For those of you not following international news, Scotland is beginning the process of nicely asking the UK government to please let it vote on whether it still wants to be part of the UK, again, please and thankyou. While Scotland can’t really hold a binding vote without the UK saying so, the UK also can’t really claim to legitimately represent Scotland if it refuses a well-founded request for a referendum, and there is a lot of evidence that suggests that the tide may now have turned in favour of Scottish independence from the UK, and its re-admittance into the EU. It’s a bold power-move on the day before Theresa May was expected to trigger Arcticle 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, basically pushing the one-year timer on leaving the EU. It has turned Westminster’s vision of a new, global Britain upside down, and arguably into what it already is: a path that risks the very future of the United Kingdom itself, stoking Scottish nationalism and calls for Irish re-unification. Theresa May, of course, has denied that the timing Nicola Sturgeon wants is practical, and will turn down such a referendum proposal. This of course, puts the onus back on the UK government to outline when they would consent to a referendum, which of course has strategically been kept quiet, because it’s more about trying to bully Scotland into staying than actual concerns around the Brexit negotiation. We’ll see how the showdown between the two works out, but so far I’m scoring it to Scotland overall.

For those who are not aware, I am actually a United Kingdom dual national, and have lived (briefly) in England, but the advantage of living in New Zealand for most of my life is that I can have a degree of understanding of the UK while still being seperate enough to see it from the outside. My position has been that the UK is England-centric, and needs to reform its government on a federal basis with a more representative voting system if it wants to hold on to the other three countries-within-its-country, and that if Scotland really want to be independent they should get their wish. (At which point, I would probably never return to the UK to live even briefly, as it would have gone so far downhill as to hold no appeal- nobody will really like a UK where the Tories have a stranglehold on politics once they’ve experienced it, in my opinion)

The Scottish Nationalist Party (which controls the majority of both the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish seats in the UK Parliament) is coming under some arguably unfair criticism that this is part of a “neverendum,” (ie. continuously polling people on independence referendums until one succeeds and then immediately declaring victory) of trying to set up IndyRef2 to lead to a more winnable IndyRef3, (which is not only stupid tactically, but just plain wrong- that timing argument revolves around the misconception that the Referendum is being proposed before relevant details of the Brexit deal are finalised, when in fact the parts Scotland most strongly objects to have already been determined by a Tory UK government, and the First Minister insists on a finalised Brexit position from the UK before a vote happens) and of simply trying to derail Brexit, to which I’d argue you can’t derail something by desperately searching for a pair of rails to get it back onto.

To understand a bit of what’s going on, we need to rewind a little bit before starting on the current situation, and talk about how the EU ended up a little more complicated than an in-or-out relationship. The UK was a lot more “out” already, pre-Brexit talks, than most European nations get to be. It had a special dispensation from the Eurozone, (the name for the area formed by countries which use the Euro as their currency) which Scotland will not get if it rejoins, and an exemption from the Schengen Agreement, which requires abolition of border controls between participating countries, which Scotland would likely also need to agree to in order to re-join the EU. Instead of Schengen, the Republic of Ireland and the UK are in a special exemption that was known as the “Common travel area,” where they’ve agreed to freedom of movement, but still retain the right to check people’s passports and ensure they’re actually EU nationals before admitting them into the UK. This was considered a reasonable compromise for the island nations at the time freedom of movement was proposed, however now that the EU has a formal agreement under the Lisbon Treaty, any new members have to sign up to being 100% in the EU, rather than getting to pick and choose like those who were part of its formation got to. This situation hasn’t differed from the first independence referendum.

The UK is currently part of the European Economic Area, or “single market,” (the EU’s free-trade zone, essentially, which is actually a little bit wider than just EU members) but the Conservative government aims to leave as part of its “hard Brexit” approach, as it’s not possible to opt out of Freedom of Movement, which it wants to do to control immigration, without also leaving the single market. Prior to the Brexit vote and change of Prime Ministers it necessitated, it was considered a ridiculously hard-line position to propose a hard Brexit, as it would essentially be giving away much of London’s financial services industry, either to Ireland or to continental European nations, and none of the leaders of the Leave campaign wanted to commit precisely to a hard Brexit, maintaining that free trade with Europe was possible while still clawing back those immigration powers. (and in the long term, maybe it will be, but not immediately post-exit)
This is as opposed to a “soft Brexit” approach, which is likely what Cameron expected his opposition to advocate, and what was Nicola Sturgeon’s bottom line for Scotland, where the UK would negotiate an exit deal similar to Norway where it retained some degree of free trade and freedom of movement, but could discard roughly 75% of European laws and access/membership of many European institutions in favour of return of sovereignty to the United Kingdom. (which is why a lot of the Remain campaign insisted that Brexit meant either economic shock or inability to claw back control over immigration policy)Now that we’ve covered a bit of EU basics, we can return to Scottish independence. The first independence referendum was an interesting campaign, that largely failed due to two critical campaigns from the No campaign, which was aggressively backed by English MPs:

    That Scotland would be given new powers and the UK would transition to a “near-federal” model.That Scotland would risk its EU membership if it voted for independence, as there was no procedure set up by the EU for secession within member states granting membership to the new nation.

