Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Not Dead Yet: A Response to Rachel Stewart’s Musings on Democracy.

The Falcon And The Falconer: Rachel Stewart today (3/5/17) took very public exception to my critique (reprinted below) of her column in last Wednesday's NZ Herald. Her unrelentingly ad hominem response (which, rather surprisingly for someone of Stewart's politics, mixes racism, sexism and ageism in equal measure) fails to address any of the criticisms levelled at her Death Notice for Democracy. I invite the readers of Bowalley Road to read all three documents and draw their own conclusions. [For those who are interested, here is the link to Professor Jack Vowles critique of Stewart's original column. - C.T.]
I’M A BIG FAN of Rachel Stewart’s writing. Her column in the NZ Herald has quickly become one of those “must-read” contributions to the national conversation. She’s to be admired for her courage, too. Anyone who takes on Big Dairy in this country knows exactly what to expect – and it usually arrives. This morning’s contribution, however, on the subject of democracy, was not one of her best.
Even when undertaken with the best of intentions (as I’m sure this particular column was) dissing democracy is never, ever, a good idea. It stands among the most extraordinary – and fragile – of human achievements. Its cost, in terms of human suffering, has been huge, and most of its victories have been tragically temporary. The historical default setting for state conduct is authoritarian (descending all-too-frequently into brutal tyranny). When it comes to political systems, democracies remain the precious exception – not the rule.
Which is not to say that the practice of democracy is always entirely edifying. It was the German Chancellor, Otto von Bismarck, who quipped that: “Laws are like sausages – it is best not to see them being made.”
That’s a sentiment with which Rachel clearly has some sympathy.
“If society feels less moral reverence to the democracy ideal, who can honestly blame them? Having listened to Clinton and Trump battle it out for a year before the unthinkable became real, I get it.”
Obviously, last year’s US presidential election still rankles. But it is always a mistake to confuse outcome with process. Rachel may have been disappointed that Bernie Sanders lost to Hillary Clinton, but to suggest that the Democratic Party “fiddled with the dials and switches to ensure Bernie Sanders never got the nod” is just plain wrong. Bernie lost because he got fewer votes than Hillary – pure and simple. He made the cardinal error of not competing hard and early in the American South – the very same mistake that cost Hillary the nomination back in 2008.
Rachel is also scornful of the US Electoral College’s contribution to democracy: “Then there’s Trump. Astonishingly elected, but by fewer than three million votes than his rival. Only in America. Land of the seriously deficient electoral system.”
Except, of course, the whole point of the Electoral College is to ensure that the rights of the smaller American states are not completely obliterated by the superior numbers of the larger ones. The United States is, after all, a federation. What benefit would the citizens of Wyoming or Rhode Island derive from belonging to the Union if they were forever being outvoted by the citizens of California, New York and Texas? If Hillary had spent less time in those three states and more time in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania she would now be the second President Clinton.
More worrying still, is Rachel’s evident lack of understanding of her own country’s democratic system.
“Here at home we find we're stuck with the lack-lustre Mr English as Prime Minister, and not of our choosing. He was the pre-ordained prefect left to us by Key when he exited stage right. Yeah, the Nats held an internal mock election but, that’s all it was. The appearance of democracy when you're not really having it.”
Umm, no, the Nats didn’t. Caucus elections frequently fail to come to an actual vote, for the very simple (and obvious) reason that if there’s one thing democratic politicians know how to do really, really well – it’s count. When a candidate realises that he or she doesn’t have the numbers to win, they simply withdraw from the race. Why stand if you’re certain to lose? There’s always next time!
And besides, under our Westminster System of parliamentary democracy, voters NEVER get to elect the Prime Minister. That job goes to the Member of Parliament who convinces the Governor-General that he or she commands a majority of the House of Representatives – the politicians we DO get to elect.
Political parties makes this job a great deal easier and ensure that the person who emerges as Prime Minister gets to remain in office for a sensible period of time. That’s why we have them. And if they often seem rather cautious and overly influenced by special interests, then there’s a very simple way to remedy that deficiency – become a member and turn them into something worth voting for!
Danyl Mclauchlan makes the case for practical, get-down-and-dirty politics much better than I ever could in his excellent review of Max Harris’s “The New Zealand Project”:
“Politics is technocratic because modern societies are complex: many things could be better, but almost everything could be much, much worse, and all the high-minded values in the world are worthless if you can’t keep the lights on. It is compromised because pluralism – the challenge of different groups in society holding different and conflicting but reasonable and valid views – is the central problem in politics, and cannot be fixed by re-educating everyone. Political reform should be cautious, because outcomes are uncertain and overconfidence bias is real, especially among groups of intelligent experts who reinforce each other’s assumptions – a dynamic that often leads to catastrophic failure despite the best of intentions.”
So, Rachel. Is democracy having a rough time at the moment? Yes, it is. But that only reinforces the need to get stuck in and organise it back into robust good health. Do money and backroom wheeling and dealing sully the search for “pro bono publico” – the public good? Of course they do – but not to anything like the extent you might expect. And even when they do get out of hand, and the plutocrats begin menacing the democrats: a corrupt democracy is always – always – better than a virtuous tyranny. (As Carrie Mathison discovers in the final episode of the sixth series of “Homeland”.)
Because, to quote the pithy summation of that old rogue Winston Churchill: “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.”
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 28 April 2017.


