Reaction: What isn’t wrong with hate crimes legislation

I picked up on an article in the online edition of the Times by John Cloud this morning on the extension of hate crimes legislation in the USA.

Firstly, let me agree with John Cloud on the critical point here: We can neither police what is in someone’s head, nor can we limit their ability to peacefully express their thoughts. This is what freedom of speech as a legislative principle is about. But hate crimes are not free speech, because they’re not speech. Punishing a hate crime more than an ordinary killing, assault, or harassment doesn’t risk punishing people for being wrong- rather, the angle of attack it’s most vulnerable to (and I don’t agree with this, I’m just being straightforward) is that it’s disproportionate punishment.

John claims that this additional strictness in sentencing is to punish someone for thinking bad things. I completely disagree: the extra punishment is because there are two crimes involved, not just one. The obvious crime is the physical or mental harm inflicted by the damage of the crime directly, and John correctly acknowledges that.

However, the less obvious crime is not that minority groups are outraged or encouraged to riot- no, those are reactions, not causes. The less obvious crime is that hate crimes are an act of domination. They tell people of other races, sexualities, or gender identities to shut up, take what they’re given, and to be very afraid that if they don’t comply with what a few violent and hateful individuals think, they will be harassed, hurt, or killed.

While these visions of kyriarchy might be protected inside someone’s head, or as words on paper, or even in a public speech, expressing them as violent crime aimed to intimidate and dominate the wider culture is indeed going further than a regular violent offense, and the harm that these acts of terrorism- and make no mistake, this is how hate crimes are intended to work, to terrify portions of the populace- need to be deterred with whatever extra muscle we can throw at them.

It’s also disingenuous to say that the only thing someone will care about with regard to hate crimes is the actual crime: I care about the motivation because that motivation spreads, and makes it more dangerous for me to be open about who I am, or for transgender people to transition, or for women to be out at night, or any number of other worries that come along with being who you are and doing what you want to. Hate crimes legislation is a strike back, it gives a little more courage, and tells everyone that the government is on your side a little.

John argues hate crimes legislation doesn’t need to extend to private land1 because hate crimes are already falling. I’m going to have to disagree with him that this is a good reason to abandon protective legislation: This law isn’t what’s going to end hate crimes altogether. The biggest reduction to hate crimes will come when everyone can actually understand and empathise with people of different sexualities, races, and gender identities, and I agree that hate crimes legislation, no matter how comprehensive and punitive, will make little difference. The point of hate crimes legislation is to act as a line in the sand, it starts as a symbol and hopefully gets people to think twice about making that leap from merely being wrong, which ought to never be a crime, to doing wrong- which often is. It gives courage to those of us worried about being a victim, and lets us act a little more closely to how free the average rich white guy can. 😉

1I’ll do him the favour of assuming his opposition to the bill proposed is not on the basis of it extending hate crimes protections to include acts of violence based on gender identity or sexual orientation, because I find the idea of someone opposing that appalling. Who knows if that’s optimistic or not?

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34 Responses

  1. Man, when exactly did ‘terrorism’ enter the vocabulary of the activist left as a useful term? Some time after 2003 I’m thinking. Anyway, I’m pissed that I didn’t notice it at the time, because I’m as unimpressed by the word when applied to killing abortionists as I was when it applied to killing imperialists.

    Anyway, on to the substance.

    You’re saying that expression of racist, sexist or otherwise repressive views through violence doesn’t need to be protected in the way expressing them through speech or writing does. I can see where you’re coming from, but it seems to me that it would be very hard to prove that in a court of law – impossible, in fact.

    If I express racist views, and then I kill a black person, it doesn’t logically follow that I did so for racist reasons. The only way for a prosecution lawyer to prove that I did have racist views would be to go through my life history, looking for any racist statements I might have made, and brandishing them before the court.

    While this isn’t explicitly making racist speech illegal, it’s bringing it into the legal domain. I’m aware you may find this analogy spurious (or even offensive), but it does remind me somewhat of the way defense lawyers in a rape trial will bring up a victim’s behaviour in terms of dress, sexual aggressiveness and promiscuity to try and prove intent.

    In other words, by making racially motivated murder a crime, you aren’t explicitly outlawing racist speech, but you are dragging it into the murky half-world of legal applicability that can be just as bad.

  2. I adopt terms from all around the political spectrum all the time. Part of my argumentative style: Hypocrisy is best exposed by trapping people in their own buzzwords.

    Freedom fighters are just terrorists who won, (or ones you like) and I’m not really a fan of violence at all. To me, someone who would murder a doctor for a political point, however controversial their legal treatments were, is a terrorist. Just like someone who bombs a building is a terrorist. Also, by the by- as a Republican, (in the colonial sense, not the “US Republican Party” sense) I’m not a big fan of “Imperials” myself 😛

    I don’t want to nitpick too badly, but there’s one quick thing that needs saying: abortionist is a hateful word and implies illegality. Most doctors labelled “abortionists” are performing perfectly legal activities, and I think activism against abortion ought to be targeted at the legislature, not doctors. People who perform abortions are still doctors, having taken an oath to do no harm, whatever you think of abortions. I don’t particularly like abortions either, even though I’m pro-choice, so I don’t see why anyone who’s pro-life has a justification to hate doctors who are doing their jobs and following the law.

    You’re saying that expression of racist, sexist or otherwise repressive views through violence doesn’t need to be protected in the way expressing them through speech or writing does. I can see where you’re coming from, but it seems to me that it would be very hard to prove that in a court of law – impossible, in fact.

    No, I’m going further than that. I’m saying that they impinge on the freedom of people whose only relation to the victim is that they are also gay/black/female/bisexual/transgender/etc… too, and that not only is violent crime, especially premeditated violent crime, not protected speech, it ought to carry harsher penalties than usual crime. The issue is not what they’ve said, but that what they’ve said reveals that they are not just commiting a violent crime, but using it to intimidate and dominate the wider population. They’re making an example of a particular class of person, in much the same way as a pattern serial killer.