Post-Brexit, many prominent European leaders have made guarantees to Scotland that if they do achieve independence, they will be welcome back in the EU, so let’s dispense with that second argument already. It’s not relevant, everyone knows Scotland has a place in the EU if it can achieve its independence. In retrospect, claims that Scotland risked its EU membership by becoming independent were effective but erroneous scaremongering.

How went the promise of new powers for Scotland? Well, the UK agreed to take less tax away from the local administration… and then promptly went on to kick Scottish MPs out of votes relating solely to England, (making clear that England views the UK Parliament as an English Parliament, belying again that promise of near-federalism) and then in order to secure its Brexit powers in court, sucessfully argued it didn’t need to get permission from Scotland, Wales, or Northern Ireland to initiate Brexit, even though the law explicitly required it.

Scotland has been agitating since the Brexit vote for a “soft Brexit,” that is, they don’t want England to wreck the entire UK’s economy in its determination to leave the EU. This isn’t an unreasonable position, although it’s unclear whether a compromise between the two positions of the largely-English UK Government and Scottish assembly is even possible, let alone what it would look like. The UK Parliament in Westminster has, essentially, ignored the Scottish Assembly in Holyrood, and proceeded precisely as it wishes thanks to that fundamentally wrong court decision.

So now we’re back to the independence referendum, and Scotland has a legitimate argument that the promises they were made in order to secure a “No” vote have been violated, that their assumption that “No” secured their place in the European Union is clearly incorrect and their attempts to compromise on a soft Brexit have been ignored, and that frankly public opinion may be changing in favour of independence.

This new case for independence is going to pit re-joining the EU against remaining in Brexit Great Britain. And there are disadvantages to both sides- Great Britain means that Scotland’s remaining oil revenue will likely go to collective UK spending, that Scotland will continue to have minimal impact on UK policy, and will be subject to a much more conservative Westminster Parliament controlling much of its law, and even stealing back powers that Scotland currently has.

But rejoining the EU will mean adopting the Euro, which means that Scotland would be vulnerable to potential future crises like the Greek Debt crisis. It also means that Scotland will have difficult financial problems to solve, as current estimates are that it’s a net beneficiary of UK spending compared to its tax take, and under the EU it is likely to be a net taxpayer rather than receive net subsidies. It will have to deal with the realities of joining the Schengen zone. It may be stuck with a UK Northern Ireland to its west and England to its south if calls for an Irish re-unification don’t eventuate, and there will likely need to be some sort of border procedure with England if Scotland does re-enter the EU, as there is no way that England will accept open borders with a country in the Schengen zone. It will also mean a wait for Scotland to rejoin, as it will have to go through the application process, which will mean that Scotland will need to be prepared for life outside of not only the UK if it votes for independence, but also outside of the EU for at least a few months, or even years. It’s also worth noting that the staunchest opposition to Scotland’s re-admittance, from Spain, seems to have softened now that it’s not being compared to the Catalan situation so much.

Scotland is smart to push for IndyRef2 now, while the Article 50 negotiations on the UK leaving the EU are still in the future. If Westminster shows reluctance to allow a Scottish vote on independence, it’s highly likely that as part of their determination to punish the UK for leaving, leaders who are militantly pro-EU will likely push for guarantees for Scotland and Northern Ireland to be able to determine if they want to split and re-enter the EU, as EU members are pretty adamant that the UK will be choosing between what it would call a “bad deal” or “no deal.”

And unlike the first independence referendum, if this one eventuates, it will be much more difficult to find Scottish organisations willing to front another “No” campaign- Scottish Labour has all but collapsed, and all the promises that helped the “No” campaign out last time won’t be credible after Theresa May’s strongarm position on devolved administrations in Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales.

So, I’m noticing, again, that people aren’t very up on the combination of maths and political speculation that you’ll need to understand who’s likely to form the next government.

Firstly, let’s be clear, there are only three parties parties in Parliament right now who have either clearly commited to who they’ll support or for whom it’s obvious despite the fact nobody’s bothered to ask them. Of course David Seymour/ACT will support National. The Greens have been very clear they have committed to support Labour to change the Government. And Peter Dunne/United Future, while they have worked with Clark’s Labour Party, will of course support National ahead of them given half a chance.

Naturally, Labour and National will lead their respective blocs, so if you’d like to count that, there are five parties who you can safely vote for knowing what sort of government they’d support.

There are a couple of things that are unclear. Mana will of course be more likely to support a Labour government if voted back in to Parliament, however will likely be on the outside of any arrangement if Labour is actually governing, so the uncertainty there is in whether people are willing to forgive Hone for his willingness to work with Kim Dotcom. Given that the Māori Party have stood aside and essentially endorsed him, however, he’s not discountable. I wouldn’t be surprised at either a Mana or Labour win in Te Tai Tokerau.

