• The Herald’s Bias

    Like many other Kiwis, my wife and I have had our first Covid vaccination. It was efficiently delivered at the time and place specified, and our second vaccination will take place next week.

    The Herald, however, continues to pursue its determined campaign to persuade us – in the face of all the evidence – that the government’s response to the pandemic has been a shambles; in today’s issue, it devotes many column inches to the difficulties a Cantabrian pensioner claims to have had in getting a vaccination.

    The one respect in which we can at least be grateful is that we have recently heard less from the Herald’s regular columnist, Mike Hosking, with his constant claim that Australia has handled the pandemic better than we have and that the Australian economy is doing better than ours. Perhaps he has at last fulfilled his promise to move across the Tasman?

    But the Herald continues to give regular space to columnists whose only justification for burdening us with their views is that they are unremittingly hostlle to the government. The most recent is Richard Prebble who proclaims that a recent poll showing Labour still well ahead of its rivals demonstrates that Labour cannot win the next election – a classic example of wish fulfilment displacing rational argument.

    The only comfort to be drawn from any of this is that the Herald’s political bias is being made so obvious to its readers that they can protect themselves only by disregarding whatever the Herald reports or publishes.

  • The Danger from the Extreme Right

    Like other readers, no doubt, I recently experienced a “believe it or not” moment, when I read an account of a crowd at a recent Trump rally cheering the news that the US Women’s Football Team had been beaten at the Olympic Games.

    The reason for the cheering was, apparently, that, as Trump explained, the team could be castigated as “woke” -. a widely used term of abuse that was justified, it seems, because the team had “taken a knee” in a protest against racism and had, on an earlier occasion, declined an invitation to join Trump at the White House to celebrate an earlier triumph.

    When I considered the bizarre nature of this demonstration of political prejudice, I couldn’t help but link it to other reports – in particular, of the violent (and irrational) protest in Sydney against the lockdown response to a Covid outbreak, and the constant disinformation in social media about vaccination. It occurred to me that, wherever one looked across the globe, it was the extreme right that was taking to the streets (and the social media) in order to spread their irrational prejudices.

    Those prejudices can be identified as those of the extreme right, because they share a common hostility to the concept of government and an anti-democratic belief that government is really a conspiracy against the people, a readiness to believe bizarre conspiracy theories (like Q Anon), their dismissal of and lack of respect for others who are different in matters of ethnicity or sexual orientation or disability, and their elevation of individual freedom (for some at any rate) as representing the greatest good.

    Even more worrying is their increasing readiness to use violence against those whom they regard as “woke” or as embracing “political correctness” or “cancel culture” – all terms of abuse directed against attitudes that – for most people – are no more than a reflection of respect and concern for the rights of others.

    It occurred to me that, after decades of what was called the “Cold War”, when the major threat to the values of western civilisation was seen as coming from the “left”, as represented by the Communist ideology, we are now seeing a sea change. It is now surely undeniable that it is the extreme right that now poses the major threat to our way of life. If we want to avoid further and increasingly serious threats, we must call out those who peddle irrational views as to what is or is not in the public interest; we cannot afford to soft-pedal on, or seek an accommodation with, those who represent such an overt denial of our traditional values and virtues.

    Those who control our national media have a special responsibility; their natural tendency is to promote right-wing views, but they must not let that stray into the endorsement of anti-democratic and anti-social views and actions. We deserve – and need – more from them than that.

    Bryan Gould
    28 July 2021

  • Courageous Politicians

    Kiri Allan’s brave fight against cancer is not only testament to her courage but also a reminder of how tough and brave some of our politicians can be.

    The ordinary citizen almost certainly does not appreciate how much stamina and strength of character is needed if a successful career in politics is to be pursued – just ask Todd Muller! The stress and strain involved in being constantly in the public eye and answerable for everything one says and does is huge, which makes it all the more remarkable that young women like Kiri Allan – and our Prime Minister – are able to keep going and maintain a high standard of performance, week in, week out.

    Few of us can imagine the pressure that Jacinda Ardern faces on a daily – even hourly – basis. She has now had much more than a year of leading the country through an unprecedented epidemic crisis, when literally every day (weekends included) has required decisions of the utmost significance to all of our five million fellow-Kiwis. Bearing that responsibility alone would be enough to exhaust most of us; but, in addition, she has had to front up to daily media grilling, not just in respect of the coronavirus, but about every other action and decision of her government – all compounded by criticisms and complaints from citizens who believe that their interests have been ignored or who have their own axes to grind, and from opposition politicians who are not only trying to improve their own chances of occupying the government benches some day, but also of advancing their own personal careers.

    She has also had to lead her party and government, chair cabinet meetings, negotiate with individual cabinet ministers, fulfil all the engagements that her office entails, undertake foreign travel (in itself, an exhausting experience), meet foreign leaders, attend and speak at international conferences, do endless media interviews (often with overtly hostile interviewers) – and all this in addition to her responsibilities in her private life to her family and infant daughter.

    The emotional as well as physical toll that all of this takes is beyond the experience of most of us. I am now a couple of decades removed from my own years in politics, but I have a very clear recollection of what it takes to front up to media interviews, when the merest slip of the tongue will provoke a barrage of criticism, not just from the public at large, and from one’s political opponents, but from one’s colleagues as well.

