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Saturday, 3 December 2016

Proportionate Representation: Holy Grail?

I'm not a party person and most of the ones I've been to have ended up as All Night Catan sessions. I say this because the one I got back from several hours ago now was one of the other kind... you know, just standing around talking to a bunch of people you know (and maybe eventually ending up talking to someone you don't know, or several someones... which is better). This is a pretty enjoyable way of spending an evening (and, no, it does not need any chemical aids to be so). However, I mention this because it's really just a starting point to ground discussion of indigenous issues.

I'm not a big fan of identity politics. I see it as having cannibalised socio-economic inequality/privilege's place in politics and I blame an overt focus on that as one of the reasons why we muddle along under Teflon John. Now, this is not to say that I think the poor men of Brussels and Brighton are more similar to each other than they are to the rich men of their respective homes, because I quite seriously disagree with that. Think of it like this. One of the flag change rebuttals that was deployed against the "There's a whole lot of history in the current flag" argument/sentiment was, "Well, duh, this would also be true if the design was laser kiwi." I mention this because borders may well start off as being arbitrary (in the sense they have nothing to do with the man on the street) but they end up having meaning for people. That I live on this side and you live on that side has a wealth of meaning that is seen every single time there's a derby in soccer, by way of a simple and accessible example. The point is, that when you want to talk about Maori as an underprivileged group (in New Zealand, obviously) is that it's a blend of these two issues. I might think (and do think) that a great many things are better approached by taking a more "classical" approach and dealing with the socio-economic advantage but that does not mean that there aren't aspects to the issues which are better made sense of through identity politics. But back to the party.

I'm not sure how we ended up talking about it but at one point we were discussing whether or not Taiwan was a country. Someone then referenced the sudden political swing of the conversation and this reminded me of an earlier conversation where I had stumbled across many of the same people talking (probably) about Maori seats. (As an aside, do note that this anecdotes sustains the notion that politics is a central part of the human experience.) The conversation specifically ended up centring on Auckland University's targeted admission scheme for Maori doctors (it's actually got a different name and I can't be arsed checking all the facts here). Now, the point that one of my (Asian) friends raised was that there are 20 reserved places (which are probably for Maori and Pasifika) and this led into the classic "what if they're not good enough line"? Well, as far as I know, you've got to still be doing very well (like, I'd be surprised if you got in with a GPA like mine, which I've recently managed to get to 7.2-ish, maybe 7.1-ish... but that's from totally different courses). However, the tack that one of my other friends took was the sort of standard "indigenous rights" argument. I intervened after he'd finished to note that "Bicultural" New Zealand basically just ignores Pasifika (who, to my knowledge, rarely do better, i.e. lose harder, on all the stats that Maori do* so badly in... i.e. all the stats)... this was then added to (by someone) with the size of New Zealand's Asian population (I have more Asian friends than Pasifika or Maori, actually). We'll ignore the party now, because I don't remember anything else relevant.

When we were having this conversation, I could've brought up my grandfather's conversation with someone important at Grafton (where the med people are based). I don't know how he got in contact with said person or who it is, but my grandfather was very impressed with the scheme. And, why wouldn't he be? Okay, so, yeah, there are a lot of answers to that question. Most of them (the ones that aren't overtly racist, anyway) generally boil down to proportionality. That is, it wouldn't matter if "only" 15% of doctors are Maori (I don't know if this is true: read this) because that's roughly the proportion of New Zealand's population that are Maori (as far as I remember... more signs of this post's dodgy research). However, when talking about med students it is actually a bit more complicated. What base population is now the appropriate comparison? If we're talking about a university in Auckland, should we really be using national figures? But if we used Auckland region figures, then we ignore that students don't just come from Auckland. (We can discount the notion of global proportions because I clearly think that borders aren't arbitrary.) So, it seems to me, that we should probably use the applicants as the base population?

What we're talking about here is a position of merit: you have to earn it and you have to earn it at standard. We've assumed that no-one lets people below scratch in... just made it so that you don't have to be way off the charts (if you are Maori, Pasifika or from a rural area). But there's a problem. There are reasons to believe that your chances to be an applicant are skewed if you belong to certain groups. That is, the applicants should reflect some base population themselves (which is probably best approximated by weighting the Auckland demographics with the country demographics somehow) and that they don't because of all those stats we kinda referred to earlier. Now, a lot of those stats reflect socio-economic issues and should be addressed as such. But I talked about that Brussels and Brighton thing for a reason. It matters that people aren't visible because when you're not visible, you are invisible. And what does that say? Well, I don't know. I do know that it doesn't say, "Look, we're doctors too," whoever that "we" is. And this is, surely, psychologically the same as the opt-in...  you have to actively decide, as a member of that we, to be a doctor in a way that's different to when you do see members of your we as doctors (opt out example). That, right there, is why proportionality is not the Holy Grail of the short-term... because you need to do something that brings something to the foreground.**

Note, if your response to this post is that we need to care about the long-term more I have two responses to you. Firstly, "in the long run we're all dead"*** and secondly that you only get to the long-term state from a short-term situation: they're path-dependent.

*This doesn't really reflect what's going on. For example, a country doesn't actively try and pursue (i.e. do), say, infant mortality... it's a description of something that happens in that country.

**Proportionality is, by definition, not noticeable... it's expectation. (And, note, if it turned out NZ European males are under-represented in the short-term it's okay... but if unaligned representations persist in the long-term and have nothing to do with policy distortions, it suggests there are some stats there working behind the scenes... and that's when you start considering policy, which isn't necessarily going to lead to any policy.)

***That is, what is happening now, to us, matters as well.

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