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Democracy can be refined

Written By: - Date published: 8:00 am, November 15th, 2016 - 125 comments
Categories: Abuse of power, Deep stuff, democracy under attack, democratic participation, Politics - Tags:


Democracy allows dumb people to vote, so dumb things happen. They stay dumb even though average education and qualification rates climb. Left or right, or whatever side you’re on, the results can look like dummies did it. Can we remedy that fault in democracy with better aggregated facts, AND keep a broad-based high participatory democracy?

Consider: if you buy a car, a house, a spade, or a fridge; you do your research. After all if you make a smart choice, you reap the rewards. And if you make a bad choice, you suffer consequences. Over time most people learn to become better consumers.

Whereas: if my university professor told my class that “Three months from now, we’ll have a final exam. You won’t get a personal grade. Instead, I’ll average all your marks together, so everyone will get the same grade.” No one would bother to study, and the average would be F.

But it’s the Professor’s version that compares to voting; it’s a class of four million voters. Most voters are ignorant or misinformed because the costs to them of acquiring political information greatly exceed the benefits. Voting is more like doing the wave at the Sevens tournament, than actually mandating a set of policies.

So here’s a couple of alternatives.

Central banks, public superannuation funds, and public insurance entities periodically make changes to short-term interest rates, reserve requirements, investment mixes, and other policy parameters. Such actions are made to smooth out business cycles, limit inflation, account for consistent rates of return, and promote growth rates.

Some argue that public entities like ACC or NZSuper or the NZ Reserve Bank should just hire knowledgeable people, keep it all at arms’ length, and then let them go for it. Others argue that there should be more political accountability (although we hardly ever argue about injury liability or pensions anymore).

Information about the state of the economy that is now given to monetary officials and asset managers could instead be made public, and hence available to market speculators. Monetary experts would have to persuade market speculators to influence monetary decisions. Market speculators would have to decide, like buying a car, which experts over time were more accurate.

The job of elected representatives would be limited to defining and overseeing X, a measure of national welfare. Bet on policy at your local stock exchange and TAB!

Ever six months – or 3 years – parties as we have now are provided with a live model of the NZ economy, society, and environment. They can write their own model, or agree to a common one (or use Civilization v3!). A model that operates a set of algorithms mashing the cumulative effects of all their policies. The results are published in all media to a constitutionally set sequence.

Currently all District Health Boards must publish data on a variety of health outcomes. They don’t get related to District Health Board elections at all, but they should be. GINI coefficients are regularly published, as are a whole raft of stats easily related to policy projections: population, real estate, crime, transport, GDP, environmental effects, etc etc. parties can choose their own inputs. So the baselines are there.

Anyway, choose your own fact set. Choose your settings. Run the model. Make a gameshow of the programme running live. What a teaching resource! Vote as a citizen tv viewer/cellphone user/newspaper reader on the results for the party you want to take over, based on the results of the models they present. You can still use paper voting and polling stations if you like. Policy via Simon Cowell’s panel, and no-one had to make Stephen Joyce sing!

A fully corporatised version would be run solely with a public Statement Of Intent (SOI). Auckland Council is an extreme version of this within the OECD. But it only runs on about 30% citizen turnout, with barely an aggregated fact needed other than last quarter’s rates bill.

I am sure there are anarcho-syndicalist versions. Go for it.

What I was looking for was a couple of ideas that would broaden the decision-making access of democracy AND aggregate data sets for smarter voting AND support a current New Zealand nation-state.

Many people enjoy their illusions about politics and policy. It might needlessly hurt them to forego such illusions via better information aggregation. Even today, media often avoid telling viewers distasteful details of how legislative sausage is made.

But this is the age of big data and big models. There’s no need for dumb or under-informed voting, or indeed for a dumb democracy.

125 comments on “Democracy can be refined ”

  1. James 1

    There are plenty of items that people disagree on. The problem with the left is that they always seem consider people who disagree with their views as dumb / stupid / racist / whatever.

    They believe their views are more intelligent and informed. Hell even this blog posted a picture of a left voter with things like “informed”, “studied” etc in their brain when the right voter had “Fox News” and “slogans”.

    Truth is people have far different views on prettt much everything. Just because someone else’s view differs – there could be a good reason for it – the only dumb thing is thinking they are dumb because they disagree with you.

    • Ad 1.1

      There’s a bit of truth to that on both sides.

      My general point however is about enabling decisions to be made by the most fully informed public possible.

      • One Anonymous Bloke 1.1.1

        Universal free education. That’s why the right hate and destroy it.

        • Chuck

          “Universal free education”

          No such thing as “free” OAB.

          Maybe you meant Universal state funded education?

          • One Anonymous Bloke

            Thank you for illustrating my point so clearly.

            In fact, education is an investment which yields a return. You understand this, which makes your malice even more egregious.

            • Chuck

              Yes correct, an investment that benefits both the student and state.

              Don’t know how you get “malice” from me pointing out that nothing is free?

              • One Anonymous Bloke

                It’s the frame you’re building. I’ve seen the plan hundreds of times and I know exactly what the collapsed pile of rubble looks like when it’s finished.

                It isn’t just that your argument narrows its focus to the cost of everything, it’s the conclusions you draw from this rhetorical device.

                What possible motive, other than malice, could you have?

                • Gosman

                  Alternatively we could turn your argument around and argue it is is you who is trying to frame the argument such that you want to encourage people to think that somehow something can be provided for free with no cost involved and that the State has some sort of ability to achieve this. Why is it okay for you to do this but right wingers trying to do so are somehow evil manipulators of the truth?

                  • One Anonymous Bloke

                    You could argue that, and in doing so illustrate my point again: the narrow focus of your argument betrays a conflict of interest.

                    • Gosman

                      Why is my argument any more or less narrow than yours and why does yours not betray your conflict of interest?

                    • One Anonymous Bloke

                      Reading is a skill: the answer is contained in my existing remarks. Why explain myself further to a recidivist liar like you?

                  • Clump_AKA Sam

                    Well how Dee Doo Dee goose. Just wondering if you’re still trying to breath life into the dead corps that use to be the TPPA?

                    Because the argument Keys put forward was devalue the kiwi, make our exports less expensive, make imports more expensive while boosting domestic demand and trade. I hope you can see the floors in that argument.

                    Soo when I shared my concerns about TPP with you your reaction was typical of hard right ideology, so I give you no respect in naming you goose because your analysis is straight up crazy.

