The Dim-Post

October 13, 2015

The logic of ‘Does he stand by this statement?’

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 8:40 am

The Spin-Off has an overview of ways to improve Parliamentary Question time. I’m in there suggesting we scrap it, but what struck me is the number of commentators complaining about the ‘Does the Prime Minister stand by his statement’ questions. Why does the opposition always ask them? Why aren’t they more direct?

There are two reasons for this. First, if you ask John Key anything specific he will almost always transfer the question to another Minister. It has to be something super-vague, like ‘Does he stand by all of his Ministers’ or ‘Does he stand by all of his statements’, otherwise you don’t actually get to question him.

Secondly, the Opposition does actually ask direct questions of government Ministers on a fairly frequent basis. Some actually answer them – Nikki Kaye comes to mind. But the general template followed by Key, Joyce and English and the other senior Ministers is to reply, ‘Well Mr Speaker, what I can say is that the Labour Party had nine long years . . .’ and then attack the opposition until the Speaker stops them. Lockwood Smith used to insist that the Ministers answer the question. David Carter always just rules that ‘The Minister has addressed the Question’, no matter what the Minister said.

But Ministers can’t very well refuse to stand by a statement that they’ve made, so the logic of the ‘Do they stand by their statement’  question is that it establishes that they’ve said something, and the supplementary question can go on to establish that what they’ve said was contestable or silly or wrong.

None of this ever accomplishes anything, which is why we should get rid of it. But that’s the reasoning behind the stupid questions.

October 11, 2015

Second thoughts on the TPPA

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 12:19 pm

I still can’t get over the estimations of how little this deal is worth to us. From MFAT:

  • estimated GDP gains for New Zealand of US$2 billion in the year 2025 (a 0.9% increase in GDP);
  • estimated export gains for New Zealand of US$4.1 billion in the year 2025 (a 6.8% increase in exports);
  • and further income gains (up to US$2.1 billion) are estimated from a lift in the terms of trade and greater consumer access to goods and services.

Just to put that in perspective our GDP grew by 0.8% in the first quarter of this year. So the TPP will deliver the equivalent of a couple of months of growth in ten years time. Now, our diplomatic corps has been working on this for about ten years, and they cost us well over a quarter of a billion dollars a year. Have we spent more putting this trade partnership together than we’ll actually earn from it?

Then there are the costs from the deal itself. We don’t know whether investor state dispute mechanisms are going to be a disaster or a big nothing. We do know about the intellectual property provisions because they were leaked to WikiLeaks, and that we’re increasing the duration of copyright from fifty years after a creator’s death to seventy years. What’s interesting there is that advocates for free trade deals in general and the TPP in particular have always talked about the economic merits of these deals. They’re about opening economies up, creating benefits for consumers. They’re about freedom! But there isn’t an economic case to be made for the expansion of US copyright laws. Just about every economist alive thinks the US model is awful: anti-competitive and anti-innovation and terrible for consumers. So in this very significant way the TPP is a move away from free markets.

The whole things feels more-and-more like a bait-and-switch, just as its critics warned throughout the process. All the way through the secret negotiations the government promised us that the gains from the free trade elements of the deal would be awesome. Just you wait! And now we’ve seen them and even the parties that negotiated the deal admit that they’re mediocre. The most significant provisions aren’t about free trade or are actually anti-free trade, but the advocates for the deal keep attacking its critics on the basis that they’re ‘anti-free trade’.

The government’s cheerleaders are attacking the deal’s critics instead of celebrating the wins from the deal because there aren’t really any wins. Matthew Hooton’s NBR column on TPP was all about speculating on which Labour MPs would cross the floor to vote in favor of the TPPA, when no such vote will take place and even if it did the government has the numbers to pass legislation without the opposition – because that is a more favorable topic of discussion than the merits of the deal.

October 6, 2015

First thoughts on the TPPA

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 6:46 am

I am a little staggered that they actually made a deal. The Herald article on the deal is here:

  • ‘Mr Groser is very upbeat about the overall result, which will be published later today, but less so on dairy.’
  • Access for dairy was literally Groser’s one job when negotiating this deal and he has, characteristically, failed to do it. I’m not that worried though. We’re already well over the environmental capacity for dairying. It’s probably costing more in long-term environmental costs than its earning in export revenue. So the last thing we needed was a trade deal incentivising more dairy. Best case scenario is that this new deal encourages exporters to move up the value chain and make high quality high wage products instead of shipping raw logs and milk powder.
  • ‘There will be no change on the current patents for biologic medicines, although an extension on copyright by 20 years will be phased in.’
  • This was always my main problem with the TPP deal. It was supposed to be a ‘modern free trade deal’ which standardised things like intellectual property laws to allow ‘frictionless’ trading. But as soon as the US joined the deal it became a grab-bag for its mega-corporations to impose a regime that is mostly anti-competitive and anti-free trade.
  • Officials estimate that the benefit of TPP to New Zealand will be at least $2.7 billion a year after 15 years.
  • My second problem with the TPP, This isn’t actually very much money. Probably about 1% of GDP by that time. And it doesn’t account for the costs of the deal. And the benefits will mostly be private: more profits for exporters; while the costs will mostly be public: eg, increased costs for Pharmac.
  • I suspect the costs of not being a member of the partnership, now that is (probably) exists are very high. Helen Clark talked about this in the weekend; that a trading bloc excluding us would be ‘a nightmare’. It would! This glides over the fact that Clark helped set up this trading bloc which then forced us to make major concessions without improving access for our major export product.