Brit Bunkley said...

I think that you are right that the US Democrat nomination was not a full blow conspiracy, but it was not "pure and simple" The highly undemocratic superdelegates tilted the scales from day one giving HRC a huge advantage out of the gate. Over 400 already pledged towards her before anyone else was in the race. Although not quite chicanery, and it’s not anything new, they have not exactly instilled confidence in our democratic system. In addition we have had poorly scheduled debates, preferential access to the party’s data, Clinton’s joint fundraising activities with the DNC, the tens of thousands of disenfranchised votes in NY and other voting irregularities, and the mysterious date changes of delegate deadlines in Nevada (as mentioned by John Oliver), to mention a few. (Politifact conveniently ignored this last irregularity.) Finally the media gave a full frontal sustained attack against Sanders first by ironically conspicuously ignoring him.

Regarding your support of the Electoral College (an argument used by the far right these days), I in all due respect disagree. Americans have been trying to get rid of this undemocratic institution for many decades. The Electoral College was instated in 1787 by white slave-holding men to placate slaveholder states. (Remember this was a time when people bled fevers and witches were still persecuted). The rest of the world has progressed since the 1780’s. No other democracy uses an Electoral College - for a reason. This archaic system is profoundly undemocratic. This form of misguided American exceptionalism is imprudent and irrational. The founders were in fact not so wise in many issues from slavery to a government that has so many checks and balances that nothing is done, coalitions become impossible and third parties will not work. . I know it is a somewhat of irrational sacrosanct religion among some in the USA to say so, but elements of the constitution are empirically flawed. The Electoral College as FFP voting should have gone the way of muskets and tricorner hats.

greywarbler said...

I listened to George Saunders on Kim Hill 29/4, an engaging author speaking at the Writers Festival in May.

He chose some apt words to describe the human condition - 'ambiguity, complexity' and can entertain 'contradictions'. No thrusting, plain-speaking NZ woman or man can push past these and ignore them. Banging your fist on the table and demanding people to see The One Way and get on with it, ignores the host of other things that have not been explored in making the decision. It's esssential that the threads be unpicked a little in each problem and apparent solution to see if the fabric is suitable for purpose.

That's what 'chaos theory' was drawn up to express.
noun: chaos theory -
the branch of mathematics that deals with complex systems whose behaviour is highly sensitive to slight changes in conditions, so that small alterations can give rise to strikingly great consequences.

Always nothing is as simple as it appears, nothing provokes reactions and responses just as something does.
'Ambiguity, complexity','contradictions' R-us.

Mark Hubbard said...

Stewart is a sharp (I would say nasty) example of how the identity crowd are the disease they think they're about inoculating society from. Alt-Left and Alt-Right are inseparable, and awful.

Etc and so forth.

Kiwiwit said...

Well said, except that having spent the whole post defending democracy and denying Rachel Stewart's premature claims of its impending death, you then conclude that yes, 'democracy [is] having a rough time at the moment'.

