Let’s say one coalition group bans certain kinds of protest, with disproportionate penalties for those involved, removes democratically elected regional representatives and refuses to reinstate full elections for the area, and proposes to allow our international spying agency to spy domestically, despite also having a domestic spying agency for that job, and then refuses to answer questions on the matter.

The other coalition group proposes to use some seed money to build houses which it will later recoup, and to set up a single-payer system to keep power prices down while still allowing generators to make a reasonable profit.

One of these coalitions could be forgiven for comparing the other to an authoritarian regime like the Soviet Union.

If you thought it was the first one, then you either have no idea about what being an authoritarian means, or you’re a National Party hack. (because at this stage, who’s even left in the Act or United Future parties, and does the Maori Party really ever want to go into coalition with National again?) I wouldn’t care to speculate between ignorance and malice, however.

The single payer model has been shown to work very well in cases where there is a captive market, like for power and healthcare, where consumers can only choose between providers, but have little choice about whether to buy or not. This is well-tested policy, which anyone who took an interest in politics as anything other than a points-scoring exercise should know. This is the first strong policy announcement by Labour and the Greens, and it was presented as a complementary approach with both parties adopting synergistic policies, and competing in a friendly manner for our vote.

Both parties’ job now is to keep following this precedent. Labour has finally realised it has room to its left, and the Greens have welcomed them to the club again. If Shearer can restrain himself from moving back right, and maintain genuine populism instead of the fake middle-of-the-road sort of nonsense we were seeing before, we could be looking at the beginning of a change in government.

A breach is not a leak

Posted: April 3, 2013 in media
Tags: , , ,

Much of the recent discussion of EQC’s privacy issues has a glaring semantic error which is colouring the story. Most notably, they mostly describe the two recent incidents as “leaks”. This is a very incorrect usage of this term. When you accidentally e-mail a file to the wrong recipient, and it contains private or personal information, what you have is a privacy breach.

When you deliberately e-mail a file with the intent of either revealing the information to a concerned party without official authorisation, or with the intent of creating publicity around an issue, that is a leak.

Privacy breaches require preventative action and are usually not a cause for individual censorship, unless there is good policy in place to prevent the breach, and can often be a matter of systems or workplace culture enabling human error. Leaks are more about the motivations and intent of the individual who performed the leak, and may not even be a bad thing overall, if done with care and for an overriding ethical reason that is not adequately weighted in official policy. For example, what the recipient of the most recent breach is threatening to do by releasing the information to media, that is actually a leak.

So, unless you’ve been living under a rock, or are from outside our fine country of Aotearoa New Zealand, you’ve probably heard a lot about the Living Wage recently, given some pretty exciting advocacy that’s going on for it, especially in the context of a measly 25c raise to the minimum wage in a country where productivity has still risen higher than wages have. (ie. we are getting underpaid for the same amount of work, when compared to our parents and grandparents at our ages) And that’s not even mentioning the government’s stone-hearted ambitions for a low-wage economy, with an anemic minimum wage.

A lot of the media coverage has focused on the difficulties of implementing a living wage for businesses that currently pay near the minimum wage for some workers. While it is reasonable to feature the challenges for employers, these complaints should not recieve the amount of coverage they have, as they’re really not relevant as the short-term challenges will go away when the stimulative effect of higher wages hits the economy as a whole in the form of increased purchases and tax revenues. (again and again, economists that study real data as opposed to models have shown us that putting money into the pockets of people with low wages is the best way to grow the economy, because they will actually spend that money because they have a lot of unmet needs and wants) There has been roughly equal coverage on these difficulties and the novel (to the press, and to people working in service industries, by and large) concept of being paid enough to take time off for family, or to be able to afford say, library fees, on top of rent and food for yourself and your family, if you support one.

Like many people probably will, I had a pang of insecurity about this news- I’m not paid that much more than the living wage myself, and I’m working in a very high-stress environment where I’m held accountable if I make any errors and yet still expected to deliver to a high standard on both quality and volume. But that doesn’t mean that people who are paid less than me now don’t deserve a raise- it probably just means I deserve one too, but that the market is broken and not set up to pay fair wages to people like me or more especially to people on the minimum wage.

