Month: March 2014

Perspective from an undecided left voter

Both Colmar Brunton and Reid Research report a drop in the polls for the Left. While polls are imperfect, they can provide a strong indication of public sentiment. I’m not surprised by the results, even if they are imperfect.

I think its easy for those who have already decided to vote and/or who have already decided which party they are voting for to draw all kinds of conclusions about why the results are as they are. From criticising polls in general, to justifying the results as irrelevant given how far out we are from election.

So from my perspective, as a Leftist, who is undecided on (a) if I am going to vote, and (b) if I do, who I will vote for, I thought it worthwhile to discuss why I am failing to identify with the Left and why I am disillusioned. And I imagine I am not alone.

For ease of reference, I will use ‘undecided voters’ as a catch all for all undecided or current non-voters of the left leaning persuasion.

Unity. Its a tired slogan of the Left. What does it even mean these days? No matter how bold or militant those on the Left make the typeface, unity just does not follow. Instead, we appear to have dominant voices (comprised of activists, partisan bloggers, MP’s, party members and hacks) purporting to represent the broadly composed Left as a single movement, and with the single aim of deposing John Key and his National led government (another tired, overused and unhelpful phrase).

I accept that many of these voices have done a great deal to highlight the gross abuses of power, dodgy dealings, incompetency and arrogance of the National led government. But in doing so, many have also highlighted their own dodgy dealings, incompetency, arrogance and penchant for their own abuses of power. Rather than advancing any ground, they have effectively neutralised it.

Its obvious that this push for ‘unity’ just isn’t working. As mentioned above, its lazy rhetoric and it screams instability and futility when many of those calling for unity are the very same who are accusing others of abuse, defamation, derailing etc.

However, its the secondary tactic that concerns me most as an undecided voter – the attack on the moral character of undecided voters. Whether its on blogs or other social media platforms (facebook or twitter mostly) the voting police have already embarked on their passive-aggressive (mostly aggressive) “vote or you’re a horrible person campaign”, because if you don’t vote, apparently, you’re basically voting for John Key.

This is a ridiculous argument. It is also incredibly manipulative. It is not even close to bringing about genuine unity because it demonises undecided voters for not unquestioningly falling in line with the dominant consensus. It  preys on the good intentions of such voters and attempts to guilt trip them into subordinating their own values and principles to the will of the dominant voices who care only about getting rid of John Key and the National Party.

And for what? To replace the current authority with their own.

If the Left want to change the government, then those dominant voices should probably first change their attitudes. Undecided voters should not be treated as enemies. It is not their fault that the parties have so far failed to persuade them to want to vote, or to in fact want to vote for one of the left wing parties. If the Lefts ambition wasn’t so blatantly just a reach for power (like their right wing counterparts), then perhaps undecided voters might reconsider their positions.

Advertisements

Is the damage done?

In light of my previous posts that have harshly criticised Hone Harawira, I’ll just declare here that I happen to think Harawira is more often than not a standout performer in representing Maori and the working class. He’s almost always on the frontlines and will speak out when others lack the courage or confidence to do so.

However, regarding my previous posts the above is not a concession that when Harawira speaks out on issues that he’s just ‘saying what everyone else is thinking’. I doubt many people would have been thinking that legal high retailers ought to be publicly executed.

Let’s be realistic about the Mana Party’s latest press release it was obviously a highly calculated move to disperse the growing dissent within the movement.

It is evident by combing the many Facebook pages of the Mana Movement network that there is no clear consensus among the membership on a deal between Mana Party and Internet Party. Many find Kim Dotcom incredibly intoxicating while others think he’s horribly toxic for the movement.

The question is then: is Harawira playing politics or playing his membership?

Because that is what many are wondering given the way the events transpired this week i.e. the order, timing and content of the press releases by Mana Party, Harawira specifically, and the conflicting accounts of the initial meeting. My point is, partial disclosures are just not good enough and eat at the integrity of the party itself.

Exempting Sue Bradford from criticism over this issue, because she swiftly and admirably stated her predicament and a clear willingness to depart from the Mana Party that she’d been part of since its formation if Mana did a deal with Dotcom in any capacity.

Surprisingly, I’ve not heard John Minto make the same commitments as Bradford, suggesting that he might actually support this move – at least to some extent. Without an explicit statement to the contrary, surely this is a logical conclusion to draw?

