For the last 30 years New Zealand, along with most of the rest of the world, has been run according to a classic neo-liberal agenda. I use that word quite a lot so let me explain my interpretation of it. To me it means free markets uncontrolled by governments, all major assets in private hands, the smallest possible sized government, and increased trade and production efficiency.
These policies have been followed by parties traditionally from both the left and right, and the reality is that there has been little choice for anyone who disagrees with the whole idea. But who would disagree anyway? The aims I listed above all sound fantastic, don’t they? I mean, who doesn’t want freer markets, smaller government, greater freedom for business, more trade, and greater efficiency?
If it was as simple as that we all should want to pursue these aims but unfortunately only presenting a positive spin on them is misleading. The reality is that there are many negative aspects to these policies which their supporters fail to tell us about.
The key concept in neo-liberalism is letting the markets work to produce the best outcome, so the critical point is do they? Well of course they do. Free markets produce the best outcomes for the free markets, and many people also do very well when free market economics is in force, but the vast majority of people actually lose.
So when politicians, economists, and business leaders say we must look after the markets I want to know why. What have the markets ever done for us? I’ll tell you what they have done: they have caused many industries to fail, they have taken jobs from one economy and replaced them with workers from lower paid workforces, they have made a small minority of people really rich while making the majority poor, they have pushed wages and conditions down, and they have increased the freedom of the rich and powerful while decreasing it for the rest.
So I can’t see why markets should get any special consideration, which brings me (finally) to the point of this entry…
We finally have a significant divergence in policies for the two major parties here in New Zealand. The (vaguely conservative and neo-liberal) National Party wants to sell shares in the previously state owned power companies and the (vaguely left-wing) Labour and Green Parties disagree and want to control power prices at a government level.
Of course government control is a complete anathema to the neo-liberals, and the value of power companies has dived significantly after the power price control policy was announced, robbing hundreds of millions from the potential value of the companies. Naturally groups who support free markets (investment companies, share brokers, big business) are predicting the end of the world, and maybe they’re right.
It is sort of like the end of the world to those who hope to make personal gains by exploiting the need for an essential commodity by those who already barely survive. It is like the end of the world to those whose whole worldview is based around free markets and to whom government control is the ultimate evil. It is like the end of the world to those who have got used to getting everything their own way just because they benefit from the market system.
But who (apart from the small minority those groups represent) cares? It’s time to look at where the markets have really got us. Has the electricity market worked, for example? Well no, in many ways it hasn’t. It has generated huge profits for the shareholders (the government up until now which at least meant the money went back to the people). It has pushed prices up at a rate many times greater than inflation. It has resulted in the loss of many skilled technicians while creating huge management and marketing bureaucracies.
The market has failed, and in reality almost every other market also fails to live up to the high ideals promised by the neo-liberals. And the pathetic excuse by market proponents that we haven’t given it enough time should really be treated with the contempt it deserves. The market has been given a fair chance and has failed miserably. It’s time to apply those neo-liberal ideals to the market itself: we need something more efficient and the “free market” of ideas should be able to give us something better.
It may seem like a backward step returning to policies we had before the neo-liberal revolution but should that even be a consideration? We should look at all possibilities, including those which have been out of favour, those which are scorned for no good reason, and those which disturb the currently accepted wisdom.
If the current system isn’t working well for the majority then we should look at alternatives, even if those alternatives are branded a backward step by certain groups in society. And when people predict disaster look at why they might say that. Are they exploiting the free market for their own benefit? Are they ideologically attached to free markets and blinded to the possible alternatives? Have they committed to free markets politically and are they unprepared to accept the political damage of having to make a change?
I would suggest the vast majority of free market supporters are in those categories, or maybe in one other: the category of people who have never heard anything else for 30 years except the pro-market propaganda that the rich, the powerful, and the single-minded ideologs have fed them.
Well, according to Lincoln (or at least attributed to him): you can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time. The lie we have all been told about the magic of markets is becoming apparent. The fact that a significant number of people see a lot of merit in what many see as quite a radical proposal (but in fact isn’t radical at all) should tell us that all of the people aren’t being fooled any more!
The biggest local story here in New Zealand over the last few days has been the passing of same-sex marriage legislation, making us the 13th country in the world, and the first in the Asia-Pacific region, to legalise same-sex marriage. Considering we have a conservative government this is quite an impressive achievement and shows what happens when MPs are allowed to vote based on their conscience instead of voting for what their party tells them to.
Surely all votes should work this way. Apart from the dictatorial NZ First party all the others have members who voted for the legislation even when you might not expect it (Act and United Future for example). You have to ask if these votes are “conscience votes”, does that mean that the others require some MPs to vote against their conscience? Is that really OK?
Anyway the vote was fairly comprehensive in the end – 77 for and 44 against – which is considerably better than the more common 61 to 60 votes we get when people vote based on their party’s orders rather than what they think is right.
Of course the more conservative (and nutty) parts of society are already predicting disaster just like they did when other controversial social laws were passed.
