Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Hide seeks

ACT Party leader Rodney Hide has been acting like he’s NZ Prime Minister. All arrogance and bluster, Hide has been pushing his neoconservative agenda even as he settles into his roles in the National-led Government.

In interviews as Local Government Minister, Hide’s been blustering about “reigning in” local councils, apparently including drastic cuts to rates (similar to property taxes in the US). What Hide never says, however, is that much of local government’s responsibilities are dictated by central government. So if he somehow convinces the Government to legislate cuts in rates, but doesn’t end mandates, he’s effectively telling local councils to slash or end local, elective spending—for things like parks and reserves, sports facilities, swimming pools, libraries—even street maintenance and infrastructure repairs. His blather to date about what can be cut has been superficial and disingenuous.

But Hide is most out of touch on climate change and the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS). Hide’s a climate change denier, meaning he rejects scientific research, repeating the myth that “the jury’s still out” or that the reality of climate change is “inconclusive”. He extracted an official review of the ETS as a “price” for his support for National. This review will put climate change deniers on an equal footing with real scientists with the obvious goal of finding ways to “credibly” dump both the ETS and New Zealand’s participation in the Kyoto Protocols. He seems to think he’ll be able to force National to abandon the ETS and Kyoto Protocols completely.

While this puts Hide on the same side as fundamentalist christianists, it’s important to note that’s not where Hide is coming from. A liberal (in the modern sense) on social issues (he voted for the Civil Unions Act, for example), he is a neoconservative on all other issues.

Neoconservative philosophy can be boiled down to this: Government does nothing well, the private sector does nothing bad, and preventing the former from interfering with the latter will deliver prosperity and paradise for all. It’s silly to say that government does nothing well, it’s absurd to say business does nothing bad, and an outright lie to say that unfettered business will benefit us all. The financial crisis and bank bailouts in the US were caused in no small measure by the complete failure to regulate and supervise business.

The ETS and anything else designed to combat climate change would affect profits, which is why Hide opposes them. He wants local councils to privatise pretty much everything, which is how he’d want them to deal with cuts in rates. Similarly, he wants most central government functions privatised, too, including health and education. He wants, in other words, the same things as American Republicans, though without the moralistic religiosity.

All of which will present a challenge for Prime Minister John Key, who has worked hard to pull his party back to the centre after it’s disastrous flirtation with Hide-style extremism (but including moralistic crap, too) in the 2005 election. Key has forged a government that tries to balance left and right to keep his government centrist. So far, I still think he’s been able to do that.

But I think that ultimately the cost of keeping a centrist government will be to cut Hide loose. It’ll begin with publicly distancing himself from Hide’s rhetoric, and if that doesn’t work, it’ll mean sacking Hide. After all, what’s Hide going to do? Bring down the government?

Hide is already shaping up to be among the worst members of the National-led Government. But, then, I suppose every government has to have at least one.


peteremcc said...

Rodney definitely mentioned the burden that government has put on councils. That's why he's Minister of Regulatory Reform as well.

A liberal on social issues and neo-conservative on all other issues?

All others... like economics?

So, he's liberal on everything that makes conservatives conservative?

How then is he neoconservative?

ACT is classical liberal / libertarian.

Arthur (AmeriNZ) said...

Thanks for the comment! I always value discussion and debate, and anyone is welcome to participate on this blog.

If Rodney's serious about cutting burdens on local councils, then cutting rates becomes much more feasible. One way to do that would be to move some regulatory responsibilities back to central government or, at least, to fund them from Wellington rather than from local rates. Actually, if central government had to pay local councils for enforcement, I think we'd see fewer regulations AND lower rates, so everyone would win.

You're quite right that ACT is a libertarian party—and I mean that in the best sense of the word (since I don't think much of the Libertarian Parties in the US or in NZ). I use "liberal" in the 20th/21st century sense of the word, which means more centrist than progressive, which tends to be somewhat further to the left.

When ACT or Australian Liberals use that word, they mean it in the 19th Century sense. Sometimes, this is now called "neoliberalism," but so many people have come to accept "liberal" as meaning progressive-lite rather than conservative, that I use the term "neoconservative" which means the same thing.

What you're talking about is, as you said, libertarianism, but to be liberal (modern sense) on social issues while being conservative (modern sense) on economic issues is what is also sometimes called "classic conservatism". By that people mean a belief that the individual is sovereign and government has no business telling them how to live their lives nor to create unnecessary burdens on either personal freedom or opportunity.

You may gather that I'm actually sympathetic to this sort of ideology, though I don't share it. What I reject is "absolute conservatism" which is in many ways the opposite of real conservatism because it dictates morality and uses government to restrict personal freedom and opportunity (think US Republicans or some of the fringe parties in the last NZ election).

The truth is, compared to US politics, ACT is only technically neoconservative because in the US people with that label are usually pretty hard right on social issues (though whether they really believe that or just use it opportunistically is debatable).

I know this terminology thing is confusing, so from time to time I define what I mean by the terms. But it sure would be helpful to have universal agreement on what words mean!