A Party of All the Talents #LibzConf2012 [updated]
UPDATE 2: Welcome Herald readers, with this clarification: No, we didn’t discuss merging with Act. But we did talk about a home for their many and increasing ex-members…
UPDATE 1: Lindsay Perigo’s speech here.
Thanks to everyone from Libz, Act, True Liberals, ALCP, Pirate Party, C&R and Auckland Now for a great conference. Here's what I said to the #LibzConf2012 conference this morning.
Good morning everyone.
My name is Peter. And I am a Recovering Libertarian.
It began for me around 30 years ago. It started small. Just me and a few grams of Ayn Rand. But pretty soon I found myself with fellow addicts, gathering together to drink in John Locke, imbibe Thomas Jefferson, and to snort FA Hayek.
17 years ago we met in a small smoke-filled room to set about spreading our addiction.
We had big plans for Project Libertarianz.
We met, and we plotted, and we set out to make a revolution in people’s heads.
We were hard-arses! flag-flyers. Non compromisers. Not for us the timid wimperings of focus groups too scared to frighten the horses. We plotted and planned and produced policies forged from the sterling silver of sound principle. All policies all principle all the way down the line.
We planned to get these ideas and our policies into parliament, we said. By any means necessary, we said
With a radio show, a magazine, and a small army of foot soldiers, we did. We got rid of the TV tax from outside parliament, a thankless victory but a hard-earned one. We got parties talking about one law for all; we got some of them offering a tax-free threshold. We got right-wing politicians starting to talk about decriminalising cannabis.
But this wasn’t enough. We wanted MPs in parliament. Oh, we said we didn’t, we always said we didn’t. But we were in denial about our addiction. We knew we had to have MPs. We just found it impossible to get enough votes to have them. Or, for some reason, enough money to promote them properly.
And we found it impossible to find anyone amongst us who really wanted to be an MP.
Partly because none of us actually even likes politics. Or politicans.
We know deep down, all of us addicted libertarians do, that what Thomas Jefferson said is true—that whenever a man has cast a longing eye on political offices rottenness begins in his conduct.
The only reason we libertarians are truly interested in politics is because politics can’t resist being interested in us.
Project Libertarianz began however with the explicit goal of getting Libertarianz MPs into parliament. It was right there on our brochures. Still is, as far as I know.
But I think everyone who’s suffered from this addiction now knows the truth.
It’s never going to happen.
If it isn’t already obvious to you, then please remain seated while I tell you truth: Project Libertarianz has been a failure.
I’ll say that again. Project Libertarianz has been a failure.
I say that not with any glee, only with huge disappointment.
What we began with such promise was weighed down by the difficulty of running a never-noticed political party and beset by the never-ending problem of never-enough money.
But let’s be clear here. Project Libertarianz has failed just at the time it is most urgently needed.
We meet here now at a time when a hole the size of the ACT Party has appeared in National’s coalition partners; at a time when there has never been a more urgent need to articulate the goals of economic and social freedom. And to get that voice into parliament by any means necessary.
And I guess that we’re all here today means we understand that.
So let’s be blunt about the reasons you’re all here. It isn’t just Project Libertarianz that’s been a failure, has it. So too has Project ACT.
[Come on, how many recovering ACT members are there here? The first stage of any cure is accepting reality.] Project ACT has been a failure. If ACT’s lack of any real achievement hasn’t made it obvious—and I trust no-one here wants to defend the super-sized Auckland bureaucracy that ACT’s second-to-last leader delivered us-- If ACT’s lack of any real achievement hasn’t made it obvious; if the infighting and lack of direction in recent years hasn’t made it clear enough, then the size and quality of today’s ACT caucus surely has to.
Is THAT what it was all for, all those years of effort? One super-powered mayoralty, and John Banks’s nose in the parliamentary trough again?
Surely all those millions of dollars and all those years of effort should have delivered something much, much better.
And don’t fool yourself it will all change if you can just eject your current feral conservative from the leadership. The ACT brand is now so poisonous that instead of Don Brash dragging it up, the once well-respected man was dragged down himself by its toxic slick.
So Project ACT and Project Libertarianz are both failures.
And if success is measured by achieving measurable goals, then failure has unfortunately been the only thing about which the single-issue Legalise Cannabis Party has to boast.