When homosexuality was made legal, when prostitution was made legal, and when the anti-smacking law was passed the more extreme conservatives predicted disaster but of course nothing happened.
Let’s look at some of the ignorant, bigoted comments about similar changes in the past.
When the homosexual law reform bill was passed in 1986 some politicians predicted that it would cause a decline in morality, that homosexuals would come to New Zealand in their thousands, and that the country would be a Mecca for homosexuality and sodomy. I see no signs that this has happened.
When the civil union legislation was passed the Destiny Church suggested that we should not forget the name of Lord God Almighty (what is that exactly?) and organised a march of 5000 people against it. They predicted legalised child sex and bigamy would be next. Again, I see no signs that this has happened.
When the prostitution law reform law (decriminalising prostitution) was passed in 2003 there were predictions it would lead to more prostitutes. A later review showed no signs that this has happened.
When the ani-smacking law was passed there were dire predictions that innocent people would be prosecuted for reasonable discipline of their children. Since 2007 there have been 8 prosecutions for smacking, and the police (hardly a source of liberal propaganda) say the guidelines are working fine. So yet again there are no signs that the bad predicted outcomes are real.
So what predictions are we getting this time?
Family First predicts marriage celebrants will be bullied into performing same-sex marriages against their will. This right is specifically protected in the law and who would want a ceremony to be performed by someone who doesn’t want to do it anyway? It’s just silly, bigoted nonsense.
The National Marriage Coalition says it will be an open door to group relationships and incest type marriages. This is the old slippery slope argument. Another good one is the prediction that people will be able to marry animals in the future. There is a general trend to liberalisation of laws and who knows, maybe one day group marriages will be OK, after all many respected characters in the Bible had multiple wives, so it must be OK!
The Catholic Bishop of Auckland tried really hard to sound reasonable and to not admit that his objections were based on the intolerant ideas promoted by his belief system. But you could see they were, and it was hard to listen to a member of the Catholic Church lecture the rest of us on the topic of sexual morality. Is it possible to think of anyone with less credibility on the subject?
He made a few vague references to it being a sad day for New Zealand, and to re-defining the meaning of marriage being bizarre, and not being sure what the implications might be for the future (presumably his god will take a terrible revenge on us after he has dealt with the other 12 countries who have already taken this step).
After all of this mindless drivel it was refreshing to hear from a supporter of the bill who treated the subject with intelligence and humour. He described how he had received messages from Christians threatening eternal torment in Hell. He replied that he had calculated the thermodynamics of burning in Hell and it would take only a few seconds for him to be consumed: a sacrifice he was prepared to risk! Ridicule of primitive superstition is great!
But the way so many believers react so badly in these situations is bizarre. They are always so intolerant and unforgiving. Didn’t they listen to what Jesus told them? As I always say: if you really want to see an example of true evil have a look at religion!
Many people ask me why I care. Well that’s the whole point, I shouldn’t. I’m not gay, and I don’t know any gay people who want to get married, so why should I care? It’s just a matter of fairness. The people who object to this law might find gay and lesbian lifestyles unpleasant, and it’s their choice to feel that way, but what real difference does it make to them if same-sex marriage is allowed or not?
Some people say it discredits the “real” meaning of marriage. I would say that there are plenty of heterosexual couples who have done a good job of that already. Celebrity marriages which last a few days, people who marry multiple times and split up seemingly at a whim, married couples where the relationship is maintained through violence and intimidation. What else could possibly make it worse than it already is?
Another argument is that marriage is primarily to produce children and gays can’t do that. Well neither can post-menopausal women or people with various medical disorders. Should that be a pre-requisite for being allowed to marry as well?
In reality there is no good reason not to allow same-sex marriage. There is really only one (bad) reason to reject it in the final analysis: that the objector is uncomfortable with same-sex relationships. Well they are a fact and it’s time to grow up and accept them even if you don’t like them. Progress is inevitable and by trying to halt it, especially by presenting dishonest objections which disguise your real opinions, you just look like a fool.
And just like with past changes of this sort, in a few years we will look back and wonder what all the fuss was about.
There seems to be no end to the silly, frivolous things people today get upset and offended about. Surely there are serious issues which we should all be concerned about and wasting time on trivia just seems to be counter-productive. One of the more common trivial problems is that one group is “offended” by what another group or individual says.
Well OK, so they’re offended. So what? I would suggest two possible responses: first, show why the comment or action they are offended about is untrue or harmful in some way; or second, don’t get offended so easily. In other words: get over it!
There have been a few issues recently where people have become offended for various reasons and instead of reacting in one of the two way I mentioned above, they have chosen a third alternative: threaten and abuse the person who offended them. In other words, act in an even more offensive way than the original!
First, there is very odd case of St Matthews in the City church selling a billboard “skin” depicting a gay baby Jesus which has gained a lot of interest on the on-line auction site TradeMe. The billboard was used for publicity at Christmas and depicts a baby Jesus with a rainbow halo and the words “It’s Christmas. Time for Jesus to come out.”