I won’t speculate on the odds of Dunne losing Ōhāriu at this stage, other than to say both Labour and Peter Dunne need to be taking that electorate deadly seriously, especially as I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a significant chunk of it who are fans of neither of the two likely candidates. They will need to reach out to supporters outside of their usual base to win, which is presumably behind Peter Dunne’s hilarious inability to find fonts that support macrons.

This brings us to the two wildcards. Firstly, the Māori Party, who have said they will make a reasonable attempt to work with whoever’s in government, but haven’t talked at all about what happens if they decide the next government. While they’ve most recently been in a non-coalition support arrangement with the National Party, there’s no real certainty that they would support them over Labour. In fact, the List party they best align with on the issues is the Green Party, so if we’re going purely on policy, they might well support Labour. With Tariana Turia’s retirement from the party, the historical disagreements with Labour could be a lot less of an obstacle to doing a deal. In my models, I’ve assumed they will be open to working with governments of both stripes, but I consider them a reverse UF- in that I slightly suspect they will prefer a Labour government if it’s their choice, although I don’t have any hard evidence to back that speculation.

And then there is New Zealand First, who like the Māori Party, haven’t publicly chosen sides yet, and don’t even have the excuse that they still intend to work with both parties, as they’re currently sitting on the opposition benches, collaborating quite nicely with Labour and the Greens. They look like they’re set up to change the government, but they have pulled a switch on their supporters this way before back in the first MMP government. Have they learned their lessons from that? Nobody knows.

Lastly, there’s a little election system maths to consider. The number of overhang seats will be important in this Parliament, as National will need to win a similar percentage of the Party Vote to last election to stay in power, which was already a bit of an ask with John Key at the helm instead of Bill English. They’ll also want a bit of padding, as no government has ever won a by-election under MMP, so if any of their MPs resign, they’ll likely lose a seat.

If all the minor parties win seats, that’s likely to be three overhang seats in Parliament, meaning the “magic number” becomes 62/122-123, not 61/120-121. There’s also a credible chance of an independent upset in Ilam, which would have the weird effect of not changing the number of seats in Parliament at all, but rather robbing whoever would normally have won the 120th list seat of their extra MP. That’s likely to be either National or the Greens, depending on how close the Greens end up getting on their last MP allocation, or on an outside chance it may be Labour. (it’s highly unlikely to be the Māori Party, as small parties generally get allocated their seats way before the end of the process) For those not aware, essentially there’s a divisor formula that goes through and outputs a number for each party with Party Votes, and every one that’s over the threshold or has an electorate gets thrown into the formula. Whoever’s number is the highest gets the first seat, and then their divisor is recalculated on a less friendly basis, and the next-highest number gets a seat, for 120 iterations. Independent MPs are the only disruption to this process- small parties simply get their electorates as overhangs if they don’t qualify for a list seat on the basis of their Party Vote. While Raf Manji is likely to vaguely support National, he does represent a wildcard in terms of who loses a seat to him, and it’s actually as likely to hit Labour or the Greens in the face as it is to cause disruption to a National government.

What are the important takeaways?