                    This is what happens when PR meets content creation. You end up with dead corpses in media/identity politics/trade/investment and professionalism in general.

                    So the reserve bank lends out bonds for government spending, rinse and repeat, I suspect you will ideologically oppose that because of spending. And that’s a fatal floor. Being such a spoiled brat is a fatal floor.

                  • Clump_AKA Sam

                    Shut up goose. The 1% have abandoned you, you cog

              • Draco T Bastard

                Yes correct, an investment that benefits both the student and state.

                Incorrect. It benefits only the state.

                This is because the person is part of the state/nation/society.

        • james

          That is not whats going to address this issue of “dumb” voters. Some of the biggest idiots I know have university educations.

          • One Anonymous Bloke

            It isn’t an issue at all. Smart people can be wrong too. That’s why they get peer-reviewed.

            The political equivalent of peer-review is voter participation. That’s why you hate it.

        • Nessalt

          And yet you stand against charter schools who ask for no “compulsory” donations? the paradoxical abuse that emanates from you is astounding.

        • Ad

          You’ll never get “fully informed”. The aim is ‘slightly better’.

          • Puckish Rogue

            Not trying to be argumentative but if we take the American election as an example Clinton wasn’t elected because the people who voted didn’t want more of the same so they voted the candidate that was different (he’ll probably turn out just like the rest) so they made an informed choice, in their eyes anyway

            • One Anonymous Bloke

              The US public knows what works for them. That’s why right wingers do their damnest to prevent them from voting at all.

              • Puckish Rogue

                Bollix, the left didn’t vote (especially in those swing states) for Clinton because they didn’t want Clinton they’d have preferred Saunders

                • One Anonymous Bloke

                  Yawn. I wasn’t talking about the recent clusterfuck. It provides examples though.

                  Your thugs hooning around in pick-up trucks intimidating voters. The way your leader egged them on. The visceral hatred of twenty-five years of cynical smears and failed “investigations” into nothing bore fruit.

                  Keep marching happily behind your leader, Pucky. I’m sure he has a uniform with big shiny buttons for you.

            • Ad

              I was thinking of little old us here in New Zealand.

              I would like to think that National’s policies were weak and corrosive, and relied far too much on the charisma of their leader. These vast engines in Google and Facebook and indeed the sharemarket all aggregate far greater analysis than the mind of one small voter. We must be able to use those models to align the febrile minds of mere voters with the great fact-machines at our disposal.

              After all, those great database machines are used upon our lives every moment of the day already. It’s time to find ways to merge them to gain better decisions. Democracy is but a route to a good decision, not an end in itself.

              • One Anonymous Bloke

                Here too, the right deliberately pursues the strategy of electoral disengagement, of making politics as dirty and cynical as possible, because it provides them an electoral advantage.

                They cried crocodile tears when Lusk was outed doing it. They still select candidates who employ him.

                • Ad

                  I don’t think that’s the preserve of the right.

                • The lost sheep

                  Have you fully embraced the ‘post – truth’ age OAB, or are you still committed to the quaint idea of ‘credible evidence’?

                  If so, maybe you’d like to link to some credible evidence that backs your claim the NZ Right is deliberately pursuing a strategy of electoral dis-engagement, and that this alleged strategy has in fact been successful in preventing Left Wing supporters from voting?

                  • One Anonymous Bloke

                    There are a few basic propositions with negative campaigning that are worth knowing about. It lowers turnout, favours right more than left as the right continues to turn out, and drives away the independents.’ In short, many people stop participating in politics. If politicians cannot be trusted, if politics looks like a petty or ugly game, and if no one seems to be talking about the things that matter, then what’s the point of bothering to participate? Just leave them to it. There are innovations in US Republican Party thinking on this point; election tactics do not have to be just about winning votes; they can be equally effective if groups of people in society just stop voting altogether.

                    Simon Lusk .

                    The National Party made a pretence of being shocked, and then carried on using his “services”

                    Here he is training their corrupt little shills.

                    • weka

                      great response OAB.

                    • The lost sheep

                      I ask for ‘credible evidence’ and you produce one mans opinion unsupported by any kind of fact, and with no evidence what so ever linking his opinion to any policy followed by a NZ political Party.

                      Sigh. And this is the same OAB who only a year ago wouldn’t accept a weather forecast unless it was verified by peer reviewed academically credible research published in a reputable Journal….

                    • weka

                      If you’re not going to believe a pre-eminent professional in the field, what are you going to believe?

                    • The lost sheep

                      ‘what are you going to believe?’

                      Regardless of the ‘preeminence’ of the source, I would not believe any statement of substance unless it was backed by some form of ‘credible evidence’ that it was in fact true.
                      Simple stuff like a range of peer reviewed research, or evidence of a wide spread agreement across a range of genuine experts, or some case studies demonstrating the validity of the phenomena.
                      If the claim is true, that kind of stuff will be easy to reference. Is it too much to ask?

                      But I especially wouldn’t take anything as truth coming initially as a rant from an anonymous internet troll, and then backed by an opinion from a politically motivated Dirty Politics operative like Simon Lusk. ( Being ‘a pre-eminent professional’ in the field of political manipulation only diminishes his credibility IMO.)
                      Do you take everything Lusk says at face value without question Weka?

                      I do understand that evidence of the level presented by OAB is considered perfectly adequate in ‘Post Truth’ politics, and you may be happy with it on that basis, but I think I’m going to remain resolutely ‘pro truth’, and keep my bullshit detector set at an old-fashioned maximum sensitivity.
                      At this point it’s telling me that OAB is knee-deep in it.

                    • McFlock

                      So, just to clarify, when you’re asking for evidence of the objectives of leading nz right wing spin doctors, the explicit claims of those right wing spin doctors don’t count as evidence?

                      If I’m ever up on a charge and confess in a moment of stupidity, I want you on my jury.

                    • One Anonymous Bloke

                      You’d like more evidence?

                      Elenbass & de Vreese 2008.

                      Kahn & Kenny 2014.

                      Your bullshit detector is pointing the wrong way.

                    • The lost sheep

                      No McFlock.
                      Top marks for the attempt to conflate the discussion, but I wasn’t asking for proof of what the spin doctor said, it was evidence to back the 2 very specific claims OAB made…
                      1. the NZ Right is deliberately pursuing a strategy of electoral dis-engagement,
                      2. this alleged strategy has in fact been successful in preventing Left Wing supporters from voting.

