Speaker by Various Artists


What I learned in Class: Should Labour go after the "Bogan Vote"?

by Dave Snell

On July 20 Chris Trotter raised a very poignant (for Labour anyway) issue: “Should Labour go after the Bogan Vote?”

Because I’m on everyone’s rolodex whenever the dreaded ‘B-word’ is uttered, the message was passed along, and I was encouraged to provide a response. I do not have the political experience of Chris but there is one thing I know and that’s Bogans. I am one myself.

I am also one of those who grew up in the 80s and 90s. Dad voted Labour and Mum voted Labour. That was until Douglas eventuated. Now, neither disclose who they vote for, but I have a firm suspicion that it’s Winston Peters. But I’ll get to that. Overall, I want to thank Chris for his column, as it’s been very thought-provoking and sparked further thinking in an area I’ve been meaning to get to.

First and foremost, there is some initial clarification needed. Being a Bogan is not based on deficit. Perhaps it is due to academic thinking on subcultural groups such as Bogans, typified by the work of academics in the Birmingham tradition such as Hall in Resistance through Rituals, which conceptualised youth cultures as a way for young people to support each other due to class subordination. Their so-called deviant behaviour was viewed as a reaction of working-class youth to structural changes in post-war Britain.

The Birmingham tradition of sub-cultural research is hugely influential to this day, including further research in the 1970s concerning subcultures such as Mods, Rockers, and Skinheads. Chris’s column is reminiscent of this thinking, in his suggestions that Bogans are a response of sorts to Labour’s economic changes in the 1980s, vis-a-vis Roger Douglas.

I am not a political scientist. While more research would be needed in the area before a definitive statement could be made, I will say that working class is not a dirty term. The working class have marketable skills; they build your houses, they fix your car, and they replace that o-ring in the tap in your kitchen sink which you really should have done yourself.

They rent a room and not a house because it means more money to buy that gearbox they wanted. They lack tertiary qualifications not because of a lack of intelligence, but because you don’t need a doctorate to get a job as a mechanic when a certificate will do – a job that they enjoy and gives access to a decent work space.

The problem with the Birmingham tradition was that it portrayed subcultural groups as unwitting dupes or victims who banded together due to a lack of voice. While the Birmingham tradition provides a useful base for research into such groups, to apply such thinking to more modern communities silences those the research purports to give voice to. The Bogan, and by extension the working class, are not victims in a modern sense.

Instead Bogans choose this identity. Mateship is not due to a lack of social connections elsewhere. Social connections are due to their sharing a way of being and associated interests with others. Breaking from the Birmingham mould, they aren’t formed out of a lack of, or as a replacement of something, but as a social process that other groups share.

Bogans value friendships because they are a way of sharing their interest with others. Be that Heavy Metal music, cars, drinking, violent action movies or other working class pursuits that are typically frowned upon by a significant proportion of traditional psychologists. Loyalty is important to a Bogan because those social connections are a strong, positive force in themselves. They are not a replacement that brings us up to functional standards but are instead an addition.

A Bogan never struggles to make social connections. They make them easily, and these connections last for life. Loyalty is an enviable quality that Bogans possess. It’s also important to note that the Bogan is not necessarily a man. The Bogan woman has already read what I’ve previously written and made a mental note to tell me to make proper reference to their gender next time.

All this means that to be a Bogan is not to be on the downward skids of life. It is to be comfortable in your surroundings, to be able to provide for loved ones, and to still have money left over for a new gearbox or a new beer box. Their skills are much needed, but sadly go unrecognised.

And this leads me to the point of the column which is whether Labour should chase the Bogan vote. The answer is, frustratingly, ‘perhaps’. But it’s going to be a very hard sell, and not for the reasons people might think.

It’s not that the Bogans don’t trust Labour due to Douglas. The reason is because Bogans don’t trust politicians at all. They are sort of apolitical. This isn’t due to a lack of awareness or responsibility or an envy of social mobility. A Bogan can quite happily discuss political issues and comment on topics presented in the media. If a voting ballot had a “No Confidence” box, a Bogan would prefer to tick that box.

