October 5, 2016

Lib Dems Do God - Book Review

A book published in the UK and edited by Jo Latham and Clare Mathys sets out the case for Christians to be Liberal Democrats. 

LibDems are Britain's third party and were part of the Coalition government during David Cameron's time as Prime Minister.

Under new leader Tim Farron the party has rediscovered its anti-establishment, reformist, Liberal roots.  The book sets out some key themes that identify a strong overlap between Christian values and those liberals.  These include:
  • A deep respect for human rights and the dignity of all people;
  • Freedom of religion for all;
  • Respect for individual freedom;
  • Equality for all - through combating poverty;
  • Appropriate regulatory frameworks to ensure that markets serve the common good.
  • A humanitarian approach to global issues and an internationalist approach to issues such as Climate Change, Refugees and Migration.
For people of all faith traditions "Liberal Democrats Do God" (Latham & Mathys) is well worth a read and I recommend it to anyone that has an interest in politics or broader social issues related to liberty, equality and community.

January 25, 2016

TPPA is an unnecessary risk for New Zealand's sovereignty

If you want a quick 3 minute introduction to all the fuss about the TPPA then check out this video clip from Action Station. 

October 8, 2015

A liberal democrat view of TPPA

Ministers need to allow full public participation in TPPA review.
Free Trade
As a liberal democrat I believe that people should have the freedom to trade with one another provided that one person is not exploiting another. Similarly freedom to trade between countries is generally a good thing. It has tended to reduce the cost of living for people over the last one hundred years. For poorer countries increased trade has often been the means by which they have increased export income and increased living standards, healthcare and education. Conversely protectionist measures and import licensing are systems which have been fraught with abuse resulting in high prices for the public and big profits for a few private investors. Most New Zealanders who lived through the 1970s or 1980s can recall the high price of electrical equipment and motor vehicles. So free trade is fine where agreements are openly arrived at and no one group in society, particularly the poor and vulnerable, is made worse off.  However that does not mean that all trade agreements are good ones or that liberals should blindly support a bad trade deal just because its a trade deal.  When it comes to the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement (TPPA) there are several things that concern me and which don't appear to line up with some key liberal democratic principles. 
Open government
Generally liberals support open government and transparent decision making. Secrecy and behind closed doors commercial deals are generally not a good thing. In fact we have laws to prevent private companies doing that kind of thing when it comes to setting prices.  The reason we have laws against such secret arrangements is that they tend to be at the expense of the public and to enrich private interests.  Why then, with the TPPA, is it OK for the public to be kept in the dark - but for commercial interests and government representatives to meet in secret to make deals?  Such behaviour engenders suspicion and undermines confidence in public institutions. 
Proponents of the TPPA claim that it's nothing to worry about because "all trade deals are arrived at this way". But such an argument does not stand up to scrutiny.  If our negotiating position is being shared behind closed doors with other countries representatives and with corporate interest groups then why not with the public? In a democracy citizens are entitled to be informed. It is the government's job to persuade an informed citizenry that a decision is in the public interest. Depriving the public of the information is not a satisfactory alternative. 
Serve the public interest
Liberals also believe that the government has an obligation to serve the public interest or the common good. The common good is about making all people better off. Reducing the welfare of one group so that other privileged groups gain is not acting in the common good. A trade deal that increases the price of medicines for the sick but allows large agribusiness interests to line their pockets does not serve the common good.  A trade agreement which limits the ability of a government to regulate in the public interest does not serve the common good. 
The government has developed a reputation for commercial pragmatism. One can debate whether that is well-founded or whether an unprincipled pragmatism is something to crow about. But even from such a standpoint - where ugly sacrifices are made in healthcare treatments and our regulators are handcuffed lest they upset private interests - the huge benefits for dairy that we were promised in return seem to have disappeared like a mirage in the desert. 
Labour Spokesperson, Annette King, said: "The deal falls well below expectations with only disappointing crumbs for our dairy industry and extended patents on new drugs which will cost the taxpayer millions and leave New Zealanders without life-saving drugs.... New Zealanders must be told whether the government has traded away our right to further restrict foreign ownership of housing or farm land and what agreements have been made to allow foreign corporations to sue New Zealand for regulating in the public interest.
Commentator Colin James points out that Minister Grocer's arguments about the alleged benefits also include a hefty amount of gains that would have happened anyway under existing trade arrangements. "Tim Groser attributes the greater-than-forecast gains in sales to China since 2008 to the free trade agreement (FTA) when most of them might well -- probably would -- have happened anyway, given the spike in China's demand for milk products. (If he is right, then would the fall in the past year also logically have to be attributed to the FTA?)"
Democratic decision-making
As Colin James highlights: (TPPA) "and similar regional agreements are about regulatory convergence every bit as much as, and arguably more than, about goods trade access. That is why patents and copyright were top of the United States' list and why opponents bother a lot about patents and copyright costs here and about investor-state dispute resolution issues, which do not yet have a global supervisory mechanism."  (www.colinjames.co.nz)
Since 1984 New Zealand's (and many other countries') national sovereignty has been severely eroded by global economic centralisation - or what Pope Francis has termed the "technocratic paradigm". Government Ministers now say that New Zealand's influence is so small that we should join the TPPA club because being in, with a very tiny amount of influence, is better than being out on our own. However, in a democracy governments are meant to govern in the public interest. If the current economic model does not allow them to do that then they need a new model. 
The full text of the TPPA should be published now and a lengthy and comprehensive public review of the Agreement needs to take place . Otherwise the public confidence in the Agreement will be undermined and so too will be the basis of trust between citizen and government that underpins democracy. Abolitionist and liberal activist Wendell Phillips was quoted in 1852 as saying: 
Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty; power is ever stealing from the many to the few. The manna of popular liberty must be gathered each day or it is rotten. ... Only by continued oversight can the democrat in office be prevented from hardening into a despot; only by unintermitted agitation can a people be sufficiently awake to principle not to let liberty be smothered in material prosperity.”

