Month: May 2014

Māori politics: Seats, Alliances, Demise and Choice

Māori politics is in for an incredibly tumultuous ride this election year. Rather than a unified Māori position, the Māori vote is widespread. Many will find a home on the Left under the Internet Mana Party alliance, Greens and Labour. While others will find comfort in the Māori Party and a smaller contingent in National and NZ First.

I wrote last year on how I declined to enrol under the Māori electorates. That post is available here. It is incredibly harsh, and on reflection I do have some regrets about my decision to stay on the general roll and many regrets about some of the things I wrote. I suppose these are the issues when writing a blog, i.e. that new information or changes in circumstances can change perceptions and views. However, I remain unmoved in my position that the Westminster system does not serve the ends of Māori because the state is a necessarily coercive entity.

The Internet-Mana Party

Anyone who follows my social media accounts will know that I’ve been particularly critical of the Internet Mana Party (IMP) temporary merger. Its touted as a strategic alliance. It’s alleged that this move is a ‘game changer’. It’s certainly interesting and there is the possibility that it may have positive effects. There is an equal chance that it wont. The problem isn’t that Mana are taking advantage of a flaw in the MMP system, it is that the seat is being used to prop up a party founded and funded by someone lacking in the mana the Māori seats deserve. Its clear in the idea that the merger is less about Māori and more about its funder, since the MOU agreed between the parties shows this merger disbands after the election so each party can pursue their own policy agendas.

Hone Harawira absolutely deserves to run in Te Tai Tokerau (TTT).  But so to does Kelvin Davis. Both men are extolled by TTT and they provide choice to their electorate.  It is true that non-Māori can also run in those seats, and this illustrates that Dotcom’s connection as founder and funder of the party attempting to coattail in on it is well within the rules but it is not in the spirit of the Māori seats which embody the struggle of our tupuna to obtain and retain representation in a system that works against us.

Trotter on Kelvin Davis

Chris Trotter is propagating the idea that Kelvin Davis is showing dangerous signs of being an authoritarian because he values his principles and the spirit of the Māori seats over being bullied into rolling over for the IMP strategic alliance. Trotter demands that Davis be told to STFU. What even? Old white guy, self-appointed member of the socialist establishment tells highly respected Māori representative to STFU about retaining the mana and integrity of the Māori electorate seats. Tell me again about how these left socialists want a democratic society, but want to limit the choices of those who reside in strategic voting regions? Whose the authoritarian again?

As a left libertarian, the only authoritarians I see are those claiming for the left that unless we listen and vote according to what Trotter and Bradbury tell us then we will be responsible if National win at the election. If we don’t dispose of our principles for strategic purposes then we are basically against progress and for authoritarianism. The irony of that.

On the Māori Party

While Mana and the Greens have a very strong Māori emphasis and incredibly strong and devoted Māori candidates, they are not representative of the Māori voice alone. They are representative of broader struggles that include Māori issues but focus on the gap between the rich and poor and the environment. Important and necessary struggles but not equivalent. Labour also have some very strong and devoted Māori candidates, but again, these candidates are representative of their party membership, and while all these parties have Māori members, they do not act as an independent voice for Māori in parliament. That has been the niche role of the Māori Party. Yes, there is some conflict about their relationship with the National Party.

For ages, I have been arguing against the ‘at the table’ positioning of the Māori Party. This stems from my perception that being at the table was a justification for compromising on so many of the Māori Party values. That the best Māori could hope for was to have a voice at the table. I hadn’t considered that this was the minimum we should hope for, irrespective of who is in government. As I wrote earlier, the Māori struggle is not a left thing. In my ideal world, I envision full self-determination, complete horizontalism and a functioning participatory democracy in a society free of a coercive state and the oppression of poverty. In my practical world, I envision independent Māori voices focused on kaupapa Māori politics, where Māori can begin to operate alongside the system rather than oppressed under it. Both Mana and the Māori Party offer policy in this regard. The Māori Party having a more open line because they are willing to work across the political spectrum if necessary.

IMP & Maōri Party

Some commentators have suggested that if the Internet Mana Party (IMP) successfully persuade Māori en masse to vote for them, the Māori Party may indeed struggle to re-enter parliament. While some of the radicals on the Left (Trotter/Bradbury) are calling this a potential victory, it will (for the reasons outlined above) be a commisserable event for Māori, if it occurs.