And that’s despite virtually every MP in the New Zealand parliament happy to confess they’ve inhaled.
I think economic and social liberals from all parties—classical liberals, if you like—can learn from all our failures.
Project Act and Project Libertarianz are failures for opposite reasons.
ACT abandoned principle in favour of populism, and ended up losing both. Libz embraced principle over populism, and while we’ve succeeded in putting some of those principles on the public stage, it’s not as much as we’d hoped from 17 years of trying.
For similar reasons, ALCP supporters have faced similar disappointment. And many convictions.
Why the failures?
Well, why did Project ACT fail? It’s principles are certainly sound, as they should be. they were written by the Libz founder. and I for one would have no difficulty embracing them as the foundation of a new party.
The principal object of the ACT Party is to promote an open, progressive and benevolent society in which individual New Zealanders are free to achieve their full potential.
To this end the ACT Party upholds the following principles:
that individuals are the rightful owners of their own lives and therefore have inherent rights and responsibilities; and
that the proper purpose of government is to protect such rights and not to assume such responsibilities.
Nothing there to argue with.
But it wasn’t that ACT’s MPs ever argued with the principles. They seemed to just forgot they were there. And where they should have been waging a battle of ideas against the enemies of their principles, instead they waged a battle of personalities within their own ranks.
And why did Project Libertarianz fail? Not because of any lack of principle, or of talent. Nor because of any lack of intellectual grunt. I still smile when I remember one journalist gleefully recounting the tale of one MP who shall remain nameless making the mortal error, as the journalist described it, of publicly engaging two lanky libertarians in intellectual combat.
That was our reputation.
But it won us no seats.
Our ACT critics were right. Victories like this, however delicious, were no substitute for being an MP in parliament with the one single goal of increasing freedom and rolling back the state. (The lack of such a goal being our own criticism of virtually every single ACT MP.
Why did we not get any traction? I’m sure you all have your own answers. We’ve always seen Project Libertarianz very much as a vehicle to educate people. But perhaps it is too early for people to hear what we have been saying. Perhaps, in what Lindsay fondly calls this pathetic authoritarian backwater, we always were just pissing in the wind. Perhaps we did just frightened the horses a little more than we needed to. Perhaps we scared people off.
That’s what Richard McGrath told TV3 last weekend. That our policies were too scary for most people. That they scared people off.
We were told that again during the week by someone putting up her hand to be our in-house Agony Aunt.“In the past,” said Deborah Coddington, who was once our party’s deputy leader.
the Libz narrow dogma -- total free market, wholesale selling of state assets including having all schools and hospitals run by private enterprise, the right to carry guns, and complete freedom to take whatever drugs you like so long as you accept the consequences -- have scared the bejesus out of people.
She’s probably right. We probably did. But someone did have to say those things were right, and so we said them.
And it was fun.
But if if I may continue her Agony Aunt column, she offers this advice: [Ahem]
Cliches are usually true,” she says. “as in there's only one way to eat an elephant: one bite at a time. So when you say you want freedom, you can only achieve it one step at a time. Don't terrify people who've been enchained for 30 years. It's like stripping them naked, when you should be persuading them they can just remove their overcoat. It will take time for some to be convinced they don't need to hold Nanny's hand.
Right again. It does. And don’t we know it.
So “finally,” she continues,
tell us what you're for, as well as what you're against. When campaigning for Act, this was a common criticism, and today when I switch on the news or pick up a newspaper, all I see are killings, crashes, our youth are all drunk, the country's broke, we're going to hell in a handcart.
How refreshing it would be for a change, to be asked to give my vote to a party with a sense of life.
Right once again. There is much in the present world about which to be honestly afraid. Hell, there’s enough just here at home about which to be terrified. But we need to explain simply how freedom makes things better.
If I may quote a libertarian litany from a fellow who essentially put up his hand last week to be our Agony Uncle,
With all the this government is doing, said Matthew Hooton in last week’s NBR,
the classical liberal movement should be booming, especially with National’s support falling and the combined Labour/Green vote leading the polls. That ACT languishes on 0.5% underlines that party’s abject failure.
It is quite a list.
Government spending as a percentage of GDP has grown since 2008 and Finance Minister Bill English borrows hundreds of millions of dollars a month, mainly for welfare.
