‘What they see is what they get’

What you see is what you get ...

What they see is what they get …

Part of it is, I think, is, I suspect … I’m a pretty laid back, sort of down-to-earth hopefully approachable guy, and, … and, I think kind of again, what they see is what they get and they like that element of, I’m a regular kiwi bloke.

John Key, Morning Report, Friday, 28 February, 2014

So said John Key in an attempt to explain his apparent popularity with the populace. Nevertheless, it’s hard to imagine a less revealing self-assessment – or a more revealing one, when seen a’right.

Given that there is an election to be held on 20 September this year – and that all agree that John Key’s personal popularity will be crucial in that election – perhaps it’s time to start seeing John Key so that we’ll know just what we are really getting. Continue reading

Posted in New Zealand Politics, Political Psychology | Tagged , , , , | 11 Comments

Foxes, hens, the ‘hard left’ and the myth of the ‘time warp’.

Scaring the hens? Or, maybe, just scaring the foxes?

Scaring the hens? Or, maybe, just scaring the foxes?

It’s easy to feel a bit giddy – even queasy – after reading and hearing the reaction of politicians and commentators to the appointment of Matt McCarten as David Cunliffe’s Chief of Staff.

John Armstrong has invited a picture of complete chaos within Labour by likening the appointment to “a case of inviting the fox into the henhouse“. Feather’s flying, hen’s frantically squawking, wings flapping in wide-eyed panic – and nothing but dead chooks to look forward to!

There’s even been a tempting invitation from Colin Espiner to the weird and wonderful  ‘Rocky Horror Picture Show’ dance floor – ‘Just a jump to the left …’.

Apart from breathless, synchronised dancing, that giddy queasiness is largely because, for some time now, political commentators have assumed that the fabled ‘Left’ land of politics is accessible only by ‘lurching’, ‘veering’, ‘swerving’, ‘jumping’ or performing some other equally risky or chaotic manoeuvre.

Fascinating choice of words.

All are near-synonyms and the inference they invite is obvious.

If a political party were a car these words all suggest that some lunatic or drunk person has just pushed the driver out of the way,  grabbed hold of the wheel and given it a massive spin leaving the car heading – inexplicably to onlookers – in the wrong direction.

Yes, the lurching rhetoric just screams ‘Look! Completely out of control!

Which I guess is the intention.

No ‘mainstream’ political party or person is presumed capable, anymore, of determinedly and steadfastly progressing to, and arriving at, the left. Today, heading leftward only seems explicable in terms of its inexplicableness. Some desperate and, almost by definition, irrational motive must be at work.

It wasn’t always the case … but that’s just an allusion to a galaxy far, far away and, by now, way down the collective memory hole.

Or is it? Continue reading

Posted in Democracy, Labour, New Zealand Politics, Political Polls, Political Psychology, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Adam Smith on the appeal of the iPhone


A useful gadget?


… Less than you might think …

“How many people ruin themselves by laying out money on trinkets of frivolous utility? What pleases these lovers of toys is not so much the utility, as the aptness of the machines which are fitted to promote it.”

(Part IV, Chapter 1, ‘Theory of Moral Sentiments‘)

There’s a lot of talk about innovation, inventiveness, new technologies and the like today. There’s precious little discussion, however, of why they appeal.

Asking that question ends up telling us a lot about our modern society.

It might be an article of faith, from an economic perspective, that innovation leads to prosperity via the ‘convenience’, or utility, it provides. What appeals to people, it is assumed, is the extra utility provided by the innovation.

It is also then often argued that one of the precious attributes of our modern world and economy is the vast range of added utility it generates for individuals through the innovative impulse that drives competitive markets. Individuals then get to pick and choose the particular utilities in which they wish to indulge.

Oddly, Adam Smith – the great 18th century scion and progenitor of free market thinking – thought this kind of justification for the appeal of ‘conveniences’ missed the mark.

For Smith, the additional utility rarely justifies the sacrifices needed to obtain it. It might be a bit of a shock for the economically educated but, for Smith, ‘value-added’ is – at the individual level – generally outweighed by ‘value-lost’.

I’m inclined to agree.

Continue reading

Posted in Economics, Free Market, Freedom, Human Nature, Human Wellbeing, Philosophy, Political Psychology, Poverty, Welfare | 9 Comments

Flagging interest in ‘folly’ of vexillology

Changing our brand?

Changing our brand?

John Key seems like an unlikely vexillologist – or should that be vexillographer?.

That aside, what was John Key ‘flagging’ when he proposed a referendum on New Zealand’s national flag to coincide with this year’s election – without having already let his Cabinet colleagues in on the brainwave?

