Many of my political opponents – mainly consisting of conservatives and extreme libertarians – like to rant about how evil or incompetent those more on the left of politics are. And because they are so extreme in their views they see even moderate philosophies as being the opposite of their own beliefs, so even centrists to them appear “far left”.
Now I will be the first to admit that I have been known to indulge in the occasional rant myself, but at least I recognise that and I even have a tag “rant” which I use on the WordPress version of this blog and a rating system on my OJB blog with red indicating that the post tends towards controversial ranting!
But in future I am going to try to limit my use of rants to special occasions and therefore make the times I do use that rhetorical technique even more rewarding!
So I am not going to rant about the New Zealand government’s latest budget, even though it is basically hopeless as far as I am concerned. In fact I am going to avoid ranting about our right-leaning parties at all, useless they particularly deserve it of course!
Why? Because I look at the mindless rants of my opposition and I don’t see why I should bring myself down to their level. They rant on about the Labour (left-leaning) Party being hopeless financial managers even though I can show them figures which prove this simply isn’t true. They rant about left-wing conspiracies and communist influences even though the true left and communist supporters would be horrified at how far towards the center-right Labour (and even the Greens) have moved.
So my opponents look pretty stupid (is this starting to sound like a bit of a rant on my part now?) when they take extreme positions. Now I am going to evaluate the current New Zealand (center-right) government, especially in terms of their just released budget, without ranting or making silly, extreme statements!
For a start, the current government isn’t extreme right, but neither is the opposition extreme left – not even the Greens, despite my opponents’ assertions to that effect. An extreme right government would never have passed the marriage equality law and they would have fully privatised our assets instead of just selling 49%, for example.
But a true far-left opposition would have announced they would nationalise those assets when they returned to power, instead of just saying they will create a mechanism to try to control prices in the electricity market the right have created.
So the National Party aren’t evil or incompetent, they just follow a philosophy which I disagree with. Primarily this involves a naive belief in the powers of the market and in private enterprise, and a refusal to use government powers directly to achieve political outcomes.
The Labour Party – at least as it is evolving now, because in the past 30 years it has really just been a clone of National – are prepared to intervene when they think it is necessary. Sure, government intervention sometimes produces unintended consequences and occasionally is poorly considered, but I would say that the risk of a poor intervention to correct market failures is better than not even trying.
And anybody who says anything like “markets never fail if they are left alone to work the way they are supposed to” should have a think about the logic of that statement. How do they define market success? Usually it’s achieving what the market wants. So they are really defining market success using a circular argument: market success is defined as the market doing what it wants, and doing what it wants leads to success.
I say we should allow markets to operate (they will anyway) but to shape them and limit them for the greater good. How do we know what that greater good should be and therefore in what direction markets should be lead? I think we all know the answer to that…
If we see a tiny fraction of people becoming incredibly rich while an increasing proportion of the population can barely survive, then I think we have a market failure. If people can’t afford to buy milk, even though we are the biggest producer in the world, but can afford as much Coca Cola as they want, then I think we have a market failure. If the price of electricity rises several times faster than anything else, despite the fact we have a high proportion of cheap hydro power, then I think we have a market failure. The list of failures could go on for pages.
People who deny the reality of these failures aren’t really evil or incompetent – at least not in most cases – they are just wrong. They are wrong because they have let their minds be trapped by the ideology of the market. They will probably never escape this trap because, like most ideologies: political, religious, or philosophical, there are built-in excuses for when the ideology fails.
Pointing out the deficiencies of mindless rants about these problems by so-called left-oriented people like me is just one of the ways the market ideology tries to hide its failures. So what’s the point? Maybe I should be more positive. As I said above: at least we have a government which isn’t actually evil or incompetent… they’re just wrong!
Apparently I’m a racist, at least according to some people. Why? Because I question the wisdom of giving some groups (let’s be specific: Maori, the original inhabitats of New Zealand) extra privileges based on their race, and because I dare to criticise some religions (again let’s be clear: I’m talking about Muslims) for their poor behaviour. By the way, I know race is a vague concept with little scientific validity, but we all know what these “racial” groups are – even if their origin is cultural more than biological – so the whole issue is still valid.
It seems strange to me that saying that certain racial (and cultural) groups shouldn’t be given special privileges is racist when the definition seems to suggest the exact opposite. Here’s the definition: “having or showing the belief that a particular race is superior to another”. I would have thought that if you think one group deserves extra privileges then you are strongly suggesting they are superior in some way, and of you suggest a group needs extra help you are suggesting they are inferior. Either way, those opinons (totally contrary to mine) seem racist.
