.@esra_nz discovers constitutional political economy because far-left flops at elections

The far left has decided to establish its own think tank to carry on the fight against neoliberalism. Obviously, the university sociology and history departments are not carrying their weight anymore in research and idea dissemination.

The new far left think tank convened by Sue Bradford has several enquiry groups. The one that intrigued me was into political and organisation. Its mission statement is

We are interested in the different ways in which people organise politically, including novel forms of organisation operating outside of the traditional parliamentary sphere. We situate ourselves within a period of international political experimentation and innovation, and are committed to conducting research from a strongly anti-capitalist position.

By working with activists, academics, unionists, workers, beneficiaries, and others, we aim to facilitate rigorous and useful research that can further political thinking and organisational practices.

This is a welcome development. Maybe the far left has finally noticed how dismally it has performed in the last two New Zealand elections under the banner of the Mana party.

In 2011, it was assured of a seat in parliament, but Mana struggled to win more than 1% of the vote. I was deeply surprised at how small the far left boat was in New Zealand. The massively funded hard left campaign in the 2014 election won 1.2% of the party vote. The sitting Mana party MP lost his seat.

In the 2011 election, the same hard left party, when woefully underfunded, won 1.1% of the party vote. Getting the message out appears to have absolutely no effect on the party vote of the hard left. The median voter theory rules.

The British Labour Party under the leadership of Tony Blair also had a metamorphosis similar to this new far left think tank when it came to political organisation. In the House of Commons, those crazies to the right or left of you are tempered by a general election only every 5 years.

Little wonder UK Labor reconsidered devolution, an assembly for London, and regional government after 15 years of Maggie Thatcher, good and hard, with her unfettered right to ask the house of commons to make or unmake any law whatsoever.

Developing positive alternatives on the Left includes what to do about the rotation of power and fettered versus unfettered parliamentary and executive power. The failure of the Left to develop its own constitutional political economy is a major strategic shortcoming. Frequenting wine bars, cafes and blogs muttering to each other ‘our day will come, our day will come’ is not enough.

Too many on the left, in Richard Posner’s view, want to remake democracy with the faculty workshop as their model but followed up by a street march wherever possible. Such deliberation has demanding requirements for popular participation in the democratic process, including a high level of knowledge and analytical sophistication and a severe curtailment of self-interested motives.

The biggest challenge this new far left think tank must consider is democratic socialism is pointless because electoral power is fleeting: sooner or later, the left wing parties representing the socialist alternative lose power, and capitalism is resorted. How can democratic socialism work without entertaining the certain prospects of the right-wing winning office in 6, 9, 12 years time and undoing everything?

Under pension fund socialism, with the majority of the share market owned by superannuation funds, any call for wide-spread nationalisations is political suicide for the far left. The same for re-nationalisation later when the left-parties get another turn in office.

The rotation of power is common in democracies, and the worst rise to the top. So it is wise to design constitutional safeguards to minimise the damage done when those crazies to the right or left of you get their chance in office, as they will. New Zealand Parliamentary elections are always close because of proportional representation. This makes reality of ending up in the minority again very quickl at the next election if not the one after very real.

It is unfortunate that this far left think tank is starting to think of extra-parliamentary means of social change. The great strength of democracy is a small group of concerned and thoughtful citizens can band together and change things by mounting single issue campaigns or joining a political party and running for office and winning elections or influencing who wins.

That is how new Australian parties in the 20th century such as the Australian Labour Party, the Country Party, Democratic Labour Party, Australian Democrats and Greens changed Australia. Most of these parties started in someone’s living room, full of concerned citizens aggrieved with the status quo. In the 21st century, Australian democracy could not be more democratic, with a wide range of totally obscure new political parties winning seats in the state upper houses and the  Senate.

The recent Senate election in Australia vindicates the view that the wrong sort of people get into parliament all the time. By wrong I mean people that the establishment parties would prefer not to be there including the establishment of the Australian Greens.

Indeed, it is that very strength of democracy – small groups of concerned citizens banding together  – is what is holding up legislating on an end of life choice. It is not that minorities are powerless and individuals are voiceless. Exactly the opposite.

It is wise to design constitutional safeguards to minimise the damage done when those crazies to the right or left of you get their chance in office, as they will sooner or later rather than focus on the powers you and those that currently agree with you should have in your few days in which you fleetingly have a majority.

Too many policies and ideas of the one political party or another assume that they are the face of the future, rather than just another political party that will hold power as often as not and always for an uncertain time. Too many policies and ideas of the Left assume that they are the face of the future, rather than just another political party that will hold power as often as not.

State power was something that the classical liberals feared, and the problem of constitutional design is insuring that such power would be effectively limited. Sovereignty must be split among several levels of collective authority; federalism was designed to allow for a decentralization of coercive state power. At each level of authority, separate branches of government were deliberately placed in continued tension, one with the other. The legislative branch is further restricted by the establishment of two strong houses, each of which organised on a separate principle of representation.

Unfettered power loses its shine when it must be shared with your political opponents at least once a decade. The far left should look favourably upon federalism as a brake on neoliberalism.

