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Saturday, 22 April 2017

The Problem with ACT

An Actually Quick Quick Take
We are a nation of immigrants and openness to newcomers is part of our national DNA.
~ The ACT Party on immigration
I have a lot of respect for David Seymour. He stands up for people and isn't afraid of biting the hand that feeds (i.e. National) when it does bad things. He's also well spoken and acquitted himself nobly in the Debating Society's Politician's Debate (I have not seen the Management Consulting Club's debate). He is also, at the moment, ACT. And ACT is right on the money when it looks at National's recent pronouncements about immigration and describes it as starting a "populist bidding war." I mean, just look at how Little immediately had to go BIGGER... as if more of a bad idea makes it better.

The thing with ACT is that no matter how much it says the right things about some stuff, it says terrible things about other stuff. (Voting for ACT is also a tacit endorsement of the Rotten Borough system created by the Coat-tail's provision but we'll ignore that today.) One only has to think of what Seymour's said about the Grammar Zone, Charter Schools (although, of course, we all know that was really just a National policy we were told was an ACT one) or introducing interest to the student loan system. For every socially responsible thing Seymour-ACT comes out with, there's surely another daft or even harmful idea just waiting in the wings.
A nation that values personal responsibility, tolerance, civility and compassion
~ ACT, on its vision 
Look, I'm not saying that "personal responsibility" (which we might understand as the overarching concern of ACT's combination of social progressivism and economic conservatism) is a bad idea. I am saying that it is a bounded concept. It is true that one needs to take personal responsibility for, as an example, writing boring blog-posts or being addicted to smoking. It is also true that one of the reasons why I might think my blog post is boring is that university's restricted word counts make me look for the freedom to be verbose and at school (where habits are formed) I was quite literally told that flair can't be taught. That might well be true, but style definitely can be (and traditionally was one part of one of the foundations of education in the "Western" tradition). Similarly, cigarette addict is a reflection of a societal concerns around smoking, of the peer environment (smokers have friends who smoke) and of the nature of addiction (over-rides personal will). We are all not entirely our own. It follows that policies derived from a view that we are personally responsible will probably just as often be bad as they are good.
If anyone, no matter who, were given the opportunity of choosing from amongst all the nations in the world the set of beliefs which he thought best, he would inevitably—after careful considerations of their relative merits—choose that of his own country. Everyone without exception believes his own native customs, and the religion he was brought up in, to be the best.
~ Herodotus, The Histories
David Seymour has a task on his hands to build up ACT and while ACT's dubious ideological grounding is one of its problems, insofar as it means Seymour will continue to stand against the xenophobia, racism and scaremongering put about by Little, Peters and whoever else, it just may attract people attuned to "New Zealand's Values." And if that did happen and if ACT realised their mandate was thus derived? Well, that just seems like a very good thing indeed. But it's an if. Probably a very big If.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Immigration: Quick Take

Look, it's often really difficult to avoid calling people morons, dickheads, racists or xenophobic weeds. It's apparently even harder to avoid blaming immigrants for all the problems that people face. But both of these are immensely counter-productive activities. The one just makes people put up barriers to what you're saying and serves to entrench views. The other just obfuscates the issues and thus the solutions. 

The trouble is that the popularity of the latter makes the former really hard to avoid. And it makes for a massive problem in the current election because National's ideas are really quite awful but it's reached a point where the stances Labour is taking on immigration are beginning to become sufficiently bad. I don't want to have to make an electorate decision that sacrifices positive policies in order to try and halt the Labour-led march into a world where what NZ stands for is not any NZ I recognise.

What's worse about all this is that you cannot talk about this bind. Just mentioning that there are people I want to call xenophobic weeds (that this sentiment is not limited to Andrew Little) has pretty much the same effect as saying it. People aren't stupid: they know they're the targets of my anger, of my rational rage, or if they're not. And if you want to make an actual case about immigration's troublesome aspects, you're invariably excluded from certain circles and end up self-radicalising. There's a line in, I think, Jingo (which would be really useful because it deals with immigration) which makes the point that Colon had been to the university of "Some bloke down the pub." The internet is a great tool, but we're still people... and that doesn't change just because you're not talking around a pint. (And just because this is the internet and that I can therefore find a link confirming my suspicions about the quote, doesn't mean that I should... I feel like I lose authenticity.) 

Look, I feel strongly about immigration. My father naturalised and three of my grandparents were born overseas (all of my aunts and uncles were... my mother was born here, moved to the UK immediately, and then emigrated back "home" and developed a new, local accent) so it is a bit personal. Most of my friends have either similar backgrounds or were themselves born overseas (if not all). Like many New Zealanders I share our culture's Wanderlust but I still believe in the fair shot, in our indoctrination at school into the "treat others how you wish to be treated" (actually, I believe we instinctively move to respond to such norms)... and if you want the OE, you need to accept that your country will be a destination for someone else's OE. Is that not fair? Is that not right?

But, still, maybe you want to talk about the downsides of immigration. Maybe you have some model that proves new immigrants don't bring new demand and, hence, new jobs (there is no such thing as either job creators or "trickle down" economics and if you think there is, this is one reason why National needs to go). But, even allowing for the momentary period before anything can respond to "more people" what's going on? You're asking me to believe in several things:
  • That you want a career in the type of job suited to people on OE's and working holidays, i.e. high-turnover, customer-oriented. I don't believe you because the reason why these jobs are high turnover is that people view them as stepping stones... maybe even just experience before applying to supposedly low-skilled retail positions.
  • That employers don't prefer long-term employees because constantly hiring new staff doesn't increase their training costs. That is, if you're applying for a job that students might often go for, you really should be preferred because you're available for more hours and because you're not going to bugger off at the end of the year when you move back home. I don't believe you applied. And if you did apply, you really should have mentioned this stuff. If you did and you still weren't hired, maybe it was because...
  • That the job really is open for everyone. Now, I don't believe that people are generally munters and spend every spare moment getting high like some not-to-be-named politicians. I do believe that people don't look into immigration and don't realise that we're restrictive, that points do exist. And even when people talk about tightening the points, what they're talking about is often just as much looking at whether employers are over-selling jobs (i.e. requiring superfluous qualifications) as employees self-aggrandising (notice that pay thresholds catch both out).
But this the robot view of the world. What if the issue is that you're arguing that someone who doesn't need to worry about being kicked out of the country they call home just for having the luck of being born here or having parents who were ought to be prioritised always over and above someone who is trying desperately to avoid being forced to leave? What if the issue is that you're not after a career, just want a little bit of cash to effectively have a working holiday whilst not being on holiday (maybe while you're trying to find some more permanent accommodation than your mate's couch)? Why is it fairer to privilege you? You who, at least, can fall back on established networks of support? You whose parents,grandparents, cousins and whatnot are here? You who can rock up to WINZ? Why you with all these options? Why? Are you more human? Do you feel more real? Have you given up more?

At the moment, people are trying to talk about immigration in NZ as though we're suddenly overwhelmed by some sort of mass immigration. Context matters. What counted as mass in 1840 in a country devoid of all of the infrastructure we take for granted, is not mass now. We're living in an era where the government isn't willing to do what it takes. Back then the government took action and made stands. Sure, now we think that invading and evicting lawful landowners is an act of war or, at least, theft, but at least the colonial government did that. It still left everyone in the lurch, but it made the land available. The equivalent today would look like superior urban  (allowing greater densification) and tax (capital gains, anti-land banking measures, disfavouring "flipping" and incentivising new developments) policy... and the ideal would involve the government stepping in and building houses too. Tower blocks even. But this isn't what is happening. And it isn't what is being talked about because we can just go, "Lol, immigrants r bad".

When we look at what is happening it's a sad picture. All the opposition parties seem to blame immigrants for everything... even making it their centre-piece against a government that has actively opposed the interests and voices of a third of the population for nearly ten years. Surely there is something else to criticise them for! They haven't exactly done anything substantive outside of Auckland either! Even the government, lacking John Key's keen eye for making sure nothing was done, has got in the act. Somehow people who have been here for years are among the villains responsible for the mass immigration! Let's put that in perspective. If you've been in New Zealand for five years, you have been here for two elections. Five years is a long time. Would you want to be in jail for five years? Would being sent down for such a stretch make you into a hardened criminal? Why is that not long enough to be recognised as a New Zealander? Not necessarily a citizen, but a permanent resident. They haven't taken your job. You got back from Australia two years after they landed it.

We had great fun laughing at the US and all the people who said they'd move here if Trump was elected. What will we do? Where will we tell ourselves we should go? Madagascar?