Democracy is doing fine, it is left-wing politics that aren't doing so well, and it is one of the least attractive traits of the left-wing to blame everything and everyone (democracy, 'deplorables', fake news, etc.) except themselves for their failure to turn their philosophy into electoral support. Of course, this petulance just reinforces voters' views that they were right to vote the way they did in the first place.

However, I do think there is a systemic problem with left-wing parties and that is their tendency to have less-democratic candidate selection processes that allow block voting by appointed delegates (in the US Democratic Party) and unions (in the NZ and UK Labour parties) to override the will of individual members. Voters aren't stupid and imposing a Corbyn or Little on them isn't the way to shift the political ground.

peteswriteplace said...

Just a thought: Prime ministers should be restricted to just two terms. Governments who survive longer would have to renew their leadership. Agree?

Sion said...

Who can't love Carrie Matheson!

Victor said...

Brit Bunkley

I totally agree.

To my way of thinking, the US constitution provides more than adequate protection for the status of smaller states by ensuring that all states are equally represented in the Senate.

With respect to the Hillary/Bernie contest, one of the candidates had been campaigning for the job in one way or another since around 1998. So she started last year with a potentially enormous lead that her opponent did well to whittle down.


"Big" doesn't love her enough. She should have stayed with Aidan.


Democracy has a bad time whenever bad guys get elected. Why? Because people have a bad time.

So, OK, there may be people so devoid of judgement and moral sense that they think bad guys are good guys.

But when the bad guys get elected, those who didn't vote for them have just as much right to sound off as their opponents undoubtedly did when the not-so-bad guys were in office.

Get use to it and stop pretending to a high ground that you don't have.

James Green said...

Electoral College is a hold-over from slavery. It exists so slaves can be counted for the purposes of allocating seats while not allowing them to vote. It has nothing to do with rural/urban divides or anything else like that.

Mark Hubbard said...

Victor said:

'But when the bad guys get elected, those who didn't vote for them have just as much right to sound off as their opponents undoubtedly did when the not-so-bad guys were in office.'

Sound off, yes, that's free speech. But there was nothing under Obama or previously to compare to the outright violence, vandalism and physical bullying of the snowflake SJW's who've now morphed into antifas. Look at what is happening at Berkely, no longer the birthplace in US of anything to do with free speech. And not just US: Ann Coulter's forced speaking cancellation is echoed in Australia with Ayaan Hirsi Ali's forced *speaking* tour cancellation. Identity politics has turned it's previous group-think social media bullying and wannabe-censorship to the streets and converted it to true thuggishness.

We no longer live at the peak of civilisation, but its ruins. Collectivist thuggery has swamped individualism.

Charles E said...

Well said Chris. And the prof, makes very sound points too.
Stewart is a bully it seems (first time I have read her: appears a second rate mind so I will not bother next time. Loves her clichés too)

She comes across as appallingly ignorant, bitter and bigoted. I guess she is angry at Nature itself, fundamentally.

I wonder what she thinks of Labour's list which is not a democratic creation. Well I expect that as she is sexist, ageist and racially bigoted she would like it. It is stacked with young (because they are young), female, (some because they are. But was there a lesbian quota for her to count off?) & Maori (now way over represented @ 25%), none of whom have been voted for, yet. Her sort of 'democracy' no doubt. It appears short on white people as a proportion of the nation.......

But hey, it is a very sound feature of our brilliant democracy that we have parties and they can put up anyone they like, for Stewart to vote for. As the Democrats did.
So good on Little, an excellent aging white heterosexual male. About Stewart's age I guess but better preserved and has a nice smile!
Seems to me she's the pale and stale one now.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

The only thing I have against the woman is she doesn't seem to know what to put in its place. And I don't think there is anything much, maybe apart from Trumpian authoritarianism – which seems to come mostly from the right these days. She doesn't say it's a good thing that democracy seems to be failing, just that it does. And I half agree with her. Money still has far too big a say, even in New Zealand – especially in the US. And not enough people vote, even in New Zealand – and especially in the US. Personally I like to see the voting age reduced to 16. I know adolescents aren't great thinkers, but the consensus seems to be that if you can get them to vote when they're still young and naïve – maybe after a year of civics – they tend to keep voting for the rest of their lives.
And the more people that vote, it may be that the less money matters. Though that needs more investigation and probably more regulation as well. Because in the rush to grab the corporate largess,Labour has become spineless. So we have National promising more of the same, and Labour promising not to rock the boat too much, when it may well be that the boat NEEDS rocking.
And I must say, some of the professor's critique seemed just a tad patronising.