Privatisation and deregulation is a lot slower in a federal system with an effective upper house elected by proportional representation. Regulatory powers and public asset ownership is spread over different levels of federations, with different parties always in power at various levels at the same time, all worried about losing office by going to far away from what the majority wants.

The will of the people is constantly tested and measured in a federal system with elections at one level or another every year or so contested on a mix of local and national issues. Any failings of privatisation or deregulation in pioneering jurisdictions would quickly become apparent and would not be copied by the rest of the country. These errors could be undone where they originated by incoming progressive governments.

As James Buchanan pointed out in 1954, the great strength of democracies is majorities are temporary so the exploitation by the majority of the minority is never permanent. If electoral majorities are other than temporary, the minority would have no choice but to fight.

Because of political ignorance and apathy, Richard Posner championed Schumpeter’s view of democracy. Schumpeter disputed the widely held view that democracy was a process by which the electorate identified the common good, and that politicians carried this out:

  • The people’s ignorance and superficiality meant that they were manipulated by politicians who set the agenda.
  • Although periodic votes legitimise governments and keep them accountable, their policy programmes are very much seen as their own and not that of the people, and the participatory role for individuals is limited.

Schumpeter’s theory of democratic participation is that voters have the ability to replace political leaders through periodic elections. Citizens do have sufficient knowledge and sophistication to vote out leaders who are performing poorly or contrary to their wishes.

The power of the electorate to turn elected officials out of office at the next election gives elected officials an incentive to adopt policies that do not outrage public opinion and administer the policies with some minimum honesty and competence. That is the best that the hard left can do. Help throw the rascals out in the hope that the replacements might be a bit better.

The preference for this new far left think tank for extra-parliamentary action is a confession. In Australia, it is possible for just about anyone except a Trot to win a seat at the next election on issues that are important to them because they don’t need that many others to share their concerns and aspirations to win that last upper house seat on preferences.

The reason why this far left think tank will not get anywhere is they are a bunch of old Trots and ex-Maoists and everybody knows that.

The hard left in general failed abysmally in taking advantage of the unrest after the global financial crisis. Bernie Sanders can be explained by Clinton being a terrible candidate for president despite her practice run in 2008. Gary Johnson is attracting attention simply because Clinton and Trump are such appalling candidates. Corbyn got were he got because the 35 heroes of #Tories4Corbyn did understand the role of MPs in filtering out fringe candidates.

Europe elected centre-right governments in the aftermath of the global financial crisis. The parties that are on the rise are anti-immigration, anti-foreigner  populist parties that support the welfare state. They currently play identity politics better than the left.

Being classically liberal

Is the Left liberal?

When I worked at Marxism Today, my desire to earn a living proved to be somewhat déclassé.

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via When I worked at Marxism Today, my desire to earn a living proved to be somewhat déclassé.

RT if you think this summarises the Anti-Science Left

Evidence that the Left over Left are narrow-minded and personally nasty to people who disagree with them

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Robert Lucas on the defining belief of the Left over Left and the Greens

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PJ O’Rourke on the fundamental flaw in left-wing thinking

 

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Pat Condell: Progressivism Destroyed in 8 Minutes

How much of the political spectrum is neoliberal (and under the Svengali influence of the @MontPelerinSoc)?

When I feud with strangers on other blogs about neoliberalism, I often asked them is to nominate which parties are neoliberal. Obviously the right-wing parties are neoliberal.

What is routine, however, is for this remnant of the Left over Left to nominate the Labour Party as a cauldron of neoliberalism as well. Tony Blair, Bob Hawke, and Paul Keating are hate figures as is Roger Douglas in New Zealand.

Neoliberalism is more about smearing labour parties than the right-wing parties, and, in particular, factional enemies further to the right with you on the old Left. Looks like to be a neoliberal is what it was like to be a capitalist running dog in the days of the cultural revolution.

These days it’s quite common to nominate the Mont Pelerin Society as the global ringmaster of neoliberalism.

bookjacketCover: The Road from Mont Pèlerin in HARDCOVER

As global ringmasters go, they have a crap website. The super profits of supreme power should at least extend to a decent website.

Eric Crampton was tweeting live from his first meeting of the Mont Pelerin Society a few weeks ago. I asked him how did it feel to be in the inner circles of supreme power. His tweet was they must hold all the conspiratorial meetings in side rooms because he did not feel any more powerful than the previous day at his desk at his University

No one had ever heard of the Mont Pelerin society until the Twitter Left put it at the centre of a global conspiracy.

It is much easier to do to explain your defeat at elections on a conspiracy, rather than on your ideas having been tried and failed time and again.

These allegations  of a secret conspiracy led by the Mont Pelerin society is a rarity in the stock and fair of conspiracy theories. The leader of the conspiracy is actually unknown. Most conspiracy theories allege that the secret machinations are by relatively well-known people you are trying to smear or don’t like.

These allegations of a global conspiracy led by academics is the ultimate ego trip by proxy. Academics dream of supreme power. When they do not have this power themselves, they fantasise that the right-wingers at the other end of the corridor at their university have it instead.

The most fundamental fact about the ideas of the political left is that they do not work. Therefore we should not be surprised to find the left concentrated in institutions where ideas do not have to work in order to survive.  - Thomas Sowell

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