In a turning of the tables, instead of being the one without transferable skills, a Bogan sees a politician as having no redeeming value to society. A Bogan’s strong sense of loyalty and mateship means that to betray that loyalty or to be self-serving and prone to rhetoric is to be rejected. A Bogan is good with their hands and is very practical-minded, so talking in abstraction leads to rejection.

This would indeed seem to lend itself to a party or politician with working class roots, but would extend beyond a union background. To have a working class background is not enough, as the voice of the Bogans would have to be someone without any form of political background. Toeing the party line is not in our vocabulary, and any voice’s first responsibility would be to the Bogans they represent. Not to the political party. A Bogan politician would then be an oxymoron, and could only really ever be an independent. Politicians are viewed as having their party’s interests at heart first, not the people’s.

The mainstream news media only confirm this belief of the worthlessness of politicians, with stories of who is wearing what scarf or pulling whose ponytail. Political pundits are guilty too, using labels or groups that are in vogue, to try and make opinion columns more relevant and entertaining. But in the process they quickly forget that they are talking about real people and not theoretical abstractions.

The Bogan leaves the political circus to the clowns. This could explain the resurgence of the previously mentioned Winston Peters. Bogans respect a person who attacks politicians. A slogan like “Keeping them Honest” resonates strongly with a Bogan’s values. Beyond that, a Bogan’s political views are their own.

So good luck to Labour, or to any other political party, but before you chase the Bogan vote you have to prove the worth of politicians in general first. And that’s a steep uphill battle that will not be achieved prior to the next election.

So thanks Chris for the column, I thoroughly enjoyed it. But, and this may be your point, the system is not set up in a way that Bogans can make use of easily. So we’ll continue to sit on the fringes, using what voices we have to keep saying “No,” regardless of which party comes a courtin’.

And please, never compare us to Juggalos again.


 Dr Dave Snell has a PhD in Boganology from Waikato University, and he and his Bogan cohort feature in the new TV show Bogans, coming soon to TV2.


A week on from the housing controversy

by Rob Salmond

Last week, Labour released figures indicating ethnic Chinese recently purchased 39.5% of Auckland homes, while the Auckland population is only 9% ethnically Chinese.

Not surprisingly, there was much scrutiny of this decision, and the analysis that lay behind it.

I did the data work for this story, and I stand by both the analysis and by Labour’s decision to raise this issue of offshore real estate investment in Auckland .

Labour cares about this because the Kiwi dream of home ownership is rapidly slipping away from young New Zealanders of all ethnicities. Labour wants more restrictions on offshore real estate investment, in order to protect that part of the Kiwi lifestyle.

So far, the Government’s inaction and half-measures are only making the problem worse.

If releasing these data gets us any closer to protecting that dream for all New Zealanders, it did a good thing.

The Financial Times recently reported a rapidly rising tide of investment capital from China flooding cities like New York, London, Sydney, and Vancouver. We believe we’re seeing the same in Auckland. Labour’s data adds more evidence for that conclusion.

Some suggested the analysis was basically Phil Twyford and me sitting in a room asking: “who sounds Chinese?”

Of course, that’s not what we did.

After I published Labour’s method online, Keith Ng, Tze Ming Mok, and Chuan-Zheng Lee - all skilled analysts, all otherwise critical on this topic - all agreed the name-based ethnicity analysis was statistically sound, robust, and accurate.

Of course, they and others retained other criticisms of our work, relating to the steps after the main data analysis. I’ve engaged with them online through the last week, addressing their concerns and presenting additional data to support Labour’s conclusions.

Other commentators, however, have demeaned themselves with cartoonish hyperbole. Phil Quin resigned his role as Labour’s resident fly-in-its-own-ointment while comparing the data release to the Rwandan genocide. That’s obviously absurd. Anyone repeating his claim showed the same lack of perspective.

Their overreaction was mirrored, in less extreme forms, by others on the left of New Zealand politics.

