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Politics or Religion?

September 13, 2012 Leave a comment Go to comments

I guess it’s no surprise that different political parties approach governing a country with different political ideologies. The voters generally know which particular dogma various parties follow so they should vote based on a knowledge of how the politicians are likely to act when in power. For example, the current New Zealand government has a clear propensity towards laissez-faire economics and that should have been obvious at the election.

So that seems to indicate that the majority of New Zealanders (and people from other countries where politically right parties are in power) approve of that particular agenda. Even in a situation, like the one we currently have in New Zealand, where people vote more against opposition parties than for the governing party, and where they vote more for personalities (in this case the PM) rather than policies, they still must have tacit agreement with the government’s general philosophy.

Our government’s strategy seems to mainly involve doing as little as possible and relying on market forces to produce a positive economic outcome. It’s classic libertarianism so it’s no wonder that what was supposed to be New Zealand’s real libertarian party, Act, has almost completely died.

Naturally, I think this philosophy is wrong.

The problem is that this approach has been tried before and has been conspicuously unsuccessful. But the government can’t take any other course because everything they do is apparently driven by dogma rather than a genuine analysis of the requirements of the situation.

Why? Why can’t they take a more reasoned and moderate approach and follow the best course of action based on the particular situation? Maybe that isn’t what people really want. It’s the approach that the main opposition party espouses and the voters seem to be conspicuously unenthusiastic about it. Maybe they want simple, easily identifiable, policies instead of more vague statements about analysing the exact circumstances and applying more modest remedies.

The current state of the country is really rather poor, but supporters of the right have become quite skilled at obscuring this fact. They quote rather doubtful statistics, such as employment figures; they promise that better times are just around the corner, if we continue on our current course; they blame the global financial downturn (even though it’s primary cause was exactly the lack of control they support); they blame the previous government from 5 years ago; and they blame phenomena they can have no control over, such as the Christchurch earthquake.

All of these points have some merit – they aren’t completely untrue – but they are just excuses in the final analysis. Every government has challenges it needs to cope with but it’s reasonable to expect it to look at those challenges and react appropriately, not just continue on the standard political course they believe in through something more akin to faith than rationality.

The fact is that unemployment is worse now than when the current government came into power. And more people are “escaping” to Australia thanks to the poor outlook here. And conditions are difficult for our exporters because our currency is being manipulated by overseas investors while the government just watches. And even the industries the government has told us will save us, such as mining, are constantly failing.

I don’t think many people would suggest going to extremes and totally rejecting capitalism and free markets. No matter what faults they have (and there are many) they are still probably the best economic systems we have, but we must be practical about this. Markets need some guidance. Private enterprise is often not the best solution and when it is it must be controlled so that better long term solutions result. But libertarian dogma can never acknowledge these needs so, like all blind, fanatical beliefs, that makes it dangerous.

Libertarians aren’t stupid, at least not as a rule. In fact, people like Rodney Hide are obviously quite thoughtful, intelligent and knowledgeable. But they aren’t intellectually honest. They have decided what they want to believe and only take notice of sources of information which agree with that existing opinion. What they should do is look at other opinions fairly and realise that different responses are needed to different problems. The old “one size fits all” approach just doesn’t work.

Unfortunately this perspective isn’t likely to be abandoned voluntarily. Once a political or economic approach becomes more like a religion it can’t be changed easily, whatever the facts might indicate. That’s just the nature of religion. I guess we’ll all just have to get used to more of the same, according to the holy catechism of libertarianism.

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