Compare that with my view that every race should be treated the same and race based privileges and policies should be avoided. Surely it is my critics who are the racists, isn’t it?
A similar argument applies to my criticism of religion, because some religions are associated with certain racial groups. So my negative comments about religion are also sometimes criticised as being racist. But I criticise people based on many criteria: their politics, their philosophical perspectives, their moral standards, but never their race. And it seems fair to criticise them based on their damaging belief in superstition as well. If I don’t I’m effective giving that particular group (which might be associated with a racial group) a free pass. Isn’t that more racist than treating everyone equally?
I realise that the argument I am making is not a new one. I also realise that some people who actually are a bit racist use it, including some fairly extreme right wingers who are my usual opponents in political discussion. But in this blog I like to express my opinion clearly and directly, and if it fits with a particular ideology or not doesn’t really matter. It’s the logic and truth of the points which are important.
I think that is one of the reasons some people find my attitude in this area so disconcerting: I have traditional left wing views in other areas but this is seen as more reminiscent of the right. Generally the left are very politically correct around the subject so it seems more significant when I don’t follow the usual pattern. Of course, I have always said I reject these labels and if I did need to use a label I would see myself more as a rationalist rather than a leftist.
There is a current political event which has lead to this particular subject. It is the appointment of a new Race Relations Commissioner, Susan Devoy. Her opinions on the subject have caused a lot of consternation to many people and her apparent lack of relevant knowledge is also a concern.
Here’s what she said about Waitangi Day which is (in theory) our national day: “Waitangi has been hijacked and if it can never be really seen as a day of national celebration then perhaps the time has come to choose another true New Zealand day. … A recent poll showed more than 70 per cent of New Zealanders were in favour of a new holiday. This would leave Waitangi Day to be the day that recognises the importance of Maori, but the door open for a day that we don’t feel ashamed to be a New Zealander…”
I agree. I feel no connection with Waitangi Day at all and, according to many polls, neither do the majority of other New Zealanders. Waitangi Day has really turned into “Maori Day” which is fine for those who are interested in Maori culture and history (and a lot of that alleged history is very doubtful). But I have no interest in that area at all. Maori culture can be OK in small doses (some of the legends are quite cool) but in general I find it boring.
Many people would see that last statement as racist, but is it? Should I pretend to be interested in something just to be politically correct? I don’t think so. There are many other subjects and cultures I am also not that interested in but that doesn’t mean I think they are inferior, I’m simply just not interested!
Race relations in New Zealand is in a fairly healthy state but I think that is despite the modern trend of forcing people to participate in Maori culture rather than because of it. I have absolutely no problem with Maori culture being part of our society as long as people with no interest in it aren’t forced to participate. That really does create resentment.
The other thing that causes a lot of negativity is the seemingly constant hand-outs to Maori groups for some real and some imagined grievances. People quite rightly get annoyed when one group is given extra privileges (and money) for highly doubtful reasons. If you really want different groups to get on then treat them all fairly. That’s how to get real racial harmony.
So Susan Devoy might or might not be a wise choice for this role but in some ways it might be quite a good thing that we have someone who (at least in the past) has been prepared to stand up for the majority view. Maybe, just maybe, we might make some real progress towards equality and harmony now instead of the false situation we have now where resentment and indignation seem to be barely held in check.
Tax is a difficult and controversial subject. Most people don’t like paying it but everyone (whether they accept it or not) depends on services which tax pays for. Of course the best individual strategy would be to pay no tax yourself and yet make use of the benefits of the tax other people pay.
If you were the type of person or organisation who follows the simple commercial imperative of maximising profits (using whatever justification you favour: giving investors a fair return, making the economy in general more vigorous, providing employment, of whatever other half truth is currently in fashion) then paying as little tax as possible is not just a good idea, it should be your duty.
In fact Google recently described their avoidance of paying billions in tax as “just being good at capitalism”. Well yes, I guess it is. But is capitalism itself a good thing? Clearly if making use of your position of power to make minimal contribution to society while relying on those with almost no wealth to make up for your refusal to participate is seen as good then the process itself must be bad. Yes, pure capitalism is undoubtedly bad.
Leaders in large corporations almost have to be greedy and self-serving to even be in that position so we really can’t really act surprised when they engage in all of these dirty tricks to avoid their fair obligations to the society they exploit. But the rest of us who are paying for what is effectively corporate welfare don’t have to like it, and we should act accordingly. But apparently we generally don’t.