  1. It’s very likely that whoever governs after the election will need 62 seats, as I don’t consider it a serious likelihood that both Dunne and Harawira will lose their electorate votes.
  2. If National wants to govern, they need those 62 seats without the Māori Party or New Zealand First, if at all possible. It’s entirely realistic that the National Party could win 59 seats for themselves but lose the government because they only have two seats worth of solid friends, and both the less predictable parties decide to swing Labour’s direction. Likewise, Labour will want a situation where they can narrow the margin enough that they have a choice between New Zealand First and, say, the Māori and Mana MPs, so that he’s not forced into too much of a pro-nationalist agenda, but such a situation looks rather unlikely at the moment without National seriously dropping the ball, or Little scoring some serious body blows on English that he just hasn’t gotten a chance to do yet.
  3. It’s highly likely that New Zealand First will decide who gets to govern based on current polling, if it holds accurate, and if events don’t shift too fast for our sporadic polling to measure accurately. The chance of National governing without them is pretty slim, although it’s now within the realm of reasonable probability. I expect the recent trend back to National to have arrested with the announcement of Jacinda Ardern as deputy, but we’ll see if that eventuates. I also expected that the dip on English becoming PM would become a trend, and that hasn’t eventuated yet, possibly due to poor capitalisation on his weaknesses on behalf of Andrew Little, but again, this is where Jacinda will actually serve very well as deputy: she’s far more persausive with the emotive argument that the Government is failing people than King was, even though Annette King was a highly effective MP and debater, she doesn’t have Ardern’s charisma.
    1. Relevant to Ardern, it’s rather hilarious that the media is now openly speculating on whether it causes a problem for Labour if she overtakes Little in popularity. The answer is no. That’s a great problem for Labour to have, and it’s likely she would want to do further work before even considering the No. 1 spot in her party, so expect for that to happen at some stage and for Jacinda to endorse Little as leader even when she’s more popular than him. Being the most popular isn’t always a qualification to be leader, and that is why people have to put themselves forward as candidates first. If it’s ever a serious issue, Labour will vote on whether she gets to take over, like you would expect, although of course, they’ll tilt the odds in favour of their caucus’ vote for some bizzarre reason.
  4. If you’re giving your party vote or electorate vote to the Māori Party, you might want more information about what their plan is if they’re in a position to decide if Bill English stays Prime Minister or not. They’ve already said they can work with Labour, but would they prefer to? Nobody knows at this point, and the largely vacuous excuses for political journalists we have atm haven’t got the nuance yet that they need to ask a very specific question about this and see if the answer will change or not. (There are real political journalists out there who absolutely would understand this nuance, but they’re never given the job of interviewing or moderating party leaders for this sort of question in a format that significant numbers of NZers watch)
  5. Pushing for Raf Manji to win Ilam is only particularly relevant if National wins back the government again, and his vote becomes relevant for key legislation. (not that in principle I object to Gerry Brownlee being sent a message, or Christchurch having a bit more power in Parliament, those are good things, it’s just unlikely to move the electoral calculus in favour of changing the Government) It’s actually far more relevant to National whether O’Connor stands a chance of unseating Peter Dunne and whether Hone wins Te Tai Tokerau, as unlike the MP he is unlikely to support the National Party.
  6. As before, Preferred Prime Minister is a huge irrelevancy in polling and deserves to be replaced with favourable/unfavourable polling for the PM and the Leader of the Opposition, as the open-ended nature of the question prevents it from being useful as a gauge of whether the leader is an actual drag on either of the biggest two parties, and the lack of data as to whether it has any impact at all on the Party Vote means that experimenting with different metrics is a great idea, in case anyone who actually polls is listening.

So if you’ve been hiding under a hole until recently, Bill English let slip in an interview recently that he wasn’t going to renew John Key’s pledge on not touching superannuation, then, like Labour, went and made it an election issue by announcing he would, in 2040, raise the retirement age by two years. I had meant to get to this issue sooner but have been sidetracked with other priorities.

There are so many sides to this. The first is, Bill English has literally set the cut off for when people should retire with the generation that has borne the brunt of increasing inter-generational warfare waged on behalf of (although not necessarily with the consent of all) Baby Boomers. Gen X, the generation that paid the first student loans, and did it with interest, is being told they’re the ones who will be asked to cut costs if National can govern without a coalition.

First, let’s be real here: while superannuation is less of the national budget in New Zealand than it is overseas, (per capita we spend about half as much as say, European countries do, and get a better system out of it) there’s still a very real affordability problem if we want to maintain government spending in other areas once the Boomers hit super age en masse. (some already qualify, but the real big hit is yet to come) Nobody, even the two parties who were consistent in wanting to maintain super at 65 for the general population, (That’s the Greens and New Zealand First, if you’re curious) is arguing with that fact.

If we’re going to maintain super, we need to look at the revenue side of the equation. Remember how I proposed a solution in search of a problem back when I said we should tax the wealthy? A comprehensive capital gains tax would more than fund Super, in fact, it would go a long way to funding a UBI1. Julie Anne Genter literally has very similar opinions on this issue.

If we take the revenue steps we need to anyway to ensure a more equal society, we can easily afford super, and we can do so off wealth taxes that will effectively act as a means test without all the administrative costs, as wealthy boomers who don’t need Super might well end up paying more in taxes than they receive anyway, but we still receive the benefits of universality in terms of ease of access, reduction to poverty, and incentive to continue working for those who genuinely wish to and are able to.

There is absolutely no need to start a generational war like Bill English has in order to solve that problem when the gap is clearly on the revenue side. Labour’s answer, squirreling away surplus money, is a good thing to do in principle, but there’s no indication it will make a serious dent in the cost. National’s argument that Gen X will still get Super for a longer percentage of their life than Baby Boomers currently do might be a fair one, if it were taken completely outside the generational context it deserved to be placed in. Gen X, and to a larger extent, Millenials and the upcoming Gen Z, are being asked to bear increasing costs on basically everything, coupled with decreasing opportunities and being left political problems that have been dumped in the “too hard” basket for decades, like climate change. This super announcement is one too many kicks in the ribs, and National better hope it doesn’t mobilise younger voters who’ve stayed home, because they are big Green supporters, and a 20% boost to turnout of the youth vote would literally change the electoral maths on this issue.

Politics aside, if we can square those financial challenges away with a bit of a surplus, we should also be considering the points made by the Māori and Mana parties about equity of Super, and their support for some level of flexi super, and/or some reduction to the age of eligibility for Māori and/or people in taxing manual employment. These are absolutely fair ideas that deserve consideration. Let manual workers who struggle to make it to 65 have a bit of super. If there’s any argument to raise the age, it’s so we can afford to let manual labourers and Māori have an equitable piece of the super pie.