                      Thanks for the references OAB, if you could just provide links to the papers themselves?

                    • McFlock

                      Dirty politics outlines some of the negative campaigning by the right.
                      It also has a quote from lusk, who is right wing, saying that these are the benefits to the right of negative campaigning.
                      And NZ voter turnout is pathetic.

                      Seems pretty spade-like.

                    • One Anonymous Bloke

                      Lusk’s employment status and statements are the evidence that the National Party is involved. The strategy has plenty of evidence to support it – as the above cites show.

                      Sooner or later you “good Germans” are going to have to face up to your complicity.

                    • The lost sheep

                      Thanks OAB.
                      Read those, and great to see that my bullshit detector calibration is spot on.

                      Neither of your references make any claim that negative campaigning is more inherently favourable to either the Left or Right and that it results in LW people being less likely to vote than RW.
                      They are also completely devoid of mention of NZ, let alone containing any evidence to back your claim that the ‘NZ Right’ is deliberately targeting a policy of electoral dis-engagement. (Why would they if there is no RW advantage to that?)

                      So your ‘proof’ remains one unverified statement from one of the least reputable people in NZ politics, with no linkage at all with any strategy of ‘deliberate dis-engagement’ by any NZ political Party, let alone by the generic entity of ‘The Right’.

                      In Post Truth debate I guess that’s what you call the Golden standard (sarc)

                      I just wish you would take some personal responsibility for your cynical and deliberate attempts to obfuscate the truth.

                    • The lost sheep

                      Gee, and if for the sake of the discussion we accept your logic that negative campaigning is an advantage to the Right (I don’t of course), and applied that to the 2014 election, what must we deduce?

                      Dirty Politics, Dotcom, Greenwald……the overwhelming tone of the campaign was negative, and that tone was set by The Left.

                      So by your rationale it is The Left that was responsible for the dis-engagement of Left voters that gifted victory to the Right?

                    • One Anonymous Bloke

                      Keep telling yourself that. On Earth, we have Lusk’s own words, verification that the effect is real, Lusk’s employment status, and such events as the Mt. Roskill by-election smears.

                      On the one hand, the National Party donkey deep in it, on the other, your feeble attempts to conflate Dotcom, Greenwald and Hager with the Labour and/or Green parties.

                      I don’t expect you to accept this, because you already believe so much shite your brain has adapted to lying (Garrett et al 2016).

                  • One Anonymous Bloke

                    The papers you’re looking for (which are but two of the many that examine these phenomena) are called “The Effects of Strategic News on Political Cynicism and Vote Choice Among Young Voters” and “Do Negative Campaigns Mobilize or Suppress Turnout? Clarifying the Relationship between Negativity and Participation.”

              • Puckish Rogue

                I’d personally suggest that the only things that need to happen in NZ is some tinkering, like for example some say no publicity for polls leading up to the election which sounds good in principle (and I wouldn’t be opposed to it) but you know some party will claim that their private polling is high or what ever

                So maybe a ban on polls one week before the election if the other issues can be sorted out mightn’t be a bad idea

                The other would be for all parties to be slammed when it comes to messing around with the electoral process

                • One Anonymous Bloke

                  Jailtime for people who attempt voter suppression strategies is a great idea. Who will replace the National Party?

    • One Anonymous Bloke 1.2

      What “views”? You don’t have any. Oh sure, you pay lip service to lies, like “personal responsibility”: while you exhibit none whatsover, or the “free” “market”, which doesn’t exist.

      Finding a counterview and forming an opinion are not the same thing.

    • Draco T Bastard 1.3

      There are plenty of items that people disagree on.

      Interestingly enough, the majority of people actually agree on many things. That poverty should be addressed, that people should be looked after, etcetera.

      What they disagree on is how to bring that about and that disagreement is down to our delusional monetary system and the false belief that people have to be incentivised with money (It’s actually only the sociopathic that are incentivised by money).

    • b waghorn 1.4

      ”The problem with the left is that they always seem consider people who disagree with their views as dumb / stupid / racist / whatever.”

      That is a broad generalisation probably arrived at because you get a hard time at the standard. I know a few nat voters and like most of them and don’t consider them dumb , wrong or voting in self interest would fit them more.

    • Guerilla Surgeon 1.5

      Fine. Where is the intellectual right these days? In the US it’s basically been destroyed. The days of William F Buckley are over. Even though he was a racist prick, he did have some intellectual depth. Fox news and Breitbart have taken over and dumbed conservatives down considerable. 🙂

    • Michelle 1.6

      Actually James the left voters that say some of the right are racist are right they are also discriminative but really the systems is all of the above. Who set our systems up James and who do they benefit the most. ( top down people) I don’t think NZers are dumb I think they are lazy and apathetic and too trusting. John key has not been telling the truth he makes promises he doesn’t keep and he gives people false hope.(pike rive mine) He does not have the guts or spine to be honest and upfront two important qualities a good leaders needs to have. He promised the highest standards from his government now has this happened? I don’t think so. Wake up James its because of people like you our country is in such a mess.

  2. pat 2

    “Consider: if you buy a car, a house, a spade, or a fridge; you do your research. After all if you make a smart choice, you reap the rewards. And if you make a bad choice, you suffer consequences. Over time most people learn to become better consumers.”

    Except your premise is wrong….consumers seldom do research, often buy on price and frequently make poor choices.

    All your alternatives require even more effort on the part of the voter and I would suggest one of the drivers for disengagement now is the fact it is all to complicated and there is already too much information (generally conflicting) for your average citizen , and we don’t vote on analysis but emotion in any case if the pundits are to be believed….are they?

    And as to dumb decisions…..who’s yardstick?

  3. One Anonymous Bloke 3

    The erosion of democracy has nothing to do with electoral stupidity (although that can of course be exploited) and everything to do with the ongoing deliberate destruction of democratic freedoms and principles by right wing politicians and their owners.

    Argumentum ad nauseam (She’s corrupt, I seen it! Hulungrad! Crime Family! Emails!), post truth politics, whatever.

    Destroying things is so much easier than putting them back together, even if you can find all the shards.

    What was it that caused the outbreak of social democracy in the first place? Those violent revolutions and wars in which the right were defeated.

