Archive

Archive for the ‘politics’ Category

Neoliberalism has Failed

April 30, 2017 Leave a comment

Sometimes it takes our leaders years to figure out what we already know, and other times they never figure it out at all. Take neoliberalism for example (by this I mean free markets, globalisation, open borders, laissez faire economics, flexible labour, privatisation, austerity, small government). Most of us could see from the start that it wouldn’t work, and we certainly figured it out after a few years of miserable failure. Now, almost 35 years since the experiment began in New Zealand, that should be obvious to everyone, except those most ideologically wed to the idea.

Former New Zealand prime minister, Jim Bolger, has certainly got the idea by now. He put it pretty plainly when he said that “Neoliberalism has failed New Zealand”. Of course, he was only a moderately strong advocate when he was PM. He actually got rid of the vile Ruth Richardson (a strong supporter of neoliberalism and creator of “Ruthanasia”) and put Bill Birch in as minister of finance.

Just to show how mad Richardson really was, even the relatively moderate Birch who replaced her is still clinging to the dream. He still spouts the old lines about people having “more choice” under neoliberalism. More choice for what? To get ripped off by an employer or suffer through degrading unemployment, I guess. Or maybe the choice is whether to live in your car, stay in your friend’s garage, or to share a room with 10 other people. Gee thanks, Bill. Those are great choices.

Bolger clearly gets it now. He even thinks that unions need more power. He can see that the changes in the labour market his government forced through have been bad for the majority. And I think that most of our current politicians can see that too.

Even the center-right National Party (the same party Bolger was the leader of back in the 90s) has backed away from extreme neoliberalism. They haven’t gone far enough, of course, because most of the damaging policies are still there, but at least they haven’t taken it any further. There hasn’t been another major privatisation (which almost inevitably end in disaster) for many years, for example.

It will probably be many decades before we again repeat the mistakes of neoliberalism. After all, before the current cycle the last one was just prior to the Great Depression (coincidence? I think not), so we might have up to 50 years of relative sanity.

That hasn’t stopped those who have gained most from neoliberalism from trying to defend it. The chief executive of Business New Zealand claims everyone is now better off. This is obviously untrue (you just need to look at the real, inflation adjusted, wealth figures to see this) but these people follow Joseph Goebbels’ philosophy and think that if they repeat a lie often enough it will become the truth – unfortunately, it often does.

I often use the idea of the “zeitgeist” when I discuss world trends in this blog. I think there is a clear global mood now to reject neoliberalism. Regrettably this seems to have been replaced with nationalism and conservatism, which has its own problems – again, people never seem to learn from history.

Another interesting thing I have noticed recently is for people to laugh at Any Rand, one of the spiritual founders of neoliberalism. I have heard comments like “yeah that person has about as much credibility as Ayn Rand!”. And, now that I’m thinking about it, a lot of people weren’t exactly upset when Margaret Thatcher died a few years back. In fact, it’s interesting how many women were strong supporters of the ideology. If you ever needed any proof that more women in politics is not automatically a good thing, then surely this should convince you of that idea.

So, yes, neoliberalism has failed… or has it? All of the stated aims: smaller government, more open markets, a more flexible work force, etc have been achieved. But there is one more thing we were promised which hasn’t happened: the benefits trickling down. Undoubtedly the “trickle down” part of neoliberalism has been conspicuously absent. I guess that was always the intention. But you can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time. And the people aren’t being fooled by this pernicious ideology any more.

Let’s Talk About It

February 15, 2017 Leave a comment

A common theme I have seen last week when New Zealand celebrated (and I should put that word in quotes because there seems to be more angst than celebration) its national day was that “we need to talk about it”. The “it” in that sentiment seemed to be something like race relations, our history in general, colonialism, and other subjects of that sort.

But I wonder how genuine this wish for “talking about it” really is, because it seems that people are only allowed to talk about it if they take the side of political correctness and don’t offer any alternative ideas or even mention any opinions which don’t fit in with what the “political correctness police” want to hear.