Overall, I hope voters will stand together in the coming election and realise that there isn’t a need for this divisive type of politics. We can keep super at its current settings without sacrificing our other spending priorities if we tax the wealthy more fairly, but that will never happen under a National government.

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Take a moment, go view this video, specifically but not exclusively the supplementary questions by Jan Logie, (about 5:35) then come back to this post so you have the background you’ll need.

Done? Thanks. The Ministry of Social Development has made an outrageous decision to hold NGO funding hostage to big data collection. The level of data collection they want might not be a problem for certain NGOs, especially were to compromise and allow an opt-in basis, such as say, ones offering immunisations. But prominent organisations like NZAC1 have expressed that handing over the requested data is a breach of confidentiality and in their view unethical, and Rape Crisis have announced they will boycott government funding if they’re made to disclose any additional data. For context, rape crisis centres are constantly struggling to recieve enough community funding to provide the services they need to even with the government’s help, so this should reinforce that they view this mandatory data-sharing as an existential threat.

As someone who has done data analysis in their work, (I did it even though it wasn’t in my job description, in fact) and who even does it in my spare time to settle matters of debate, I absolutely understand the value of this data to the government, especially in targeting their social assistance dollars more effectively. (because money should be prioritised to places where we can prove it’s effective, for sure) I understand the challenges of incomplete data sets. I also understand the challenges of people misinterpreting what data they need to provide. I will even grant that the people in the government who initially requested this data will want it for nothing other than researching what the most effective types of social spending are, and that they fully intend to be ethical caretakers of people’s private information, and to store it securely.

But none of that makes it a good idea to hold hostage NGO funding to big data. Firstly, there is the obvious issue that services involving counselling or survivors of abusive behaviour absolutely, critically need to be able to provide services on a condition of strict confidentially or even complete anonymity in some cases in order to be able to help people in our society that need it the most.

Not only is it tying the hands of counsellours or volunteers to require them to explain that clients’ data is confidential and private even though it will be provided to MSD, (in addition to being flat out inaccurate- the strict interpretation of confidentiality held to by most such services requires that records be only held in one place, be secured using physical lock-and-key for paper records and encryption for digital ones, and not be shared with anyone else outside of anonymous use in ethical review or in the event that a client is a risk to their own or someone else’s safety) people who have been raped will have difficulty filling out a form identifying themselves when they’re seeking help because they may not be ready to admit what they experienced is real, and writing something down can “make it real.” Jan Logie’s example of men who won’t even give their names is not only accurate but typical of many people seeking support, and not just men. Anyone who accepts this contract is going to be committing to turning away people unable to accept anything less than the strictest confidentiality, or worse, they’re going to entrap themselves into breaching the contract in order to help people.

What adds insult upon insult to this issue, (we’re well past the initial injury if these contracts aren’t amended for services that require confidentiality) is that the government has an expert panel2 helping guide its data strategy that has recommended against precisely this type of mandatory collection in their report3, calling for at least an easily accessible opt-out procedure for all big data collection by Government agencies, so even the proponents of big data don’t want the government to take this approach. Literally the best defense that can be made is that the government is legally allowed to insist that its data collection is more important than anonymity.

If the government wants more data from these services, the most they should reasonably do is require that clients be allowed to opt in to data collection if they’re comfortable with the idea. This allows those receptive to provide a limited data set for analysis, or to ask the questions the government are so keen for their NGO partners to explain, and those not amenable to the idea to dismiss it and still access life-saving services that most likely are incredibly effective uses of funding. If the government can concede that paid leave to deal with the aftermath of domestic violence is effective, they can certainly concede that funding services like Rape Crisis shouldn’t be contingent on mandatory data sharing.

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Not in TOP shape

Posted: March 5, 2017 in elections, New Zealand, technology
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This one is a really quick hit:

I’ve been suspicious this might be the case for a while, but I reached out to Roy Morgan the other day, and they’ve confirmed that TOP’s vote share is so insignificant they still haven’t separated them out from “Other” Parties. (This means that TOP are likely polling consistently below 0.5%. Roy Morgan’s “Other” category has recently been at about 2%, and generally fluctuates between 1-2%, but they split out small parties who round all the way down to 0% from time to time, such as UF and the Conservatives, so this indicates a very low polling for TOP despite their 4% show at the Mt. Albert by-election) I had previously checked in with Colmar Brunton, who said they have not been counting responses for TOP in their previous polls, as they were an unregistered political party at the time, and that is their standard practice.

So, ouch. There go those dreams of certain cheerleaders that a group of policy-wonk technocrats crowdsourcing their policies with a rich bankroll imitating the Green Party would get all the way above the 5% threshold. They’ll need a serious electorate run if they want to get into Parliament, but they didn’t have one planned yet, so that will make things tight, especially as Labour will have no incentive to make space for them given their stated intentions to sit on the cross-bench, and that Labour has already lined up a candidate for every single electorate.