September 27, 2015

A brief history of Liberal politics

British Liberal Prime Minister - David Lloyd-George
A liberal is someone who believes in liberty and equality. Liberals espouse a wide array of views, depending on their understanding of these principles, but generally they support ideas and programs such as freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religioncivil rights, democratic societies, and international cooperation.
Liberalism rejected the notions of hereditary privilege, state religion, absolute monarchy, and the Divine Right of Kings. The 17th-century philosopher John Locke is often credited with founding liberalism as a distinct philosophical tradition. Locke argued that each man has a natural right to life, liberty and property, while adding that governments must not violate these rights based on the social contract

Liberals opposed reactionary conservatism and sought to replace monarchist absolutism in government with representative democracy and the rule of law.

Although British classical liberals aspired to a minimum of state activity, the passage of the Factory Acts in the early 19th century which involved government interference in the economy met with their approval. In this period, the dominant ideological opponent of classical liberalism was conservatism, but liberalism later survived major ideological challenges from new opponents, such as fascism and communism
By the end of the nineteenth century, the principles of classical liberalism were being increasingly challenged by downturns in economic growth, a growing perception of the evils of poverty, unemployment and relative deprivation present within modern industrial cities, and the agitation of organised labour. The ideal of the self-made individual, who through hard work and talent could make his or her place in the world, seemed increasingly implausible.

During the 20th century, liberal ideas spread even further as liberal democracies found themselves on the winning side in both world wars. In Europe and North America, the establishment of social liberalism became a key component in the expansion of the welfare state. 

Lloyd George and Churchill passed the 1909 People's Budget, aimed at the redistribution of wealth.
Another early liberal convert to greater government intervention was Thomas Hill Green. Seeing the effects of alcohol, he believed that the state should foster and protect the social, political and economic environments in which individuals will have the best chance of acting according to their consciences. The state should intervene only where there is a clear, proven and strong tendency of a liberty to enslave the individual. Green regarded the national state as legitimate only to the extent that it upholds a system of rights and obligations that is most likely to foster individual self-realisation.