I think I know: He flagged his tried and true campaign strategy – ‘No politics please, we’re Kiwis’.

Of course, for Key this was an extremely political play and one that carefully moves the formica-thin veneer that today passes for the media’s substantive political reporting right, slap onto the centre of his home turf – in more ways than it might first appear. Continue reading

Posted in Democracy, National Identity, New Zealand Politics, Political Psychology | Tagged , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Pennies from heaven – or, a ‘Corpse’ Flower by any other name …

A 'Corpse' flower WOWS the crowds

A ‘Corpse’ flower WOWS the crowds


The education proposals outlined by John Key in his State of the Nation speech have blossomed spectacularly today – like Auckland’s ‘Corpse Flower‘ – attracting a surprising band of over-awed onlookers.

The intent of the education initiatives is clear enough.

In fact, same intent as usual; but very different tactic. And, of course, suitably different given that we are now in election year.

More generally, it’s also become very clear from this announcement and news about the economy, that the ‘all’s well‘ good news ‘vibe’ will be pushed, relentlessly, by National for the next nine months or so.

Time, then, to turn up the scepticism dial to ‘High’. Continue reading

Posted in Democracy, Education, New Zealand Politics, Poverty | 16 Comments

Be-Knighted Mayors

Be careful what you wish for ...

Well, be careful what you wish for …

The year got off to a worryingly surreal start in Canterbury politics.

Before the year even began, news was released that highly controversial two-term, ex-mayor of Christchurch Bob Parker would from now on officially have to be referred to as ‘Sir Bob’ (or, will it be ‘Sir Robert’?).

Then, on day one of 2014, Canterbury’s mayors (outside of Christchurch) were reported as being unconvinced about the virtues of democracy:

A full return to democracy at Environment Canterbury (ECan) may be delayed if the region’s mayors get their way.

As omens go, these ones seem to suggest that we may be in for a very strange year in politics.

I’m beginning to wonder, though, if most New Zealanders will notice the strangeness, or, if they do, whether or not they’ll even care?

And that may be the strangest aspect of it all. Continue reading

Posted in Democracy, Earthquakes, Local Government, New Zealand Politics | Tagged , , , | 58 Comments

Adam Smith and the Left and Right of Moral Sentiment – A Christmas Tale

[I'm on holiday in a place with very limited and irregular cellphone coverage and access to the internet. That means I haven't included links in this post but, when I've quoted from Adam Smith's work, I've referenced the 'Part' and 'Chapter' where the quote can be found. His Theory of Moral Sentiments should be readily available - for free - on the internet.]
Given it’s the season of goodwill to all – and presumably also a good time to reflect on deeper issues – I thought I’d take a look at one aspect of the moral principles that underlie the Left and Right of politics.

The moral dimension of politics is often underplayed today, perhaps because dwelling on it is thought to betray an outdated account of the political. ‘Morality’ is sometimes thought to be some quaint backwater in which the un-modern remnants of right-wing social conservatism endlessly swim in diminishing circles as their stagnant pool slowly dries up over time.

In this view, moral questions are best left out of politics as matters for individuals to determine for themselves. But that attitude seems to me to have it just about backwards.
Almost all ‘modern’, ‘progressive’ politics has been motivated by a powerful moral insight and has gained followers by the strength of its moral call. Think ‘abolitionism’, universal sufferage and workers who have nothing to lose but their chains, etc.. Continue reading

Posted in Economics, Free Market, Human Nature, Human Wellbeing, National Identity, New Zealand Politics, Philosophy | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Boaster roasting

[This comes with what is often called a 'trigger warning'. Despite the tone I always try to adopt in my posts, the issues discussed here are not mere abstractions. People's past and current suffering can be brought back to the surface by their discussion. Please consider this before continuing.]

Why did they do it?

It’s often said that a society can be judged by how it treats its most disadvantaged members.

It’s equally true that a society can be judged by the conditions it provides for the raising – and socialisation – of children. Adolescence is that moment when the rubber of that socialisation starts to hit the road.

That’s largely because adolescents are good at one thing in particular – seeking out the values of the world they are entering and trying their best to master them. It’s a time for experimentation with those values – a kind of dress rehearsal – to find out how best to emulate and live up to them. In fact, this is what all mammals do as they reach for adulthood.

But how does a society explain to itself what has happened when that process goes horribly wrong? Continue reading

Posted in Human Nature, Media, New Zealand Politics | Tagged , , , | 18 Comments

‘How Green was my East Frame?’


How Green was my Frame?
About this green …


It looks like the green highlighter that was used to ‘Wow’ the population of Christchurch in the original Central City Blueprint has faded already.

