Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Debate on Brash speech ban avoids critical issue

I am going to write some more in this post about the banning of Don Brash from speaking at Massey University, not because I don't think enough words have been cast into the ether on the subject already, but because I believe most of those who have commented on the affair have missed a crucial point. On the surface, the matter has been about free speech and it has been a credit to our country that the overwhelming consensus has been that Brash shouldn't have been banned from speaking.

There is another aspect to this matter that, in my opinion, is almost more important than the general issue of free speech. The reason Vice-Chancellor Jan Thomas gave for banning Brash was that "Mr Brash's leadership of Hobson's Pledge and views he and its supporters espoused in relation to Māori wards on councils was clearly of concern to many staff, particularly Māori staff." She went on to say, "In my opinion, the views expressed by members of Hobson's Pledge come dangerously close to hate speech. They are certainly not conducive with the university's strategy of recognising the values of a Tiriti o Waitangi-led organisation."

Hobson's Pledge is an organisation whose vision is listed on its website as "New Zealand is a society in which all citizens have the same rights, irrespective of when we or our ancestors arrived." That seems innocuous enough, but the truly contentious part of its mission is its opposition to the constitutional and legal privilege that has been accorded to Māori tribal organisations under the interpretation of the Treaty of Waitangi adopted by the courts, Parliament and almost all public institutions over the last few decades. The issue about Māori wards for council elections was a subject in one of my recent blog posts. We have had Maori seats in our national parliament for 150 years but the idea of having exclusive Maori city councillors is a significant extension of this.

Both of these issues are significant and are at least legitimate questions for public debate, and Brash's views on them are shared by a large number of New Zealanders (and, in the case of the Māori wards, an overwhelming majority of those who have voted on the issue).

Jan Thomas said that Brash’s views were not conducive to the university’s strategy of being a "Treaty-led organisation”. What exactly that means is open to interpretation, but we can assume she means the university is committed to the post-modernist view of the Treaty that seeks to turn New Zealand's constitutional structure into a bicultural 'partnership' between Maori tribes and the Crown. This anti-democratic, racist arrangement would see governance of New Zealand shared between Maori tribal leaders and an unrepresentative government, a situation in which non-Maori New Zealanders would become second-class citizens in their own country.

Thomas’s actions in banning Brash is part of a broader movement to ensure that any view contrary to this post-modernist interpretation of the Treaty of Waitangi is wiped out. The Massey vice-chancellor has made it clear that the university has a doctrinal position and it won’t countenance any dissent from that doctrine. That is the sort of thing that was typical of universities in Maoist China during the Cultural Revolution and that ought to have no place in a New Zealand university or NZ society as whole.

I think it is clear that the Treaty gives no superior political rights to any tribal leaders today and claims that it established some sort of on-going partnership between tribal political entities and the government of today are entirely spurious. Irrespective of whether I am right or wrong, I am entitled to express this view on an issue that is so vital to New Zealand's future. If this country has become a place where we cannot even debate such matters, then we are no longer a democracy. I am encouraged that so many New Zealanders have come out in support of free speech, but almost no one has addressed the elephant in the room - that we should be free to debate the place of the Treaty of Waitangi in our modern society.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Brash ban is a tipping point

Don Brash is an avuncular, elderly politician who was once leader of the National Party, New Zealand's longest-governing political party. He narrowly missed out on becoming prime minister when he was defeated by Helen Clark's Labour Party in 2005. There were many who thought he was robbed of election victory because Helen Clark illegally used taxpayers' funds to publish a 'pledge card' that was distributed to every household in the country. The Electoral Commission, which oversees the conduct of elections in New Zealand, referred the matter to the police, who declined to prosecute. Had Labour been tried and convicted of electoral fraud, there almost certainly would have been another election with a different result.