I am not suggesting that the Mana Movement are not incredibly dedicated and admirable in their intent to preserve and extend the kaupapa Māori approach. On that, Mana cannot be faulted. Mana seek similar goals, but the path pursued relies on a heavily regimented state, presuming that a state “by the people for the people” is necessarily benevolent while ignoring the coercive reality of nationalist statism. As Max Weber highlights, the state is a “a human community that (successfully) claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory”.  The territoriality of states is itself the strategic use of a defined geography in which the political institutions attempt to control and influence those within its boundaries, while the notion of boundaries communicates to outsiders that a particular jurisdiction is operational within.

Mana also appears to hold tight to the myth of nationalism, that it is about cultural or historical ties to land and I can see the attraction in thinking nationalism is the path to preserving indigenous connections to land. But nationalism largely developed out of the Westphalian system as a narrative to accentuate differences between ‘citizens and aliens’. It is the result of the militant nation-state. Culture for nationalism is not indigenous culture, it is the imposed colonialist realties that represent the nationalist claims. Nationalism strangles indigeneity, and restricts full participatory democracy, subsequently, endorsing the idea of a global segregation that would be considered deplorable at the inter-state level.

At this election, for Māori and non-Māori alike, each must determine for themselves which path they want to take. I will vote but in doing so I am not conceding that I think the state is a legitimate entity. My bias is clear because I am anti-statist and anti-nationalist, but my views are not for everyone, and should not be taken as judging you for your views if they are different. Māori in particular must not let others decide for us what the best way forward is we should take the time to talk to our friends and whānau and to reflect on those discussions. Whether your decisions are based on bigger picture issues or are more narrowly defined the decision belongs to you and no-one else.

Briefly on The Nation

This is a bit more of a positive feedback post to The Nation (on TV3) for enhancing the quality and content on their shows immensely.

Employing Lisa Owen in a lead role has improved the line of questioning in interviews (and my interest in the show) significantly. Rather than treating the interviews as a points scoring exercise, she appears to take the same approach in each interview – ensuring she is well –informed (at least she appears to be so) on the issues, the arguments and the broad criticisms while never deploying an attack dog attitude that has crept into the repertoire of many other journalists.

Additionally, the inclusion of alternative material that is contentious but necessary for debate. As I see it, filtering information to make a story sound more credible, often has the opposite effect – it looks (and is) disingenuous. Addressing alternative content particularly if it’s highly contentious within the specific field of inquiry, shows a willingness to extend debate rather than manipulate viewers toward taking a specific stance on an issue.

For instance, last week’s episode Patrick Gower interviewed,  Jeremy Scahill (investigative journalist, documentary maker, author) regarding US led drone killings program, as a response to the extra-judicial killing of Daryl Jones. This suggests to me that the producers and journalists are approaching issues with open minds, and attempting to remove the largely propagated myths of our US soft current affairs viewing. Giving viewers access to the different information sources available.

This week Owen interviewed Wilkinson and Pickett (not ot be confused with Piketty!) the authors of The Spirit Level that talks about inequality. from an economics perspective in a language that non-economists can easily digest. Among economists, this is a highly contentious work, but introducing it into the mainstream discussion, allows viewers to consider issues from alternative perspectives. Rather than play out like a book review, the authors much like the previous week with Scahill were challenged on their arguments, then their ideas were considered in context of NZ and debated by a panel.

I do wonder if The Nation have taken a leaf out of the book of the  award winning current affairs show Native Affairs in fine tuning the style of the show, from  political hackery to genuine debate and discussion on interesting and topical issues. But irrespective of how they came to the decision to change up and improve the show, it is in my view, working.

My only criticism for this week is not with the content, but perhaps with the placement of particular content. Patrick Gower interviewed Ben Uffindell, whose mostly brilliant political satire on his Civilian blog is largely unmatched in NZ. The problem was not the content, but perhaps the placement. He was interviewed after a serious debate on inequality which felt very awkward, the content of which leaked into the important panel  discussion on inequality, which also then became to borrow a phrase from Peter Dunne, ‘awkward and embarrassing’. I absolutely think there is a place for political satire, I just wonder if the producers might consider ending the show with it rather than inserting it into part of the serious space for discussion.

Death Duties

I was reading Martyn Bradbury’s post Generation X have been betrayed by neoliberalism and baby boomers.

I agree with many of the points he makes including some of the points made in the article he cites, insofar as economic inequality is a massive issue.

