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Democracy is bad at hard problems

Written By: - Date published: 7:15 am, December 8th, 2010 - 72 comments
Categories: Deep stuff, electoral systems, superannuation - Tags: , ,

I think most lefties would agree that the market is bad at hard problems. It is focused on short term gain — quarterly profits — with little motivation to consider the long term. It concentrates power and wealth towards a few at the top, with little motivation to consider the good of the many. It can be very inefficient, competing where it should cooperate, and monopolising where it should compete. Most lefties recognise these deficiencies, and turn to government to try and address them by shaping the behaviour of the market.

The trouble is that democracy is bad at hard problems too. As currently practised it is focused on short term gain — re-election — with little motivation to consider the long term. It is too easily dominated by a few at the top, who can use their power, wealth and media access to shape public opinion and purchase political influence. It can be very inefficient, chopping and changing direction every electoral cycle or two, driven by personality and populism instead of facts and pragmatism. I think that most lefties recognise these deficiencies too, but have very little idea where to turn to address them.

A couple of current events have specifically prompted this post. Firstly on the world stage, is the failure of government, on an international scale, to address the oncoming bullet of climate change. Collectively, our governments are so dumb that we seem to be unable to agree to take the action necessary to preserve the environment that gives us life. It’s pretty much the ultimate in stupidity. And secondly here in NZ, the failure of government to address the inexorable landslide of population demographics. We need to take action now so that we will be able to support a much larger proportion of the elderly in our population over the next few decades. But it simply isn’t happening.

On our ageing issue, to be fair, Labour made a good start, with the Cullen Fund and Kiwisaver. Real forward thinking, albeit not yet on a large enough scale. But then we get one of democracy’s flip flops, and a National government who have been utterly hopeless. They cut payments to the Cullen Fund (thus costing us millions) and cut back on Kiwisaver too. And now they are paralysed by Key’s desperate short term populism. The Retirement Commission is pushing for the government to gradually raise the pension age to 67, but Key’s hands are tied by his very public pre-election promise to resign from office rather than change the entitlements or age of eligibility. The Nats are stuck, so the country is stuck, rabbit in the headlights, while the size of the problem continues to grow.

So back to the big question — what is a leftie to do? How should democracy be fixed? How do we improve it so that governments can think long term and make decisions based on evidence rather than ideology? I tried to set down my initial ideas but they turned in to such an embarrassing muddle that I deleted the lot (I’m no political scientist, and no great scholar of political thought). So over to you folks. I put it to you that democracy as currently practised in most countries is broken. How do we fix it?

72 comments on “Democracy is bad at hard problems ”

  1. Draco T Bastard 1

    By becoming more democratic so as to prevent the levers of power being appropriated by the few as happens now. The majority of people around the world understand that we need to do something about climate change and yet the politicians are prevented from acting by the well off and business interests.

    • Jenny 1.1

      I couldn’t agree more Draco.

      • Rosy 1.1.1

        Yes Draco. I don’t think working against democracy is the answer. That’s when you sack councils, isnore select committess and put in abusive levels of power. The question is how to make democracy better – not to bypass it for decisions that suit. The condition of liberty and all that …

  2. A 2

    It can’t be fixed. It is what it is. Just accept that it has its limitations, and that non-democratic action is sometimes necessary, which it appears to be in the case of the climate crisis.

    Making things more democratic is just exacerbating the fundamental problem, which is that the satisfaction of individual preferences is sometimes collectively self defeating. Making things “more democratic” in such a case is simply pouring petrol on the fire.

    Our political culture is almost universally populated by democratic fundamentalists. This is bad for the same reason that most forms of fundamentalism are bad. But, like all forms of fundamentalism, it is very hard for those on the inside to accept its deficiencies.

    And as for the question of “what system is best”, the only response is that the question is misconceived. There are optimal political systems for particular societies at particular times, and in the majority of cases this is a form of democracy, but that doesn’t mean that there must exist an optimal political system for all societies at all times.

    • Jenny 2.1

      Don’t give in A. Democracy is best.

      It only looks faulty because it has just seldom been given a chance to operate freely.

      As I have argued here in a previous post, anything worthwhile, that needs doing by human beings needs doing by many of us.

      (I challenge anyone to name a worthwhile project that doesn’t)

      The trouble is, we human beings all being individuals, all have many different ideas and thoughts on the best way of doing – anything.

      The herd of cats analogy. That is if you accept that human beings like cats have autonomy.

      There is two basic ways of handling this dilemma the first is imposed control and decision making from one individual or group over the rest. This is known as autocracy.

      The other is Democracy which is my favoured form.

      Though both methods have the benefit of getting things done there are three main ways why I favour democracy over autocracy.

      1/ Even when there is disagreement about the way to go forward. (Sometimes even vociferous disagreement), it is put to the vote. The understanding is that by partaking in the vote, the minority agree to go along with the majority decision. Therefore you get buy in from the dissenters to help with the task as well as the assenters, maximising the collective effort.
      The great thing is the submission of the dissenters is voluntary and is not imposed, unlike the Autocratic model where submission is imposed often under threat of some kind, against a minority of dissenters and more often than not against the majority as well.

      2/ Because majority wins things are decided by a vote.

      I have been on both sides of this equation many times. And even when I have been on the losing side of a vote, I have felt satisfied that I had got to have my say and had the chance to put my point the best way I could.

