Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Trump and the Left-Right Divide

Recently I completed a survey that evaluated the political views of New Zealanders and matched them to the policies of the main political parties. My views, perhaps unsurprisingly, most closely matched those of the (relatively) libertarian ACT Party, but it was the left-leaning, environmentalist Green Party that was my second closest match. I wasn't surprised at the latter as the Greens are socially liberal - supporting decriminalisation of soft drugs, equal standing before the law for gay couples and greater protection for civil rights - all of which are in line with my own views.

This got me thinking about the traditional left-right divide, a dichotomy that always frustrates me because I don't see myself as belonging to either side. Too often people like me with classical liberal views are characterised as right-wing along with others who hold quite statist and authoritarian views, such as Donald Trump.

There have been attempts to build more complex models such as the Political Compass, which has two dimensions with an economic and a social scale, as shown below.

This matrix allows a more detailed representation of political views but in my view it still does not provide an completely accurate picture. For example, it puts Hitler at the very top of the social scale but in the middle of the economic scale, and Stalin on very left of the economic scale, whereas I see their Fascist and Communist philosophies as very similar in every respect. It is one of the great myths about Fascism that it allowed economic freedom. In Nazi Germany and Mussolini's Italy, private companies were permitted to operate only under the strict control of the state and only then when they served the state's interests. Thus, many companies were forced to move production capacity to armaments manufacture rather than the products their owners would have preferred to produce. That is hardly economic freedom.

The chart below shows the positions of various historical figures.
So where do I fit on the matrix? Here is my position:

What about Donald Trump? The Political Compass website assessed the US presidential election candidates as follows:

Trump is quite far up the social axis towards authoritarianism, as is to be expected, but perhaps not as far to the left of the economic scale as I would have thought. This is probably due to a bias in the framing of the questions that equates crony capitalism with economic freedom, which is essentially the same problem that places Hitler in the middle of the economic axis, as noted above. The closest of the historical figures on the chart to Trump is Margaret Thatcher, although I think Thatcher was significantly more economically liberal (and perhaps more socially conservative) than Trump.

Trump is the man the left-wing loves to hate but in reality his policies have far more in common with the views of those who describe themselves as 'lefties' than they do with my philosophical beliefs. It is ironic that Trump's first significant executive order was to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, an action he completed as people were marching in protest against his election. Many of those who were protesting were undoubtedly the same people who had protested against the TPP. It is revealing that in the above chart Hillary Clinton is further to the right economically than Trump - again something many of her supporters would be surprised to see.

I think there is really only one axis when it comes to political beliefs - authoritarian vs. liberal - and anyone who claims they can be at one end of the axis on social matters and the other end on economic matters is deluding themselves. The economist Milton Friedman (whose views are shown in the second chart above) said that a country could have economic freedom without political freedom, but not the reverse. I disagree - freedom is freedom, and economic freedom without social or political freedom, or vice-versa, is contradictory and unsustainable - but that is probably a subject for another blog post.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Life in the 'Neoliberal' Era

One of the most delightful Twitter posts that caught my attention in the pre-Christmas period was Johan Norberg's 'progress advent calendar' showing 24 indicators that demonstrate how much life has improved for human beings over the industrial era. My favourites were Day 2: Famine deaths have been reduced by 98% in 100 years, even though world population grew fourfold; and 15: The homicide rate has been reduced by half since the 1980s, and by 98% since the 15th century.

Norberg has continued to tweet good news since Christmas and today one that particularly tickled me was this graph of what has happened in what many left-wing commentators (such as this one) disparagingly call the era of 'neoliberalism'. Clearly, this neoliberalism is a pretty good thing.

The left survives on painting the world as a dreadful place that is getting worse by the year. They are the modern doomsayers, the equivalent of those sad religionists who used to walk around with sandwich boards saying, "the end of the world is nigh." This is no more so than when they are talking about the environment, which has replaced class struggle as the touchstone for political orthodoxy. Norberg even addresses this, pointing out that farm productivity since 1961 saved 3 billion hectares from becoming farmland - the size of USA, Canada and China, and that oil spilt in our oceans has been reduced by 99% since 1970.

He has a wonderful way of putting things in perspective. In response to Oxfam's recent statement that 8 people are richer than 3.6 billion, he says, "So? My daughter, who has $20, is richer than 2 billion. So the problem is poverty, not inequality." Of course, this is not mathematically kosher, but we get the point.

We need more people like Johan Norberg. The doomsayers dominate the media and many of their claims are never challenged. The facts tell us that life in the so-called neoliberal era is better in so many ways than ever before in human history. The more people point this out, the less traction the leftwing doomsayers will get in the contest of political wills.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Shame on my country for UN vote on Israel

I am opposed to many of the policies of the current and previous New Zealand governments, but I temper that opposition with the knowledge that here in New Zealand we have a reasonable compromise between the lust for power of statists on the left and right of the political spectrum and my philosophical belief in limited government whose sole function is to uphold individual rights. Hence I do not often write on political issues in my own country. However, there is one thing the New Zealand Government did in the last days of 2016 that utterly disgusts me and to which I must voice my opposition in the strongest terms - its sponsorship of a UN Security Council resolution condemning the state of Israel for its continued occupation of the so-called Palestinian territories.

I have written before about my views on Israel and to re-iterate, I support Israel's right to exist, not because I am a Zionist - as an atheist, I do not buy into the Zionist belief in a God-given right of the Jewish people to the land of Israel - but because Israel is a relatively free, rights-respecting, democratic nation whose people have the right to self-determination just like any other people on Earth. Israel is without doubt the most liberal and tolerant country in the Middle East, not just for Jews but also for Israeli Arabs who make up about 25% of the population, and for women, gays, Christians and other minorities.

It may surprise most readers to learn that Israel has always supported the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside its own territory. Even Benjamin Netanyahu, portrayed by the Obama administration and in the Western media as an intractable opponent of Palestinian self-determination, has repeatedly stated his support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israel does not want Palestinian territory for itself but wants to live in peace with its neighbours; however, it is not going to concede the territory it occupied during the1967 Six-Day War unless it is assured that it will not be used to launch attacks on its civilian population. Given that the Hamas regime in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and Hezbollah in southern Lebanon (all territories Israel previously has occupied but handed back) have continued to launch attacks on Israeli civilian targets, it is hardly surprising that Israel refuses to give up further occupied territory. There are certainly some extremists in Israel that want to expand the boundaries of the Jewish state but the overwhelming political consensus is for a two-state solution along the lines of the original partition agreed by the United Nations in 1947.

The United Nations has become so biased and hypocritical in its resolutions against Israel that its outgoing secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, felt moved to comment on this before he left office in December, saying, "Decades of political maneuvering have created a disproportionate number of resolutions, reports and committees against Israel." The Israeli ambassador to the UN, commenting on Ban Ki-moon's statement, pointed out that the organisation has passed 223 resolutions condemning Israel but only eight against the Syrian regime, which has massacred hundreds of thousands of its own citizens over the past six years. How many times has the UN voted to condemn the genocidal Sudanese regime? Zero. What about Saudi Arabia, which treats the female half of its population as virtual slaves and executes anyone who renounces its extremist state religion? Zero - in fact the UN has just co-opted Saudi Arabia to its human rights council! This is the disgusting political farce in which New Zealand has chosen to play a key role with its sponsorship of the UN vote.

I am ashamed that New Zealand, one of the first countries to recognise the state of Israel and one of those that voted to admit it to the United Nations in 1949, has cast its lot with those who choose to single out Israel and turn it into an international pariah, a status it most certainly does not deserve, while ignoring the appalling crimes against humanity of many of its neighbours.