This is the man who has been banned from speaking at Massey University in Palmerston North after he was invited by the Massey University Young Politics club to talk about his experiences as Leader of the Opposition. The university's vice-chancellor, Jan Thomas, cancelled the event because of Brash's "leadership of Hobson’s Pledge and views he and its supporters espoused in relation to Māori wards on councils" (as well as some very dubious "security concerns").

Hobson's Pledge is an organisation whose vision is listed on its website as "New Zealand is a society in which all citizens have the same rights, irrespective of when we or our ancestors arrived." That seems innocuous enough, but the truly contentious part of its raison d'être is its opposition to the constitutional and legal privilege that has been accorded to Māori tribal organisations under the post-modernist interpretation of the Treaty of Waitangi. The issue about Māori wards for council elections was a subject in one of my recent blog posts here. Both of these issues are significant and legitimate questions for public debate and Brash's views on them are shared by a large number of New Zealanders (and, in the case of the Māori wards, an overwhelming majority of those who have voted on the issue).

I believe this fairly minor matter of a university cancelling a speaker may turn out to be a tipping point in New Zealand politics, for several reasons. Firstly, the issue of banning speakers for their controversial views is already a hot topic after the cancellation by the Auckland Council of an event by Canadian speakers Stefan Molyneux and Lauren Southern. Secondly, I believe there is a sense of disenfranchisement amongst many New Zealanders that is similar to that amongst Britons before Brexit and Americans before Trump's election. I think we are ripe in New Zealand for a trigger issue to ignite this disenfranchised group in the same way that Trump ignited the support of those Hillary Clinton called "deplorables". Thirdly, I think the Treaty of Waitangi has become that sleeper issue for many New Zealanders who are far from content with the increasing demands from Māori tribal elites and the escalating concessions from successive governments eager to appease those demands. New Zealanders have bitten their tongues on the Treaty issue for fear of being called racist but have been biding their time, waiting for an opportunity to make their views known. 

New Zealanders are a impassive bunch most of the time and it takes a lot to rouse us to anger. But we have a keen sense of justice and I think the idea of a former Leader of the Opposition being denied the right to speak on a public university campus will strike most New Zealanders as unjust. The idea that it is unacceptable to voice any opposition to the establishment position on important issues is exactly what will turn many people against the establishment position. I may be wrong, but I suspect Jan Thomas and Massey University will come to regret their decision, and the New Zealand political establishment may end up with a shock of Brexit proportions.

As I said on Twitter earlier, if you think that Don Brash is extreme, wait until you see the alternative.

Monday, August 6, 2018

On gender equity

I have always been respectful of women's ability to compete with men in non-traditional occupational roles, and I have been supportive of the aspirations of the women I know to succeed in whatever field to which they choose to apply their talents.

If I have any gender prejudices when it comes to work, it is in favour of women, particularly when it comes to young people. If I had to choose to assign a task to a young man or a young woman, all things being equal, I would choose the latter. In my experience, the young man would come back and tell me the reasons why he was unable to complete the task, whereas the young woman would tell you how she overcame various obstacles to complete it. This is a generalisation, of course, and the situation with young men changes once they reach their late twenties, whereupon they tend to step up and start shouldering responsibility, and thereafter often outperform their female peers. It also doesn't apply to physically demanding jobs, where the much greater average body strength of men invariably enables them to outperform women.

People often do not realise how great are the differences in physical strength between the sexes. Women have only about 60% of men's strength for the same body weight (e.g. see this study) and given men in Western countries also average about 15 - 20% greater bodyweight than women, the average man has nearly twice the strength of an average woman.

The differences between men and women are not just physical. Psychologists will tell you there are significant differences between men and women in the main personality traits. Men are higher on average in emotional stability, dominance, rule-consciousness and vigilance traits, whereas women are higher in sensitivity, warmth, and apprehension traits (e.g. see this study). Men are more interested in things and women are more interested in people (e.g. see this study). There is no significant difference in average intelligence between the sexes but the distribution curve for IQ is flatter for men than for women (e.g. see this study). This means there are more men than women of significantly lower intelligence and more men at the high end of the distribution.

