Feedback: Gordon King On Keith Rankin Rejoinder
Keith Rankin has prepared a thoughtful rebuttal to my sceptical piece on politics as a 'perfect' market.
To deal with the least important issue of this worthy debate, Mr Rankin accuses me of opening with an ad hominem attack upon him. The ad hominem is an attack of a personal nature designed to undermine the value of the recipient's argument by calling attention to some unrelated personal attribute. "My opponent cannot talk knowledgeably about this subject because she is not a mother" is an example.
I have considered as to whether Mr Rankin has legitimate cause for affront or perhaps was merely reacting to my undisguised clarity of opinion. On balance I think the description of his original essay as a 'silly little tirade' quickly delivers to the reader the context for my opinion that the piece was ill considered and absolutist.
In support of this I would draw attention to some of Mr. Rankin's original characterisations such as Mr. Graeme Hunt as an "...anti-MMP fanatic..." This he may or may not be, but surely only in the same sense that Mr Rankin could be described as a pro-MMP fanatic. Further, Mr. Hunt's book on the subject is "...riddled with factual errors." Or the logical implication that Mr Stuart Marshall is either ignorant or a lunatic as it is apparently "...beyond comprehension that an orthodox economist could be opposed to polypoly..."
If I have engaged in ad hominem then I am in good company and, from a classical definition in particular, certainly the student at the foot of the master!
To the meat of the matter.
At the risk of boring the readers with a bout of scholasticism, I am somewhat at a loss to understand how he has characterised my argument as one of comparing Hunt, Marshall and Robinson to Hitler and accept unconditionally that he did not imply that. I am a little suspicious though, that his argument on the matter is an attempt at deflection from my central theme.
Any thinking individual could clearly see that the thrust of Mr Rankin's argument was that majority support (say of an electoral change reversal) should not magically deliver up that change if it is 'anti-democratic'. After arguing for his political polypoly (or MMP conveniently sidestepping the 5% thorn in the original essay) Mr Rankin concludes:
"Once achieved, political polypoly - the competitive political marketplace - needs to be protected from the interests that prefer political monopoly or duopoly."
"If Adolf Hitler had run referendums on the holocaust or the burning of Parliament, and a majority of the German people had supported those referendums, would that in itself have justified those two atrocities?"
"There are still some people who think that the earth is flat. Let's put that issue to a binding referendum? That's democracy. Isn't it?"
My contention is that that these lines are appeals to emotion and are used only to link the rightful 'horror' of Nazi abuse or distain for flat earth stupidity with what is perhaps thinking opposition to the merits of MMP or 'perfectly' proportional voting systems.
It is done with the sole intent of discrediting or demonising those who hold such views and it is an unworthy debating tactic.
In his Rejoinder Mr. Rankin takes the more reasonable line that "(t)he anti-democratic misdeeds of the NZ anti-proportional-representation lobby are of a much milder nature". Leaving aside the unproven and value loaded nature of the statement as a whole, if these misdeeds are much milder, why reel out the heavy guns?
His argument that similar comparisons were made in renaissance/enlightenment scholarship to classical antiquity is specious in that at least a millennium separated those periods, whereas there are still veteran's of Nazi atrocity alive today. The period still looms large in the collective conscious.
To some small matters.
I apologise for woefully inept attempt at ecumenical satire in describing economists and it would be unreasonable for me to expect any mercy from my protagonist. He did not disappoint.
Mr Rankin also makes the point that it is somewhat unreasonable to expect him to demonstrate in 900 words or less the extent of his reading on these complex subjects. I would like to be able to claim that my comment in this regard was a plea for some balance. Regrettably though I suspect that I read the phrase "x seems unaware of the vast body of literature on y ..." and thought I might try it out. Point well taken.
He is of course wrong that I don't have perfect knowledge (except in matters of spelling).
I apologise to readers and Mr. Rankin by stopping here at the conclusion of my rebuttal and failing to advance the argument further. I fear, however, that with the quality of Mr Rankin's debate much improved (as demonstrated in his Rejoinder) by having a whetstone on which to sharpen his sword, I should surrender the field before I am comprehensively outflanked.