Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: Be the party of good science

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  • Russell Brown,

    It would seem to me that one of the big "pointy-headed urban liberalism" policies of the last labour government was the Civil Union Act. I rather like the fact that the state will recognise my relationship. Is this genuinely the sort of stuff we want to criticise because the mushy socially conservative, economically populist middle don't like it?

    It's also worth noting that the first Prime Minister to promise civil unions was Jenny Shipley. She just didn't have the nerve to actually do it.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 18800 posts Report Reply

  • Danyl Mclauchlan,

    Dismiss that as electorally stupid if you want, but a lot of the unpopular social engineering was the right thing to do.

    No one is disputing that civil unions were the right thing to do: National didn't campaign against it, Labour haven't apologised for it. You're trying to reframe the debate to more defensible territory.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 901 posts Report Reply

  • R A Hurley,

    The only reason this occurs is because of the lack of will and talent displayed by journalists. When journalists only want a one sentence answer then complex issues can never be explained. When interviewers interrupt and derail experts who are trying to explain things then the public never even has the chance.

    I agree with you entirely. But this, in turn, raises the question of why the media is in such a sorry state? If a majority of the public really wanted better journalism, wouldn't we have it?

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 56 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    No one is disputing that civil unions were the right thing to do: National didn't campaign against it, Labour haven't apologised for it. You're trying to reframe the debate to more defensible territory.

    So are you!

    It's a fact that civil unions were part of the urban-liberal-minority-lovin' grab bag that was a key focus of campaigning against Labour in the election that followed.

    That's why Don Brash made his sudden flip-flop on the issue, and why McCully so assiduously cultivated the very same Christian conservative networks that opposed the bill. In the end, only three National MPs voted in favour of the bill.

    CUs weren't apologised for in Goff's speech. But they weren't cited as an achievement either.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 18800 posts Report Reply

  • Caleb D'Anvers,

    Danyl, and I think the relevant Standardistas pushing this line, are straight white males. Its easier to dismiss things as 'social engineering', 'nanny state' and (to quote Danyl) "the tendency of many on the left to reduce almost every debate to a grievance issue that puts them offside with 99% of the population," when you're not a member of the small minority with a genuine grievance.

    I take your point, but still think that the movement really needs to have a conversation about the influence of the New Left, and the long-term viability of its associated ideologies. Many, I think quite rightly, suspect that the main contribution of the "personal is political" to the Left has been the movement's increasing atomization and its frustrating tendency to focus on the purely symbolic. There's been a corresponding unwillingness to talk about the "big picture," economically speaking. And it's here that we might start talking about the accommodation, since the Lange government, between social liberalism and economic liberalism. To what extent has the decision to focus on individual rights and social issues been a kind of symptom of neoliberalism itself, of individualism and consumerism more generally?

    On the other hand, I'm a straight, white-enough-to-pass male, so I guess I would say that.

    East Greenwich • Since Mar 2008 • 422 posts Report Reply

  • Andrew E,

    If Labour is serious about concentrating on the economic issues it should make sure its policies don't result in a continuation of the growth in the gap between the poor and rich, which is what happened last time.

    However, that is tinkering at the margin compared to the real challenge for a future government: beginning to prepare the country for life when the impacts of climate change in other countries start to have downstream effects here. It is not going to keep them out with what passes for a Navy, so what is it going to do with all the boatloads of refugees when they arrive?

    Someone up the thread mentioned 'sustainable growth'. When are people going to learn that is an oxymoron?

    174.77 x 41.28 • Since Sep 2008 • 197 posts Report Reply

  • Brickley Paiste,

    you seem to be confusing your populace's a bit there

    My populace's what?

    So you are saying that WWII soldiers got a welfare state as a reward?

    Yes

    Obama is not george w, he's not billy clinton, he's not bush the elder

    Oh, I reckon he's all of those with a good dose of Reagan. Gun control? Increase minimum wage? Insist of public option for health care? Cut military spending? Send more children off to kill children in Afghanistan? Wait, cut that last one.

    He's trying to walk 260 million odd people into this century.

    Lucky them.

    but yes winning elections is a prerequsite for good governing.

    It's a prerequisite for taking executive power. I guarantee he won't change jack shit and by the end of his last term he'll be as hated and compromised as every other president.

    If a majority of the public really wanted better journalism, wouldn't we have it?

    Yes, but they don't so we don't. Most people don't care. Most people don't read or talk about things other than what is on TV.