All in all, if nothing changes, TOP’s only relevancy to this election will be how many votes it splits away from the Greens into the “other” pool that gets re-allocated to everyone. I will be advising anyone sympathetic that I don’t think it’s worth risking your Party Vote on them at this stage. The one thing I think other parties should take from TOP is that crowdsourcing policy, especially from experts, is a good idea. But at this stage, that looks like that may be their epitaph.

…a national budget.

It’s a frequent meme of right-wing economics1 that the reason we must cut costs for social services is because we must treat our national finances like our household finances, and Responsibly Pay Off our debts.

This is of course complete garbage. Not only is the specific analogy flawed, really, the only thing the two concepts even hold in common is that they’re both budgets.

Let’s try the metaphor in reverse to see how well it works. Say I treated my household’s budget like a national budget. I live with three other people, and none of us have joint finances. Firstly, if I could act like this were a national budget, I would be visiting the neighbours and using my good credit record to borrow a bunch of money, and there’d be nothing other than the pressure from my neighbours to compel me to ever pay it back, and not only that, if I borrowed enough cash from them, (a commonplace occurrence in national budgets) I would have a sort of perverse control over them where they could be bullied into doing things that are in my best interests even though they don’t want to, like say, letting me put some sort of experimental composting system in their backyard.

And of course, if my household budget were like a national budget, I would be under no compulsion to spend money on what it’s actually intended for- the US is most famous for this trick, robbing its social security fund to pay for deficit spending and then turning around to complain that the fund doesn’t have the cash it needs to actually pay people benefits they’ve earned, because they’ve stuffed the piggybank full of IOUs. That would be like me taking all the power money my flatmates pool with me and blowing it on smashed avocado toast or 26 lattes a day, and whatever else millenials are supposed to spend money on irresponsibly.

So, you’re beginning to see some of the holes, right?

The other interesting thing is that ironically, national debts are actually a lot more like the notion of a “gift economy” than they are like the notion of modern consumer debt that you’re chased down if you can’t pay back. In a gift economy, it’s difficult to truly quantify how much a favour is worth, because nobody uses currency. So you and your neighbours keep doing each other favours backwards and forwards, and often nobody’s sure of who’s ahead and behind, but suddenly everyone’s success is tied together and you’ve formed a community. In foreign relations, some deals work a lot like the gift economy. This isn’t exactly the case with sovereign debt, but there is the similar effect I described earlier, where a foreign nation who has bought up a lot of your debt can become a de-facto economic ally because they are dependent on your ability to service that debt. China currently has that type of relationship to the USA.

Now, is it important to pay off our debts? Yes and no. It’s important that internationally, everyone try to even out their budgets so they’re not heavily in debt and they’re not heavily in surplus, both of which create inefficiencies and inequalities in our increasingly interconnected financial system. (Keynes proposed a system to solve a problem similar to this with the balance of trade, called the International Clearing Union, and it’s kinda surprising the concept was never extended to national debt and sovereign wealth)

But it actually doesn’t precisely matter if we go into deficit or debt from time to time, so long as we have sound fiscal management that can get us out of debt from time to time, and no government gets us into so much debt that the interest payments become burdensome. In fact, completely counter-intuitively, it’s actually good for the economy during a recession for the government to be running a deficit, if it’s doing so to buy a lot of goods or services from its own economy, or to directly employ a lot of people who didn’t have jobs. Why? Because sometimes the economy slows down too much due to events in the private sector. During those times, the best thing the government can do is actually step in to employ people, to pay their expenses while they re-train, or to contract a lot of goods it might need later. These programs are very effecient during a recession, because the money is highly likely to be recirculated multiple times, heating the economy back up from a cold start.

In contrast, when the economy is already doing well, it makes a lot of sense to start being efficient with government spending, to cut back on programs that may be wasteful or no longer needed, and to reign in the stimulus to the economy of government spending, and to use that freed-up tax revenue to pay down debt, or even put a little sovereign wealth aside for a rainy day in the future. Why? Because often you can overheat the economy, causing it to sell goods or services that aren’t really needed, and to cause a huge over-correction when the realisation hits the market that all the economic activity was overvalued. (like the dotcom crash when people thought practically any website would be raking in money hand over fist… until actually they discovered they weren’t) By pulling on the reigns, the government can often prolong a period of growth, and save on a lot of inefficiencies in constantly expanding and closing businesses that is caused when the economy frequently goes into boom and into recession. There’s more to cover on this, but it belongs in the notes2.

Household budgets have no similar social incentive to go into debt or to make savings at any particular time based on market conditions. It’s all about what provides the most utility for the household. (ie. do we invest in a car so we can move items and people around more efficiently, or do we save that money to maybe afford a property for our grandkids assuming we can save at more than the inflation rate of house prices?)