    If I express racist views, and then I kill a black person, it doesn’t logically follow that I did so for racist reasons. The only way for a prosecution lawyer to prove that I did have racist views would be to go through my life history, looking for any racist statements I might have made, and brandishing them before the court.

    Right, I still think there should be rigorous thresholds of proof for what a hate crime is- I just don’t think that the idea of drawing a line in the sand and saying “We won’t let you make us afraid” is a bad thing.

    While this isn’t explicitly making racist speech illegal, it’s bringing it into the legal domain. I’m aware you may find this analogy spurious (or even offensive), but it does remind me somewhat of the way defense lawyers in a rape trial will bring up a victim’s behaviour in terms of dress, sexual aggressiveness and promiscuity to try and prove intent.

    Right, but it’s up to us to enforce those standards. You’d see me complaining just as fast about such witch hunts even though I hate racial violence, just as I do when rape allegations turn farcical the same way. Better to set the rules the way that lets justice be served and watch the process to make sure it’s fair, than to stand back and wash your hands so long as we don’t muddy the waters between political speech and political violence. Likewise, we there are elements of trial that will always be unfair to rape victims- but hopefully a vigilant society can overcome those, too.

    Part of this involves demanding stricter relevance to trials. A pattern of racist behavior is not enough to establish a racially-motivated hate crime. There needs to be admission of support for racial violence at the very least.

    (Personally, I’d rather that “hate crimes” involve things that happened during the crime, or admissions of premeditated violence. Looking into someone’s past is not relevant. Chaining someone to the back of your car and writing “fags go away” on it might kind of reveal just why you killed someone. Likewise, calling for the death of all abortion doctors isn’t exactly free speech after you kill an abortion doctor, even if it’s not necessarily a smoking bullet in terms of evidence a hate crime was committed.)

  3. While trapping right wingers in their hypocrisy may be personally satisfying, I’d say it is ultimately counterproductive. The term ‘terrorism’ cannot be defined in any way that isn’t anathema to progressive politics. Sure, it might be nice to be able to wield it against people who kill abortion doctors, but I don’t think losing the ability to make American conservatives hum and haw uncomfortably for a brief period is really that important when compared to the need to challenge the idea that violence for political reasons is less legitimate to violence used for non-political reasons, and thus needs a special term for it.

    And while we’re talking about terminology, I use the term ‘abortionist’ the same way I would ‘anaesthetist’ or ‘hysteroctomist’, and it derives from my time in the medical industry, where it’s fairly common practice to use such a term to describe a medical professional who specialises in a particular medical operation.

    I’ve got to say I find your comparison of hate crimes to the crimes of serial killers pretty frivolous, unless you’re seriously arguing that people committing hate crimes are uniformly mentally ill (and if so, that rather undermines your argument).

    You say that the risks I am concerned about need not be an issue because ‘rigorous thresholds’ should be employed. I tend to assume that most people who propose policy changes feel that rigour should be employed in implementing that change. But since you feel it is apparently crucial to your argument, care to explain to me what these rigorous thresholds would be?

    It’s easy to explain away such concerns by invoking rigour, efficiency and other politically neutral buzzwords that tend to make everybody assume you’re talking about whatever they personally associate with rigour. I’d like you to be more specific. You’ve acknowledged there’s a possibility of criminalisation by stealth of behaviour that shouldn’t be criminalised; how would you prevent it?

  4. Sure, it might be nice to be able to wield it against people who kill abortion doctors, but I don’t think losing the ability to make American conservatives hum and haw uncomfortably for a brief period is really that important when compared to the need to challenge the idea that violence for political reasons is less legitimate to violence used for non-political reasons, and thus needs a special term for it.

    Personally I think that in the long run all violence is counter-productive and should be considered illegitimate. My main objection to terrorism as opposed to plain violence is precisely that: It intends to legitimise violence, murder, and other types of intentionally inflicted suffering as a political tool. Down that road, I would say, lies madness, and that’s why I actually am opposed to terrorism. I just mean “terrorism” in a different and presumably wider sense than it is used by the right wing in the USA.

    And while we’re talking about terminology, I use the term ‘abortionist’ the same way I would ‘anaesthetist’ or ‘hysteroctomist’, and it derives from my time in the medical industry, where it’s fairly common practice to use such a term to describe a medical professional who specialises in a particular medical operation.

    While I can’t say this makes me any more comfortable with the word and would rather not hear it, I can certainly accept that, and I don’t really want to make a big deal of that one word right now.

    I’ve got to say I find your comparison of hate crimes to the crimes of serial killers pretty frivolous, unless you’re seriously arguing that people committing hate crimes are uniformly mentally ill (and if so, that rather undermines your argument).

    If you’d like to elaborate on this, by all means, but I don’t know exactly what you want me to address here. The comparison was part of me trying to explain what I feel is the crucial factor that differentiates hate crimes from other violent crimes. If you still don’t buy that there’s any differentiation beyond the victim, then I don’t think we really have any common ground to explore on this matter. 😉

    It’s easy to explain away such concerns by invoking rigour, efficiency and other politically neutral buzzwords that tend to make everybody assume you’re talking about whatever they personally associate with rigour. I’d like you to be more specific. You’ve acknowledged there’s a possibility of criminalisation by stealth of behaviour that shouldn’t be criminalised; how would you prevent it?

    Sure, I agree with you we’ve got to be careful, and I dislike weaseling out of debates as much as you do, I just wasn’t about to lay out what I was thinking unless I knew you were gonna come back to read, because that would’ve made for a massive post. I hope you’ll excuse me on that. 🙂

    Firstly, you’ve got to establish knowledge of the victim: If you cannot prove the offender knew the victim was part of the group that the hate crime was allegedly aimed to intimidate, then there’s no way you can prove it was a hate crime. For some groups, this is less of an issue: In many cases it’s hard not to know that a person is a woman, or that a person is of a certain ethnic origin.