AB said...

Chris - in Rachel Stewart's response she says your "voice booms down like God" - and I think that may explain the anger.
There is a certain quality of tone that literate people of your generation have that might be (wrongly) construed as condescension. Basically, because you write well you come across as too magisterial, and that annoys people.
I don't see anything in the substance of what you said that would justify her response - you certainly weren't hair splitting.
So the lesson is - learn to write worse and you may avoid this sort of thing. Try to write like John Key would speak perhaps?

Unknown said...

Well said

Victor said...


My apologies.

Wrong Carrie. Wrong TV series. Senior moment. Enough said.

Victor said...

Mark Hubbard

"But there was nothing under Obama or previously to compare to the outright violence, vandalism and physical bullying of the snowflake SJW's who've now morphed into antifas"

You could have fooled me.

Victor said...


Please don't try writing like John Key speaks. That way lies despair!

Simon Cohen said...

An excellent summation Chris

Unknown said...

You can't have democracy without a media that is (overall) balanced and non-partisan. The first item I heard on RNZ (as I woke) was a Westpac economist talking about wage growth. Wage growth is the holy grail of this regime. Later they talked about a "profitless boom". The reality is that all that is growing is housebuilding for the future workers of our future mythical super-earning economy (a senario that is unlikely due to our geography), but RNZ didn't really piece it together clearly. Later I heard Jesse Muligan will have Shamubeel ("super economist") Eaqub on the show - he is a growth booster. RNZ is clearly in the camp of our internationalist academics.

greywarbler said...

This from Danyl that you quote Chris resonates with me.
outcomes are uncertain and overconfidence bias is real, especially among groups of intelligent experts who reinforce each other’s assumptions – a dynamic that often leads to catastrophic failure despite the best of intentions.”

Having an opposition that is fired with zeal and dreaming the impossible dream, yet pressing on with vigour despite obvious present signs of deficient factors, has been my experience recently. Rationality, reasoning, even fact and figures used for reasonable projections, won't sway their sense of excitement and annoyance at being baulked. If they believe in the rightness of what they are doing, only compliance with rules laid down by authority will halt them.

I tell you that can be done, but it is a wearying process, negative and saddening that we keep on repeating mistakes, recovering, and again in an apparent cycle. They knew so much back in ancient times, pity we couldn't carry the good forward and turn away from the bad.

So your diagnosis and treatment of our democracy, the Good Doctor Trotter, is apt. Is democracy having a rough time at the moment? Yes, it is. But that only reinforces the need to get stuck in and organise it back into robust good health

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"But there was nothing under Obama or previously to compare to the outright violence, vandalism and physical bullying of the snowflake SJW's who've now morphed into antifas"

1. Whomsoever uses the phrase SJW instantly loses the Internet.

2. If they have morphed into anything, I'd like a link please. Because there is absolutely no evidence that that is true it seems to me. And there has always been violence from the extreme left and the extreme right.

3. Snowflake is a word that should only be used ironically about right wing people who use it and then act like one. :) Which is a damn sight more common than you'd think.

4. Free-speech is simply an agreement between the government and the public. Non-government organisations have absolutely no obligation to give anyone a platform for any reason whatsoever. I'm surprised that a Libertarian would question this TBH. Perhaps the speakers should pay for their own security. User pays after all.

greywarbler said...

Looking at Professor Jack Vowles critique of Rachel Stewart's piece.
I think that it should be looked at as a despairing rant that one does FTTT and afterwards, feeling better, you pick up your tools and go back to working on patching up the democracy you have with discussion on further improvements. Indeed Vowles almost suggests that when he says that it seems attempted satire. "She is emotional and opinionated, and contemptuous of people who continue to defend and support democracy. Indeed, her position is so extreme that at times one is led to consider the possibility the piece is a failed attempt at satire. "

Professor Vowles comments on Sirota, a 'Canadian legal academic' who argues that individual voters don't make much difference anyway, so who needs them as they are likely to be uninformed. Those who do vote are likely to be affected by sloganeering rather than being more committed to the polity. But that misses the point, that the individual needs to be heard and treated fairly, so must be encouraged to flex his or her muscles to defend their individual rights. Vowles thought is that "A single vote is an individual act that may seem to have little impact but votes counted collectively can be extremely powerful."