Last time I heard the auction had reached $855 and had 29,000 views, although I can’t find it on the site now. The ad agency involved, “Einstein’s Hairdresser” (honestly, I couldn’t make this stuff up), added many humorous and frivolous comments in response to questions about the auction.
It all sounds like a bit of fun and some great free publicity for both the church and the advertising agency, but many people have taken it away too seriously and sent quite bitter and vitriolic comments to both the church (such as that they are surely going to Hell, which means nothing to an atheist like me but is presumably a bit disturbing to a believer) and to the comment system on TradeMe.
The same church has done other similar advertising stunts in the past, some of which have been quote amusing, so presumably the risk of eternal damnation hasn’t concerned them too much. One thing they will be happy about though is all the free media attention they have got as a result of all the complaints!
A second issue was possibly a but less frivolous. It involved the comments made by a visiting Danish far-right politician who called a powhiri (a traditional Maori “welcoming” ceremony) an “uncivilised ritual”. She was shocked to be welcomed by “dancing half-naked men” instead of with handshakes or salutes as she expected.
She received many emails criticising her and some advising her never to return to New Zealand. But why? She only expressed an opinion. The artistry, appropriateness, and sophistication of various social and cultural activities is surely a matter of opinion and why shouldn’t she express hers instead of (as many people do) being disgusted or amused at the spectacle and keeping it to herself.
Of course the freedom to criticise this sort of stuff should apply to all cultures. If anyone doesn’t like the Maori hongi (touching nose and forehead with the person you are greeting) for example they shouldn’t object to others rejecting a handshake. People should also consider whether it is really worth making a big point out of something which is generally fairly innocuous and should maybe just go along with the social norms.
But the main point here is that if someone does feel uncomfortable in participating in a foreign cultural activity they really should be able to say so. It’s not like the politician said “Maori are disgusting sub-humans and I don’t want to have anything to do with their customs” (that would be genuinely racist) it was just one rather intimidating ceremony which she didn’t enjoy. Fair enough, I wouldn’t either.
The final issue involves a comment so extreme and bizarre that it does start reaching the point where genuine offense might be reasonable. A city councillor from New Zealand city Palmerston North has suggested Maori women should be sterilised to prevent them smoking in front of their children. Wow. What a comment. What can you say about that?
For a start this is crazy stuff, and making any sort of comment which is so out of touch with reality should cause concern whether it has a cultural offence component or not. The problem is more that saying something like this in a public meeting is just bizarre rather than being racist or offensive in some other way.
The councillor has apologised unreservedly and said he only made the comment out of frustration because no other actions seem to have worked. He has said he instantly regretted making it. I guess it is possible to say things you regret later in those situations and maybe the apology should have marked the place where things should have ended.
But again people are taking great offence and demanding that he should retire from office. It seems to me that the councillor is the person to have really been insulted here – by himself! I really don’t think there is any need for further efforts to inflict more damage on him as a result of any real or contrived offence.
So my point here is really that people who make what could be seen as offensive comments tend to be offering an opinion which might be seen as wrong by many, but which they should still be able to make. If it is so wrong then it should be easy to show that error, but just demanding that these opinions are never made because certain other people find them offensive is just hiding the phenomenon.
And for those who make comments which really are edging towards being offensive, they tend to do themselves more harm than good. Is it not better to know what they are thinking rather than have them them secretly acting on their strange ideas? As far as I am concerned all but the most extreme opinions should be welcome. And the most important point is this: anyone who does say something which is totally outrageous should be prepared to be criticised themselves.
But to those who hear something they don’t like and just expect it to go away because they are offended I say: grow up, and get over it!
It often seems to me that the people who should accept the greatest responsibility and have the greatest accountability are those who actually accept the least. The people at the top of most hierarchies seem to be very good at accepting all the accolades when their organisation is successful but are far less visible and suddenly seem to have a lot less influence when things go wrong.
And when things are going well these same people happily accept huge bonuses even when the success has little to do with them, but I don’t see a lot of them insisting on lesser rewards when things go badly.
In my main job I am paid a salary so I don’t get bonuses for the good stuff or penalties when things don’t go so well (and they do occasionally) but I also do after hours consulting where I can basically set my own charges. I work in IT, so of course things do intermittently go wrong! Sometimes it’s my fault and sometimes it isn’t, but generally when I am fixing a problem I don’t charge the client extra for doing that (unless it was very clearly the client’s fault).
If that sort of system is good enough for me (and my income is fairly moderate, despite doing the extra work) why is it not good enough for people whose normal rate of pay is vastly greater than mine? Why don’t they fix their own errors at no charge?
If you live in New Zealand or know anything about current events here you might have guessed by now who I have in mind here. I’m talking about our old friend Don Elder, former CEO of Solid Energy. This highly paid business leader took a well performing state-owned company and completely destroyed it. Before the degree of his incompetence became widely known he resigned, but being one of the new elite with a huge sense of his own perceived value and self-importance he continued to accept his grossly inflated salary for “helping” the company out of its precarious financial position.