    • Siobhan 3.1

      Money, and by that I mean massive amounts of money..from any direction, Right and Middle being where the money is…and it has destroyed the Democratic process in America, and its more than capable of undermining things here is we are not ever vigilant.

  4. Draco T Bastard 4

    How about telling everyone what resources that the country has available (Skills, land area, what land is good for what type of farming, iron ore availability, etcetera) and then get everyone to vote on how those resources are used and show how their vote changed the availability of those resources?

    • Ad 4.1

      Lovely link there.
      Available “resource” would be one part of it, sure. I prefer to conceive of our place as “environment” first. It gets pretty instrumental pretty fast otherwise.

      There are bunch of other appropriate stats to use that are published already.

      • Draco T Bastard 4.1.1

        I envision available resources as being what’s available after you’ve ensured that the environment is looked after. I also include sustainability so we would also have to take into account how much of a resource is within our lands and how we can make that limited amount last indefinitely.

  5. Pasupial 5

    Ad’s post seems fairly tongue in cheek to me (though it is interesting to see who takes the bait). However, the main lesson I learnt from the US election so far is that we need more democracy, not less. Specifically; that we need fewer hurdles to voting. Compulsary voting would seem to be the easiest way to ensure that there was no advantage to voter suppression.

    The raw number of votes rose: About 1.4 million more Americans voted in this year’s election than in 2012, a total which itself was down from 2008. But the electorate was growing in the meantime: About 57 percent of eligible voters cast ballots this year, down from 58.6 percent in 2012 and 61.6 percent in 2008, which was the highest mark in 40 years. Turnout still remained well above levels for most presidential election years from 1972 to 2000.


    Crosscheck in action:
    Trump victory margin in Michigan: 13,107
    Michigan Crosscheck purge list: 449,922

    Trump victory margin in Arizona: 85,257
    Arizona Crosscheck purge list: 270,824

    Trump victory margin in North Carolina: 177,008
    North Carolina Crosscheck purge list: 589,393



    Palast has been investigating such caging lists since the 2000 elections, so it is hardly a surprise they were again a feature of this year’s election. There was an article in Rolling stone (link above) in August which the above piece assumes you have read. Also a film; The Best Democracy Money Can Buy, which I haven’t yet watched. But if 140 million votes end up being counted (134 at present, but not final yet), then 7 million is 5% of that.


    • Colonial Viper 5.1

      As for the best democracy that money can buy, Trump smashed through that by smashing through Clinton’s big budget campaign, big budget ad spend, big budget corporate media, and big budget donors, by going straight to the people.

      • Pasupial 5.1.1

        The Trump campaign wasn’t involved in designing Crosscheck – that is a longstanding Republican project. Though he certainly would have been aware of it:

        Kobach, who also advised Trump on building a wall on the southern border, devised a list of 7.2 million “potential” double voters—1.1 million of which were removed from the voter rolls by Tuesday. The list is loaded overwhelmingly with voters of color and the poor… Those accused of criminal double voting include, for example, Donald Alexander Webster Jr. of Ohio who is accused of voting a second time in Virginia as Donald EUGENE Webster SR.

        While there is a great deal of work to do, much documentation still to analyze, we’ll have to pry it from partisan voting chiefs who stamp the scrub lists, Crosscheck lists and ballot records, “confidential.”

        But, the evidence already in our hands makes me sadly confident in saying, Jim Crow, not the voters, elected Mr. Trump.

        Trump’s skill in milking billions of free coverage from the corporate media definitely helped him against Clinton’s bigger advertising budget (and earlier in the primaries too – JEB was all cashed up and it didn’t help him). But yes; the exploitation of social media (or “going straight to the people” if you will) was key to Trump’s success.

    • Andre 5.2

      Hurdles to voting is certainly a problem in some US states, not so much here. In any case, to me it’s a subset of “hurdles to representation”.

      To my mind, the lesson from the US debacle is to treasure the fact we’ve got MMP here in New Zealand, and to remember we need to constantly work to strengthen it so that the broadest range of voices reasonably possible gets heard in the corridors of power. Having a broader range of opinions with a good chance of making it into parliament can only help get more information into the public view.

      Which means pushing to reduce thresholds for getting list seats and reducing incentives to game the system by gifting overhang and coat-tail seats to cling-on parties.

      • Pasupial 5.2.1

        From what I recall of the last election, voter suppression was more a feature in the Māori seats. My main interest in the US election has been the techniques that have proven successful there will be imported here soon enough. Though you could argue that we’re ahead of them in electing a narcissistic bullshiting plutocrat as Premier.

        I wholeheartedly agree that we need; “to treasure the fact we’ve got MMP here in New Zealand, and to remember we need to constantly work to strengthen it so that the broadest range of voices reasonably possible gets heard”.

  6. Colonial Viper 6

    1) Make clear legal distinctions between news and opinion/editorialising.
    2) Decommercialise TVNZ; reinvigorate RNZ.
    3) Reduce the MMP threshold to 2.5%.
    4) Four term limit for MPs: unless you are serving in Cabinet in your final term.

    • Draco T Bastard 6.1

      Four term limit for MPs: unless you are serving in Cabinet in your final term.

      Why should serving in cabinet make any difference?
      And what difference should it make?

      • Bob 6.1.1

        “Four term limit for MPs: unless you are serving in Cabinet in your final term.”
        “Why should serving in cabinet make any difference?”

        Think of someone in a situation like Iain Lees-Galloway, currently in his 3rd term and never held a cabinet post. If Labour forms a government after the next election and he is given a role in cabinet, he would have 3 years to try and implement 12 years worth of ideas. Allowing him to stay in that role for 2 terms sounds fair to me.

        • alwyn

          It will be very interesting for the Labour and Green parties after next year’s election won’t it?
          About half the Labour party’s members and a rather lesser percentage of the Green members will immediately have to quit after the results are declared and National remain in power.
          After all they won’t be in office, won’t be in cabinet and will have done 12 years in Parliament.
          For the ones like Lees-Galloway they will know that they are going to have to go at the end of the 2017-2020 term. There is very little point in giving them places on the front bench if they are going to have to give their valedictory speeches prior to the 2020 election.
          I am in favour of limiting time in Parliament but I think your proposal is a little bit crude.

          • Pasupial

            If we’re hypothesizing about the fate of MPs; what will happen when National is unable to cobble together a coalition because they’ve devoured the votes of their possible partners? NZF might hook up with them for one term, but that’ll end about as well as it did with Shipley.