Governments are to blame in the end, of course. I know that whatever laws are put in place there is usually some smart corporate lawyer or accountant with no morals who will find a way around them, but that doesn’t mean the governments shouldn’t at least try.
Let me give some examples of the outrageous dishonesty big business gets away with around the world and here in New Zealand.
Warren Buffett, one of the world’s richest men, pays an effective tax rate of 0.06% on his total income. He can do that because his accountants make it look like he earns a lot less than he really does and it is all (as far as I know) legal. Ironically he is the same person who says he isn’t taxed enough and thinks the rich should be taxed more. Well if he really thinks that why does he put so much effort into avoiding paying it?
My favourite company (based on their products, not their business practices), Apple, are well know for the dirty tricks they use. Some sources credit them with inventing the “Double Irish With a Dutch Sandwich” which apparently describes the practice of routing profits through Irish subsidiaries, then to the Netherlands, and finally to a Caribbean tax haven. After selling over half a billion dollars worth of products in New Zealand last year they paid 0.4% tax. Yes I know that is sales, not profit, but we all know what large profit margins Apple works on. Maybe they should hire Buffett’s accountants, then they might get away with paying even less!
I’ve already mentioned the contempt Google displayed in their answer to the accusations of tax avoidance there. Clearly their motto of “don’t be evil” has well and truly been forgotten.
The examples above are just that: examples, because I’m sure that every successful company and every hugely wealthy individual pays very little tax – it’s just part of the way they operate. After all capitalism is driven by greed so there should be no surprise that those who rise to the top are generally greedy. OK, fair enough, but if that’s the case then we need strong government regulation to control these people and extract a fair contribution from them.
But that doesn’t seem to be what most governments are doing. Here in New Zealand we are short of funding for many worthwhile projects. What is a major reason for this? Well the tax cuts for the rich which have resulted in a loss of $2 billion per year might have been a contributing factor I would guess.
You might think that increasing taxes on those who can easily afford them might be a reasonable strategy but not for our government. No, they want to tax paper boys instead. My son delivers papers and has recently been taxed on his income which is probably about as much per year as many of the rich, who pay almost no tax, make in an hour. And my daughter does two part time jobs but is being charged secondary tax on one of them. And for that matter, why do I pay tax at a rate of 500 times more than Warren Buffett?
The whole thing is just cheap and nasty. What possible motivation can there be for such despicable policies apart from a dogmatic view that giving the rich more freedom helps the economy (if you believe that you really are out of touch with reality, all it does if give them the freedom to move their undeserved wealth out of the country). Or maybe it’s a bit more cynical than that. Big business funds right wing parties, so I guess there should be no surprise when they get the rewards they paid for.
It’s not just the current New Zealand government who are totally lacking in any moral character and are ethically bankrupt, it’s the western world in general. So I don’t what this rant to be construed as a criticism of the Nats in particular, although they are undoubtedly amongst the worst practitioners.
Again I have to wonder how they ever win an election. I guess it must reflect rather badly on the Labour opposition who really do seem to be rather politically incompetent. That’s democracy for you: do you want incompetence or immorality? Tough choice!
A recent article circulating on the internet demonstrates how completely out of balance the global economic system has become. The specific case discussed is the US, but few people would deny that similar problems occur elsewhere, although maybe to a lesser extent. The article discussed wealth inequality in the US: what people’s idealised position would be, what their perception was, and what the reality is.
The article showed a series of graphs which plotted the actual wealth of various sectors of society compared with where they stood in various categories of income: bottom (the bottom 20%), second, middle, fourth, and top (the people with the top 20% incomes). If wealth was completely equitably split you would expect the graph to be a rectangle (in which case the 5 partitions would have no real meaning) but, of course, it wasn’t even close to that shape.
There were three graphs presented: what the people surveyed thought would be an ideal distribution, what they thought it really was, and what it actually was.
The distribution the vast majority (92%) chose as ideal was a split ranging from the bottom 20% getting about 10% of the income and ranging up to the top getting 30%. Presumably this is to recognise that certain people make a bigger contribution to society and so deserve greater rewards (even this idea has problems, but more of that later).
Sadly, they also realised that the ideal situation was far from the truth. The graph which the same majority thought reflected the reality had the bottom 20% on about 5% of the wealth and the top 20% on almost 60%. Many people would find this situation quite abhorrent but it doesn’t even begin to cover the actual reality.