The result of a change of government with a change to better policies for the disaffected individual or group is another matter. Perhaps that is why Stewart is quoted as suggesting one should pray about this! Vowles quotes the difference that black people made in the USA in the 1960s when they started to vote. It may indicate how important voting groups are as stories of malpractice in handling electoral registers in areas of high poor citizenry there arise, such as the name of one citizen jailed resulting in all the people with the same name being dropped from the register. Is that true, one doesn't know, but there are ways developing of denying people voting rights, and legal redress to unfair conditions whichever government is in power. And if blacks are affected, they do seem to resort to prayer together as group bonding.

I think Rachel Stewart's opinions may be understood by this quote from George Bernard Shaw:
The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.
George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman (1903) "Maxims for Revolutionists" Irish dramatist & socialist (1856 - 1950)

Geoff said...

Well, for what its are overly analysing the situation IMO. The reality is the aetiology of her "behaviour"can most easily be explained by recourse to a reputable psychiatric opinion .The truth I think !

Victor said...

As Ms Stewart doesn't believe in voting (although she may herself vote) and as, alternatively, she does not seem to be organising her own personal Brownshirt or Red Guard militia to overthrow our tattered but far from wholly eroded democratic order, I see no requirement to take her seriously.

Yes, she's a symptom of a troubling Zeitgeist. But there are other symptoms thereof far more worthy of our concern.

Tiger Mountain said...

ah, the enduring loneliness of the long distance columnist…

Rachel has only been here for five minutes in comparison to Chris, but a literary spat remains good entertainment

greywarbler said...

Stewart challenges politicians goals and values though Vowles considers she is applying too wide a brush, "But it is both extreme and insulting to assert that politicians in general are controlled by corporate interests and only out for themselves." I think his criticism is unjustified and that the problems of corporate lobbyists and self-interest among politicians are becoming stronger every decade, along with the power of the 1%.

Professor Vowles makes the point that democracy can only approximate what any individual thinks is best and that Stewart expects too much. "Of course, no set of political and economic institutions can deliver a perfect society defined by one person’s or group’s values." But because of the inequalities which are growing in society, and the wealth available to influence politicians and campaigning, the wealthy group's values are defining our society, eroding Vowles assertion.

In the USA the citizens saw their government closed down because credits were withheld by their (supposed) representatives playing hardball. So the people see and feel that they are powerless in the hands of the elite group running their political system. Therefore they strike back with support for the iconoclastic Trump. In Woody Guthrie's The City of New Orleans "The sons of Pullman porters..and engineers, ride their fathers' magic carpets made of steel"...but unrealised by them "all the towns and people seem, To fade into a bad dream, And the steel rails still ain't heard the news". The USA that the people believed in, that they helped build, is being withdrawn from them. The 'wealth creators'
are still at work, but they are not channelling it along steel rails that the people can travel on, gain benefit from. Gradually the people are getting the news, and the response is 'What have we got to lose, vote Trump (or whoever will provoke change, and he is sure provoking).

So getting policies and politicians to serve the needs of the whole nation is becoming more difficult and requires from political scientists and concerned, committed democrat citizens constant thought and revision for new approaches. These must look to both the known, projected unknown, but also guessed future. This requires using both imagination and records to allow adaptation of historical practices fallen out of use, retention of present useful thinking and systems to add to new developments so we can face the future. And 'face' is an important word as technology is replacing personal, physical discourse and citizen inter-activity which is the foundation of society. (The current trend to a cashless society, not even card use, but all through

Charles E said...

I was reading about France the other day and the writer was lamenting (only a little) the demise of the Socialist Party and wondering if democracy in France was in trouble.
This then does appear to be a concern on the social democrat left and really is quite arguably just them looking to blame their (personal) political failures on the voters, as per this Stewart person.

Because, as we observe, a fresh face, independent centrist man is about to become French President, defeating the nasty party woman (sorry Stewart, you would prefer an extremist woman).