These factors are enough to account for the marked differences in representation of men and women in different occupations. The physical differences explain why most firefighters, building labourers, dockers and forestry workers are men. It is also the main reason why throughout history men have been the soldiers, when the very survival of a society depended on its ability to field its strongest army. The psychological differences explain much of the preferences for men to take jobs that involve building things - such as engineering - and women for jobs that involve dealing with people - such as nursing and teaching. The relative flatness of men's intelligence distribution may also explain why men tend to do more manual labour jobs and why there are more men in fields requiring very high IQ such as theoretical mathematics.

So does this mean we should just accept the differences in representation of men and women in different occupations? Well, perhaps we should reverse the question and ask why is the difference in representation a problem? And what is the solution anyway? Do policies that are designed to ensure more equal representation of the sexes in traditionally unequal occupations work? It turns out the answer to the last question is no. In what has been dubbed the 'gender equality paradox', the most egalitarian countries often have some of the worst representation of women in non-traditional fields such as STEM, and compare poorly to less egalitarian countries such as Islamic nations.

In New Zealand, the government has just announced that the public service has two and a half years to "end pay discrimination against women'. The Minister of Women's Affairs, Julie-Anne Genter suggested the key to this was "making flexi working hours the norm", which suggests she understands that the problem isn't discrimination at all but rather the fact that women work different (i.e. less) working hours than men. This is the reality - men earn more because they work more hours and longer continuous service than women. And the main reason for that is that women take time off to have children. In fact, young, single women already out-earn men in most Western countries (see articles here, here and here).

What so-called pay equity advocates actually want is for women to be paid more than men for the same work, because that is the only way women are going to earn the same as men for working less hours or less continuous service. They expect female workers to be paid, say, 20% more per hour than the men doing the same jobs alongside them. Do they really think men are going to stand for that?

I'll leave you with a video on history according to sociology professors, which is sort of relevant to this post.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Life After Trump

It is only 18 months into his term but the forty-fifth President of the United States has had such a impact on politics that already people are discussing what the post-Trump world will look like. It now seems likely that Donald Trump will stand for a second term in 2020 and he will be re-elected unless the Democratic Party finds itself a better candidate than the awful Hillary Clinton and a better campaign strategy than insulting half the electorate with terms like 'deplorable'. It is possible that Trump will be impeached before he gets the chance to stand again but that seems unlikely given the trivialities the Muller inquiry has come up with to date and the fact that both houses of Congress are in Republican hands.

The post-Trump world will have a different international order. The United States is becoming more isolationist under Trump with his anti-immigration stance, scuttling of trade agreements and criticism of NATO. On the other hand, he looks like he is succeeding in his efforts to bring North Korea in from the cold and his rapprochement with Putin probably lessens the likelihood of conflict with Russia. I think Trump is actually less of a warmonger than most recent presidents and that he is unlikely to start any new conflicts, so it may well be a more peaceful world than has existed since 9/11.

Trump's most positive legacy may be his rejection of the international climate change racket and his removal of renewable energy subsidies and bans on fossil fuel exploration. These are already having a positive effect on the US economy. Add in his tax cuts and broader deregulation and you start to see why the US economy is experiencing GDP growth exceeding 4% for the first time since 2014. On the other hand, Trump's protectionist trade policies will constrain both imports and exports and the negative impacts of these may send the whole world into recession, particularly if (as many analysts expect) there is another global stock market crash.

The biggest effect of the Trump years may be on politics itself. We have seen a massive polarisation and radicalisation of politics, particularly in the United States, and so entrenched are the left and right that, as a libertarian and individualist, I feel like a civilian caught between the cannon fire of two armies bent on mutual destruction. The most noticeable effect in the last few years is the resurgence of identity politics, with both sides pushing their particular grievances groups' victimhood. Not since the early 20th Century has your race, religion or some other collective characteristic been such a determinant of your worth in so many people's eyes. Trump hasn't been the sole cause of this collectivist groupthink but his derogatory labelling of Mexicans and people from Islamic majority countries has legitimised what ought to have no part in mainstream Western politics.