This strand began to coalesce into the social liberalism movement at the turn of the twentieth century in Britain. The New Liberals, which included intellectuals like L.T. Hobhouse, and John A. Hobson, saw individual liberty as something achievable only under favorable social and economic circumstances. In their view, the poverty, squalor, and ignorance in which many people lived made it impossible for freedom and individuality to flourish. New Liberals believed that these conditions could be ameliorated only through collective action coordinated by a strong, welfare-oriented, and interventionist state. The People's Budget of 1909, championed by David Lloyd George and fellow liberal Winston Churchill, introduced unprecedented taxes on the wealthy in Britain and radical social welfare programmes to the country's policies. It was the first budget with the expressed intent of redistributing wealth among the public.

 In New Zealand the Liberal Party was the first real political party.   It governed from 1891 until 1912. The Liberal strategy was to create a large class of small land-owning farmers who supported Liberal ideals, by buying land and selling it to small farmers on credit. The First Liberal government also established the basis of the later welfare state, with old age pensions, developed a system for settling industrial disputes, which was accepted by both employers and trade unions. In 1893 it extended voting rights to women, making New Zealand the first country in the world to enact universal female suffrage.

New Zealand gained international attention for the Liberal reforms, especially how the state regulated labour relations.[1] Of special note were innovations in the areas of maximum hour regulations, minimum wage laws, and compulsory arbitration procedures. The goal was to encourage unions but discourage strikes and class conflict.[2] The impact was especially strong on the reform movement in the United States.[3]

In New Zealand the Liberals enjoyed a brief resurgence as the United Party under the leadership of Sir Joseph Ward between 1928-30.However, during the 1930s Liberal parties began to be squeezed between left wing socialist parties and right wing conservative parties.  During the Great Depression and World War Two Liberal parties tended to join in Coalition governments in the interests of national unity.

September 14, 2015

Something wrong with unjust financial system

The Caritas social justice week dvd. was shown in north Wellington tonight. The guys attending reflected on the growing gap between the rich and poor in New Zealand; the urbanisation and decline of provincial towns and the need for rebuilding linkages in communities which build trusting relationships (social capital).

One of the case studies dealt with a vulnerable woman who borrowed money from a loan shark for a washing machine. There is something very wrong with a financial system that allows loan sharks to exploit the poor and vulnerable, which allows bank interest rates of more than 20% when the OCR is less than 3% and which uses taxpayers to bailout owners of large financial companies who made bad business decisions.

The enormous power granted to global banking corporates means such organisations wield more financial power than some governments. The huge and growing tsunami of debt owed to banking and financial companies now threatens the stability of economies worldwide.

We need a financial system that upholds human dignity and promotes participation by all. 

March 22, 2015

Vodafone Foundation Making A World of Difference

Vodafone Foundation is a charitable trust determined to make a real difference in the lives of young people in Aotearoa New Zealand. Here's one of the examples of how we do that.

March 20, 2013

NZ's debt to rest of world grows

Net foreign liabilities - a measure of what New Zealand owes the rest of the
 world - rose to $150 billion or 71.7% of GDP in the year according to a Radio NZ report

For a small economy, distant from world markets and reliant so heavily on one export sector this news should be cause for concern.  We need a coherent strategy to develop at least two other major export sectors.  ICT looks as if it could grow into one of those.  Either way an economy owing so much to offshore financiers will remain vulnerable to external shocks until it has a plan to diminish that vulnerability and then executes against that plan.

One element towards a comprehensive solution is that the government must get back to surplus at the earliest opportunity.  But wouldn't it also be smart to look to the private sector savings levels and reduction of household debt to contribute to this overseas-debt reduction cause?