A classic example of this happened recently when a member of a local council mentioned on social media that he didn’t think the Maori language was worth saving, and that effectively it was on life support.

If we are going to have a discussion about indigenous rights in general, and the preservation of the Maori language in particular, then surely that is an opinion which is worth presenting. It might be right and it might be wrong, but at least let’s accept it as a genuine possibility and discuss it.

But that’s not what happened, of course. Because in these politically correct times a “discussion” involves only hearing one side of the story and not even mentioning anything which might seem to go against that view. So this person was subject to general scorn and derision, will probably be forced to apologise, and might face other disciplinary actions from the council he works for.

This is not a discussion. When a discussion involves only saying things which are approved by a controlling group it is called propaganda, and that’s what all of the “acceptable” pro-Maori views I have seen recently really are.

The fact is that you could make a very good case to say that the Maori language is, in fact, on life support, and that the money being spent on it might be better used somewhere else. That would be my view, and I know I would be attacked for it if I presented it in a forum where the left wing nutters I have been unfortunate enough to have to associate with recently reside.

And remember that I’m not saying this as a far-right red-neck conservative. I am politically quite far to the left and am definitely liberal by any reasonable measure. But there’s just one aspect of left-wing politics which I reject: political correctness and the mindless posturing the left are often involved in.

In fact I would be far more amenable to arguments supporting the Maori language if it wasn’t so much considered a topic which is protected in the way I described above. It is the bungling and bureaucratic attempts at making it more acceptable which have had the complete opposite effect and made it less so.

This isn’t a unique view either. I think the silent majority secretly hold it and, if it was acceptable to have a real discussion on the subject, its popularity would become quickly apparent.

But repressing alternative views doesn’t make them go away. I would have thought that after the debacle in the US presidential election recently that the left would have realised that people don’t like being told what to think. I’m convinced that political correctness and the repression of alternative opinions are major reasons why the left was rejected there (and yes, I know that Clinton won the majority vote, etc).

So if we are going to talk about this let’s actually talk about it, instead of having a one sided monologue of politically correct propaganda which is occasionally interrupted by alternative views which are quickly repressed by the thought police.

Forget about compulsory Maori language teaching and forcing one group’s customs onto another. People don’t like being told what to do. They like even less being told what to say. And all the political correctness in the world won’t stop them from thinking what they want to think.

They’ve Got Nothing

February 6, 2017 6 comments

I’ve been stirring up trouble again. Yes, I have been on-line, mainly in Facebook but also Youtube, leaving comments for people who I consider are talking BS. Just to prove that I am an equal opportunity critic of ignorance, I have criticised about equal numbers of people who would probably be categorised as right and left.

In some cases I have had some fairly thoughtful reactions, and some have even changed my opinions slightly, but in general my opponents simply have nothing, and either respond with irrelevant comments of their own, refuse to answer my question, insult me (one person called me a “cabbage”), or just unfriend or block me.

On a couple of occasions I have terminated the debate because it was just going nowhere, or going around in circles. In that situation I usually say something like “We have got to a point where we interpret the facts differently because of our worldviews, so there’s not much point continuing. Thanks for the discussion” and that ends it.

I have realised that differing worldviews can lead debates to a point where no progress is possible, but I want to write a full post on that in future so I won’t continue it here.

There is one phenomenon I want to comment on here though. That is, although I am a fairly liberal person myself (that isn’t just self-reported, it is also what I inevitably get when doing political orientation tests) it is people on the left who generally make the most ridiculous and ill considered comments. They also tend to react with denial rather than argument, including blocking further comments – in fact I was unfriended by one lefty (I was going to say “libtard”) today.

The worst nonsense from the left unsurprisingly, involves criticism of Donald Trump. Now I’m perfectly happy for anyone to criticise any politician, because I think once someone enters politics they should expect to become a target, but it is just embarrassing when the critic gets it hopelessly wrong, especially when they are obviously just parroting a criticism they have got from their friends with similar political views.

