Friday, December 16, 2016

The Year of the Deplorables (and some Greats)

Two Thousand and Sixteen will be remembered as the year of the Deplorables. The clever, considerate, right-thinking people that run the governments of Britain and the US had been doing what they always do - looking after their subjects who are too stupid to look after themselves - when the ungrateful hoards turned their backs and voted for Brexit and Trump. This was despite almost the entire news media, the smart people in academia and the bureaucracy, and most of the lovely people in the entertainment industry, telling them how they should vote and how racist, sexist and xenophobic they were to even consider not choosing Remain and Hillary. I mean, how dumb and ungrateful can people get?

The so-called Islamic State organisation claimed responsibility for bombings and terrorist attacks in Brussels, Baghdad, KabulPakistan, Germany, Ohio, Cairo and Turkey (to name just a few) and there was the terrible attack on a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida - but of course the thousands of deaths from terrorism in the name of Islam paled into insignificance against the true horror (if you believe Western governments and the mainstream media) that was Islamophobia, particularly that fomented by Donald Trump.

We had the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro with an opening ceremony that tried to out-propagandise the London one, this time on environmentalism, which was a bit rich considering Brazil has destroyed more rainforest than any other on earth and the host city was so polluted some athletes refused to compete because of fears for their health.

On the subject of sports, Ireland broke an 111-year losing streak by finally beating the All Blacks, the Chicago Cubs overcame the Curse of the Billy Goat to win the World Series (for which I was in North America, so had to take an interest), Novak Djokovic was finally dethroned after 200 weeks as the number one men's tennis player in the world by Andy Murray, and Muhammed Ali, whom I thought truly was The Greatest, died.

We also lost David Bowie, who died just after releasing a last album that presaged his death, followed by Prince and, later in the year, the eloquent Leonard Cohen, and Bud Spencer - the star of spaghetti westerns that I loved in my childhood. On a happier note, the Cuban people finally got rid of their murderous dictator, Fidel Castro, and hopefully his brother Raul won't be far behind.

Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize for Literature and promptly proved he didn't deserve it by saying the award "was truly beyond words", and all of the rest of United States' Nobel winners were immigrants, demonstrating once again that immigrants usually aren't bludgers and criminals.

At the end of the year an undistinguished New Zealand prime minister (whose name I've already forgotten) resigned to be replaced, the other chap.

And if some of the above depresses you, a Swedish author has a wonderful advent calendar on Twitter that makes you realise that 2016 was one of the best years ever to be alive on Earth (H/T Not PC).

Finally, I would like to thank those of you who read and commented on my blog. I have tried to keep up the regular posts, although overseas travel and some busy periods in my work thwarted my best intentions. As always, I resolve to do better next year. Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Trump is right on China

China is a totalitarian dictatorship. The Chinese Communist Party continues to maintain an iron grip on power in spite of a degree of economic liberalisation over the past 40 years. The regime made it clear that it was not willing to countenance any challenge to its political hegemony in 1989 by unleashing its military might against its own defenceless citizens in Beijing's Tiananmen Square. If there was any doubt about the Communist Party's continued intentions in this regard, it has been dispelled by the more recent repression of the independence movement in the western Xinjiang province, the blocking of two separatist candidates from taking their seats in the Hong Kong legislature, and the continued imprisonment without trial of anyone who speaks out against the government such as the world-renown artist Ai Wei Wei. Most recently the Chinese government has begun to assert its military might outside its borders, particularly in the South China Sea where it has taken control of, and built military bases on, a number of small islands and atolls that are much more legitimately the territory of Japan, Vietnam, Phillipines and Indonesia.

In 1971 the United Nations switched from recognising the Nationalist China regime in Taipei to the Communist regime in Beijing. This was a expedient solution to the dilemma that faced the international community - the largest national population on Earth was represented by a government that had lost a civil war and now only governed a fraction of the original nation. Other countries that were similarly divided, such as Korea and Germany, split into separate nations both of which were recognised by the international community, but the Communist regime in Beijing has been completely intransigent on the question of separate recognition for Taiwan, and its 'One China' policy continues to prevail in international affairs.

Taiwan today is a relatively free, democratic and liberal state with one of the highest standards of living in the region. It is peaceful and non-aggressive but has a powerful military to deter invasion by the Communist forces just 100 miles away. The ruling Democratic Progressive Party supports independence from mainland China but all parties in Taiwan measure their language on the issue for fear of provoking the enormous dragon across the strait.

The international community has tiptoed around China's sensitivities for decades, tolerating the Communist Party's crimes against its own people and its belligerent foreign policy with barely a diplomatic frown. The United States in particular has courted China since Richard Nixon broke the isolation with his historic visit in 1972 and under Barack Obama there has been scarcely a peep from Washington about China's increasingly aggressive expansion into the South China Sea.

Donald Trump is still a month from his presidential inauguration and yet he is signalling a very different policy towards China. It started with his acceptance of a congratulatory telephone call from Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-wen, which prompted a chilly reaction from Beijing. Trump was not phased by the critical response and in an interview he stated that his acceptance of the One China policy is linked to China's positions on its currency (which he claims China has deliberately kept undervalued), the South China Sea expansion and its continued support for North Korea.

History has taught us that appeasement of tyrants is ultimately more dangerous than standing up to them. Ronald Reagan took a much more aggressive stance towards the Soviet Union than his predecessors and history ultimately judged his actions to be right. China is in many ways a more challenging adversary than the Soviet empire was in the late 1980s, and Trump has not exactly demonstrated the composure and judgement that Reagan, for all his faults, showed as president. Trump is playing a bold hand and whether he has the nous to force China into compromise on the issues he has identified, or he precipitates a trade war or worse, is yet to be seen. But he is right to draw a line between support for the One China policy and the issues he has raised. It is past time for the international community to grow a spine in its dealings with China.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

On Immigration, Sovereignty and the Modern Nation State

Donald Trump made immigration a central issue of his election campaign, claiming that immigrants take Americans jobs and commit a disproportionate number of crimes. I disagree with Trump that immigrants steal jobs or that they make a country less safe. The evidence from countries that have had high levels of immigration historically, such as the United States, is that immigrants create more jobs and commit less crimes than the 'native' populations. I believe that the benefits immigrants bring almost always outweigh any negative factors such as social disharmony and that anyone who comes to a country with peaceful intentions and who is self-supporting should be welcomed.

Trump's view of immigration is a typically collectivist one. Collectivists believe the rights of the group, i.e. the nation state, the race, the socio-economic segment or however they define it, should prevail over the rights of the individual. In the case of immigration, they believe the collective rights of those who are already in the country outweigh the individual rights of the immigrant and others such as family members, friends and employers who might have an interest in that person coming in.

I have written before about how modern nation states are, for the most part, entirely artificial and arbitrary entities. If you doubt it, consider that in the early 19th Century it was almost as likely that New Zealand would end up as a French colony or a state of Australia as the nation we became. The United States was cobbled together from territories that were settled, conquered, purchased and conceded over many centuries and through successive waves of immigration and it is still evolving as a political entity today (e.g. with the current initiative for Puerto Rico to become the 51st state). So when Trump talks about 'America First' or Winston Peters about New Zealand First, which America or New Zealand do they mean?

Political commentators and historians talk about sovereignty as if it is inherent to a political entity rather than to the individuals who inhabit that entity. If sovereignty is a right in the sense that John Locke or Thomas Paine defined the concept, then it cannot belong to a territory or a group, it must be inherent to individuals. The Magna Carta, the English Bill of Rights and the US Declaration of Independence were all based on the principle that state sovereignty derives from individual sovereignty and that individuals only cede a degree of their inherent sovereignty in return for collective protection - not the other way around.

Which brings us to New Zealand and the Maori. The Treaty of Waitangi was a deal in which Maori chiefs agreed to trade their tribal sovereignty for the protection of the British Crown. The Treaty bestowed on Maori 'all the Rights and Privileges of British Subjects', i.e. Maori individually became subjects of the Crown. This meant that they were no longer subjects of whichever violent and capricious chief happened to gain the upper hand in the endless wars that were fought between tribes up until 1840, and that they were emancipated from the slavery, indiscriminate tribal killings, infanticide and cannibalism that had prevailed in their highly collectivist society until that time.