Many were quick to accuse Labour of overt racism, despite Labour’s proud record on race relations in New Zealand.

Labour’s intention was always to talk about offshore money, and never to conflate ethnicity with nationality, or to make life more fraught for any group of New Zealanders.

In some of the reaction, self-appointed experts decided Labour had lost all its principles entirely, and instantly transformed itself into a pack of nihilist, racist, poll-driven Machiavellis. Those same activists decried those same Labour MPs in 2014 for being too PC, and too consumed with identity politics.

The kneejerk, instant 180-degree shift in their long-held assessment betrays how little thought went into it.

For some of those activists, I’ve come to the disappointing view that the only thing they enjoy more than progressive change is criticizing the pragmatic agents of that change.

If they sat in Goldilocks’ chair, they would rubbish the porridge as both too hot and too cold.

Here’s my challenge my fellow travellers on the New Zealand left: just once, let’s have a discussion about a sensitive issue without eating ourselves in the process.

Having said that, one group I think did not overreact – despite their strongly critical stance - was the New Zealand Chinese community, including Keith, Tze Ming, and Chuan-Zheng. Their criticism was less about Labour’s intentions, and more about the impact of these revelations on ethnically Chinese New Zealanders.

I want to be clear on this: Nobody should read anything in our data analysis as being critical of Kiwis who happen to have Chinese ethnicity. I do not see them as part of the offshore real estate speculation issue. Far from it. They are among its victims, along with every other family trying to buy the roof over their head in Auckland.


This column was originally published in the Sunday Star Times. It has been republished here for discussion.


Jim's Festival

by James Rae Brown

Again this year, James Rae Brown is attending plenty of screenings at the New Zealand International Film Festival and working as an usher at quite a few more. And he's going to make a short video review of every film he sees.

The first batch begins with the gala opening night and The Lobster:

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night:

Marie's Story:

And finally, Winkles:

Feel free to add your own thoughts and reviews. If you want to embed a YouTube video in a comment, paste in the video URL (not the embed code) and it will automagically embed.


Identification strategy: Now it’s personal

by Tze Ming Mok

Last week I filled in a survey about what the NZ Labour Party should do with itself. Half-facetiously I wrote something like: “Do it like the right does it. Lie about your true beliefs to appeal to ‘middle New Zealand’, win power, then underhandedly push through a radical left-wing agenda to end poverty and inequality.’

Guys, this is not what I meant. Thanks for listening but, to employ an ancient saying of my culture, UR DOING IT RONG. And thank you Keith Ng , for so forcefully explaining many of the reasons why it is wrong, in the manner of a genteel professor tearing your face off and shoving it down your throat in a white-hot stats rage. 

To start with, like Keith I found it hard to separate my stats rage from my race rage.[1] Amid the clusterfuck of Chinese-house-craziness today, American real estate bots have started following me on Twitter. Not kidding.

Phil Twyford and the Herald deserved all they got from the Ng Army. Reporting or communicating statistics is one of the times when it is entirely right to shoot the messenger; to shoot him and stomp on his pitiful corpse. The messenger is the one who does all the harm. But as for the study itself? Let’s get to defending its very existence in a moment, but the methodology and conclusions?

I don’t have any problem with the suggestion that foreign PRC-based investors are buying loads of houses in New Zealand (as are foreign white people but no-one cares about them, because the narrative is about predation from China, not our own stupid lack of regulation).

And even though it’s easy to mock, I also think it’s quite likely that whatever Bayesian analysis the Labour Party used for the ‘Chinese-sounding names’ was a reasonable enough proxy for people of Chinese ethnicity. (Personally, I’d like to get Rob Salmond’s estimate of the probability of the unfortunate ‘Lena Mok’ being Dutch or German.) 

I would even go so far as to say that it’s pretty reasonable that when looking at the proportion of probable Chinese names in the Labour Party dataset as compared with resident Chinese population size, and controlling (or weighting) for demographic and income factors alone, that the overrepresentation of Chinese people buying houses suggests that they are not all local residents.

