Thursday, 11 May 2006

Delusions en masse, and spin all the time

Recent NZ events and headlines have made it clear (if it wasn't clear already) that you and I really are taken for idiots both by the various power-lusters within Parliament and by their cheerless cheerleaders without. It’s almost insulting. Politicians are our employees and they will do whatever you and I let them get away with. Recent evidence suggests their employers let them get way with a lot.

Almost everyone came out in support of the idea that taking Telecom's lines and giving them to its competitors was neither nationalisation nor theft, but was instead re-regulation, unbundling, and everyone from Tory to houri was happy to go along and to peddle the spin – everyone that is with the significant exception of one minor party leader, one former Minister, a few blustering bloggers and a large number of former shareholders of Telecom who lost no time in taking their money out of the unbundled corporation.

Everyone however in the commentariat was only too happy to jump on the bandwagon, and happy to turn their focus (and the public's) on the leak – sorry, that should be 'The Leak!' – and the story of The Leak is still being followed assiduously by all the easily diverted drips, even as the larceny looks to be extended further into the partial nationalisation of mobile services.

“Well,” you can imagine the power-lusters from the Red Team contemplating, “if one act of larcenic legerdemain can be put over so easily, why not try and get away with another?” Why not, eh?

And who cares really? Who amongst you lot even notices you're being spun? Or cares? If politics is the art of the possible, then the power-lusters from both Team Red and Team Blue know that the public are buying the spin, and the commentariat are either happy to peddle it or too vapid to notice it (come in Susan Wood) -- but the end result of the spin being bought is that what is possible to the politicians is more, much more, of the same.

Just think how stupid they think we are. Irrelevant accusations of American involvement in our elections was flung around in the election campaign like so much chum – and what the hell’s wrong with Americans anyway? – and then after doing their job in that dust up they’re dusted off and resurrected in the form of some perfectly innocuous e-mails ... and to a man and a woman the commentariat leap up and down as if the sky is falling and we’re in danger of CIA takeover.

What a lot of barking seals and overfed fools. If the political commentators don’t know or notice or point out what’s going on, is it little wonder the public don’t seem to either? But how much more blatant does it need to be made that spin is overwhelming substance? Even having to point out the irrelevance and in-your-face obviousness of this stuff is soiling – and it’s not just me talking with my libertarian hat on here; most of this stuff so blindingly obvious you can only imagine the politicians laughing up their sleeves that they're able to get away with it.

Here’s some recent and ongoing lowlights of spin, just from the top of my head (feel free to add more):
  • Blatant lies and spin about welfare numbers is bought almost wholesale and corrected only on the margins.
  • Complete equivocation from politicians about the difference between tax cuts and welfare handouts is received with stone-dead ignorance from the commentariat that there even is a difference.
  • A coalition in everything but name, and a Foreign Minister in nothing but his name on the door, is greeted with little but laughter and smirks all round.
  • Some homes built by some Registered Master Builders and designed by some Registered Architects are found to leak, and the chosen solution is to register all builders and all designers -- 'masterfully done' is the response from the Guilds, the opposition, and the commentariat, who also unanimously agree that the building industry was deregulated in the nineties. It wasn't.
  • Stone-age racism from Maori Party and Maori quarter alike is hailed as ‘giving a minority a voice,’ while proposals to remove racism from legislation are spun (and bought) as “playing the race card.”
  • An electricity industry in which almost all major players are arms of the state is still widely considered and referred to as having been ‘deregulated’ and ‘privatised.’
  • Taxes on cigarettes are raised year after year in order to discourage consumption -- and ‘fat taxes’ are mooted for similar reasons -- but high taxes on production, ie., on fuel, on incomes and on profits are not considered to discourage either enterprise or production, and are barely questioned as being germane.
  • Parties across the board talk about the need to help working families and the desirability of good child-care, but the realisation that in most households one partner is going out to work just to pay the tax bill is either ignored, overlooked or dismissed.
I could go on -- and I often have -- but the fact that this stuff is widely bought and seriously sold is an insult to everyone’s intelligence right across the board. It’s either wilful blindness, or utter ignorance that it's not laughed off the podium. Whatever it is, politicians will keep on doing what they can get away with, and both blindness and ignorance will always allow them to get away with an awful lot.