I remain an optimist about the future of Western society, notwithstanding the polarisation for which Trump is at least partly to blame. America has seen far worse political tensions in comparatively recent times and for all the doom and gloom, our lives continue to get better every year. I think Trump is an aberration, not a trend, and life after him will be just fine.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

The double standard of extreme left vs right

A young woman named Ash Sarkar responded smugly during a recent interview with Piers Morgan, 'I'm a Communist, you idiot.' The fact that this young woman's comment was actually lauded by certain sections of the media says a great deal about the double standard with regards to extreme political views in Western society. Can you imagine anyone defending her if she had said, 'I'm a Nazi?'

Another example of the double standard occurred when it was revealed a few months ago that British Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, had accepted payments for information he provided to a Czech intelligence agent when Czechoslovakia was part of the Soviet bloc. Corbyn denies that he knew the Czech diplomat was an spy but he didn't deny that he repeatedly met with the agent or that he received payments from him. It seems incredible that Corbyn hasn't stepped down or been sacked by his party, but of course he is in good company as a number of the senior leadership of the British Labour Party such as John McDonnell, shadow chancellor, are openly Marxist. Imagine the reaction if a leader of the Conservative Party was exposed as a Nazi.

It is acceptable to be a Marxist but not a Nazi despite the fact that the former creed is responsible for more human misery and a greater death toll over a much longer period than the latter. There has been precisely one Nazi regime since the philosophy was developed (even Mussolini's Fascists were not Nazis) whereas there have been dozens of Marxist regimes and the horrific consequences of that philosophy are still evident in places like North Korea today. Nazism wrecked havoc for twelve years and killed perhaps 20 million people whereas Marxism has been practiced somewhere in the world for a century and is estimated to have been directly responsible for over 100 million deaths. How many people need to die at the hands of Marxist regimes before people accept that it is just as abhorrent as Nazism?

The reason for the double standard is the moral pretence of Marxism - that is, it is carried out in the name of the collective good. 'From each according to his abilities to each according to his needs' is its motto, which sounds noble until you appreciate that to make it work you have to hold a gun to the head of the person of ability. The person holding the gun is the sole judge of who has needs and who is not using their abilities with sufficient diligence, and the threat of violence must be realised in order to maintain the pretence that the system is working for the greater good.

Modern Marxists claim that true Communism has never been practised but those who make such claims display an incredible arrogance. They are implying that they could usher in the utopia that the misguided Stalin and Mao couldn't. Of course, in reality these naive fools who think their Communism would be the benevolent ideal would be merely the next in line for the firing squad. Even in exile Trotsky was not safe from Stalin's bullets.

Violent repression isn't a bug of Marxism, it is a feature, and you have to wilfully blind not to see it. The media is complicit in this wilful blindness every time they use the expression 'extreme' or 'far' to describe the right-wing without using the same adjectives in respective of those with similar views on the left. I support the right to hold and express any political views, but I detest the hypocrisy of a media that labels even the mildest views on the right 'Fascist' while fawning on extreme leftists who promote what is arguably the most genocidal political system in history.

Monday, July 23, 2018

On one side is freedom, on the other totalitarianism

It has been interesting watching the reaction of different people to the banning by Auckland Mayor Phil Goff of 'alt-right' commentators Stefan Molyneux and Lauren Southern from speaking at a Council venue. There has been a heartening groundswell of support from New Zealanders of all political views in favour of the legal action to challenge Goff's decision (of which I am a financial supporter). Unsurprisingly, there has also been plenty of support for Goff's decision, including from some people I would have thought would be more supportive of individual rights - some of whom, if they paused to think about it for a moment, are likely to be next in line to be banned.