We’re so eminently class-conscious, so afraid of this right-wing boogeyman of class war against the wealthy, (and by extension: those less-worthy people catching up to US, putting US on the bottom of the heap- as if the people on the bottom don’t deserve a fair go, too) that the people campaigning for higher wages aren’t talking about owning anything significant, about the equity in earning enough that you can reasonably afford the sorts of services you provide to other people, but rather that we’re merely talking about access to basic services, food, and rent. Granted, some trolls will think that say, internet is not a “basic service”,  but that’s getting into the territory of saying that you don’t deserve a microwave, or a freezer, because you’re a labourer rather than, say, a computer programmer or insurance analyst. Some of these services sound fancy when you consider the high-end uses of them, but we’re literally talking about entry-level internet here. Dialup if you’re in a city, or internet at all if you’re out in a relatively rural area. Being able to email your parents, or actually check wikipedia if you don’t understand something, or look up an obscure word quickly using an online dictionary, being able to request government forms online instead of waiting on hold.

We are setting our sights so low that the actual pushback against people who support the trends in our society of the median wage being more than twice the average wage1,  10% of the population owning a majority of the wealth in our country is literally as meagre and eminently reasonable as “please pay us enough that we can both have kids and afford to read or surf the net in our miniscule spare time”. Some elements of corporate culture have gotten so ridiculous that we ought to be pushing back against things like highly vertical workplace hierarchies, (which are a machine for bullying people, even if that bullying is only restricted to accepting unfairly low wages) executives getting paid more than their actual value to the organisation, and a demotivatingly high amount compared to on-the-ground workers, and we should be saying that we should get paid enough to save for a house, to pay off our student loans within a decade, to be able to save to travel. Those are actually ambitious goals for wages where there is some room to debate about the reasonability of everyone being able to afford those things. It’s ridiculous that to even get coverage about low wages we have to point out that some people are literally not paid enough to live a decent life.

While I’m anything but a labour activist, this quite clearly makes the case for unions in my mind- there needs to be an independent force that can exert some further upwards pressure for ordinary people’s wages, once we get everyone paying a living wage. This campaign is excessively reasonable, and there’s no way to argue against it without sounding like a buffoon or a heartless Scrooge. I want more than a living wage, and I think any skilled worker should be earning dollars more.

Read the rest of this entry »

The United States remains, at the moment, the last country without sensible regulation of firearms. Mostly due to a backwards and mendacious intepretation of a constitutional clause that was intended to allow people to fight in defense of their country.

But the Newtown killings threaten to change all that, and this is a good thing. While I don’t believe full disarmament is possible, and that it’s reasonable for people to carry rifles for self-defense or hunting, that doesn’t mean that some sort of massacre-prevention law is not necessary. It has been done in Australia, and America can do it too. While in terms of overall crime gun violence is not the largest problem, it is actually one of the easiest to solve, and only involves US Democrats standing up to an outsized lobby that doesn’t reflect the views of its members. Even NRA members favour reasonable massacre-prevention laws that might curtail some less useful or necessary gun rights.

For instance, while I would actually argue that legal adults are indeed entitled to own a single military weapon, there’s no need to allow them to buy unlimited amounts of ammunition unless there’s an imminent threat of invasion. Also, there’s no excuse for ever allowing a concealed firearm of any type- any gun carried should either be clearly visible, or be carried in a safety case that clearly notes it contains a firearm, and should always be carried separately from its ammunition.

Also, unless your job requires a handgun, I don’t see why anyone should ever have one outside of a firing range. Give police the right to inspect people for firearms and ammunition carried illegally in addition to this, and it becomes much harder for people to commit massacres, and your massacres are limited to less potent weapons in general, and people are less likely to commit them- see the difference in terms of a Japanese crime along the same lines. The killer with the knife was unable to injure or murder anywhere near as many people.

Now, I’m not an expert on these matters, but this isn’t a circle that needs to be squared. It’s a triangle where one side of the debate has been missing for many years, and Americans deserve safe schools and safe cities where gun violence doesn’t happen, and it’s quite possible to have very tight gun laws that still allow for legitimate use of firearms by, say, farmers.