And only a month ago the Dutch used democracy to chose a sensible moderate party to lead their government....
Stewarts thesis is simply rubbish.

And he has demolished the increasingly corrupt Socialists and Republican Establishment too. Shows democracy is in fine shape, just when needed.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Funny, the American public is much more left-wing than most of its politicians. They want things like single-payer medical insurance and the like. But they don't get them, because money buys democracy in that country. Still Chas, your man Trump is buggering up the right with a will, and I suspect that after the Republicans are massacred in 2018, if at all that is possible because of Republican gerrymandering – another danger to democracy in the US – the American public might for once get what it wants.

Anonymous said...

In my opinion, Rachel Stewart is a shock jock in written form. Click bait, perhaps. And you clicked on it.

I believe she is just after clicks and will wind up readers using vitriolic attacks on things large parts of the population value (a large part do still value farming which is why she gets the desired blow back). This is why the Herald took her on - she is very good at it. But is that valuable? Does it help us understand the issues any better than the same information presented in a civilised manner?

I formed my opinion after reading of her threats of violence to others and looking into her writing and past more closely. She appears to use vitriol to write columns which don't address anything that hasn't been addressed previously but those who value the things she attacks will click on it in a fit of outrage, and apparently even blog about her!

Ultimately she and the Herald are free to publish it, but we as a civilised society shouldn't mistake it for writing worthy of our perusal. We don't have to read it!

jh said...

On *The Nation* an ex(?) Green Party staffer talking about Winston Peters says: (forgotten exact words): " It doesnt matter what people think. You dont do what people want you do what's right"

greywarbler said...

@Anonymous 7.55 6/5
At least Rachel writes under a recognisable name so that there is a known identity to critique. Unlike yourself coming out of the mist and steam.

Does it help us understand the issues any better than the same information presented in a civilised manner?

It certainly vitalises the somnolent slugs in society to react anyway. And there are a majority in this country who need such stimulation.
It's useful shock jock tactics if it can be so classified. No-one has to agree with everything that others say, therein lies discussion!
Discussion in a civilised manner has been held for decades with little practical and positive result, now is the time for pointed debate, hopefully only using table forks.

Anonymous said...

Your screen name isn't much more enlightening, greywarbler! Anyway, at least we agree that disagreement is healthy from time to time. Which is good because I disagree with you that vitriol is excusable, and I also disagree that civilised discussion has yielded little practical and positive result. That's precisely how the vast majority of parliaments decisions are made! We only hear the disagreements reported and even then it's not nearly as vitriolic as Ms Stewart. I would further argue that vitriol is resorted to by those who know they are not on the right side of the argument.

John Stowell said...

There is heaps of room to improve our NZ democracy. I would love to see much more public debate of the proposal by Palmer and Butler for a written constitution, and for it to include the creation of a second house of Parliament selected by lot and empowered to review and amend bills proposed by the House of Representatives, and to initiate legislation independently of the government of the day. We could also start using participatory budgeting, as a way of empowering communities and giving them power to make some decisions. There are many ways of making democracy both more rewarding (I am not talking money), more fun, more deliberative and more effective in reflecting people's views.

greywarbler said...

You are dense Anonymous. Like many you don't understand that a pseudonym is an alternative name. Chris asks us to stick to the one name/call sign for that reason. People who can't understand that can't expect to be respected for their attempts at more convoluted topics. (And there is a way of using Anonymous if it is easier for the commenter, and that is to sign off with the pseudonym or call sign or own name- their choice. Remember that even if someone uses a first-and-surname, we don't know that it is the real name or a penname/pseudonym.)

John S.
I like your idea of participatory budgeting, and I am wondering if there could be a Council of NZ which sets what bills come before Parliament, runs the select committes to decide on the framework and important points, and there would be a limited number say 30 people, a base of experience from universities, business and skilled expertise, and a group of citizens with local government experience, and then a group of ordinary citizens who have put their names forward after passing certain requirements, and who are random picked from selected locations, gender and background.

The Parties would look to this body as the major arbiter of what is wanted and have to bring their own experts forward if there was disagreement and be mediated. It would take the gloss of being a politician as their power to use their power to extend grace and favour to wealthy contacts would be uncertain even curtailed.