Any decent human being at this stage would have either said “no sorry, I’ve messed this up, I will leave but don’t give me any more payments for a job I’m clearly incapable of doing” or said “yes, I will help fix the problems I created but I insist you don’t pay me to fix something which shouldn’t have gone wrong in the first place”. It seems to be that being paid over a million dollars a year to destroy a company and then charging the same rate to try to fix it is a bit self-serving.
As I said above, I would never contemplate charging a client to fix a problem which I was responsible for in the first place. And if people are paid based on how responsible their job is you would expect someone with over ten times my salary to demonstrate ten times the degree of personal liability when things go wrong. But in the case of the corporate aristocracy apparently that isn’t the case. The extent of their feeling of personal entitlement is unbelievable!
But I shouldn’t just pick on poor old Don Elder, should I? What about all the other numerous examples of gross incompetence from the top echelons of management in New Zealand? What about the evil Dame Jenny Shipley’s hideous ineptitude in helping drive Mainzeal Construction into bankruptcy? Doesn’t she deserve some of the blame? Well she was being paid a lot of money while she was on the board. Again, does she accept the attendant responsibility or not? Well I think we all know the answer to that!
And do you want a further list of the new incompetent elite? How about these prominent people who have also presided over similar disasters (this list is from the New Zealand Herald): Wyatt Creech and John Luxton at Blue Chip; Sir Roger Douglas, Fran Wilde and Philip Burdon at Brierley Investments; Don Brash and John Banks at Huljich Wealth Management; Sir Douglas Graham and Bill Jeffries at Lombard; Sir William Birch at Viking Pacific; and Ruth Richardson at Dairy Brands and Syft Technologies.
Did you notice all the “Sirs” and “Dames” in this blog post? These really are the new aristocracy and their value to society is about equivalent to aristocracies everywhere: zero. But they are extremely skilled at acquiring undeserved honours like those. If the job losses and destruction of our economy wasn’t so serious the whole situation would be quite humorous. Sort of like a circus with these people the clowns!
It’s easy to rant about these people in a blog like this but surely it’s much harder to actually do what they’re doing, isn’t it? Actually, maybe it is and maybe it isn’t. It seems to me that in most cases the failures were due to overly ambitious and poorly considered plans for expansion and forgetting about doing the job the company was supposed to be there to do. And it is all about the top management just walking away and moving on to the next unfortunate victim for their allegedly exceptional skills.
Everyone makes mistakes but these people are paid a lot not to make the same mistakes over and over again. And if they do make a mistake at least they could take a little bit of responsibility and do the right thing. But the “right thing” is about as far from the minds of senior management as anything can be. These people are the worst type of immoral, greedy, ignorant excuses for human beings on the face of the planet.
Even if they did work for free they would still be overpaid!
Here’s some interesting material I want to share from the Talent2 web site…
Under the heading “Payroll – Client Successes” they claim “Our HR and Payroll case studies demonstrate our ability to provide end-to-end solutions that multiply the power and productivity of people.” and “Are you an organisation of a few employees or tens of thousands? Whatever your requirement, Talent2 has a payroll solution that suits.” and “A payroll provider you can trust.”
Here’s a description of the group CEO: “JR is well known for his accessible style and genuine interest in his people – whenever he can afford the time he will open the door to listen. This drives one of his greatest assets – his ability to recognise and combine the strengths of people across all levels of the business. JR encourages resourcefulness, synergy and initiative to allow people to realise their own potential and that of the bigger team.”
Sounds great, doesn’t it? Who wouldn’t want to work with such a great company based on those impressive claims? Yeah, if there was even a small element of connection between the fantasy and reality then maybe that would be true. But of course, the real world and that promised by corporate Newspeak are two entirely different things.
By the way, in case you don’t know, Newspeak is the language described in the dystopian science fiction novel 1984. Many people like to describe a future where government control has resulted in a repressive regime and where propaganda is a major tool of repression, but in reality I am more concerned with one where large corporations have the excessive levels of control. Even where governments are guilty of the same thing (and they often are) it is often as a result of the excessive influence of big business, so corporations are still the root cause of the problem.
Newspeak is defined as “propagandistic language marked by euphemism, circumlocution, and the inversion of customary meanings”. After examining the propaganda above and comparing it with reality you might see the relevance!
But back to Talent2. If you live in New Zealand you will probably be laughing after reading the quotes above because the promises and the reality are so different. The complete incompetence and moral corruption this corporation has exhibited in its handling of the new education payroll “Novopay” is so outrageous that laughter is the most appropriate response!
So what is the reality? Well here is a partial list of the ill-conceived decisions made in the design, implementation, and “fixing” of the Novopay payroll system…
First, instead of designing a system which fits the requirements or building on top of an existing system appropriate to the actual requirements, they have taken a generic payroll called “Alesco” which may be a perfectly adequate system in many cases (although I have heard it described as “antiquated”) and tried to add a huge number of new functions and modifications to it.
Anyone who does programming knows this is usually a bad approach. Unless the core functions of the system you are basing yours on are robust things will just go rapidly downhill from there. And if the base system is as old as I have heard mention then it is unlikely to be easily extendable because it is not likely to use modern mechanisms such as customisable and transportable code objects.