In the real graph the bottom 20% have a section on the graph so small that it’s invisible. In fact the bottom 40% section is barely visible. And it’s much worse than that because even adding in the “middle class” middle section only brings the total up to around 5%. So the bottom 60%, including most of the middle class, get 5% of the wealth.
But even that’s just the beginning. The “upper middle class” only get 10% of the wealth leaving the rich 20% with well over 80% of the wealth.
But where the whole thing moves from abhorrence to obscenity is when you consider the top 1%. Draw a graph with a typical middle class person’s bar one centimeter high and guess how high the bar for the 1% is? Is it 10 cm, or 50, or 100 centimeters high? No, it’s almost 10 meters high. The top 1% have more wealth than all of the poor, and all of the lower middle, and all of the middle, and all of the upper middle, and a good part of the rich all put together!
The true situation is as far beyond the perceived reality as the perceived reality is beyond the ideal situation. So not only is wealth distribution a total disgrace but people are barely aware of how bad it really is.
So no one can doubt that the situation is extreme. We must now move on to whether it is justified. As I said above, some people do make a greater contribution to society so it seems fair to reward them with a higher income. Few people would debate this idea and that is represented by the ideal graph being weighted towards the top 20%.
But there are two issues here: first, how much extra income do these people deserve, and second how should the determination of their contribution to society be made.
Many people will say let the market decide. There are huge problems with this though…
First, the market only exists through a series of essentially arbitrary laws and regulations enforced by governments. Change the rules and the market delivers a totally different result. Therefore the market is essentially arbitrary and often shaped by laws designed to benefit the richest sections of society.
Second, the market (as it is under current rules) tends to reward people who are good at making investments which might result in high returns without achieving anything beyond that. For example, a currency trader (who really does absolutely nothing of any value at all) can get a huge income where someone researching a cure for cancer gets nothing. So the market can easily reward exactly the wrong people.
Third, even if there was a single free market what guarantee is there that it will achieve a good result? After all, we have many laws to stop people murdering their enemies, stealing from others, and acting dangerously on the road. Why shouldn’t we have rules to control dangerous activity in the economy as well?
I think I know exactly where this attitude that the market can solve all our problems came from. It came from the top 1% obviously! But it’s not that simple because I know many people on much more modest incomes who also support the “market”. Why? Because of that seemingly reasonable appeal to freedom, progress, and entrepreneurship. But not only is that idealised outcome not real, but even if it was real it isn’t the answer we should aim for anyway.
So the propaganda machine being run by the rich has persuaded enough people to act against their own best interests and that is how the system has both maintained itself and gone on to even greater extremes. But it can’t last. All despotic regimes eventually come to an end and I think we are beginning to see the end of the current one.
It’s time we made the economy work for the majority of people, not the other way around. And it is happening in some areas, with Europe now making (some rather feeble) attempts to moderate the pay of perhaps the most corrupt section of society of all: the banks.
Even in the US there is the beginning of a swing back to more moderate policies. Because of changing demographics there it is unlikely that the Republicans can ever regain power unless they moderate their policies significantly. And a swing back towards the center there (even Obama is far right by most standards, despite the silly claims of him being a socialist) should trigger a global trend towards the same thing.
But looking at those graphs I do wonder how much longer the poor, and even a lot of the middle class, will have to suffer just so that the (in most cases) greedy, corrupt, and self centered can get even richer. How much is enough for these people?
One final thing: I do realise that there are a few rich people who do make a significant contribution to society, and there are a few who contribute to worthwhile causes (Bill Gates being the most famous example). This is OK but it doesn’t really affect the big picture. The system is rotten to the core and any small examples of good outcomes like that are swamped by the vast majority of bad.
The rich aren’t the solution, they’re the problem. As the classic line in HitchHiker’s Guide to the Galaxy goes: they’ll be the first against the wall when the revolution comes. Bring on the revolution!
I think people are getting more and more sick of the incompetence and immorality of the ruling class here in New Zealand. And yes, I used the word “class” deliberately because it really has got to the point where there is a certain group of people who rule by a sense of entitlement rather than any proven competence.
Every week there seems to be a new story describing the ineptitude of another highly paid director or other leader. The latest is Solid Energy ex-CEO, Don Elder, but he is just one of many.
