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Feedback: Political PolyPoly

- submitted by a reader in response to... Keith Rankin: Parliament - Polypoly or Duopoly?


What a silly little tirade Keith Rankin unleashed this morning on the subject of Political Polypoly.

The Internet Usenet scene has a useful little rule called the 'Nazi' rule. In essence, when a list or thread participant makes an appeal that such-and-such is what the Nazi's or Hitler would have done, the list moderator 'calls' the offender and closes the topic of discussion. Underlying this rule is the simple proposition that arguments supported by such appeals to emotion and prejudice have irrecoverably left the realm of reasoned and considered debate.

Once can't help but feel that Mr. Rankin's latest column comparing a hypothesised German approval of Hitler's holocaust policies and an electoral referendum in New Zealand has certainly left that realm of reasoned debate.

Many questions are left begging.

For instance, are there no difference between the spheres of economics and politics? Do we not as individuals fill roles as producers, consumers and citizens and make tradeoffs among them?

Our relative economic power is vastly different, dependant as it is on our individual access to resources and information. Our political power seems to be much more equal. We each have a vote to spend, whether we're a bigoted redneck, a chattering Wellington liberal luddite or a Remuera business tycoon stubbing his cigar out on the back of the poor.

Questioning his underlying assumptions even further, can Mr. Rankin not see how imperfect his vaunted political competition really is? What exactly are we choosing between? As an analogy, four oil companies sharing one petrol refinery are vigorously decried as a nasty cartel. Whether its two or five parties in one parliament, the competition is still imperfect when the citizen is unable to choose between competing jurisdictions or even opt out altogether. Barring emigration, all we have is the option to choose what group or groups of self selected lunatics will run the asylum.

Is it so difficult to consider the possibility that politics is not some noble marketplace of worthy ideas and consider it as the fractious melding and bickering of special interests, all competing for the common resources, or similarly, as a vehicle by which flawed individuals can pursue the very human desires for status, power and significance?. Or, most importantly for the masses, that is it the mechanism by which the elites can conduct their revolutions without guns and the proles can get on with the business of their daily lives.

So much for the hypothesis of politics as a free marketplace.

Mr. Rankin is at his most contradictory when he discusses the nature of the opposition to MMP. Having romanticised democracy he then emotively describes one Mr. Stuart Marshall (an orthodox economist, as opposed to a catholic or protestant one I presume) as "...trying to undermine proportional representation". Mr. Marshall is not carrying a gun as you would expect. No he is doing it via the nefarious process of 'petitioning'.

This terrible crime of petitioning is tantamount to "...misusing the democratic process.." clearly an evil that citizens need to be protected from and I nominate Mr. Rankin be the man to decide which acts of free speech and the exercise of Citizen Initiated Referendum 'rights' are to be called as misuse.

Mr. Rankin makes the useful point that the wording does conflate two separate propositions and that proposed electoral changes ride in on the back of the universal scorn for parliamentarians.

This is a small matter when considered up against other referendum howlers such as the Norm Withers referendum which frankly was indecipherable but reaped great support and the Fire-fighters referendum which from memory went something like "are you prepared to let babies die in burning agony so that the government can avoid giving the firemen a raise".

It is certainly an interesting question as to what action should be taken when democracy is threatened. A consensus among political philosophers of the Bertrand Russell ilk, would seem to be that we are entitled to 'reach for our guns' when the capacity to have bloodless transitions between those we chose to govern us is removed or threatened.

Is that test even close to being met by an orthodox economist raising a partition? I suggest that the exercise of free speech is best met by more free speech.

Mr. Rankin seems completely unaware of the vast body of literature that covers the sensible and important debates on our role as consumer and citizen, the nature of democracy and the tyranny of the majority, and the tradeoffs required inside a democracy between paralysis and action, stability and dynamism, individual and community.

I am aware that one could drive buses through some of my previous arguments, however in the words of Dr. Sam Johnston, nonsense can only be argued with more nonsense.

Mr. Rankin, I call you for the rhetorical fallacy of 'Nazi'.

Gordon King

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