      This is the other great thing about democracy “free speech”.

      3/ Sometimes the majority is right, sometimes the minority is right.

      That is another great beauty of democracy. You get another chance, to discuss it, to vote on it, and in light of the facts, and even change the majority decision if you can, this is part of the joy and challenge of democratic politics.

      • A 2.1.1

        I’ve heard this before: if only democracy were freer, it would solve all our problems. Like I said, in some situations that is pouring gas on the fire. It’s the absolute last thing we should do in the case of the climate crisis.

        Sometimes democracy is the problem. Sometimes freedom is counterproductive. It is a form of fundamentalism to assert the opposite.

        We as a culture just lack the imagination to think otherwise, just as in former centuries people could not imagine objecting to the divine right of kings.

        • Rosy

          Smart thinking can overcome some of the democratic issues. Especially for social problems. Take homosexual law reform, MMP etc. The elected can be ahead of the public but work hard to work through the issues. Key is not even interested in trying with the retirement age. Thats the problem, not democracy

          • A

            I don’t disagree. My basic point is somewhat more… elemental.

            Markets fail because individually rational decisions are sometimes collectively self defeating.

            But democracy is really nothing more than a particular type of iterative market. Each person is given a vote to “spend” and spends it on what in their view is best. Again, individually rational decisions can be collectively self defeating (look at the housing bubble).

            I’m not relying on the claim that voters are ignorant or venal, even though they often are, but on the demonstrated fact that systems of aggregated individual choice often end up frustrating the preferences of their participants.

            You can’t make this “better”, since expression of individual preference is inherent to the democratic system. You can in some cases reduce the effect by having a system of soviets, but that causes other problems.

            Like the OP said, democracy has real trouble with certain sorts of problems. We can deny this as shrilly as we like, but it remains a reality.

            • Draco T Bastard

              Markets fail because individually rational decisions are sometimes collectively self defeating.

              The Irrationality of the Free Market

              But democracy is really nothing more than a particular type of iterative market.

              Yes but like the market it can be made to work if people are all working with the same information. That could be further refined so that people must vote within that information. I.e, we know that climate change is real and is caused by man as all the evidence points that way. We know that there are some things that need doing limit the damage caused by climate change. We then set up the voting so that the only choice is between those things that will limit climate change that can be done within actual physical resources.

              ATM, we don’t have that and so our democracy is just as irrational as the free-market paradigm that we live within. If people have the information and have limited but viable choices then democracy works. As the FFA that it is now it doesn’t and the only people it serves is the people who control the wealth and power – the capitalists who are mostly a bunch of psychopaths.

              • A

                Not sure I buy that. Markets are subject to irrationality even if people have perfect information. People know that climate change will be bad, but they will vote for people who promise to externalize the costs, usually on to future generations. That’s not a matter of ignorance, but of skewed incentives.

                What you are suggested is a managed democracy, which is fine by me, but I don’t think you’ll find takers elsewhere.

        • Jenny


          “…if only democracy were freer, it would solve all our problems. Like I said, in some situations that is pouring gas on the fire.”


          I would like, to call you on that one A.

          And only, because I think this is such an important issue., I may be tempted to hound you till you respond.

          Give us all, just one example of a “situation” that you think, shows that when democracy was made freer, that it was alike to “pouring gas on the fire”.

          • A

            I’ll give you a couple.

            In countries like ours there has been a movement over the past 40 years to democratise the education system in order to make it more accountable to the community. This was supposed to replace the old, hierarchical system with one that was fairer and more egalitarian. The result has been the opposite, with an unhealthy obsession with school league tables and unequal outcomes.

            John Key (whom I would never vote for) and the National Party, along with other parties, were absolutely right not to bow to public pressure over the smacking bill. Society is simply better off as a whole if individual parents are denied the freedom to beat their children (even if most parents would do so sparingly and in a restrained manner). Yet, in a free vote, a vast majority wished to have the right to beat their children.

            I could go on about the electorally powerful coalition of homeowners and its effect on the housing bubble and so on.

            • Rex Widerstrom

              Yet, in a free vote, a vast majority wished to have the right to beat their children.

              See, that’s why you don’t trust democracy. Do you really believe that all those people who voted were just itchign to grab their children, march them down the garden, and start using them as punching bags?

              The people who make headlines for child abuse generally tend not to be productive members of society, A. They therefore tend not to vote.

              The majority of people voted the way they did because:

              a) They don’t like social engineering on principle, and/or;
              b) They don’t want the police given the power to intervene for no other reason than they’re having trouble controlling their child, and/or;
              c) They might occasionally resort to a light smack, or understand why other parents might do so, and didn’t want to see that become a criminal act.

              In other words, it was the same instinctive common sense that saw people oppose the removal of provocation as defence just because of one extreme case. They knew that criminalising a light smack wasn’t going to protect kids from fence posts, jug cords, fists, boots, burns or being hung on clotheslines.

              Sure we can debate whether there are better means of communicating with a child than a light smack – and indeed that’s precisely what they should have done – but it’s wrong to characterise those who voted for the abolition of the amendment as “wishing to have the right to beat their children”.

              As Draco points out above, if people are clearly and calmly informed – to which I’d add “and if the question is drafted in an unambiguous way” – I trust them to make the right, rational decision.

            • Jenny

              I am not convinced A, Could I be so bold as to ask you give just one more clear example.

              that when democracy was made freer, that it was alike to “pouring gas on the fire”.