But in my view, the Mana Party have made a complete debauchery of managing the publicity of the meeting with Dotcom. As mentioned above, partial disclosures hurt the members. Many now question if they can trust their leadership.

I feel like we are witnessing a few rapidly ageing radical leftists who peaked in the 1980’s, making a last ditch effort to get a whiff of power in their beloved institution that betrayed them.

On RadioLive yesterday, Willie Jackson was calling this potential merger ‘politics’, claiming that there wasn’t time to find the perfect combination and if Mana didn’t play the politics game, then people would miss out on the benefits of some of the policy on offer. He claimed anyone who didn’t see this just doesn’t get politics. I think he was wrong. Most of us get party politics. Jackson overlooked the ramification of the party holding the purse strings holding the power.

I think Harawira’s latest press release might have been more genuine if he’d made his position clear to his members either immediately after or prior to the publication of the Dotcom article in the weekend. Leaving it as late as he did, the damage is already done.

Opposites attract? Harawira & Dotcom

Speculation has begun regarding the assertions Kim Dotcom made in the Herald on Sunday (HoS) about recruiting at least one current sitting MP to his Internet Party, with others in talks from across the political spectrum.

Although Dotcom confirms that he is in talks with the Mana Party about a potential merger, its unclear if Harawira is the sitting MP Dotcom claims to have already secured.

However, the idea of a merger between the Mana Party and the Internet Party is rather bizarre.  Two glaring issues complicate the Dotcom/Harawira relationship:

  1. Harawira’s recent grotesque assertions endorsing public executions; and
  2. The Mana Party’s press release that unequivocally states that the meeting between Harawira and Dotcom did not encroach on discussions about a possible merger

In regards to (1),  Dotcom’s crusade against the excesses of government is entirely inconsistent with Harawira’s totalitarian outburst.

Its quite possible that Dotcom is oblivious to Harawira’s revolting comments, or that he hadn’t seen them prior to his interview with the HoS. But, in any case, Dotcom will have great difficulty reconciling that inconsistency or justifying why he would want to unite with a party whose leader would endorse excessive government force.

I imagine it may actually damage Dotcom’s campaign, since those who might otherwise support a party that advances internet freedoms, may be loathe to support it with Harawira’s involvement (whether or not Harawira had spoken so vilely on public executions).

I should also point out here, that many Mana supporters also despise Dotcom as a representation of the excesses of capitalism, so a merger could be the worst outcome for both parties.

In regards to (2), it was only a few days ago the Mana Party admitted to meeting with Dotcom and Harawira states unequivocally:

For the record, I didn’t ask him to fund MANA, and he didn’t offer either. I didn’t ask him to join MANA, and he didn’t ask me to join his party.

But Dotcom tells a contrary story:

he was also in talks with Mana Party leader Hone Harawira to unite their two parties under one umbrella, enabling the Internet Party to ride into Parliament on the coat-tails of the Te Tai Tokerau electorate MP

Despite Harawira’s assertion that:

There are no further meetings planned

While the HoS confirms that:

Only the Mana Party admitted having talked to Dotcom about an electoral accommodation

And:

The Mana Party executive will this week consider a merger proposal. Mana would bring one or two electorates, the Internet Party would bring a more broadly-based party vote and $1 million-plus in campaign funding.

Harawira may have made a disclosure, that at the time seemed both a responsible and respectable position for him to take. But his disclosure was clearly dishonest and that should concern Mana Party members. It also doesn’t bode well for the solidarity of the relationship, given the contrasting accounts of the meeting.

Harawira declares his totalitarian darkside

MP Hone Harawira,  Mana Party NZ

Appalled. That is how I feel about Hone Harawira’s latest outburst.  Endorsing the public murders of legally abiding citizens is a grotesque proclamation to make.

Harawira made the statement during a Public Meeting in Waitakere (West Auckland) regarding  legal highs and the recently enacted Psychoactive Substances Act 2013 (PSA).

Section 3 of the PSA provides that the purpose of the act is to:

regulate the availability of psychoactive substances in New Zealand to protect the health of, and minimise harm to, individuals who use psychoactive substances.

