The Dim-Post

April 11, 2016

Colmar Brunton Polls

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 5:34 am

TVNZ seems to be the only media outlet commissioning and running stories on political polls on an even vaguely regular basis (the Roy Morgan ones are out there but much lower profile). Which means they dominate political discourse more than single poll results probably should.

Having said that, the poor result for Labour seems plausible (they were also on 28 in the latest Roy Morgan). The party has moved to the far left for the first few months of 2016 and it hasn’t gone well. I think there are a few things driving this: Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn have excited the imagination of many left-wing political activists and there’s a desire to try and replicate that dynamic here. But those guys are operating in polities totally different to anything like the conditions in New Zealand. I also think that many in Labour are invested in a cyclical theory of politics in which what they’re going through now is equivalent to what happened to National during the 2000s. Which is a comfortable thing to think, because if true it ends with them being swept to power again sooner or later. And part of National’s rebirth involved a move to the far right under Don Brash. Shore up the base and then attack from a position of strength! So they keep trying the inverse of that.

But if you look at more recent history, their poll results under the centrist leadership of Shearer went as high as 36%. Then he was rolled, Cunliffe took the party to the left, and they wound up in the mid 20s. Then Little came in and seemed more moderate, and the poll results went up. But this year they’ve campaigned on free tertiary education, a UBI, fuck the TPPA etc, with a subsequent decline in support and they’re back in the 20s. It kind of seems like the voters are telling them something here.

I complained bitterly about Shearer’s centrism at the time, and I’m sympathetic to the forces moving the party to the left. But there don’t seem to be many voters available to them there, and plenty of voters available in ‘the centre’.

April 8, 2016

The password is password

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 8:11 am

Via Fish:

Our spies have been rapped for loose controls around the largest collection of sensitive information held by any government department which includes details of people’s alcohol and drug use — and their sexual behaviour.

The systems were so loose the Inspector General of Intelligence and Security said there was a risk foreign spies would try and access the information and use it to compromise Kiwis with high-level security clearances.

Urgent changes are underway to the system after an inquiry found a large number of people in the Security Intelligence Service had access to its collection of highly personal information on thousands of people.

The information is collected by the SIS as part of its inquiries into people needing security clearances for government work, including in the intelligence community.

To make the judgment around someone’s security clearance — up to “top secret special” — it results in a collection of details about people’s sex lives, drug use and possible alcohol abuse, along with information about their mental health or personal finances.

It’s been conventional wisdom in Wellington for as long as I can remember that people being vetted by the SIS should never actually disclose anything because the information was completely insecure. Good to hear that this has filtered up to their watchdog. Also, we should definitely trust them with sweeping new powers because they’re so trustworthy and professional and competent.

April 6, 2016

A fascinating precedent

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 1:34 pm

Via the Herald:

New Zealand Post Group has received a $495 million indicative offer from the NZ Superannuation Fund and Accident Compensation Corp to buy 25 percent and 20 percent respectively of subsidiary Kiwi Group Holdings, which owns Kiwibank.

The indicative offer, which is subject to a number of conditions including due diligence and board and regulatory approval, values KGH at $1.1 billion though the final price is still to be determined.

KGH owns Kiwibank and its associated businesses such as Kiwi Wealth Management and Kiwi Insurance.

NZ Post chairman Michael Cullen said the offer reflects the government’s absolute position that Kiwibank must remain in public ownership.

So if a future left-wing government wants to raise some cash without increasing taxes or cutting spending it can just direct its wealth funds to pony up some cash for non-transferable shares in fading SOEs. KiwiRail seems like a good candidate there. Good to know.

April 5, 2016

Random tax shelter TPPA thought

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 8:22 am

With all this fuss about multinationals not paying tax in New Zealand and people using our dodgy trust laws as a gigantic shelter to avoid paying tax in their home countries, I can’t help think about the TPPA and how it was supposed to be this great mechanism for standardising business conditions across the region. And so it has chapters to standardise copyright laws and trade tariffs and it has the famous investor state dispute mechanisms. It regulates government procurement and competition. Pharmac needs to be more open about its decision making because that impacts on the multi-national pharmaceutical companies, which were heavily involved in the TPPA negotiation process.

