The Dim-Post

October 30, 2012

Ayn Rand and Karl Marx

Filed under: Politics — danylmc @ 8:46 am

Toby Manhire wrote about the latest Atlas Shrugged movie the other day, and ended on this note:

For all that, the high-priestess of individualism still has a strong following. “Devotees are mostly American,” says the Economist, but Rand remains popular, too, in Britain, Scandinavia and Canada.

And India, where the Rand “craze” has attracted include well-known businesspeople, footballers, and Bollywood stars. “And – perhaps most gratifyingly of all for those who loathe collectivism and prize the verdict of the market,” says the Economist. “Rand’s books outsell Karl Marx’s 16-fold.”

16-fold seems kind of low to me, since Rand is currently in vogue on the right side of the political spectrum, whereas Marx is really only relevant to political and economic historians. But that stat got me thinking that while Ayn Rand disagrees with Marx on economic issues, politically and philosophically she’s basically a Marxist. You could write a long, not-too-boring essay on this, but briefly:

Rand, like Marx, believes that society is dominated by a parasitical bourgeois class, who produce nothing of value themselves. All value is created by a specific group – for Marx it’s the workers, for Rand it’s Objectivists, ie people who endorse her beliefs – and most is then stolen by their oppressors.

The prevailing social and economic conditions will lead to total systemic collapse (although Rand, like Lenin, believed that an unelected ‘revolutionary vanguard’ could hasten this collapse).

The post-collapse utopia will involve a ‘withering away of the state’, which is the ultimate tool of repression.

Rand grew up in St Petersberg/Petrograd/Leningrad/St Petersberg, and studied history at the university after the revolution, so it’s reasonable to assume this involved a considerable amount of Marxist theory. Obviously her economic beliefs were a reaction against the collectivism of the Soviet Union (just as Marx’s were a reaction against the boom and bust capitalism of Victorian England) but politically she seems to have clung onto the basic precepts of Marxism and embedded them into her work.

October 28, 2012

An anonymous pollster on the whole cell-phone, land-line thing

Filed under: polls — danylmc @ 10:45 am

From the comments section in the previous post, guess the pollster writes:

The problem with calling cell phones doesn’t really lie in the cost of calls. For a polling company, calling a cell phone doesn’t cost that much more than calling a landline. The problem is the complexity and cost of employing dual sampling frames when the proportion of cell phone users without a landline is still very low. If the purpose of calling cell phones is to reduce non-coverage of likely voters, then you may actually need to ‘screen out’ those you call on cell phones who also have a landline (because they are already covered by the landline sample frame).

If we assume 6% of eligible voters have cell phones and no landline, that means that 94% of the people you call on a cell phone will not be eligible to take part (again, because they are already covered by the landline sample frame). This is where the cost would really begin to build up – all those interviewer hours required just to screen people out (eek!).

This is not the only way to reduce non-coverage – but it’s actually one of the more straight forward and ‘statistically pure’ ways (ie, you can develop some sort of weighting scheme, but the more you weight, the greater the design effect (which increases the margin or error, and decreased the accuracy of a poll).

To make things more complex:

- Some people have more than one cellphone, meaning that the probability of them being called is higher, so additional weighting would need to be applied to adjust for the probability of selection (you may notice that some polls weight by household size and the number of landlines connected to a house – this is adjusting for the probability of section)

- There are a lot of cell phone numbers that are out of use, but when they are called they still go through to a voice mail. Unlike landlines (which you can ‘ping’ to test the connection), it is very difficult (ie, near impossible) to determine if there is actually an eligible person at the end of a number, so you’ve got no measure of the success rate of your sampling approach (ie, refusal rates, response rates, qualifier rates etc).

- At the moment such a small proportion of New Zealanders have a cell phone with no landline that party support would need to be DRAMATICALLY different among those people for this particular type of non-coverage to influence the poll results for party vote (eg, support for Labour among cell phone only voters may need to be TWICE what it is among landline voters for the party vote result to shift by more than, say, the margin of error).

