Thursday, 28 September 2017

Regulation and Corporate Social Responsibility

I probably haven't thought about this topic for several years, not since I was doing Business 101 and 102, but it came flooding back to me when I read an article about Facebook just a few minutes ago.

Basically, Mark Zuckerberg has been criticised by all and sundry for his responses to various criticisms of Facebook. The idea is that the firm needs to recognise that it is a media company as much as it is social media with responsibility for what its algorithms do, but Zuckerberg disagrees. Thus one finds:

Mark Zuckerberg has surely by now realised that he must answer his users' concerns, even when he doesn't share them. His mistake may prove extremely costly - he's boosted those calling for stricter regulation of internet companies.

The idea of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is basically embodied in this quote: firms ought to behave in a "moral" fashion. The theory is pretty sound, if you ask me. A firm can conduct its business in a number of different ways but its behaviour is not neutral. That is, people react to the way the firm behaves. Being a nasty quasi-illegal menace is something a firm can pursue but it basically forces the firm to always shoot the elephant: it has to be ruthless, it has to use force. Putting millions of dollars into revitalising an urban space, on the other hand, gives a firm a lot of social credibility and people will reward them for that. Whether or not CSR really matters is something I'm not clear on. I certainly don't believe it makes firms internalise externalities.

This quote is about CSR for the simple reason that Zuckerberg isn't doing anything illegal. He operates Facebook in a way that is legal without being moral, which is apparently starting to hurt the firm. But the quote is also about regulation. And this raises some fundamental questions about how governments should interact with firms.

If you ask me, what governments need to is take as many nasty moral questions out of the hands of firms as possible. It seems to me that is unfair on managers to make them have to consider things outside of what they're meant to be doing, i.e. pursuing profits. It seems to me more efficient to have the state develop a set of regulations which reflect moral standards rather than rely on dubious mechanisms to achieve the same ends. Not all moral standards, but the biggies. Those ones that would be laws if peoples' concerns translated into policy faster.

Now, that is not to say that firms shouldn't engage in CSR (although my example reeks of gentrification, which is problematic) but that CSR is no alternative to good regulation. When a firm engages in CSR they should be doing it because they want its benefits, not because not doing it causes them to lose customers. If you regulate well with appropriate standards, this is what should happen.

Brief Thoughts on The Election


There is this thing that a lot of people do with female politicians and that's refer to them by their first name. I don't like it. But Jacindamania is just an alternative to Beatlemania so, as a phrase, it's okay. But was it a thing?

If you look at where Little's Labour were and where Ardern's Labour has ended up you have to say that Jacindamania was real. The thing is that all they did was switch leaders. The core party platform was still rotten. National's is too but I saw this cartoon that describes why they won (apart from their attack ads):

A 2003 New Yorker Cartoon

Moral Authority

John Key may be gone but National is still a thoroughly anti-democratic party. Running ads which are based on lies (their tax campaign) or which undercut the credibility of the system (the joggers ad, which followed on from the rowing one from last time out) rather than the condemning the reasoning of the policy positions is a bad thing. Democracy only works when people have faith in it. No ifs, no buts. That is the only way democracy functions and these kinds of ads cut that.

In the context of MMP trying to claim a kind of moral authority for having the most seats is in the same, ah, boat.  A lot of people have criticised National for running with this line but it's not just National who think this way. MMP works on the basis of coalition formation and by talking about a moral authority what National is saying is, "There is only one real coalition option" which is to argue that a NZ First/Labour + Greens coalition arrangement would be fake. That's not right. That coalition represents the peoples' will as much as an NZ First/National coalition does.

Winston "The Kingmaker" Peters

It's all very well to say there are several possible coalitions, but which coalition will we see? It's hard to say.

On the face of it, NZ First and Labour are a lot more similar than NZ First and National are. We might describe NZ First as a somewhat more nationalist version of Labour with a provincial sentimentality. This means that there are a couple of "social" issues where they depart but broadly Littlian Labour or Ardernism is not so different.

National and NZ First depart somewhat more. They have very different ideas about what to do with housing for instance (none of these three parties have the right idea, mind) but share many of the same provincial concerns. It's a toss up in my eyes who National would prefer to govern with. A coalition with any one of Labour, the Greens or NZ First would require massive policy concessions, many of which are betrayals of how National thinks about the world.

That being said, Winston Peters apparently doesn't like the Greens (or ACT) and I do wonder if Ardern's need to make relatively few compromises is actually disadvantageous. That is, Winston Peters might be wondering if he could form a minority government. For a lot of the stuff he cares about, Labour will go along with it. And some of the other stuff will see National co-operate. However, if the departures from Labour are big concerns for Peters then extracting concessions from them will feel more like winning.

The Blue-Greens Conundrum

I think the Greens would prefer a coalition with National than NZ First on a policy basis. I think this way relatively fewer compromises would have to be made and I don't think National cares that much about its pork barrels (i.e. roads). Other people, and I think most other people fall in here, would argue that the economic policies are too different and ultimately the Greens don't care enough about the environment to ignore this (i.e. they're not a single-issue party). A final, and very persuasive point of view, is that the Greens are concerned about what happens if you're pragmatic, having seen what happened to the Maori Party.

I should note that I believe National is (a) not confident NZ First will pick them, (b) prefers the Greens to NZ First and (c) is sufficiently desperate to make massive concessions to the Greens... but in relatively few areas. Basically, the best way to look at this issue is to say: I would be surprised if Bill English has not talked to James Shaw but even more surprised to learn if Shaw called English.

