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Real Issues No. 270 – Narcissism

Real Issues No. 270 – Narcissism, Electoral Finance Bill, Think Tanks Maxim Institute - real issues - No. 270

13 September 2007 www.maxim.org.nz

Pandering to narcissism Stifling free speech when it counts most

The world of think tanks

IN THE NEWS New Zealand rates highly in economic freedom Law Commission suggests statutory revamp

PANDERING TO NARCISSISM

Schools in Britain are being encouraged to run classes that teach pupils social and emotional skills. The endeavour has been strongly criticised by Carol Craig of the Centre for Confidence and Well-being, an organisation in Glasgow which claims such a programme would have a negative effect on children. It suggests the programme could actually 'encourage narcissism and self-obsession.'

The Government programme, Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning (SEAL), is a learning tool that would run throughout a child's entire schooling career, teaching them to focus on their emotions and feelings and to look inside themselves. The goals of SEAL are admirable—'improving behaviour: improving learning'—however there are concerns that this approach could be counter-productive.

Carol Craig's report heavily criticises the SEAL programme, claiming it is 'a large-scale psychological experiment,' based on insufficient and badly planned pilot programmes. Craig goes on to criticise a similar 'self-esteem movement' introduced in America twenty years ago. Psychologists have now concluded that 'the emphasis on how the child feels has led to a fixation with the self which paradoxically increases the likelihood of depression and anxiety.' Craig suggests alternative measures to improve the 'well-being' of children that focus more on service, such as 'taking action and doing things in the world.'

In his book The Culture of Narcissism, Christopher Lasch explores the effect narcissism can have on individuals. Quoting psychologist Otto Kernberg, he suggests that a narcissist's 'devaluation of others, together with his lack of curiosity about them, impoverishes his personal life and reinforces the 'subjective experience of emptiness.'' With self-absorption rampant in today's society, encouraging unbridled inner-analysis can only serve to make this worse. Healthy, functioning families and communities rely on people being able to see that they are part of a bigger picture, one that does not revolve around them.

Read Carol Craig's report

STIFLING FREE SPEECH WHEN IT COUNTS MOST

The deadline for written submissions on the Electoral Finance Bill has now passed. Maxim Institute was among those that made a submission. Like many others, we argued that the Bill has been drafted without a proper understanding of the democratic process. The Bill, as it currently stands, would substantially limit freedom of speech and would stifle debate over important issues during the year of an election.

While the Bill deals with a number of areas concerning electoral finance the most significant changes are those affecting third parties—basically any voter or group of people who are not actually standing in the election. Third party spending promoting candidates or parties is already regulated under the current law. This Bill though would go further, restricting third parties' ability to speak on election issues or propositions that parties or candidates are associated with. This could cover anything from a letter to an educational report to a bumper sticker, on issues from tax to water quality and almost everything in between.

If a third party wants to speak on these issues, at a minimum they will have to complete a statutory declaration saying they will not spend more than $5,000 in doing so. If, however, they want to spend more than this amount they will have to register with the Chief Electoral Officer, making themselves subject to a whole host of reporting requirements. In exchange for jumping through these hoops they would then be able to spend up to $60,000 in total. All of these onerous restrictions on third parties may extend back through the whole election year, or at least would apply for three months.

The worrying thing about the Bill is that it shuts down debate on exactly the issues that should be debated at election time—election issues. Restrictions on third parties campaigning for parties or candidates are fair enough, but to apply them to individuals or groups who are focusing debate on the issues themselves shows a fundamental disrespect for the heart of democracy; the people. If the people care about an issue, it is obvious political parties will want to adopt positions on it. The moment they do that, the new law would throttle debate by slapping third parties with unreasonable restrictions if they debate the very issues people want to know about.

The Bill's stated aim is, amongst other things, to 'promote participation in parliamentary democracy.' In fact, the Bill does the exact opposite. The best way to encourage participation is to allow people freedom to speak about the issues, not to put them off getting involved with complex and burdensome restrictions. The Justice and Electoral Select Committee will hear oral submissions on the Bill over the coming weeks. They will hopefully see sense and recommend that Parliament reject this crippling Bill.