When the proportion of people with cell phones and no landline is considerably larger than it is today (like it is in some other countries), then it will definitely make sense to employ a dual sampling frame approach. In NZ though (at least in 2011) most pollsters got things pretty close to the election day result so this would suggest non-coverage of cell phone only voters isn’t a big issue just yet. If cell phone plans get cheaper, then polling approaches will probably need to change to keep up.

October 27, 2012

It is not the policy of the Dim-Post to comment on individual polls

Filed under: Politics,polls — danylmc @ 8:24 am

But the latest Roy Morgan (with Labour down and National up, and the Roy Morgan sample size seems to get smaller with each poll, and is now just over 800) finds that Labour/Greens/New Zealand First is likely to win an election.

On current settings, isn’t a National-New Zealand First coalition just as likely as a Labour/Greens/New Zealand First coalition? Possibly more so. Given the dynamics of the coalition talks, in which the Greens would have far more seats than New Zealand First, but Winston Peters would have far more leverage than Russel Norman – because Peters can take his votes to National and Norman can’t – it’s hard to imagine Shearer (or whoever) putting together a functional government that lasts for three years. John Key probably won’t have any other significant coalition partners to worry about. He might have the Conservatives, but they’d probably be a luxury (like United Future during his last term) and they’d be smaller than New Zealand First.

October 25, 2012

Small thought experiment

Filed under: crime — danylmc @ 6:44 am

Every now and then, teachers or members of the public service make stupid mistakes, or break the law and get caught. Now, wouldn’t it be weird if every time that happened, the head of the PPTA or the Public Service Union came out fighting in their defense and argued that members or their union should be completely unaccountable and above the law?

The reason I ask is because that’s the perennial position of Greg O’Connor, head of the Police Association. This time around the police organised crime unit defrauded a district court during an investigation into a gang, forcing the judge to drop charges against 21 gang members. O’Connor is outraged . . . at the judge.

October 21, 2012

Education Minister fails to learn from extremely recent history

Filed under: education — danylmc @ 8:48 am

Stuff reports:

Children could be forced into “double-bunked” mega schools under Education Act changes.

One of the country’s biggest schools is already considering its options after changes that allow boards to set new start times – meaning they could offer morning and afternoon programmes from the same school, effectively doubling student numbers.

No prizes for guessing which government department dreamed up this idea. ‘If we have one group of students learning from 5 AM until 1 PM, and a second group learning from 2 PM until 8 PM, we double the education system’s asset utility ratio! Who could object to that?’

October 20, 2012

GCSB tape revisionism

Filed under: intelligence,Politics — danylmc @ 6:33 am

The conventional wisdom is setting in around David Shearer’s GCSB tape adventure – that it was a tactical blunder, that he shouldn’t have said anything unless he had the alleged tape, that he’s been set up by disloyal MPs and staffers, that Fran Mold should resign etc.

But if you step back and take a look at what Labour had, and what the PM has conceded regards the tape, it was actually pretty damn good. We have Key admitting that he made a speech to the GCSB, that he may have referred to Kim Dotcom, that there was a camera in the room – but apparently it wasn’t turned on – that there was an exhaustive search for this footage before the story broke, and there are (undenied) allegations that hard-drives were removed and wiped.

Put all that together and it sounds as if there was a tape, that the PM did mention Dotcom, and that there’s been a cover-up and the tape was erased. Either that or the PM has been the victim of a pretty incredible set of coincidences to make it look like he’s lied and then ordered his spy agency to cover it up.

Either way, that’s good stuff for an opposition leader. It worked out badly for Shearer because he’s a bad politician, but it was tactically sound.