Chlöe Swarbrick/Generational Change

Swarbrick suffered in the Auckland mayoral election for our non-proportional system (Auckland is one of the least democratic local governments in NZ) because lots of people like me voted for Phil Goff rather than her because of fear of the leading right-wing candidate. In this election, as a member of the Greens, Swarbrick has been included due to having a proportional system. I'm not sure which she'd prefer: being Mayor or being an MP. Anyway, Swarbrick is NZ's youngest MP for about forty years... assuming the Greens don't lose a seat after the special votes are counted.

Why is Swarbrick a thought about the Election? Well, it's an interesting factoid, the age thing, but there have been people who have suggested that Swarbrick become the new Greens co-leader. Swarbrick herself disagrees saying, "I have to get comfortable with being a politician first and foremost." Apparently James Shaw only waited 8 months before trying to become the male co-leader but that's a lot longer than less than half a week and, frankly, he's 44: that's 21 more years to assess his political ambitions. I would argue that Swarbrick has come up in the co-leader discussion because of narratives about Jacinda Ardern.

Swarbrick is a little bit more than a year older than me. She is 14 years younger than Jacinda Ardern. One of these numbers is a meaningful difference* and it's not the smaller one. The concept of generational change was true of Ardern replacing 52 year old Andrew Little (15 years older than Ardern) but that's as far as it goes. Ardern is not young. She didn't grow up in an era of internet ubiquity or rapid change in cellphones. She didn't sit NCEA (I'm not sure if Swarbrick did, but the major thing is that NCEA was a Thing when she was at school) and Ardern is certainly old enough to remember the last Labour govt. whereas I would be surprised if Swarbrick remembers much of it at all. Swarbrick isn't generational change either, though, because she's just an MP. What she is, maybe, is the start of a normalising wave... and an MP, which means something in itself.

*Okay, I'm not really friends with anyone who wasn't in my school year or, at a stretch, simultaneously taking uni papers with me, but for most people a year's difference is trivial.

The 5% Threshold

It has to go... it's way too high. The arguments for it are rubbish.

People try to argue that if we abolish it we'll end up with a bunch of micro-parties but the truth is that's what ACT and United Future were. That worked out okay, didn't it?

Proponents suggest we'll be held to ransom by little parties. Well, no, we won't. If there are a lot of them, then no single party will be able to give a big party all the seats they need. Thus, to get greedy means the big party goes to one of the other little parties, thus encouraging non-greediness. And the big party isn't going to be greedy either because this will make the little parties think they get nothing, i.e. they'll lay out ultimatums. And, of course, a Greens or NZ First sized party might be able to get the bigger party across the line on their own, so they'll get rewarded for having more seats. But if they get greedy? The big party turns to the smaller parties.

Advocates of the 5% threshold argue that it brings stability. Well, yes, it does. But what it also does is create wasted vote and stops newer ideas from coming into parliament. The Conservatives should have been in parliament after 2014 and they should have been able to weather the Craig problem with a prompt resignation had they had MPs. The Opportunities Party should be getting seats this time around. They're not. We're getting the same parties election after election, and they're getting complacent for it. We have the Greens taking up some leftie vote while National soaks up the more conservative vote and uses this to question the credibility of our democracy.

1.5% or 2% that's the way to go. High enough that we won't get a proliferation of single-issue parties (which I don't like) and low enough that we won't stop people voting the way their heart feels.

n.b. I am not a fan of either the Conservatives or TOP.

The Special Votes

A lot of what I've talked about above depends on the special votes. I don't know what exactly is possible but if TOP drops below 2% the chance of getting any momentum on the 5% Threshold is very low. If they go against the Greens, Swarbrick might drop out but if they go the Greens' way, they might have NZ's first ex-refugee MP as well as making National's position look less credible (if you trade on credibility, not policy, this is a problem). Peters has already indicated he's not going to make his mind up until the special votes are all accounted for. This makes sense if he's contemplating National (he wants to see if their position weakens) and if he's thinking of going with Labour but that's more because he has certainty so there is no specific reason.

Friday, 15 September 2017

The Folly of Food

A couple of years ago my friends and I were forced to abandon a small game of soccer in Albert Park due to the rain. Since it was around lunchtime, we wandered back to Auckland Uni's campus with the intention of eating. I suggested a vegan lunch, which I had then tried just the one time. Is it any good they asked? I liked it I answered. Low key sort of thing.

So, we decided to fork out $5 each (or not) and sat down somewhere it wasn't really raining. They spent the bulk of the meal suggesting it needed meat. Seriously guys? Grow up.

Vegetarian and vegan food is, by and large, tasty. Certainly, meat is often not required to make a meal. Fairly often, for instance, we eat meatless meals, but not with the same regularity that was once the case and generally with minimal balance (e.g. essentially all staple). I think a fairly good way of approaching a week's eating is three or four meat days and the remainder not meat (for dinner anyway, leftovers incorporated in the next meal's days). However, that is as far as I would go. I am not interested in a vegan or a vegetarian diet.

The problem with what my friends were doing is that it is completely ordinary to not be eating meat and the vegan lunches on sale on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays do not require meat at all. In fact, they're good value meals. They're nice and they're filling. They even come with pudding. My friends were missing the point of the meal for no good reason.

This brings me to the notion of planning to hijack a vegan event by eating "steak and eggs" lunches nearby. The hell? What are those people trying to accomplish? What is the purpose of doing that? Dudebro humour? Who knows?

Sure, there are some vegans and vegetarians who like to act as though ethical veganism is a thing. It's not. There is nothing unethical about eating meat. (Half the arguments that say so believe in overpopulation and the other half mistake poor management for inherent evil.) All dietary choices are arbitrary and whimsical. All of them. There is nothing morally superior about adding meat, nuts, honey or excluding any of the same. People who use these arguments to support any position are in the wrong. We should point that out. But they're never everyone. There will be arbitrary vegans in that crowd. There will be people like me who like the cuisine. Hence, my conclusion is very simple. Grow up and let people be.