Read Maxim Institute's submission on the Electoral Finance Bill

THE WORLD OF THINK TANKS

As independent and often innovative organisations, think tanks provide a valuable source of information and ideas across the world. With increased globalisation has come a renewed focus on democracy, making the role of democracy-strengthening organisations such as think tanks more relevant than ever before. The US-based Foreign Policy Research Institute has just released Global Trends and Transitions: 2007 Survey of Think Tanks. They identify important global trends in the development of public policy research.

The development of think tanks is fascinating precisely because it has occurred in countries with such vastly different cultures and histories. 1,028 institutions, spanning 134 countries, took part in this latest survey. The report looks at general trends in think tank growth and finds that the rate of growth in think tanks has generally slowed since the 1980s and 1990s, when it was at its peak.

'The drastic increase in think tanks in the 1980s can be largely attributed to greater democratisation in formerly closed societies, trade liberalisation, and the expansion of both market based economies and globalisation.' This highlights the role that think tanks play in analysing policy issues outside of a party political paradigm. Clearly, this public engagement in democracy is both fostered by an environment of freedom and also in turn contributes to freedom, by encouraging the debate and scrutiny which is central to the democratic process.

The survey found that there are some international trends that are common amongst think tanks. For example, the types of activities think tanks are engaged in has widened since 1999, with some organisations involved in policy research, while others focus on public education or contract work. There are also regional differences, as think tanks adapt to their local environment. For example the size of think tanks, the topics they examine and the media they use to present their work may vary. The survey found that 'most think tanks employ under ten research and administrative staff members,' but those in the US, Canada and Asia tend to be larger, with the average number of staff in US and Canadian think tanks up at 44.6. The report notes that at present in New Zealand there are six think tanks.

Think tanks can be a major asset to a country as they provide an independent voice that is concerned with ideas, not with attracting votes. Their presence in a country can help to create robust debate around important issues, especially if there are other think tanks with opposing views. Formal think tanks are a relatively new phenomenon, but one that can contribute a great deal to our world and our country.

IN THE NEWS

NEW ZEALAND RATES HIGHLY IN ECONOMIC FREEDOM

New Zealand has remained in third place in the Economic Freedom of the World: 2007 Annual Report with a score of 8.5 out of 10. While New Zealand measures very highly in areas such as 'Legal Structure and Security of Property Rights,' in which we score 9.3, the report indicates that there is still much work to be done to improve our economic freedom in regards to our tax rates (5.0), government spending (4.9), and employment regulations (4.5). Economic freedom is not just about money, as the report points out. It also tends to cause benefits in areas ranging from health to 'political rights' to 'environmental performance.' Economic freedom also tends to flow from one country to its neighbours and should serve as a reminder of New Zealand's important role in increasing economic freedom, growth and opportunity in the South Pacific.

Read Economic Freedom of the World: 2007 Annual Report

LAW COMMISSION SUGGESTS STATUTORY REVAMP

The Law Commission has released a paper looking at the state of statutory law in New Zealand with recommendations for improvement. The Commission suggests the creation of a comprehensive index, which would catalogue statutes in clear and logical manner, increasing accessibility and certainty in the law. Also recommended is codification of existing statutory law, with Acts organised under subject headings and updated regularly. The Commission, however, points out that such codification is of little use unless there is a 'comprehensive revision' of much of the current law. Revision would include culling old and unused law and updating older legislation in form (but not content). Whilst recommending massive renovations to old law, the Law Commission acknowledges the place that historical law plays, and so suggests greater preservation and the extension of the online legislation service to include older law.

Upheaval of this sort should not proceed without thorough investigation and consideration. Thought must be given to who should take responsibility for this task, and what level of involvement Parliament has if the meaning of legislation is being clarified. Statutory law must be unambiguous and clear, readily accessible, and consistently applied. An index system or codification may go some way to ensuring these goals, but must be weighed against the importance of the historical path detailed in the development of our statute book, the damage that may be caused in revising and rewriting older legislation, and the cost and necessity of wholesale revision.

The Law Commission is accepting submissions on these proposals until 12 November 2007.

Find out how to make a submission

TALKING POINT

'... the peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race ... If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.'

John Stuart Mill

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Maxim Institute's regular email publication, Real Issues, provides thought-provoking analysis of developments in policy and culture in New Zealand and around the world. You can express you views on any of the articles featured in Real Issues by writing a letter to the editor. A selection of the best letters will be posted each week on Maxim Institute's website .

ENDS

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