October 19, 2012

PM shrugs off brain fade accusations

Filed under: Politics,satire — danylmc @ 1:12 pm

In the wake of embarrassing memory losses regarding intelligence briefings and parliamentary votes, opposition parties have attacked the Prime Minister’s ‘brain fades.’ But Key’s caucus colleagues, staff and political allies have defended the Prime Minister, insisting he is intellectually acute, and that his jokes and occasional forgetfulness are part of his ‘ordinary kiwi guy, everyman charm’, while Key himself has dismissed his opposition critics as ‘weak decaying vertebrates.’

‘The Prime Minister is always joking around at Cabinet,’ a senior government source speaking on background told the Dim-Post. ‘He’ll shake his head as if he’s confused, then grab your arm and scream ‘Help! Help! Something horrible has taken control of my . . .’ Then he’ll go limp, and his eyes will re-focus and it’s back to business. We all think it’s hilarious.’

Coalition partner Peter Dunne scoffs at claims Key’s memory is faulty. ‘The Prime Minister kids around sometimes, pretending that he doesn’t recognise me, or staring at his own hands as if he doesn’t know his own body, or pointing to the map of the world on his office wall and asking, ‘what’s that? But during the last parliamentary recess John spent two weeks traveling hundreds of kilometers through the vast, uncharted Mt Owen cave network beneath the Tasman district, navigating it on his own with no charts or light source. Does that sound like a political leader who suffers from brain fades?’

A spokeswoman for Key’s office confirmed that he visited the Tasman cave network recently, and added that he seemed ‘immensely satisfied’ with whatever he found deep beneath the Earth’s surface.

Staff from Key’s office speaking off the record have confirmed that his memory lapses and constant kidding are part of his disarming manner. ‘We were visiting the neurology ward at Greenlane a few weeks ago, and the Prime Minister was uncharacteristically silent during the entire trip. Then they switched on the NMR machine and suddenly he started whispering to one of the surgeons, ‘Kill it. Kill it. It’s inside my mind.’ Afterwards he pretended not to remember anything that happened during the visit, or the previous three weeks. He certainly keeps us on our toes.’

Senior staffers agree that Key is a fair but demanding boss. ‘Sometimes he complains of headaches, and moans that when he closes his eyes he hears a horrible whispering and sees strange, monstrous shapes. Other times he insists that the sun in our epoch is too luminous, or that there’s too much nitrogen in our planet’s atmosphere. Which is true, when you think about it. Not many politicians have the courage to say that.’

Business leaders agree with this characterisation, adding that while the Prime Minister is a great practical joker he is also extremely astute. ‘I accompanied him to the APEC meeting in Vladivostok and was amazed to learn that he spoke fluent Russian,’ said one leading exporter. ‘Although according to our guides his accent was very strange. He kept asking them for information about a two billion year old meteor impact crater in the area, and they eventually took him to some scientists at the local university but he knew more about this ancient meteor than they did. Isn’t that amazing?’

However the Prime Minister denies knowing anything about an impact crater, or, when questioned, ever visiting Russia or knowing the language. ‘What’s happening to me?’ He asked during a brief telephone interview, before his voice degenerated into a horrible insectoid chittering sound and the call disconnected, leaving this reporter chortling at yet another display of the famous John Key sense of humour.

Horse race watch

Filed under: polls — danylmc @ 8:10 am

Interactive version of the chart here.

If you’re Labour you really want to be able to go into coalition with New Zealand First and the Greens, and be able to pass legislation with either party. Current results would see them trying to pass budgets with the support of Greens, New Zealand First and Hone Harawira, which doesn’t seem very sustainable.

(Thanks to Peter Green for getting the tracking poll script working again. Some day I will learn R so I can fix these things myself.)

October 18, 2012

Today is disagree with DPF day

Filed under: blogging,economics,Politics — danylmc @ 5:20 pm

He links to a Stuff Nation – article? columns? story? blog? eh – suggesting that only people who pay positive tax should get to vote.