I'm not saying that we should just let our stomachs wander through life free of all restraint and decision nor that there is no reason to condemn certain diets as unhealthy. What I am saying is that macrodietary choice is amoral... except when you're not a vegan and you're eating the function's vegan choices before you can tell if the vegans have eaten their fill: that is unethical.

Thursday, 7 September 2017

How Democratic is Abortion?

Once upon a time I was really anti-criticisms of policies/position as inconsistent. These days I don't like arbitrary policies and differences. This is quite possibly the biggest shift in how I think about the world over the last six years. However, abortion illustrates the problem with the extreme version of consistency: politics from first principles.

The idea of politics from first principles, at least the way I mean to use the term, is that you have some basic principles from which a cohesive and comprehensive platform is built. A common principle is liberty, which we might define as the notion that one should have freedoms but only to the extent they don't reduce the freedoms of others. Sounds reasonable, no? You do whatever the hell you like, unless it restricts my ability to do whatever the hell I like. Fair. So, how does this principle engage with abortion?

First up, I am completely fine with abortions that are fairly early on. If you wait long enough, the foetus becomes viable, which means that if you gave the mother a C-section, the baby would survive 50% of the time. Unless, you know, I have completely misunderstood that on account of not being a doctor.

Secondly, we'll work from the quote that inspired this post:
15. They [abortions] are undemocratic. In a democracy there should be tolerance for different beliefs and anti-abortionists should not be allowed to impose their views on others, however sincerely these views are held.
I think this reason is a terrible argument. For one thing, tolerating different beliefs means allowing people to criticise abortions and to argue that they should be banned. For another, I think that has very little to do with what the author (Sparrow) is saying: her emphasis seems to be on the liberty angle. Which is the bigger issue... think for a moment why it is "pro-choice" and "pro-life"? Why those terms?
  • The way that pro-lifers see it, abortion is murder because a foetus is a human life. Or, in other words, arguments from liberty say that abortion should be treated in the same way that other crimes against the person are treated, i.e. banned.
  • The way that pro-choicers see it, abortion is not murder because a foetus isn't really human (in the same way a tulip bulb isn't actually a tulip). Or, in other words, arguments from liberty say that abortion should be treated in the same way that we treat other medical conditions, i.e. patient consent based on medical advice.
Obviously, Sparrow's argument is neither here nor there... it completely misrepresents/side-steps what the "two sides" are clashing over. In some particular circumstances it's a valid notion because these two positions are just generic statements of the camps. Everyone knows, for instance, that a lot of pro-lifers say things like "every life is sacred" and are as much making religious arguments as anything else and I have seen people equate foetuses to parasites (they're not, despite being comparable in some respects... like Donald Trump, John Key and Jacinda Ardern)... possibly because we might run into an animal rights argument against abortion with the articulation above. Regardless, the point is that liberty doesn't really say anything about what to do with abortion.

Now, you might say, and you'd probably be right, that in real life people would work from multiple principles, not just any particular one, but this becomes a difficult exercise. I think the example of abortion shows that we have to combine principles with other interpretations (intersect visions with realities*) in order to actually have a coherent way of thinking about the world. I think that is true regardless of how many principles you regard as first principles. Perhaps, more saliently given the title, you also might say, but what does liberty have to do with democracy anyway?

Look, there are a lot of ways of arguing about this point, and I've really just followed what Sparrow appears to be saying, so I'll choose one. In a very basic sense, democracy is about the competition of ideas because every single person who constitutes the rule of people thinks differently. Liberty manifests here because it is possible to talk in such a way that restricts the ability of others to participate in the competition of ideas. If you compromise the competition, you compromise the democracy, right? So, the question is, does being anti-abortion limit the participation of others? 

My sense is: not inherently, but it certainly can. Yet you see how this is a difficult question to answer... if you disregard that pro-lifers think abortion is murder then being anti-abortion is authoritarian. Hence, to some people, being anti-abortion is inherently threatening of the place of some people in the competition. How to accommodate this I leave up to you: this is a "food for thought" post not a substantive argument any which way.

*Whatever your view on the murderness of abortion, that particular view is your reality and someone who disagrees? Well their particular view is their reality. Big ideas like Truth need not apply: they don't matter.

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Inhabiting the Narrative, or The Richardson/Ardern Debacle

The bulk of this post was written in closer temporal proximity to the event, but I have decided to put it out there now with a new thrust. Now it is about the narrative stuff rather than the debacle. Why? Two reasons. One, because then Blogger will think I've written three posts on 6/10/17 (one of those was still my Tuesday 5 September) so I will have 666. Two, because I referred to it in my other post from today.

NZ's current PM has six children. He's been asked about what that means, he's answered that. The previous PM had two kids. One of whom is quite well known: widely derided even as a bit of a tosser. I guess John Key was asked about them at some point. But the more pertinent thing is that John Key was once asked if he pissed in the shower. He answered. He does. The point is that John Key's quest to paper over every problem by being goofy has fundamentally altered how we think about talking to politicians. Questions that we'd never usually ask people were something that John Key wanted to answer. In fact, he preferred to answer those questions. It's one of the reasons some people think he's a tosser too.

This is what we call a narrative. As humans our lives consist entirely of narratives. Not in the sense ones on Discworld do... they actually have an element called narritivium there... but in the sense we make sense of literally everything through narratives. The trouble is that there is no single narrative. That might even be true of actual narratives too. I mean, we could look at Harry Potter as the tragedy of Draco Malfoy... which is a rather different interpretation to the normal reading. But with real life, all narratives are retrospective and because of this they're really picking and choosing stuff. There is no teleological component to reality, but there is in Harry Potter. Let me show you another narrative.