              This is because none of the reasons you gave are, in my opinion at least, any examples of this at all.

              For instance, by the so called movement to “democratise schools” that you talk about, I suppose you mean the Tomorrow’s Schools programme. Which was undemocratically imposed on communities and the education system by central government, and of which bulk funding was a part. Tomorrow’s Schools was in fact an undemocratic impost on communities driven by monetarist policy driving central government policy at the time, which actually made it harder for teachers and the communities they served to provide for their pupils adequately, especially at low decile schools. This was hardly an example of democracy at work, in fact the opposite.

              The 2nd example you gave was, actually an example of the abrogation of democracy where the results of a public referendum was over ruled. (Though personally I disagreed with the result, in that it was a referendum on whether the smacking children was a legitimate legal defence, able to be used in court cases involving assaults against children. Some thing I don’t support.)

              Your third example though vague, alludes to an alleged “powerful coalition of homeowners” and the affect of this alleged coalition on the housing bubble.

              What on earth has this got to do with democracy?

              This sounds more like a conspiracy theory. In fact it is widely accepted that the housing bubble was caused by unchecked and undemocratic market forces.

              On the examples you furnished, I can’t fathom your dismissal of democracy for authoritarianism. So if you could supply one more, example I would appreciate it.


          • Name

            An example of too much democracy?



            • Rex Widerstrom

              Interesting article, Name. The quote from American psychiatrist Isaac Ray (in 1863, no less!) that:

              “It is not for [the US citizen] to suppose, in any national crisis or emergency, that the government will take care of the country, while he takes care of himself”

              particularly resonated for me. Much as it goes against my instincts to say so, from a practical perspective I guess there is such a state as having “too much democracy”.

              People like myself, who tend to react to any move to increase civic participation with unabashed enthusiasm do so because we don’t trust government – of any hue – to “take care of the country” and the only peaceful means open to effect change is toward direct democracy.

              But in our enthusiastic rush towards a culture where everyone is expected to make the big decisions – even if they have neither the time nor inclination to absorb the facts on which to base them – it’s easy to overlook the fact that direct democracy wouldn’t be nearly so attractive if we could trust government.

              We need to be reminded to continue to perfect and reform what we have, and what’s worked over hundreds of years, as well as to examine what may be added. That was a timely reminder – thanks.

              • Draco T Bastard

                Much as it goes against my instincts to say so, from a practical perspective I guess there is such a state as having “too much democracy”.

                Nope. The bit you quoted is a reminder that the people have a responsibility to the society and not just to themselves.

                • The principled part of me agrees, Draco. But the bit that can barely spare the time to come here and spout barely-informed dribble let alone weigh the pros and cons of a multitude of issues says that, practically speaking, we simply don’t have the time to discharge that responsibility properly.

                  In my case, it’d mean I didn’t vote on issues about which I didn’t feel fully informed. But in the case of many, alas, they’d spend 10 minutes listening to Micael Lhaws spout bile and then log on to cast their “informed” vote.

                  That, alas, is the reality. And all the reminders that they have a responsibility to do better will fall on deaf ears.

                  That’s why (in addition to as much direct democracy as we can manage) I would like to see an MP acting as sort of a “chairman” of his or her electorate… taking as many soundings as possible, considering the evidence themselves, communicating that to the electorate and taking more soundings… and then making the best decision they can based on their honestly held opinion and cogniscent of what the informed part of their electorate seem to want.

                  An independent in permanent campaign mode, in other words.

                  edit: Bugger, now I’ve written all that I see Sanctuary has expressed it more succinctly below:

                  Leisure time is a factor of wealth, and information can only come from the media.

                  That’s the two factors we need to combat if we’re to achieve direct democratic utopia.

      • Lats 2.1.2

        In general I agree Jenny. However the problem with simple majority vs minority is that it makes a couple of basic assumptions which I suspect aren’t always true.

        Firstly, as you so rightly point out, the majority can be wrong, sometimes in a spectacularly bad way. My personal feeling is that current drug policy falls into this category (although many would disagree with me here) and other examples from the past would suggest that majority rule can be flawed. How long ought we have condoned slavery, or the criminalisation of homosexuality and prostitution, or the social and political oppression of women? These are fundamental issues which speak to basic human rights, and yet inhumane policies were allowed to continue for far too long because the majority decreed that this was “right.”

        Secondly, majority rule assumes people make rational decisions. This most definitely isn’t the case. Our decisions are not based on hard data, we are emotional creatures, and creatures of habit. The human decision making process is too often ruled by selfishness, preconceived notions, peer influences and irrational morality. It is, quite simply, unreliable from a policy setting point of view. I would rather trust the skills and knowledge of a select group of experts in various fields to suggest policy than to rely on the dubious collective wisdom of the general public.

        If the public could be relied upon to make rational unbiased decisions in the greater public good I would happily back true democracy to the hilt. Sadly, this doesn’t happen, and probably never will.

  3. Sanctuary 3

    The trouble with post is it assumes we live in a fully healthy and functioning democracy. We do not. Whilst New Zealand is not as bad as the United States, a system hopeless corrupt in a sea of money, our democracy isn’t as healthy as it has been in the past, and that is reflected in our politicians.

    Our politicians are also, in a sense, in a pure free market as well, where their considerations are around re-election and where the agenda is set by an irresponsible and profit driven media.