We should only count the votes of people who paid a positive amount of tax (less any cash benefits), and preferably weight them by that amount. This would skew the decision making in favour of productive, intelligent people, leading to much better outcomes for the nation as a whole.

This is such a weird idea, and it crops up all the time on right-wing blogs. But think about it for five seconds: you only get to vote if you paid a positive amount of tax. So all retired people would lose the right to vote. You take a year off work to have a baby you lose the right to vote. Want to start up a business and live off your savings for a year? You lose the right to vote!

Anyway, DPF also dismisses the idea, but then goes on to say:

I don’t support this, but the issues Connell touches on does go to the heart of politics. There are systemic problem when such a huge proportion of the voting population are dependent on the state.

In a very broad sense, the parties of the left that advocate higher taxes aim to get 51% of the country dependent on the state – either through welfare, state jobs, Working for Families, taxpayer funded NGOs, student support etc.  That is because it creates a voting constituency in favour of higher taxes, and hence them staying in power.

This is a reprise of Romney’s 47% argument. It’s a pretty common trope on the right, which buys into the Ayn Rand fantasy of a static society divided into productive workers and unproductive parasites, as opposed to, say, a society in which people are young, and don’t work, and then older, and work, and then even older when they retire and don’t work.

As many, many commentators pointed out when Romney made this arugment, the largest group of people ‘dependent on the state’ are the elderly, who skew towards the right when they vote. The second largest group are welfare beneficiaries, who don’t vote. How does that reality fit into this alleged left-wing strategy of electoral domination through state-dependency?

I guess you could argue that people employed in the state sector are ‘dependent on the state’ and thus left-wing. Nurses, teachers etc. Except that category includes police and military staff, who aren’t notoriously left-wing. How about the public-service? Well, they mostly live in Wellington which mostly party-voted National in the last election.

DPF goes onto say:

Likewise parties of the right try to reduce the number of people dependent on the state. They do stuff like promote asset sales, as the more voters who are private investors and the like, the more who support lower taxes etc.

I’m at a loss to see how the mixed-ownership model ‘reduces the number of people dependent on the state’. The New Zealand private sector seems completely dependent on the state and its ability to use taxpayer money to build profitable companies which can then be sold onto the private sector.

The solution isn’t to restrict voting rights, but to be aware of the dangers of getting a majority of the population dependent on taxpayer funding, because that is how you end up with say 55% receiving most of the taxes, demanding the 45% pay more and more.

Like I said, an increasing majority of those ‘dependent on taxpayer funding’ are going to be the elderly, without whom National would be unelectable, so I wish DPF good luck in convincing his party – its interventionist, authoritarian Economic Development Minister in particular – to implement the values he seems to think it should represent, but doesn’t actually deliver in any of its major policies.

Maximum pay?

Filed under: economics — danylmc @ 8:42 am

DPF critiques a Herald column advocating maximum salaries:

A maximum wage is indeed not socialist, but full out communist.

You see it has been tried. In several countries. In the USSR they had maximum salaries. They had the exact view that Ryan had. They though no one should earn over a certain amount as a salary.

It failed. It was a disaster.

This wasn’t actually how the USSR worked. If you lived in the USSR and were the equivalent of a CEO, ie you were part of the military or political elite, then you were fabulously wealthy. Apartments in Moscow and Leningrad, house in the country, dacha on the Black Sea, thousands of servants etc. When the economy liberalised in the 1990s those people became billionaires overnight. The problem with the Soviet model is that life was pretty shitty for the other 99.9% of the population.

My argument with the maximum wage idea is more basic. What problem is it trying to solve? The problem that people with valuable skills are paid well?

The CEO pay problem is a symptom of a wider failure in our political economy: in a functioning capitalist system the financial sector is supposed to allocate surplus wealth to appropriate sectors of the economy; instead the finance sector sucks money out of the productive economy. The shareholder capitalism model rewards CEOs who collaborate with this process.

I don’t know what the solution is, but arbitrary caps on salaries ain’t one of them.

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