I believe that the right to free expression is the bedrock of all other individual rights. It is the most powerful weapon against tyranny and its abrogation is always a necessary element of political repression. Many of those who have supported Goff's decision have argued that there are limits to the rights to freedom of expression and the views held by Molyneux and Southern do not warrant the protection of such rights. But rights are innate and universal and are not granted by any person or government - or they are not rights. And who gets to decide? The people who want to decide are the people we would least want to make such decisions.

Some have argued that that the Auckland Council, as the owner of the venues, has the right to determine who says what on its property and that freedom of expression doesn't extend to the right to be provided with a platform. I agree that this is correct in the case of private property, but in the case of public property the denial of a platform is the denial of free speech itself. The Auckland mayor's action in respect of Molyneux and Southern is no different to banning them from speaking on a street corner or a public park. There is no freedom of expression if it doesn't apply to a public place. Of course, no one is arguing that a city hall should be open to all comers at all times at no cost, but the reason Goff gave for denying the facility to Moyneux and Southern was the unacceptability of their views. It would be sad day indeed when only those views that in Goff's opinion 'unite' Aucklanders were allowed to be expressed at Council venues.

The court action against Goff and the Auckland City Council has gained international attention and will be seen as a weathervane of this country's respect for individual liberties and rights. Make no mistake, this is the most important issue of our time. On one side is freedom, on the other side, totalitarianism. Pick your side.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Localism project is a good start

In my last post (in which I correctly signalled that Theresa May would sell out her country by reneging on her promise to deliver Brexit), I wrote that I considered myself a political localist. It is interesting that this week The New Zealand Initiative and Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ) have launched something called the Localism project, which they claim is about 'bringing government back to the people'. It has some noble aims with which I agree - including 'devolution and decentralisation in the way New Zealand is run' - although I am sceptical about anything LGNZ advocates given its hypocritical plea to central government [PDF] to change the law so that it can override the rights of local electors to hold referenda on constitutional changes.

The NZ Initiative-LGNZ statement says that New Zealand has one of the most centralised governments in the world, with central government accounting for 88% of public expenditure compared with an OECD average of 46%. What they don't say is that New Zealand has one of the least complex government systems in the world with just two tiers - national and local - whereas most other countries have at least three, and in effect our central government also performs many of the roles of state governments in other countries.

The problem in New Zealand is the lack of constitutional separation and limitation of powers. We have only one house of parliament, having abolished our upper house in 1951, and being a Westminster-type democracy, our executive comprises the leaders of the ruling parties in parliament rather than being separately elected. Technically, it is our head of state, the Queen, who appoints the executive, but convention is that she always appoints those who command the confidence of parliament. The situation is made worse by the fact that in 1994 we voted to adopt the Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) electoral system, which means that half of our members of parliament are appointed by national political party leaders rather than selected by local electorate committees. In other words, MMP made Parliament more faceless and unaccountable.

I am sure you will see the true nature of the problem. The consequences of all of this is that we have a coalition government, the formal partners of which didn't even get a plurality of votes in the election. Our acting prime minister, Winston Peters, lost his own seat in parliament during the election and his party received a reduced share of the national vote. Furthermore, it is a government that is pursuing a fairly radical agenda and making decisions without bothering with the formality of parliamentary votes or even Cabinet decisions. A country in which a government that can do this is not a democracy by any commonly accepted definition. Left-wing New Zealanders support the new government because it is expanding welfare and the government's role in every area of the economy from housing to transport. But they should remember that a government that uses unfettered powers to implement policies they support can just as easily do it to implement policies they don't like.

The NZ Initiative-LGNZ Localism project is a nod in the right direction, but New Zealand's governance problems are more systemic than the demarcation of powers between central and local government. We need the checks and balances that come from a genuine separation of powers and we need to restore the local accountability of our national representatives that was lost when we implemented MMP.