Some tribal leaders and many political sympathisers today interpret the Treaty of Waitangi as giving residual sovereignty rights to present day tribal elites. I completely reject this view, not because of anything the Treaty of Waitangi may or may not say (although I think the words support my interpretation) but because I don't accept that tribes have any inherent rights whatsoever. Whether you think Maori chiefs ceded sovereignty or not is irrelevant - the Treaty extended the rights recognised under British law to Maori individually and those rights cannot be given up or abrogated today - at least not morally. It is the individuals who live in New Zealand today that have the sole right to determine who governs this nation state because it is their sovereignty that is being ceded - not that given up by a group of Maori chiefs 176 years ago.

Which brings me back to immigration. The main problem that collectivists have with unlimited immigration is their belief that a nation state is some sort of exclusive club, membership of which is determined by racial, ethnic or cultural criteria, and they don't want to share the nation's benefits with those who don't meet their selective membership criteria. This presupposes that a nation is a zero sum game, which is of course a typical left-wing view of economics. But if I am right and a nation is only a collection of individuals that delegate some of their rights for protection to the state, there are no collective benefits to be shared. It is up to individuals, families and businesses to decide whether they will be generous in accommodating newcomers and the state's role should be confined to ensuring those who enter the country do not endanger anyone else.

Monday, December 5, 2016

John Key hasn't made NZ a better place

So John Key, Prime Minister of New Zealand for nearly three parliamentary terms, is to resign. Some of the more alarmist media have expressed shock, but others predicted it some time ago. My initial reaction was to tweet the above comment but on reflection I am not so sure that he has left the country no worse than he found it. Certainly it is not as good as it might have been after 8 years of government led by a National Party that is meant to stand for "equal citizenship and equal opportunity, individual freedom and choice, personal responsibility, competitive enterprise and reward for achievement, and limited government". John Key's government that has given us the notorious FATCA tax law, the draconian GCSB Amendment Act, a retreat from the principals of equality before the law and universal democratic suffrage, a heavy-handed and authoritarian response to the Christchurch earthquake that has hamstrung that city's recovery and the country's economic growth, and a myriad of other erosions of individual freedoms and expansions of government interference in our lives.

Some commentators have predicted that Judith Collins might follow Key as leader. Frankly, I think her selection would be electoral suicide for the National Party as Collins remains deeply unpopular after her resignation following various scandals during National's second term in office, despite Key reappointing her to Cabinet. The alternative seems to be Paula Bennett, but I doubt whether the latter has the necessary political presence and support amongst her colleagues to get the top job. The current deputy prime minister, Bill English, will be the caretaker until the National caucus votes on a new leader but he is hardly an inspiring choice to take the party into next year's election.

This country remains relatively free, prosperous and safe - perhaps one of the best places in the world to live based on these criteria, but under John Key the trend has not been positive and I hold out no hope that a new prime minister will reverse it.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Mexico has lessons for New Zealand

I recently spent a month travelling around Mexico. It is not a country we hear a great deal about here in New Zealand but recently it has been in the news because of Donald Trump's campaign promise to build a border wall and make the Mexicans pay for it (although, interestingly, the US presidential election seemed to be of far less importance in the Mexican media than the outcome of the baseball World Series, which was being contested north of the border about the same time).

Mexico is a beautiful country with a hugely rich history and far more diverse geography and demography than most people would imagine. The Mexican people are warm and friendly, once you overcome their initial reserve, and they appear to enjoy life far more than the overly serious and officious Americans north of the border. However, Mexico is a basket case politically, economically and socially, which is why so many Mexicans want to join their numerous cousins in the USA.

Mexicans, like Maori, still tend to blame their people's ills on colonialism but they perhaps have a greater justification in doing so than those descended from the first New Zealanders. The Spanish conquistadors had few of the qualms of the British colonisers in New Zealand, seizing all the land, enslaving the entire indigenous population and setting up a feudal society that various revolutions since have never entirely overcome. The consequences of this is that Mexico today is a country that is still to some extent at war with itself. 

The conflict in the country is seen in several areas. Firstly, there is the well-known drug violence, which is mainly confined to the northern regions that border the United States. The drug violence is all the worse because of the extensive corruption in the local police forces that not only turn a blind eye to much of the violence but actually participate in some of the worst of it (such as the massacre of 43 students in Guerrero in 2014). Then there is the political violence, like the recent kidnapping and torture of a priest in Veracruz, which seems to be a constant if low-level threat particularly in the states of Oaxaca and Chiapas. And finally there is the less overtly violent, but nevertheless intimidatory, protest actions that regularly disrupt life in all the major cities in Mexico - such as barricading all the exits from a city and demanding money from drivers to let them past (which I personally experienced on several occasions).

Tribalism plays a significant part in Mexico's political and social conflict. Ethnic groups such as the Nahuatl, Yucatec and Zapotec all have their particular grievances, usually about land and the preservation of language and culture. Like Maori, they choose to focus on their differences rather than on commonalities of shared national heritage, individual rights and the benefits of living in a modern, pluralistic society. Many of their historical complaints may be justified but collective grievances and identity group politics are only likely to hold people back and ultimately economic and social advancement always comes down to individual aspirations and responsibility.

Mexico seemed to be on a track to economic prosperity and real democracy in the latter decades of the 20th Century after hundreds of years of autocracy and one-party rule, but progress has stalled in the last twenty years and the lack of investment in infrastructure such as roads, schools and hospitals is obvious to anyone visiting the country. Undoubtedly the country's long dalliance with socialism is a significant cause of this decay, with even the state-owned oil monopoly, Pemex, unable to maintain investment in new exploration and extraction methods.

There are some lessons in Mexico for New Zealand, which has been encouraging the grievances of Maori for the last forty years in a seemingly endless series of Treaty of Waitangi claims and settlements. The strength of modern Western democracies is in their unity and common humanity, not in tribal differences. Universal rights to life, liberty, the pursuit of one's own interests and equality before law are the keys to freedom and prosperity. Tribalism and the inevitable grievances that arise from identity politics are obstacles not the solution.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Castro's Apologists Reveal Their Anti-democratic Tendencies

A while ago I was doing some work for a government agency and I was surprised to see one of the staff had a picture of Che Guevara as the screen background on his PC. I somewhat facetiously asked him whether he alternated the image with others of murderous secret police chiefs such as Heinrich Himmler, Lavrentiy Beria and Erich Mielke. He seemed unaware that Che Guevara was the head of Fidel Castro's secret police and ran the Cuban dictator's concentration camps and that he personally killed hundreds of Castro's political opponents.

I recalled this incident while reading some of the tributes to Castro over the weekend, particularly the fawning eulogies from left-wing politicians like Justin Trudeau and Jeremy Corbyn, and it got me thinking about why so many on the left seem to be wilfully blind to the crimes against humanity of Communist dictators like Castro, Stalin, Mao and Kim Il-Sung. I say wilfully because, unlike the public servant above, I cannot believe these Western politicians are unaware of the crimes of those they admire.

Why are democratically-elected Western leaders so keen to embrace and legitimise dictatorial thugs? I think the answer is obvious and revealing, like a political Freudian slip. Most Western leaders believe in big government as the solution to all the world's problems and there is no bigger form of government than brutal dictatorship. In praising Castro, they are revealing their secret pining for the free hand he had to do whatever he wanted. As Mark Steyn put it, 'if you believe in big problems that demand big government solutions, democracy just gets in the way.'

The distrust of democracy amongst Western leaders has been all too evident this year in their responses to the Brexit referendum and the US presidential election. Their churlish dismissal of the voters as ignorant, racist and xenophobic has revealed their distaste of the reality of democracy. They like the pretence of having a democratic mandate but only when voters stick to the script they have written.