In the Western world there has been a tendency to consider women as something akin to walking wombs. That is, the entire social function of the woman is to birth the next generation. Hence, all women are perceived as eventually being mothers... and while a normative vision of monogamy simultaneously exists all men are not thought of as eventually being fathers. It doesn't add up. Even worse, some women will have children with multiple men. More reason to expect everyone will be a parent. But because of the way Western morality and thinking works, it's only mothers.

Yet, things have been changing. We now think that women can do anything: they don't have to be just mothers. In fact, we now recognise how problematic saying "just a mum" is. Being a mother is a big deal and incorporates lots of different jobs, tasks and functions: it's real work which we don't recognise justly. We also recognise that employers use motherhood as a rationale for dubious employment practices: being pregnant shouldn't introduce any uncertainties about whether or not one will keep one's job. Asking women if they're thinking about having children reflects the old way of doing things. Being pregnant or potentially being pregnant is irrelevant.

That's another narrative. Notice that it seems somewhat mutually exclusive with the previous narrative. However, they are both equally true. They are both true. They both happened in the same reality. But, wait, there are other narratives too.

We could, for instance, talk about the biological clock. For instance, a woman in her late thirties, a couple of years off forty, is subjected to the above social pressure directing her towards having children but is also conscious that the older you are the harder it is to have children. And she might even be thinking about whatever the female equivalent of this speech by Scrubs' Dr Cox is.

Another story that we could talk about is the glass cliff. This is a bit like the glass ceiling insofar as a woman promoted towards the top or to the top discovers that it wasn't a ceiling at all. In fact, it was the top of the plateau. And, in fact, this isn't one of those nice friendly plateaux this the flat bit of a cliff. And there's a glass wall pushing her towards the edge. Or, because I was having too much fun this there, it's the idea women are disproportionately likely to be promoted to the top when a firm is struggling relative to how frequently they're promoted to the top when the firm is fine (or booming). It is an empirical observation.

(Notice how your perception of the glass cliff alters if I change that last part, e.g. by...  not including it? saying that when it was coined it was an empirical observation? saying it was coined following an empirical study? And I could have done something similar with the womb thing. The only people I see using that language are criticising the sentiment.)

If we really wanted we could take another tack and talk about media trends. I don't mean in terms of the impact of Seven Sharp on television or, for that matter, the context of The Project, however. Not because those are irrelevant narratives (e.g. discussing the potential medical applications of bioglass... interesting and exciting stuff but beside the point) but because I don't know enough about them. I, long ago, decided television was a rubbish place for the news and have no familiarity with either. It might be possible to tell you a bit about the presenters but hopefully this introduction makes you realise how fraught that is. What we could say about the media is how it basically serves to get clicks, and the best way of doing that is being first and then supplying more about a story than is really justified. The more opinionated, the better. We could talk about this. But I think I have said enough about it.

There is another narrative I could mention, but it should shape your understanding of what you're reading. Originally I did want this to be about Ardern and the Little Matter, which was a pun (babies are small and it was from her first interview after taking over from that xenophobic weed Andrew Little) that I now thing works better as a post about immigration. Originally, I was going to churn it out maybe a day late. But life got in the way... and so I am late to the party. Oh well. It was a lame party anyway.

Lots of narratives, then, and clear signs of the influence that narratives and how we describe them exert. These aren't the same to clarify. Debacle is a description of a particular narrative of what we're about to describe. I could call it a debate. I could call it a spat. I could call it a reprimand or a rebuke. In fact, rebuke is probably what I could call, from where I sit, the most accurate description of Ardern's engagement with Richardson. Yet, as you will soon see, there are lots of other narratives that we could focus on. In a simplistic sense, if we were journalists we could choose different stories from the same events. It could be about the rebuke or it could be about the abstract issues that Richardson raised. Hell, it could be about the way Ardern handled the matter. Which, I feel, was very smooth. (And now remember the previous post talked a lot about Ardern as a political operator.)

And just so you're not confused, it's not just me saying this stuff. When I linked to the Glass Cliff article you were linked to something discussing the same ideas through the subcase of the metaphor. Indeed, I encountered the idea through some readings we were set in History 300 on the linguistic turn. Specifically, Alun Munslow wrote:
[...] I will argue that the genuine nature of history can be understood [...] as the creation and imposition by historians of a particular narrative form on the past [...] not merely at the writing up stage. [...] Recognising the literary dimension to history as a discipline does not mean that we cannot ask ourselves is it only our lived experience that is retold by historians as a narrative, or as historical agents do we experience narratives -- as people in the past? In other words does the evidence reveal past lives to be story-shaped, and can we historians retell the narrative as it actually happened, or do we always impose our own stories on the evidence of the past?
Look, I don't agree with this stuff, although possibly now I am not in the moment of the course I could be more amenable to it, but I do think everything is relevant. And I think the notion of multiple narratives and imposition of them on events is real. The difference is that, unlike my memory of Munslow and his obfuscatingly dense and overly envelope pushing style, I think that all narratives I can generate are events from reality. This is a massive difference between me and the Hayden White cultists. The way I see it, I have fully embraced their chaos, and realised the order on the other side. (Incidentally, I think the extremely referential habits of myself and my peers is a problem for Munslow-style deconstructionists: not that this is a new thing, Medieval writers loved to show their classical knowledge, for instance.)