The Act banned certain synthetic drugs and requires all synthetic drugs to undergo scientific testing and to obtain approval for sale from the Director General of Health (s1o) who receives advice from an expert advisory committee (s11). The list of banned or controlled drugs are found in Schedules 1-3 of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975.

Understandably, tensions were high (no pun intended) as families present had experienced the destruction caused by many of the synthetic products.

Simon Collins from the NZ Herald reports:

Mana MP Hone Harawira…said drug retailers should be killed.

“If there is one law I could pass, it would be line up the guys who are making the most money out of this legal drug stuff, put them on TV and then publicly execute them, and then introduce a law to say the next bastard that does it is going to get the same treatment,” he said.

I am prepared to accept that Harawira was probably just speaking hyperbolically  to the mood of the crowd but as an experienced MP, I would have expected Harawira to make a more considered statement.

Instead, he confirms for critics of the Mana Party’s state socialist ideology, that he backs the totalitarian excesses of the communist military dictatorships that ‘Movements of the People’ typically despise.

Declaring approval for public executions of people acting within the bounds of the law and alluding to introduce a law to legalise executing people acting legally, Harawira has dug a ditch that will be almost impossible to dig his way out of.

I am by no means defending the legal high industry. I happen to agree that synthetic drugs are more harmful than the naturally occurring product they are trying to replicate. However, Harawira’s words are unforgivable and are a tremendous insult to the many freedom seeking socialists that support his movement.

Xenophobia is ugly and embarrassing

The concern over home ownership in New Zealand is valid, especially since statistics indicate that home ownership in New Zealand has fallen below 50% – the lowest since records began. House prices are simply too high and the necessary wages to finance a mortgage too low. Something has failed.

However, instead of turning to our failed tax and monetary system and looking for disincentives to land speculation, we resort to blaming foreigners. At which point accusations of xenophobia come into play.

I refer to this piece by Duncan Garner: LOOK AT THIS! THIS IS WHY HOME OWNERSHIP IS LOW

Garner claims that:

12% of all homes in Auckland are being bought by people living overseas

This is misleading. It does not necessarily mean that homes are being bought up by ‘foreigners’. How much of the 12% are NZ citizens living abroad? Without defining ‘peple living overseas’ its difficult to attribute the 12% simply to foreigners. Additionally, it means that around 88% of homes are owned by New Zealanders. Thats a significant majority.

Garner goes on to insist that:

we desperately need decent and reliable statistics to show just how many houses in NZ are sold to overseas speculators.

Again, ‘overseas’ is not indicative of ‘foreigner’. The conflation astounds me.

Agreed, speculation is undesirable and particularly harmful in widening economic inequality. However, speculation should be the target, not ‘foreigners’. Even if the 12 % of homes owned by people living overseas are owned by foreign speculators, it does not mean domestic speculators have an insignificant effect on housing prices. We need statistics on speculators in the market, irrespective of their nationality.

Jamie Whyte criticises Labour’s economic policy as failing to discourage ‘rentseeking’ (speculation) and ‘crony capitalism’. The argument in short: if a government causes losses to accrue to the wealthy, it has to compensate for those losses with taxpayer money. Labour are not alone here. National also have the system set up so that tax revenue is redistributed upwards just using different kinds of subsidies.

Of note, Labour (and the Greens) advocate for a capital gains tax (CGT), yet appear to wilfully ignore that this device was in place in other countries and did not prevent the GFC in 2008 that was largely the result of a property boom.  To extend on Whyte’s point – taxing capital gains creates obligations between the government and the parties subject to that particular tax – in order to ensure gains aren’t moved offshore or that investors don’t stop investing here, those subject to the particular tax will need incentives, usually in monetary or ‘regulatory’ forms.

My point is that if any political party is serious about tackling speculative behaviours that affect housing affordability then land value tax (as a single not an additional tax) must at least be up for consideration. We need innovative solutions. David Cunliffe (Labour Party) stipulated that in his economic upgrade speech yet offers only a CGT.

But moving on, Garner’s boldest claim is to:

ban foreigners from buying old stock, build new houses if you want to invest here – that’s what happens in Australia. It’s time to stop the madness

Garner’s effectively suggests that we signal to foreigners that we in New Zealand don’t think they should buy homes where we want to live, they should instead build homes where we don’t want to live.