The very worst thing about the reaction of these Western apologists to Castro's death is their arrogance in thinking they can speak for the Cuban people, such as Trudeau's observation that the dictator 'served his people for almost half a century.' It takes a particularly weasel-like hypocrisy to label Castro's extra-judicial killing of thousands of his countrymen and his imprisonment of tens of thousands of his political opponents as 'serving his people'.

The only aspect of Castro's death that is regrettable is that he died in his sleep and thereby denied his oppressed people the opportunity of seeing him hang for his crimes.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Trump will hasten mainstream media's demise

I don't think anyone would seriously disagree that the coverage of the US presidential election campaign was, to say the least, unbalanced. Many of the election night commentators looked dismayed at Trump's victory and some, like MSNBC's Rachel Maddow, broke down at the result. The campaign itself was reported in the most one-sided manner with even the editor of the Clinton-supporting New York Times showing remarkable self-awareness after the election by penning a letter to his readers that was as close to a mea culpa as any newspaper editor ever concedes.

Trump realised early on in his campaign that the mainstream media were his enemy and he capitalised on that enmity, using them to pour fuel on the fire of his more outrageous comments when he wanted to and talking above them directly to the electorate we they weren't serving his purposes. I believe the American public were equally dismissive of the media, understanding only too well their biases and making allowances for that when reading reports of Trump's excesses. The media was trapped in an echo-chamber of their own making, feeding off their biases and believing their own hype, unable to discern what was really going on in the electorate.

It is already apparent that a Trump presidency will have a different relationship with the media. Trump does not accept that the media should have privileged access to him, his family and his staff, as demonstrated by his refusal to allow the press to accompany him on his first visit to the White House and to a private dinner. The media has responded to their exclusion by writing an open letter to Trump stating that 'we expect the traditions of White House press coverage to be upheld whether in Washington or elsewhere.' The arrogant tone of the letter shows that these fools don't get it - their world has tilted on its axis and will never be the same again. The very idea of an establishment media, the so-called 'fourth estate', is dead and will never be resurrected. You would think they would have got the message with the appointment of Stephen Bannon, the head of the popular 'alt-right' website Breitbart News, as a senior counsellor to the president-elect. Breitbart founder Andrew Breitbart said when establishing his site that it was 'committed to the destruction of the old media guard'.

The mainstream media's disease is terminal. The New York Times, one of the world's biggest newspapers in terms of circulation, is barely profitable, and here in New Zealand our two largest dailies need to merge in order to survive. Television networks like our TVNZ are in financial freefall. They deserve their fate, having long since given up (if they ever had) any semblance of journalistic independence and integrity. Trump will just hasten their demise.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Leave us alone, Gauleiter Brownlee

So Gerry Brownlee is not happy that the new mayor of Wellington, Justin Lester, did not declare a 'red zone' in the Wellington CBD after this week's earthquakes. In case anyone has any misconceptions about what Brownlee's red zone would mean, this article describes what life is still like in Christchurch's red zone five years after the 2011 earthquake. Brownlee's dictatorial management of the aftemath of the Christchurch earthquake has more effectively destroyed that city than any damage done by the earthquake.

Wellington property owners have been acting quickly and responsibly to assess the damage to their buildings in the days since the magnitude 7.8 earthquake that hit the top of the South Island. In my own offices on Lambton Quay, the owner asked that we stay out of the building until he had had engineers assess the damage. This work was completed on Tuesday afternoon and (as there was happily no damage) we were then given the all-clear to reoccupy the building. This has been the process throughout the city with no direction or help from central government and where necessary buildings have been kept closed for further inspection and remedial work. Justin Lester may not have satisfied Brownlee's authoritarian bent but four days after the earthquake there have been no reports of any injuries from earthquake damage in central Wellington so the risk appears to have been well managed and the mayor seems to have made exactly the right call in not closing down the entire central city.

The best thing that a government can do to facilitate the recovery from a natural disaster, as was proved in Joplin, Missouri*, is to get the hell out of the way and let individuals and businesses get on with the job of recovery. A few of Wellington's buildings are seriously damaged but the vast majority have superficial or no damage at all. We don't need red zones, and we certainly don't need the Brownlee's jackbooted approach to dealing with residents and property owners in Christchurch, to get on with the recovery work. Please, just leave us alone, Gauleiter Brownlee.

* H/T to Not PC for the link to the WSJ article on Joplin (which is subscription only - if you can't get past the paywall read about what it says in this blog post).

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Why Trump Won

Winston Churchill said, "Democracy is the worst form of Government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time", and I tend to agree - as imperfect as it is, democracy sure beats dictatorship. It has been revealing to observe the protests against Donald Trump's election as the next president of the United States. Like the protests after the Brexit vote, it is difficult to discern what the complainants actually want to achieve; however, it is obvious they do not really want electors to have a genuine choice and they think the voting system is only there to validate their own narrow views.

During the election campaign we saw the media and left-wing commentators try to delegitimise the Trump campaign. Trump himself didn't help of course, straying from the real issues into personal prejudices as with his comments about Mexicans, but the dismissal of anyone who supported the Trump campaign as racist, sexist or fascist demonstrated an intolerance that, in my view, was worse than anything Trump said. The trend is continuing post-election, with mainstream media outlets such as Reuters demonising the appointment of Breitbart editor Stephen Bannon as a "right-wing firebrand" who has turned his news site into a "loose online group of neo-Nazis, white supremacists and anti-Semites." I read Breitbart occasionally and at worst it is a strident voice of conservative America and at best it is a forum that robustly challenges the prevailing left-wing consensus of the mainstream media.

Trump's win was due to the frustrations of Americans with the leadership of their country. Mostly that frustration is about economic matters, particularly the high levels of underemployment amongst non-college educated Americans and the huge increase in the cost of health insurance under Obama's so-called Affordable Care Act. However, a degree of the frustration was about the erosion of the pluralism that is an essential part of democracy and the fact that it has become unacceptable in much of the mainstream media and social media to espouse any views other than the prevailing left-wing orthodoxy. I believe many Americans voted for Trump simply because they wanted to reassert their right to hold a dissenting view.

I disagree with most of what Trump stands for and I don't think he is going to be a great president, but the thing about political leaders is that you often don't know what they really will be like until they are in the role. One of New Zealand's most effective prime ministers in recent years was Helen Clark, who, like Trump, was dismissed as unelectable before she got into power. Trump is the American president-elect whether his opponents like it or not and if they have any respect for the American republic and its democratic system, then they have to accept the result and give him a chance.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

America's Dilemma

We have watched the United States presidential race unfold for more than a year now (which is far too long for any country to spend electing its leaders) and, as I have said before on this blog, I was not surprised that Donald Trump became the Republican Party nominee or that he is doing creditably in the polls in spite of his best attempts to offend significant parts of the electorate. That doesn't mean I want to see him become the president. Everything he stands for (protectionism, crony capitalism, further restricting immigration, etc.) is anathema to me.

The problem is that the choice is Hillary Clinton, an inveterate liar who is has already demonstrated during her term as Secretary of State that she is likely to lead the most corrupt White House administration since that of Warren Harding. If you can overlook her illegal futures trading, her involvement in the Whitewater scandal, conspiracy theories that link her to murder, her cover up of her husband's sexual harassments and possibly even rape, her complicity in the deaths of US Ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens and his staff, her illegal use of a private email server to send and receive classified emails, and all the other tawdry scandals she has been connected with over the years, she's probably the best qualified candidate for the job!

It is an unfortunate effect of the moribund two-party US electoral system that the American people have ended up with such a dilemma. Voters shouldn't have to choose the least bad of two awful candidates for the most important political office in the land (and the world). But the dilemma is not new - last time voters had a choice between an incumbent who had one of the lowest approval ratings of any president and a magic-underpants-wearing former Wall Street fund manager. Obama may have been unpopular but he wasn't as unpopular as a banker in the aftermath of the global financial crisis. Going back before Obama, the two major parties gave voters the uninspiring choice of George W Bush versus Al Gore and then John Kerry, and before that the Republicans gave us Bush 1 and Bob Dole against the more charismatic but morally-challenged Bill Clinton.