I guess this is where we should introduce the example. Most of the above narratives relate to what was briefly an evolving story in NZ politics: Jacinda Ardern, the new leader of NZ's Labour party, was asked if she wants to have kids. The basic idea is that the context we choose, and it is a choice of sorts, to give what happened, tells us what happened. But I think you need to know (and  do remember one way of reading this is that I don't want to get rid of my "research") the course of the events to really get my point about narrative.

There are lots of clips out there regarding the question and part of this is because it relates to two separate interviews... both involving Jacinda Ardern and Mark Richardson. However, as dedicated readers know, I don't believe in videos. (Notice: telling you this is giving you a narrative: a way of understanding what is happening to you as you read.) Hence, in order to suitably ground our discussion, I have written down the bits that matter from the first video (and sometimes been assisted from media quotations). But before that I think we need a Dramatis Personae thingy, familiar from many satirical works:
  • Jesse Mulligan: comedian (retired?)... made jokes about shampoo (I saw him live once)... an ex-host of Seven Sharp, one of the three permanent Project hosts (ca. 41)
  • Kanoa Lloyd: news media personality, formerly presented the weather, now a permanent host of The Project (ca. 30)
  • Josh Thomson: comedian, the final of the Three (ca. 36)
  • Mark Richardson: retired cricketer, now a media personality... a permanent host on the AM Show, was on The Project because that's what they seem to do. (ca. 46)
  • Jacinda Ardern: current leader of the Labour Party... had been in job for a few hours for the Project interview... well known even before that (it was a standing question in some circles why Andrew Little didn't resign earlier)... has cultural capital as a young candidate (ca. 37)
  • Duncan Garner: used to be the other Patrick Gower, now he and Gower are both Patrick Gower? And what of Guyon Espiner? (But I digress.) Political journalist & permanent host of The AM Show. (ca. 43)
  • Amanda Gillies: journalist and a permanent host on The AM Show. Journalist (ca. 40)
  • and, I suppose, there's me... early twenties blogger and uni-student. Not a fan of the concept of generations, can barely remember the Clark-era, doesn't normally listen or watch either show we're interested in.
Okay, so I know a bit more about some of this lot than others and this is a problem given this whole multiple narratives thing, but that's the who... now the what.

Jesse Mulligan: "Hey I've got a question and we've been discussing today whether or not I'm allowed to ask it,"

*audible laughs from Kanoa Lloyd*

Jacinda Ardern: I'll be the judge of that.

Mulligan: A lot of women in New Zealand feel like they have to make a choice between having babies and having a career or continuing their career at a certain point in their lives (late thirties) so is that a choice that you feel you...

Ardern: Thank you for reminding the New Zealand public of my age...

Mulligan: is that a decision you have to make or a decision you feel you've already made?

Ardern: "I have no problem with you asking me that question because I have been very open about discussing that dilemma because I think probably lots of women face it.

"For me, my position is no different to the woman who works three jobs, or who might be in a position where they are juggling lots of responsibilities. You just gotta take everyday as it comes and try and see if you can make the best of lot you're  given. So I am not predetermining any of that. Just like most of the woman out there who just make their lives work."

Don't ask a woman that she doesn't have to tell you that.

Josh Thomson: "It's a special case, you're asking her if she wants to be in Labour or in labour."

*Ardern makes what I think is a forced smile.*

And at this point they then moved on to questions about Jeremy Corbyn. So we'll now abandon The Project and go to the AM Show interview. So here's a link to the interview and a partial "post chain":

Amanda Gillies: [responding to a question along the lines of "is it appropriate to ask this question?" from Garner] "I found it inappropriate. For a couple of reasons. First this is her first day in office [...] it's her first primetime interview and that's one of the first questions she's been asked? [...] and no-one, I can guarantee no-one, asked Bill English when he was 39 and leader of the opposition..."

*Mark Richardson leans back and then in a bit smiling broadly during this last sentence*

Garner: "and it's not just Bill English, uh, no-on has asked any other leader. Clark, Helen Clark, this haunted Helen Clark for years and years when I was in the press gallery."


Richardson: "First of all, to counter you there, Amanda it was a magnificant Project show last night [...] The Question this is, and I think it's a legitimate question for New Zealand, because she could be the Prime Minister leading this country. She has our best interest at heart. We need to know these things.

"If you're the employer at a company, you need to know that type of thing from the women you're employing...

[bit of an exchange between Richardson and Gillies, then Richardson continues]

"Because legally, legally, you have to give them maternity leave. So, therefore, the question is, is it okay for a PM to take maternity leave while in office?"

Garner: [...] because of what we do, and we're journalists, well Mark's... you come and go on that front, but, but we ask questions, that is our job. We ask all sorts of questions, that you may not like, you may agree with, you may disagree with.

"Also, on the agenda in the past few years, Jacinda Ardern has talked about juggling career and family, and kids, and not kids, so I think it's a legitimate question but I also think it's none of our business."

[at this point the video skips to where Jacinda Ardern has arrived in the studio, I don't know what is going on that time. For all I know it could matter. We resume after a point where Garner, clearly the main man here, has talked with her about what Ardern needs to do with the party and whether or not policy change will happen and then...]

Garner: Elephant in the room is Mark Richardson, what do you want to say to him? Because we-we-we have talked about this this morning, this 'can you do this job?' 'Do you want kids?' Its, what about this whole question about how, you know, work, and babies, families?"

Ardern: And, and as I said last night, I totally accept that I will be asked that question because I chose to be honest about it. I think a lot of woman [sic] face this dilemma in the workplace, no matter what they're professional job might be. [...] I am not on my own there. I decided to talk about it. It was my choice. So that means I am happy to keep responding to those questions. But...

Garner: You don't find this an inappropriate question?

Ardern: "For me? No. Because I opened myself up to it.