    Democracies rely on an engaged citizenry with sufficient leisure time to consider issues and make informed choices – Leisure time is a factor of wealth, and information can only come from the media. I would contend that without an engaged population and without significant reform of media ownership laws to encourage a fourth estate that fosters informed debate amongst that engaged population then we may have the MECHANICS of democracy but we lack the SUBSTANCE of democratic life – and hence proper democratic decision making.

    I believe, for example, that you should be able to qualify for a tax credit for volunteer community work. This could be anything, from running a boy scout troop to handing out leaflets for a political party. Once you’ve done a minimum – say, 200 hours a year – you could claim, say, $1500 back on your tax.

    I think newspapers and TV stations should only be owned by trusts or other not for profit business models.

    And I would like to see a fixed election date and that day to be a public holiday, where we celebrate democracy with community events and by voting.

    • Colonial Viper 3.1

      Democracies rely on an engaged citizenry with sufficient leisure time to consider issues and make informed choices – Leisure time is a factor of wealth, and information can only come from the media. I would contend that without an engaged population and without significant reform of media ownership laws to encourage a fourth estate that fosters informed debate amongst that engaged population then we may have the MECHANICS of democracy but we lack the SUBSTANCE of democratic life

      Yes this says it all for me. I would add that people need to be informed of more than just the facts/current events, they also need to be fully aware of how the democratic system works and the role they play in its proper function i.e. civics education.

      And if at any stage the people are being frozen out of the democratic process to have the confidence to take that democratic process back by strong positive action.

      • Lats 3.1.1

        Civics education is an excellent idea. I assume that this is touched on a little in the current social studies syllabus, but don’t know this for a fact. If it isn’t, it certainly ought to be, the level of political ignorance in this country astounds me.

    • I believe, for example, that you should be able to qualify for a tax credit for volunteer community work… Once you’ve done a minimum – say, 200 hours a year – you could claim, say, $1500 back on your tax.



  4. ghostwhowalksnz 4

    The first thing to remember is that we dont have ‘democracy’ we have its popular cousin ‘representative democracy’.
    We could have direct democracy with the population being asked to make important decisions regularly.

    Some are pushing for a return to ‘unrepresentative democracy’, being the FPP system we used to have. Looking at those people and groups will tell you why they want to do that.

  5. Key’s stance on superannuation is particularly hypocritical.

    He put up GST after promising not to but for some reason the retirement age is sacrosanct.

    He then guts the Cullen Fund and Kiwisaver and makes super less affordable.

    He then sits on his hand and says “not on my watch”.

    His actions are making an increase inevitable.

    He shows the short term vision of a money trader.

  6. I think if you deepen democracy you will change the way people think when they elect leaders.

    right now, democracy is something that exists at a distance from most people and they engage in it in a superficial way.

    the trouble is, the trend is in the opposite direction with fewer and fewer powers to more and more distant local authorities.

  7. Nick C 7

    4 Year terms might be a good start? Thoughts?

    Binding citizens initiated referenda?

    • Colonial Viper 7.1

      Largely agree with both of those. Perhaps we could have referenda every 2 years, thereby bisecting the 4 year terms. That would hold the pollies accountable in the inbetween times.

      MMP also needs modifications, like a mild drop of the 5% threshold, and other steps. And my old favourite – civics ed, so people actually realise that democracy is much more than putting a paper in a ballot box.

      Also changes have to be made to ensure that pollies always represent the people not the industries or the resources.

      • Geoffrey 7.1.1

        In NZ I think it’s important to maintain 3 year terms in the absence of a federal system and/or upper house and a stronger constitution (e.g. in a single written document) with corresponding court challenges. As we’ve seen with CERRA in particular, democracy in NZ can be shaky. I see 3 year terms and MMP as the only two safeguards – if there were some reforms on other fronts it might make sense to consider a 4 year term.

      • Lanthanide 7.1.2

        Looks like you get your wish:
        “The size of Parliament, the length of government terms, Maori seats and the role of the Treaty of Waitangi will all come under the spotlight in a wide-ranging review of New Zealand’s constitutional arrangements.”

  8. tc 8

    “Key’s stance on superannuation is particularly hypocritical.”

    Sideshow john’s stance on most issues reflects the classic nat atitude of ‘Me and me mates are fine so F the rest of you suckers’

  9. Tigger 9

    Loving the ignorant comments around this.
    “Leave us alone. The generation approaching retirment over the next 8 to 10 years have probably been the hardest working generation in terms of achieving a standard of living for most only dreamed of by previous generations. Our thanks for this is to have people continually trying to change the rules on us.”

    Uh no, the suggestion was it be raised when those born in 1966 start hitting retirement age. Which is my generation.

    As for democracy – why don’t those affected make the decision? If you’re not affected then frankly you should shut up as it isn’t hurting your bottom line at all.

  10. Jum 10

    Women have never had democracy, because of religion, fear of attack or through government obstructing equality.

    • Vicky32 10.1

      Sorry, Jum, I don’t buy that, and I am a woman…

      • Jum 10.1.1

        So, Deb,
        Let me see: religions all say that the woman is subordinate to the man as the final decision-maker.
        The only time many women go out at night is that special time when they walk the streets, en masse, on the evening of ‘taking back the night’ once a year.
        National in 1990 reversed the pay equity legislation.
        National in 2008/9 reversed the pay equity legislation.