As for the victim-blaming going on- look, the Newtown Killer’s mother is not to blame. She lived in a society that does not provide adequate help to people who are at risk for violent behaviour due to mental illness, (which by the way, is a clear minority) and she lived in a society where there was little to no safety net to prevent illegal use of her firearms. She is another tragic murder victim, and doesn’t deserve our criticism.

And as for the “we need MORE guns so that heroes can defeat the bad guys” or “arm teachers” memes, there’s been excellent discussion of why that’s a bad idea elsewhere, by someone who was raped and threatened by a gun owner. Unless we want vigilantes poking into all of our business, widespread gun ownership doesn’t solve as many crimes as it creates.

In any politically healthy country, the immediate, unprompted response would be an improvement of mental health services (with a focus on rehabilitating or caring for those with a risk of violent acts) and sensible gun control law. If the USA is to be a country where people feel safe, that will need to be their response this February, and now is the first time we’re being allowed to have that long-overdue conversation, which thanks to social media, the NRA cannot shut down.

Safe holidays and happy travels to all of you, most especially those of you in the USA.


Posted: August 13, 2012 in civil rights, democracy
Tags: , ,

The electoral commission has come back with its recommendations based on our feedback, and they’re tricky. I’ll go over them in a second, but first, I’d like to encourage everyone to read them in full,  and to make your own submission, if you have comments. If you don’t submit where you agree and disagree with the commission, further reviews will ignore your sorts of views in the future.

While on the surface of it, these recommendations might seem like mild pushes in the right direction in most areas, (other than the recommendation to allow the continued and harmful inflation of electorate seats well past three fifths of parliament) when taken in combination a few of them are deeply problematic. Rather than re-writing why, I’m going to paste my submission verbatim:

In principle I support the abolishment of the electorate threshold, but combined with the relatively high recommendation of a 4% list threshold, this is a recipe for the destruction of small parties in our political system and cannot be supported in this combination. Either both thresholds need to be abolished or neither.

I am also highly disappointed at the very high recommendation of a 4% threshold. The only functional change in this case is that established small parties will be able to more easily maintain party vote support once they start polling in the neighbourhood of five percent. This does nothing for the transition of electorate-anchored micro parties into genuine small or medium parties, who would have the chance to transition to a larger political force from a roughly .83% “win a list seat outright” threshold, or its abolition. I would also like to clarify that my support for a 1/120th of the vote threshold is not a “confusion about abolishing the threshold”, but rather an expression that the roughly .4% de-facto threshold of our formula for allocating list seats is too low, but that a 1% threshold would present a too high barrier for micro parties to transition to a party-vote strategy, as it would require parallel campaigning for both the party and electorate vote. There are genuine advantages to a small threshold between 2.5% and .4% that should not be discounted, although either option is by far preferable to the yawning gulf created between 1-person electorate parties and 4% threshold list parties that are likely to receive six or perhaps seven MPs if they just pass the threshold.

Between the electorate threshold abolition and the mere lowering of the party threshold to 4%, there is no demonstrated way for a party to transition from a single electorate MP to a multi-member party. The only party to successfully contest multiple electorates has been the Maori Party, which is a very unique case that arguably has more to do with the politics of Maori electorates than a general case for multiple electorate seat parties. Any changes we adopt must allow micro parties a feasible opportunity to expand beyond one MP.

I support the commission’s recommendations that dual candidacy and list MPs being allowed to contest by-elections continue. There are unintended consequences to those changes that could easily reduce the quality and diversity of representation in New Zealand.

I am disappointed but not altogether worried that parties are recommended to maintain control around the composition of their lists without even a mandate to hold a vote on the issue in some manner. There should be greater public participation and transparency around list selection, but still in such a way that allows political movements to have some degree of autonomy. Mandating a vote of party members is held and the results publicised, but not legislating any way that vote effects the list, would be the best way to do this. At the very least, parties should have to disclose all candidates that were nominated for their list in any fashion, and outline a formal nomination system to the public, even if it is restricted to members or the party’s inner circle. Some of these aims could be achieved without legislation, but very likely they would be restricted to a particular area of the political spectrum, which is not fair to voters of different opinions, who also deserve more say and transparency about their list candidates.