All those accusations of Māori separatism, come home to roost in the suburbs of the middle class.

A further problem is that xenophobic policy is dangerous for diplomacy. New Zealand has adopted declarations that create obligations to avoid discrimination and to uphold human rights. These declarations may only amount to soft law (not legally binding), but our actions do indicate our commitment to shared principles across the globe. They speak to our moral character. Xenophobic policies damage our international character.

There are strong arguments [from cosmopolitanists] for principles of distributive justice to apply at a global level. In context of this post, if we consider how we did not create the land, our claims on {absolute) ownership are questionable. Arguably, our only legitimate entitlement to it, is to share in its wealth. It might follow then, that those not born in NZ or who don’t fit the legal requirements for the arbitrary notion of ‘citizenship’ should still have every right to purchase land in New Zealand. Afterall, our birth place is contingent.

In my view, any governance model, must ensure that the communities affected by land ownership are properly compensated for that resource being taken out of the commons.

I  appreciate that some Māori might be uncomfortable with supporting policies that give foreigners access to land, particularly, if there are no safeguards around land that might be in dispute or customary land. Disputed and or customary land is a different case, they are about just possessory claims and ought to be dealt with separately from the general residential housing market.

Garner concludes that banning foreigners from buying homes in New Zealand is:

…not racist. It’s common sense. Let’s put New Zealanders at the front of the queue and help them, before it’s all too late.

If we want to make it easier for New Zealanders to buy homes in the areas they want to live, then tax the land and untax productive incomes.  The mere suggestion of banning foreigners is both ugly and embarrassing,  does not resolve the pricing issue and is most certainly not common sense.

Performance funding is a terrible and harmful idea

Source: Chicane Southland Times

Source: Chicane Southland Times

I’ve preached in many a post that central planning is basically the devils work. I stand by that. Where power can be concentrated, it will be. This isn’t limited to economic issues either – it traverses the entire ‘state sector’.

Minister Hekia Parata’s announcement that she is looking to fund schools according to the progress their pupils make, reinforces my contempt for central planning. Should this proposal come to fruition, it will be extremely harmful for children.

Parata was critical about ‘schools in deprived neighbourhoods’ being paid more, ‘as a blunt instrument’ and admitted that ‘some gentrified areas, especially in Auckland, could lose hundreds of thousands of dollars, while others would gain similar amounts’

This suggests that Parata would cut funding to schools in lower socio-economic zones based on the arbitrary device her government uses to measure the performance of pupils. The zone is important here too – it restricts pupils from attending better funded schools outside their zoned neighbourhood.

Parata’s idea places the funding burden on pupils. In effect, their schools would lose funding if they [the pupils] didn’t perform well in their tests, exams, assessments etc. Reiterating, their performance is subject to a highly contentious arbitrary measure.  This is a perverse policy and is prima facie inconsistent with the Convention on the Rights of the Child (the Convention).[1]

For the purpose of the Convention, child is defined as including generally every human being below the age of eighteen years. So, the Convention applies to almost all pupils who would be affected by Parata’s proposal.[2]

Art 28 of the Convention provides that States must recognise that all children have a right to education with a view to achieving this right progressively and on the basis of equal opportunity. Additionally, Art 2 (2) provides that children should be free from all forms of discrimination.

As Chris Hipkins (Labour Party) states:

a child’s achievement depended on a wide range of factors including whether they were living in a cold, damp house and whether their parents were educated and had time to spend with them

Hipkins barely even touches on the multitude of factors that affect a child’s performance at school, yet we can already deduce that some children, particularly those already at a disadvantage, would suffer greatly under a performance-funding model because the States commitment to provide equal opportunity in education perishes and children could become subjects of discrimination based on their socio-economic backgrounds.

Parata appears to acknowledge that this proposal is discriminatory when she implies that schools in deprived neighbourhoods could potentially lose hundreds of thousands in funding based the progress of their pupils. She also appears to ignore that the increased pressures placed on lower socio-economic families exacerbates the poor performance of those pupils.

Many have criticised the National Party’s implementation of the arbitrary National Standards measures and the shifting in funding from public schools to charter schools[3] and now criticise the proposed potential of the state to transfer school funding from lower scoio-economic areas upwards.