September 28, 2015

Clickbait government

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 4:33 pm

This government would never actually carry out the daunting legal and policy work required to implement mandatory contraception for beneficiaries, but they sure do like floating the idea whenever there’s a dip in the polls, to outraged cries from liberal pundits and roars of approval from the talkback radio moronocracy. This is the third or fourth time the Nats have said we ‘have to have this conversation’ about beneficiaries and eugenics. But according to the Stuff article:

Dysfunctional families who have multiple children taken into state care are the least likely to receive contraceptive advice, says the chief executive of the country’s social workers association.

Threatening to force women to be sterilised is far better for the Minister’s media monitoring statistics than the actual pedestrian work of delivering the option of contraception to women who might desperately need it. As always with these buffoons, generating headlines is the core role of government.

September 24, 2015

On the Green’s Red Peak deal

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 11:37 am

One of the defining moments in John Key’s rise to popularity as opposition leader was when he made a deal with Helen Clark to support the Bradford smacking amendment. Key ‘rescued’ Clark, much to the outrage of National Party partisans, but he also transformed himself from an opposition leader to a potential Prime Minister. The public isn’t really interested in politicians yelling nonsense at each other. They like people who can get things done, and Key did something.

I’ve been a bit mystified as to why Andrew Little didn’t exploit Key’s weakness over the flag referendum to emulate his old trick. And now the Greens have done it. People are saying that they’ve played into Key’s hands, and so on, just as some in National said of Key’s deal with Clark. But if Key was such a ten-dimensional chess grand-master he wouldn’t have botched his precious legacy project so badly it needed the Greens to save it. The Greens ‘did’ something, which is hard to do in opposition and some persuadable voters will give them points for it.

September 23, 2015

Notes on post-ideological politics

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 8:53 am

I keep seeing all these think-pieces about Trump and Corbyn and what’s happening in 21st Century western democratic politics, and what it might mean to New Zealand, so I thought I’d toss my opinions on the stack.

  1. We’re transitioning into a post-ideological democracy. No one seriously thinks we’re going to be either a socialist or free-market economy. And no one believes that when the economy grows the benefits of that growth will be shared equally. Politics is about which groups will be privileged by policy settings and wealth distribution.
  2. Which is another way of saying that most politics is now identity politics. Groups that aren’t privileged by the status quo want both cultural and economic change. These groups generally break down across racial and gender lines. People who don’t want change – because it will come at an economic or social cost to them – dismiss this kind of politics as ‘identity politics’. But, of course, the fight to preserve the high status of (mostly) white males is also a form of identity politics.
  3. Although they affect to oppose it, mostly white men are the most ferocious practitioners of identity politics. That’s where Donald Trump comes in. Trump holds many views that are anathema to Republican elites. He’s in favor of socialised healthcare and higher taxes for the rich. Rank-and-file members don’t care about his policy positions though. They care that he’s a misogynist who hates Mexicans and Muslims and claims that Obama is a Kenyan. He’s signalling that he will champion his tribe of mostly white men against rival tribes. He will protect their privilege, which they feel is under threat.
  4. Corbyn is different, and he shows us that identity politics can be more fluid than ethnic or gender divides. Identity can be defined in a negative sense. The entire British establishment went ballistic when it saw Corbyn out-campaigning pro-status quo rivals for the Labour leadership, and this saw a surge of support from people who feel disenfranchised by that establishment. I think it was Karl Rove who said that to succeed in politics you need to make thirty percent of the country hate you. Corbyn did that, and people who feel antagonistic towards his enemies decided that Corbyn was their friend.
  5. In New Zealand terms, National has staked out a large privileged group which could be described as ‘predominantly white property-owners on middle and high incomes’. ‘Mainstream New Zealand’. Almost everything they do advances the economic and cultural interests of this group. National’s policy agenda makes no sense from an ideological point of view, but once you grasp that it’s not about serving an ideology, but rather a large, fairly homogeneous group of voters, generally at the cost of heterogeneous groups who are mostly less likely to vote then everything is perfectly logical.
  6. Winston Peters understands this political model. He’s been practising it for a while. He’s shifting his identity slightly, from someone who champions the elderly to a hero of provincial New Zealanders. I think Labour and the Greens are cheerfully oblivious to all of this.

September 21, 2015

Tracking poll

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 8:16 am

Peter has updated his poll aggregation script to show us blocs of parties:


All of the pundit commentary around the one year election anniversary has been around National’s stability in the polls. But there actually seems to have been quite a lot of turmoil. National is losing voters to Labour. But the Conservative Party collapsed this year, and National seems to have picked up all of their votes.