However there is no realistic way of even guessing the magnitude of that overrepresentation, because even with your Census-based weighting, there is no way of controlling for cultural factors among local Chinese when it comes to buying houses. This is because no-one has researched what they might be. Comparing us to Indians is not good enough, sorry.

Full disclosure: My Chinese parents have been living in Auckland for over 40 years, and in that time, have bought eight houses in their names and sold two. They fucking looooove buying houses. I think my parents caused the Auckland property bubble. If they did, it was because they bought into the ‘Kiwi Dream’ big time, like all the other idiots in this town – and because for immigrants, buying property means security and connection not foreignness and exclusion.  I don’t say this as some anecdotal evidence of how it might be possible that locally resident Chinese bought all the ‘Chinese name’ houses. I say it to show you that it’s very very hard for Chinese people not to take this personally.

Man, for Chinese immigrants in the West, buying houses is almost on a par culturally with food. It’s like you’re giving us shit for eating.

With Phil Twyford lying in a bloody puddle somewhere, my stats rage is somewhat cooler. But my old friend race rage is creeping back.  It doesn’t matter if 90% of those ‘Chinese sounding names’ really are PRC hot-money investors; for the rest of us under suspicion of being foreign, we know Labour was ready to throw us under the bus.

The Labour study is one of those bits of analysis that comes together because no other data is available to answer the question you really want answered; and is convenient simply because – and this is very important – Chinese people are identifiable.

If your identification strategy for locating the cause of the housing bubble boils down to ‘What minority group can we effectively single out because of their weird names?’, this is NOT SOMETHING YOU SHOULD EVER ADMIT. Not only does it make the Labour Party sound inherently racist and not to be trusted, it makes social science sound inherently racist and not to be trusted. In a perfect world, I’d be able to love them both unconditionally, and stats rage and race rage would not be a problem.

I can’t actually remember the last time that this much effort has been put by any political party into singling out Chinese people (as opposed to ‘Asians’) for their probability of being ‘foreign’.

And if Labour put this much effort into programming an algorithm to identify us, I wonder if it also estimated how many New Zealand Chinese votes this study would cost them.

The real question is not ‘oh, ha ha this doesn’t look like a very reliable method for guessing whether someone is Chinese.’  (It probably is).  It is not ‘could local Chinese possibly be buying all of these houses?’ (It is possible, but not very likely).

The real question is what did the Labour Party think it was doing taking this public.  If they just fucked up, so far so familiar. If they did this on purpose for well-calculated reasons – and it works – we Chinese-sounding named people are in way more trouble in New Zealand than we ever thought we would be again.

[1] Since I stopped being the shouty Asian girl on Public Address, I moved to London, studied quantitative research methodologies, and became better at maths than Keith. So I have stats rage/race rage confusion on a daily basis. 


House-buying patterns in Auckland

by Rob Salmond

As people will have seen, Labour has obtained real estate data, scrutinized and published by the New Zealand Herald, showing 39.5% of the Auckland houses sold went to people who appear to be ethnically Chinese. This is a large discrepancy from the 9% of the Auckland population who are ethnically Chinese.

Labour believes this analysis illustrates the large scale of foreign investment in the Auckland real estate market, particularly from China, pushing up prices and denying New Zealand families of any ethnicity the opportunity to own the roof over their heads. 

Critics – including PA’s own Keith Ng – believe the data show nothing at all and argue Labour is showing racism or xenophobia.

I did the quantitative analysis for Labour on this, and I think critics are operating under some misconceptions.

First, and to get it out of the way, these data to not – repeat, not – 100% prove the residency status of any particular buyer. Everyone agrees on that.

But the standard for using data in policy debates has never been: “you’ve got 100% proof at an individual level, or you’ve got nothing.” If it were, then we would have nothing pretty much all the time. Opinion polls, for example, never prove anything at the individual level, but it’s quite the nihilist who says they don’t provide any helpful information.

As always, the aim is to reasonably know more today than we reasonably knew yesterday. We, collectively, triangulate on the truth.