        Women have the democratic right to go out alone at night and then get blamed if they get raped or attacked. Women have the democratic right to become leaders in religion if the men let them. Women have the democratic right to become a party leader and a Prime Minister such as Helen Clark did and face the worst attacks on her person, her politics and her personal beliefs that anyone in this country has had to face and none of that was anything to do with her as a person. It was all about her sex.

        Women have been ruled by physical fear for centuries, whether they admit it or not. The silly thing is the people who protect them are from the very sex that threatens them.

        You may say women make up their own minds in a democratic way but I am not convinced of that in NZ society or anywhere else in the world.

        Plus when they have children their personal rights disappear in the need to protect those children.

        • Colonial Viper

          Jum: you are expecting way too much from what ‘democracy’ can deliver in terms of societal and personal change.

          • Bill

            I think Jum has pretty much got it right.

            What we have concentrates power. It doesn’t empower in the general sense and actively disempowers definable sections of the population more than others. The more disempowered can attain some measure of equal disempowerment through protest or whatever (e.g. Suffragette Movement). But they will still be subject to all types of systemic discrimination in spite of having won apparent equality in the democratic voting process.

            Maybe it would help to understand democracy as an interconnected web of autonomous decision making processes rather than as a singular attempt to bring organisational order to a clearly delineated whole?

            But those with their hands on the levers of power or control can’t allow for the decentralising effect of democracy; the dispersal of power. And among other things, that preserves all the systemic discriminations that bolster those at the top and that diminish, to different degrees, those below.

            And so an endless battle for equal rights for these people or those people in this situation or that situation just rumbles on and on.

          • Jum

            You’re right of course Colonial Viper. I have always expected too much of people, especially women.

            captcha: ‘death’ to expectations.

        • Vicky32

          Jum, I can’t speak for all women, only for myself. But your last line first : “Plus when they have children their personal rights disappear in the need to protect those children.”
          Personally, I didn’t mind that, when my children were young. There were no ‘rights’ I wanted that I didn’t have, when caring for them. Now they’re adults, I am pleased – I see the results, and they’re good.
          I have gone out at night, alone, from when I was 17 until now (40 years later), and I have never been in any danger. Maybe I have just been extraordinarily lucky, but the only time I came close to being molested at all, I was on my way home from an evening shift at an IHC home. I shoved the guy hard, threatened to knee him in the nasties, and made my escape when he fell over laughing (literally). I was 28 or so at the time, it was K Rd near the overbridge (if you know Auckland), and very well-lit which may well have made a difference, but still… The guy was as pissed as a newt, which was why he fell over! So, I suppose I *was* lucky.
          I have to agree with you about Helen Clark – the attacks on her were disgraceful.
          But as for women not making up their minds in a democratic way, I have to disagree strenuously on behalf of women such as my mother, my sisters and of course myself! You insult us.

          • Jum

            Insult you Vicky32, and your family? No – you’re personalising it. But, if it is insulting to suggest that women are not fulfilling their role as lynchpins in this society on the one hand protecting children over their own needs (new partners) and in being equal partners in any relationship, which will result in a much stronger society because all parts of it are strong, then I have not yet begun. That ties in with The Spirit Level which outlines if one section is disempowered by another it reduces the strength of all society.

            Women have to understand how important their self-esteem is in making this society a stronger one.

            Plus, I think you mistook what I meant about giving up rights to protect children. Of course you put your own needs to one side to raise your children. That wasn’t the issue. The issue was that women lose rights often because of vulnerability, lack of jobsharing, ‘post baby blues’ etc. which weaken their ability to take equal charge. The democracy of the family can be greatly concentrated in one person which then makes the democracy of the family an autocracy.

            Cute attack story. I’m pleased you ‘saw him off’, but it also trivialises all the other attacks on people not as strong as you. They don’t have a ‘take back the night’ event for fun Vicky32.

            • Vicky32

              I just want to say that I am *not* strong! I am 154 cm, and currently weigh 40 kg. (Back then I probably weighed about 50 kg.)
              I am not particularly strong in other ways either… I think I was thinking something along the lines of “a soft answer turns away wrath” at the time, and so my attitude towards the guy was sort of “sod off or I will hurt you, but I would much rather not”…
              My father, who died when I was in my teens, had taught me all sorts of tricksy techniques to cripple or kill a guy. (He had 3 daughters and a much younger son, he was short himself, and very cynical about guys, maybe because he was one!) Problem is they probably won’t work for someone as short as I am! 🙂 )
              Nevertheless, I sort-of get your points..

              • Bill

                Vicky32 and Jum.

                You guys basically agree, yes?

                I mean, are women disempowered or disadvantaged (e.g. in the job market, in education etc ) by being the bearers and (generally) rearers of children?

                Do women walk home in the dark without having to give a second thought to the route they take?

                Do systems of patriarchy persist in our institutions?

                Are women paid less than men?

                Do women tend to fill less rewarding and less well remunerated jobs?

                Do Maori women or PI women have to contend with extra layers of codified disadvantage and discrimination? And so on.

                • Vicky32

                  I don’t wholly agree with Jum, I partly do…. I think s/he is too inclined to think that women are weaker than they are, and that their oppression is greater than it is or need be..
                  1. “I mean, are women disempowered or disadvantaged (e.g. in the job market, in education etc ) by being the bearers and (generally) rearers of children?”
                  Mostly, yes, but not all of them are!