I support as a good but problematic first step the commission’s recommendation that overhang seats be abolished for parties that do not cross the party vote threshold, but I would prefer overhang seats were abolished altogether. This rule seems like an opportunity for a large party to deliberately tank their party vote and instead aggressively campaign for electorates, artificially inflating their allies’ levels of party vote support. Allowing a hole like that in our electoral system is even worse than allowing a small party to campaign only for electorate seats- at least a small party is unlikely to have the support to win more than a handful.

I think allowing a full 76 electorate seats is a risky decision that enhances the negative effects of both electorates and disproportionality. New Zealanders like to think they like electorate seats because we are enamoured of the idea of “our local MP”, but by far the least popular MPs are always in safe electorates, outside of which they are at best tolerated, but often infamous, including several small party leaders. Ideally the number of electorate seats should be capped at a third until such time as electorates are abolished in favour of some flavour of open list system, or if for some reason New Zealanders never tire of electorates, the number of MPs should grow as electorates are added to keep electorate MPs as approximately one third of the house.

In summary, I think the commission’s recommendation are moderate and well-intended, but that they do not represent any significant gains over the status-quo, and introduce new problems rather than solving existing ones. I would have been happy with moderate recommendations if they were geared to lead to a more robust electoral system that encourages participation, transparency, and political growth. (both of small parties when they represent the people well, and of good policy) While I understood that ultimately my modest but radical (as in “wanting to change the nature of our system” radical, not extremist) expectations of voting were unlikely to represent the will of the majority of submitters, I did expect more intellectual rigour from the commission’s recommendations, rather than simply taking the least objectionable path every time. The only brave stands were on dual candidacy and list MPs contending by-elections, where the commission just flat-out pointed out the ideas were dumb, although in their usual diplomatic way.
It’s a little astounding that the VERY modest support for raising the party vote threshold (usually from people who don’t understand it and just wanted to price all small parties out of existence) held back the commission from lowering it significantly. A threshold of 4% is little better than one of 5%, it’s merely stupid rather than ridiculous. 3% is the bare minimum at which small list parties start to become viable, and medium-sized list parties become safe. Any third party in New Zealand needs to become very large to avoid the possibility of decline under a 4 or 5% threshold, and as the Alliance proved, that still doesn’t prevent internal strife from ending the movement.

Idiot/Savant over at No Right Turn points out that labour want to be able to advertise on election day. (story) Labour’s general secretary whines that other countries allow it, name-calls the provision banning election-day advertising as “puritanical”, and cites the number of people making last-minute decisions about their vote as a justification.

Actually, this is a good reason to push back advertising even further from election day in favour of other modes of political campaigning. I’d like to see billboard advertising, TV/radio ads, and print/web ads banned a week before, while still allowing the broadcasting of debates, speeches, or other in-person political modes of engagement. That would provide us a much “realer” picture of the campaign, and take the advantage away from big-money parties- then we can have our full shut-off on election day, and drive the sorts of grassroots political engagement that people think they get from electorates.

The Labour Party should be ashamed that one of their own senior members suggested the idea. The time off from the campaign on election day is critical, and to be honest, relieving. It is not puritanical or mean-spirited, it is a chance for everyone who is tired of politics to take a breath of fresh air, make sure they’ve made their final decision, and go and vote.

There’s been a lot of noise from the right wing in this country that ignoring the family first referendum and going ahead with the §59 repeal is the same as the government of today ignoring the keep our assets campaign and going ahead with the mixed ownership model bill. (which I am now shortening to ‘MOM’)

As promised, here are more than three reasons why that’s rubbish:

  1. The previous referendum didn’t actually address what the bill did, it addressed a strawman of the bill that hasn’t come to life since. No innocent parents are being arrested for symbolic smacks. It was possible to say ‘no’ to the referendum question while still supporting the repeal- in fact, I convinced some people that they actually wanted to vote ‘yes’, to more clearly express their support for the repeal.
  2. It’s unlikely that people will deliberately spoil their ballots en masse to express their disdain for the current referendum question. A significant number of people did so for the previous referendum.
  3. The justification for repealing §59 was never that the public supported it. It was purely on the merits of the policy, and parliament (because the repeal enjoyed broad support of almost all of that parliament, in the end) was okay with owning that decision and going with policy over politics.
  4. One basic democratic ideal is that of continuous consent. We live in a democracy, but the government is trying to claim it doesn’t need continuous consent from the public by claiming that the election was a mandate for asset sales.
  5. Some argue that the public misunderstand the MOM. But all of the public criticism of these asset sales still applies.