No-one should say this would be too complicated. Those who try and guard the rights of the people and also guard against egregious decisions and actions from present government know that they are fork-tongued about efficiency, effectiveness, budgets, serving the public and are right now thinking up some new idea to push the people down the nearest stairs they can conjure up.

Victor said...

John Stowell

The idea of an upper house drawn by lot is fascinatingly Athenian.

But you'd have to make it more difficult to avoid serving than under the jury system or you're not going to get a representative sample of senators (or whatever you
want to call them).

Alternatively, you'd have to pay everyone concerned a huge salary for three years (or however long their selection is intended to last). I'm not sure whether or not that would frustrate democratic principles.

Congratulations, though, on your "out of the box" thinking.

BTW I agree with you over the need for a written constitution, just so long as it doesn't become an object of reverence as per the US variant.

I suspect that, when HM QE2 passes away (which, personally, I hope won't be for many a year), New Zealand will start looking at republican status. But I can't imagine how we could then transition to a republic without some sort of entrenched basic law.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"This then does appear to be a concern on the social democrat left and really is quite arguably just them looking to blame their (personal) political failures on the voters, as per this Stewart person."
"Shows democracy is in fine shape, just when needed."

No it doesn't. It shows that people are sick and tired of the establishment parties of the left and the right. They are desperately looking for new faces, and if the normal right or left parties were putting them forward along with some fresh ideas, they might just go for it. I mean if the Conservatives were popular in France, Marine Le Pen wouldn't have got any votes. People only vote for fascists when they're desperate. And in fact voters have voted for a new fresh face, who doesn't have any political experience – not necessarily a bad thing – but who also doesn't have a party with seats in parliament or whatever the French call it. That shows desperation rather than common sense, and desperation is really bad for democracies.

greywarbler said...

I can't see why so many are certain that the monarchy must go. Becoming a republic which is supposed to make democracy more effective is not at all the only way for a modern country to go. And looking at the horror of the USA, the reality of it, spreads a spume of filth from that volcano over the lovely idealistic dream below.

This is Wikipedia on constitutional monarchy. Note that the Scandinavian countries that seem like resevoirs of reason compared to the USA, are there and have a good standard of living amongst the citizenry.
There remain, as of 2016, twelve (12) sovereign monarchies in Europe. Of these, seven are kingdoms: Denmark, Norway and Sweden and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland are of pre-modern origin; the kingdoms of the Netherlands and of Belgium were established in 1815 and 1830, respectively; the Kingdom of Spain, founded in 1479, was abolished in 1931, restored in 1947/69, before Spain transitioned to democracy in 1978 as a constitutional monarchy.[1] The principalities of Andorra, Liechtenstein, and Monaco and the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg were restored as sovereign states in the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars. The State of the Vatican City was recognized as a sovereign state administered by the Holy See in 1929.[2]

People criticise our Queen and says how wealthy she is and that UK can't afford having that wealth aggregated at the top. Another way to look at it is that the country can't afford to let the monarchy go, and 90% of the wealth held by self-styled czars of finance.

If the underlings seem bad now, but at the top is someone who is responsive to public opinion, as our royalty is with fixed ideas of service and the nobility of the country and being a little too old-fashioned as to talk about peeing in the shower like Key, well we're better off than having some venal hypocrite in royalty's place. Not only some intolerable greaser or jock, but with another spending a Queen's ransom trying to replace them.

Let sleeping Royals lie. They actually don't sleep all the time, and do a valuable job encouraging and being patron for entities that have important functions in society. And while they hold the top position tightly it is out of the hands of the psychopaths who would try to replace the tradition of monarchy with their own diseased view of how they want to live, and the country should behave.

John Stowell said...

Well, I prefer to leave the Athenians out. Slaves did most of the work, and women didn't count as people. Not really out of the box either as there is lots of discussion of selection by lot, just not much of it in NZ. The basic method for selection by lot requires a large body of citizens who have agreed to participate. I am not keen on applying any filters as that gives room for distortion and unfairness. If the assembly is too small it is unlikely to be very representative of, for instance gender balance, income, age, locality etc. There needs to be study of how to achieve a useful result. Any volunteers out there in academia? Certainly members of the citizens assembly would have to be paid sufficiently well to make up for the disruption to their lives, as one of the other points about selection by lot is that once you have done your time, you can't be selected again.