                  “Do women walk home in the dark without having to give a second thought to the route they take?”
                  I can’t speak for all women, but I have never given the route I take a second thought. I am quite happy to walk home in the dark (I don’t drive and never have) and I have been accosted only a few times, the most recent time by a homeless woman!

                  “Do systems of patriarchy persist in our institutions?”
                  I don’t think so…

                  “Are women paid less than men?”
                  Indisputably. The question is why?

                  “Do women tend to fill less rewarding and less well remunerated jobs?”
                  They tend to, yes.

                  “Do Maori women or PI women have to contend with extra layers of codified disadvantage and discrimination?”
                  Possibly. Once again, not all of them.

                  • Jum

                    Women are not weaker; they seem to think they have to play the weak card. They are in actual fact a lot stronger than men. I personally think it unfair and calculating that women feel they have to pretend to be weaker. But, men favour women who pretend to be weaker than they are so the vicious circle and the nonsense continues.

                    Bill; I’m sure you’re enjoying playing the mediator and you’re right; essentially I’m sure Vicky32 and I agree in so many ways,but until all women in New Zealand accept the power along with the responsibility and build support systems which allow them to be the fallible human beings they are that like rock, like cooking, like engineering, like pink, like black, like men, like women, want children, don’t want children, like themselves, accept themselves, we will continue to have some sort of pretend society that ends up insulting all of us, men, women and children.

                    More importantly, Vicky32 you do disagree with me; that’s what personal esteem and self-acceptance is all about! (and even more importantly, I’ll give you the last word, heh, heh, heh…)

                    • Vicky32

                      Pink and black together, that’s what I like (and in spite of the fact that it’s “so 1982), pink and grey! 🙂
                      Thanks for clarifying, Jum…
                      I do know men seem to prefer stupid women! (Men in my cohort, prefer fat and stupid to thin and clever, absolutely).

  11. KJT 11

    Firstly we do not have a democracy. We have a dictatorship which we rotate every three years.

    These people have a democracy. http://direct-democracy.geschichte-schweiz.ch/

    How can you possibly assume that a genuine democracy could make worse decisions than the 120 self appointed incompetents we have at the moment. Politicians make rational researched decisions. Choke!
    Rushed legislation without proper consideration of the consequences is the norm. In Switzerland bad legislation is unusual because politicians know they have to justify it carefully or it will be voted out.

    Most objections to real democracy are not that we may make the wrong decisions. When you look carefully the objection is they may not make my decision.
    People, especially political types think they know better than everyone else.

    Why does everyone quote California. Why not Switzerland or Wisconsin.

    The objection about minority rights does not hold water in NZ. It was parliament who held up women’s suffrage and homosexual law reform in NZ, not the public.

    Just because, you personally, did not like the results of one CIR is no reason to oppose democracy. In fact if the voters knew they were binding they would think more carefully on the issues.

    At the end of the day it is our country, not the politicians, and even if it is wrong it is our decision to make.

    • Lanthanide 11.1

      Actually women’s suffrage passed in 1893 due to politicking in parliament. There was not a real majority in parliament in favour of it. From wikipedia:

      “From 1887, various attempts were made to pass bills enabling female suffrage; each bill came close to passing but none succeeded until a government strategy to foil the 1893 bill backfired. By 1893 there was considerable popular support for women’s suffrage, and the Electoral Bill passed through the Lower House with a large majority. The Legislative Council (upper house) was divided on the issue, but when Premier Richard Seddon ordered a Liberal Party councillor to change his vote, two other councillors were so annoyed by Seddon’s interference that they changed sides and voted for the bill, allowing it to pass by 20 votes to 18. Seddon was anti-prohibitionist, and had hoped to stop the bill in the upper house.”

      Everyone likes to pretend that women’s suffrage was some magnanimous decision by the forward-thinking NZ, but actually we just got lucky.

      • KJT 11.1.1

        “was considerable popular support for women’s suffrage”,

        What I said. It was parliament who held it up.

    • Bored 11.2

      Thank you KJT, just read the thread and noticed that everybody else (except maybe A) were dancing amongst the deck chairs on the Titanic. To have a democracy gone wrong is to not have a democracy. What we have is not a democracy, it is an elected administration that is severely compromised by corporate interest groups ability to influence public opinion through the use of money, especially via the media.

      I am not sure any democracy is free from being open to corruption by sectoral interest groups, the best I think we can hope for is to try and make “one person one vote” work with severe (almost total) limits on throwing sectoral money at the outcome. How money influences the Swiss example you give is unclear, but I like the model.

  12. Jum 12

    Half the population that are not women, being able to vote on whether women should have abortions? No.
    Especially if they have shares in a knitting needle company…

    The people who want to hit their children came out on to the streets to say so and wanted a binding referendum.

    We now have Key who is ‘enthusiastic’ about signing away by next November our rights as New Zealanders to America and American corporates who can get rid of Pharmac’s control over charges for medicines, sue the government (us) if we threaten their profit bottom line through our human rights demands, but nobody is out on the streets apart from a few protestors who need our countrywide support to save ourselves from Key’s betrayal.

    Binding referenda in a country that is naive in the extreme about politics and that voted in the smiling assassin; you’re joking of course. Ha, ha.