I have commented on this phenomenon before and I think it’s getting worse rather than better. I have also blogged about how to avoid falling into this trap. It’s really quite simple: the more you want something to be true the more suspicious of it you should be. So if you are about to post something which strongly supports your political ideology just check it first, preferably in a source which would normally be against your views, or a neutral one (if neutral sources even still exist).

The fact that I was blocked just for pointing out a whole pile of inaccuracies in a criticism of Trump indicates that the person involved simply didn’t want to engage in a search for what is true. The same person responded to an earlier comment I made with something like: “I knew you would point out that was wrong but I don’t care”. This person actually wants to be ignorant!

So the stream of hate-filled criticism of Trump (ironically for what they claim are his hate-filled attitudes) is likely to continue, although I see less and less of it because most of the libtards (there, I said it this time) are blocking me!

And as dissenting voices like mine are blocked I guess those people will only get confirmation of what they want to believe. So they will become more and more ignorant. And as that happens they will become more extreme, and a moderate position which most people can agree to will become harder to achieve.

In general, the future doesn’t look great. Where we need more agreement we are getting more division. Where we need more progress we are getting more regressive thinking, and most of all, where we need more facts we are getting more ignorance. Apparently, most people can’t argue their political position rationally because they’ve got nothing!

Is the President Right?

January 30, 2017 Leave a comment

It seems that every day Donald Trump launches another onslaught on the sensibilities of many people around the world. Well, when I say “many people”, I should probably say that these people probably occupy a relatively small niche of those who care enough to comment or act, and who are sufficiently to the left or sufficiently PC that they reject everything Trump does.

I need to say at this point that there is plenty in regards to Trump which everyone should be concerned about. In general these issues stem from a disregard for what is true (or what is sufficiently well supported by evidence that it could be reasonably assumed to be true), such as climate change.

But let’s look at the latest controversy: the tighter border controls, especially for those from certain, majority Islamic countries. Many people are totally against this action, and the inevitable protests and condemnation have been ongoing since it was announced, but how bad is it, really?

Well, like most things Trump does, it is pretty bad, but nowhere near as bad as many people seem to think. My main objection is not the underlying idea, but the implementation.

The main reason for the president’s action is ostensibly to prevent terrorism in the US. It has been pointed out in many places that Islamic terrorism isn’t really a major issue in the US (at least, not since 9/11) and this makes the underlying justification invalid, but does it?

There is little doubt (at least amongst those who look at the facts) that terrorism around the world is primarily carried out by Muslims. The best list of international terrorist attacks I can find indicates that Islamic extremists perform far more attacks than every other group put together. So, from an international perspective it is reasonable to be cautious of Muslims.

Of course, very few Muslims actually pose a threat, but it is still a factor which can’t be ignored. The religion itself also seems to incite violence more than most. Of course, this will be debated by those who claim (with very little justification) that Islam is a “religion of peace”, but there are many places in the Koran and Hadith where violent actions seem to be encouraged – more so than the New Testament, for example, although maybe not as much as the Old!

So I don’t think simply being a Muslim or coming from a country where Islam is the dominant religion should be enough to deny someone rights to visit or immigrate to the US, but it should be a factor which is considered. Unfortunately, anyone who belongs to this religion should expect to be more closely checked than others.

And that isn’t racist or xenophobic, it’s just common sense based on statistics. Muslims are more likely to be involved with terrorism. It’s that simple.

In a recent debate on this subject I was challenged with an argument like this: “you (that is me) say that Muslims are more violent, does that mean men should be more closely scrutinised too because they are more prone to violence?” I’m sure my questioner expected me to say “no, that’s different”, but it isn’t and I said “yes, and I’m sure that happens already”.

But the PC brigade seem to accept that as OK. They love to point out how women are less violent then men and therefore should be given extra trust, but don’t seem to be able to apply the same logic to different religious groups.

And I don’t think the idea that all groups deserve the same level of trust can be justified. If a person belonged to a neo-Nazi group they would be unlikely to be trusted much, so clearly varying levels exist. And all religions have different beliefs so it’s hard to defend the idea that they are all equally positive. So clearly some religious groups must be less trustworthy than others. And, as I said above, the evidence clearly shows that, in the current era at least, a group which probably deserves a bit less trust is Islam.