    Politicians necessarily develop thick skins, so that they can ward off the endless brickbats; they need inner reserves of strength and self-belief, just to keep going. We can count ourselves lucky that we are blessed with leaders who not only have those inner reserves, but who can continue to operate at a high level of competence as well.

    Bryan Gould
    5 July 2021

  • Fall Guys

    The cyber-attack on the Waikato District Health Board is a follow-up to similar attacks elsewhere, and notably in Ireland. It has caused untold misery, anxiety and risk to many vulnerable patients, and confusion and worry to health administrators. It seems to be an instance of “ransom-ware”, whose purpose it is to extract money from the institutions affected; and, not content with threatening the lives of the sick, the perpetrators then threaten to publish private information about those whose records are held by the hospital authorities and to demand more money as the price for not doing so.

    It is hard to imagine a more reprehensible instance of pitiless greed or of the exploitation of hi-tech expertise by heartless criminals. Yet, sadly, it came as no surprise that someone could be found to demand immediately the resignation of Andrew Little, on the ground that he is responsible for the debacle because he is the Minister of Health and also the Minister responsible for the country’s security.

    There can be no more telling example of a growing current trend – that whenever something goes wrong or someone is disappointed or displeased by some action or inaction (of whatever kind), and irrespective of what other factors might be involved, a complainant will emerge from the woodwork to point the finger at the government of the day. This kind of knee-jerk version of the blame game is of course meat and drink for the media; they are presented with a ready-made story, with the added bonus of extending what is already a newsworthy story with a kind of “David v. Goliath” element of the “little man” or “ordinary bloke” hitting back against authority – and there is the pleasing additional opportunity to grill the authority figure complained about.

    The syndrome is constantly repeated, however tenuous may be the causal connection between the matter of which complaint is made and the person at whom the finger is pointed. In the case of the cyber-attack on the Waikato DHB, the intervention of international criminals, utilising a specialist knowledge for nefarious purposes, might have been considered not only as the prime cause of the crisis but also as a factor that was by definition difficult to foresee and counter – as other countries have also found to their cost.

    The reaction seems to be endemic in a society that is increasingly inclined to look to government to solve (and forestall) all problems, wherever and however they might arise. The surprising element, however, is that such reactions often come from those who resist and resent, as a matter of principle, the involvement of government in their lives. The best interpretation of the syndrome may be, in other words, that it is those who are hostile to government in general terms who will be the quickest to blame “the government” if they are displeased about something – anything – that could attract attention from the media.

    It may be futile to suggest that the media, in such circumstances, should exercise their own judgment as to whether such a complaint bears scrutiny; but we would all agree, surely, that free and active media are an essential element in a properly functioning democracy and that their role therefore involves more than simply reporting and amplifying attempts from whatever quarter to treat government ministers as Aunt Sallies or fall guys.

    Bryan Gould
    27 May 2021

  • Central Bank Independence?

    I have never understood why the independence of the central bank (in our case, the Reserve Bank) is thought to be so important and beneficial. The practice – and doctrine – were pioneered in New Zealand, and hark back to the era of Rogernomics, monetarism and the priority given to controlling inflation. Today, they reflect outdated views about the infallibility of markets and the weight to be placed on, and mechanistic nature of, monetary policy.

    But it was always essentially anti-democratic in nature and purpose; its effect has been to remove from parliamentary scrutiny, and therefore democratic control, the most important areas of government policy and action. Quite why this was thought to be necessary and why we were urged to trust the Reserve Bank, freed as it was from public scrutiny, to decide these important policy issues has never been clear to me – particularly when the Governor of the institution, over a significant and critical period of its operations, demonstrated repeatedly that he had no understanding of how money is created.

    And furthermore, the Reserve Bank is, as its name demonstrates, a bank; its loyalty is to the banking system, and it views the economy from the viewpoint of a bank. Its principal goal and responsibility is to maintain the viability of the banking system; having established the framework that it sees as necessary, it is then content to leave what it sees as subsidiary issues (that are nevertheless important to the rest of us) to elected politicians.

    It has of course been flattering to bankers and economists to have it established that some issues can and should be decided only by them, because they are too important and difficult to be left to politicians but, if that were accepted, we might as well give up all claims to be a democracy. In fact, it is hard to see why – in the light of all the complex issues that our governments have to decide – it should be only these fundamental economic issues that are to be withdrawn from their remit and handed over to unelected, and supposed, experts.

    So, why should politicians themselves have fallen into line and supported a doctrine that runs so much counter to their own responsibilities? We can only surmise, but my best guess – as a former politician myself – is that they found it quite convenient to shuffle off the responsibility to another body. It was handy for a Minister of Finance, under hostile questioning in Parliament. To be able to say that the issue was nothing to do with him (or her).

    It is in the light of these ponderings that I view the recent discussion as to whether Grant Robertson, in asking Adrian Orr to consider unemployment and house prices when deciding monetary policy (principally, interest rates), has somehow crossed a sacred line.

    I can only say that I think we should be grateful that we at last have a Minister of Finance, and a Governor of the Reserve Bank, who have an accurate understanding of their respective roles. Welcome back, democracy!

    Bryan Gould
    2 May 2021