But I do not agree that we can attribute the cause of economic inequality to a birth cohort. The focus on generation ignores or at least treats as ancillary, an obvious cause, namely, speculation or rentseeking. It is not the fact of being born between 1946 and 1964 that destroyed free education, a robust welfare system and affordable housing in NZ. It is the speculative rentseeking behaviour of those – many born within that particular cohort, some before and some after – who were already privileged enough to participate in the speculative markets that created widespread economic inequality and preserved it through the 1980-1990 economic reforms through to today.

But I want to focus on the last statement Bradbury makes at the end of his post:

“A progressive Government coming into challenge this intergenerational theft should first consider reapplying death duties to redistribute all that boomer good luck to other generations”

The argument it stems from is more or less this: Baby Boomer’s (BB) were born into and lived through a unique economic boom that created many opportunities such as affordable housing (really it was cheap land), a robust welfare system and free education. This implies that during and as a result of the economic boom, BB’s were the recipients of the benefits that flowed from those opportunities without the struggle of repaying student loan debt and being priced out of the housing market unlike the generations following the BB’s. Therefore, BB’s should compensate future generations for the loss of opportunities by paying a tax on their death.

I understand why people romanticise about taxing the BB’s on their death (as morose as it is), because when faced with communities living in poverty, there is a whole generation to blame because we are told that BB’s had everything sweet.  In doing so, we neglect the highly unjust tax and monetary system.

Often missing from the debate also is that death duties will likely incentivise the wealthy BB’s (those these arguments usually target) to shift the funds of their estate to offshore tax havens.

So, in my view, changing the tax system to capture unearned income (during the lifetime of the individual) and targeting speculative behaviour is better than waiting for people to die.

An objection also worth noting (although highly unlikely and very slippery slope) is that wealthy BB’s may become targets of vigilante groups in extremely tough economic times, on the perception that they are worth more to society dead than alive [I don’t seriously think this is an issue, but its not an impossibility either].

The idea of death duties, in my opinion, is flawed for three key reasons (although this isn’t an exhaustive list).

Firstly, it is inefficient to (re)introduce another tax into an already complex tax machine.

Secondly, there is a simpler, more efficient and effective tax that could deal with speculative behaviour/rentseeking – land value tax (LVT).

Thirdly, death duties are hardly hallmarks of a progressive government, unless what we view as progressive is retro politics. Death duties were introduced in the 19th Century in NZ and by the mid-1950’s were (mostly) abandoned [see Michael Littlewood’s History of Death Duties and Gift Duty in NZ].

On the first point, I consider death duties inefficient for many reasons, including  that it is difficult to determine (even approximate) how much revenue will be raised in any given year and so that makes planning/budgeting on how to redistribute those funds uncertain. Also, no-one mentions how these funds might be redistributed back to society e.g. citizens dividend? or just paid into the states general fund? There is also the issue that the argument for death tax is intended to assist future generations, yet these are usually the direct beneficiaries of inheritance, so the tax takes from those generations. Although the suggestion is, it is fairer because it redistributes back to all. However, by putting back into the general fund, means that living BB’s still benefit from the deaths of their birth cohort, while the direct recipients have their inheritance taxed.

The uncertainty of fund levels also impacts on administrative costs such as staffing, office space, office equipment – noting that some of the revenue collected would be redistributed back into administrative costs, reducing the pool of funds available for social redistribution.  And the tax itself adds to the growing number of taxes (increasing bureaucracy) the government expects individuals to pay thereby increasing the reach of the state from the life of the individual into their death.

On the second point, the level of tax paid by the community is already excessive. Most people agree we need to reduce the tax burden not amplify it. The focus should not be on how many other taxes we can use to collect the revenue necessary to provide public services. I maintain my position that LVT and abolishing or significantly reducing all other productive taxes appears to be the fairest and most efficient way to deliver public services, alleviate poverty, disincentivise speculative behaviour and incentivise innovation and entrepreneurship.

So discussions on economic inequality ought to focus on how we can collect revenue efficiently and effectively while reducing the tax burden. Without reiterating previous posts, I have written on LVT  here and here and you can also view the LVT page of resources by clicking on the tab at the top of this page.