So President Trump’s specific actions don’t make sense, so from that perspective he is wrong, but I think the underlying sentiment makes some sense, do maybe, just maybe, he’s a little bit right, too.

The Politics of Envy

January 19, 2017 Leave a comment

I recently read a report which highlighted the difference between rich and poor in New Zealand. While the situation here is nowhere near as bad as in some other countries, it is still maybe the biggest challenge facing our modern society. Most people accept that there will always be some individuals or groups who will do better financially than others (and some would say the rich deserve their extra wealth), but it is the magnitude of the difference which is of concern.

So how much is this difference? Well, the wealthiest 1% of New Zealand own 20% of the wealth and that is the same as the bottom 30%. Also, the top 10% own over half the wealth, leaving the other 90% with the remainder (obviously).

This is bad enough but it’s nothing compared with the US. There, the top 0.1% have as much as the bottom 90%. By the way, these stats are all from published research and surveys and I can provide links if required. Also some numbers might be a few years out of date and the situation is likely to be even worse now.

As I said, most people accept there should be different levels of wealth depending on the contribution the person makes to the economy. When asked what the difference between the pay for a CEO and a worker should be a US study found that the “average” American estimated that the ratio was 30 to 1, and that ideally it would be 7 to 1. But the reality is that it is 354 to 1. Fifty years ago, it was just 20 to 1.

Note that the numbers above are just for pay and the rich tend to make the majority of their money in other ways, so this is just the tip of the iceberg.

An argument often used to justify these mismatches is to say that anyone could succeed if they really wanted to, simply by working hard enough and learning the required skills.

This point has a certain amount of truth, but only to a very limited extent. I have a cartoon which I think makes the point well. It says “Remember, always follow your passion. And if your passion doesn’t fit into global capitalism, well, then you are a failure at life.”

A survey of work hours reveals two things. First, the top earners don’t work significantly longer hours than anyone else, in fact the top earners aren’t even the hardest working category; and second, working hours have been going up over the last few decades (while real income for most has come down).

So both of the defences of wealth disparities are nonsense. Sure, you can get rich but only if you know how to, or are willing to play the game which leads to wealth (after possibly abandoning your moral standards). And working hard makes no difference. You can work hard and make very little money, or you could do almost nothing and make a lot.

So what does lead to greater wealth, then? Well, as I said above, it is the ability to “play the game”. The game involves being self-centered, ruthless, and sometimes being a border-line sociopath. So pay your workers a s little as you can get away with, stab both your competitors and your colleagues in the back (just metaphorically in most cases) if you get the chance, and dont worry too much about big picture issues which affect others (climate change, pollution, etc).

More positive attributes, like hard work, dedication, and ability can help, of course, but there are far more people with these attributes and very little money than there are with a lot.

Another factor which appears quite often in the history of people who have become rich is luck. Specifically this often involves being in the right place at the right time. For example, a product or service might be ready to be accepted at a particular time when earlier (and often better) ones were rejected because the world wasn’t ready.

Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg are two examples of people who were more lucky than anything else. Many people rely on their company’s products now, but that is more a matter of history than superiority. There have always been better alternatives, but they just didn’t get the lucky breaks.

There is a modern trend for the extremely wealthy to engage in philanthropy and I fully support this. Bill Gates is doing some great work here, Larry Ellison contribues to some good causes, Tim Cook (Apple CEO) says he will give away all of his wealth, and many other make some effort to contribute to good (and some not so good) causes.

But there are two problems with this. First, many rich people don’t make much of a philanthropic contribution; and second, they get to choose where the money goes (which is fair enough, because under the current system, it is their money).

So maybe it would be better if they didn’t get that money in the first place. Then it could be distributed in more efficient ways to where it is needed (and yes, I fully realise that the government making that decision is often not much of an improvement).

