose what religion they practice, who they marry and what they say. In all of these cases the alternative form of government is less protective of individual rights than the one they are seeking to replace. That is not self-determination in my book.

I have no truck with nationalism. All nation states are artificial constructs, no matter how old or grand they are, and there is nothing inherently good in one national structure versus another. I'm all for tearing down anachronistic national or empirical structures where they do not serve the citizens they should be serving. I believe that smaller, more local government is generally better at protecting individual rights because it is easier to hold accountable than larger, more geographically spread government. But self-determination is not worthy of the name unless it protects individual rights.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Common Sense of the New Zealand Voter Prevails

The general election in New Zealand produced a result that is both extraordinary and comforting. It is extraordinary because the National Party won a third term in government with an overall majority of seats and an increase in votes - the first time a third term government has increased its vote since Richard 'King Dick' Seddon's government in 1899. The left-wing Labour and Green parties both saw their vote decrease over the 2011 election. The race-based Maori Party also saw its vote decrease and the Internet-Mana Party, Kim Dotcom's personal political vehicle for ensuring he maintains his legal sanctuary in New Zealand, was wiped out.

It was comforting because New Zealand voters ignored all of the distractions from left-wing commentators and the mainstream media to ensure the current government's middle-of-the-road economic policies would continue. Voters saw the distractions, including allegations that the National Government has abused the powers of the security services to target New Zealanders and its political enemies, as disingenuous, rightly questioning the motives of those who were making the allegations.

I was hoping for the libertarian ACT Party to do better and particularly that its leader, Jamie Whyte, would make it into Parliament, but nevertheless I am well satisfied with the result. Had the outcome of the election been radically different, with a Labour-Greens coalition introducing new punitive taxes and other economically damaging policies, I would be seriously reconsidering whether I would continue to call New Zealand home. But that is not necessary, at least for another three years, and for that I am grateful for the common sense of the New Zealand voter.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Kiwiwit's Easy Guide to Voting

I imagine the whole world knows there is a general election in New Zealand this Saturday, given I have seen articles about our ridiculous election campaign in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, The Times, The Daily Telegraph and many other international publications over the last month.  Many other bloggers are publishing their voting guides, giving their careful assessment of candidates in each electorate. My voting guide is much simpler. It has three easy principles that the discerning libertarian voter can apply to ensure New Zealand ends up with the best of the bad bunch:

1) Don't vote for the looneys. That includes all Conservative, Green and New Zealand First party candidates.

2) Vote for the ACT candidate if you have one in your electorate. If you don't, vote for the National candidate. Yes, I know, voting for that bunch of unprincipled wimps in the National Party sticks in my craw as well, but as bad as they are, the others are worse.

3) Give your party vote to ACT.

Simple really.  And remember the old Democratic Party slogan, vote early and often!