Prime Minister John Key broke his promise of further tax cuts, yet his pledges to keep Labour’s Working for Families, interest-free student loans and current superannuation entitlements remain inviolable.
Fiscal surplus is elusive. Even if New Zealand reaches balance for a year or two this decade, Treasury’s long-term fiscal outlook indicates that, without major policy change, public debt will surpass Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain well before mid-century.
A vast new bureaucracy has been established to hand out corporate welfare while other bureaucracies work on five-year plans.
The Ministry of Women’s Affairs, the Ministry of Maori Development, the Ministry of Pacific Island Affairs, the Ministry for Culture & Heritage, the Office of Ethnic Affairs, the Ministry for the Environment, NZ On Air and dozens of other unpopular agencies and quangos continue to exist.
Efforts to expand the private sector into health, education, welfare and ACC are half-hearted at best.
Nothing serious has been done to reform the Resource Management Act, which Steven Joyce rightly points out has already held up new job creation on the West Coast for seven years – with no end in sight.
There is no true freedom to contract under the Employment Relations Act.
While SOEs are not being privatised, management of Te Urewera National Park will be, as part of a Treaty of Waitangi deal with a tribe that didn’t sign it.
Rogue spy agencies are intercepting New Zealand residents’ communications and passing their business secrets to foreign powers.
The nanny state is re-emerging in welfare, including the requirement to enrol children in early childhood centres, seen by some as peddlers of socialist doctrine.
And now National is flirting brazenly with NZ First's Winston Peters…
And, as he says, faced with that, the classical liberal movement should really be booming.
It should be a gift to parties like ours.
But they’re not booming, we’re dying.
And the faces of the alleged classical liberal parties today, if we don’t put something better out in the field ourselves, will be John Bank. And Colin Craig. And, if the United Future Party is successful in changing the name of his party to the Liberal Democrats, Peter Dunne-Nothing—the Minister of Internal Revenue.
Which is why Aunty Deborah and Uncle Matthew and many others like them in the media are just quietly beginning to realise that “Libertarianz representation on councils and parliament would undoubtedly be good for New Zealand.”Better especially than the much less liberal alternative of Colin Craig.
But like them, we must know that achieving that will not be easy.
THERE IS INDEED MUCH about which to be honestly afraid . Our job however is to tell people how more freedom can drive away the fears; how less government will makes their their petrol cheaper, their jobs more plentiful, their houses more affordable and their lives inside them better.
How refreshing it would be for a change, to ask people to give their vote to a party with a sense of life.
But there is opportunity from ACT’s collapse, from Libz realisation of failure, and from National’s desperation for new “partners.” Opportunity for a Party of All the Talents attracting like-minded adherents from all parts of the political spectrum. A party firmly based on sound principles, promoting a small suite of popular policies that get us there one principled step at a time.
Politics is the art of the possible. Does that mean compromise is necessary? Not a bit of it. Look again at that advice from our Agony Aunt. We’ve been trying to eat the whole elephant. But the best way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time.
Even though we’d been snorting Ayn Rand, we hadn’t realised that Ayn Rand would not even agree with our approach.
It’s too early for politics, she said fifty years ago. It still is. Too early to be standing at the goalposts demanding that everyone play towards us—which is what, with our all-or-nothing policies, we were doing.
Ayn Rand talked instead about a “Party X” that wouldn’t just wave at everyone from the goalposts saying “up here,” but would dive into the ruck in the middle of the park and start moving the ball in the upward direction.
Of course, Rand never used that metaphor. I doubt she ever saw a rugby game, But she did offer a brief prescription for her’ Party X,’ one that rolls back the state even from opposition : A party that uses its principles not as a set of handcuffs, or as something to be banished from its website. Rand’s Party X would use its principles as a weapon.
Party X [she said] would oppose statism and would advocate free enterprise. But it would know that one cannot win anybody’s support by repeating that slogan until it turns into a stale, hypocritical platitude—while simultaneously accepting and endorsing every step in the growth of government controls.
Party X would know that opposition does not consist of declaring to the voters: “The Administration plans to tighten the leash around your throats until you choke—but we’re lovers of freedom and we’re opposed to it, so we’ll tighten it only a couple of inches.”