    Secondly, there’s the matter of communicated intent: Something the accused did had to clearly state that this was either a spur-of-the-moment random act of violence designed to intimidate other members of the same group, or there has to be some proof of premeditation on the idea of violence against anyone in that group or intimidation through violence against specific targets in that group- it is not enough to merely have a statement of intent to hurt or kill one member of the group if there is no intent to cause intimidation.

    Thirdly, I think guilt by association alone has to be explicitly ruled out. Association is circumstantial evidence, and on its own does not establish a hate crime, even if that association is with a group like the KKK, there must be suffecient evidence that fits into the above two categories.

    Fourthly, people engaged in strictly non-violent opposition or cases of incidental violence must be ineligible for a hate crimes prosecution. Like you said, a homophobe who kills someone who is gay during say, a bank robbery, should not be able to be charged with hate crimes, as presumably in such a case there would be no chance to use it as an example-killing and no premeditation on intimidating the gay community, even if they have a long history of opposing gay civil rights.

    Are those sufficient starting points for rigour?

  5. I’m sorry, but until you can show me somebody who approves of terrorism, I consider the statement ‘I am opposed to terrorism’ to be fairly meaningless. But I agree we should probably stop debating terms – it appears that whatever I think, the term ‘terrorism’ is apparently something people on the left now feel comfortable using, so I’m just going to have to live with it.

    So on to the actual content. I agree that the preconditions you’ve established are fairly rigorous and would probably mean that convictions for hate crimes would be relatively thin on the ground.

    In fact I think some would probably say you’ve gone too far. If a homophobe is driving down a street, sees two men kissing, and shoots one as a spur of the moment expression of disgust, it wouldn’t pass your second test. There’s no intent to intimidate there (although some intimidation will probably be the incidental result). Indeed it may be that ‘hate crimes’ is not the right term. What I’ve described is, after all, a crime motivated by hate.

    Finally I’ve got to wonder whether tacking another two or three years on the end of what is likely to be a fairly severe sentence (given that hate crimes are almost always major crimes anyway) serves any useful purpose. I presume you’d agree that making a straight murder sentence involve a few more years in jail doesn’t do much to reduce the incidence of murder; I’m not sure why you feel making sentences for hate-murder involve some extra jail time would have the desired effect.

    Or perhaps for you it’s less about deterring hate-criminals and more about using the passage of a law as an opportunity to make a moral statement about how we, as a society, feel about the right of minorities to organise and advocate in an unintimidated fashion?

  6. In fact I think some would probably say you’ve gone too far. If a homophobe is driving down a street, sees two men kissing, and shoots one as a spur of the moment expression of disgust, it wouldn’t pass your second test. There’s no intent to intimidate there (although some intimidation will probably be the incidental result). Indeed it may be that ‘hate crimes’ is not the right term. What I’ve described is, after all, a crime motivated by hate.

    Firstly: the legal system is generally designed not to prosecute the innocent, rather than to catch the guilty. Of course I went too far 😉

    Secondly: Indeed, I always thought the label “hate crimes” was murky as to what they actually consisted of. While I’d say you’ve probably given an example of a hate crime, (they wanted to stop people from showing affection in public so they killed two people who were) it’s the type where you can’t really prove in any objective way that the crime was intended to intimidate the wider community.

    Or perhaps for you it’s less about deterring hate-criminals and more about using the passage of a law as an opportunity to make a moral statement about how we, as a society, feel about the right of minorities to organise and advocate in an unintimidated fashion?

    I think this is really the main point. Because hate crimes are, as you’ve pointed out, so hard to prosecute with any sort of legal rigour applied to them, they are largely about making a symbolic difference.

    Which is not to say there’s no practical effect, (there is, symbols can actually be quite powerful under the right circumstances) but changes like widening the application of hate crimes laws in the U.S.A. need to be accompanied by other moves to help reduce intimidation of minority groups.

    ETA:

    On the whole terrorism thing- obviously at least some people approve of it because it’s still happening. 😛 That said, there are definitely people who think that “freedom fighters” are sometimes justified for a noble cause. (ending a dictatorship for instance)

  7. Sorry what do you mean by?: ” It gives courage to those of us worried about being a victim, and lets us act a little more closely to how free the average rich white guy can. “

    I’m a “white guy” but I am unaware of your definition of ‘rich’. Regardless, I am interested to understand your point here. Are there some sort of benefits for “rich white guys”? What are they? What if I was a “homosexual rich white guy”? Does you theory still apply?

  8. Are there some sort of benefits for “rich white guys”?

    Freedom from disadvantages alone isn’t a benefit? Being rich doesn’t make life easier?

    What if I was a “homosexual rich white guy”? Does you theory still apply?

    Sigh, this is what I get for abbreviating the litany of “rich white heterosexual young able-bodied cisgender man”. My “theory”, (or rather, the theory of privilege that I buy into) is that life is easier for some people than others, and that discrimination still exists and still impedes opportunity for at least some people, but the places it does so are becoming more and more marginalised as society buys into progressive social values. And buy into them we have- there’s been a lot of progress, despite the intimidation and killing that still happen for some groups, most notably transwomen. (That’s not to say society does an adequate job of rooting out overt discrimination yet: far from it. But I’d say we’re out of the dark ages now.)

    And yes, there are advantages to being a rich white homosexual man. Being a relatively rich white bisexual man, I could go over them in detail if you like. :p (Maybe a wider “this is what privilege is and this is why I believe in it” post is necessary) The most significant one is that in many situations you can “pass” for being a rich white straight man. With racial discrimination or sexism, the closest you can get to “passing” is simply not tripping up some of the less virulent prejudices.

  9. Did you actually answer my questions despite the rhetoric? You asked “Being rich doesn’t make life easier?”. It makes some aspects easier, but ‘life’? most certainly not. Why would you think it does? Do you really think ‘life’ revolves around money? Seems you do which is a shame.

