Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Rights and Racism

The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son ~ Ezekiel 18:19-20 
[They’re saying] let’s help individual A by punishing individual B for what individual C did to individual D some years ago ~ Walter Williams
Last week I had the opportunity to speak with an ethnically diverse group of young people about what it meant to be a New Zealander. The discussion was, for the most part, constructive and respectful. The most encouraging voices were those of recent immigrants, all of whom saw themselves as Kiwis and who were keen to make the best of the opportunities in this country. The only discord came from those of Maori descent, who saw themselves as something special with rights that trumped those of other New Zealanders.

The great achievement of Western civilisation is its recognition of the dignity and sovereignty of the individual, and the best manifestation of this achievement is the idea of universal individual rights. But we seem to have forgotten the true nature of such rights. If they are universal, they cannot be diminished by anyone else's rights, and if they are individual, they cannot be vitiated by notions of the collective good. Governments do not bestow these rights - they are inherent to us as human beings and the role of a government is to protect, not to abrogate, them. They are certainly not the right to anything (such as a job or a house). The corollary of the idea of universal individual rights is that we should judge others as individuals rather than as members of some identity group over which they have control and which they did not choose to join.

Racism means judging someone primarily on the basis of their race. There is no denying that racism still exists in Western societies but the term is so overused today as to be either meaningless or antonymic. If I decide a Maori shouldn't get a job because he is a Maori then I am being racist. If I decide a Maori shouldn't get a job because he is not as well qualified for the position as a non-Maori candidate, then I am not being racist. Nor is it racist to object to 'affirmative action' programmes, which discriminate in favour of people on the basis of race. Such programmes are racist in themselves because they assume that those who benefit from the programme are not capable of competing on even terms with people of other races.

Institutional racism is the premise that the institutions of society, such as schools, universities, employers, the courts, etc., are racially biased. The term is used to explain any situation where one racial group has different average outcomes to another racial group - for example, the fact that there are approximately five times the number of African-Americans in prison compared to 'white' Americans is often attributed to institutional racism in the US justice system. There is no doubt that there is a history of institutional racism in the United States - the Jim Crow laws in the South were obvious examples. However, claims of insitutional racism today are usually made on the basis of single variant analysis, i.e. the difference in outcomes is ascribed to solely to one factor - in this case, race. This is usually lazy and inept science because almost any significant difference between defined groups in a population, when subject to comprehensive analysis, turns out to have multi-variant causes (for example, this excellent article in Quillette magazine explains why the commonly-held beliefs about institutional racism for African-Americans are at best simplistic, and at worst false).

Institutional racism is a convenient cause for activists on the political left because the theory supports collectivist political solutions. If minority groups are institutionally discriminated against then surely we must change society's institutions? Nothing is off-limits - the legal, educational, economic and social systems are all fair game - and the need for total change justifies totalitarian solutions. Marxism, the political philosophy that is predicated on group victimhood, is particularly attractive to those who define all human interaction in oppressor-victim terms. It does not matter that Marxism has produced worse outcomes for everyone everywhere it has been tried - the good intentions justify the means and of course this time it will be different.

Here in New Zealand it has become popular to ascribe the relatively poor economic, social and justice outcomes for people of Maori descent to institutional racism and the attempts at redress have come to dominate our political discourse and to affect every aspect of political, economic and social policy. The most significant redress has been taxpayer-funded compensation to present-day Maori tribal leaders for alleged historical breaches of the Treaty of Waitangi (which was signed between the British Crown and Maori chiefs in 1840, making Maori British subjects and protecting their property). Recently, we have moved beyond Treaty of Waitangi compensation to granting Maori special legal rights over and above those of other New Zealanders, such as enabling them to claim ownership of the entire New Zealand coastline and territorial waters and to have superior voting rights in local government elections.

Preferential rights based on racial characteristics are morally and legally repugnant, whether they are the Jim Crow laws or special voting rights for Maori. They cannot be implemented without abrogating the rights of others. They aggravate the divisions and antagonisms that may already exist between racial groups and do nothing to enhance the individual achievement of the people concerned (for example, there is good empirical evidence that preferential racial admission programmes in US universities lead to higher levels of academic failure amongst those granted preferential admission).

It is worrying that many New Zealanders think that people of Maori ancestry should have superior rights to the rest of us. It means that they regard rights as goods to be allocated according to some arbitrary criteria such as racial inheritance. Of course, if rights are so tradable, then whoever doles them out can take them away just as arbitrarily.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

My Alternative Budget

This past week was Budget Week, when the New Zealand Minister of Finance, Grant Robertson, delivered his first full budget for the new government. It contains billions of dollars in new spending on health, education, welfare and housing, while at the same time maintaining some sanity in terms of containing borrowing and the growth of government spending as a percentage of GDP. Much of the criticism has come from Robertson's side of the political divide, with most saying it did not deliver enough new spending and criticising him for staying with the Budget Responsibility Rules. One so-called journalist dismissed it as 'a triumph of neoliberalism'. The opposition National Party seemed only to join in the dissent of their political opponents with National Party leader Simon Bridges saying Robertson wasn't spending enough.