But the standard response is simply to replace one form of centralised power with another, by voting for the other side. This doesn’t fix the problem. It just shifts who holds that centralised power. Concentration of power is susceptible to the same abuses irrespective of who is exercising it.

If we want to avoid policies that are discriminatory and removes equal opportunity, particularly for children, then we need to reject the path that leads to the concentration of power – the centralised state. Because as mentioned at the start of this post, those with the ability to attain power can and (as we have observed) do assert it contrary to popular will. Reiterating here that this is not a feature unique to the National Party – its the flaw in our supposedly ‘representative democracy’.

The usual argument against decentralisation is that without central government, private corporate tyrannies will rule. I think this is misguided. Decentralised public entities could exist to guide and support public institutions because removing central government involves removing the privileges central government grant in favour of big business.

I don’t presume that we could just do away with the central government today and have a perfectly formed, and functioning decentralised community tomorrow, but prioritising it as a goal means we can start planning and implementing the infrastructure that would support decentralisation and in effect the proper measures to deal with social an economic inequality.

If we want quality education for our children, then we need to eliminate central government control of it.

[1] NZ ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1993  subject to specific reservations.

[2] Noting, some students in their final year of secondary school are 19 years old.

[3] I have defended charter schools (to an extent) in previous posts on the basis that they are decentralised educational institutions that have the potential to provide education according to the needs of the pupils who attend and in conjunction with the families and local community (e.g. Te Kura Hourua O Whangarei Terenga Paroa). I’m not convinced that charter schools are necessarily ‘for profit’ entities.

Minister Collins human error is not a defence

Human error is a claim made by third persons about other people, not by individuals about their own actions. It is not a defence. It does not resolve you of your incompetence. It is a tactic most commonly used by bosses when their staff make mistakes that impact on the lives of others. Third parties use it to resolve themselves of someone else’s incompetence.

If Minister Collins is making a claim that human error is a justification for incompetence, then she is setting a low precedent for accountability avoidance by the political elite. Even if she is not trying to justify her actions in endorsing a product against Cabinet rules, she is trying to invoke mass sympathy for her actions. The kind of strategy she would find reprehensible if it were to come from any other person in her position.

Imagine if George Bush decided to admit one day that ‘oops, War in Iraq? Human error, soz ’.

Of course, that particular example is incomparable to Minister Collins situation, but I think setting the precedent of those holding political authority to claim human error of themselves is actually a really dangerous thing. Minister Collins is manipulating the public into feeling sorry for her incompetence, not because she cares about the public and honouring the rules that govern the power the public delegates to her, but because she cares about retaining her position of power over the public.

Brief note on party politics and MMP

Thinking about oppositional versus collaborative representation

Election promises are heating up but the messages are muddier than ever. With the Conservative leader suing the Green leader because name-calling. The Greens complaining to Labour because mollyhawk name-calling.  ACT sniggering at everyone for their lack of vision but offering none. And National throwing Labour in the snake pit about secret trusts and donations only to trip and fall in the pit straight after. Hypocrisy is rife.

But what messages have been clear?

Despite being one of the party’s with the least public and political support, the Mana Party positively conveyed the strongest and clearest message Feed the Kids and in the process etched the concept deep into the public consciousness. The message seems to resonate widely including with unlikely supporters of the right wing variety, even though it is highly unlikely to draw any election votes from such persons.

And the National Party has managed to ingrain the message that the economy is in great shape, and on track to improve and strengthen thanks to the expertise and persistence of its front bench corporate clergy and a National led government.

This is the message a large proportion of the public are buying and redistributing back into their enclosed middle to upper class circuits. Notwithstanding, that house prices are overinflated, interest rates are on the rise, power prices are increasing, children and vulnerable persons are still living in poverty and education and human rights standards on the downward curve and so on.

But other than those I struggle to see any other really strong on topic messages sustained in public discourse. While I was thinking about the poor messaging I  drifted into a petrifying hypothetical Parliament where National and Labour were in a coalition government. And I think its relevant, but will draw the connection further on.

So thinking out loud: why do Labour and National never talk about creating a coalition government?