    Wrong about only parliament holding up women’s suffrage – Parliament had only men for some time who were following the dictates of most/all men and many women who did not want suffrage for all sorts of odd reasons. Parliament is now a microcosm of the public thinking, to a certain extent. We have currently, a selfish, greedy people who thought tax cuts were all they needed to be happy. They voted in a selfish greedy moneytrader who headed a bunch of selfish greedy men, backed by a rotundtable of selfish greedy men.

    • Colonial Viper 12.1

      In a democracy the mass of people get the Government that they deserve.

      So, you either improve the civics education/awareness/insight of the mass of people (OK, a yeah right moment perhaps) or you put the boot into democracy.

      Any other options? An enlightened dictatorship perhaps? Or a Council of Unelected Elders?

      Basically we need politicians who are willing to represent not just the people but also the interests of the people. And definitely not the interests of industries and capital.

    • KJT 12.2

      Those who think their individual opinion should prevail over the majority are guilty of hubris if not downright arrogance.

      Especially the ones who say the majority do not have sufficient knowledge, but they themselves have.

      The only reason Key was voted in was because they were not Labour who had ignored the wishes of the majority for long enough. The only choice people have is to vote for the lot they did not like last time to get rid of the present mob.

      Interesting that research shows if people are asked to vote for policy without telling them which party it is from, they vote mostly for Green policy.
      New Zealanders being a majority who believe in fairness.

      • Lats 12.2.1

        Interesting that research shows if people are asked to vote for policy without telling them which party it is from, they vote mostly for Green policy

        Can you provde a link to that research please? I’d be really interested to read that.
        If that is true it simply highlights that the public can’t be trusted to vote rationally, unless certain information is withheld from them. That opens a whole can of worms, such as who decides what information is made available to the voting public. To my mind a vote made in the absence of all relevant data is a useless vote.

        • KJT

          To me it shows that the public will vote rationally. For an environment that people can survive in even though it may not be in their short term interest.

          Unlike the irrational voting in Parliament to continue with short term gain for a few wealthy people until it is all gone.

          I can’t point you to the study because it has not been published yet. I saw the raw data while at Waikato last year.

          • Draco T Bastard

            Well, I hope like hell that it’s published before the next election.

            • KJT

              Would be good, but I think election results are going to be a part of it.

              • Draco T Bastard

                And they don’t want to stuff up the results of the research by publishing the interim findings. Damn cats.

                • KJT

                  I like the cat theory, 🙂 but I think its because they want to confirm the results so far on the dichotomy between the vote for a party and the policies voters actually want .Rather than fears of quantum entanglement.

        • Rex Widerstrom

          Interesting that research shows if people are asked to vote for policy without telling them which party it is from, they vote mostly for Green policy

          Can you provde a link to that research please?

          I think it came out of the results of a UK site called Vote For Policies which presented visitors with policies without saying which party they were from. The Green Party rated over 27 percent support while the Liberal Democrats got 18. Both were well ahead of Labour and the Tories.

          However, the results have come in for much debate with several commentators, including the nonpartisan YouGov site, calling its methodology into doubt.

          And, as can be seen by the UK electoral result, support for policies doesn’t translate into support for parties (though logic certainly suggests they should…)

  13. Bill 13

    We have democratic elections. But we don’t have democratic decision making processes. In other words we use a democratic mechanism to arrive at an undemocratic endpoint.

    Beyond considerations of representative parliamentary decision making, we might look for democracy at the various points where we interact with one another or with various structures…eg the workplace and the community.

    In the workplace we are subjected to a self appointed dictatorship and have no say in decision making.

    In the community, we democratically elect representatives to council or whatever. But there is no democracy in the resultant decision making processes.

    Which would all indicate that a lack of democracy is the problem and that using a democratic mechanism to legitimise undemocratic decision making processes is the problem.

    The only interaction we have with decision making processes is when we use the leverage of protest to engage in a power struggle with those making the decisions.

    And that is not democracy.

    • Colonial Viper 13.1

      And why do we not have more democratic processes in the private sector? In work places? Worker involvement and worker voices in corporations who have the same sway as the half dozen people in their executive management.

      Bring more democracy across the public sector, AND the private sector.

      • Bill 13.1.1

        If we are going to hang on to the tradition of having democratic elections to empower decision makers who make decisions on matters that do not directly affect them, then we won’t ever progress towards democracy.

        We’ll remain as disempowered spectators to the decision making processes that impact our communities and lives.

        The workplace; that bastion of dictatorial decision making, is different only insofar as the boss is appointed rather than elected.

        You might say that the workplace is the more honest expression of our power relationships. No pretence at democracy there.

      • KJT 13.1.2

        Straight from high powered management theory.
        Work places where decision making is devolved as close to the coal face as possible are proven to be more effective. Japanese Kaizen teams being a good example.
        Unfortunately the cult of managerialism requires the opposite to justify the high salaries and status.

        Should never have let them off their accounting stools in the back office.

  14. Expand real time Parliament TV viewing to commitee/sub-commitee hearings and tie it into public internet forums to allow on line submissions and voting for secure logged in users/voters/taxpayers.

    FFS, if we can online game with participants around the world we can sure as hell run our own lives and make decisions which affect us as responsibly as any politician.

    well, at least some of us can…

  15. KJT 15



    “Democracy is the worst of all systems of Government except for all the others”. Churchill.

  16. Stephen Franks said in late 2003 or early 2004:

    «The point is not that the events will not occur, but that the kinds preparations and precautions that a democratic government can take before the risk becomes so imminent that everyone recognises it, are so limited as to be a waste of time or worse.»