I think sound political leadership doesn't have much of a positive impact on a country - after all, the best we can hope for from our leaders is that they leave us alone to get on with our lives. But incompetent and corrupt leaders can really ruin a country - witness the effects on Venezuela of Chavez and Maduro, for example. While all is not well in America after eight years of Obama, you can at least say he hasn't made things significantly worse that his predecessor (with the possible exception of the health insurance system). I am not confident you will be able to say the same after Clinton or Trump.

I will be in North America over the next month and it will be interesting to observe the contest closer to the action.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Mulligatawny Soup, Fiction Writing, and Cultural Appropriation

Recently I was explaining to my children the origins of Mulligatawny Soup and it got me thinking about the latest cause célèbre of the political left-wing, 'cultural appropriation'. The delicious chicken curry soup originated in India and its name is an Anglicization of the Tamil words for 'spicy water'. It was popular with the British who served in India during the Raj and was one of many such dishes they appropriated when they returned home. You only need to visit British cities, particularly in Northern England or Scotland, to see the huge influence of Indian culture - and especially cuisine - on British life. The same applies to Indonesian culture in The Netherlands, North African culture in France and so on.

My musings on Mulligatawny coincided with reports of a speech by American writer, Lionel Shriver, who is best known for her book, 'We Need to Talk About Kevin'. Shriver was asked to address the Brisbane Writers Festival on the topic of 'fiction and identity politics'. The audience undoubtedly thought she would stick to the typical left-wing script about how important it is for authors to make careful deference to identity politics in their fiction, but they were to be disappointed. She signalled the tenor of her speech early on by stating that 'ideologies recently come into vogue challenge our right to write fiction at all.'

Shriver was, of course, referring to political correctness, but more specifically she was discussing the tendency of the left-wing to take offence any time anyone (or, at least anyone of European descent) adopts any symbol of another culture. She talked about the U.S. college that censured its students for wearing sombreros to a tequila party and the student union in the U.K. that banned its Mexican restaurant from giving out little sombreros (it seems Mexicans are particularly sensitive to appropriation of their headwear). Then she went on to discuss how writers and other artists are finding themselves subject to accusations of cultural appropriation for the mere act of creating a work that imagines the experience of someone of another culture. Shriver points out that it is the very act of appropriating other people's experiences that defines what is fiction (and if it were otherwise, it would be called autobiography).

Shriver said that 'the kind of fiction we are “allowed” to write is in danger of becoming so hedged, so circumscribed, so tippy-toe, that we’d indeed be better off not writing the anodyne drivel to begin with'. She is right - much contemporary fiction has become anodyne drivel - and I think she is bang on with the cause. Many contemporary writers seem much more concerned with convincing us of their bien pensant credentials than with telling a good story.

Some of my favourite writers are those of the early 20th Century, such as Somerset Maugham and Evelyn Waugh, who wrote mostly about their experiences of cultures other than their own. Their appeal is due to the fact that not only were they perspicacious observers of human nature but they conveyed their foreign characters with unapologetic and unadorned authenticity. Waugh's portrayal of an African dictator in Black Mischief is surely one of the greatest (and most comedic) characterisations in modern literature and it is sad that no popular writer today would write such a character for fear of invoking a secular version of the fatwa against Salman Rushdie.

Shriver's speech, which was reproduced in full in the Guardian (you can read it here), drew a response from a woman in the audience named Yassmin Abdel-Magied who (surprise, surprise) took offence at what Shriver said and equated her views with those of Australian nationalist politician Pauline Hanson. The Guardian gave Abdel-Magied equal space to air her objections and it is worth reading her article (here), if only to appreciate the perverted logic of those who, in the name of redressing imagined historical wrongs, seek to deny fiction writers the very freedom to create.

Taking the objection to cultural appropriation to its logical conclusion, no one would be allowed to learn a language that wasn't of their own ethnic background, which would be a problem for the large numbers of European New Zealanders who, presumably for reasons of cultural virtue, have taken up learning Maori. My ancestry would make my study of Irish Gaelic okay, but I'd probably be in trouble for my Spanish and French.

This is where the left-wing are going. It is they who are doing the appropriating and, not content with appropriating our incomes, our property, our institutions and our language, they now want to appropriate our minds. Like Winston Smith's tormentor in 1984, they are not going to be satisfied with us paying lip service to their cultural hegemony, they insist we must actually believe it. But, of course, that has been their aim all along.

I only hope that more creators of our popular culture are as brave as Lionel Shriver and take a stand against the real threat of appropriation of our free thoughts.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

A Hillbilly Explains Why America is So Divided

If you want to know why Donald Trump has won the Republican Party nomination for president and is once again leading Hillary Clinton in the polls, you need only read the book I have just read - Hillbilly Elegy by J D Vance. This autobiography of a young man growing up in rural Kentucky and small town Ohio describes a life that many would assume is the preserve of poor blacks in urban ghettos. The fact that the author is a highly articulate, white Yale graduate is the twist in the tale. Vance's upbringing in a violent, unemployed, drug-riddled and fragmented family is an increasingly common story of people in the 'rust belt' of America - places where all the big manufacturers (such as the Armco steel works of Vance's home town) have closed down or moved their factories offshore, taking all the well-paid blue collar jobs with them.

Vance talks with some bitterness about the elites in the cities on the Eastern seaboard and in California, who hold the working-class inhabitants of the 'flyover' states in contempt. He found himself the token hillbilly at Yale, where he was a source of greater fascination to the well-heeled faculty and students than any of the more-recognised minority groups at the university, and he describes a huge gulf in understanding between the lifestyle in which most of his classmates were raised and the circumstances of his own childhood. Vance transcended his upbringing because of a grandmother who provided him with a sanctuary amongst the violence and despair and who instilled in him a work ethic that many of his peers lacked. He discovered that Yale Law School, to which he won a scholarship, is a one-way ticket into the elite and he describes with fascination how he began to benefit from the connections and favouritism that ensure those who graduate from Yale have easy entry into their choice of high-paying and influential jobs.

The great divide in modern American society - and in all Western countries - it isn't so much about race or ethnic origin, despite what the political left-wing would have us believe. It is about a new form of class based on education, connections and political pull, and those who aren't part of the new upper class are increasing disenfranchised politically and detached socially from those who are. There was a time when an American working man could make an income that was sufficient for him to buy his own home and support a family in comfort. That is no longer the case, and the worst thing about it is that the elite know this and don't care - their sympathies aren't with the real working class but with those from preferred minorities whom they can enlist as victims in their political and social cause célèbres. This is why Donald Trump appeals to so many white, working class males - he is the only one on the political landscape who appears to give a damn about them.

American politics today is all about exploiting these divisions. Obama has spent eight years stoking the fires of racial, social and economic division and Hilary Clinton has jumped on the bandwagon with her new-found enthusiasm for left-wing causes. Trump is stoking the fires from the other end of the train. They both present their constituents' fortunes as a zero-sum game, setting Americans against each other in a fight for a "fair share" of the pie. Their supporters on both sides are too foolish to understand that they are being cynically exploited or that under both Clinton's and Trump's policies, everyone will lose. The biggest fools are the members of the elite who appear blind to the fact that they cannot continue to enjoy their cosy positions forever while tens of millions of Americans in the MidWest and South cannot make ends meet.

Vance has given a remarkable, first-hand insight into both sides of the divide that threatens to become an irreparable rent in American society. He does not set out to propose solutions and while his story reminds us that individuals can always transcend circumstances, he offers us no assurance that societies can do the same.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Arbitrary Justice in New Zealand

An article on the Fairfax Media website yesterday reported that the New Zealand Police had seized over a million dollars of assets from a gang leader that were allegedly the proceeds of crimes for which the Police had not been able to gain a conviction. This struck me as an example of how far our legal system had departed from the principles on which our law was founded.

The Police investigated and prosecuted a gang leader for money laundering, presumably (although the article does not specifically say) in relation to the proceeds of illegal drug sales. They failed to gain a conviction in two trials - the first ended in a hung jury, the second a not guilty verdict - and yet obtained a court order under the so-called Criminal Proceeds (Recovery) Act to seize the offender's assets. They justified this on the grounds that the gang leader could not produce evidence of a legitimate source of income to account for having the assets. The Police claim to have seized $390 million in assets since 2009 in similar cases.