To go into each of these a little deeper…

Firstly, the §59 repeal was a very specific bill geared towards removing a defense for the crime of assault, with the aim of making prosecution of serious child abuse easier in cases that went before a jury. If the question were to address the repeal bill, it should have asked “Should we repeal reasonable force as a defense for parents or guardians charged with assaulting children under their care?” It did not aim to prosecute ordinary parents for smacking, whether said smacking was “good” or not.

Secondly, if the question is so atrocious in a referendum that people are protesting it by spoiling their ballots, then something is seriously wrong with it and using it as a justification for anything is spurious at best. I won’t deny it did indicate that there was a lot of ill will about the repeal bill, but that’s okay. The left owned an unpopular decision, and I think it has actually made us a better country for having the debate, as it has reduced tolerance for both outright child abuse, and for corporal punishment.

Thirdly, there are two models for justifying a given policy. You might call them “grass roots” vs “centralised”. National has claimed that asset sales had a mandate, ie. that they were justified from the grass roots. Parliament decided it was going to mandate the §59 repeal itself onto other branches of government, ie. that they were taking centralised authority, and leading public opinion rather than following it. A referendum against the second type of decision doesn’t really influence parliament, wheras a referendum against the first type ought to.

Fourthly, to quote myself earlier,

A political mandate is retained by the support of the voting public. Note that word I used, “retained”? You don’t just get to have one for three years after winning an election, not if you endorse a democratic system which requires continuous consent of the governed to function.

John Key got a mandate to form a government, (which is what your politics 101 text book refers to, but I don’t think you’re a child, so you should already know that passing policies and forming a government are two different things that each require their own mandate to be justified) but there was never a clear display of public support for asset sales, as they weren’t the only issue at play in the election. He’s never obtained one since. This is a dramatic change of national policy that Kiwis have opposed ever since the first time it was hoisted on us, back when Labour was acting like, well, ACT.

You can pass a law without a mandate from below, if you have a good reason to – hence why we disagree that this referendum and the previous one are comparable. This is the reason that common definitions of mandate include a “higher command”- you can have a ‘strong leader’ who decides that they know better than the populace, if they’re willing to sell their idea and own it if it’s a failure. National have wisely not tried that justification for this policy.

We’ve let National choose their own justifications, and we’ve knocked each one they’re actually willing to admit down. Passing this law is undemocratic, it’s economic self-harm, it’s theft from the public, and it’s just plain stupid. I’m not sure what more you could ask for in terms of reasons to stop it.

The government never got a direct mandate for this policy, and it certainly doesn’t have one now, when it proposes to actually put it into action. Polls have always opposed asset sales, but the government said that their popularity meant that people supported them.

Fifthly, the public understand just as well as the government, if not better, what is going on. The problem, from the government’s perspective, anyway, is that people have realised that partial sale is little better than full sale. With partial sale comes the move to a corporate model for SOEs under the MOM, which is the cause of many of our previous issues with asset sales- a corporate-structured entity owned by the government is almost as bad as a corporate-structured entity accountable only to its shareholders. With partial sale comes minority shareholder rights, which means the government does not really retain full control of the company as it claims to- shareholders have legal justification to sue the government if they vote for any action that can’t be justified as increasing profits.

And for bonus points, I’m going to go for the other two defenses of passing this bill that don’t really relate to the referenda. The government attempts to defend the sales by saying they’ll be to kiwi mums and dads, and we’ll try to get them to keep those shares in New Zealand. Well, that’s a load of rubbish. In the sense that the term “mums and dads” is used in politics, it usually refers to median kiwi families. They will buy, at best, a vanishingly small minority of the shares put up for sale. As always, investment will be done, in the large majority, by the investment class with the existing wealth and disposable funds to afford it. Having kiwi millionaires own the shares is little better than having overseas billionaires and multinationals own them- it’s still benefitting people who don’t need more wealth, and who aren’t going to govern these former SOEs in a way that will benefit ordinary people.

