Friday, September 16, 2005

Voting Green

With the elections tomorrow, I thought I'd outline my reasons for voting Green. But to break the one-eyed partisan patterns one sees on most NZ blogs these days, I'm going to balance this with some criticism too.

Why the Greens suck:

My main problem with the Greens is their tendency to let ideology trump reality. Our aim should be to enable humanity, and we should do whatever the evidence suggests is the best way to achieve this. That means we must promote science and rational inquiry rather than hiding behind romantic appeals to "nature", hyperbolic fears of "playing God" through biotechnology, emotional opposition to all things nuclear, and so forth. That's not necessarily to say we should be building nuclear plants or employing genetic engineering. But these issues should be open to rational debate. The Green movement is far too prone to dogmatic romanticism, and this can only harm its chances of actually doing good in the world.

The Greens would do better to become hard-headed empiricists: remaining committed to their goal of enabling humanity (including future generations), but remaining open minded as to the question of how best to achieve it. If the evidence suggests that private prisons are better run than public ones, then take note! Don't keep pretending that the public sector must always be best. Such dogmatism simply shows that the Greens care more about their statist ideology than achieving what's really best for our country. It's despicable. (See also David Farrar's Ideology vs. Common Sense, condemning Labour for the same vice.)

I also strongly disagree with the Greens on minority issues relating to "positive discrimination", as explained in my recent posts: Why Discrimination is Wrong, and The Human Race. The latter post grants that, in the short term, National would be even worse for our race relations and national unity. But still, the Left needs to give up its racial separatism and recognize the goal of a colourblind future (even if they think it's too early to dispense with our concept of race quite yet).

Another general problem with the Greens is their paternalism. They are far too quick to impose coercive measures and regulations without adequate justification. As a general rule, we should trust individuals to make their own decisions about what's best for them. If smoking bans in bars are to be justified, proponents first need to explain: where, exactly, is the market failure? Are bar owners mistaken about what would best satisfy their customers? Have the workers been misinformed about the health risks, or not adequately compensated for them? Some explanation is required, at least, to justify such blatant paternalism. Many Leftists, in their arrogance, seem not to recognize this requirement.

My final complaint against the Greens is more specific, concerning the S59 "anti-smacking" bill. In what can only be described as an act of rank idiocy, the Greens want to shift discretionary powers from jurors to the police. (As always, click the link for details.) This really does seem transparently stupid. I just don't know what the Greens are thinking -- or, indeed, whether they're thinking at all. Bloody idiots.


Okay, so that's why the Greens suck. Most of those criticisms apply to Labour too, and indeed leftists generally. A bunch of unthinking, reflexive statists, the lot of them. (Hell, me too most of the time.) It's most unfortunate. So why am I voting for them? Simply enough, it's because the alternatives are so much worse.

Why the Greens rule:

As far as I'm aware, they're the only party to explicitly take well-being and quality of life (rather than GDP) as a primary goal. They may not be perfect utilitarians, but they're the closest thing on offer.

They have the best tax policy, which shows signs of putting market mechanisms to good use after all. (So, in fairness, they aren't always blinded by ideology.) They are serious about protecting the environment, promoting renewable energy sources, improving public transport, etc. The unprincipled right-wing parties will pollute and pillage for a quick buck. We need the Greens to keep New Zealand clean, and protect our future. This point alone is sufficiently important to outweigh all the criticisms noted above. The other parties are irredeemably irresponsible.

Further, the Greens are the only party with a remotely sensible drug policy. They recognize that the alcohol problem lies in our national culture, and is not liable to any 'quick fix' in the form of raising the drinking age. And Nandor's suggestion to make personal cannabis possession subject only to a minor fine, on a par with speeding and similarly trivial offenses, is eminently sensible.

The Greens were the only party to suggest that we modernize our sexist rape laws. I respect them a lot for that. All the other parties were too cowardly to talk about this uncomfortable issue.

While all the other parties are competing to see who can appear most "tough on crime", only the Greens can be relied upon to focus on the real issues, e.g. how to reduce crime in the first place. They recognize that prisons are inefficient and should be a last resort. They want to bring the victim back into the justice process, and promote restorative justice in appropriate circumstances.

Finally, the Greens have real family values. They support paid parental leave, greater flexibility in working hours for parents, and other such policies that will help enable parents to raise their children. They're supportive of all families, even those that don't fit the Church's restrictive mould, e.g. de facto couples, gay couples, etc. They're more interested in protecting prostitutes than condemning them. Unlike conservatives, they recognize that ethics and sexual prudishness are not the same thing.


There's a lot I don't like about the Greens. I wish they were more rational and less romantic. Nevertheless, on many of the most important issues, they show themselves to be the most rational party of them all. When conservatives discount the future, refuse to discuss uncomfortable issues, or care more about condemning people than helping them, the Greens can be relied upon to speak up for what really matters. And for that, they have my vote.


  1. Okay, so that's why the Greens suck. Most of those criticisms apply to Labour too.

    Surely not nearly so bad. the reasons you state are the reasons I would NEVER vote green. Worse yet i see the greens and act being negitive for the ideals they propose.

    "They may not be perfect utilitarians, but they're the closest thing on offer."

    Im unconvinced - I think their lack of pragmitism makes them LESS utilitarian than most.

    > only the Greens can be relied upon to focus on the real issues.

    The greens do mention real issues and you are right about the other parties - however their problems just lie elsewhere. i find it hard to see why you pick the greens over the progressives which represent largely what the greens do and yet are much more pragmatic about it. Better yet they dont risk wasting the vote.

  2. > negitive for the ideal

    Just to explain I suggest there is a left and a right vote.