Party X would not act as Exhibit A for its enemies, when they charge that it is passive, stagnant, “me-tooing” and has no solutions for the country’s problems. It would offer the voters concrete solutions and specific proposals, based on the principles of free enterprise. The opportunities to do so are countless, and Party X would not miss them.
No, it wouldn’t .
For example, every political bullfrog and his legrope is presently all afire about child poverty, about mothers being forced out to work, and children being forced into child care by an uncaring Paula Benefit. A Party X wouldn’t miss a challenge of that kind. It would proceed to demonstrate to everyone who would listen that early childhood centres survive on subsidies—which just barely covers the cost for the ever-increasing number of regulations they have to follow. It would point out to everyone that the salary of one parent in every couple is spent just paying their tax bill. That one partner in every couple is effectively going out to work just to pay their tax bill.
Our Party X would demand to know why, say, the couple can’t even get a tax credit for any money spent on the education of their children, or for those children whose education they might choose to sponsor. And Party X would offer this proposal to voters: a tax exemption for the educational expenses of all citizens.
And Party X would also declare that if people really wanted to put other people first they might begin by taking their hand out of other people’s pockets.
For another example, every hand wringer and his box of tissues likes to wail about the problem of affordable housing. But they have no idea of how to make housing affordable. And they wail about it while doing all they can to make housing even more unaffordable.
Now I rejoice in the fact there are now many more people already singing from our songsheet—about rolling back the planners’ power over land and building that makes our overregulated housing more than four times the build-cost of freer markets.
But their proposed changes will take time. A Party X would want to know why councils couldn’t have small consents tribunals for projects under, say, $300,000. As former Federated Farmers president Charlie Pederson observed, "it's little, not large, that suffers most RMA pain." These tribunals, charged with using common sense and common law to make quick decisions, would fix that.
And Party X would also declare the wider principle that when the productive have to ask permission from the unproductive in order to produce, then you may know that your culture is stuffed.
I want us to be that Party X.
And something more.
We who understand the power of genuine freedom to deliver real prosperity might even realise we can spike the guns of our opponents, to silence those who are only too eager to put us in the ashcan of being “right wing”, by declaring that we are the party of affordability. Because only real economic freedom can make things that are genuinely affordable.
WE might even, if we were to stand for local govt in the likes of Auckland or Ashburton next next year, develop a sort of franchise, calling our loose franschise as necessary, Affordable Auckland, Affordable Ashburton and so on.
Of course, our Party X would recognise the only way Wellington would ever be affordable would be the erasure of whole govt departments.
And the only way Christchurch will ever be affordable again, or even a real city instead of a welfare project, will be if it can be made an enterprise zone.
And we will say that.
Face it, there are no shortage of opportunities.
Our only choice should be which particular battles to fight. About which more later.
Let me tell you first what I mean by using our principles as a weapon.
To start with, let’s realise that eating the elephant one bite at a time doesn’t mean compromise. Let’s realise that right now.
We certainly have to recognise the realities of what’s politically possible, but that’s no reason at all to withdraw from a commitment to removing the leash from around our throats. Quite the opposite.
What it does means is that we direct our work as far towards our final goals as possible, and wok fervently for every small gain we can get --- and we formulate our policies on principle to reflect that. Writer Robert Tracinski gives us the big tip:
In judging a measure, he says, one cannot hold it responsible for all aspects of a mixed economy - only for those aspects it changes.
These changes can be evaluated by a straightforward application of the principle of individual rights: Does the reform remove some aspect of government control or does it add more control?...It is not a compromise to advocate reduced government control in one sphere even if controls in other spheres are left standing. It is a compromise, on the other hand, if one seeks to purchase increased freedom in one area at the price of increased control in another.
Clear enough: Start with what you find, and don’t take responsibility for it. Then design the means to work towards your goal one baby step at a time, without ever purchasing increased freedom at the expensed of increased coercion.
This is what is meant by the phrase ‘ratchet for freedom.’
This approach gives us a real weapon if we can make it into parliament. It would be a game changer.
We could spurn altogether any idea of coalition, which has killed every minor party who embraced it. Instead, we could give every party in the house the firm commitment that we would vote for every single measure just as long as it removed some government control, just as long as it advanced freedom, just as long as there were no new element of coercion.
And how could anyone object to that?