So it seems like that would be a good place to negotiate and standardise rules about tax and tax shelters and avoidance and banking secrecy and trusts. Right? Isn’t it weird/telling/completely predictable that the TPPA regulates the way all of the governments who are signatories carry out their purchasing, or intervene in their domestic market so as not to disadvantage multinationals, but doesn’t reciprocate by requiring any kind of standardised tax regime to force them all to pay tax someplace.

April 4, 2016

Great paintings with dogs in them, an occasional series

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 6:09 pm

Giacomo Bella’s Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash. I also recommend his Futurist Manifesto of Men’s Clothing

Image property of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY.


March 31, 2016

Voluminous disclosure

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 9:00 am

Rob Salmond and Matthew Hooton had a discussion about commentators and ‘paid political operators’ and conflicts of interest, which seems like a good time to disclose that I’ve recently done a bit of paid contract work for the Green Party (research, writing). Also, and possibly more significantly, as of last week I’m a member of the Greens’ Campaign Committee, which is tasked with planning and implementing the party’s 2017 election campaign. So I will not be a totally disinterested commentator when analysing the upcoming campaign or politics in general.

I don’t really do any of the mainstream media political commentary that Hooton and Salmond do. And no one in the Greens asks me to write or say certain things on the blog. (They have, in the past, but the requests were so lame I did not comply.) I find that my bias is mostly one of omission. I get confused about what I know that is and isn’t confidential, so I basically mostly say nothing about the Greens so I don’t get in trouble. If the party somehow becomes so newsworthy that I have to write about them, and I have to check what I’m writing with the staff or leaders I’ll make sure I disclose that. Otherwise they’ve got nothing to do with any of my pontificating.

March 29, 2016

Still struggling to grasp the UBI

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 7:10 am

Via Stuff:

A new study by the Taxpayers’ Union has rubbished a Universal Basic Income (UBI), which the Labour Party is investigating.

discussion paper from  Labour  raised the possibility of a UBI,  where every adult New Zealander would receive $11,000 a year ($211 a week) in exchange for scrapping many current welfare payments.

The paper says a universal income would help to remove the insecurity associated with low wages or insufficient welfare benefits, which bred “personal shame, stress, [and] mental health problems”.

The Taxpayers Union’s Jordan Williams said it was “startling” Labour was considering the policy.

The proposal is part of the party’s Future of Work Commission, a project to look at the impact of new technologies on careers and the workforce.

The Taxpayers’ Union has come out swinging at the idea, saying its study shows the introduction of a UBI would mean record-high tax rates, and potentially result in another recession.

Firstly, I still find it (a) amazing and (b) depressing that the ‘Taxpayers’ Union’ works as a propaganda tool. On the other hand, Labour’s ‘discussion’ (‘We’re looking to give you all free money! Oh, we haven’t figured out how to pay for it yet. This is just a discussion!’ ) seems like a PR stunt, so maybe the Taxpayers’ Union is what they deserve.

Secondly, I’m still having trouble imagining how a UBI would actually work. Comments on the previous posts were very informative, so please help me out some more. How would payments differ between:

  • An unemployed 18 year old living with their parents
  • An 18 year old living away from home studying at university
  • A single parent with three children under five
  • A parent with three children under five with a partner on a high income
  • A person suffering from a serious chronic illness preventing them from working in perpetuity

Or do they all get the same amount?

March 25, 2016

Probably overthinking the flag debate

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 8:31 am

For an issue that I didn’t – and still don’t – care about very much I sure have spent a lot of time thinking about the flag. Or, actually, thinking about what I think about the flag and the debate about the flag.