So let’s summarise what I have said. We have a system which gives certain people lots of money because they are good at making lots of money. They aren’t any more hard-working, and they usually aren’t the most innovative, intelligent, creative, or anything else. They are just people who are good at accumulating money, and are probably also lucky.

Am I envious of them? Well in some ways I am, especially of those who deserve little or no admiration for their actions. But it is really not just simple envy. Along with wealth comes power, so the rich have great influence over the direction society takes, and guess what: they are unlikely to want to change it in a way to make it better for the majority. If they had generous, moral personalities they wouldn’t have become part of the 1% to start with.

A New Zeitgeist

December 22, 2016 Leave a comment

I have often mentioned the concept of the zeitgeist in my blog posts. It is one of my favourite concepts and one of my favourite words too (German words are often very useful because they have specific meanings). I you need a reminder of it’s meaning, it is (according to the Oxford Dictionary): the defining spirit or mood of a particular period of history as shown by the ideas and beliefs of the time.

For the period from the 1970s to the early 2010s there has been a clear belief (well, I thought it was clear, anyway) in commercialism, political and economic elites, and free markets. There have been great promises made that following these will bring great benefits to everyone, primarily through the famous “trickle down” effect where greater wealth held by corporate leaders is somehow distributed to the lower echelons too.

But that doesn’t seem to have worked, because the gap between rich and poor is now utterly obscene.

It might be argued that although the gap has widened greatly, in absolute terms everyone is better off, but that is far from clear, apart from in emerging economies like China. And it is a well known psychological effect that people measure their wealth (and well-being in general) in a comparative way.

Clearly there is significant dissatisfaction at the way the world is being run today. The most obvious “protest vote” against the political establishment is Donald Trump’s win in the US presidential election, but there are many other indicators across the globe.

As I have said in the past, I welcome revolt against the establishment (being a fairly anti-establishment person myself) but the danger here is what alternatives will people choose?

I have said in the past that I am not as anti-Trump as many other people are. I am very concerned about some of his opinions and some of the people he has appointed to positions of power, but I am also prepared to give him a chance. But he is an example where potentially an anti-establishment (Clinton clearly represented the existing political elite) vote might have resulted in the unleashing of something even worse!

Whatever the outcomes of this change might be, the fact is there is an appetite for change and it seems to be a global phenomenon. There clearly is a new zeitgeist emerging. At the moment it is just the thought that we don’t want what we have now, and protectionism, localism, and conservatism seem to be preferred, but it will hopefully (but not necessarily) lead to something more positive.

And there is another factor on the horizon which will force an even greater degree of change than the social, economic, and political factors I have bene considering so far. That is the true computer revolution.

What has happened so far has been significant but it will look minor compared with what is soon to come. Robots and intelligent machines will take over many jobs, virtual and augmented reality will blur the line between the real and virtual world, super-fast and reliable internet will make distance irrelevant, 3D printing will make manufacturing complex items easy, and (most importantly) artificial intelligence will finally fullfil its promise.

Already companies are saying that many professions will be taken over by AI (for example, accounting will become almost obsolete according to some), that many less skilled jobs will also disappear thanks to automated machines (self-driving vehicles, for example), and that abundant energy and goods will make existing economics obsolete.

Whatever small changes people imagine today will seem trivial compared with what is coming. We need a total change in thinking. We need a new zeitgeist.

Hate Speech

November 24, 2016 Leave a comment

Is censorship of controversial speech a good thing? There have been many opinions stated, and many debates conducted on this subject. The problem is that the answer tends to be framed in terms of yes or no. Like most subjects related to society and human behaviour there is no yes or no answer, because the ultimate response depends on how the terms are defined and on a partly subjective view on where a dividing line should be.

First, I should say that above I used the neutral term “controversial opinions” rather than anything more emotive like “hate speech” for a reason. Few people who are accused of hate speech would agree that they have actually engaged in it. And as soon as any opinion is elevated to the level of “hate speech” it almost automatically becomes justifiable to subject it to censorship.

So to remove an awkward opinion all that needs to be done is label it as hate speech and it can be suppressed. Clearly this is not a good thing.