And just think. No need for made-to-be-broken coalition agreements, because any party who needed it would have our cast-iron commitment to vote with them on every measure removing some government control, as long as there were no new element of coercion—which means supporting every budget that removed spending, just as long as there was no new increased burden on anybody.
Just imagine it. Every politician in the house will be hurrying to understand what the words more freedom and less government actually mean.
Just think about it. Every journalist in the country who wants to talk up votes in the house will be doing our job for us, because to understand how our votes would be committee—if we get to parliament—would require them, too, to understand what the words more freedom and less government actually mean.
A principled opposition of course – our putative 'Party X' -- would also promote such policies. An intelligent opposition would design such policies to be picked up and passed around.
To be picked up and passed around (and to be worth passing around) every policy should pass The Test of the Three Ps: it should be Practical, it must be Principled, and it will have been designed to be arse-grabbingly Provocative.
Provocative enough to be passed around; Practical enough to be work; Principled enough to move the game in the right direction. The principle with each policy must be clear: More freedom with no new coercion.
Now I know there are policy wonks in this very room who if we let them would talk enough would all say which specific policies we should promote and why.
But I’m going to say we shouldn’t sweat the specific policies now. Not yet. Not this afternoon. I say if we get broad agreement now on our general approach, we can put ACT's principles at the top of the page, and meet early next year to thrash out the main policy platform arising therefrom.
One think I think we can agree on now is that we keep it simple, stupid.
Here’s what I mean. At the last election, the Greens had great success from promoting just three basic policies. Sorry, three “priorities.” If you recall, the three “priorities” were green jobs, clean rivers and child poverty. It worked.
Now without commenting on those priorities themselves, I think we’d all say it worked. They found a small number of areas on which there’s huge popular support, and articulated their positions with all the energy and taxpayers’ money they could command..
I think we can learn from that. I’d like to think however that our target voter is smarter than the Greens’s. I’d like to think that. So I think we can do better than three. I reckon we should promote five major policies, a “tight five” of priorities, promoted over and over again until we’re bored with talking about them—because only then will others start to notice.
So which five do we promote?
That’s the sixty-million dollar question, isn’t it.
The populist way for a party to capture support is to find people’s itches and scratch them. Ours is a harder route, but with greater long-term payoff.
Political parties must first of all capture support, so their policies do have to be popular. But they also have to continually expand the market for their ideas, (something ACT failed to do) so every policy also has to teach.
Remember, if we’re going to be successful we need to attract the support of around 100,000 people. So I’d suggest the test for being in our “tight five” should be these five points:
- Select those policies that clearly demonstrate our principles;
- Select those policies for which we estimate there are already 100,000 people in the country who agree with us; and
- Select those policies for which those 100,000 will vote for us instead of anyone else.
- Reject policies too closely associated with past failure.
- Accept those policies that promote the benevolence and sense of life of freedom.
NB: All five points are important.
Selecting those policies that demonstrate our principles keeps us honest, and it helps educate others. (Promoting affordable cities, for example, allows us to teach people that only by making people freer can our cities become more affordable.)
Without popular policies we’re wasting our time. (Promoting marijuana legalisation, for example, which we already know has large support—and tells anyone who needs to know that this is not a right-wing party, it’s one serious about freedom.)
Without policies for which we alone have a competitive advantage, we’re spending time promoting policies for which other parties receive the rewards. (there’s little point in us spending time promoting law and order, for example, because the Nats will lap up that support, not us.)
We have to learn from the sad career trajectory of Don Brash that anything publicly associated with ACT (and possibly everyone associted) is now poison for most people. So that means policies directly and publicly associated with them will be too (which means, unfortunately, that one law for all must be out.)
For too long we’ve rained on everyone’s parade by scaring them about Nanny State and telling them what we’d like to abolish, what we’d like to take away. And that’s scared them. How about we tell them all them instead all the benefits of freedom, like prosperity, like affordability, like choice. Yes, that will be much harder, but I think the sugar pill will prove more palatable to more people.
There is one policy however which by necessity violates this last guideline of being positive.
Let’s face it. Economically, the world is in a mess. I’m convinced that we need to promote balanced budgets and hard money. The payoff for this will be when the unfortunate GFC 2.0 crash happens, and (unlike the other parties) we will be seen to know what we're talking about, just as the likes of Peter Schiff, Detlev Schlicter, and John Allison had their reputations enhanced by warning of the coming of the last calamity.