Don Elder was probably quite a smart person at one time. He went to the prestigious high school Christ’s College, graduated from the University of Canterbury with a degree in engineering, and then gained a Rhodes Scholarship to go to Oxford University. Who knows, maybe he’s still a really smart person but I think something has gone horribly wrong and I think I could make a good guess about what it is.
It’s that senior managers acquire a false sense of their own importance, competence, and uniqueness. They really think that they deserve the vast salaries they are given. They really think their decisions are better than those of mere mortals. And they really think they are making the “hard decisions” which no one else understands.
There are probably a few exceptions to the picture of hopelessness I have presented so far – after all, the people running companies or other organisations reasonably well usually keep out of the news so we don’t hear much about them – but the model seems to fit the vast majority of the ruling class I have heard of.
The process through which this false sense of their own skills and value is acquired is obvious. Who do these people associate with? The board of directors, other managers, senior government ministers, and other people of the same class as them. In other words, other immoral, useless parasites who aren’t going to risk sabotaging the system by suggesting it has significant faults.
I can imagine them congratulating each other on a job well done and giving each other huge bonuses at the same time as their company sinks into financial disaster or compensates for its inefficiencies by ramping up prices for its captive customers.
Don Elder has driven the company into the ground at the same time as he made investments which anyone could see were bad, built a luxurious corporate headquarters (known locally as the “Palace”), bought a mine for $64 million and closed it a month later, invested in a failed biodiesel project, and thought that he and his high class buddies were doing such a good job that they deserved $23 million in bonuses. What a guy! Now isn’t that the sort of performance well worth paying over a million dollars a year for!
And now he’s at home being paid full pay as an adviser and to help with the transition to new management, and still he refuses to be accountable. His phone diverts saying he’s out of town. Is he hiding somewhere like a coward or maybe he’s enjoying an overseas holiday at our expense.
Let’s get some of the defences proffered for Elder out of the way here. First, the coal industry is in decline so losses are inevitable. OK, maybe they are, but why make matters worse with foolish investments and undeserved bonuses? Second, it’s a hard job, could you do it? Well yes, I think I could, because I would have enough expert advisers to allow me to make a sensible and moral decision. Third, maybe what look like bad decisions would work in the long term. Yeah maybe, but it seems unlikely, and if he really thought that why not make an appearance and tell us all how that could happen.
There’s another point I should deal with too. That is the Solid Energy is a state-owned company. Some free-market zealots (not mentioning anyone… yes I am, Steven Joyce) have claimed a similar problem could never happen to a fully commercial company. Interesting theory but the constant failures of a very similar type in public companies tends to counter that assertion. In fact it was by playing the same games that fully commercial companies like to play that lead Solid Energy down this dismal path in the first place!
OK, that’s one member of the new aristocracy dealt with, now who else deserves an honourable mention in this role of the most esteemed members of the upper echelons in modern society?
Could it be another member of the privileged class who is perhaps even more despised than Elder, our old friend Jenny Shipley? She has just resigned from one company she was a director of which failed, resulting in the loss of many jobs. She did have more luck with Genesis Energy though. But to overcome the gross incompetence of its management it was necessary to push the prices up for its victims, whoops, I mean customers.
Yes, Jenny is proud of the profits at Genesis Energy, but the fact that these are gained at the expense of the people of New Zealand wouldn’t even be of the slightest concern to her. Those people are from the lower classes after all, so who cares? So let’s put the prices up in January this year and then again in a few months time. Oh and I think the directors deserve a bonus for their good work on that too! Would $30,000 be OK?
Well just pushing up prices to consumers isn’t the sort of brilliant work we should be paying these scumbags big money for. The price increases are totally unjustified despite the lies about increased distribution costs and other excuses. I could choose a homeless bum off the street, pay him with a bottle of vodka a day, and let him come up with the idea that you can make more money if you just charge your customers more.
Who knows, he might even come up with a genuinely new idea instead of the stale and mindless rubbish the privileged classes just recycle over and over again. Anything would be better than what we have now.
One of the most common frustrations of working in the modern environment is the constant cut-backs, downsizing, and budgeting which makes getting things done more difficult. These are generally justified through an argument such as: in these difficult economic times we must tighten our belts, or public (or shareholder) funds must be spent responsibly, or we must become more efficient to compete in the market. While politicians and managers love this sort of stuff, in most cases it’s all crap.
In every case I am familiar with there is a remarkable inequality and inconsistency in these “austerity” styled processes. When there are redundancies, reduced pay, or less generous conditions it very rarely affects top management. Sure, sometimes middle and lower management are reduced in numbers, but far more often it is those at the bottom who are the victims, and they are the least responsible for the organisation’s alleged difficult situation.