  7. adam 7

    Sorry to throw a spanner in the works, but don’t you have what you just ask for Ad? By that I mean the large, and growing section of the population that do not vote.

    Also I hope in this century you are not calling for people who can’t speak, don’t get to participate!?!

    • Ad 7.1

      I hadn’t gone into the compulsory voting problem.

      It may be somewhat chilling for social democrats like myself, but there’s an awful lot less democratic accountability in New Zealand than there used to be. But I’m not sure we’re much worse off for that.

      The changes that Palmer made through the introduction of the RMA, of Tomorrow’s Schools, and of local government reform and amalgamation in 1989, and then District Health Boards later, were all highly democratising in a way New Zealand had never experienced before. But often they led to hollow and unfunded mandates, whose democratically elected members became merely blame-offload mechanisms for government Ministers to throw like red meat to the media. So no, democratisation is lot a solution in itself.

      I’m really thinking about supplements to democracy, rather than wholesale replacements.

      • adam 7.1.1

        Completely agree with you assessment “there’s an awful lot less democratic accountability in New Zealand than there used to be” Ad. And I agree we did move to more democracy with local government reform and health boards. And can’t help but agree It’s been a stick to beat local government up with as a result.

        We have to engage those who do not vote, and no not to get votes for the left, because frankly, that is a waste of time. But, as you point out get to the core of why people do not participate in a more fulsome manner. Here I think rather than compulsory voting, make those who actively put off voters, suffer the consequence of their actions in some fiscal way. Call it the whaleoil law.

        I’m for more bottom up democracy, starting in the workplace. That said, without what you point to, a desire to actually participate and feel included it’s not going to work. But then again, if people actually felt that what they did, and how they voted effected them and theirs in a positive way, I think it would be a self fulfilling loop.

        I’d also like to see us recall candidates. A good example of that would have been what led to the north by-election. I think the candidate should have not been allowed to resign, but face the community who elected him, and if they felt he had crossed a line – recalled him.

        People need to feel empowered to actually be part of somthing – systemic failure, or wreaking, helps no one.

        Good post Ad by the way.

  8. Bill 8

    Two words. The first word is “Copernican”. The second word is “Revolution”

    For those unfamiliar with what that refers to, astronomers had a model of the universe that wasn’t quite according with real world observations. They spent many years adding refinements hoping to make the model sync with real world observations. In essence, their model involved ‘spheres’. And their refinements required the adding of ‘spheres’ on and within other ‘spheres’. They created an unholy mess.

    To cut a long story short, Copernicus didn’t view the universe as being comprised of spheres. It was revolutionary.

    Today we have a view of democracy that is built around representation and top down decision making. It doesn’t work and will never work, no matter how many refinements are applied to it. The model, if it is to yield or produce democracy, is fundamentally incorrect.

    Democracy can’t flourish in an environment where some people represent the views of others. And it can’t flourish in an environment marked by the presence of authoritarianism (heirarchy). The absolute best that can be achieved under those conditions is a system, or a series of systems that are less undemocratic than some other configurations might be.

    Democracy is immediate, not remote. It can only exist and flourish where each person has the opportunity to have a meaningful say in those things that will affect them. That’s the simple basis or fundamental pre-condition for democracy. Any subsequent complexities that are democratic can only arise quite naturally out of actions cleaving to those simple initial conditions.

    For millennia we have felt the urge to impose order rather than letting it develop. And for our pains we have produced not much else beyond various levels of chaos and conflict.

    So (to take from the post title) do we want to refine non-democracy so that it’s less undemocratic, or do we want democracy?

    If we want the latter, then we have to abandon what we have. This post, like a million and one other schemes, seeks to add levels of complexity to already existing levels of complexity in the vain hope that someday or somehow we’ll arrive at some perfect democratic order. That approach is so contradictory and wrong headed as to be insane

    • Ad 8.1

      It depends how much you trust people to make good decisions.

      It also depends how much you view democracy as an end to itself, or a means to good decisions.

      There’s no need to have false binaries, just a series of constant improvements.

      We’re in a different kind of revolution now.

      • Bill 8.1.1

        Groups of people making decisions on matters that affect them will get things wrong. But they inhabit a flexible environment that they have control over and so they are able to correct stuff as they learn and build up, what I might term, ‘institutional knowledge’.

        That can’t be said for remote decision makers who inhabit a fairly rigid environment and have all manner and types of what should be extraneous considerations pressuring them and influencing them.

        Democracy isn’t an end – it’s a never ending, constantly evolving process or series of processes that people have meaningful levels of control over that delivers various democratic outcomes.

        We’re not in a different kind of revolution now, it’s the same. There is a world view that’s unfit for purpose, but that many are determined to cling to, that can’t ever be modified to deliver what’s desired.

        oops. Should add. If democracy is the desire, then ‘undemocracy’ gets rejected whenever it’s recognised. That’s not so much a binary as a necessity.

        • Ad

          The point about institutional knowledge is definitely a useful bulwark against to too much democratic change – but only if you have a substantial and reasonably independent public service and judiciary. Not sure that’s the case here in NZ. They really do inhabit a pretty rigid environment of constraints, for precisely that reason that they need to sustain that institutional knowledge beyond electoral terms.

          I don’t think I’m proposing democracy to ‘be the desire’; I’m seeking better informed decisions from voters, and a few supplements to achieve that.

        • KJT

          A case in point is California. They got to a stage where they voted for tax cuts, but an increase in services. When that was shown not to work in reality, another citizens initiative voted to reverse the tax cuts.
          When tax cuts, and reductions in services, austerity, was proven to be unworkable in the States governed by fiat, the Republican Governers simply doubled down.

    • Draco T Bastard 8.2

      That comment of mine seems to have disappeared into the spam trap.

    • ropata 8.3

      +1 interesting analogy.
      the current model is flawed indeed but your solution to “abandon what we have” is no solution.

      as in software development i think the systemic failures we see (ECan, CERA, crap in the water, … ) are due to bugs in the system that require a (possibly major) refactoring exercise to resolve. but re-writing the *whole system* is a huge and unnecessary risk that is likely to fail.

      problems caused by people and culture and undemocratic behaviour can only be resolved by changing people! a grass roots revolution perhaps. that sort of thing (civic engagement in democratic processes) needs to be nurtured by an environment that values education (+ civics), equality of opportunity, and judicious legislation to incentivise voting…

      ultimately i think the solution to politics & culture is found in human hearts, i.e. the world needs more love and kindness. (religion has a role to play)

      • KJT 8.3.1

        Reminds me of the US approach to technology. Apply fix on the fix on the fix.
        The Japanese approach was to take the best and re engineer it from the beginning.
        We all buy Japanese designed cars these days. Even those made in the USA.