Not only that, the government’s only announced plan that could reasonably prevent people from on-selling their shares to wealthy foreign interests, and worsening our cashflow problem, is that they want to offer bonus shares to people who hold on to the current shares. Except- <em>whoops</em>- they don’t have time in Parliament left to pass a law authorising that, and any capital loss (ie. spending that’s not an investment of some type) not authorised by an Act of Parliament is illegal, so they can’t.

The final attempt to defend this dead idea is that the sales will be good for the economy… except they’ll lose the government money in only a few years, the interest rate on our national debt is so low that cutting our way to a surplus doesn’t really do much for the state of our debt, and the higher electricity prices are likely to plunge growth back into the negatives again. So this is a relatively rare case of a bill which has completely no justification.

Remind me why it’s going to pass through parliament, again? Oh, right. Because Peter Dunne wants to be in every government he possibly can. What a great reason for stealing our state-owned power companies from us.

Last election, Labour presented its opposition to asset sales as a contrast. This is typical of the modern NZLP’s centrist approach to politics.

The way you contrast yourself to a painful privatisation agenda is not to simply oppose it. No, you punch your opposition in the face, you take the reverse of their position. You say “You want to talk about ownership of assets? Fine. We’re going to nationalise assets that will perform well as SOEs.”

And if Labour grew a spine, they could do this in a popular and fair way. Announce they’re going to nationalise everything National has sold, and that they’ll only pay people for their shares if they were bought directly through the option. They don’t even have to promise a refund to be fair- hammer the point that these people were trying to steal property they already collectively owned, like uprooting a public drinking fountain, and protesting that you paid rates for it.

But Labour can go still further. You know what else would be better back in public hands? TVNZ. Force a split to the broadcaster- let them keep TV2 and the various commercial-owned channels. Reinstate TV7 as a public service channel, and run TV1 as a cultural/news/documentary/public entertainment channel. Make the governance aim that they attempt to self-fund, and ban them from providing dividends to the government- if they run a profit, they can either save it for when they have higher costs, or reinvest it.

There’s also a good argument for nationalising the telecommunications infrastructure, (hell, we invested in most of it in the first place) nationalising or forcing a buyback* of State insurance, (state-run insurance is almost inevitably cheaper, as it doesn’t need to collect the same profit) making Kiwisaver compulsory in all but exceptional circumstances, and requiring all kiwisaver funds to invest 50% of their assets in New Zealand businesses.

That would be a real conversation about ownership and the state’s role in productive enterprise, and National couldn’t stop it with cheap ads about dancing Cossacks this time- we saw what happened to the economy after they tanked our last attempt to have New Zealanders investing in New Zealand.

But Labour won’t do this, because to push for such a plan yourself is to admit to New Zealand you are no longer wholly a party of the centre, that you believe in some leftist principles, (as opposed to taking a left-leaning slant at centrist principles) and the politics of the NZLP is now firmly rooted in the centre of political discourse. They might do some of these things under the political cover of a coalition partner asking for them, (thank you, Winston. And may I never have to say those three words again) but the current leadership of the Labour party are scared little boys that only know how to compromise and appear “sensible”. I require more than sensible from my government, thank you. I want them to lead.

*I don’t require that we simply “steal” every asset back that was immorally sold in the past, but we can force the owners to accept a fair and reasonable price, rather than being forced into an inflated buyback. National is going to criticise you for paying too much if you do a market buyback, so why pay more when you can get the same business for less money and the same political cost? Also, I don’t accept that the word stealing applies to taking back something that should never have been sold, and that people got for bargain prices and for which they have received more than a full return on their investment.


update: You could also run a billboard for people’s hilarious grass-roots mockery of asset sales, like, say, this auction.

So, the recall election in Wisconsin happened, and sadly, it was a complete non-event, with the union-busting, constitution-ignoring republican and his lieutenant-governor both surviving the recall election.