[Note: There are many Georgists/LVT proponents who do support inheritance taxes, so this post isn’t intended as a reflection of the broad church of Georgism/Geoism]

The third point is that NZ has had death duties in the past and they were abandoned. Calling a government progressive for reintroducing them is like saying a Beatles Tribute band is progressive. Death duties are retro politics. Admittedly, the same claim might be levied against LVT; however, LVT has not existed as a single tax and is currently being researched around the globe as economists and political and non-political groups look for ways to tame the speculative beast and ensure prosperity for all.

I’ll also point out, that some BB’s actually saved their earned income to pass on to their children. They may have struggled through their life for this specific purpose. Are their earnings something that we can justifiably tax? I’m not convinced it is at all.

I absolutely agree that we need to deal with economic inequality – and fast.  I also support the idea of redistribution, provided it is done in a manner that minimises hierarchy rather than reinforces it.  But if we unpack the phrase ‘death duties’ we see that it grants the state a ‘right’ to collect revenue from individuals on their death, since  individuals (would) have a correlative duty to pay the state on their death. Death duties are effectively a death tax, and taxes are collected through enforcement measures exercised through state hierarchy. So, death taxes reinforce state hierarchy through a perverse strategy for managing economic inequality by ‘waiting for people to die’ so that the state can ‘benefit from their death’.

I suspect many readers will disagree with me about death duties; however, my question is what does it say about humanity if there is not even freedom from the reach of the state in death?

Williamson should not stand for re-election in Pakuranga or elsewhere

The peculiar thing about this Maurice Williamson scandal, is that he intends to stand again in the Pakuranga electorate. Obviously, Williamson thinks his actions while not of the standard required of a Minister, are acceptable as an electorate MP. I’m not sure how he justifies the difference in standard, but obviously he doesn’t see any moral failing on his part. In tendering his resignation but publicising his intention to stand for re-election, he appears to only acknowledge that he has pissed off his party, for now.

Lets look at the moral failing here. Who in their right mind would call the Police on behalf of a person accused of assault on his wife and her mother if they weren’t intent on exercising some  influence over the building of the case against the accused. And why even raise the consideration that the accused in that case was a highly valued investor, if you weren’t intent on having the Police cut him some slack?

I can appreciate that what Williamson might have been doing was…no actually, I can’t. There is no justification here that warranted making that phone call to the NZ Police full stop.

Sure, Williamson didn’t explicitly ask the Police to grant any leniency in that case, and thankfully the Police treated the accused the same way as they would treat others accused in like circumstances, and continued with prosecution. But Williamson sure did imply that some ‘special’ consideration be given to the defendant based on his economic contributions to NZ.

I think Jono Natusch encapsulates the wrong in Williamson’s actions well:

Let’s get this straight. A Minister who rubber stamped Mr Liu’s citizenship against official advice (with Mr Liu then donating $22,000 to the National party via his company, Roncon Pacific Hotel Management), calls police when Mr Liu is arrested, and let’s it drop into the conversation that somebody needed to review the matter because “Mr Liu is investing a lot of money in New Zealand”.

That’s a hell of a statement to make if you’re “in no way looking to interfere with the process”.

The problem as I see it is that it doesn’t matter if Williamson was acting as a Minister or as an MP because there is never any justification for either to intervene in the criminal matters of any person prior to a case being heard in Court. From a legal standpoint, there might be exemptions where Ministers are entitled to intervene, but this is not one of those exceptions. It is for a judge to decide what is relevant evidence in an assault/domestic violence case, not for a Minister or MP to impute that evidence. Williamson acted outside his remit of power in proceeding to act representatively on behalf of the accused by making that call to the Police. Did Williamson even stop to think about the victims in this case and that there might be women in his electorate who are also victims of domestic violence, whom he re-victimised through his actions in respect of the accused ? Obviously not.

This is not the behaviour of Minister and it most certainly is not the behaviour of an MP.

How can any person think that someone’s economic contributions in any way create immunity or allow some respite when accused of assault?  Williamson makes it clear that protecting women from violence is not only subordinate to the needs of ‘highly valued’ investors but that he considers the degree of investment by an accused to be a mitigating factor in these cases!

There are of course those who think that Williamson has done nothing wrong. I find that deplorable. The general argument is that there was nothing questionable suggested in the phone calls so he shouldn’t have been forced to resign. But this ignores that there was no actual need for the phone call in the first place. The accused surely had a Lawyer to represent his interests, so there could be no other reason for Williamson to make the call, unless he thought his position of power had some influence in the building of the case against the accused.

Williamson is unfit to stand for re-election in either the Pakuranga electorate or elsewhere.