"But, you [Mark Richardson], for other woman it is totally unacceptable in 2017 to say that woman should have to answer that question in the workplace. [...] It is a woman's decision [...] it should not predetermine whether or not they are given a job or have job opportunities."


I could keep going on because they get into some stuff which is interesting, but I think we can summarise it more succinctly with a quote from the surrounding NewsHub article:
Richardson repeated his argument, saying an employer would need "to know at some stage down the line. He may need to have to allow, in his organisation, for that person to take leave."
"I'm not saying don't employ that person," he said.
"Then why ask?" Ms Ardern responded. "If you're asking the question around the time you're making a decision around employment, you're implying it's going to have an impact on whether you're going to employ that person or not.
"That is what I'm saying is unacceptable," Ardern said.
So, how should you think about what we have just witnessed? 

On one level we might wonder what I mean by that: it's a very cynical statement about the media, which will surely colour the two articles I will briefly discuss. But, obviously, this is about how people should be thinking about something. This is the implicit purpose of all political commentary and anyone denying this is just taking the conceit/"fiction" too far. That is, we imagine that political commentary is more than "you should think like me" because people can actually think and sticking a bunch of different opinions out there can provoke thought. However, people often don't think because, frankly, we're too busy thinking about other stuff. It's just how we are. (And, yes, it is confusing to use the term think to talk about two fundamentally different things. And yes they're both thinking.)

Naturally, the above should have got you thinking about narratives again. I have created a new context that worked really well with the initial visions/intentions I had for/of this post. Back then (blue) I wrote: I've taken this angle of narratives because I think Jacinda Ardern is being used to make all sorts of points. Frankly, I think she nailed it both times. Firstly, in pointing out that there is a wider context but also that Jesse Mulligan was okay to ask her because it was her choice. Secondly, switching gears to address the abstract points that Richardson was raising about employment. But that doesn't mean that people aren't using these events for their own agendas, which is an argument I think you're much more likely to accept (allow me the conceit you don't already think this way) if I start off by telling you political commentary is really substantive argument rather than analysis.

Abstract. That's a good word. It's really relevant given the retooling of this post. It used to be more general with an abstract framework. Now, it is an abstract point revealed through a concrete launching point. There is a tension there which introduces much room for misunderstanding. In general, I rarely actually care about my examples, they're almost all really just parables to me. Which is an issue. Here's a quote from Philip Pullman's The Good Man Jesus, and the Scoundrel Christ:

Telling a story, as he so often did, introduced extra-legal elements into the discourse: persuading people by manipulating their emotions was all very well to gain a debating point, but it left the question of law unanswered.
Which I take to mean, parables and examples and analogies make people think about sentiments which are ultimately unclear. Ironically, that Craccum piece I criticised a couple of hours ago made the same case:
Though, if this were ever in play, it could be detrimental because of the very fact that "new Zealand values" are currently undefined. Will there be an adverse impact on migrants' ability to continue carrying on cultural practices? What qualifies an activity as being against our values? Would we enforce secularity or give a special preference to migrants who leave behind their cultural roots? These tough questions are ones that we have to think about if we want to fairly assess what ACT could do for people colour seeking to move here. Honestly, having no barometer for how this all would be assess of enforced is pretty shady, David.
Even if we understand what ACT means, Anqi Liang argues, we don't actually understand what the policy means. In truth Liang actually goes further than that saying we don't understand what ACT means, but that's because of the flaws with this piece (as I said before, those values are clearly cosmopolitan, but knowing that doesn't help us answer these questions).

This brings us back to our example. On an abstract level, it is often important, I think, to understand the chronology. On a specific level I think we needed to do that with our case study because I feel the two interviews were blurred. Both with each other and within themselves. And perhaps more importantly, because Richardson's thoughts generated the most abstract discussion. And the discussion was abstract, and not about Ardern: that's visible in the NewsHub quote. But the chronology wasn't clear to me from the articles I was reading, which really means the narrative was out of whack in a way that led to a fixation on the abstract. Let's explore two examples (not that I know why I started with these two examples all those weeks ago).

Jacinda Ardern: It is 'totally unacceptable' to ask women about baby plans

This is the NewsHub article. As you can tell from the headline it kind of assumes that people are familiar with the story, but if you're not familiar with the story what you would perceive is a headline that means "Well Known Politician Comments on Gender Issue." And if you know Ardern was asked by Mulligan about where she was with personal plans she'd discussed previously, you would get a different meaning: "Ardern not happy with baby plan question". As to the article's ordering? First paragraph quotes "unacceptable" while the second one talks about the Mulligan-Question ("Ardern, do you still want to be a mummy?"). Then we get the Richardson-Question ("Should Employers be Told about Baby Plans when Hiring Staff?") that we know the "unacceptable" was in response to.

There is an appreciation of the specific but it's buried in the middle of the article. Verdict: Problematic Narrative Structure

'Unacceptable': New Zealand's Labour leader asked about baby plans seven hours into job

A foreign interest piece, from the Guardian. Obviously this is a really problematic headline... it very clearly implies that the "unacceptable" was in response to the Mulligan-Question. Look, Jesse Mulligan might not be the world's greatest comedian or even the best comedian I've ever seen live (a very short list) for free (the same list) but he's not the bad guy here. That was Mark Richardson. Maybe the article gets a bit better?

The first paragraph runs a simple narrative of Richardson-Question is unacceptable following the Mulligan-Question. That is not really making up for the headline, though, and I think inverting the chronology like this casts things differently but we'll be nice. After this it pretty much works in chronological order, but I think the ending conflates the Richardson-Question with the Mulligan-Question, although it is a quote. Whether Lloyd "laughed uncomfortably and rolled her eyes" is less clear to me.