The reason I am discussing this here and now is that recent cases of this type of censorship have appeared in the news. So let’s look at a few examples…

First there was “Bishop” Brian Tamaki who claimed that earthquakes might be caused by immoral behaviour such as homosexuality (note that is immoral by his standards, not mine). This was just before a major earthquake caused significant damage here in New Zealand, so it gained some prominence as a result.

Second, there was an Islamic cleric, Shaykh Dr Mohammad Anwar Sahib, who preached a lot of what were deemed hateful, misogynistic, and anti-semitic ideas. After the public outrage over this he was stood down by the Federation of Islamic Associations from his role as secretary of their religious advisory board.

Third there is our old friend, the populist politician Geert Wilders, who is being tried by a Dutch court for engaging in hate speech, mainly towards Muslim immigrants.

Then there was a local man, Nelson Cross, who was fired from his position as a government adviser for writing a satirical or humorous work which was labelled “offensive”. It describes Maori (the orignal inhabitants of New Zealand) as enjoying “KFC, the TAB and sedentary living”.

Finally there is Donald Trump, but I have said enough about him in previous posts so I won’t go into detail about his alleged racism, sexism, etc here.

Note that in the cases above people have suffered severe consequences (possibly prison in the case of Wilders) for stating their opinions. They haven’t actually carried out any hate crimes, such as attacking immigrants.

I’m not saying I agree with any of the opinions stated (in fact I specifically reject most of them) but I think we are going into a very dangerous place when we repress these ideas simply because they don’t fit into the politically correct framework of current society.

To show just how much political correctness is involved look at the case of Nelson Cross. His story made derogatory comments about white New Zealanders as much as Maori but no one said a thing about that. It was only comments made in a humorous style about a “minority” group that were criticised, and resulted in the severe penalty of the loss of his job.

But what are these dangers of censorship I alluded to above? I think there are two main problems…

First, the obvious one that by suppressing opinions which are contrary to the current whims of society we lose the ability to critique current norms. We also seem to lose the ability to engage in satire, entertainment, and even just to exercise basic freedom of speech.

The second problem is slightly more nuanced. It is that by suppressing expression of an opinion you don’t make the underlying ideas behind it go away. In fact in some ways you might make those ideas stronger because they go underground and build on a feeling of repression.

Since Donald Trump’s win in the US presidential election I have heard a lot of people admit to being his supporter (I don’t know why should they have to “admit” to this). Before he won there was almost no indication of support for him at all, because it just wasn’t politically correct to admit to that. But people still supported him in secret and now we see the “surprising” result of his victory.

So the correct response to opinions which go against the mainstream is to listen to them fairly and respond accordingly. If Trump supporters had been treated with a bit more respect their opinions could have been listened to and, assuming they were invalid in some way, responded to. Also the true level of support for him would have been known and Clinton’s shock loss would not have been so hard on her supporters.

And while I think that Geert Wilders has some extreme views which I disagree with, his opinions on excessive immigration of people with very different social values than his own is hardly unique. He is a “populist” politician, meaning he represents a repressed opinion held by many people. Is it really a good idea to tell people that they aren’t allowed to express that opinion? That isn’t going to make the underlying anti-immigration ideas go away.

Even crazy religious ideas, like saying that Jews want to take over the world, or that gay people cause earthquakes, should be allowed. It should also be OK to ridicule these ideas. If a public discussion happens then there is an opportunity to correct these irrational ideas. Many people with extreme views won’t change them no matter what the facts are, but there will be a proportion who might be dissuaded from their beliefs, but only if discussion of them is OK.

There should be limits though. I think attacking individual people should be discouraged unless that person is a public figure or has initiated a controversy themselves. And I think that when controversial ideas are aired in public, contrary views – especially those pointing out errors – should be strongly encouraged.

Oh and one other thing: people shouldn’t be so sensitive. They should take negative remarks as humour if that was how they were intended, take them as the clueless ramblings of a religious nutter if that’s what they seem to be, or maybe look at them from the perspective of the other group. Maybe, just maybe, they have a point.Hate Speech