Anonymous said...

Participatory budgeting has been around for some time, again just not in NZ so far as I know. I would love to be proved wrong on this. It is at least one way to get both citizens at large and professional politicians used to the idea that people can make their own decisions. Citizens enjoy it and politicians discover that the world does not fall apart.

Again, I am leery of imposing pre qualifications on who can be chosen by lot other than that they are willing and part of the voting register. Some people describe elective or representative democracy as perpetuation of an elite, and selection by lot as truly democratic since anyone on the electoral roll might end up in Parliament, and the goes back to being ruled once their term is up.

John Stowell said...

Sorry, that last comment to greywarbler was me only I pressed the wrong button. And on the monarchy: if we devise a written constitution, which I hope we do, we still need a head of state to rock up when other heads of state are visiting, to sign bills into law and so on. I suppose the Windsors could continue to do this, through a Governor General, but my personal preference would be to say goodbye and thanks very much to the notion of inherited royalty. An elected head of state would still be essentially a ceremonial post, provided the constitution made it such, so any comparison with the US is invalid.

David Stone said...

Victor and John
There's no more reason to pay an exorbitant salary to a balloted senate than to a jury. It would be an honour and a duty and no one should be able to welch because they'r making too much money doing something else. It should be in the order of what they get paid anyway.
It's a great idea.

greywarbler said...

You are leery of anybody having any identification are you, even as to gender, age, experience with community service, education level etc.

It is a weak point of democracy as presently practised that there isn't a leadership council that can give some advice and background to the wider community who then have to pass a scratch test to establish a basic level of understanding of the country's problems. And this should be preceded by civics taught in school about how frameworks for building a working economic and social community need to be devised. With our few screening measures, what results from present voting is mainly a mass of opinions with inadequate understanding. That way we got Roger Douglas rushing in like a tsunami and we had no understanding of what was likely to be the outcome.

Boats can tip over and drown everybody if all on board rush to one side to look at something. People have to understand more before they vote,
not rush in and enable saboteurs to tip over our democracy and standards so long gathered, so quickly dissipated.

pigman said...

Kiwiwit (on 3 May)

I would like to assume your post is total satire, but I think you may have been serious. Could you kindly outline the democratic systems your right wing party of choice (National, Act, the Maori Party, United Future) use to elect their leadership in which "individual members" participate.

I'll just sit here and collect tumbleweed for the fire in the meantime...

Victor said...

John Stowell

Apart from Ancient Greece, I'm unaware of any government system based upon drawing lots. Could you supply a bit more information on this?

David Stone

I raised the issue of juries because it's easy to gain deferment and, hence, difficult to get a representative sample of people to serve, with, to the best of my knowledge, those in busy and responsible jobs in shortest supply.

So how much harder is it going to be to get a representative sample of people taking years out of their lives without any advantage to them other than "feelgood"?


I don't personally disagree with you over the monarchy. But I nevertheless suspect that discussion of a republic will revive once HM passes away.

I was merely pointing out that, to my mind at least, you can't have a republic without a constitution. But, for what it's worth, I think we could do with a written constitution even if we remain under the Crown.

Recent events in the UK, which also doesn't have a written constitution, have underscored my conviction on this issue.

greywarbler said...

About the constitution I think we do need one but not so tightly tied as the USA one which doesn't seem to retrain bad practices and yet constrains good ones, this quite without examples or reference, just how it seems to me.

When there was an attempt to talk about the constitution here with the
C. Conversation, I had the unpleasant surprise to see how many old white men arose ready with their pitchers of acidic juice to pour onto our hardly obtained agreements with Maori etc. (this seems to be their main target, but I am sure not exclusively). My heart sank, the last action in their unenlightened, boorish lives seemed to be to sink our nation of which we can still feel proud, in a mire of whining, shrewish complaints showing their petty white-colonial ideas probably scratched into their desks at school or home.

KJT said...

We do not have a "Democracy".

That was proven from 1984, when the Government went bonkers, without any brakes.

The Swiss have "Democracy". We have an uncontrollable rotating Dictatorship!