Second, patching the obvious errors as they appear instead of fixing the deeper issues is unlikely to result in long term stability. Fixing a superficial error which is really just disguising a problem at the core of the system often results in several new errors resulting as a side effect. This is incredibly frustrating and disconcerting to the programmers involved, especially when they are working with someone else’s code.
Experts say the review of Novopay shows signs of “panic and crazy practices” and “common database and coding practices not being followed” and “modifications to the core system making a mockery of the decision process” which are all often the result of not doing the basics right.
Third, when you have a large team working on a project there needs to be some strategy for coordinating their efforts, but having an ignorant manager who is interested in nothing except gaining maximum money for minimum effort is likely to be worse than having no management at all (I’m not saying I know this happens at Talent2 for sure but all the signs are there).
There seems to be a policy of minimising costs without any real concern for the final quality of the product (and that includes support, training, communications, and all of the peripheral issues related to a large technical project of this sort). The decision to hack together something out of an existing system which was itself substandard must have been made primarily to cut costs but this can only be the result of greed given the huge cost of the system.
Fourth, there seems to be no indication of individual ownership or pride in the system. When I write some elegant code, or build an incredibly flexible code library, or design a really friendly user interface I feel personal ownership of the result. The fact that the system is almost unusable by most people and has just been stitched together, Frankenstein-style from old parts, would suggest to me that no one really cares much about this project.
I am now going to make a crazy claim that no one should make without understanding the details of the project, but I will make it anyway to illustrate how an alternative approach might help…
If I was creating this system I would do it for about a quarter of what Talent2 have charged for a start because any more is tantamount to theft. Then I would hire about 10 or 20 (the exact number would depend on the details but too many is worse than not enough) really talented programmers and some people who have actually processed education payrolls. I would then design a system from scratch based on open (and cheaper) technologies which would provide great performance for minimum costs.
Because I would have less staff I would pay those I do hire more and I would give them plenty of personal freedom to create really outstanding code, while ensuring that the client (the payroll experts) were the final arbiters of functionality.
There would be no central management but there would be regular, short discussions on how the components would fit together and every module would have a precisely defined functionality which everyone understood. And there would be unlimited free coffee!
Maybe I’m being hopelessly naive but I believe this approach would provide a far better outcome than the traditional management based approaches where the strategies are devised buy a bunch of senior bureaucrats who are completely clueless about the real issues (and yes, again I am assuming a certain amount about how Talent2 operates).
I will say this though: whatever the outcome of my system, how could it possibly be worse than the total shambles the so-called professionals at Talent2 have created now?
You may think I am being unkind towards my fellow IT professionals. Actually I’m not. I blame the management for this mess. The CEO, John Rawlinson started his working life as a physical education teacher and has a bachelor of education from Victoria University and a Graduate Diploma in entrepreneurship and innovation from Swinburne University. Gee, I’m so impressed! No wonder he gets such good results! (that was sarcasm)
The system cost $182 million. For that price I have very high standards and I don’t expect a bunch or corporate thieves run by an ex physical education teacher who seems determined to create a totally half-assed piece of crap for the absolute minimum cost possible. Talent2 should refund all the money they have been paid and go home. And in future the government should be a lot more careful about who they hire!
When are more people going to see that capitalism needs to be controlled? I’m not saying we need to have a Soviet-style socialist system instead, just that we need more government (and therefore, theoretically, voter or citizen) control. I hope that should dispense with those who use the old false dichotomy fallacy (if you’re not a capitalist you must be a communist) which many people invoke to try to discredit criticisms of capitalism.
Right, so that’s the intro, now on to specifics. I know that in some ways this is just too easy, but the target of my displeasure with big business this time is the cigarette companies. Mainly thanks to the minority Maori Party there is now approval to get plain packaging of cigarettes here just like has already happened in Australia. But the whole process is being held up by legal and other more insidious threats.
Everyone knows cigarettes are harmful. Well to be fair I guess there are still a few deniers out there on the lunatic fringe, just like there are deniers of climate change and evolution, but few people would now admit to thinking cigarettes are safe.
If any other product was shown to be as harmful as tobacco would there not be some attempt to eliminate or minimise the harm? For example, lead was removed from petrol because of health issues, asbestos was eliminated as a material for building, and CFCs are now gone from aerosol products. It can be done so why not do it for cigarettes?
Cigarette companies know their products kill many people, they know the advantages are far outweighed by the disadvantages, they know their product is addictive (and that is deliberate on their part) and they know the product is marketed (often through clever indirect methods which bypass laws designed to stop advertising) to young people and naive populations in third world countries. So it’s simple really: cigarette companies are evil!
I don’t use that word lightly (well maybe I do if you look at how often I use it in my blog, but I do crusade against evil a lot here!) but I think it fits. Cigarette companies deliberately produce a product which addicts people then kills them for the sole purpose of making money. If that isn’t evil then what is? Even terrorists are motivated by a misplaced allegiance to a religious or political cause rather than just easy cash. Which of the two is more evil really?