    At the end of the day you overstate privileges, like you’re hanging on to some injustice from the 60’s. You said yourself that “places it [discrimination] does so are becoming more and more marginalised as society buys into progressive social values.”, generally I don’t disagree, so what’s your beef today, man? As a social conservative, the thought of discrimination based on race is abhorrent. But from what I can see today, it seems the “rich white guy” you despise so much is now hardly the perpetrator. Quite the opposite in fact, it seems those from your end of the spectrum are the ones spouting discrimination and pigeon-holing. And I thought we as as society had learnt a thing or two over the past 40 years!

  10. Did you actually answer my questions despite the rhetoric? You asked “Being rich doesn’t make life easier?”. It makes some aspects easier, but ‘life’? most certainly not. Why would you think it does? Do you really think ‘life’ revolves around money? Seems you do which is a shame.

    Is feeding yourself part of life? Is getting to things you want to do part of life? Is giving gifts part of life?

    None of these things requires money, just as life itself doesn’t absolutely require it, but the point is that being rich* not only helps you in these obvious material ways, being able to use money instead of time to accomplish these things, but it’s also a status and an identity. You will have impressive clothes. You wonder how people can manage without an expensive hairdryer. You never have to worry about eating what you get. You have the opportunity to waste things without worrying about it. You may have the opportunity to study without having to rely on scholarships or grants. You have the opportunity to apply for a job without worrying how you’re going to convince them to take you seriously without a suit. And so on.

    That sort of thing is the privilege of being rich, and over your whole life it adds up quite a lot.

    But from what I can see today, it seems the “rich white guy” you despise so much is now hardly the perpetrator. Quite the opposite in fact, it seems those from your end of the spectrum are the ones spouting discrimination and pigeon-holing. And I thought we as as society had learnt a thing or two over the past 40 years!

    I’m sure I’ve said this before to someone, but I don’t hate rich white guys. I AM a rich white guy, at least in the way I use the term. I’m quite proud of who I am and where I come from. (especially as that first adjective has only applied for one generation before me)

    But I think that people who abuse that privilege, who never give mind to any other type of person in the world, and who shirk any responsibility or obligation to the rest of society are perhaps bludgers in much the same way they often think of the unemployed as. We have an obligation to leave society in better shape than we inherited it in, and sadly I think “people like me”** are the ones most likely to bitterly oppose doing just that.

    *And I’m thinking in terms of “I have two cars” or something, not “let me light this cigar with a hundred-dollar note”.
    **Well, if we simplify “bisexual” to “straight”, perhaps.

  11. Sorry but the self-loathing doesn’t strengthen your case.

    You start to make some sense with the paragraph starting “But I think that people who abuse that privilege…” but why do you equate this to all “rich white guys”? Aren’t you stereotyping? Why weren’t you this specific in the initial post if this is what you wanted to say instead of making a racist comment like “rich white guys”. Did it ever occur to you that your attitude is just as ugly as those you attempt to criticise?

    I did have a chuckle at your definition of rich: ““I have two cars” – come on, by that standard everyone in NZ is rich, for if you don’t already have two cars, anyone could afford this based on the prices you can get on TradeMe. If anything, its the less well off that have more cars! …going by the stereotype of multiple cars on lawns in the poorer suburbs of our cities!!

  12. but why do you equate this to all “rich white guys”?

    I don’t, and it tells me something that you’re assuming I do just because I accidentally left off words to clue you in to the fact that I’m talking about trends and patterns. I can say “rich white men have opposed civil rights for gay people” without talking about every last one of them. I hope you’ll excuse me for giving you enough credit to not explicitly spell out everything when I write. 😉

    Why weren’t you this specific in the initial post if this is what you wanted to say instead of making a racist comment like “rich white guys”. Did it ever occur to you that your attitude is just as ugly as those you attempt to criticise?

    Because I’m one of those people that often needs two-way dialogue to be really specific sometimes.

    And what attitude are you referring to here? The fact that I think people have a social responsibility to wider society? The fact that I don’t think being rich entitles you to all of the privileges that currently come with it? I don’t think either of those opinions are ugly at all, and I find it strange that you think there’s some sort of demographic attack going on because I call out people a bit like myself to be a bit more mindful of people not exactly the same as they are.

    I did have a chuckle at your definition of rich: ““I have two cars” – come on, by that standard everyone in NZ is rich, for if you don’t already have two cars, anyone could afford this based on the prices you can get on TradeMe.

    There do exist people who still do not have access to TradeMe at all, let alone using it to buy a second car. I know you don’t mean “everyone” literally, but this is exactly what I’m referring to: The attitude that you “don’t count” to some degree if you don’t have enough money to, say, get on the web.

    And yeah, some people do have two cars that aren’t “rich” in the sense I mean it- again, I wasn’t designing a litmus test, I was giving a ballpark idea. I imagine some of this is to do with having to deal with goods at the end of their product lives that don’t work well and need much more frequent replacement. In a perverted way it’s actually cheaper to pay more for things sometimes. 😉

  13. Interesting that you moderate your comments only after being challenged but I take your point “Because I’m one of those people that often needs two-way dialogue to be really specific sometimes.”. I don’t mean to sound patronising here, but why not put the right context (in order to indicate what you really mean) into your initial post?

    I guess its natural for bloggers to be provocative in order to elicit feedback. The right is just as guilty as the left here. For me, I read right-wing blogs more than the left, but most of my comments are critical of the post. (so I will never be invited to the VRWC as I am not a back-slapper!). And it follows that those blogs that are more moderate and reasoned in their posts attract the most attention. Partisan politics gets boring quickly.

  14. I don’t mean to sound patronising here, but why not put the right context (in order to indicate what you really mean) into your initial post?