There is yet another reason to keep our suite of policy themes to a minimum.
And that’s because not all of us in this room agree on everything.
That’s both the strength and the weakness of a party of all the talents.
I draw inspiration from the Ministry of All the Talents formed in Britain during the Napoleonic War, and again during the Second World War, that drew on talents from across the spectrum, coming together with the one aim of winning the war.
Our divisions are fewer than those between, say Nai Bevan and Winston Churchill. But with their aims limited to specific goals, they could find agreement.
So can we.
WE have a mission. We have a goal. We share an understanding, I think, of how to get there.
Now, to the extent that we are successful in attracting large numbers, we’ll all be running into people we’ve had run-ins with before. To that I say “suck it up.” That’s a good thing, it will be one early sign of our success—that we’re drawing in people who have left the lists for other things and have now returned to the battle. If it happens, as it should, embrace it. And as long as we’re honest with each other, and all our aims are the same, we can agree and get on with it.
OUR IMMEDIATE AIM must be to give a home to ACT's disenfranchised libertarians and social liberals, along with like-minded souls from Libz, ALCP, socially liberal Young Nats and elsewhere.
AND OUR LONG-TERM AIM must be to produce by education and activism a “freedom bloc” in parliament of intelligent, articulate, knowledgeable advocates of freedom. A principled and powerful Party of All the Talents that regenerates itself by continual education of members and MPs.
(And for those who do read Matthew Hooton, let me assure you that doesn’t mean re-education in the art of romantic realism. Well, not necessarily.)
** AIM OF FREEDOM BLOC: The aim is obviously to be in Parliament within six years.
Let’s not think that will be easy.It’s certainly possible. But it’s not going to be easy.
If we’re going to do it, we have to be credible. We have to be financial. And we have to be active.
Outside parliament and struggling for attention, what we really need here is a constant campaign--a permanent revolution, if you will. Not just a three-week burst in some far-distant November, but an ongoing concerted campaign to capture attention for the party, and teach the ideas.
Q: How many of you are really up for that? How many of you are willing to back that.
The opportunity exists for us to Take advantage. But how many of you value it enough to get behind it. Because this is where it all gets that much harder.
Campaigning costs money. Campaigning credibly costs big money.
We have a wealth of ideas. But do we have wealth and funders sufficient to bankroll us?
On that, I bow to those more qualified to answer. But I do know that being credible attracts big money. And I know that some of you know how, and from whom, to extract it.
And we are also going to need grassroots financial support.
I reckon no party with the goals that we have can be taken seriously, or can do the job we need to do, unless there’s regular and decent funding from the membership. Unless there is serous money not just at election time, but all through the electoral cycle. Unless the leader of the party, the man or woman who (like it or not) is going to be the party’s face, is at least getting an honorarium for all the time that doing the job properly will take.
Whatever we choose to call it, if we’re going to do it properly this new project will demand a lot of our time, and cost a lot of money.
So to those who are thinking of applauding me now I’ve finally concluded, just let me say this.
Don’t clap. Just throw money.
Because if we’re not just pissing in the wind, we’re going to need it.
* * * * *
POSSIBLE TIGHT-FIVE POLICIES?
- Small Consents Tribunals – accept RMA but insist that Small Consents Tribunals are set up, something like Small Claims Tribunals, to deal with projects under $300,000 on the basis of a Codification of Common Law. At one very easy stroke you make more low-cost housing much more affordable for many more people.
- Iwi then Kiwi – accept ToW, insist only that all property involved (which, let’s face it, is the only way we’re going to see any real privatisation this decade) is individualised and transferrable. And call it what it is. Privatisation. At one simple stroke you have the biggest political power bloc in the country, the Browntable, behind privatisation.
- Balanced Budget
- Legalise cannabis
- Voluntary euthanasia
- Abolish Search & Surveillance Act, 2012
- Abolish Maori seats
- Enterprise Zone for Christchurch
- Affordable Cities
- 40/15 tax: $40k income tax free threshold, 15% GST
- A Very Special Carbon Tax: linked to temperature rise in troposphere at equator
- Eco UnTaxes
- Putting Property Rights in the Bill of Rights.
- Replace zoning with “Coming to the Nuisance”
- Tax credits for education