There are counters to this argument, of course. First there is the old free choice argument. That is that people should have the option to buy a product even if it is harmful to them. At the risk of committing the slippery slope fallacy I would ask in that case why not allow cocaine and other recreational drugs on the open market as well?
Then there is the free trade argument. This says that there should be a minimum (or in extreme cases zero) level of government intervention in commerce. Well I would say there should be an optimum level of government intervention in everything. Few people really want zero government, even if they say they do, because few people want anarchy.
So why should be have free trade deals? Who are these really for? I’ll tell you who they are for: they’re almost entirely to produce an environment where large corporations can be free to practice whatever brand of evil (there it is again) they want. Cigarette companies want to be able to kill people for profit. Big tech companies want to suppress new technology so that their inferior products can enjoy a monopoly. And all big corporations want to use the dirtiest tricks possible to minimise any fair contribution to society they make through taxes (more on this in a future blog entry).
So I think we need to be extremely careful of free markets and free trade deals. That word “free” sounds very enticing but whose freedom is it really referring to? It certainly isn’t freedom for the majority of citizens or for their elected representative governments, it’s freedom for big corporations whose sole purpose in life is to exploit the world’s resources and people for their own financial benefit.
So if New Zealand wants to introduce plain pack cigarettes and the cigarette companies don’t like it then we should just tell them to go away and sell their poison somewhere else. And if the WTO doesn’t like it we can say who cares what an organisation designed to maintain the power of the most corrupt groups in society thinks. And if there are laws which might leave us open to legal challenges then let’s just change them. And if all of this makes us a less attractive target for foreign investment (or to use the real word, exploitation) then I say great, who needs it.
OK, so let the big corporations in, let the foreign investment in, even let the cigarette companies operate here. But make them play by the rules that all of the rest of us have to. In fact, because they have so much money and influence they should be held to tighter standards than everyone else. And if they choose to go elsewhere there will always be someone else to come along and take their place. Preferably that will be a smaller local company but if it’s a big foreign company prepared to play fair, then that’s OK too.
But they just need to remember Google’s original slogan (what a joke that is now): “don’t be evil”.
This blog entry follows up from my discussion yesterday about extreme views of Islam. This time I want to say something more general about how politically incorrect and highly controversial views are treated by both the general public, the news media, and by public figures.
Before I start I’ll just reiterate and update the situation. New Zealand First MP, Richard Prosser, made a series of very insulting claims against Muslims, such as that they are “a sorry pack of misogynist troglodytes from Wogistan”. He received widespread condemnation from most public figures and the international press, and was forced to apologise today.
As I said, the general view seems to be one of outrage and there have been multiple demands for his resignation. There are also a lot of absolute statements that the comments were “unacceptable”, racist or bigoted, and totally out of touch with reality.
But few people actually went through the claims (like I did yesterday) and analysed them. When you do that you see that he does have some good points… and some very bad ones as well. But even if everything he said was rubbish I don’t think the correct approach is just to outright condemn his opinion with statements such as he is a racist. The correct approach would be to show where he is wrong, because doing that can be far more effective as a counter to extreme opinions.
In fact as soon as I hear the phrase “that is unacceptable” I generally feel a certain amount of contempt for the person making that statement. If I ask why a person doesn’t like something and they say it is unacceptable they are really just being lazy, arrogant, and disingenuous.
Saying something is unacceptable is really just another way of the person saying that they don’t like it. So when I ask why they don’t like something and the answer is that it is because it’s unacceptable then all they’re really saying is that they don’t like it because they don’t like it and feel as if that opinion should be sufficient.
It’s no surprise that the “unacceptable” approach is a favourite of politicians and managers. They both like to avoid any in-depth analysis and both have sufficient arrogance to think their unsubstantiated opinions have some special order of merit above everyone else’s. They are, of course, as in most other things, wrong.
So why shouldn’t Prosser have made these points? I’m sure they are what a lot of people believe anyway. It’s really an opportunity for people who don’t think Islam deserves that kind of criticism to score a win because by refuting Prosser’s argument they can also refute the same opinions secretly held by some sections of the population.
If, on the other hand, they either don’t or can’t refute what he says then they are really just reinforcing that view while pushing it further out of the public discussion. There is one thing for certain I think, the PM and other politicians feigning disgust and outrage without really answering any of the points made just makes it look like political correctness has kicked in to protect a conspiracy of silence on the subject.
So I would really prefer to see the subject treated in a way which criticises Prosser based on whether he is right or wrong rather than whether he is discussing an “acceptable” subject in an “acceptable” way. And admitting that he has made a few points which have some validity isn’t bad as long as it is also pointed out where he has pushed the issue to a ridiculous and totally unsupported extreme which I don’t think anyone could reasonably defend.
Instead of apologising for saying something which is deemed inappropriate he should be apologising for getting so many of his facts and conclusions wrong. That’s what real debate is all about.