Like people who complain about things being a “slap in the face” deserve at least one face-slap to provide comparative context of why their statement is wrong, people who claim a national budget is like a household budget should really try to modulate the speed of the economy by going into debt during a recession and see how that bloody works out for them.

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Or maybe there are?

If you’re on New Zealand Twitter, you’ve probably already been following this story. If not, a bunch of Auckland University students have decided to form a “European Students Association,” which they are currently saying is open to people of all backgrounds to celebrate european culture and cuisine, and they plan to host “historical re-enactments” and “european feasts.” I won’t link them directly for reasons hopefully obvious, but Newshub has some surprisingly nuanced coverage on this.

You may have noted I said “currently saying.” Until recently, their online presence on Facebook was a full-blown example of cryptofascism. It featured subtly altered Nazi quotes, a Celtic logo complete with swords and a quasi-nazi slogan which also fits the cryptofascist profile, and pictures glorifying the idea of German empire. Since they caught media attention, they have scrubbed their facebook presence and now only sport a Celtic logo without swords. One, or maybe two of these things could reasonably be a mistake. (or you know, a genuine interest in Celtic art or German history) Four of these things together implies that someone in this organisation either thinks Nazism isn’t something to be taken seriously, (in which case they’re in trouble with actual fascists as well as with everyone else) or is actually a secret supporter of white nationalism or some other flavour of eliminationism, and perhaps was trying to signal to others that the organisation would be a front for white nationalism.

The Herald identifies one of their spokespeople as Adam Holland, and the group has contested that he is not a member, (as you would expect from a former “mayoral candidate,” being generous to Adam) but have not denied he was an authorised spokesperson for them, and have not required any corrections to be published. Adam is a known troll, which suggests it’s possible that this group started off as some sort of joke. Evasions from their spokespeople on key issues that would upset a genuine club seem to indicate that the group is intending to troll people, either as some sort of joke, or because they think they can stir up some threats against themselves and use that as some sort of propaganda win.

However the group being agitators wouldn’t mean there’s no reason to take it seriously, as even disorganised groups that are out to troll the public can still give serious fascists a chance to meet up and organise, and feel normal, and there are a surprising number of people supporting these idiots. Letting this sort of thing go on and protecting people’s right to preach eliminationism using private resources to build themselves a platform is irresponsible and unjust, and the prevalence of such underground groups organising through secret or just obscure means and fringe websites are precisely what led to Breitbart news, and Steve Bannon, and ultimately the white nationalist support for Donald Trump, and his support in return for white nationalism. You can still support freedom of thought and freedom of ideas while requiring all student groups to have a non-discriminatory purpose, to have no links to hate groups, and not to use known imagery of hate groups. That is a standard exception clause to free speech rights in private institutions, and it’s basically the least you can do to prevent a white nationalist movement taking over.

There is not as mature an organisation of white nationalism in New Zealand, but the attitudes and thoughts that led to it are still here, (colonialism is just another flavour of white supremacy, sadly, and we’re still working on getting to a post-colonial society that values Māori as the indigenous people of New Zealand, and any other recent immigrants as just as valuable as Pakeha. And we have a mature nationalist political party already, so all we need is that nationalism and that white supremacy to mix, and suddenly you have neo nazis in the Pacific) and we need to take the possibility of it being normalised seriously, even when it’s disorganised people who may or may not be trying to have a bit of a joke.

Auckland University has defended itself partly by saying it had recently changed its policy to allow groups to recruit during orientation week before going through their formal process and submitting member lists, which is a reasonable excuse for why this group was allowed to openly recruit during orientation. But that’s the past, what are they saying about the future?

Well, they have stepped into a classic trap of saying they have “no proof” that this group is racist. A confluence of circumstantial evidence is all you ever get when you’re dealing with cryptofascists. Their entire strategy is to play a game of piggy-in-the-middle with accusations against them, where they can maintain plausible deniability if anyone decodes their references to eliminationism or white supremacy, because they try to keep it low-key enough that there is never any substantial proof, which means you have to overreact at least slightly to catch them, and you need to require people to have a good explanation for circumstantial evidence, something that’s counter-intuitive to liberal sensibilities, but is a prerequisite to being an effective liberal in a society with proto-fascist movements. It needs to be very clear that any white supremacy on private property or in public spaces will result in an over-reaction. Nobody will admit to being a Nazi until the Nazis have already reached a critical threshold, a fact that University lecturers surely know, and it’s surprising that the relevant decision-makers haven’t listened to them. In contrast, their Students Association has actually been really good on this issue, and deserves a lot of credit for understanding the nuance correctly.

It is possible, of course, that some people involved in this group really believed the cover story. But at least one person was either joking in a thoroughly inappropriate way about Nazi content, or was serious about it but knew enough to try not to be completely obvious. If the group wants to continue without this stigma, all they need to do is remove the people who made that mistake from the group, and notify the University authorities who they were so that they can be watched to prevent other inappropriate behaviour in the future without risking  any retaliatory action from overenthusiastic anti-fascists.