Of course, having an opposition that pays major attention only to minor matters doesn’t hurt either. While an election is stolen and New Zealanders routinely and New Zealand’s largest company just recently have their property rights violated -- and the public apparently couldn’t care less about either -- the opposition tries instead to raise attention with footling attacks on the subjects of Plunket Line, tennis balls in schoolrooms, signed paintings, what TVNZ said in some private emails, speeding limousines in Canterbury and chauffered car crashes in Ponsonby.

It's hard to know whether they're all just dim bulbs or whether because both public and commentariat neither know nor care what's really going on the opposition don't really bother either. But it's not exactly diverting to watch.

As a Californian libertarian always sued to say, "People are deluded en masse, and enlightened only one at a time." At this rate, the job of enlightenment will be a long one.

  • Of course, I've forgotten to point out another headline grabber of recent days: the shameless spinning, right on to the front pages, of an out-of-context quote from Theresa Gattung. Naturally, the full context showed something quite different (see links in this post).
  • And the indefatigable Lindsay Mitchell has news of another crock being peddled as we speak by Minister for Weasel Words Michael Cullen, who points out essentially that the drop in our rankings for economic competitiveness is not so much that we've got worse, as that everyone else has got better.
  • And just so you don't think it's only NZers who suffer in this way, spare a thought for the citizens of the US of A, most of whom venerated when he was alive and in office what must be one of last century's greatest political charlatans, and who even today rank him among their top three presidents. I talk of course of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
TAGS: Politics-NZ, Politics-Labour, Politics-National, Nonsense


  1. Well said, Peter. Tt is just about enough to make me Shrug.


  2. The job of enlightenment will be a long one? A few years ago the Libertarianz had 5000 voters. Last time they had 1000. At this rate only 200 will vote Libz the next time (if there's a next time), and none thereafter.

    And PC, what are the libertarianz known for in this country? I'm sure it is support for soliciting, gay marriage and free drugs. Do a poll. I'm sure it will confirm my suspicions.

    I find it hard to accept that voters are clueless and stupid. That doesn't roll with me. Politics is about trust and credibility.

  3. Berend, it's tempting to say you've helped to prove my point, but I'm far too polite for that.

    However, the point I'm making above has little directly to do with Libz (so your comment there is largely irrelevant, as also perhaps your suggestions and sympathies), but perhaps you'd like to give some thought to the further point that I've adduced some evidence in support of my claim whereas you've adduced none.

  4. Most regard politics with distrust and cynicism, unfortunately. Ask a few people.
    Maybe I misunderstand your meaning, Berend. PC is right about all the BS. I've just posted Michael Cullen's latest.

  5. michael fasher11 May 2006, 19:31:00

    Unbundeling?great ephemism,my suggestion for the next ephemism for looting would be "mugabeing",wonder if it will fly

  6. How about Michael Joseph Savage being a bigger target? He's New Zealand's more socialist equivalent of FDR.

  7. PC, your point is that people, voters, are deluded en masse. That is probably a great insight in how libz think about voters. It's also key why they're not making any progress in convincing people.

    2nd, you argue that people have to be enlightened one at a time. That's a point you've made here more often.

    I just noted that that goal ostensibly has failed. Libz haven't convinced anyone. Just the opposite. So either the approach is wrong, or it is a mission impossible.

    And that brought me to my point: what do you think the libz are most known for? Care to enlighten me of some internal lib polling?

    I care about this issue because I agree with 99.9% of the points you argue that are wrong. But I disagree with your points where you argue why the country thinks this way (they're stupid, misinformed, ...).

  8. Berend, you're consistently missing the whole point. If Libertarianz have failed, so has ACT - Roger Douglas once claimed it would be ACT vs Labour/Alliance 50/50 in the 1996 election, then he claimed a goal of 30%. ACT managed 7% and now lanquishes on 1.2%. This isn't tribalism, this is the fact that 9 out of 10 voters want the state to substantively run their lives.