    Three reasons:

    1) I ramble enough as it is.
    2) I watch my left flank better than my right. Part of this is that my disagreements with the Right are more passionate than my ones with the Left, part of it is that as a social liberal Green I have a lot more awareness of the Left. There are some political context issues too, which mean that I need a lot of back-and-forth to get to the point with people who lean more rightwards, which prevents me being able to easily edit the original post, and I heavily edit before and just after I publish.
    3) You never know what someone is going to need clarified, and one post you can leave something open and it doesn’t matter, but if you think that’s okay for another it will cause issues in a context where the lack of clarity is more glaring.

    I guess its natural for bloggers to be provocative in order to elicit feedback. The right is just as guilty as the left here. For me, I read right-wing blogs more than the left, but most of my comments are critical of the post. (so I will never be invited to the VRWC as I am not a back-slapper!). And it follows that those blogs that are more moderate and reasoned in their posts attract the most attention. Partisan politics gets boring quickly.

    Yeah, I’m not trying to get anyone’s hackles up though. I actually think we all agree about so much of the broad context of society that just attacking each other over the rest of it is silly, and we should focus on all lending support to things that actually work and make a difference. (Of course, I include “the power of symbols” under that category too.) Of course, with all of my backround in feminisms and queer studies and my occasional amateur dips into anti-racism, I get to be controversial with the Right regardless, because these concepts are things that the Right by and large doesn’t buy into the framework of, even if they will agree to the goals to some extent. 🙂

    It’s just the nature of talking about politics that the only time nobody objects to what you’re saying is when you’re too boring to bother reading anyway. 😉

  15. Re first response: Fair enough, I’ll give you credit for being reasonably logical in your follow-up arguments, even if I disagree (almost certainly with your initial post witch is more left-cautious as you put it!).

    Re second response (1st para): Indeed, I don’t disagree. Re second response (2nd para): Not so sure here. I genuinely prefer objective middle-of-the-road analysis, even if it goes against my natural preferences. There are few blogs in this space but I suspect this may change in time as blogs become more mainstream. Extreme views (L&R) are ill-thought out. It’s hard to summon the effort to respond as sensible brain-stimulating debate is just a pipe-dream in most cases.

  16. Eh, I don’t think being extreme (whether left or right) makes an idea better or worse. The only time extremism is a political “sin” in my books is when you marry it with the idealistic belief that only your political faction ever has anything right, and that everyone needs to move closer to you.

    I think people should move to ideas that make practical and idealistic sense, even if I don’t like the end result of what makes sense to someone else.

    There’s even something to be said for certain types of extreme positions: “Radicalism” in the sense of “addressing the causes of problems not their symptoms” generates useful ideas. I may put some of that into my list of things to write about. (For instance, I’ve wanted to talk about prison reform for a while now)

  17. Did I say ‘witch’ in my previous comment? Of course, should have read ‘which’. I should pay more attention to the Preview function!! [added later: which you don’t have here!]

    Anyway, I feel that extreme views – while they may ‘add’ to the argument – actually skew it in an unreasonable view. As I have said, objectivity is the key!

    “I think people should move to ideas that make practical and idealistic sense, “ – an oxymoron if ever I’ve heard one!!

    Ideas are great – lets moderate them to fit with reality though, then we can seriously look at them, and move on..

  18. “I think people should move to ideas that make practical and idealistic sense, “ – an oxymoron if ever I’ve heard one!!

    Some ideas appeal to an ideology and make practical sense. Hence why the Greens have been pushing home insulation, for instance.

    Anyway, I feel that extreme views – while they may ‘add’ to the argument – actually skew it in an unreasonable view. As I have said, objectivity is the key!

    Being objective does not rule out extreme solutions if they’re good ones. Hence why I said there’s a difference between being indoctrinated in an extreme ideology, and merely proposing radical solutions that address the problem directly rather than alleviating its symptoms. 🙂

    Even centrists can be very subjective- hell, what was Winston Peters if not an extreme centrist? 🙂

    • Heh, I doubt Winston could be categorised. He just went where the wind blew.

      • Right, which is the only way to be extreme as a centrist: you pander to the lowest common denominator. In short, you become a populist.

        And on that subject: One down, one to go?

  19. I think “extreme centrist” is an oxymoron but I agree with your point about Winston nonetheless. The other one – Dunne I assume? Yeah, his time is over, so is Anderton’s. If they’re both out in 2011 that leave The Maori Party as king maker…will now have to see what you replied to me in the “One with a gun..” thread…

    • Dunne isn’t going anywhere in the long-term. He might get ousted if the right vote here in Ohariu splits and more Greens give their electorate votes to Chauvel, but I can’t see that lasting more than one term. He’s just too much of a darling of the “family values” crowd.

      I don’t see Anderton losing too easily either, and maybe his time is over, but he’s bloody sharp on the economy and one of our best MPs on that front, especially with Cullen retired. (And yes, you can tell I’m a lefty. 🙂 )

  20. Re Dunne – I beg to differ. He didn’t romp in so easily in 2008 (look at the numbers cf 2005, 2002). And his party his dead in the water. So I think that the local constituents may consider is relevance or irrelvance in 2011 and go with the major parties.

    Re Anderton – oh dear, well if that’s your view of the populist then maybe I have given you too much credit! Maybe you are referring to Jim’s comment on dropping company tax, in that case I will up the credit! I like how you said “our” MPs…hmmmm. In reality Jim is a Labour poltician already, just a different tinge of red and with a leaders allowance to boot! Fact is, he’s gettig old, and needs to slip away while he still has some dignity (memories of 1996 still hold for me).

  21. We almost had him this time, I agree, but I think it would be underestimating Dunne to assume he could easily be knocked out permanently by taking advantage of a split vote.

    Maybe you are referring to Jim’s comment on dropping company tax, in that case I will up the credit!

    I think base taxes on businesses should be dropped to compensate for environmental “sin taxes” and other pills that industry and agriculture might find a bit bitter to swallow.

    Jim certainly has a lot in common with Labour, but he’s closer to what their economic policy used to be when they believed in the government stepping in to address market failure directly.