Ideology conflicts? Nope. The hacks might make a distinction. They have to. But the underlying themes in policy – really aren’t that different. At least not as different as say National (centre right, moderately liberal, statist) and ACT (far right, libertarian, anti-state) or Labour (centre left, moderately liberal, statist), and Greens (eco-left, eco-liberal, eco-statists). Those parties we might typically think as traditional allies have less in common, than the two pillars we tend to think of as opposition who share many commonalities.

I’m not at all seriously suggesting that these two parties form a coalition government. I mean it’s laughable to even conceive of one of the two surrendering its political power to its supposed foe. But its important to recognise that the system supports and maintains this duopoly on Parliament. The MMP system did not remove the FPP duopoly, it reinforced it (at least in some capacity). MMP was intended to increase representation and its unclear if the net effect was even remotely significant. The oppositional nature of MMP is contrary to the idea of collaborative democratic representation.  Its arguably natural, and perhaps necessary for smaller parties to gravitate toward larger ones. But this always entails mass compromise on principle and policy and therefore relinquishing constituency voting power to the majority. Its no wonder most people just vote on the two pillars.

In terms of stronger messaging, I think its worthwhile considering the capacity of parties – particularly the minor ones, to work across the spectrum on shared views. There are likely grounds where ACT and Mana have a common view (even if its very small), or Greens and United Future etc and I think these small areas of agreement are important to help inform voters and promote a collaborative MMP system over the oppositional structure we have, which could encourage collaborative societies.

Further comment: 

I appreciate that parties across the spectrum enter into Memorandums of Understanding, for example,  the Greens and National with the home insulation initiative. But I am mostly referring to minor parties working together more, and in a more public way since these parties are set up in response to the lack of representation of their members and potential constituents to the major parties.  The total votes for all minor parties is not insignificant.

Good Face, Bad Face

Trying to get a glimpse at who politicians really are is difficult at the best of times. But more so in an election year. We have their personal branding on the one hand and their often uncomplimentary actions on the other. Often, we resort to simply acknowledging and perpetuating the faults or flaws in those we dislike, while downplaying the negative aspects of those we preference.

We are exposed to many faces of the politicians depending on how charitable the writer is feeling, and this shapes our perceptions of these people. I have focused on the good and bad faces of David Cunliffe and John Key, because it is one of these two who will be running the country post-Election, afterall.

DAVID CUNLIFFE (Opposition Leader – Labour Party NZ)

The Good Face: the Harvard graduate, the man from humble beginnings, the man who will bring about unity in the Labour Party, the man who wants to ensure the opportunities he had are available for future generations. the man who will challenge the neoliberal consensus, The Union’ s choice, The Peoples’ Choice.

The Bad Face: the man who refused to confirm if a trust was used for his Labour Leadership campaign, the man who failed to disclose a savings investment trust, the man who divided the Labour Party and sought to undermine David Shearer, the man who embellished his CV (not an exhaustive list). Tricky.

JOHN KEY (PM, Leader of National Party NZ)

The Good Face:  the Harvard graduate, the foreign exchange expert, the man from humble beginnings and raised by his beneficiary solo-mother, the man concerned about the growing underclass developing in NZ, the genuine kiwi bloke, the man who can fix the economy.

The Bad Face: the man who treats ‘gay’ as a shallow insult, the man who sold out NZ for transnational corporations (Warner Bros, Anadarko, Rio Tinto), the man who likened our ‘clean green’ ‘100% pure’ image to McDonald’s ‘Lovin it’, the man who forgets everything and nothing,  the man whose Ministers (or ministries) have run amuck under his leadership such as ACC – privacy breaches, MSD – privacy breaches, Min Edu – NovoPay deabcle, GCSB – illegal spying etc, (not an exhaustive list). TricKey.

Fran O’Sullivan remarked on NZ Q + A, that the public are still trying to work out who Cunliffe is and what he stands for; but she says that Key has successfully translated who he is to the public. O’Sullivan seemed to presume that it was the ‘good face’ that the public sees or that Key is perceived of in favourable light, which is extremely questionable. A problem as identified in the introduction is that both leaders brands do not match their actions and I think that is the price of  power seeking in party politics.

National Party and Labour Party loyalists will respectively downplay the bad face and defend the good face of their leader to the death (not literally of course). So its important to be aware of how our perceptions are shaped by the media or information outlets we choose to expose ourselves to and the importance of digging a little deeper, especially in an election year.