    1) a party like ACT dose nothing except subtract 3% from the major party and risks that they will waste that vote.
    2) a party like act provides a strong potential for that 3% to represent a group outside the government - in fact a smart national leader will exclude them to promote their own "mainstream" appeal. same for greens and labour.
    3) small parties can promote ideals that are positively moronic and since they wil NEVER have to deliver they can get away with it, worse yet much of the public may come to to believe their rubbish.
    4) they promote extreemism and polarization in the public

  3. I wish to defend ideology. I don't have much of an argument, but here goes. I think that if you have values you should stand behind them. They're not really values if you just talk about it. Have written a small piece here. Sure, it's going to cause aggregate disutility, but if you have a value system that is focused on an ideology - then go for the ideology. The Greens arn't utilitarians, therefore they should stand behind their ideology and opponents should attack that, not them.

    As a side note, s59 wouldn't shift the balance of power away from jurors. The police already have disrectionary power. The jury could still come back with a verdict of not guilty just as easily, in effect there could be a pseudo-s59. Repealing s59 is a very important step in giving all New Zealanders freedom from assault and battery. If you want a race blind country Richard, you should have an age blind one too.

  4. We should distinguish two senses of 'ideology'. There's the sense that just means "values" - the sort I discuss here, and that's fine. But then there's also the sense of factual assumptions, e.g. whether government or private businesses are better at getting things done. That's not a question of values, it's a matter of brute fact, and as such it's something we should keep an open mind about.

    My criticism of the Greens is not that they have the wrong values. It's that they don't know how to achieve them.

  5. (I already posted this on the Frogblog, but it's appropriate here)

    Excellent article, Philoffiser. I agree with quite a few of your points… and I’m a GP member…

    BUT, remember that the Greens are a minority party. An excess of pragmatism makes you toothless. You’ve got to DEMAND a yard, BOTTOM LINE a foot, to end up with maybe an inch and a half. That’s politics.

    In a political party, the usual dynamic is that the base is more radical than the politicians. This leads to endless tensions and extensive internal blood-letting, at least in parties where the base have any say in anything … what I find admirable in the Greens, is that the MPs manage to stay radical. In fact, they are probably less pragmatic than I would be, in the same situation (with the possible exception of Rod). More power to them!

    Being pragmatic all the time gives you ... what? Peter Dunne? So damn reasonable, completely ineffectual (except on "moral" issues, where he's got a broomstick up his arse).

  6. What are the greens achievements? (cant think of any)
    and how do they stack up against the much smaller progressives? (I can think of the kiwibank for one)
    almost time to stop talking about politics ~!

  7. Discussing legislative and executive achievements is a bit off the mark for a party that is outside of Government, isn't it?

  8. Not really - they put themselves outside of government.

  9. "But still, the Left needs to give up its racial separatism and recognize the goal of a colourblind future (even if they think it's too early to dispense with our concept of race quite yet)."

    Which is kinda funny because in the previous paragraphs your accusing them of dogmatic romanticism and emotive language ("racial separatism"?). Positive discrimination is in fact a pragmatic and PROVEN approach.

    Maybe you need to practice more of what you preach?

  10. > PROVEN approach.

    I think the question is "proven to do what?".
    I think you may have a different core value.
    Dor example lets say your aim was "helping jewish people" (a minority) --> if that is your aim discriminating in favour of jews is quite likely to achieve it but it wont impress everyone.

  11. "helping Jewish people" does discriminate against non-Jews, but I don't think this form of discrimination is an intrinsically bad thing.

    Discrimination is not bad because things are discriminated against, but because of the consequences that discriminatory behavour produces. To say that discrimination is wrong in and of itself would mean many facets of our society should change. There could be no more lobby groups, as that would be discriminatory. No one would ever be able to promote the interests of a minority, such as deer farmers, chess players, open source developers or 3rd world aid workers because that is discriminatory. We should abolish multi-party democracy, because any party that stands for the interests of a minority (such as low income earners or business owners) are discriminatory.

    Because we think that those things are worth having, discrimination per se is not bad, but discrimination that results in bad consequences for members. This does not necesarily imply utilitarism, cost/benfit analysis, but that model suits this best. Could also incorporate a wider range outcomes than utility including societal, cultural, economic, political,spiritual wellbeing, as well as things such as having a sense of autonomy, empowerment and identity. (Anything positive thing you can think of really)

    I hold that those forms of discrimination that seek to improve the prospects of a certain party are justified, because they produce a good net result. Discrimination is unjustified when it seeks to disempower a certain party. Of course, we cant impress everyone, and many anti-Semites would be disgusted by attempts to improve the wellbeing of Jewish people. If I have to take these opinions seriously, which I don't think is necessary,* then I think the group who is promoting Jewish interests should use methods which are not likely to incite anti-Semite fervor, or methods that can counter that fervor.

    *Don't have a justified reason for this, an incredulous stare is the best I can come up with.

  12. >There could be no more lobby groups, as that would be discriminatory.

    And indeed I oppose lobby groups and those aspects of organizations that discriminate - I would wish that did not happen. But of course one cannot change the world in a day nor can one be absolute in ones policies sometimes perfection is imposible. I would like my house to be clean but I certainly wont spend all day bleaching every square inch. Having said that I wont shovel dirt into my house either.

    > Because we think that those things are worth having discrimination per se is not bad

    oh nothing is "bad" in itself. Killing can be good if you kill the right person and the options are limited enough. Dont think of me as an absolutist.

    >I hold that those forms of discrimination that seek to improve the prospects of a certain party are justified.

    I suggest if your goals are utilitarian it is no problem but the implication above is that the goals are discriminatory. I would support you improving the lot of humanity and accidentally helping a sub set - but not helipng a sub set and hoping it will incidentally help humanity.
    I hope the difference there is clear.


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