Given the weaselly lack of opposition and any alternative from the National Party, I thought I would post my alternative budget, which is designed to restore our standard of living to the top echelon of OECD nations. This would be the first step in an ongoing programme of reducing taxation and government spending.


Taxation would be 20/20/20/20/12.5, in other words:
  • 20% flat rate on salary and wages with the first $20,000 tax free
  • 20% on company and trust profits
  • GST reduced to 12.5% to offset any regressive effects of the flat rate income tax.
The various initiatives of recent governments that use the tax system as a secondary welfare system, such as Working for Families Tax Credits, would be abolished.

All other excise taxes and duties such as those on petroleum products, alcohol and tobacco would be abolished.

Health, Education and Welfare

Health, education and welfare spending would be capped in absolute terms and gradually reduced by prioritising essential areas of expenditure over the non-essential, e.g. emergency and non-elective surgery over elective. Education would move to a voucher system and all schools would become charter schools, setting their own curriculum and fees. All state welfare benefits would be means-tested and capped in terms of the time people could remain on them. The age of eligibility for state superannuation would be raised gradually and the New Zealand Superannuation Fund would be boosted through the sale of state assets, with the aim of eventually making it (and private pension provisions) self-sufficient.

Housing and Construction

Housing affordability would be addressed by increasing supply through the abolition of the Resource Management Act and simplification of the Building Act. Property and common law rights would be strengthened as would the ability to pursue tortious damages through the courts. Builders would be encouraged to offer lifetime liability insurance with the sale of all new buildings. Growth in the money supply, which is driving house price inflation, would be limited to the rate of productivity growth in the economy.

Energy and the Environment

Restrictions on mining and oil and gas exploration on private land would be removed, and concessions would be granted for more exploration and extraction on public land and in our territorial waters, with he aim of making New Zealand a net exporter of energy. Strengthened property and common law rights, as mentioned above, would become the primary means of protecting the environment.

The Emissions Trading Scheme would be abolished as would the cronyist Provincial Growth Fund.


Transport would move to be fully user-pays through electronic tolling, distance charging and fares. Publicly owned transport operators such as Kiwirail and Air New Zealand would be fully privatised.

Treaty of Waitangi Claims

The Treaty of Waitangi tribunal and settlements process would be abolished and the law would provide for any outstanding historical claims related to dispossession of Maori land to be pursued through the courts like any other civil case.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Google should stop trying to be 'woke'

I read an interesting Wall Street Journal article about how incessant political arguments rule Google's workplace and it got me thinking about why companies like Google are so intent on portraying themselves as politically aware and terribly bien-pensant (or 'woke' as it is known amongst the social justice warrior set). Google has a policy of allowing political speakers and debate on its premises but it doesn't seem to have thought through the implications of doing so. If the experience of James Damore* is any indication, the company does not encourage the free and open exchange of political views but rather is a place where any departure from the accepted conformity (of left-wing, social justice views) is punished. And, as the fight between the 'Googlers for Animals' and the 'Black Googler Network' described in the article (seriously, read it and laugh!) shows, even the most comformist views will inevitably come into conflict.

The arrogance and naiveté of Google's senior executives in this matter is stunning. Did they really think that encouraging particular political views to be promoted within the workplace wouldn't cause conflict amongst their employees? And do they seriously think their company's interests are aligned with the causes of social justice warriors? As I wrote in my last post, these people are Marxists and their enemy is capitalism, and the worst capitalists in their view are the big, monopolistic corporations like Google. Come the revolution, the Googles will be nationalised without compensation, all those beautiful cars in the parking lot will be seized, the lovely homes in the Palo Alto Hills will be commandeered, and anyone who raises the slightest objection will be shipped off to a re-education camp in North Dakota.

But the naiveté of such company executives is not my main objection to their dangerous dalliance with selective political debate in the workplace. Google has a mission to produce the best products and services for its customers in order to make the best return on investment for its stockholders. It also has an obligation to treat its staff fairly in accordance with its contractual obligations and the law. The company's role isn't to provide a platform for particular political beliefs, especially when doing so undermines staff productivity and moral (which it certainly seems to be doing at Google). The company certainly shouldn't be determining which political views are acceptable for its staff to hold.

It would be ironic if the very people Larry Page is encouraging end up seizing his Porsche, but the demise of Google is a prospect I really don't want to see.

* The Wall Street Journal article, while otherwise fair, misrepresents Damore's views as 'questioning women’s fitness for certain jobs'. Damore did no such thing - he simply referenced widely-accepted sociological and psychological research that shows that men and women on average have differing vocational strengths and career preferences, and he said that these needed to be taken into account in understanding the varying male and female representation in fields such as software engineering before jumping to the conclusion that implicit bias was to blame.