Obviously a clip would be better, but this will have to do. Which leaves... Verdict? Bad Headline, Tolerable Article (at least, if we pretend there is no headline). Remember, I don't care about any ideological slant, even if that might inform how the narrative is put together, because it is possible to be very ideological with a good narrative. I mention this here because NZ's media is more into spelling mistakes than anything else.

What have we Learnt?

There are a bunch of lessons we can take out of this. We could comment on the idiocy of my exercise, it was always going to result in an incoherent end product, right? We could praise the competency of Ardern. We could talk about media-politician relationships in late 2010s NZ and what this means for democracy. We could do a lot, but the original remit of narratives is pretty big.

In essence, the opening point is that we can easily make the question look sexist by talking about the"all women shall be mummies" stuff, and people did do this (anyone who made comments like, "Why do we care so much about Ardern's plans for her womb?"... a parsing I absolutely loathe by the way, it's not clever at all... unless you think that parenthood is nothing more than combining DNA... and rather grating too) without actually saying the word sexist. But we could just as easily make the question not look sexist by framing it within a context of whacky questions we ask politicians these days. And that there were more stories than just these two, which were all true.

But I'd have to say that the point of using the example is that the narratives we choose actually shape our lives. If we had chosen a context like "John Key pisses in the shower" for this story, we might not be talking about Jacindamania right now because the narratives we chose, which justly vilified Mark Richardson, gave some nice positive things for Ardern to do straight off the bat. Now, we probably would be talking about Jacindamania but the point is that the Richardson-Villain interpretation is now a narrative which we can use in the future and that gave us a way of thinking about politics at the time. These are important ideas to talk about, I think... even if my approach had serious flaws.

When You're A Bit Like Trump

Yesterday I wrote about the NZ Herald publishing something which it shouldn't have. Today I will write about something it largely hasn't been talking about. In fact, something basically no-one's been talking about. Which is really weird because it seemed like an obvious conversation to have:
1. Jacinda Ardern will have to explain Labour’s immigration policy
Immigration was the first point in a serious post wondering what further turns in the road lay ahead. Yet, here we are, finding ourselves going from "Now what? 10 more things that could change this election campaign" to "Jacinda Ardern takes offence at being compared to Donald Trump". Oh my God. For real? Grow up dickhead.

Look, Trump and Ardern are quite different. He's American and elderly. She's a NZer and on the verge of middle age (37*2 = 74). But there are lots of similarities. Sure, Trump's behaviour around women seems to raise that tension between confessing and bragging and Ardern's not like that at all but they are similar politicians. Why? Because they're both like John Key. That is, both of them rely a lot on personality and media reception.

Jacindamania is a creation of NZ's terrible media and Trump's riding roughshod over scandal over scandal was similarly media borne. Not that the media woke up one day and started pushing narratives. Trump really did surprise people early on in the primaries so journalists read events and wrote their articles from the position this would happen again. And Ardern? She really did revitalise Labour. She really did give it a direction after years of not being John Key (a fool's quest because he didn't have a consistent vision... if he was Ardern's age and National had still managed three terms after 2008, he'd be the leader of the Labour party right now). And Johhny-boy? Well, he was a media darling. Just goofy enough. Just smiley enough. Wore a suit just enough. Didn't matter what he'd done, he was Teflon John. Except with flag change. That was your dad telling you to get a haircut. And the electorate responded in the same way.

The similarities don't stop there. Not that they're exactly the same media-wise. Trump savages all media. Ardern just has a bone to pick with Mark Richardson... because of something he actually did do. She also doesn't actually have any real scandals (also unlike John Key, who, unlike Trump, actually did always get off scot free... possibly because none of them were rapey).

Both Ardern and Trump campaigned with apparently clear policies. Build the Wall. Lock Her Up. Drain the Swamp. Repeal and Replace Obamacare. Immigration Ban. (Actually, I can't recall, was that a campaign thing?) All of these sound like specific things to do, but they're all what I think Americans mean by optics. That is, they're presented in just the right way that you basically ignore the lack of specifics. Ardern's more grounded because our elections are less like circuses but this is still there. Look at how easily she answers questions like abortion, raising refugee caps or, even, tax reform. Where you can give quick answers, she's got them. Where you have complex issues? It is a working group... for after the election... but that is still doing something.

The thing is, it isn't just the way they're campaigning that offers room to point out real similarities (a fake similarity would be, for instance, comparing Trump and Fake News to Ardern and Richardson). You see, on immigration and on the TPPA, Trump and Ardern have policy similarities. That is, neither is for them. In fact, MAGA is really just a patriotic nativisim that reads well as an extreme version of Labour's perverted conception of fair, albeit that's from the Little days. And it makes sense that Trump would be more extreme: he's from a more extreme country. I mean, the US tears itself apart on abortion when here it is literally a crime and no-one cares. If the US government tried to market itself as 100% Pure, there'd be riots. We do do this and nothing happens? Despite the terrible quality of our waterways? Rising emissions? We can't even agree on whether or not blaming farmers is a big deal. (It isn't, because they do deserve a lot of blame, but so does the government. partly for letting them behave how they do.)

Jacinda Ardern, though? She can't handle the comparison. And it's not even a broad statement. It's actually really specific. I mean, really specific. It went like this:
Meet New Zealand's Justin Trudeau—except she's more like Trump on immigration

In other words, the comparison was made solely on the point of Labour's platform that is least consistent with the values of contemporary Labour thought... do note socialism in the Antipodes used to be quite extremely racist... and modern thinking about economic migration. Labour's stance on immigration is morally disgusting and economically illiterate. National's weakened version of the same things is not ideal, but it's better. ACT, despite some criticism in Craccum for being too interested in human capital and too vague about NZ's values (pg. 20; and ACT obviously thinks those values are cosmopolitan), gets a moral pass simply for being open to the idea and is pragmatic about them by advocating for last year's policy settings. The Greens and some other parties recognise that familial breakdown is an issue our policies should resolve (although Craccum seems to believe this only exists in families of colour) so they're adding some moral sweetener there, even if, for instance, TOP have other problems with their policy.