    If anything, welfare today is far more widely spread and administered according to need

    Too bad we can't say the same about incomes. If that is so it is probably because back then you could work and have enough money to live a reasonably comfortable life. Now you can clean office buildings all night after working at a call centre all day.

    CUs weren't apologised for in Goff's speech. But they weren't cited as an achievement either.

    Nice point. An apology by omission.

    Since Mar 2009 • 163 posts Report Reply

  • Andrew E,

    But this, in turn, raises the question of why the media is in such a sorry state? If a majority of the public really wanted better journalism, wouldn't we have it?

    No, we wouldn't. The public - all of them that I've encountered - do want higher quality reporting and commentary on public affairs. But print news media is a dying commodity entertainment product, and high quality journalism costs money that eats into owners (most non-existent already) profits. Broadcast media could do better, but again, high quality journalism costs money and may not be 'sexy' in televisual terms. And that's before you get into any conflicts of interest between news programmes on advertising-funded TV channels.

    174.77 x 41.28 • Since Sep 2008 • 197 posts Report Reply

  • Steve Parks,

    Goff would have been a lot smarter to actually attack the cheapness of such empty words as "nannystate", "politically correct" and " social engineering."

    I agree. I understand the concern of The Standard writer and some here who see the need to choose your battles, but that seems to have been taken too far. Labour can't focus solely on economic issues, and avoid social ones just because some rightwingers might screech "PC gone mad" or "won't somebody think of the children!" or whatever trite slogans they latch on to these days.

    Wellington • Since May 2007 • 1141 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    There's been a corresponding unwillingness to talk about the "big picture," economically speaking. And it's here that we might start talking about the accommodation, since the Lange government, between social liberalism and economic liberalism. To what extent has the decision to focus on individual rights and social issues been a kind of symptom of neoliberalism itself, of individualism and consumerism more generally?

    Interesting framing: the nanny state as a symptom of a focus on "individual rights and social issues". Is that what you're saying?

    Personally, I'm socially liberal and, to some degree, economically liberal. I'd struggle to vote Labour if it really were to turn wholesale to the "old school socialist economic platform" that Danyl is recommending, especially given the implication is that it would also become socially conservative to match.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 18800 posts Report Reply

  • Kyle Matthews,

    I guess that depends what you mean by an old school socialist economic platform.

    If we're going to pull stuff from the book of Marx, sure. But if it's about maintaining a decent welfare state, education and healthcare paid by a central tax system, these are still at heart popular concepts in New Zealand, despite being 'old school', and pretty socialist.

    Since Nov 2006 • 6162 posts Report Reply

  • Idiot Savant,

    Danyl, and I think the relevant Standardistas pushing this line, are straight white males. Its easier to dismiss things as 'social engineering', 'nanny state' and (to quote Danyl) "the tendency of many on the left to reduce almost every debate to a grievance issue that puts them offside with 99% of the population," when you're not a member of the small minority with a genuine grievance.

    The desire on the part of some to throw women, gays and Maori overboard for electoral advantage is not endeering. I didn't like it when Don Brash did it, I hate it even more from the left.

    Palmerston North • Since Nov 2006 • 1634 posts Report Reply

  • R A Hurley,

    No, we wouldn't. The public - all of them that I've encountered - do want higher quality reporting and commentary on public affairs. But print news media is a dying commodity entertainment product, and high quality journalism costs money that eats into owners (most non-existent already) profits. Broadcast media could do better, but again, high quality journalism costs money and may not be 'sexy' in televisual terms. And that's before you get into any conflicts of interest between news programmes on advertising-funded TV channels.

    i understand your point, but what is "'sexy' in televisual terms" is driven by ratings, is it not? ratings might be a flawed measurement - and from what little i've heard, they are - but they are, despite this, broadly populist... advertising must also pay heed to viewer/reader numbers...

    i might be wrong about all of this... i really don't know... and i don't mean to seem combative... but it seems reasonable that the existing model - dying commodity entertainment newspapers and conflict-of-interest with advertising news programmes alike - must be being rewarded in the marketplace... and, with advertising and sales figures being such prominent metrics, at least some of that reward must be coming from public patronage...

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 56 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen,

    If a majority of the public really wanted better journalism, wouldn't we have it?

    I don't think the public have much say in what the media presents. I'm not an expert - if only there were someone here who had years of experience in the media...

    My understanding is that the media as we have it today is a product, marketed like any other product. Market research is used to figure out what will sell and then accountants play with numbers to compare costs of production versus revenue. In the end what we see is the product with the lowest cost that still brings in the revenue.