This law is wrong on so many levels. Firstly, it reverses the presumption of innocence, requiring the accused to prove his assets are not the proceeds of a criminal act. Secondly, it is double jeopardy - having been unable to prove their case against the accused, the Police get a second (or in this case, a third) bite of the apple in bringing criminal sanctions. Thirdly, it is a form of arbitrary justice in which the Police are hardly a neutral party in determining the penalty. These things are all contrary to the principles of natural justice and the rule of law that underlie our legal system and that derive from the English liberal traditions and hard-won constitutional protections dating back to the Magna Carta.

I don't have any personal sympathy for the gang leader in question, who belongs to the notoriously violent Mongrel Mob, but I believe we should judge all laws by the standard of whether they adhere to principles by which we ourselves would want to be judged. There is a very good reason why civilised societies have held to the principles of natural justice and the rule of law and in their absence we would be entirely at the mercy of the whims of politicians, bureaucrats, and their armed enforcers in the Police.

Those who support such powers should ask themselves if they would be able to prove that all their assets came from legitimate sources if the onus was on them to do so.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Olympic Tedium

What has happened to the Olympics? There was a time when I would be glued to the television screen for two weeks, hanging onto the words of the commentators as I watched New Zealand olympians in what seemed like titanic struggles for medal glory. But this time the Olympics are just tedious to me, and going by the number of similar comments I have had from others both in New Zealand and internationally, it seems that the ennui isn't confined to me. I think the culprits are the Olympics themselves and the mainstream media that covers them.

It all started with the opening ceremony. Almost as soon as I had turned on the television, I realised it was a mistake. The opening ceremonies have always been a little kitsch but they seem to be getting whackier and tackier with each successive olympiad. Worst of all, they are becoming a platform for political propaganda. The London Olympics were the nadir for this with their awful celebration of the appalling National Health Service (which produces far worse survival rates of all common forms of cancer compared with the US or Europe) and Rio followed suit by heavily laying on an environmental propaganda theme. I thought it was more than a little hypocritical for a country that is known as the biggest destroyer of rain forest on Earth, and a city that is so polluted that many athletes are worried for their health, to be lecturing us about protecting the environment.

The events themselves are part of the problem. The Olympic organisers, not happy with hosting the world's biggest sporting event, seem intent on becoming the pinnacle event of all sports. Thus we see sports that have their own major international championship events, such as tennis, golf and soccer, being incorporated into an already crowded programme. The number of withdrawals of prominent players prior to the Olympics, and the lacklustre performance of some of the leading names in these sports, indicates that the players themselves do not regard the Olympics as the premier competition in their sport. If an Olympic gold medal doesn't mean as much as winning a grand slam, major championship or World Cup, why would you have those sports in the Olympics?

Finally, there was the media coverage. Here in New Zealand, pay TV operator Sky Television has the exclusive rights to screen the Rio Olympics. Sky has provided a minimal amount of coverage on its free-to-air channel, Prime, but that coverage is so appalling I have given up trying to watch it. A typical segment of the Olympics on Prime is 30 seconds of the sporting event followed by five minutes of interviews with the athletes, followed by four minutes of advertisements. Athletes are not the most interesting people when interviewed (they are clearly not selected for their eloquence) and subjecting us to much more of them yabbering to the camera than doing their running or swimming or riding is, for a sports lover, a mild form of torture. I can only imagine that it is a cunning strategy by Sky to get more subscribers for their subscription-based coverage.

I have paid so little attention to these Olympics as a result of all of the above that I couldn't tell you how many gold medals New Zealand has at this time, or who won them. And sadly, I don't care. Roll on the US Open Tennis Championship, a sporting event I can get excited about.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Another Good Man Falls to the Feminazis

So, another good man has fallen to the Feminazis. Kevin Roberts, the chairman of advertising company Saatchi and Saatchi, has been forced to resign for the terrible sin of saying that gender diversity was not a problem in his company (which, incidentally, has a 50/50 gender split) and that not all creative types, men or women, aspire to be chief executives. For these supposedly horrible, discriminatory views, he has been hounded out of his job.

This incident parallels that of scientist Sir Tim Hunt, who committed the equally terrible crime of telling a conference audience in Korea that he had a problem with women in the laboratory because he tended to fall in love with them and vice versa. The fact that Sir Tim in fact met his own wife in the laboratory, where they fell in love with each other, is all the proof that anyone would need that it was a personal joke that he was sharing with the audience, not a commentary on women scientists in general. Unfortunately none of this mattered to the Feminazis and Hunt's spineless employers who destroyed his career while he was on a flight back to the United Kingdom.

The obsession with achieving complete gender equality in the workplace is unfair to both women and men. The reports of large gaps between what men and women earn are very misleading, as this report by Pew Research states. The reality is that women on average are paid less than men for some quite legitimate reasons - they may work less hours than men, take more holidays, take significant breaks from their careers to have children, and aspire less to the most senior (and most stressful) jobs in an organisation. In other words, many women (and men) make lifestyle choices that compromise their earning ability.

The issue is illustrated well in grand slam tennis competitions, which now have equal prize money for men and women. But is that really fair? Men play for the best of five sets in grand slams whereas women play for best of three sets. This actually means that on average men are on the court for twice as long as women during a tournament. Men's games also get more spectators and television viewing audiences, and therefore earn more revenue for the tournament, so in relation to hours played and tournament revenue earned, the men are actually paid much less than the women.

I am a father of daughters and I want to see them get the best opportunities in life, but I think knee-capping men, and pushing women into roles they may not aspire to, is not the way to achieve that. As someone who has worked in senior management for a large multi-national company, I know that such roles are not for everyone. There are many capable women at the top levels of private and public sector organisations, but that does not mean that every female candidate is as capable to fill every role as every male candidate. Individuals should be promoted on their merits, not according to some ill-conceived quota that does not take into account the multitude of personal factors that determine each candidates suitability for the role.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Paying MPs less would improve their calibre

An unhealthy characteristic of many politicians today is that they have spent their entire lives in government. In the past a political career was something successful people embarked on later in life as a service to the community in which they had attained their wealth and position, and this model had the advantage of ensuring politicians had experience of the real world outside politics. I was reminded of this the other day when I read an article on the Stuff website reporting that veteran Member of Parliament Trevor Mallard has his eye on the position of Speaker of the House should his Labour Party be elected in next year's election.

Mallard is 62 years old and has been in politics all of his working life. He has been an MP for thirty years and prior to that was a Labour Party official, and he has never had any sort of career outside politics. I have nothing in particular against Mallard and he seems a decent fellow, but he is a good example of his type. Former prime minister Helen Clark is the same and is now attempting to cap off her career with the world's top bureaucratic sinecure, the job of Secretary-General of the United Nations.

The problem with this lack of real-world experience is that politicians come to believe that they have the capability of solving any problem better than people left to their own devices. They believe they are smarter than the rest of the population and that we all need their interference to be able to manage our lives. They think they can make better decisions than all of the rest of us and they arrogantly assume they have better judgement than the market - better than millions of people working in free association with each other to test ideas and to come up with ingenious solutions that no single person could conceive of on his or her own. Such delusions are unsurprising in people who have never had to work in a real job where their income depends on their ability to collaborate with others to produce something of real value to customers.

I think we need to return to the old model of drawing our parliamentary representatives from the ranks of the most successful in society and discouraging them from making long careers in politics. The obvious way to do this is to reduce or eliminate MP's remuneration. I would propose paying them only a small stipend, say around $20,000 per year plus expenses. That would ensure only those who genuinely wished to serve the country and who had a track record of success in other fields were likely to stand for election. It is probably the only job where paying the office-holder less would raise the calibre of the applicant.

The other change that would be needed to make this work is a significant reduction in the amount of time Parliament meets. I think Texas has a model for this - the Texan legislature meets for just 90 days every two years. Not only would this allow for MPs to continue to work in other jobs, it would have the benefit of considerably reducing the amount of legislation that Parliament could pass in the time available. It is no coincidence that Texas is also the most prosperous state in America.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

If the answer is Trump, what is the question?