Memo from a Left Libertarian

Feeling a little frustrated at having to explain how I can be both libertarian and socialist or in fact, what on earth, as a leftist, am I thinking even subscribing to any kind of libertarianism!

I must be loopy. I must be completely out of touch. I must live outside reality and couldn’t possibly comprehend the NECESSITY(?!) of the STATE. In the same vein, I am preposterously absurd if I think SOCIALISM and LIBERTARIANISM might be compatible, afterall, what the hell could a socialist know about FREE MARKETS?!!

Ah, the criticism. Its all good. Except when its either plainly wrong or based on misconceptions perpetuated by those with a longing to retain this dystopia we inherited. My experience tells me that apparently, only Rawlsian Liberals can speak coherently about ANYTHING LIBERAL, Marxist Communists about ANYTHING SOCIALIST and Friedmanites/Hayekians about ANYTHING FREE MARKET. Yes, I’m done with the caps lock now. Its worth noting that there is some great irony present in each of those micro-statements.

Its no secret that in the past I’ve been an advocate for central planning. What changed? This:

an increasing dissatisfaction with party politics in NZ and abroad. Exposure to deeper critiques of State power. An increasing resentment of the function of formal law and its presumed superiority to other ways of recognising human rights and organising society.

There are many who despise the state of NZ politics but who are unaware of any alternatives. Why? Because along with the media, even our academic institutions readily dismiss the alternatives to the status quo as ‘utopic dreams’ preferring to dwell in our dystopic world. So for those readers, feeling lost in the political schema of mass hypocrisy, this is a potential alternative. It is by no means immune from critique, but it certainly provides a challenge to accepted political norms.

I particularly like Gary Chartiers summary of Left Libertarianism:

Commitments to the left:

  • engaging in class analysis and class struggle;
  • opposing corporate privilege;
  • undermining structural poverty
  • embracing shared responsibility for challenging economic vulnerability;
  • affirming wealth redistribution;
  • supporting grass-roots empowerment;
  • humanizing worklife;
  • protecting civil liberties;
  • opposing the drug war;
  • supporting the rights of sex workers;
  • challenging police violence;
  • promoting environmental well-being and animal welfare;
  • fostering children’s liberation;
  • rejecting racism, sexism, heterosexism, nativism, and national chauvinism; and
  • resisting war, imperialism and colonialism.

And simultaneously, libertarian commitments to:

  • affirming robust protections for just possessory claims;
  • embracing freed markets and a social ideal of peaceful, voluntary cooperation; and
  • crafting a thoroughly anti-statist politics.

The whole article on The distinctiveness of Left Libertarianism, is a good read, especially for those who might find themselves agreeing with the bulk of the above, but who subscribe to some other ideology. Here is a good post on  Left Libertarianism that traces the roots of the movement.

A particular kind of Left Libertarianism that I find compelling (which is also a branch of anarchism) is Mutualism. Kevin Carson is probably the best contemporary to read on this topic. Carson writes that:

Mutualists favor a society in which all relationships and transactions are non-coercive, and based on voluntary cooperation, free exchange, or mutual aid.  The “market,” in the sense of exchanges of labor between producers, is a profoundly humanizing and liberating concept.  What we oppose is the conventional understanding of markets, as the idea has been coopted and corrupted by state capitalism.

Carson explains that mutualism promotes democratic control through collective action where necessary but does not favour collectivism as an ideal in itself. His brief exposition of mutualism is available here.

The past few years have drawn a lot of criticism and personal attacks from both left and right wing thinkers about the disarray of left wing politics in NZ. Previously held common or shared visions were replaced by the visions of the dominant voices in the movement, creating a dispassionate and bitter left. Where likely friends have become savage foes. The mutualist in me asks, whether this is the result of a reliance on hierarchical collectivism rather than direct collective action.

The point of this post was to (hopefully) extend the parameters of political debate beyond the rotting old box we are all stuffed into.

To conclude, I will borrow from Karl Hess:

Anarchism is not normative. It does not say how to be free. It says only that freedom, liberty, can exist.

Liberty, finally, is not a box into which people are to be forced. Liberty is a space in which people may live. It does not tell you how they will live. It says, eternally, only that we can