    That may not be what the market research said the public wanted but instead may be what will have the highest return on investment.

    When you add into the equation the factor that many media people believe the public can be convinced to want something they don't otherwise want...

    Well I doubt very much that the media we see at 6pm and in the newspapers is even close to what the public want. It is instead the highest profit product that can be made for the lowest cost.

    That is starting to change as more people use teh intertubes to find information.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3298 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    But if it's about maintaining a decent welfare state, education and healthcare paid by a central tax system, these are still at heart popular concepts in New Zealand, despite being 'old school', and pretty socialist.

    I'd sign up to all those as core principles. But I was at a grassroots left meeting this year where the sentiment seemed so anti-business it worried me.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 18800 posts Report Reply

  • Gareth Ward,

    I'd struggle to vote Labour if it really were to turn wholesale to the "old school socialist economic platform" that Danyl is recommending

    As would I. The second-term of the last Labour Govt was their highlight for me - what with Kiwisavers and prefunded Supers and (poor, but something) R&D credits and CUs and the core of WFF (even if the edges needed work).

    I fear we end up with a conservative (i.e. hands off and leave the economy to stagnate in a 1980s stylee) vs "unionist" (can't think of right term but screw the fat cats, care ONLY about redistribution not creation etc) option for economic policy in our political landscape. All power to those who fall into those lines, but it ain't doing much for me.

    Auckland, NZ • Since Mar 2007 • 1721 posts Report Reply

  • Idiot Savant,

    I take your point, but still think that the movement really needs to have a conversation about the influence of the New Left, and the long-term viability of its associated ideologies.

    Alternatively, we could have one about the deadness of the Old Left, and its long-term viability.

    In case you hadn't noticed, class isn't the organising principle it was in Marx's day.

    Many, I think quite rightly, suspect that the main contribution of the "personal is political" to the Left has been the movement's increasing atomization and its frustrating tendency to focus on the purely symbolic. There's been a corresponding unwillingness to talk about the "big picture," economically speaking.

    Clearly those of us who take the language of equality seriously and believe that it isn't just about rich and poor should just STFU, take our lumps, and bow our heads in obediance to our self-appointed leaders of the economic-only left.

    Fuck that.

    And it's here that we might start talking about the accommodation, since the Lange government, between social liberalism and economic liberalism. To what extent has the decision to focus on individual rights and social issues been a kind of symptom of neoliberalism itself, of individualism and consumerism more generally?

    I'd rather see it as a success of the left's language of equality. Once you start taking it seriously, its something which relentlessly expands. Some of the areas it expands into are areas which parts of the right support as well. Only the insanely tribal would see that as a Bad Thing.

    If the left isn't for individual freedom (in its substantive sense of requiring the economic resources to be actually realised rather than merely theoretical), then what is it for? A dead worldview of DWM union bosses? Again, fuck that.

    Labour can't focus solely on economic issues, and avoid social ones just because some rightwingers might screech "PC gone mad" or "won't somebody think of the children!" or whatever trite slogans they latch on to these days.

    And if they do, they'll lose a large chunk of their current activist base. But if they want to commit suicide in that fashion, we would unquestionably be better off without them anyway.

    Palmerston North • Since Nov 2006 • 1634 posts Report Reply

  • Idiot Savant,

    I fear we end up with a conservative (i.e. hands off and leave the economy to stagnate in a 1980s stylee) vs "unionist" (can't think of right term but screw the fat cats, care ONLY about redistribution not creation etc) option for economic policy in our political landscape. All power to those who fall into those lines, but it ain't doing much for me.

    Looking at Labour's actual economic policies, they still seem very interested in creation. They are still commited to things like R&D credits, the fast forward fund, and to stacking the labour market to drive productivity growth. As for redistribution, they'll defend WFF and Kiwisaver, but have already sworn off any tax changes. In other words, they're happy to see inequality - and all its resulting social ills - increase.

    If anything, they need more redistributive policies, while retaining their smart growth focus of the past few years. But when they're crawling back to the centre, I doubt we'll see anything like that in the near future.

    Palmerston North • Since Nov 2006 • 1634 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    On condoms, from a 2007 House of Commons Hansard:

    Condom provision must be free because, as with any consumer product, the higher the price, the lower the take-up. In the July 2004 edition of The Lancet the RAND corporation reported an interesting experiment that proves the point. The corporation distributed 13 million free condoms annually in Louisiana through almost 2,000 retail outlets and publicly funded clinics. After three years, there was an increase in condom use from 40 to 54 per cent. by men and from 28 to 36 per cent. by women. At the end of the three years, the corporation tried to recoup some of the programme’s costs by selling heavily subsidised condoms to retail outlets and letting them resell the condoms for just 25 cents each. Instantly, condom distribution nose-dived by 98 per cent. Free distribution was reinstated, and condom use rose again.