In this context of indefensible immigration policies, Ardern obviously points at Labour's stance on refugees. Good for you Labour! I don't care. Labour frames and treats refugees as something completely separate from immigration, except when they want to look like they're not total dicks. Why? Because refugees are migrants but they're not emigrants in the sense a refugee doesn't choose to move. A refugee is placed in a situation where they can't stay, whereas saying someone has emigrated implies they've chosen to leave the country. These are quite distinct processes and, as a result, we should and traditionally have not conflated the two. Labour does conflate the issues because they actually have a decent refugee policy. For instance, they're one of several parties who want to create a category for climate change. But if you want decent refugee policy, vote Green or even Maori. However, do notice these bad boys:
But for every refugee New Zealand opens its doors to, we are repaid in multiple by the contribution they will make to our country.
We should have an immigration system that fills genuine skills shortages and isn’t used to keep wages down
To the extent that refugees and immigrants are both migrants, somehow refugees are good and immigrants are bad. This is an entirely arbitrary distinction. The reality is that "migrant labour" falls into four basic categories. One, seasonal labour. Two, skills shortage labour. Three, replacement labour for the brain drained. Four, people who lack local qualifications competing with other people who lack local qualifications, because local qualifications mean more to employers and are a non-discriminatory way of hiring people. We might add a fifth category which would be Australians, but it's us that move there, not them that move here.

If it quacks like a duck, it sounds a like a duck. And while Ardern doesn't walk like a duck, doesn't flap like a duck, doesn't look like a duck and doesn't lay eggs like a duck, she does quack like a duck. If she wants to not be compared to Trump? Well, then she needs to change her policies on immigration. Put up, or shut up. Basic lessons from the playground... which Ardern, Trump and "I pull pony tails" Key all need to learn. Maybe Ardern was trying to say that at least Trump is also anti-refugee so is a bit more consistent. Nah, that'd be absurd.

Oh, and Swing Vote describes nicely why Labour is anti-immigrant (and they categorically are). Fun film. Deserved more attention given, you know, Trump's "popularism."

State Charity

I have previously tried to condemn the NZ Herald for allowing an article to be published which compared the pathetic* struggles of the middle class trying to keep up with the Jones' with the actual struggles of the poor. I have been constrained in this criticism by poor Google Fu. This time, though, I have Alan Duff and the twits at the Herald caught red-handed. It is completely unforgiveable that this was allowed to go up. It is not interesting intellectually. It is obviously wrong and trite. It has no reason to exist beyond Duff's Hosking-esque belief in his validity. Hell, at least I know this blog ain't all that.
If he truly cared he'd start with the poor first. Not in getting them subsidised state housing, higher welfare benefits, a swathe more entitlements. But in persuading a change of outlook, their diet reassessed since it is killing them, teaching restraint in all areas, from food to social interactions.
Duff is making two trite points here. Firstly, that politicians are self aggrandising blowhards who do basically everything in an attempt to build a kind of cult of personality which will win them votes. Cool. The only other idea about politicians with anything like the same level of cultural capital is basically the same but with more corruption. Secondly, this kind of individualisation of causation is absurdly common.

One of the ways to look at writing about public issues is the tension between the specific and the general. That is, generalised remarks tend to be very dry, look at a lot of data/summary statistics and lack the emotional immediacy of a case study. Yet, too much case studies means one makes anecdotal arguments, thus raising the question of whether or not it's a real concern or not. But Duff's saying that individual factors are everything. Thus, all we have to do is provide a contradiction.

We could contradict this enormous moron in several different ways. Indeed, that we can choose so many tacks is why he is clearly an enormous moron. We could talk about the human need for "frivolity", the poverty trap or the absolute failure to understand really, really basic economics:
Heroes and rebels are in every country. The ones who live in the hills and fight guerrilla and terrorist-type warfare, make strident speeches in the poor settlements, hand out a few goodies and take thrice as much back by extorting businesses who of course employ the poor - but a lot less when they have to pay protection money.
No, dickhead, labour demand depends on the broader market situation. That is, if lots of people want ice-creams, then people who can be employed in ice-cream connected firms are in demand and will be employed. Consequently, "the poor" need to have skills wanted by the market, and their skills are wanted by the market if and only if "the poor" are buying stuff. Think of it like this: individual firms and employers don't employ people, the market does and the market is nebulous and complex. Ask yourself this... are you more likely to employ John if he can demonstrate an ability to get to work reliably than if he isn't? is this connected to John's level of deprivation? Perhaps the poor are just structurally disadvantaged.

You see, the thing is that it doesn't matter how well you budget if there isn't enough money coming in to meet the expenditure outlined by the (hypothetical) perfect budget. And that's assuming the perfect budget doesn't save. Budgets are just a means of optimising given a situation: they are never a solution because that's just not what they are. If you can't find secure accommodation, for instance, you have to split time between working (harder to get... you may be moving around a lot) and trying to find accommodation. Don't you think that this inhibits one's productivity? Do you imagine the house search involves no trade-offs? And what about the boot theory?

Just think for a minute and you'll realise what a waste of space that column is. Fire Duff. Fire his editors.

* Sense three. Not that emotional struggle doesn't matter, but that emotional struggle characterises both struggles so what is relevant is the physical problem.