September 17, 2015

Broken fingers

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 6:25 am

On Monday night I dislocated and broke two fingers in my right hand in two places (my three year old daughter jumped off a bank, and I caught her but the ground gave under me and I held out my free hand to break our fall). My right arm is now in a cast, as shown below. Also, I cut my foot and it’s infected. All this means I won’t be blogging much, if at all, for the next four-to-six weeks.


September 14, 2015

Master of the drifting stream

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 8:58 am

My glib take on the Corbyn victory is here, along with thousands of other glib takes. Subsequent to writing that someone on twitter linked to this, a UK Labour member (a sociologist, natch) who voted for one of Corbyn’s rivals but is withering about the incompetence of their leadership campaigns, especially compared to Corbyn’s, about which he had this to say:

Putting aside Corbynmania, putting aside the tens of thousands who’ve listened to him speak at almost 100 rallies, and putting aside his utter dominance of both the leadership contest and the media, his campaign’s been fine and dandy. No, in fact, his campaign has been brilliant. Considering that his opponents arrogate to themselves the title of election-winning specialists, Jeremy’s leadership campaign has been the best organised I’ve ever seen. When you think about it, what it has accomplished is something of a miracle. The pitch has been very policy heavy and, actually, quite technocratic. There is a lot to like here, and what it did was give the anti-austerity message some proper substance and heft. Married to this was a hopeful message and a vision of a better life that activated large numbers of people outside the purview of established politics.

Organisationally, the Corbyn campaign was spot on. Jon Lansman and Simon Fletcher have taken a machine that didn’t exist four months ago and broke the mould of British politics. Everything was properly gridded. Jeremy got his main policy statements out near the beginning of the campaign, and has not been pushed into any panicky announcements to try and match the changing mood. The organisation of the volunteer base, facilitated by supportive trade unions, has been professional – none of the slapdash nonsense usually characteristic of the Labour left. Team Jez were, after all, the only ones who put the link to sign up three quid supporters on their website. And there were even proper scripts and prompts as the campaign wore on.

Being good at politics counts for a lot in politics. Eventually. Left-wing political parties have transformed themselves into institutions in which it is possible to rise, through patronage and factional scheming into an MP and eventually a senior member of caucus without ever displaying any aptitude for democratic politics, even though campaigning and winning votes for the party is supposed to be a core function of an MP. This relentlessly internal focus is why it didn’t seem to occur to Corbyn’s opponents to recruit new members to vote for them, or, even if they attempted this, what they could say to actual members of the public to try and win their votes. New Zealand’s left-wing parties have the same flaw.

September 13, 2015

End of an era

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 5:58 am

So this happened last week. Via Stuff:

Parents of pre-term babies will now be entitled to a maximum of 27 weeks paid parental leave, the Government has announced.

From April 2016, the standard parental leave payments would be 18 weeks.

But if a baby was born early, its parents would receive additional weekly payments for each week prior to 37 weeks gestation, which was considered full term, Workplace Relations Minister Michael Woodhouse said.

“For example, a mother who gives birth at 28 weeks would receive nine additional weekly payments, making it a total of 27 weeks of payment,” he said.

The move comes as part of an agreement to work with ACT leader David Seymour to review the support provided to parents of multiple births, babies with disabilities, and pre-term births.

Seymour previously voted against Labour MP Sue Moroney’s bill to extended paid parental leave to 26 weeks for all parents, saying it was too broad and would cost the taxpayer too much.

But he pledged to lobby the Government after Moroney identified gaps in the Government’s policy, including the lack of special assistance for parents of premature babies.

For about thirty years New Zealand politics was dominated by a radical form of free market capitalism best summed up by Ronald Reagan. ‘Government isn’t the solution to the problem. Government is the problem.’ If you removed the dead hand of the state from its interference in the economy and people’s lives, liberating them from their slave-like dependence on welfare then freedom and prosperity would follow, went the argument. It was the philosophy behind the Labour government of the 1980s and the National government of the 90s. The ACT Party was formed when Labour rejected the doctrine and it flourished for a while, only to wither when Don Brash, a high priest of the cult became leader of National.

Brash failed, and Key turned his party into a different kind of cult devoted to his own personality (maybe personality is the wrong word?). Brash went to ACT for a while, and failed there too. And now David Seymour, the last man standing, has used his ACT party vote to extend the power of the welfare state.

I would have preferred Sue Moroney’s bill. But Seymour’s compromise is better than the status quo. And it’s an expansion of the state welfare system, the destruction of which was, for many years, the ostensible reason for ACT’s existence. At one point in the not-very-distant past all of the parties in our Parliament believed in the perfect efficiency of the free market. Now none of them do.

(What I’m not clear about now is what ACT thinks it is for, other than a taxpayer-funded vehicle for National to exploit a loophole in the electoral laws.)

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