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.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Is Theresa May about to sell out her country?

It is all going wrong for those who supported Brexit. British Prime Minister Theresa May appears to be close to agreeing such a bad deal with the European Union that it has prompted her foreign minister, Boris Johnson, and Brexit minister, David Davis, to resign from Cabinet. It seemed a simple thing to do, for a sovereign nation like Britain to withdraw from an economic alliance, but the problems that have arisen prove that the EU has become by stealth something much more than an economic alliance. It is a supernational entity that has become so entangled in the laws and institutions of its members that withdrawing is like amputating a leg to remove a passenger from a crashed train.

I am pro-Brexit despite it probably being contrary to my personal interests. I am an Irish citizen who has lived in Britain for more time than in any other country except New Zealand, and it may well be that I will be unable to return to live in Britain in future. So why do I support Brexit?

I am certainly no nationalist. I have written before about how I believe that all nation states are artificial constructs, no matter how old or grand they are, and that there is nothing inherently good in one national structure versus another (although I don't think the same of political systems). 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. I guess that makes me a localist - I like my politics grown locally in small holdings, like those who are localists in buying their food. 

The European Union is a very big step on the road to a heterogeneous, global government, and that prospect scares the hell out of me. The type of society I would like to live in - a society that places maximum value on individual rights and freedoms and in which the government has strictly limited powers and is highly accountable to its citizens - is the very opposite of the European Union. There are so many layers of hierarchy between the people and their distant EU overlords in Brussels that it would put the Qing Dynasty to shame. There is no real representation or accountability, with all important policy decided by the unelected European Commission and its president Jean-Claude Juncker* rather than the show pony European Parliament. And that is exactly why the people of Britain voted to wrest back control of their country. Theresa May vowed to deliver the Brexit her people voted for, but I fear she has caught a dose of the Juncker hauteur and is about to sell out her own country.

* It is hardly surprising that Juncker has acted like an emperor who regards the Brexit vote as a personal slight on his majesty when you realise he has all the powers of an emperor. It is also revealing that when you click on the link to information about Juncker on the European Commission's website, you get the message "Access denied - You are not authorized to access this page." [UPDATE: The link has been fixed overnight - perhaps someone at the European Commission reads my blog!]

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

The courageous left comes out in support of free speech

I wasn't going to comment on the business of the mayor of Auckland banning visiting speakers Stefan Molyneux and Lauren Southern from using council venues, other than what I did on Twitter:

However, I've been surprised and immensely encouraged by the response in this country that is overwhelmingly in support of free speech, particularly from those on the left like bloggers Chris Trotter and IdiotSavant. I don't agree with their views that Molyneux and Southern are racists and Nazis, but perhaps that mistaken impression makes their support for the free speech rights of the two Canadians all the more impressive.

The left has been the traditional bastion of free speech, seeing it as an essential weapon in their war against entrenched privilege, but in recent years their newfound cultural relativism and identity politics has trumped all else and led many left-wingers to abandon their support for what is arguably the foundation of all individual rights. The change in the left's position is surely all the evidence anyone needs that it is the left, rather than the right, that is now the dominant political force in the West, because only those in entrenched positions of power would see the right to voice one's opinions as a threat.

Then we have the views of certain people on the right wing who choose not to support free speech when it is two 'extreme' right-wingers who are being denied this right - people like this fellow:

Well, Mr Hooton, I don't buy it. It takes much greater courage to defend those beyond the pale on your own side than those opposed to you. You are obviously far too concerned with maintaining your carefully-cultivated 'reasonable right' position than standing up for the principles you claim to support.

A group of New Zealanders from across the political spectrum have established the Free Speech Coalition to challenge the Auckland mayor's decision in court. I would urge you to support them by donating on their website here.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Turning a Rock Star Economy into a Basketcase

In 1984, the newly-elected Labour Party Government saved New Zealand from becoming a third world economy. Prime Minister Robert Muldoon's Stalinist economic policies had resulted in high inflation, increasing unemployment, a run on the dollar. and the imminent failure of the country's largest bank. The new finance minister, Roger Douglas, devalued the dollar, deregulated the economy, sold off inefficient state assets, and the economy recovered to experience a period of sustained growth for the next three decades that was interrupted only by global economic downturns. Roger Douglas's liberal economic policies continued with remarkable consensus under successive governments but now the Labour-New Zealand First coalition government seems determined to undo all of its predecessors' good work.

New Zealand was acclaimed as a 'rock star economy' after the 2007 Global Financial Crisis because of its resilience in the face of rising debt and sluggish growth in the rest of the world, but as economist Michael Reddell points out (here and here), our economy hasn't really been performing that well since the mid-2000s.

So what is the new government doing that risks our economic performance? The answer is almost everything. It has banned oil and gas exploration at a time when other countries such as the United States and Britain are freeing up regulations and encouraging investment in new fossil fuel extraction technologies like fracking. It has introduced new petrol taxes, which will raise the price of everything that has a transport cost, and it is about to introduce its Zero Carbon Act, which (as Michael Reddell points out here) will reduce our GDP by between 10% and 22% by 2050.

The government is choosing to pick winners with its cronyism Provincial Growth Fund, which is based on the mistaken belief that taxing people and businesses so that the government can dole out money to other businesses is good economics. It is increasing welfare payments across the board and eliminating incentives for beneficiaries to get back into work. It is raising the minimum wage to one of the highest in the Western world and it is pushing 'fair pay' - forcing employers to pay workers more than their market value - which of course will reduce demand for labour, thereby increasing unemployment (because, in reality, the minimum wage is always zero). The government is also reviewing tax, through its Tax Working Group, and if New Zealanders don't believe the result will be to increase taxation across the board they are deluding themselves.

All of these policies will be a dead weight on our economy, dragging down its already non-rockstar performance while other countries continue to soar past us. The net effect will be to make New Zealand, and New Zealanders individually, poorer compared to the rest of the world. I have travelled all around the world and have seen the stark contrast between countries that have high GDP per capita and those at the other end of the scale. New Zealanders take their relatively high standard of living for granted and do not realise that prosperity is fragile. I don't want to live in a poor country but it seems that is where we are headed.

The truth of the rock star analogy has always been more Ozzy Osbourne than Taylor Swift, but if we continue down the path the new government is laying out, even the aging Black Sabbath rocker will look more lively than New Zealand's economic performance.