According to New Zealand First MP, Richard Prosser, Muslims are “a sorry pack of
misogynist troglodytes from Wogistan” and Islam is a “stone aged religion”. I don’t think either of these statements are strictly true, but they do have a certain amount impact to them, especially the first one.
He made these comments in an article in the magazine “Investigate” which itself has a somewhat mixed reputation (to be generous). While it has uncovered some interesting factual stories it is also the source of many crazy conspiracies, wacky global warming denial, and some weird and wonderful religious material.
Naturally most people, including all politicians, have made statements condemning the story and there is no surprise there, even though I ‘m sure some of them secretly admire Prosser’s courage in writing it and may even agree with some of his points.
But if you are a public figure and are going to write an article denigrating a particular group you really should make sure that your opinions don’t stray into the area of extremism (particularly ironic considering the topic) and that your points don’t make sweeping generalisations based on little or no evidence which can be extended to the general case.
And that’s where he failed.
This was an opinion piece in a magazine which encourages controversy and there is no doubt it was written in a confrontational and informal style which might be seen as appropriate to that environment. And maybe someone less in the public spotlight would have got away with it. But an MP won’t, especially when the international press gets hold of the story.
But now I want to put all of the ranting, political correctness, and feigned horror aside and look at the specific claims.
Is Islam a stone age religion? Well not literally, of course, because the stone age ended thousands of years before Islam was founded. But the general tone of that statement is true. Islam is primitive and ridiculous, at least in it’s purest, most conservative forms. But unlike Prosser, who doesn’t think Catholicism also belongs in that category, I would suggest that, to varying degrees, almost very traditional religion is based on rituals and beliefs from the “stone age” in that context.
What about the claim that “most terrorists are Muslims”. Again I would suggest there is a lot of truth in that statement. Certainly many of the high profile acts of terrorism and other violence around the world are perpetrated by Muslims so maybe he has a point. According to a report by the National Counterterrorism Center, Sunni Muslim terrorists committed about 70 percent of the 12,533 terrorist murders in the world in 2011. If that statistic is true there clearly is a real problem here.
Of course the majority of Muslims are not violent and would never commit a terrorist act, but just by being part of the same belief system I think they should bear part of the blame. As Voltaire said: “Those who believe absurdities will commit atrocities” so just believing and encouraging the acceptance of an absurd religion in some ways helps foster extremism and violence as well.
But even if you accept some sort of connection between moderates and extremists as I have suggested, that shouldn’t necessarily extend to denying the rights of the moderates and it certainly shouldn’t extend to denying the rights of groups of people just because they have some extremely indistinct association with the group causing the problems.
So Prosser’s suggestion that “If you are a young male, aged between, say, about 19 and about 35, and you’re a Muslim, or you look like a Muslim, or you come from a Muslim country, then you are not welcome to travel on any of the West’s airlines” is absurd. Surely he wasn’t serious about this and it was included merely as a rhetorical point. Or maybe he let his righteous outrage push him past the point of rationality!
FInally let’s have a look at that classic statement, that Muslims are “a sorry pack of misogynist troglodytes from Wogistan”.
Clearly this is extreme and not to be taken literally. For a start, as far as I am aware, there is no location known as Wogistan, except in the writer’s imagination. And few Muslims live in caves so the troglodyte reference is also inaccurate. The claim of misogyny has some merit though, because it’s clear that there is a systematic bias against women in Islam (and in many other religions). Also, are Muslims a “sorry pack”? I think many of them are. I feel a certain amount of sympathy for them because of the way they are trapped by their belief system.
So I think a more moderate statement such as “Islam is a religious and political system constituting a group of mostly good people who are trapped by an outdated belief system which doesn’t give women the same rights as men and who traditionally come from the Middle East” was what he was really trying to say. But that doesn’t sound anywhere near as good, does it?
In my last blog entry I tried to dispel the idea that people dislike change in their work simply because they are averse to change. I argued that in reality it is more likely to be that the changes that are being forced on them are bad for them so of course they resist them.
Today I want to take up a similar theme regarding big business. The outgoing CEO of Coca Cola in New Zealand recently started a debate regarding what he sees as the “tall poppy” attitude towards corporations. He claimed that an unfair anti-corporate feeling has stopped business expanding and has been detrimental to the country.
So he thinks that corporations are unfairly seen as being nasty and untrustworthy just because of their success. In fact we see big business that way because they actually are nasty and untrustworthy! The parallel with the resistance to change phenomenon here is obvious: the people causing the problem are turning the blame back on the victims and trying to make them the cause.
It’s particularly ironic that the company involved in this particular case is Coca Cola. It must be the absolute epitome of capitalism gone wrong, because it produces a mediocre, potentially dangerous and addictive product, publicises it with a lot of dishonest advertising, and makes huge profits which it employs various tricks to avoid paying tax on.
I’m not saying anything Coca Cola does is illegal, but it is immoral because the system is immoral and wrong. We have a system which encourages and rewards the worst type of person and organisation so of course we will often (but not always) get the most mediocre, morally corrupt people succeeding.