    I don’t think the personality parties are quite as vulnerable as you do, but Jim is really the only one I see as having any positive force- and as a social liberal we don’t usually get along much outside of the economy anyway, so he’s actually a bit further divorced from my views than Labour is 😉

  22. “I don’t think the personality parties are quite as vulnerable as you do, but Jim is really the only one I see as having any positive force” Good timing!! “Jim Anderton’s Progressive Democrats” (or whatever their proper name is) have OFFICIALLY given up the charade and decided to succumb to the obvious (just like the Green’s do in every election campaign, but at least Labour have accepted Jim’s concession).

    Anderton’s mob told to join Labour

    “I think base taxes on businesses should be dropped to compensate for environmental “sin taxes” and other pills that industry and agriculture might find a bit bitter to swallow.” – not a silly suggestion. Depends on the detail of course, but it shows at least that you’re not a complete Marxist!

  23. I’ll believe you on Jim’s time being over when he loses Wigram, Sean. 🙂 I definitely figured it would be unlikely for him to get a second MP again, though.

    And yeah, I think Marxism is a bit of a fairy tale and only works in a world without scarcity. And in a world without scarcity, a lot of political systems start to lose their downsides anyway, so Marxism wouldn’t have quite the advantages it claims to have.

  24. And let’s not confuse “Jim’s time” with “The Progressives’s time”. Hence the charade. I agree an electorate MP can hang in there (same, sadly, applies to Dunne’s charade), but’s lets not pretend they have a serious party behind them. Jim A made this decision when he to split the Alliance (and a strong left voice) for the sake of his ego.

    Glad to hear your honesty, it goes a long way. Times of abundance are fleeting, but hopefully they come back with good political end economic management. But as we know know they also wither when the bubble gets too big. It’s all cyclical I guess. Moving from Marxism to today more sensible left and right politics I guess it’s sensible to be reasoned in a downturn. Maintain a reasonable lower safety net but do not tax/borrow and spend where it is not appropriate.

  25. I just spotted 3 typos in my above comment. When will you get a Preview function for this blog?!! Almost everyone else has one! (PS No pressure)

  26. WordPress.com (which is, confusingly enough, different to wordpress the software item) doesn’t allow previews at this time. I’ll look into hassling them on it, I’m sure it would be really useful, and I’d love them to throw in a time-limited edit, too.

    Glad to hear your honesty, it goes a long way. Times of abundance are fleeting, but hopefully they come back with good political end economic management.

    🙂 I’m actually a very middle-of-the-road guy. I just picked my left-most topics to blog about, because they are the very reason I owe any allegiance at all to a particular part of the political spectrum.

    I think part of this is that our paradigm of economic growth engineers recessions because it is designed in such a way that it assumes bad business practice is at fault when there are materials scarcities that cause business to fall short of expectations. (a lot of the current recession could be interpreted as a result of speculators catching on to the fact that oil is only going to get scarcer from now on) The planet is only so large and we need to start thinking about the fact that we live in a closed system. With a bit of wisdom things will get better- but part of that wisdom is being a little less optimistic and thinking we can grow the economy out of every problem.

    The other problem of course is that we’ve allowed private businesses to essentially regulate the economy, (I’m talking about banks and investment funds here) which is essentially a built-in market failure, because it puts the government in a situation where we have to bail out bad businesses to avoid a cascade failure of the rest of the market. (And it also lets the people running investment funds ruin people’s lives and dreams and then blame them for not being adequately cautious and move on to the vext project. If we’re really going to buy into the logic of the market for investments like that, they need to share in the debt their customers get, in order to incentivise success) I think we need to be looking at alternatives that involve the banking sector becoming more of a service and less of a commodity. That’s not to say it necessarily needs to be nationalised.

  27. And let’s not confuse “Jim’s time” with “The Progressives’s time”. Hence the charade.

    Right, I think the Progressives had a shot to succeed their first time, but they just didn’t sell themselves. Jim is too bread-and-butter- people trust him but he’s not interesting, and it was essentially just Jim’s baby to the public, even though there was some real talent to the party. It’s really a pity for our economy that he didn’t manage it very well.

    Maintain a reasonable lower safety net but do not tax/borrow and spend where it is not appropriate.

    Okay, sidetopic time…

    I think the problem is that “appropriate” is just too much of a wildcard. It’s right in that category of weasel-words that don’t really clearly say anything, and I’ve been guilty of resorting to it now and again when I’ve been in a hurry too, so that’s not a personal attack on you in any way.

    I would like to say we should prioritise high-return spending*, which is actually an objective measure to some degree. Even then, I think there are times when it’s not off the cards to overspend. One of those is when you have so much high-return spending that you can borrow and safely expect to make or save more money for the country than the rate of interest is likely to reach.

    This would have been one of those times, I think, IF the government had picked really high-return projects, IF it were addressing long-term problems, and IF it were stimulating the economy really effectively. Instead we’re getting feel-good stories about elective surgeries and cycleways that will give us a moderate return. And that’s as we’re de-stimulating the economy with regressive tax cuts and economy drives for the government that are making our unemployment problem worse. Forgive me if I don’t think our accounts were in such bad shape that we needed that golden star for acting like Herbert Hoover and making the recession worse.

    I do think, however, that governments have no business decieving people about the state of the government’s finances. I’ve really had enough of absolute dollar figures when it’s real, inflation-and-growth-adjusted figures that matter. I’ve had enough of people mailing cheques to taxpayers and calling it a tax cut when it’s really a tax deferral for future governments- we’ve still got a massive debt sitting around, and paying it off in boom times is one of the best investments available to any government. (Which is part of why I think Cullen was a good finance minister.)