        • ropata

          The Japanese model of “Kaizen” is continuous improvement, not rebuilding from the ground up.
          (Kaizen was adopted from US military doctrine but ignored by complacent American companies…)

          • KJT

            The Japanese did re-engineer from the ground up. A very good example is the MX5. “The best British roadster ever built”.
            Kaizen is a management method advocated by a US management guru called Peter Deming. He was largely ignored in the USA, but his methods of self managing teams, continuous improvement and quality control by workers, were widely adopted in Japan.

    • KJT 8.4

      “Representative Democracy” is an oxymoron.
      This has become even more apparent with the the growth of an entitled “managerial class of politicians. Politicians of both left and right think they are in Parliament to manage, not represent!

  9. Peter 9

    I have always been interested in politics, I have worked in the maintenance dept of company’s that have employed as many 10,000 people down to just a few, so I get to speak with a lot of people and I can honestly say most people I have met don’t give a shit about politics. The only information they get is from the TV or less and less from the newspapers and the young don’t even bother watching the news. I have spoken to my own children and there friends and there TV’s are not even connected aerials so they don’t evan watch free to air TV at all. You cannot make people interested in something that does not interest them and most say there is no difference between them and there only in for themselves. Sorry to say I have no answer to that.

    • Ad 9.1

      This is definitely the site to be on if you want your fill of political discourse.

      It is something like Lacrosse; a very small minority sport with few players, but looks so odd that it has to be interesting.

  10. b waghorn 10

    Social media will change politics forever in 10 to 20 years , it’s only because most that are in today’s political world are fogies who haven’t fully grasped how to harness its power yet that it hasn’t already.
    Reaching the young has never been easier,

  11. Draco T Bastard 11

    Documentary — A New Economy
    Screenings (There’s one in Wellington)

    • ropata 11.1

      Interesting but who knows if it’s realistic. When the oil runs out or Trump causes worldwide trade to collapse we might look something like Cuba, where everything was recycled or repurposed with the sort of ingenuity that used to be common in NZ

      • KJT 11.1.1

        One of the things that struck me about Cubans, was the general level of,happiness, despite a lack of Western goods and what we considered a low standard of living, in a country, we were told, was a repressive Dictatorship.
        Especially in contrast to Haiti and Jamaica.

  12. ropata 12

    Ad wrote:
    Most voters are ignorant or misinformed because the costs to them of acquiring political information greatly exceed the benefits.

    I agree that most people have an average or below average IQ, cannot parse the news critically, or cast an informed vote.

    Actually the statistics show that voting Left benefits most people, and voting Right is gonna cost the average voter in lost wages, higher GST, poorer services etc.

    Political ignorance is widespread because most people are incapable or disengaged or disaffected. Hence they are susceptible to dirty politics and mindless PR and soundbites on TV. The Right benefits from negative campaigning and voter suppression and gerrymanders and loads of funding from corporate interests and a dumbed down media.

    There are a lot of RWNJ rugged individualist types around who think inequality is OK and that they are better than everyone else hence no need to help the poor. Traditional Kiwi values like a fair go and decent wages are being trashed

    • Doogs 12.1

      +1000 ropata. Fabulous!

    • Ad 12.2

      I have not stated that most people – or voters – are dumb.
      Only that some supplements to their general level of knowledge about policy decisions would be useful.

      • ropata 12.2.1

        Yes, that’s one of the most important responsibilities of the MSM… informing the public. But this aim is seriously compromised by commercial and political pressure.

  13. The lost sheep 13

    Just a little factual perspective on the ongoing comments on this blog implying that electoral engagement is low in NZ.
    In fact over 75% of NZ voters are actively engaged and do consciously make the decision to vote.
    This places us well above the OECD average of 70%, and way above the 52% of the USA.

    It is true that for nearly 100 years prior to 1987 NZ voter turnout averaged approx 90%, but dis-engagement bottomed out at 77% in 2002, and there is no evidence of a continuing decline in voting turnout since then.
    Voting at the 2014 election was actually 3.7% up on 2011.

    1996 88.3
    1999 84.8
    1999 84.8
    2002 77.0
    2005 80.9
    2008 79.5
    2011 74.2
    2014 77.9

    • Pasupial 13.1

      The Elections Commission has the 2014 voting rate as 76.8%, but more importantly; you’ve got to combine that with the registration rate. That is currently about 90%, so either way the proportion of the eligible population who actually vote is under 70% (68.7% using the EC figures). Of course, you could argue that registering to vote is a de facto voter license exam (as you suggest below), but it does disadvantage the homeless even further.


      The age distribution of those voting is interesting. In those over 50 it is over 80%, in those under 30 it is 62%. Furthermore, the young are less likely to be enrolled, so we have; 41.5% of 18-24 yearolds voting, compared to; 85.7% of the 65-69 lustrum.

      • The lost sheep 13.1.1

        Fair enough Parsupial.

        But I don’t think that alters the validity of the points I made at all?
        A large majority of NZ’ers are engaged and voting, to a level that is very high by global standards.
        Participation has not shown a decline over the past 5 elections, and there was a 3.7% increase at the last election.
        The older people get the more likely they are to vote.
        That all speaks of a reasonably healthy level of Democratic engagement?

        • Pasupial

          I’m more of the opinion that older people are more likely to have developed the habit of voting. And the thing with the elderly is that they won’t be around for ever. If younger people fail to see the point of registering let alone voting, that does not seem to be healthy for democracy.

          From your figures, it would seem that participation is indeed in decline. Although there was a slight rebound in 2014, that was only just above the 2002 slump and not to even 2008 levels, let alone any previous year. That other countries are faring even worse is hardly cause for celebration.

          • The lost sheep

            If younger people fail to see the point of registering let alone voting, that does not seem to be healthy for democracy.

            If my memory of the ’60’s and 70’s remain sufficiently unclouded by all that strange stuff I ingested, the young are highly sensitive to social and political injustice, and far from complacent when it confronts them.