When cutbacks are made it is surprising how often that later it is discovered that the same organisation is wasting large amounts on worthless nonsense. My colleague Fred (not his real name but he is an IT professional in a similar job to mine) reported this phenomenon recently where the workers’ conferences were cancelled, they had great difficulty getting the equipment their job required, and they were forced to keep old equipment well past its useful lifetime, yet management spent large sums (how much they would not reveal) on pathetically childish management motivational and organisational material. Fred claims it looks like the sort of stuff that a bunch of kindergarten kids with a box of crayons could produce. I thought that was being a bit unkind to the intellect of 5 year olds!
The same thing happens at government level. Here in New Zealand there are constant claims that there just isn’t the money to carry out many projects which would otherwise be very worthwhile. Yet the same government wastes huge amounts on stuff that benefits very few. For example, research budgets are being cut here yet the government can still give big overseas corporations like Warners tens of millions of dollars in hand-outs.
I think austerity measures are doomed to failure in most cases whatever the circumstances are but at least I would be more prepared to support them if there wasn’t this obvious double standard. If I was in an organisation afflicted with this problem I would be prepared to accept cut-backs to expensive equipment purchases and conferences if that was necessary. But I would not be happy to do that and then find management has just spent a small fortune on some nonsense which some “criminal” masquerading as a “management consultant” has produced.
I would regretfully accept the necessity to keep using old equipment even past its useful lifetime, but if I then found management being given fancy new gadgets which they barely even knew how to use I would be less than impressed. This is the sort of thing which does happen regularly unfortunately, and it’s about time workers stopped just accepting it.
But there is one other factor here. It’s difficult for many people – even some who are very skilled – to get a job in the current environment. So people just tend to put up with whatever outrageous nonsense is going on even when they know it is wrong, because if they were fired or resigned they would have a lot of trouble finding another job.
And I think that is one reason why the current New Zealand government is so reluctant to do anything about unemployment. I think they actually want unemployment to be high because that gives employers a huge advantage in pay negotiations. There is also the standard dogma they have about not interfering in the markets of course, but that seems to be set aside when it comes to welfare for corporates.
With the conservatives it seems to be something like this: welfare for those who least need it, don’t interfere except when you really should, blame those who have the least responsibility, have the least accountability for those who demand the most from everyone else, and above all make sure the pain of cutbacks is inflicted on those who can least bear it.
There’s the standard recipe for modern conservative governments and modern management. Why do we put up with it? Sure beats me!
I think one of the biggest problems we face in modern society is people who are motivated by ideology rather than practicality. For those of you who have read this blog you will recognise this as a common theme here.
In this particular instance I was going to write a blog entry complaining about the abysmal performance of the current New Zealand government, accusing them of being morons or uncaring or maybe even evil. But they aren’t that at all, actually they are just blinded by ideology.
The current government believes in a hands off approach and that everything will be OK as long as the market is left to take its course. This is absurd to anyone who looks at the current situation from an unbiased perspective of course, but not everyone is unbiased.
I guess you could make a case to say that no one is totally unbiased but there are varying levels of it and right-wing governments are always at the extremes.
So what is my major problem in this case? It’s the governments total refusal to try to solve the major problems which are afflicting the country, especially unemployment. By any reasonable standard they have failed miserably here and it seems that every day another company fails leading to there being even fewer available jobs. Yet the government does nothing and Stephen Joyce just repeats his assurances that everything will be OK as long as we welcome foreign investment and allow our resources to be exploited.
At this stage I would normally call Joyce a moron but, as I said above, that would be unfair. Listening to him speak he is obviously quite intelligent so how can he be so wrong? It’s simple really: he is blinded by his own ideology, specifically the ideology that the market never fails and that private investment is always best.
In the last quarter the unemployment rate was actually down from the previous one, which had been a 13 year high. But even that apparent victory was really just another failure and a particularly horrendous one too. The rate measures the portion of people seeking work compared with the number who have or want employment. So many people have just given up trying to find work that the number looked better even though there was a smaller number of people in the work force. Can there be a bigger failure?
So there was a “better” unemployment rate despite 23,000 fewer people having work because over 33,000 people just left the labour force. I agree that some of those were older people who had retired and younger people who went into training buy really, if the only reason people retire or train is because they can’t get work then that isn’t really a positive statistic.