So Donald J Trump is now the nominated candidate of the Republican Party for this year's US presidential election. I seem to be a lot less surprised by this outcome than many other New Zealanders, probably because I have spent more time in the United States in recent years and have regular contact with a lot more people living in America than the average New Zealander. I don't think you need to be very politically astute to understand why Trump has secured the Republican Party's nomination.

Firstly, there is the fact that America continues to languish in the economic doldrums it has been in since 2008. Despite endless pump-priming by the Federal Reserve, and talking up of the anaemic recovery by President Obama and his bureaucrats, many Americans cannot find work (the unemployment rate for men between the ages of 25 and 54 is 16%) and many are still 'underwater' in terms of wealth, having not regained the equity they lost in property and pension funds during the global financial crisis.

Secondly, there is disillusionment with the existing political institutions to deal with America's problems. Many Americans bought Obama's message of 'hope and change' but after eight years there has been no real change except for a much more expensive compulsory health insurance system, and no hope left. The Republicans are seen as equally hopeless, having been in control of both houses of Congress for the last two years with seemingly nothing to show for it.

Thirdly, there was the uninspiring line-up of alternative candidates in the presidential primaries. As National Review columnist Jonah Goldberg puts it, "the prospect of watching a Bush-Clinton race was so disgusting" that many people decided they would rather have a billionaire buffoon or a dyed-in-the-wool Socialist than either of the candidates from the two dynasties that account for three of the last four presidents.

Trump is a consummate populist, even more so than that other populist, Barack Obama. He doesn't have any discernible political philosophy - his position on any issue, whether it is immigration, trade or terrorism, is whatever will make him popular. Perhaps the only political label you could justifiably put on him is that he is a nationalist. He certainly does not have any credible solutions to America's problems. The Republican Party has decided he is the answer, but no one seems to know what is the question.

How will Trump perform as president? No one knows that either, but I expect that we are going to find out because (as I have written before) I believe he will beat Hillary Clinton to become the next President of the United States.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Britain replaces the Weasel with Big Sister

David Cameron has stepped down and Britain has a new prime minister in Theresa May. If there was any doubt about Cameron's character before, he removed all doubt with his petulant resignation when the Brexit referendum didn't go his way. This is the man who promised the referendum and set the date, so his response shows the most callous disregard for the democratic process that he put in place and for the interests of his country. He is reported as saying, "Why should I do all the hard shit?" to implement the decision of the electorate. Clearly, it has never occurred to him that being prime minister might involve some "hard shit". The only positive thing to come out of all this is that Cameron has ensured he will be regarded for posterity as the monumental fuck-up he really is.

I wrote before the referendum that I didn't delude myself that Britain is suddenly going to become a paragon of individual liberty if a majority votes for Brexit and unfortunately I've already been proved right by the Conservative Party's choice for the new prime minister. Theresa May is no friend of liberty, having introduced as Home Secretary the notorious Investigatory Powers Bill, known as the 'Snoopers' Charter', which is described in this article in The Independent as "the most intrusive surveillance legislation of any democratic country". May wants to force all technology companies to install 'backdoors' to enable spying on mobile phones and supports draconian enforcement of 'cyberbullying'. The Independent article points out that European Union law has more protections for individual privacy and use of data than the UK and raises the risk that May could oppose any equivalent legislation in the UK, leaving Britain without even its current privacy and civil liberties protections.

So, Britain has replaced the Weasel of Westminster with Big Sister, and as a sign of the post-referendum future of Britain, it is very ominous.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Ridiculous and dishonest excuses for housing bubble

Today we have the extraordinary spectacle of the Reserve Bank of New Zealand blaming immigrants for this country's housing price bubble and calling on the government to review immigration policy. This comes after the Prime Minister criticised the Reserve Bank for not acting to restrict the access of property investors to bank loans.

I am not sure which of these two calls is the more ridiculous but both are equally dishonest. The inflation in the property market in is due in large part to the massive expansion in the money supply, which the Reserve Bank manages, fueling demand in the property market, but it is also due to supply-side restrictions driven by an onerous regulatory environment. The latter is mostly due to the byzantine Resource Management Act, which allows territorial authorities to tightly restrict the supply of new land and which imposes huge compliance costs on builders and developers, but also to the increasing burden of a myriad of other laws such as new Health and Safety at Work Act.

It seems that John Key and his officials will do anything but admit the true causes of the housing bubble. Whether you look at demand-side or supply-side issues they are all of the government's making and the fact that two arms of government are blaming each other for the problem makes it clear where the blame lies - and it isn't with immigrants. Instead of looking to scapegoats, the government should be looking at themselves and their policies.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

The Abortion Post

I usually make a point of avoiding debate about abortion because most people are so rigid in their view on the subject that I don't expect to be able to convince anyone to change their opinion. However, recently I have become tired of reading and listening to people, with whom I otherwise agree, trying to shove their anti-abortion views down my throat. It seems that no matter the topic under discussion - economic liberty, terrorism, climate change, Brexit or whatever - these people aren't happy until they introduce abortion into the conversation. They arrogantly assume that because you agree with them on other issues, you must support their views on abortion as well. They often call themselves libertarians, but it seems that their support for individual liberty stops at the point that the individual has a fetus in her womb.

I believe that all human beings have inherent rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness (as a clever chap once wrote), and that all these rights include being able to make decisions in your own interests about your own body. Therefore I support the right of individuals to ingest whatever recreational drugs they like, to take whatever medical treatments they consider to be appropriate, and even to end their lives when they so choose. The only limitation I would place on individuals exercising these rights is that they must be capable of making an informed decision on their own behalf.

A woman who is pregnant and who is competent to make decisions is the only moral judge about what is in her own best interests about her body. Anyone else who thinks they have the right to overrule her decisions in this regard is the moral equivalent of a slave-owner, because to force someone to use their body against their will, and for a purpose she considers contrary to her best interests, is slavery. If you prohibit a woman from making the decision to terminate her pregnancy, you are in effect shackling her and forcing her to sacrifice her interests for yours (or your interpretation of your god's interests).

What about the argument that the fetus is also a human being with the right to life? I think the debate about whether the fetus is a human being or not is a red herring. The fetus is a stage in the development of a human being and so is the embryo and the zygote. The decision on when the product of human fertilisation and gestation becomes a human being is entirely an arbitrary one, on which even the major religions have found it difficult to agree (for example, the official Roman Catholic Church doctrine, on which even many Catholics disagree, is that the gametes are sacred human life and that 'spilling the seed' is, in effect, murder - which is why it opposes the use of condoms). 

I have written before on how real, objectively-determined rights are never in conflict and that holds true for the abortion question. The fully-formed, fully-functioning, pregnant woman has all the inherent rights of a human being, and it is logically and morally nonsensical to claim that something within her body has separate rights that trump hers.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

The arrogance of the annointed ones

I thought of the European Union and the reaction to the Brexit vote when I read these words from Thomas Sowell:
In their haste to be wiser and nobler than others, the anointed have misconceived two basic issues. They seem to assume: 1) that they have more knowledge than the average member of the benighted, and 2) that this is the relevant comparison. The real comparison, however, is not between the knowledge possessed by the average member of the educated elite versus the average member of the general public, but rather the total direct knowledge brought to bear through social processes (the competition of the marketplace, social sorting, etc.), involving millions of people, versus the secondhand knowledge of generalities possessed by a smaller elite group.

 H/T Mark J Perry at American Enterprise Institute

Monday, July 4, 2016

Independence Day celebrates individual rights

Today is Independence Day, the day on which Americans celebrate the Declaration of Independence of the Thirteen Colonies in America from Great Britain. One thing that is often forgotten is that the American Revolution was a rebellion of Englishmen against their government. They were a remarkable group those revolutionaries, risking their lives by committing treason against the Crown. They were intellectuals like Thomas Jefferson, polymaths like Benjamin Franklin and pragmatists like James Madison. Some, like John Adams, came reluctantly to the cause, while others like George Washington were enthusiastic revolutionaries. What they had in common was a belief that
individuals that are sovereign and that moral governments can only rule with the consent of the governed.