    I’ve had enough of under-justified spending on idealogical or populist jaunts. (Although that said, I don’t want government picking over savings of less than 10 million dollars for any significant time. In terms of individual taxpayers, that’s less than a cent each, so it better be REALLY EASY to enact that spending cut. Likewise, even preventing bigger spending isn’t a cut if you’re putting so much time into it that you’re losing the chance to add other productive initiatives to your government’s bullet lists) I’ve had enough of governments being afraid to raise taxes a bit when it needs to be done, and instead feeding the debt to future generations. Both National and Labour are guilty of this, and a little honesty with the public really wouldn’t hurt. This government has been no different, and neither was the last, not realising it was about to be hit by a global recession when we could see the crisis happening in America and should have guessed. I did, and I’m a complete amateur. I believe they probably got advice from Treasury to that effect, too.

    * Of course, people can and will disagree wildly about what is high return, but this makes some spending a complete no-brainer. It’s hilarious how hard the Greens had to try to sell their insulation scheme, for instance, despite it being uncontested that it was ridiculously high-return spending.

  28. On your 30/07 1808 comment I don’t disagree with much. Only that you said “we’ve allowed private businesses to essentially regulate the economy,”. I would rephrase this to say “we have failed to regulate the economy to avoid far-reaching extreme actions”. We already have mechanisms in place to control the economy (e.g. Reserve bank, Commerce Commission) , but we did not pay enough attention to it (the economy) when times were good.

    Re Progressives comment – yes, I agree.

    Re Sidetopic time – no offence taken.

    Fact is I think National’s take-it-easy approach is right on the money. So far (and it’s still early days) Obama’s and Rudd’s stimulus packages have done nothing other than to burden future generations with debt. The WSJ agrees with Key, as do the polls. Compared to other Western nations, we seem to be holding up well. What is our unemployment rate? 5%? Spain’s is now 19%, the euro area average is about 10%, as is the US’s. And lets not forget that Labour left us with a decade of debt when they left power according to Treasury. Not a nice situation for a new govt to take over. Nonetheless National themselves remain over 50% in the polls despite the worst economic crisis in 50 years. Has to say something doesn’t it?

    You think that Cullan was a good finance minister. Then please explain why the country was left with a decade of deficits after his 9 year tenure. Heh! Maybe the no-tax cuts mantra does NOT work!

    You said “I’ve had enough of governments being afraid to raise taxes a bit when it needs to be done,”. When did it need to be done? And why? Please don’t spare us the details. Why is there a need to raise taxes? What will it be spent on? And what negative impacts do you expect from raising taxes?

    Lets look at it another way. If you take less tax off me, I have more to spend. Whether it be on investments or day-to-day items, one way or another, someone will be receiving this income and growing. Are you against growth? Growth = more jobs. More jobs = more income. More income = more growth. Do you deny this?

    All this doesn’t not preclude an appropriate safety net. (to go back to my comment which you highlighted). It should be targeted at those who are in real need though. Labour and the Greens prefer blanket allowances and this is just not right because it means that those without the need get it. And this has been highlighted so well in the news recently w.r.t Labour’s promotion of Bruce Burgess and Natasha Fuller.

    I support helping the needy, but Labour and Greens prefer populist nonsense supporting those who are NOT really in need. It must all be about targeting. Ironically it seems the left prefer to support the less well-off. It only highlights their corruptibility, or failure.

  29. “we have failed to regulate the economy to avoid far-reaching extreme actions”. We already have mechanisms in place to control the economy (e.g. Reserve bank, Commerce Commission) , but we did not pay enough attention to it (the economy) when times were good.

    Except our regulatory measures do not control the inflation of the economy- bank loans do that, because they all loan to each other to make more and more imaginary money. Institutions like the Reserve Bank chase around the banking sector, attempting to clean up their mess with very few tools to actually do so. Our banking system is more robust than say, the USA’s was, so we didn’t get a collapse here. In some ways this is a bad thing as there has been no incentive to fix an economy that is essentially built on the high seas by pirates. 😉

    When did it need to be done? And why? Please don’t spare us the details. Why is there a need to raise taxes? What will it be spent on? And what negative impacts do you expect from raising taxes?

    It needed to be done generations ago. We’ve made a monster of our national debt, like many other countries. It’s inter-generational thievery to have debt this high. I accept there are quite a few consequences to raising taxes, even if it applies only to “rich pricks”, (this is me poking fun at Cullen) and it will to some degree destimulate the economy.

    Lets look at it another way. If you take less tax off me, I have more to spend. Whether it be on investments or day-to-day items, one way or another, someone will be receiving this income and growing.

    Nope, although progressive tax systems are far more stimulatory to the economy, as low income households spend a larger proportion of their income. You just have to avoid a tax rate on high income earners that is so high it punishes success. I don’t think we’re there yet, but I don’t labour under the illusion we’re not hitting a nerve in that respect, either.

    Are you against growth? Growth = more jobs. More jobs = more income. More income = more growth. Do you deny this?

    Actually, yes, I am against some growth. The economy should grow in a sustainable fashion that does not rely on pollution, mistreatment of people or animals, providing dangerous products, shirking liability for waste generated by your product, or over-consumption of natural resources or land.

    I think income from those things is essentially just inflation in disguise, and inflation implies future deflation and recession. Better to build sustainable growth based on ingenuity, healthy business practices, looking after people and animals and being socially responsible, minimising or re-using waste, and levying the use of natural resources and land.

    All this doesn’t not preclude an appropriate safety net. (to go back to my comment which you highlighted). It should be targeted at those who are in real need though.

    I don’t know how much philosophy you’re familiar with, but philosophers have two terms for defining a group- necessary and sufficient. A definition that isn’t necessary includes things that aren’t part of the group. A definition that isn’t sufficient discludes things that are part of the group.

    I think it’s more important that the qualification for a benefit is sufficient than that it is necessary. I think any pruning down of the benefit system must be done without lowering already abysmally low benefits, and without cutting off people who genuinely need help. Are we agreed on that?

    I support helping the needy, but Labour and Greens prefer populist nonsense supporting those who are NOT really in need. It must all be about targeting. Ironically it seems the left prefer to support the less well-off. It only highlights their corruptibility, or failure.