    Re peak oil.

  17. Jeremy Harris 17

    They cut payments to the Cullen Fund (thus costing us millions) and cut back on Kiwisaver too.

    Here’s what I don’t get about the majority of people who post on this board and it is evidenced by the above statement:

    – In general many posters here rail against the “Neo-Lib” global economy, that it is a bad thing, that it must end if we are to stop the rich ruling and save the planet, yet rail against the Nats for not borrowing billions of dollars to pump into this very same system, many talk about the inevitability of it’s collapse, yet again, still want this to happen… I know what the reply will be, we want the Cullen fund to invest in subsidising new NZ industries or some other such risky venture but neither Party is proposing this…

    – In a previous post one of the loudest “climate change and peak oil is coming to destroy us” screaming posters on this board stated that the NZ Government should buy back 100% of Air NZ… Now shouldn’t Greens, peak oil and climate change activists be screaming for Air NZ to be sold..? It is nonsensical to me to call for massive cuts in carbon emmissions yet advocate for the government to buy back a business completely, that has a majority chunk nationally of a carbon intense industry, especially if you think fuel price is going to skyrocket in a few years, the Air industry will be the first to go, so why not let “the greedy private sector” take on this risk and potential loss, surely the $1,300,000,000 tied up in Air NZ could be better spent..? The only response was Lprent calling me a dickhead saying air routes are strategically important, engines can easily be change to bio-fuel (which is incorrect and biofuels are already causing third world starvation) and no discussion of the cost or whether private companies would continue flying air freight if Air NZ was sold was entered into…

    It comes across as ideologically driven hypocracy, that it is okay to support the evil Neo-Lib economy as long as it is the result of the “good” action of the government increasing involvement in superannuation provision, similarly it is okay to pump taxpayer money into a heavily carbon intensive industry as long as it driven by a the “good” action of a government increasing it’s stake in a business…

    I don’t really care that much either way on either issue, I’d like to see Air NZ privatised in no small part because of the risk from “peak oil” but I’d love an explanation of these seemingly illogical ideologically driven positions…

    • Colonial Viper 17.1

      Look Jeremy there is no (hmmm not much at least) inconsistency in the things you point out. IMO it is actually practically driven not ideological.

      Lefties know we need to engage both personally and as a country with the capitalist financial system today.

      Capitalism and capitalistic/corporate diplomacy is the primary game in town. So right now we aren’t going to be closing our bank accounts, selling our share portfolios, liquidating our properties and stop participating in commercial markets just because we don’t like Chicago School neoliberalism. Why? Because we need to live in today.

      We know that the Govt cannot simply disengage from the international financial system overnight. But that does not mean that we will not propose ideas to begin to disengage from the system. Or at least reduce our reliance on it as a resource and as a decision making priority.

    • Bunji 17.2

      I suspect you’re being deliberately simplistic, and I’m sure you’re aware that neo-liberalism is but one school of (particularly harsh) capitalism. Getting the Cullen Fund to invest in the market does not a neo-liberal market make. Removing almost all regulation does that.

      You also groupthink all left-wing commentators together. There are quite a spectrum on the site from those who want the imminent overthrow of capitalism entirely to those who merely want a much more social version. There are quite a few in between who want to have the best version of capitalism in the meantime until something better can be organised. But I’m sure you can see that too.

      There’s nothing hypocritical about wanting a better version of a system with which you don’t entirely agree. Only the most ideological would advocate we go for an even more extreme neo-liberal version of capitalism so that people finally get pissed off enough that the revolution does happen. Lefties care too much about people to advocate that.

      Going on your example, an Air NZ where the profits of an unsustainable climate business at least go to the people/government so that that profit can be fed into climate-change reduction projects might be better than a private business where that profit goes into more climate-change hungry business. A state-owned business might be able to be directed to look at how to reduce impact on the climate, making planes more efficient and looking at the most renewable energy sources, instead of only looking at the financial bottom line (although long-term that might be a money-winner too). It might be more concerned with the wages of its subsidiaries’ staff being fair than maximising their CEO’s salary too, as a nice aside. Ideally we’d organise nuclear fusion powered planes, without emissions, but that’s not likely in the near future… So often it’s a case of best case we can make in an imperfect world.

      (and re: borrowing for the Cullen Fund: it returns more than it’s borrowing costs by some margin, people from the right who advocate a business model of the economy should understand that. And I tend to look at it that we’re borrowing a whole lot more to pay for the tax cuts for rich, with the nowhere-near revenue-neutral budget 2010 – and we’re not getting a return on that)

    • I agree ‘we’ should have sold Auckland Airport when they had a sucker to buy it (as I suggested to Labor at the time). ‘We’ should sell Air NZ as well, and ‘we’ should have never built Kerry’s Pumpkins.
      >engines can easily be change to bio-fuel< … yes a load of rubbish is that one … Virgin tried on one of their planes …. supposedly Richard Branson's experiment was a plane using bio fuel in one engine only, it failed 😉
      So now he knows we are neck deep in the brown stuff, and smoko is over … so back on ya heads.
      Richard Branson's report THE OIL CRUNCH – A WAKE-UP CALL FOR THE UK ECONOMY
      The so called peak oil/climate change people who suggested not selling Air NZ etc must be greed party voters,,, they are that thick.

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