    I think they are misinformed, there is no serious policy debate in almost all media in NZ. You get speckles of it occasionally in newspapers and occasionally when Sean Plunket confronts Ministers, but that is it.

    The bulk of the public is quite socially liberal (that's why legalisation of prostitution and civil unions are basically accepted), but also believe in state welfare, health and education. They also don't really like very successful businesses or foreign owned ones. Labour plays to this beautifully, as does the media.

  9. libertyscott, I'm not denying ACT has failed.

    But you can't maintain that voters distrust politicians, but are misled. If they distrust them, they wouldn't vote for them. If they are misled, they trust (but wrongly so).

    The voter is always right. That's my maxim. They're not stupid. Perhaps they do what we love: maximise their self-interest.

    Even in the country where they have the widest debate and the most advocates for freedom, there is still 30% that will vote Democrat, no matter what.

    It just doesn't wash with me that voters are stupid. Politics is about trust. And they trust Helen more than Don. And who wouldn't. We all know that Don doesn't say what he really believes. But he says things in order not to rock the boat. We would like the real Don to come out. But he won't.

    There are some second level issues as well, for example people like to back winners. That's where ACT lost big in the last election (thanks to a masterfully screwed NZ One poll), and the Libz might suffer from this as well.

    But if people don't trust you, they won't vote for you (in general). However good your story.

    Most people really believe, and not without arguments, that the Telecom nationalisation will improve their lives. It might. That's the self-interest part.

    If yo go against that, and you are right, you will have increased the trust the public will have in you. But that's for the longer term. And hard to do consistently.

    People do not believe that free drugs will improve their lives. It might lead to more freedom, but that's not how most voters think. In order to win voters, you have to win their trust.

  10. There are indefinables that make or break elections. Leaders and leadership, how they appear. Act lost because it plonked it's bet on an ineffectual leader...of another ineffectual party. Roger Douglas lost because [imho] he did not have the personality. Quote from an employee "if my dog looked shifty at me like he does I'd know it'd done something wrong and kick it's arse" The leadership of English and Shipley was a cruel joke. All these folks may have had a few good ideas but they appeared to stand for nothing. There are others who look the part and can convey leadership but of what? Ron Mark is a case in point. Liberterianz have clearly enunciated ideas but who can pronounce the name let alone name the leader? Before you can have power you have to have personality, policy, push and profile. A lot of people have more common sense than we give credit for, without giving an attractive alternative however, their vote will go to Helen the Hen by default: or to quote a commercial fisherman friend "if Labour was any good I'd vote for them, but they're not, they're shit" He didn't bother to vote at all.

  11. Berend, I agree with most of what you say, other than the voter is always right and they're not stupid. Let's be honest here, they voted three times around for Muldoon and then voted for a socialist Labour government, ended up getting a free market('ish) one.

    It is an old maxim of political science that the majority of voters are tribal, always voting for the same party. I think that has broken down a bit, but still around 60% of voters will tribally vote Labour and National till the day they die. Most farmers will vote National, most Pacific Islanders will vote Labour. It has little to do with their interests, it is just part of what they have been raised with.

    You're right about trust, although governments tend to change not through popular endorsement of a change, but through condemnation of the status quo. People "throw the bastards out", they rarely actively support "yeah I want this lot".

    This time round Labour got its tribal voters (South Aucklanders) out in force to rebut the "throw the bastards out" lot who voted National. It worked.

  12. Libertyscott, you say it is a fact that 9 out of 10 voters want the state to substantively run their lives. This isn't a fact at all. We are given the right to choose between a handfull of political parties to 'represent' us once every 3 years. We can vote for one of them, or just not vote. This isn't choice.

    If the voters are indeed stupid, then aren't they also going to be stupid when it comes to using their own money wisely. Haven't libertarians always said that nanny state telling us how to spend our money is patronising and paternalistic and that people are best at making their own decisions?

    Either we're stupid or we're not, but you can't have it both ways.

    By the way, I am not agreeing with Berend, if anyone got that impression.

  13. An interesting article on voter behaviour from the New Yorker.


    I don't think the electorate is stupid. I do think most people have better things to worry about than politics.


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