    If you have some genuine criteria for cutting out people who really do not need the benefit so we can pay more to those who do, I am all ears. Your examples don’t tickle my fancy however.

    Both of those women clearly want to be productively employed, they just can’t afford it on their own. I hope it’s a given for you that they are entitled to raise their kids, because to me that is valuable work. If you want them to contribute to the workforce as well, you have to concede that the state needs to give them a leg up with their training.

    I agree targeting is important, and we should use extra assistance in a targeted manner. I am also concerned about dropping off people who really need our support to get on their feet. Nobody likes to feel as if they’re not productive. I can tell you first hand that it is a miserable feeling to not feel as though you can work, and I don’t personally understand why someone would inflict that sense of worthlessness on themselves for the pittance we offer in social support. Now, I do however think there are people who “get stuck” on their road to employment. But that’s a seperate issue from how wide we cast the net of entitlements.

  30. “Except our regulatory measures do not control the inflation of the economy” – completely false, as indicated by the StatNZ output that inflation has been under control for years.

    “We’ve made a monster of our national debt, like many other countries.” – The Nats got it back under control in the 90’s only for Labour to spend and spend and get it back to monster status today. How depressing! (not that I blame Labour for the current crisis, but their excesses have compounded the matter).

    “Actually, yes, I am against some growth. The economy should grow in a sustainable fashion that does not rely on pollution, mistreatment of people or animals, providing dangerous products, shirking liability for waste generated by your product, or over-consumption of natural resources or land.” – okay so you are against real and economic growth based on some pet Greenpeace projects. You just lost some credibility. We are talking about the economy as a whole here, not environmental aspects alone.
    “though progressive tax systems are far more stimulatory to the economy” – I am not going to ask you to prove it, but please at least show some evidence of this fallacy!

    Our (welfare) benefits are not abysmally low by international standards. In fact clearly you have not set foot in a third world, nor emerging country. I’ll be honest in that I don’t understand your academic claptrap about ‘necessary’ and ‘sufficient’. As I said before, if you are in need we should help. Qualification should be based on need.

    “If you have some genuine criteria for cutting out people who really do not need the benefit so we can pay more to those who do, I am all ears.” – Absolutely. It’s this simple – if you do not NEED a govt benefit then fuck off. If you do (and can reasonably demonstrate it) then society will help you, and more importantly we should help you to get back on your feet and off any benefit.. Ari – it is not difficult to demonstrate that you cannot make ends meet, and it is not difficult to demonstrate what you are going to do about it. In the interim, we (the govt) should provide the safety net.

    If these women were genuine cases I would have no problem. But one of them has been spouting her big mouth all over TradeMe. She is far from being genuine. Blogosphere has exposed her

    “Nobody likes to feel as if they’re not productive.” – indeed. In fact your whole last paragraph I like. What we need to do is define a criteria to separate the bludgers from the genuinely needy. In fact it is not difficult. A simple home budget spills all. Let’s get it right!!

  31. “Except our regulatory measures do not control the inflation of the economy” – completely false, as indicated by the StatNZ output that inflation has been under control for years.

    I’m not talking about the inflation rate, I’m talking about the constant injection of new credit into the market in the form of loans made out of inter-bank loans. The Reserve Bank doesn’t control how much money is in the economy- the lenders do. The Reserve Bank just prints extra cash to make up for it. I’d really like to see banks unable to use inter-bank loans as collateral for more loans.

    okay so you are against real and economic growth based on some pet Greenpeace projects. You just lost some credibility. We are talking about the economy as a whole here, not environmental aspects alone.

    The economy relies on the environment being friendly to humans and friendly to business. We are slowly turning that around for short term profit- you can think of it as inflationary growth if you like, because it doesn’t add real sustainable productivity. I’m of the view that growth is only useful if it can be sustained indefinately, or at least long enough to pay itself off without causing any social problems.

    I think it’s really important to distinguish real growth and growthflation that can only be achieved by damaging the inheritance of- and stealing from future generations.

    You ask any economist what we should do about pollution or over-use of resources and they’ll say I have the right idea in principle- these things need to be costed for the market to even have a chance to work right.

    I am not going to ask you to prove it, but please at least show some evidence of this fallacy!

    It’s rather simple. The best stimulus is the one that:

    1) Is spent quickly, rather than saved.
    2) Is likely to be spent again by the person who profited from it originally.
    3) Addresses an existing need or problem.

    Progressive tax systems where we put more of the tax burden on those who can afford it ensure that untaxed bonuses remain in the hands of those who are more likely to need to spend them, who are likely to spend them on food or other essentials where the money will quickly be recirculated, and help address generational poverty and lack of opportunity. So they meet all the requirements for really good stimulus.

    Absolutely. It’s this simple – if you do not NEED a govt benefit then fuck off. If you do (and can reasonably demonstrate it) then society will help you, and more importantly we should help you to get back on your feet and off any benefit.

    The problem is that “need” is defined many different ways. For instance, does a beneficiary “need” a car? You might say no, but it could well be essential for them to get a job that they be able to run their car. It’s in everyone’s interest that beneficiaries get the assistance they need to become self-sufficient- and that’s a long process, sadly.

    Ari – it is not difficult to demonstrate that you cannot make ends meet, and it is not difficult to demonstrate what you are going to do about it. In the interim, we (the govt) should provide the safety net.

    It shouldn’t just be about not making ends meet. It should be about assisting people into permanent employment wherever possible.

    If these women were genuine cases I would have no problem. But one of them has been spouting her big mouth all over TradeMe. She is far from being genuine. Blogosphere has exposed her

    I’m not sure what that means, but keep in mind that if she’s not getting an entitlement to train and isn’t eligible for sufficient course-related costs on a student loan to get into reliable employment, then the state is really not giving her the assistance that lets her get on her feet. And we should all have an opportunity to do that, even if we’ve failed before. 🙂

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