Those brave founders signed a declaration that enunciated a philosophy that was radical for the times. It wasn't completely original - other Englishmen like John Locke and Thomas Paine (who went to America to join the revolution) had already expressed similar sentiments - but it went against the the predominant philosophy that had endured since Aristotle and Socrates - that individuals are sacrificial lambs to the greater good. They turned this prevailing wisdom on its head and said that human beings have inherent rights including the right to pursue their own interests (described in the Declaration as 'the pursuit of happiness') and that these rights cannot be subordinated to anyone's view of the collective good.

The Declaration also stated that governments exist only to protect the rights of individuals. This is, in my view, perhaps the most under-appreciated principle contained in that powerful document. It means there cannot be conflict between the actions of a moral government and the rights of the individual. How can that be true, you ask? Surely part of the role of government is to arbitrate between the conflicting rights of its citizens?

The answer to this dilemma is that there is no conflict between the objectively-determined rights of individuals. Conflict arises because of subjective claims that are not genuine rights (such as 'the right to a job'). The rights that the Declaration refers to are by definition universal and they impose no obligation on anyone other than to respect the same rights in everyone else. There is no conflict between a government that regards its role as solely to protect rights by this definition and the rights of the individual because they are one and the same thing*. This suggests that many, if not most, of the actions of the United States Government today are immoral and inconsistent with the Declaration (and the US is certainly not unique in this regard).

There are many who claim that the Declaration and the US Constitution are anachronistic. I think, on the contrary, both documents were incredibly farsighted. It is not these documents that are the problem today but successive governments abrogation of them.

* I have expanded on this subject before here.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Wealth redistribution is fragile

There were two interesting statistics that received some coverage in the New Zealand media this week.

Firstly, it was revealed that 3% of New Zealand households pay 25% of income tax. Most of the media coverage of this was couched as a defence of the Government's income redistribution policies but there was recognition that there was "a risk to our tax base because people are mobile and can move." I think this is the first time I seen this acknowledged in recent years in the mainstream New Zealand media. That statistic actually doesn't reveal the true extent of the issue because almost all (97%) of income tax in New Zealand is paid by 17% of households*. 

The other statistic that received much more attention this week was that 10% of New Zealand households have around half of the wealth. The predominant media narrative was about how unfair this was, but when you delve into the figures a little more you find that around 60% of the assets held by New Zealand households is the family home. It seems to me to be churlish to begrudge people the wealth they have built up by buying the house in which they live.

Looking at these two statistics together gives a more holistic picture than either on its own. A few New Zealanders who work hard pay nearly all the income tax that supports the rest of society, and a few more, particularly those who are able to save enough to buy homes, manage to achieve some level of personal wealth over their lifetimes. This is the edifice on which all left-wing wealth redistribution policies are based. It all seems quite fragile really and a sudden economic shock - another global financial crisis, for example, that resulted in significant job loses and a property market crash here in New Zealand - could see the whole edifice crumble.

The left-wingers who call for ever-more-punitive taxation should bear that in mind.

* This is based on 2011 Budget figures but it won't have changed much since then.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Let them eat cake

The people have spoken - the ignorant, bigoted, little-Englanders who are too old and stupid to know what is good for them (or so churlish Remain supporters would have us believe) had the gall to opt out of the great European superstate.

The reaction to the Brexit vote in the last few days has been unsurprising, given the contempt the political elite and their supporters showed for Leave supporters in the lead up to the vote. The irony of this reaction is that it is exactly why the Leave side won. When the political elite treats the rest of the population with contempt, they shouldn't be surprised when the rest rise up and destroy that which the elite hold dear. Thus has been the case with all political revolutions throughout history. It was 'let the eat cake' all over again.

This was only the second British referendum on membership of the EU since 1975 when Britain proposed joining what was then called the European Economic Community. Successive UK governments have since signed up to the Maastricht Treaty (1992), the Amsterdam Treaty (1997) and the Treaty of Lisbon (2007), amongst other commitments, without seeking a mandate from the British people to extend the reach of the EU into British domestic affairs. In fact, the entire political model of the EU seems to be about gaining ever-increasing power for Brussels without seeking any democratic mandate to do so.

Anyone who has a ounce of political sense could have foreseen that this carefully-crafted, undemocratic accretion of power would start to unravel sooner or later. The only question now is whether or not Britain will be the last of the EU member countries to leave, with politicians in The Netherlands, France, Italy, Sweden and Denmark calling for similar referenda for their countries.

There is already a rear-guard action being fought against the Leave decision with a petition for a second referendum and for another Scottish independence referendum, but there is no reason for a British Government to respond to these calls. Those who opposed the Brexit decision need to accept the majority decision and give the British Government (whoever leads it) time to negotiate Britain's new relationship with the EU and other countries. Predictions of disaster will, I am sure, come to nothing and, given time, the Remain supporters might be surprised by the positive outcomes of the decision for Britain.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

The 'give back' argument is the opposite of the truth

This post is an enlargement of a comment I made on Lindsay Mitchell's blog today. Lindsay wrote about the response of a 'social entrepreneur' who had contacted 300 local businesses to pay for school lunches for children, and who had had no takers. The 'social entrepreneur' said, 
"I'm not trying to sound harsh but if there are businesses that are making money off our community then I'm sort of garnering towards making them socially responsible to give back to the community that it makes money from."
What I said in my comment was,
"Businesses...'give back' in the taxes, rates and other government charges that they have to pay - often amounting to more than half their profits. But that is just the start of what they 'give back'. They also employ most people who work in their communities, paying their wages, their PAYE, their ACC, their holiday and sick pay, and their on-the-job training. Add to that the fact that many businesses sponsor local sports teams and cultural events, and that many business people are prominent in community service organisations, and you start to see why such claims that business people should 'give back' make me sick."
I have written before about the socialist U.S. senator Elizabeth Warren's "you didn't build that" argument - that businessmen do not create the wealth in their businesses but rather ride on the backs of everyone else in the community. As I pointed out in that earlier post, Elizabeth Warren exactly reverses the true facts. The reality is that everything in the community, every dollar* earned and spent by every worker, and every tax dollar collected and redistributed by the government has been created somewhere, sometime by a business owner or operator or investor.

But, I hear you say, the business owner sells his products and services to the community and therefore isn't he just recycling money that already exists? That would be true if the economy was a closed system and a zero sum game, and, if it was, we would never get wealthier as a society. In fact, we would get poorer because as the population increases and some wealth is destroyed by disasters, war and decay, our wealth per capita would decline. So how do we explain the following graph, showing an exponential increase in global GDP per capita (while the population was also exponentially increasing) over the past two hundred years?

The answer is capital, and by capital I don't just mean money invested. Capital is the sum of human knowledge - it is the equipment and processes, the inventions and patents, the brands and goodwill, and all the other things that go into producing and selling the goods and services we consume. It is the leverage that enables relatively unskilled workers, who would have trouble making a wooden cart wheel on their own, to produce a modern automobile. And because capital is as much about the ability of the human mind as it is about anything physical, it is limitless.

Marxists would have you believe that capital and labour are in conflict - that the more of the final price of the goods and services that go to reward the use of capital, the less that is available to reward labour. This is rubbish. Capital enables labour to be more productive and it is why workers in the Western world today are paid much more for their labour than at any time in history. It is the efficient use of capital that is characteristic of a free market (i.e capitalism) and that enables wealth to increase without limit - and for that increase in wealth to churn through society, thereby improving everyone's standard of living.

So next time someone says that a businesses should 'give back' to the community, just remind them that everything in the community has been derived from businesses in the first place.

[* Note that actually this isn't strictly true for a dollar of fiat currency, but it is true if you think of a dollar as a fixed equivalent amount of gold.]

Monday, June 20, 2016

Brexit could be a small step back to Great Britain

I am not much of a betting man but even if I was I wouldn't want to wager on on the outcome of the Brexit referendum. It could go either way. The polls last week showed a surge in support for Leave but this has been reversed in the last few days since the terrible news about the murder of British MP Jo Cox, which reminds us that actual events have a way of confounding even the most confident predictions.