            Maybe the current youth voting rates are a sign of a generally healthy society? Youth are generally living pretty well and don’t actually feel much of a motivation to engage with a situation that is not actually confronting them?

            • One Anonymous Bloke

              “‘…living pretty well…”

              The youth unemployment rate is over ten percent. That’s the average.

              I venture to suggest that you are projecting.

              • The lost sheep

                No projection OAB. Just facts.

                ‘Over 10%’ of Youth are unemployed, and over 85% of Youth are employed.
                Unemployment therefore does not prove that the majority of Youth are not ‘living well’, nor does it explain why 40% of Youth did not vote.

                • One Anonymous Bloke

                  If you’re looking for “proof” you’re in the wrong place. cf: Einstein, Box.

                  The two papers I cited earlier apply here, but they are peripheral to your question: why does electoral participation increase with age?

                  If you’re genuinely interested in answers they abound. Google is your friend. From my perspective the more people that vote the more robust society is. So any level of disengagement is toxic.

                  • The lost sheep

                    From my perspective the more people that vote the more robust society is.
                    Agreed. You’ll support my suggestions for improving the quality and quantity of participation below then?
                    Maybe you even have some positive practical suggestions of your own?

                    So any level of disengagement is toxic.
                    Not sure that ‘any level’ is ‘toxic’.
                    Many things only become ‘toxic’ at a certain threshold, and I suspect voter participation is one of them.

                    With voting, you must consider whether the failure to vote by people who are making a conscious decision not to participate is in itself harmful? They have a democratic choice to take that option, and they are exercising that right. Can that be harmful to democracy?

                    Even though I would make voting compulsory, I have no grounds for stating that in itself 100% of citizens voting would make any difference to the quality of Governments we elect?

                    Are you aware of any such evidence OAB?

                    • One Anonymous Bloke

                      Yes. Of course there is. The interesting question is the null hypothesis.

                    • The lost sheep

                      Yes. Of course there is.

                      Just a few links to get me on the right track then?

                    • One Anonymous Bloke

                      How did you form “your” “opinion” unless you already did some reading?

                      If you are as ignorant as you claim, it will take far more than “a few links” to bring you up to speed, and even then they’ll probably just conform to my confirmation bias.

                      High school civics might be your best place to start, just watch out for that null hypothesis: it’s a doozy.

                    • One Anonymous Bloke

                      Let’s examine that null hypothesis too: “electoral participation has no effect on the quality of government”.

                      Can you think of any examples that undermine that statement?

                    • The lost sheep

                      O.K. So you can provide no links and are reverting to arguing from a null hypothesis fallacy.

                      “electoral participation has no effect on the quality of government”. Can you think of any examples that undermine that statement?

                      That wasn’t my statement.
                      I opined that voter participation may become toxic at a certain threshold, but that I have no grounds for stating that in itself 100% of citizens voting would make any difference to the quality of Governments we elect?

                      I’m guessing your ‘example’ might be the 52% turnout at the recent US election leading to the election of the idiot Trump? Anecdotally, I’m inclined to agree that result reflects a level of non-participation that is becoming toxic.
                      But is there any proof that greater or even 100% participation would have resulted in a different outcome? Or that a different outcome would in fact have been an ‘improvement’ in the quality of Govt? I’d like to see some facts rather than anecdote.

                      But, anecdotally again, with NZ’s level of participation, and 70% of voters already engaged and voting, on a statistical level I find it difficult to see how the missing 30% are even going to make any difference to the outcome, let alone increase the quality of the Govt. elected?
                      You would have to propose that the 30% would vote in pattern that was so strongly different to the 70% that it would skew the result one way or the other.
                      And then what proof is there that would result in an increase in the quality of Govt? Why should the 30% who are dis-engaged now be any better at identifying ‘quality’ than the 70% who are engaged?

                      Some curly questions there OAB?

                    • One Anonymous Bloke

                      Dear god you’re irritating. I can provide links for Africa, but where the hell do you start?

                      What’s the null hypothesis if not the one I suggested?

                      In terms of the facts you’re looking for, I guess I’d start by comparing the levels of electoral participation by country and measuring that against a raft of social outcomes – the health of the populations, employment levels, education, etc. etc.

                      Test the Schattschneider hypothesis, the constituency size effect, and so on with some other data.

                      And drop your obsession with proof: you can only do it in Maths, which bears little resemblance to reality, hence the earlier reference to Einstein & Box.

                      Why should the 30% who are dis-engaged now be any better at identifying ‘quality’ than the 70% who are engaged?

                      I think we’re all wrong, just in different ways; it’s the way those differences are expressed that makes democracy the least crap system.

                    • The lost sheep

                      Since when did a google search become ‘proof’?
                      Have you read all or any of those? Can you focus down to any particular sections or passages that are directly applicable to our discussion, or…..

                      drop your obsession with proof

                      Oh. I see. You have officially come out as Post Truth.

                    • One Anonymous Bloke


                      Science – the sort you’re asking for “proof” from – deals in probabilities.

                      Gavin Schmidt (NASA) had this to say about it:

                      science isn’t either settled or not settled. This is a false and misleading dichotomy. Instead, we know things with varying degrees of confidence – for instance, conservation of energy is pretty well accepted, as is the theory of gravity (despite continuing interest in what happens at very small scales or very high energies) , while the exact nature of dark matter is still unclear. The forced binary distinction implicit in the phrase is designed to misleadingly relegate anything about which there is still uncertainty to the category of completely unknown. i.e. that since we don’t know everything, we know nothing.

                      Albert Einstein put it:

                      Insofern sich die Sätze der Mathematik auf die Wirklichkeit beziehen, sind sie nict sicher, und insofern sie sicher sind, beziehen sie sich nicht auf die Wirklichkeit.

                      This isn’t “post truth” – I’m pretty sure you know this.

                      I already pointed you at a couple of hypotheses, and civics 101. I am not your tutor; I am expressing my informed opinion.

                    • McFlock

                      I am not your tutor;

                      Sometimes I think that the only thing most tory commenters learn here are new words to misunderstand and then abuse in order to claim victim status.

                      They certainly pick up the lingo pretty quick (“post-truth”, “~shaming”, “dirty politics”), they always seem to use it in ways that are ever-so-slightly inconsistent with conventional language.