It’s bad enough that we have an anglo-centric nationalist party in Parliament, but we cannot have that kind of pop patriotism that buoys New Zealand First and similar social conservative movements turning to the dark side on us in New Zealand. Everyone, right, left, centre, or otherwise, needs to be clear that there’s no place for fascists in New Zealand.

As to whether it’s appropriate to celebrate European culture, of course it is, with the caveat that it has to be legitimately about the culture of all of europe, not just the white parts. (Most white nationalists are interested chiefly in British, Germanic, or Russian cultures. If they branch out into Iberian culture, France, and eastern europe as well, that’s a good sign) If that was legitimately their aim, firstly, they picked a stupid name, and secondly, they should have approached lecturers on various european culture courses to advise them, who would have then been able to substantiate their claims that they were legitimate. Tertiary culture courses do a very good job of digging deep into culture, far deeper than most cultural clubs or associations have a chance to get in their public events, so anyone serious about that goal should have been thinking about using their resources better.

It’s also worth noting that “European culture” is a group culture, the same way “African culture” is. It’s really dozens of different cultures. New Zealand has about four prominent European feeder cultures to our own modern hybrid euro-polynesian melting pot culture, so the first thing to know is that most kiwis already live European culture to some degree, as our culture is largely pieced together from English settler traditions and elements of Māori language and tikanga that have been assimilated, but still notably contains elements of Irish and Scottish culture, especially in the South Island, and even some Germanic influences in certain places and institutions. There is amazing art, (performance or otherwise) literature, and film from all of those cultures.

It’s perfectly reasonable to be proud of those things, but that’s very different from glorifying past empires who committed atrocities and whose time is over, and it’s also different from trying to exclude or hate other groups, which is often what “white pride” or “European pride” is a code word for, and a precursor step to calling for forced migration, at which point we’ve then arrived at eliminationism. Even now, some people reacting to the news are mentioning several of these code words, and this is precisely the point of cryptofascism: nobody can tell if their supporters are actual fascists, or just people who are legitimately proud of their European descent, and that confusion is why we have to push back so hard against this sort of behaviour.

Update: So, despite writing this last night and scheduling it for this morning in case sleep elucidated anything, it looks like there’s already a resolution. The Herald reports that the AUESA is going to disband. Good. This reinforces my perception that they were trolls who picked a culture battle they didn’t know they weren’t going to win, because people were ready for them.

They claim to have been threatened with violence: if that’s true, (and I admit to some skepticism that it is, given that fearing for your own safety is a great excuse to back down from failure anonymously, and we still only have rumours about who the people behind this group were) please don’t threaten violence on fascists unnecessarily. These were not powerful fascists who were putting people in imminent risk who arguably justified symbolic resistance or an actual life-or-death struggle like actual Nazis did. These were not influential media figures who need to be stood up to. They were just as likely to have been defeated with criticism, mockery, and general social disapproval, as they were a bunch of disorganised jokers. If every cryptofascist were this easy to stop, we wouldn’t be bothering to debate about the ethics of punching nazis, and it wouldn’t be as serious an issue as it is. Peaceful resistance is an effective tool and it should always be the first resort.

That said, this will no doubt be the point at which some troll says “liberals are as bad as what they claim to be against, they’re racist against Europeans, and they want to take away our freedom to speak about fascism.” Anyone who seriously thinks that needs to crack a book. You can’t be racist against white people, or “Europeans,” because racism requires bigotry and institutional power set against you. Most institutional power is set up to support people like me. And you’ll notice, all anyone was calling for was the university not to register a simple club. Nobody’s actually gagging fascists, but you better believe there will be real consequences to free speech, because free speech only protects you from the government, and most private institutions don’t want any white nationalism getting on them if they can help it, especially not when ordinary people notice it and call it out.

This does reinforce my belief that the old advice to “not feed the trolls” is at best outdated, if it did ever work outside a particularly narrow context of certain types of attention-seekers in small, tight-nit communities back when most internet was dialup. Oh look, we stirred up a lot of media attention… and the trolls couldn’t withstand its withering gaze. It’s almost as if the threat of being held accountable in real life for their behaviour actually discourages them, right?

The people behind this group are continuing to pretend they did not engage in unacceptably cryptofascist behaviour, and/or fail to bring it to account. They’re asking us not to believe our “lying eyes.” They provided no credible explanation for the content they posted, took no responsibility for excluding the responsible party or safely reporting them to the university, issued no apology, and evaded or dodged every criticism they could in engaging with the public or media on the issue, never having a substantive discussion about how four separate pieces of cryptofascist imagery ended up on their page by “misunderstanding,” when there have been claims from people that they know the artist for their logo, who is, surprise surprise, connected to Adam Holland. I have little doubt they are simply playing for sympathy either to make this die down or try and build momentum for another group later. Please have your scorn ready for anything these idiots try in the future.