So given their terrible performance on this you would think the government might re-think their strategy, wouldn’t you? Well no, they won’t because like all ideologs they have total confidence in their pitiful beliefs and refuse to abandon their laissez faire strategy no matter what the facts might be.
It’s not just in the area of work that we see this either. Just about everything these clowns do in the area of education is a total debacle and the minister is clearly grossly incompetent. Yet the prime minister has full confidence in her and thinks she is a great communicator.
Yeah right, her major communications strategy seems to involve hiding from the public and refusing interviews with John Campbell. A brilliant strategy I guess. As the old saying goes: it’s better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all possible doubt!
I don’t know how much more damage these people can do before the voters finally see the light and realise they have no answers. Judging from past experience, quite a lot!
Most sensible people around the world were relieved when Barack Obama managed to narrowly win the US presidency last year. That was not necessarily because they thought he was the best person possible for the job, but more that he was a hundred times better than the alternative.
His first term as president shouldn’t be dismissed as a total failure although he certainly didn’t live up to the hopes of many more progressive people. I guess the big problem was that his emphasis at the time was cooperation and compromise in the hope of forging some sort of working relationship with the Republicans.
But you can’t create any sort of meaningful link with nutters whose primary purpose is your destruction whatever the consequences.
Not all Republicans are nutters of course, but a large proportion of them are, and at this stage of its evolution the party does seem to be under the control of some of its nuttiest members, especially fundamentalist Christians and ultra-conservatives.
The Republicans still control the House so Obama has major limits on what he can do and that has been a problem all along which has lead to the attempts at reconciliation. But those attempts have been ultimately harmful, I think, and it is now time for Obama to do what he has probably wanted to do all along: enact what in the American context could be called a liberal agenda (although in most other contexts it might be seen as fairly centrist).
Obama’s latest speech was full of signs that he intends to try to do what he originally promised: make some real changes. Of course all of this needs to been in perspective, by real change I mean doing the things that any reasonable society would make without any real thought.
Here are some of the changes I’m talking about: allowing government to participate in society in a positive way, avoiding war except as a truly last resort, trying to do something about the out of control gun culture in the US, giving gays the same rights as everyone else, and doing something about global environmental issues such as climate change.
All of those are reasonable and necessary yet his opposition opposes them for no real reason other than bigotry, ignorance, and superstition. How could anyone cooperate with a group so out of touch with what is really required in the 21st century?
Many might say that the Republicans control the House because they enjoy a lot of support, and remember that Obama did not win the presidential election by a big margin. Clearly those attributes I mentioned above (bigotry, ignorance, and superstition) are common in some parts of the US so it’s natural that leaders exhibiting those traits would be popular. But the tide is slowly turning and Obama gets more support from sections of the population which are growing so hopefully a more liberal agenda will continue to be supported in the future.
Whether the Democrats can win the House at the next election in just under 2 years time I don’t know but it would be great if it happened. Then Obama would have no excuse for not making some really positive changes.
But even if he is blocked by his opponents he must at least try to move ahead. The time for compromise is past. You don’t compromise with idiots or you’ll begin to look like one yourself!
Shouldn’t the people at the top be responsible for their organisations? Isn’t that why they are paid the big salaries? In so many cases it seems that the more responsible a person is the less they are likely to he held to account for what happens under their leadership.
Sure I agree there is the occasional case of a politician resigning after a case of gross negligence, but even those events often seem to be politically orchestrated and the person tends to continue on in a lesser role but still with a substantial salary and might expect an easy, less controversial job in the future when the current problem has been forgotten.
Of course this phenomenon can be seen with all leaders, but the particular case which is most obvious in New Zealand at this point is the minister of education, Hekia Parata, who surely is currently responsible for the most disorganised, dysfunctional, and dispirited organisation in the country. And the way our country is at the moment, to be the most dispirited isn’t easy. There’s plenty of competition!
It’s almost impossible to find anyone involved in education who agrees with this minister’s decisions. Everyone knows that the experts are not being listened to, that her policies are driven by economic and political dogma rather than practical educational requirements, and that the minister can not or will not learn from her mistakes.
As I have said in a previous blog entry, I don’t think Parata is actually evil, she’s just the person who drew the short straw and became education minister for a National government. It’s impossible to do that job properly no matter who you are because National, being a right wing party, is automatically opposed to good traditional educational values.