  • My original position was that I wanted change
  • After the first referendum I decided I would vote to keep the current flag, simply because I didn’t really like the Lockwood design, and sticking with the status quo would make it easier to change to something better a bit further down the line.
  • Would that really happen though? Realistically probably not for a long time; possibly not in my lifetime. So I was basically just voting to keep the flag. Which seemed a bit weird, because getting the Union Jack off our flag seemed like a progressive, left-wing thing to do, albeit only symbolically. Still, I really didn’t like the Lockwood flag.
  • Why didn’t I, though? It was the most popular of the longlist when UMR polled on it. And, in the end, slightly less than half the country (43%) voted for it. Yet basically everyone in the online progressive left hated the Lockwood. ‘It hurts my eyes!’ ‘It’s a beachtowel!’ ‘It violates design principles!’ “We need a real conversation about identity!’ It seemed unlikely to me that all of these people – myself included – came to make an impartial aesthetic judgement that by chance, happened to oppose a politician we all disliked.
  • This worried me a bit. Was I about to do something that was actually contrary to my values and then deluding myself about my motivation? Was I secretly motivated by a simple desire to thwart John Key? Or by the fact that the rest of the left had collectively decided on a position, and I was just going along with it? Or did I just actually not like Lockwood’s flag very much? In the end I let my daughter vote.
  • This still troubles me though. How much of what I think and say about politics is based on my values, and how much of it is based on reactionary judgements and in-group behaviour?
  • A few people have asked me why I recently deleted my twitter account (btw I recently deleted my twitter account), and the general stupidity of the flag debate and other even stupider instances of mass hysteria were partly a motivator (as was the amount of time I was wasting on twitter in general). But the platform itself, I think, encourages homogeneity of thought. The ability to provide (arbitrarily restricted) feedback on everything that everyone else says is a major component of the experience. The prolonged effect of that – at least for me – was that it trains you into expressing opinions that you know the group will approve of, and not expressing – and eventually not even thinking – opinions that will attract censure. Humans are hard-wired to seek the approval of our peers and avoid group ridicule. I do worry that in left-wing political online communities that these traits are becoming a recipe for mass-self delusion.

March 24, 2016

Political positioning and the flag debate

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 6:08 pm

DPF has a post up about the political dynamics of the flag debate. I would put it all slightly differently. Conservative – ie National – voters were always likely to vote for the status quo because, well, they’re conservative. So if flag change was going to happen it needed overwhelming support from the left. Enter right-wing leader John Key, who made his preference and the fact that he considered the change to be part of his legacy very clear. And the outcome of that looks to be pretty much what’d you’d expect. Conservative voters voting for the status quo and left-wing voters thwarting Key.

Yes, it is pretty weird and stupid that ‘the left’ decided to vote to keep a colonial relic on our flag, but it makes sense in terms of transactional politics: the flag change is low value to them but high value to Key, so why give it to him?

DPF blames left-wing politicians for this situation. But if super-popular John Key with his great mates Richie et al couldn’t persuade his supporters to change – and it’s interesting, I think, that he couldn’t – then the likelihood of the left’s rabble of not-very popular MPs convincing anyone to switch positions on this issue seems low. People on the left just made individual rational decisions to vote against Key because they don’t like him much, and he made a strategic blunder and gave them the opportunity to defy him.

March 23, 2016

More on the UBI

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 9:23 am

Keith Rankin has an overview of the UBI arguing that it is basically a zero-cost reform of the tax system:

The way to do this is to tax all income at source at an appropriate rate – say between 33% and 37% – and to distribute a substantial proportion of that revenue, equally, to public equity beneficiaries. It’s that simple conceptually, and our present income-tax systems are much closer to this ideal than we realise.

In New Zealand it would not be a fiscal revolution to tax all income at the same 33% rate and to ensure that every tax-resident adult received in return at least $175 each week from public revenue; it would in traditional terms be equivalent to a tax cut for some people. (It would, however, be a conceptually revolutionary change for academics, politicians, public servants and journalists to think through.) For maybe half of New Zealand tax-residents the only change they would see would be in the itemisation of their pay-slips, or their benefits. For most of the rest, there would be an extra after-tax income of a few dollars per week.

I guess this is conceptually revolutionary because I honestly don’t understand it. Most people pay effective tax rates quite a lot lower than this on the bulk of their income. So this sounds like a plan to raise people’s taxes and then pay them the money back again, with the half on lower incomes getting a bit more. At no cost, somehow. Do I have that right?

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