So, what are the objections to what Labour did? There are two main alternative explanations offered for the statistics Labour uncovered:

  • Resident ethnically Chinese Aucklanders buy much more property than members of other ethnic groups; or
  • The data are biased.

 Do Chinese Aucklanders just like buying houses?

Of course that is possible that 126,000 Chinese Aucklanders bought the 1500 or so houses in this data set.   But it is plausible given these data?

First, Chinese Aucklanders tend to be young, and tend to have low incomes. While the ethnically Chinese population makes up 9% of Aucklanders, it makes up only 5% of Aucklanders on high incomes.

Second, the leaked data show that the ethnically Chinese house buyers tended to purchase flash houses. While ethnically Chinese buyers made up 39.5% of all sales, they made up over 49% of all sales worth over $1 million. That is another striking discrepancy.

This explanation now requires a small, relatively low income percentage of the population to be buying a very large percentage of the most expensive houses. At face value, that sounds unlikely.

Critics, however, believe this discrepancy can be explained because the Chinese population is growing strongly through immigration, meaning lots of people coming in with cash in hand due to the migration rules, and with the need to find somewhere to live, explaining disproportionate house buying.

Well, we have a good comparison case to test this idea: the ethnically Indian population in Auckland. It has 8% of the population, 6% of the high-earning population, and it is growing even more quickly than the ethnic Chinese population, including through immigration at similar rates. That means the Indian population is subject to similar dynamics of incoming capital for new residents, and has the same need to find new places to live.

So what proportion of Auckland homes are being bought by the ethnically Indian population? The data show they are buying 8.6% of the houses, more or less in line with their population share. Again, the discrepancy between ethnic Indians and ethnic Chinese is striking.

The “resident Chinese Aucklanders on a real estate bender” theory now additionally requires that population to buy homes at about four times the rate of another ethnic group in broadly the same socioeconomic and immigration position.

I think you have to string a pretty long bow to believe all those things at once. The explanation, while possible, is implausible.


Are the data just biased?

The short answer here is that nobody knows, because nobody has the proper industry-wide information. Actually, Labour has been calling for those data for years now. But we can glean clues from elsewhere:

First, the Herald says sales from this firm account for 45% of all house sales in Auckland. That’s a substantial segment of the market. It’s a bit like doing a non-random opinion poll on around 2 million New Zealanders – while it won’t be perfect, it’s likely to tell you something pretty helpful.

Second, further – previously unpublished – analysis of the leaked data show that there is a strong correlation between the ethnicity of the sales agent and the ethnicity of the buyer. From the data:

  • Ethnically Chinese agents make about 71% of their sales to ethnically Chinese buyers;
  • Ethnically European agents make about 13% of their sales to ethnically Chinese buyers.

This means if there are multiple real estate firms in Auckland with large numbers of ethnically Chinese agents, they are also likely making large numbers of sales to ethnically Chinese purchasers.

One such firm is Harcourts, whose market share is less than 45% meaning it is likely not the subject of the leak. This morning I found no fewer than 89 Auckland-based Harcourts agents with common, ethnically Chinese names. This suggests at a minimum that a second large Auckland real estate firm is making large numbers of sales to ethnic Chinese buyers, whether resident or not.

The combination of the size of the leaked dataset and the presence of agents likely to target the ethnic Chinese market in at least one other large firm suggest that any bias in these data is likely to be modest.

 In sum, the large disconnect between the ethnic distribution of Aucklanders and the ethnic distribution of Auckland house buyers has three explanations. The prima facie explanation is that the two groups draw from different populations, with non-resident ethnic Chinese making a large impact. The alternative explanations are both not “contradicted” but certainly “contra-indicated” by other analysis of the leaked data, and by other relevant data.

Can Labour prove that any individual buyer is foreign? No. All we have is their last name.

But can Labour conclude on the preponderance of all available evidence from the aggregate data that there is likely a large impact of offshore investment from China in Auckland’s real estate market? Yes.