I am not surprised at the bitterness of the debate, especially from the Remain side since it became apparent that Leave might win. The Eurocracy and its cronies have a lot to lose, after all. The Remain side has become more and more desperate as its fortunes have waned and the Leave side has struggled to stay focused on the arguments as it has been subjected to ad hominem attacks, outrageous claims of doom and, most disgracefully, to being blamed for the actions of the mental health patient who killed Jo Cox.  

Even here in New Zealand we haven't been immune from the crazier aspects of the debate with the Fairfax Media group managing to dig up a farmer who believes a Leave win would be bad for New Zealand agricultural exports. Given that Britain joining the European Common Market was probably the single most economically damaging event in New Zealand's history and that the EU's Common Agricultural Policy continues to significantly impact our agricultural trade with the whole world, one can only laugh at Fairfax's gall.

I am pro-Brexit because I believe in small, representative, rights-protecting government and I think the European Community is the exact opposite - monolithic, unrepresentative and rights-trampling. However, I am not overly invested in the outcome of the referendum and I don't delude myself that Britain is suddenly going to become a paragon of individual liberty if a majority votes for Brexit next Thursday. Britain is a shameful example of the growth of the authoritarian state in Western countries, particularly so because it is the origin of so much of classical liberal thought and practice.

A win for Leave will be a small step on the way back to the truly liberal society Britain once was. A vote for Remain will be the very end of the road for that great tradition.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Some thoughts on Islam post-Orlando

Recently I wrote about Islam and the insight I had gained into that faith from the books of Tom Holland and Michael Houellebecq. I have thought some more about what I had learned from those books in light of the massacre in Orlando.

It is claimed that Islam is a religion of peace but I think Muslims mean that only in the sense that if you submit to Allah, you will be at peace. The Koran exhorts its followers to holy war - jihad - until all have been converted or killed.

The opposite of submission is emancipation. Having fought for hundreds of years to emancipate every section of Western society, are we going to give it all up in appeasement and submission?

In the hierarchy of victimhood, being Muslim now appears to trump being gay, black or female. Who gets to choose on which of these we compromise?

Islam is not a religion of live and let live, which is the essence of the classical liberalism that led to the freedom and prosperity that we enjoy in the West. Islam is a package deal but it seems that Western liberalism isn't.

We cannot make physical war on a philosophy - only on its agents. We must fight the philosophy philosophically.

Finally, if Islamophobia means fear of Islam - given New York, London, Boston, Paris, Brussels, Orlando and all the other massacres carried out by the fanatics of that religion - is that fear really a bad thing?

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

'Child poverty' is really a euphemism for parental neglect

There has been the usual bleating from the lefties over the past couple of weeks since the New Zealand Government's budget about the lack of Government action to reduce 'child poverty'. Fellow blogger Lindsay Mitchell prepared a report on the subject for Family First (which is described on Wikipedia as a "Christian lobby group") identifying single-parent families as a significant factor in child poverty (for a PDF copy of her report, click here). While her conclusion hardly seems controversial, it occasioned significant comment and criticism from the social commentariat, some of which Mitchell responds to on her blog.

It seems to me that with all the commentary on child poverty, everyone has missed a very salient point: there isn't, and cannot be, such a thing as child poverty for the very simple reason that children cannot own assets or incur liabilities in their right. In New Zealand, the age of majority for entering into legal contracts. owning property or incurring debt is 18 years and until they are of that age, it is parents or legal guardians who own assets or incur liabilities on children's behalf. Therefore, legally, a child cannot be rich or poor.

You might think I am being excessively pedantic, after all there is no doubt that children live in impoverished circumstances, but the language is important because I am sure the political left-wing deliberately uses the term child poverty to shift the blame from parents and guardians onto society as a whole. But society is not to blame for bringing these children into the world and for not providing them with adequate care. In fact, New Zealand society already does a very great deal to ensure that parents and guardians are provided with the means to adequately care for their children. Our welfare benefits and social housing provision are generous by international standards and our social support organisations are strong and effective.

The left's view is that society has an obligation to provide for every child irrespective of how negligent parents and guardians are towards their charges and that society should provide more and more money and benefits to those parents and guardians irrespective of what they choose to spend the money on. They can blow their welfare payments on gambling, alcohol, drugs, Sky Television, or anything they want, and still it is society's fault and society's responsibility to provide for their children. This is the message behind the words 'child poverty' and that is why I object to the term. It is really a euphemism for parental neglect.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

International politics provides relief from local tedium

Politics in New Zealand is soporific at the moment with a boring budget and even a quite muted response from the left-wing opposition, but politics in the rest of the world it is getting quite exciting.

In the US, leading Democratic political candidate Hillary Clinton has been found by the Inspector General of the State Department to have breached government policies by using a personal email server for departmental business. What is worse is that she repeatedly lied about it (as even MSNBC, which is usually hugely sympathetic to Clinton, now admits). The Inspector General's report puts the onus on the FBI, which is running a parallel investigation, to decide whether she and her staff should face criminal charges, and if that happens her run at the presidency is over. Does that mean the Democratic nomination will go to Bernie Sanders? Not necessarily. The Democratic Party seems intent on tearing itself apart into implacable Hillary vs Bernie factions, and Democratic Party rules allow the delegates pledged to Hillary to switch to a candidate more acceptable to the Clinton faction like Joe Biden or John Kerry (as Karl Rove points out in this Wall Street Journal article).

Meanwhile the mainstream media continues to do what it can to undermine Donald Trump's run at the presidency, with the New York Times leading the charge by giving legitimacy to claims that Trump is a fascist. I think Trump is a big government cronyist and a racist, sexist demagogue, but I don't think he even begins to qualify as a fascist. Such claims just add to the perception that Trump is the antagonist of the political establishment and that is a lot of the reason for his increasing popularity with American voters. I wonder whether the geniuses at the New York Times will ever realise this and that they are helping pave Trump's road to the White House.

In the United Kingdom, the prospects of a decision to leave the European Community in next month's referendum are on a knife-edge (the polls are currently averaging 40% to 39% in favour of Remain). I believe we may see a last minute surge in support for Leave due to the Remain campaign's increasingly desperate appeal to people's fears with their ridiculous claims that Brexit will lead to World War 3, worsening climate change and national economic collapse. Whatever the outcome, British politics will not be same with the Brexit issue having created new alliances and splits that cross the traditional left-right divide and many in the Conservative Party are already calling for David Cameron's scalp for his dishonesty during the Brexit campaign.

It is all entertaining, if nothing else.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Thanks, but we don't want to be looked after

The New Zealand Government's budget for the next financial year was delivered by Finance Minister Bill English yesterday and for all it contained, English might not have bothered with the budget speech at all. It was more of the same - more tax, more government spending, more pointless reorganisation of government agencies ($303 million for a new fire service this time) and no joy for those of us who would rather make our own decisions on how we manage our lives and on what we spend our hard-earned incomes.

The overwhelming reaction from the predominantly left-wing mainstream media and commentators was disappointment that the government hadn't been more profligate with our money. The reaction was typified by this comment in the New Zealand Herald by Massey University lecturer and Labour Party candidate Dr. Deborah Russell, "How do we look after all New Zealanders?"

This is precisely the problem with New Zealand today and with all government budgets - the belief that we all need looking after by the state. Well, we don't! Most of us are perfectly capable of looking after ourselves, getting a job or setting up a business, earning an income, providing for our families, educating our children and taking care of those in our neighbourhoods and communities who need help. We just want to be left alone to get on with doing these things. The belief that we all need to be looked after by the state is insulting to our intelligence and resourcefulness, not to mention arrogant in the extreme. Besides, the state never does a good job of looking after anyone.

Instead of trying to look after all New Zealanders, I would suggest the likes of Dr. Deborah Russell do something useful and instead focus on helping some of those elderly people in their neighbourhoods who have no one to check on them and often aren't discovered until months after their deaths.