    As the author of the RAND report says:

    “The lesson: even in the world’s richest country, the right price for condoms is zero.”

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 18800 posts Report Reply

  • Angus Robertson,

    Setting energy efficiency standards for lightbulbs isn't the nanny state, or a "sideshow": it's a practical step with a manifest economic benefit. The sideshow wasn't the policy; it was the consequent wave of pseudo-scientific alarmism and confused appeals to liberty that greeted it. The people crusading for their light-bulb liberty were, in effect, declaring their wish for the government to spend more tax dollars on one or two new electric power stations.

    Yes, the lightbulbs are a good choice to make. Yes, they will save power stations being built. In fact the benefits of curly bulbs are so manifest it would take an idiot (or a conspiracy theorist) not to appreciate them. Today, more and more people do buy the curly bulbs. People do this by thinking for themselves and seeing the benefits, its almost like NZers are not piss ignorant idiots.

    What does it say about a government that thinks it needs to take such an easy choice out of the hands of ordinary New Zealanders? Do they think we are stupid?

    Auckland • Since May 2007 • 984 posts Report Reply

  • Danyl Mclauchlan,

    What does it say about a government that thinks it needs to take such an easy choice out of the hands of ordinary New Zealanders? Do they think we are stupid?

    I'd even go so far as to say it would have been a good idea to put a surtax on the old bulbs and a subsidy on the CFLs to give people ecomomic incentives to change, while still leaving people with a choice. My Father was very angry with the lightbulb ban, not because he's a climate change denier but because almost every light switch in his house is on a dimmer switch, CFLs blow up if you put them into those sockets and he was going to have to get his whole house rewired. He wasn't terribly impressed with the Green/Labour position that anyone protesting the ban was a far-right flat earth luddite.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 901 posts Report Reply

  • R A Hurley,

    When you add into the equation the factor that many media people believe the public can be convinced to want something they don't otherwise want...

    This is a very good point, and - if true - goes a long way to negating my position. But, as to the truth of it, I can't say. Watching 'Century of the Self' and being addicted to Mad Men aren't qualification enough to argue that one.

    Having said that. I'm sceptical for two reasons. Firstly, are people really homogenous enough to be subtly manipulated in great enough numbers to allow you to get away with cutting a few corners on the investigative journalism front? Is the effort worth the reward? And secondly, it does seem to imply a kind of top-down, shadowy cabal, kind of deliberate manipulation. I wonder if that's really what goes on in the boardrooms of big media companies.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 56 posts Report Reply

  • Idiot Savant,

    What does it say about a government that thinks it needs to take such an easy choice out of the hands of ordinary New Zealanders? Do they think we are stupid?

    You can make the same argument about any form of consumer regulation: unsafe food, unsafe cars, products that do not work as advertised, rip-off loans. And the answer is that not everyone does serious due-dilligence whenever they buy a lightbulb (or a car, or a happy meal, or a heater), and that in the absence of regulation some will inevitably be ripped-off. Consumer regulation protects us against this. And to turn your argument back on you, if its a choice you think no sane person would ever make anyway, why are you so upset to lose it?

    Palmerston North • Since Nov 2006 • 1634 posts Report Reply

  • Kyle Matthews,

    What does it say about a government that thinks it needs to take such an easy choice out of the hands of ordinary New Zealanders? Do they think we are stupid?

    There's a straw man argument which would only make sense if everyone had rushed out and bought power-saving lightbulbs, which they clearly haven't.

    Old heat producing lightbulbs are a "freedom of choice to beat yourself about the head" argument. To completely jump threads and steal from Graeme - if we're going to deny choice, there has to be a decent reason to do it. For me "the alternative is really stupid for umpteen reasons" is pretty decent.

    Since Nov 2006 • 6162 posts Report Reply

  • Peter Martin,

    My Father was very angry with the lightbulb ban, not because he's a climate change denier but because almost every light switch in his house is on a dimmer switch, CFLs blow up if you put them into those sockets

    There are CFLs which are made just for dimmer controls,Danyl.

    Perhaps it is indicative of the discussion around them that this isn't yet common knowledge and still a talking point for not having them.

    Dunedin • Since Nov 2006 • 184 posts Report Reply

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