It’s just a sign of the incredible arrogance of the corporate world that they would even make a comment like this. Does this clown really believe that Coca Cola is a company we should admire? What does it do? It produces flavoured sugar water which is largely responsible for many health issues and sells it at an extravagant profit. Then it doesn’t pay a fair share of tax to help fund the health system which tries to repair the damage done. Surely we should feel disgust rather than admiration for that!
There is another side to the story of course. Big companies do provide products people want (even if in many cases they probably wouldn’t want them if they were acting fully rationally) and they do provide employment for many people. But I don’t think even these doubtful arguments have a lot of merit.
For every big corporation there are dozens of smaller companies which have been driven out of business. Those smaller companies employed more people and often produced a better product. They failed not because they provided an inferior product or service but because they didn’t have access to the same range of dirty tricks as their bigger competitor.
And that leads to the real point I want to make about big business. I heard a commentator make a very insightful statement on this. He said something like “big business profits come at the expense of someone else”.
Yes, every dollar Coca Cola makes comes from someone else. It comes from us buying its rather unremarkable products, it comes from the “efficiencies” the company gains from employing less people, it comes from the demise of smaller competitors, and it comes from paying less tax than it should. So when we see a successful, profitable company it should be no surprise that we despise them rather than respecting them.
If I was the CEO (or ex-CEO) of a company like Coca Cola I would keep my mouth shut about this sort of thing because by displaying such an arrogant and callous disregard for the way the world really works rather than how the corporates imagine it they aren’t helping their cause!
Before I finish there are two issues the more astute of you might be thinking of here…
First, the title of this blog entry is very similar to another one I did recently titled “Have a Cigarette” criticising the tobacco industry. This is deliberate.
And second, what about the big corporations which I support in some way, Apple being the most obvious example. Yeah sure, I would be very happy if I got to work with products made by smaller innovative companies but that’s just not going to happen. If I want to work in IT I do have to work with products made by big companies. I also give Apple special dispensation to some extent because their products are just so good. I realise I am maybe being a bit hypocritical there but in the real world I can be an idealist to a degree but I also have to be a realist.
And yes, I also drink Coke sometimes, but I hate myself for it!
So many groups of people, especially politicians, seem to be very reactive. I mean reactive in the sense opposed to proactive, that is they react to existing problems instead of trying to prevent them in the first place.
Of course it might be that there are good reasons for this. One possibility is that the voters – who generally don’t like political interference in their lives at the best of times – won’t tolerate new laws and regulations concerning an issue which hasn’t affected them yet. Another is that politicians have so many issues to be concerned with that they can only spare the time to deal with the ones which manifest themselves as obvious immediate problems.
Anyway, at this point I think I should give a few examples. And a strange and varied set of examples they are too, specifically: quad bikes, guns, earthquakes, and climate change.
There have been quite a few quad bike accidents here in New Zealand recently and various people have called for action. It’s possible that there is a genuine problem there but more likely the series of accidents has simply been a statistical anomaly. There will always be some accidents with any type of vehicle and if there was one fatal accident per month for a year no one would notice. But if there is a clump of accidents – say 3 in a few weeks, even if the average over a year is the same – people will want to take action where none might be necessary.
The most recent mass killing in the US has again focussed attention on the gun problem there. Many people are calling for action on greater gun control but is this really a sensible approach? There are already too many guns in the country and new controls won’t fix that problem. Plus there is the old argument – favoured by many gun supporters and having a certain amount of merit – that stopping the “good guys” acquiring guns just makes it easier for the “bad guys”. Gun control is a complex issue and I don’t think either side is entirely right. What I do think is that making reactive laws after a traumatic event such as this is unlikely to lead to good decisions being made.
Since the Christchurch earthquakes the New Zealand government has insisted on an incredibly expensive and disruptive program of building improvements to help protect people in the next earthquake. Why? Do they know the next big disaster will be an earthquake? Maybe it will be a tsunami, volcano, flood, drought, or zombie apocalypse! Aren’t those worth planning for as well? And yes, I know many of those (apart from the zombies) are being planned for, but earthquake protection has taken a prime role. Why? Simply as a reaction to an event as far as I can see. It’s another reactive policy.
Finally there’s climate change. Here we have a situation which we know will be potentially far worse than every quad bike accident, gun death, and earthquake combined, but because there’s been no disaster incontrovertibly linked to it very little is being done. In fact the New Zealand conservative government is going backwards on the issue.
Many people are beginning to link the more frequent and serious weather related disasters around the world with climate change – the huge storm in the US and the serious fires in Australia being just two examples – but even experts say the link is unclear and I suspect nothing much will really happen until a reaction to an event undeniably linked to climate change happens. But by then it will be too late.
I have talked about how politicians are reactive instead of proactive but that is probably a bit unfair to them. I suspect it is a common fault that all people have – I certainly recognise it in myself on occasions. But in my professional life I do try to prevent problems and errors rather than fix them and politicians are professionals (supposedly) who should be working the same way.
But they rarely do. I guess that’s why we have so many outdated, poorly considered, and ineffective laws and regulations. Professionals should be proactive.