There’s a lesson to be learned here, and it’s one that large progressive (or progressive-sounding) parties almost always need to learn. It’s quite simple: The right might vote if it feels threatened, but the left only votes when they feel hopeful or excited. You can’t tell us you deserve our votes, we require convincing- you need our enthusiastic support in order to turn out the young, disenfranchised, minority, and otherwise new voters that swing elections left. You can’t run a candidate who thinks raising taxes on the undertaxed elite is wrong, who is against prosecuting financial fraud, who doesn’t support campaign finance reform, who is complete centre-right milquetoast, and still feel entitled to win, even against someone as atrocious as Scott Walker.

Part of the problem here is the brokenness of the primary process- it often requires extra money from candidates to win, (pushing the election rightwards) and it also requires an extraordinary effort from voters to engage with. (as you actually have to be present in a room at a certain time to vote in most US primaries) If the Democratic Party agreed not to advertise during primaries and held them by mail ballot, they would have a much more representative candidate in the end. Of course, part of the problem here is that democrats don’t want to represent their constituency, they want to balance that with (or sometimes, ignore it in favour of) courting large corporate donors.

If they had run someone for governor that the recall supporters and the rest of Wisconsin could have supported, instead of trying to “grin and Barrett”, Democrats could have swept walker out of the governorship by turning out new voters. Instead they got the centrists who have been misled by an unprecedented (and in some specific cases, illegal) advertising push to believe that this is a partisan, unjustified recall, rather than a statement that the abuse of law, process, and illegal union-busting of the Walker administration deserves to be cut short.

All the more reason why in any other country, the Democrats would be considered the right-wing party. Watching them try to win elections is incredibly frustrating for all but the furthest left of its candidates, and even then, those democrats aren’t perfect either, and would probably belong in the left wing of the Labour Party in New Zealand.

For years, Treasury has been telling governments that the preponderance of research suggests that class sizes aren’t directly related to the quality of education, and for the first time, they’ve found a government willing to listen.

In some respects, Treasury may not be entirely wrong. When you get motivated students in a large class with a good teacher that relies mostly on theory, there may be little or no need for individual-level tutoring. This is the system that most university papers rely on, because on the most part people who actually show up to their classes are likely to learn well so long as their lecturer is audible, reasonably informed on the subject, and not terrible at teaching. In that kind of environment a 100-level spanish paper with hundreds of students is likely little different to a 200-level or 300-level German paper with just a few students, assuming the same teacher.

There are a few things being overlooked by extending that analysis to secondary, intermediate, and even primary schools, though:

  • Very little of the academic analysis on class size is backed up by evidence. The only large-scale study that randomly assigned students to classes found that younger students benefit more from smaller classes than older students- exactly how you’d expect given the different paradigms in primary, secondary, and tertiary education. In particular, years one and two get the largest benefit from reduced class size. Other studies have only approximated rigorous experimental conditions and I would say it’s unwise to give them too much weight.
  • Queries and the need for direct supervision are much higher in primary and secondary education, which makes class size a quality of work issue. The best, most in-demand teachers will be drawn to opportunities for smaller class sizes where they do not feel harried by students, and can run a more relaxed classroom where little of their energy is needed to direct their students to the topic at hand.
  • Any detrimental effect to adding an additional student to a class probably shrinks relative to the existing class size. The leap from a teacher that manages forty students to one that manages fifty might be similar to the leap between a teacher that manages 50 and one that manages a hundred.
  • Class size is an exacerbating factor to other difficulties in our education system. Kids with learning difficulties, kids who go to low-decile schools where poverty is common, and kids from homes that don’t value learning or provide additional resources for learning will likely all notice a much larger difference in outcomes from reduced class size than those that don’t. Cutting funding for teachers for private or very high standard public schools might make little difference, but extending that policy below the highest decile schools is likely to have a large effect both on education outcomes and generational poverty.
  • As many people are pointing out, class size is an infrastructure issue. Many rooms are designed around a set number of students, especially technology education, and can’t easily be modified to take additional students. There are additional hidden costs waiting to happen.

Increasing class sizes could be a good cost-saving measure, that allows our best teachers to educate more students- if it’s done at high levels of education for only the best or most advantaged students. Ideally, we should operate some sort of scaling class size system, where classes shrink as other challenges increase. Unfortunately, as with all education funding, this is a matter of inter-generational theft, and people into their working age don’t want to fund the possible success of the next generation- or rather, some don’t, some do, and some don’t care because they’re going to make sure their family’s kids go to private school.