So the minister is doomed to failure from the beginning and that explains why every National minister of education has been a disaster and has been despised by the majority of people in education. It explains for example why a past minister had to escape out of a window to avoid an angry crowd.
So let’s look at a few of the ridiculous debacles this government has been responsible for in education: there’s the National Standards policy, the League tables, the school closures, the Novopay disaster, and now the resignation of Education Secretary Lesley Longstone.
Longstone always gave me the impression of being a gross incompetent but that might just be because of the way she was forced to defend the minister’s policies which she might not have necessarily agreed with. In fact her resignation indicates that she did disagree with the policies she was forced to implement.
But she won’t do too badly because she is likely to get a half million dollar payout as she leaves. This is from the same ministry which is closing schools to save money. Really, what is the point in recruiting and paying an allegedly highly skilled person if she is going to be forced to do the wrong thing by her minister in charge?
I would suggest the main reason these people are hired is there ability to carry out the instructions of their political master and divert attention from them rather than to make good decisions and really produce quality results for the people they are actually there for.
If any of the education changes had been a great success I’m sure the minister would have taken the credit, but now they have become a disaster suddenly someone else is to blame. And to make matters worse the minister has disappeared off on holiday, but it’s OK, the prime minister has full confidence in her. No surprises there!
The two biggest items in the news today were the disastrous tropical cyclone which is causing widespread destruction across the Pacific, and the latest in a whole line of massacres in the US. Both of these are not isolated incidents and both should be warnings demonstrating the problems with policies widely supported by the right. Those policies are lack of action against global warming and lack of action for gun control.
There always have been catastrophic events like Tropical Cyclone Evan and Hurricane Sandy, which devastated the Caribbean and Eastern US earlier this year, but most experts (and many non-experts as well) are beginning to see a trend of greater frequency and intensity of these storms which is most likely attributable to global warming. We all agree this is not certain but lack of 100% certainty should not be used as an excuse not to act.
It might already be too late to avoid some of the worst long term effects of climate change but unless we make some effort – and the earlier the better – the worst possible outcome is virtually certain. At the very least people should be prepared to accept that the phenomenon is real and they should stop hiding behind a ridiculous facade of denial. Of course, as the title of this entry suggests, climate change denial is primarily a right-wing defect.
The other item in the news is the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre. Every time this sort of thing happens (and it is happening more and more frequently) there is a renewed debate on gun control but the pressure groups, especially the NRA, always seem to have the last word and very little ever changes. We just wait a few months and then the cycle repeats. And yes, weak gun control is another right-wing favourite.
There are two arguments commonly used to support lesser controls on firearms: first, it is an issue of freedom that people should be allowed weapons if they want them and is supported by the second amendment; and second, if ordinary citizens didn’t have guns they would not be able to protect themselves against criminals who did have them.
I have even heard the suggestion that if more people carried guns they could stop the criminal and insane people who perpetrate these shooting rampages. But already there is almost one gun per person in the US. Since they are quite widely distributed you would expect that occasionally a private citizen might have managed to end one of these rampages, right? Well, according to my research it has never happened. Despite the widespread ownership of weapons there has never been an occasion where a shooting rampage has been stopped by an armed potential victim.
On the other hand there have been plenty of cases, including the latest one, where individuals of doubtful mental status have accumulated large collections of weapons and ammunition which have been far in excess of anything a person would need for self-defence.
There has also been clear evidence that lax gun laws lead to more violence, higher suicide rates, and much greater numbers of accidents. Even if self-defence could be used as a reason to support gun ownership it seems to me that on balance guns are undeniably bad.
But, of course, I should not have used the word “undeniably” because, as we all know only too well, certain groups in society will deny anything, including climate change (as I noted above) and the fact that guns are just inherently dangerous. I mean, this isn’t rocket science people: guns are specifically designed to kill and that’s what they do.
The more I think about it the more I see how exactly the same misinformation techniques are repeated over and over again in different areas of denial. Cigarette companies say people should have the freedom to smoke and many smokers aren’t affected by smoking, global warming deniers say the free market will sort out our issues and some areas of the world aren’t any warmer anyway, and the gun lobby say people should have the freedom to defend themselves and guns don’t kill people, other people do.
It’s all mindless rhetoric and most of it comes from the right wing crazies who would sacrifice anything just to support their warped idea of how the world should work. But surely every disastrous storm and every school shooting must weaken their position, just like the increasing death toll from smoking eventually had to be acknowledged by the tobacco companies. It seems that it really is a bad time for conservatives.