The images above can be found in the online article from The Press ‘Green space shrunk down to narrow corridor‘:

Land set aside for residential development in the East Frame has grown substantially and green space shrunk to a narrow corridor, a map recently published the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority suggests.

You could be forgiven for not seeing that coming – at least if you relied upon the glossy images that were fore-fronted in the press releases, media coverage, the famous simulated ‘flyover’ and, even, the official Central City Recovery Plan. Continue reading

Posted in Democracy, Earthquakes, New Zealand Politics | Tagged , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Great minds? Or just something in the Veuve Clicquot?


The New Town Hall in Hanover – When local government obviously mattered

No sooner than I clicked the ‘publish’ button for the previous post, along comes a strong echo of almost exactly the same refrain.

This time, Rodney Hide – after complimenting Len Brown on his stewardship of the Super City – spookily echoes Sir Gil Simpson’s call for another option on the local government ballot paper:

It must be disheartening for councillors and mayors to be elected on so few votes. It’s hardly a ringing endorsement. The bulk of us aren’t that interested.

We need a new box to tick on the ballot. One that says “none of the above”. That would enable voters to say, we don’t care, we just want the elected government of the day to appoint the best people to run our city and region.

That’s what happens now for most government-run organisations and operations. We need that option on the ballot for local bodies.

That’s what’s happened with the regional council in Canterbury. It has a top civil servant, a former top judge, an ex-minister, and business people – a qualified and professional leadership team who can get on with the job.

It’s a far better team than one would ever get standing for election. It would seem to me that we should have that option in the rest of the country.

I would vote if I could tick a box that allowed the government of the day to appoint the best people to run the council. It would save a lot of fluffing around.

This view from Hide is probably not surprising since it is entirely consistent with ACT Party policy on the matter:

Because Local Government is important, it is important that councils function as efficiently as possible.  Because councils do not have the kind of opposition-government structure of the parliament, it is harder for ratepayers to hold them to account.  Rates have risen significantly over the past decade as councils have strayed into new areas of activity and struggled to maintain vital infrastructure.
There is a need to refocus councils on their core role of providing vital infrastructure, and ensure that they do it in an accountable and efficient manner.

It doesn’t get more technocratic than that.

So, while one swallow doesn’t make a summer – how about two?

The fact that neither Hide nor Simpson thought to look back to see when the decline in voting began is interesting. According to this article on Stuff, that decline began in 1989. The 1980s, of course, were remarkable years in the political arena

Voting rates nearly reached 50 per cent in 2010, but that spike was attributed to the new Auckland super-city and intense interest in the Christchurch mayoral race. Both cities saw significant falls yesterday and overall figures showed a return to a steady downward trend dating back to 1989.

1989 was itself an important year in the history of local government in New Zealand:

By 1986, the number of territorial authorities and single-purpose authorities had grown to more than 700. In 1989 there was a major reform of local government in New Zealand. The numerous borough and county councils were amalgamated into larger districts, while the number of cities was reduced.

Well, that’s a coincidence. At the same time that amalgamation was introduced the present decline in voter interest began. But, as I say, perhaps just a coincidence. Here’s hoping, given that ‘super cities’ are clearly on ‘everyone’s’ agenda – at least those in favour of technocratic governance.

It’s only a hypothesis, of course, but wouldn’t it be odd if those – like Hide and Simpson – pushing for the ‘technocratic/central government takeover’ option on the local ballot were also the same people supportive of the very process that led to the lack of ‘interest’ that their option supposedly would remedy?

What a strange world. And what a revealing insight into political ‘battle lines’ into the future.

It is part myth I suppose, but here in Christchurch one of the reasons that we were dubbed the ‘people’s republic’ was because our council, under Vicki Buck, managed to retain local assets, community events and social housing during the peak years of neoliberal reforms at the national level.

Once again, it is no doubt only a coincidence, but the highest polling new councillor in Christchurch was Vicki Buck who has returned to local politics 15 years after her mayoralty ended:

Riccarton-Wigram Ward (2 vacancies) Votes Received 

BUCK, Vicki A Vote for me is a Vote for You               11,151

CHEN, Jimmy The People’s Choice – Labour               6,904

MORA, Mike The People’s Choice – Labour                  4,391

LALOLI, Peter iCitz – Independent Citizens                 3,909

BROUGHTON, Helen iCitz – Independent Citizens     3,729

HARNETT, Sara Independent                                        1,408

CHEN, Walpole Wenping Independent                        1,023


Posted in Democracy, Fascism, Freedom, New Zealand Politics | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments