Thursday 29 May 2014

Problems with the Internet-Mana Party

I'm a little late to the party, having been engaged with the discussion on Twitter when the Internet-Mana Party (IMP) alliance was being announced (because I was in class), but ran out of time to get my thoughts down into a blog post. A later discussion with a friend gave me an opportunity to figure out my thoughts without 140-character constraints; these are the biggest issues I have with the #Internana alliance:

A) The Internet Party and Mana Party have formed an alliance together in a marriage of convenience (with a prenup as Claire Trevett covers here), not one of ideological unity. The reasons why this is a smart move are purely tactical and practical, not because these two parties are a good fit with each other, but simply because one has the money and the other has the power. While the Internet Party potentially has a left-leaning leader that puts them to the left of the Greens, the reason that I feel that more Mana Party supporters will leave than Internet Party supporters as a result of the alliance is because the Mana Party has a clear ideological stance and their members are principled in that respect - the Internet Party, quite frankly, has no ideology (yet). One friend who previously supported the Mana party has said that she's siding with Sue Bradford, and will probably end up voting for the Greens at this stage.

B) It further perpetuates the notion of buying elections and buying electoral seats. Given that Hone Harawira is likely to win the Te Tai Tokerau seat, the Internet Party has essentially used their money to try and buy their way into Parliament. Additionally, the fact that the Mana Party were either willing or forced to give up a #2 list spot means that they were essentially willing to sacrifice a potential seat for cash. As Cabinet Club and other cash-for-access accusations fly around, this makes it particularly difficult for the Mana Party to be able to say anything about rich people paying for influence when it's clear that they have been influenced by money themselves.

C) I fully agree with Te Ururoa Flavell here that this alliance undermines the Maori electorate seats. This relationship allows the Internet Party to take advantage of the seats in a way that was never intended. To be fair, it would have been pretty difficult to predict a German multimillionaire accused of facilitating and endorsing copyright infringement starting a political party that would try to coat-tail in on the back of a Maori electorate seat, but in this case it is clear the seat is not appropriately serving the Maori people. As Flavell says: "Those seats were set up for our people, our people have come through hard times to get those seats, and to utilise them to bring somebody in who is questionable about their knowledge about things Maori and indeed Te Tai Tokerau, is a bit of a slap in the face for Maori voters."

D) Ultimately I believe that this move will weaken the left and weaken their chances of removing National from government. Unless the IMP can get more than about 1.8% of the party vote, then it will lead to a wasted party vote that Labour or the Greens would have really really really appreciated. iPredict has the IMP at 3% at the moment, but I believe that this is probably over-valued (just a gut feeling) as it seems to be mostly based on the existing polling levels for the Internet Party and the Mana Party combined. As the esteemed Thomas Lumley says here, the fact that the percentages are low mean that it's very difficult to say with certainty just how many seats the IMP are likely to get at the election, particularly because there is no historical data available to help correct polling biases (as opposed to the biases that consistently appear for the other parties, covered here). Overall, I get the feeling that the IMP compromises the opposition's stated objective of preventing the National Party from getting a third term.

To be fair, Hone and the Mana Movement aren't necessarily about winning seats (although it helps) - the way that Hone has used his existing seat in Parliament shows that they're often more about raising awareness of issues at a national level rather than changing laws (although the Education (Breakfast and Lunch Programmes in Schools) Amendment Bill which was partway through its first reading last night is a notable exception). David Farrar calls Harawira "a failure as a Member of Parliament", but I largely disagree. He doesn't play politics in the same way as everyone else, but that doesn't mean he isn't very effective at disproportionately getting his voice heard and putting important issues on the national agenda. I still don't know what happens when the Internet Party gets into Parliament (what are they going to do there?), but at least this strategy might help the Mana Movement be more effective in getting their message ever further and to more people.

A friend asked "What's Kim Dotcom's endgame?" and I think that's a good question that no one really knows the real answer to. The media varies from "he just doesn't want to get extradited" to "he sincerely wants to change New Zealand for the better", both of which I don't think are true. Just to put it on the list, I would not be surprised if "overthrow a government" is on his bucket list and this is the best way for him to achieve it without hiring an army. Another friend pointed out that spending $250,000 on a political party is far, far cheaper than the legal fees from fighting extradition, but I don't see that as a particularly effective investment. It's difficult to see just what incentive he has to bankroll this party, and also difficult to see what he must have said or been able to offer (other than money) to convince others like Vikram Kumar and Anna Sutherland to actually run the party. "Maybe it's all just a laugh to him" says a friend. Perhaps, but a pretty expensive, emotionally and psychologically taxing laugh.

Mana to win Te Tai Tokerau crashed from around 86% to as low as 55% after the IMP announcement on iPredict (currently stable around 71%), indicating that some people did think that the alliance hurts Hone's chances of winning his electorate. Perhaps the best outcome would be that proposed by @matthewjpb: "if Sykes does win [in Waiariki, where she is currently at 43% against the Maori Party Co-leader Te Ururoa Flavell at 53%], KDC could end up funding the whole mana campaign and getting no seats for his candidates." Essentially, if the IMP win enough party vote for two seats, but those two seats are taken up by #1 Harawira and #3 Sykes in their respective electorate seats, then there's no seat for #2 Internet Party Leader. The fallout from that would certainly be interesting to watch.

In slightly (not at all) unrelated news, I have committed to party voting for the IMP if the Internet Party Leader is announced to be Grumpy Cat (or to be fair, any other cat, as long as it goes on a campaign tour and there is an opportunity for pats).

Monday 5 May 2014

Youth Declaration and Economics Education

Now that I have some time, I thought I'd write about this conference that I facilitated at last week. UN Youth New Zealand, an organisation that I volunteer very heavily for, runs this four-day conference every year in the April school holidays for high school students called Youth Declaration. It gives young people an opportunity to express their opinions about policy in New Zealand, while at the same time providing important civics education for around 200 young leaders. Students from around the country attend, from all geographical, socio-economic, and political backgrounds, with the ultimate output a series of statements that form the Youth Declaration. This is made up of ten focus groups, loosely modelled on the select committee structure, and presented to government. Last year, Nikki Kaye, Minister for Youth Affairs, produced a response to the document outlining how the government was acting in those areas and pledged to do so again this year. It helps students understand that they can influence government, and they're not just shouting into the wind. It also happens to be a good social opportunity for meeting like-minded young people as well. The conference overall was a pretty awesome experience; it's important to remember that the conference is run entirely but young volunteers. Leaving the conference knowing that the students not only had a great time but went home understanding more than when they entered is a great feeling. I even got to debate on the same team as Gareth Hughes about whether social media did more harm than good (our team won). It truly is a life changing experience for our participants, and is one of our best conferences that truly meets our goal of Inspiring Global Citizens. A lot more information about the conference is available at the UN Youth website here.

As a facilitator for the Business and Commerce group, one particular phenomenon struck me. All of the students (bar one) were economics students at school, and the conference typically attracts high achievers so they were all good students. In fact, I would happily admit that they probably knew more about economic theory than me (my area of interest is innovation and entrepreneurship). They were experts in Keynesian economics, happy with the concepts of supply and demand and elasticity and equilibrium and so on. But the biggest issue was that their theoretical understanding was not grounded in an appreciation for how that affects people in the real world. Most of the students were never taught the disconnect between theory and reality, and sometimes found it difficult to understand why the theory didn't strictly apply. A clear example was in our discussion over minimum wages, with one student arguing that New Zealand should abolish the minimum wage because it a) causes unemployment due to the price ceiling, b) creates economic inefficiencies, and c) forces employers to overvalue their employees. The student was entirely correct theoretically, but when we tried to explain that this opens up opportunities for exploitation of employees and that people simply cannot survive on sub-minimum wage remuneration (without even getting to the living wage), he just could not understand why that trumped the economic theory. We discussed a very broad range of topics from exchange rates to fiscal drag to employer/employee rights, and every time the dichotomy of theory and reality appeared again.

I never took economics at school, much to the chagrin of the Teacher in Charge of chess who happened to also be Head of Economics because I took IT instead (I did end up taking some micro and macroeconomics at university so I understand the basic concepts). Talking to some of my co-facilitators, they expressed the view that when they got to university they realised just how right-wing (conservative) the high school economics syllabus is. I'm personally reasonably economically conservative, but one of the students ended up calling me far left (in fairness, in comparison to him I probably am). I know that there are extremely conservative members in our society, but it worries me that students are leaving high school with that indoctrinated in them as part of their studies. I wonder if more can be done in schools to discuss issues like income inequality and the importance of the welfare state as part of the economics syllabus.

One interesting proposal did come out from the discussions. The students understood why a starting-out wage (or youth minimum wage) is a good idea for giving young people more opportunities for employment and reducing the risk to employers (in conjunction with the 90-day trial period). However, this inherently devalues young people and implies that they are worth less for doing the same work as someone who is a few years older than them. So why not ask the government to subsidise the employment of young people? Employers can pay the youth wage to their employees (currently 80% of the adult minimum wage), and the government tops up the other 20%. It counters youth unemployment and provides all the benefits of a starting-out wage while lessening the impacts of age discrimination. Obviously this would incur a large financial cost on the government, but I feel like this proposal warrants further thinking and discussion.

In end-of-post-comedy:
I for one would like to see anyone try this with Judith Collins. Maybe a good belly scratch will placate her and everything will be fine. Probably not.