                      Whether it’s a genuine social disability, or a parsing fail of the turing test… who knows…

                    • The lost sheep

                      Sometimes I think that the OAB/McFlock persona really does believe that if it throws out sufficient random verbiage, otherwise intelligent readers really will not perceive it is merely a smokescreen to conceal the dual-persona’s flight from genuine engagement!

                      They were post-truth before their time. Doesn’t get more cutting edge than that eh!

                    • McFlock

                      you think anyone would waste sockpuppet accounts on you? Is it that unlikely that two people on an open forum might have independantly come to the conclusion that you’re a dickhead?

                    • One Anonymous Bloke

                      “Random verbiage”.

                      Very specific references to particular named hypotheses, in fact, plus a bunch of other material.

                      You obviously don’t – or are determined not to – understand the point about proof vs probability. You are obviously ignorant – or determined to twist the meaning – of “post truth” politics. Your lies will not obscure that.

                      Basically your position on everything is “I read in on a left-wing blog so it can’t be true”. And yes, I have come to the conclusion – again – independently of McFlock, that you are a dickhead. This conversation is over.

  14. Doogs 14

    An interesting thread

    Interesting? Why? Because it points up clearly and unequivocally that most people’s thinking is driven almost entirely at the emotional (feelings) level.

    Very little of what I read here in this post is anything but gut reaction and knee-jerk rubbish. Look, someone posts a series of ideas, and instead of it starting a reasoned and impassioned discussion of the article’s content, everyone starts scrapping and bickering with each other – much of it not even related to the article.

    Ad – your piece is either tongue-in-cheek or absolute shite. I suspect the former. Unfortunately, the proletariat interpret it as a chance to get the gloves on and hop into the ring. They stand in the wings waiting for OAB or PR or someone else to post a flame and there they are, hoses at the ready.

    Ad – on message – none of your suggestions have even a passing resemblance to a solution. Democracy is the question and the answer. There simply is no other real alternative. Your first 4 paragraphs are great. They identify the problem for which there is no easy answer. To refine democracy you need an educated and objectively thinking populace. Not easy to achieve, given the way our system works at the moment. Schools are currently working with a massive dichotomy. Teachers are asked to differentiate their programmes to accomodate the differing styles of learning and levels of cognitive ability in their students. Then what happens? The MOE requires a rigid standardisation of assessment to be applied to all.

    This is patently wrong, and has teachers tied up with resolving these issues under a mountain of paperwork. Instead, they should be asking students to develop independence of thought, research and analysis. They should be teaching them to search for nuggets of truth and inspiration among the miasma of rubbish emanating from the internet, TV and social media. They need to teach them to ask important questions of people and data they are presented with. There is not enough real critical analysis of information, because very few people can do that. Why? Because they have not been taught the art of metacognition – thinking about their thinking!

    Some posts and threads of comments I really enjoy. Others are populated by fuckwits, trolls and RWNJs. We can’t avoid them. FGS people, ignore them.

    • Ad 14.1

      Democracy is not the only solution to good policy decisions.
      Of course my two little ideas won’t work – they were designed simply to make people think – but it does point out how choices can be better evaluated.

  15. The lost sheep 15

    As for the meme that NZ voters are ignorant/dumb.
    The Human Development Index gives NZ a World ranking of 2 for Education, with a score of 0.91, where 1 is the highest possible theoretical score, indicating perfect education attainment.

    NZ voters are too dumb to make informed choices?
    You’d have to be stupid to say that.

    • Ad 15.1

      I have not stated that most people – or voters – are dumb.
      Only that some supplements to their general level of knowledge about policy decisions would be useful.

      • The lost sheep 15.1.1

        I didn’t single you out AD. Others yes. they know who they are!

        I’m an advocate of compulsory voting, and have often thought about the idea of linking that to a voter license?
        Something around the level of a Driver or Gun license, that ensures that at least voters understand the basic elements of the electoral system and the significance of their vote.
        Could that increase the percentage of citizens both voting, and using the vote responsibly and with adequate consideration?

        There are civil liberty issues in that suggestion of course, but personally I see the vote as a essential Social duty.
        We all have a responsibility to ensure we put in place leaders that reflect and implement our social will.
        Spending a relatively small amount of time ensuring we are personally equipped to make considered choices for the good of Society as a whole, and then actually doing so is a very small imposition on our personal freedom.

        • Pasupial

          An important feature of compulsory voting would have to be a; “no confidence” option, for those who just showed up to avoid a fine.

          I am troubled by your suggestion of a voting license however. That brings to mind the Jim Crow laws of segregationist era USA (now returning behind different masks). Also, would a past conviction bar you from voting for life in NZ as in some states? That seems a way to guarantee further Māori disenfranchisement given how disproportionately they are represented in the prisons.

          Personally, I favour extending the franchise to all citizens – even those under the age of eighteen, though there might be a need for proxies (&/or nonvoting representatives) there. Though I recognize that people do have valid concerns with the idea, and it’s not going to be happening anytime soon.

          One group I do have a problem with voting are dual citizens. I have family who vote in both Australia and NZ, which is legal; provided they come back to the country every couple of years. It does seem to make a mockery of the; one person, one vote concept, though.

          • halfcrown

            I agree with Sheep we should have compulsory voting, as the vote is a privilege apart from being a Social duty and should be taken very seriously, as it has been denied to so many over the years in other countries. However, I think it should be compulsory to register your vote than to actually vote for a particular party. This is why I feel Pasupial idea of a box that you can either tick abstain or no confidence is a good an idea.

          • The lost sheep

            Understand your concern re. the potential for a license or similar to be counter-productive and actively dis-enfranchise some groupings Parsupial.

            My thinking was that the basic requirement for any such mechanism would be, like a drivers license, it was set at a level that the vast majority of citizens were perfectly capable of achieving with a small amount of application.
            In the few cases where citizens had genuine reasons for not being able to achieve, then this would not remove their right to vote. And in fact, if people who were capable of it, but did not achieve, that would not deprive them of the right to vote either.

            So when I say ‘compulsory’ and ‘license’, I am really seeing those measures as more a way of giving the vote and electoral process more ‘gravitas’ and social importance, and hoping to increase the level and quality of participation by doing so.

            But why not do it while kids are still required to be in school? Say the last compulsory year, and yes, let them vote immediately after that?

  16. save nz 16

    I advocate we become the Consumerist State of NZ, led by our dear leader Key who can rule till his death when the Max Key dynasty takes over.

    Who needs voting, when we have perfection in NZ already.

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