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November 09, 2008

Election results thoughts

It was a foregone conclusion that National would win the election: the only question was whether they would need a coalition partner and if so who it would be.  The result was the worst possible: ACT.  So, just as the rest of the world is finally discovering how big a disaster Chicago School economics is for all except the most rapacious of plutocrats, here comes an unrepentant Roger Douglas to do to the New Zealand economy what his fellow disciples have already done to the economies of South America, Russia and Iraq.  (When John Key spoke at TechEd, he mentioned that Roger Douglas had said privately that Douglas wanted to see a crisis in New Zealand to shake things up.  To readers of Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine, this pattern will be chillingly familiar.)

Interesting, though, that National also brought United Future into the coalition, and are still talking to the Maori Party.  We were a bit puzzled at Vic and Jono's election party as to why Key was doing this when National plus ACT alone had a majority, but thought it was probably to give National some wiggle room when ACT's policies are too obviously electoral suicide.  But it may also be symbolic.  National plus ACT got only 49.1% of the popular vote, and have the seats only because NZ First didn't reach the 5% threshold.  National plus ACT plus United Future, however, brings the coalition to 50% or just over of the party vote, allowing Key to claim the fig-leaf of a true popular majority rather than a mere plurality.

Finally, it seems ridiculous that NZ First with 4.2% of the vote got no seats, while ACT with 3.7% of the vote got 5 seats.  Don't get me wrong, I'm pleased to see the corrupt, racist Winston Peters finally kicked out of NZ politics (at least for now... I guess nobody thought Roger Douglas would be back either); but there's clearly something wrong here.  I assume the 5% threshold was meant to ensure that parties had to have a reasonable base of support before they got into Parliament, but in practice it hasn't worked that way -- it just favours minority parties with entrenched electorate MPs -- see ACT, Peter Dunne and Jim Anderton.  Some rethinking needed here, surely.

November 9, 2008 in Current Affairs | Permalink


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Personally, I'm glad to see Act back. Mainly because I think the Emissions Trading Scheme is an unnecessary economic albatross. I'm happy to see CO2 levels increase (plants grow better, and they have been much higher before without killing off the polar bears, etc).

Adaptation is far more sensible than self-mutilating symbolic gestures that achieve virtually nothing "for the planet".

John Key is undoubtably smart. But it remains to be seen whether that translates into good national leadership that goes beyond talk to accomplishment (eg economic growth). Let's see.

Posted by: David White at Nov 9, 2008 11:12:55 AM

Hi David,

The adaptation argument is perfectly reasonable on geological timescales; the problem is the massive short-term damage inflicted on the incumbent ecosystem, which includes us. And by "short-term" I mean centuries or millennia while a new ecological equilibrium is established. A mild economic brake (even assuming that a shift towards sustainable technologies must be a brake, which I dispute; it could be a huge motor for innovation and growth) is far more sensible than another 50 (say) years of accelerated growth followed by a gradual collapse as food supplies decline, energy sources run out, low-lying cities flood, etc. Sure, in a thousand years it will all stabilise again, but I don't want a thousand year dark age! It's like a major oil spill: sure, in a hundred years it will as if nothing had happened, but the short term damage to the fishing / tourism / etc. industry can inflict massive economic and social misery to the region. Or an Enron: sure, the fraud was exposed and the market corrected, but the fraud destroyed the livelihoods and pensions of thousands of people. (Of course, if you don't believe that current trends will lead to significant ecological consequences, then you'll reject the very basis of this argument; but your comment about "adaptation" makes me think you agree that increasing carbon levels *will* have a large-scale ecological impact, just that you believe that prevention is not the appropriate response. Apologies if I have misconstrued you; no distortion was intended.)

I understand your disdain for symbolic gestures, and I see why you think an emissions scheme in tiny NZ is only symbolic; on the other hand, this is a Prisoner's Dilemma situation. We can't all sit around playing the Defect card and waiting for somebody else to Cooperate first. And the hope of gestures like these is that they will spur innovation rather than being an "economic albatross" -- they create incentives to find innovative ways of reducing carbon emissions, those innovations create jobs and wealth, and can be sold to the rest of the world. Sadly, that hope doesn't seem to be being substantially realised yet -- but John Key mentioned "Kiwi ingenuity" in his victory speech so let's hope he backs that with increased support for R&D in small businesses.

As to your final paragraph, agreed. And let's not forget the non-economic side of things -- e.g. civil liberties -- where I suspect from your blog that you and I may be a bit more in agreement!

Greatly enjoyed your article on the Libertarianz, by the way.


Posted by: Ivan at Nov 9, 2008 12:35:55 PM