If New Zealand was like this all the time …

It would be completely unlivable.  Seriously, it feels like 90% of people out there support a party – and determine whether a policy is “good” or “bad” solely on the basis that it is their party doing it.  Is this election really any different to watching your local sports derby?

I mean, for the love of god partial asset sales appear to be the main theme coming into this election – one of the most incredibly marginal and unimportant issues I have ever laid eyes on.  With no impact on competition (because it is minority stakes), and with little impact on the final cost of servicing spending either way (given that the lost dividends are only slightly lower than the expected interest payments on borrowing) this is a virtual non-issue.  And yet, every single person I talk too cares STRONGLY one way or the other – for no reason that they can actually articulate.

Do people not think that “tribal politics” is inherently stupid – we should be debating what trade-offs we are willing to make as a society, and what we really feel is fair.  Not trying to make it so “our boys” are in so we have “won” …

New Zealand, I am disappoint.

  • D.J. Taylor

    I agree with you Matt, however, the problem of what you call “tribal politics” is not exclusive to New Zealand. Indeed I think most would be hard pressed to think of any state, nation, or society on earth where this (TP’s) is not the overwhelming norm. I see it as a major problem within the practice of global electoral politics. And yes, it makes me frustrated, sad, and angry, all at the same time.

    And most people probably do not think that it’s inherently stupid (even though, really it is) because a.) they have been phenomenologically conditioned to accept this as the historical and current (therefore “correct”) norm (which may or may not be related to a failure of education), or b.) they simply don’t care about “fairness” and selfishly enjoy the current electoral “game”.

    • http://www.tvhe.co.nz Matt Nolan

      That is very true – in fact, a lot of the cynical views I have stem from growing up going to alliance meetings, and listening to the different views in my family.

      At one point I can remember my grandparents describing how bad they felt that the party they voted for hadn’t done well – they wanted to pick a winner.  At another point I can remember my parents explaining to me that it was immoral to vote National, it just was, and when my brother did they explained he was just being rebellious.

  • Matt C

    I’m just voting for national because I like blue ;)

    • http://www.tvhe.co.nz Matt Nolan

      We discussed this over beer last night.  Your reasons make a lot more sense to me than most of what I’m hearing :D

  • WH

    Ok time for coffee everyone. People are not that that bad, walk up to your barista and request your drink of choice thereby identifying your price discrimination point. The barista will exchange glady releave you of some of your disposable income in exchange for a flat white or espresso. In turn the barista will receive returns to labour, pay intermediate suppliers for provision of water, power, rent, machinary, transport and milk who in turn pay producers for the supply of goods and services.

    Now this is the important part – drink the coffee.

    Then reflect on the fact you feel better and the world continue to function without you worrying about it for five minutes. It will do so again in another five minutes with people continue to engage in trade, innovate or produce goods and services.

    People are not that bad all in all in make decisions based on the amount of information that they consider is relevant to function within their environment. Thsi is true even for economists and political worriers.

    • http://www.tvhe.co.nz Matt Nolan

      “People are not that bad all in all in make decisions based on the amount of information that they consider is relevant to function within their environment. Thsi is true even for economists and political worriers.”

      I agree. 

      I just hate elections, and the fact that they don’t represent the democratic and transparent ideal that I fantasize about.

  • http://offsettingbehaviour.blogspot.com Eric Crampton

    You need to spend some time abroad, Matt. It’s way way way worse in the States. 

    • http://www.tvhe.co.nz Matt Nolan

      I was in the US for the last presidential election … my god.

      Still, I have high standards for New Zealand – and I’m not going to loosen them just because other countries are silly ;)

      • http://offsettingbehaviour.blogspot.com Eric Crampton

        Your mandatory summer reading list (will be enforced with shoulder-punches at next NZAE if not done):
        Brennan & Lomasky 1996 Democracy & Decision
        Caplan 2005 The Myth of the Rational Voter. 

        • http://www.tvhe.co.nz Matt Nolan

          Oww man, but I don’t like politics stuff.

          Can’t you just assign me a bunch of books on economic methodology instead?

        • http://offsettingbehaviour.blogspot.com Eric Crampton

          You’ll like these. 

        • http://www.tvhe.co.nz goonix

          That Caplan book is decent, read it a few years ago (I think on Eric’s recommendation too heh). 

    • Kirk

      Or Australia – And just how bad? check out this jem about why media coverage of elections is so bad – http://www.abc.net.au/mediawatch/transcripts/s2990640.htm

      • http://www.tvhe.co.nz Matt Nolan

        Owww my goodness ….

  • WH

    Matt – I like to consider absolute and comparative situation. Absolutely what we have is not perfect, but comparative to US and many other places we are not doing so bad.

    if your still worrying too much, think about what if anything you would change at the margins to move towards your absolute ideal.

    And – have another coffee and possibly add Kahlua to it.

    • http://www.tvhe.co.nz Matt Nolan

      This is all very true – however, it does not stop the fact that people keep arguing with me when I’m just trying to have a drink.  I love arguing, but not when it is so starkly moralistic rather than based on rational debate.

      Another coffee will come soon, the beer will be later tonight ;)

      • http://www.hosking.blogspot.com Rob Hosking

         “I love arguing, but not when it is so starkly moralistic rather than based on rational debate.”

        SNAP.

        You’re put in one neat sentence my own feelings on the issue.   

        • http://www.tvhe.co.nz Matt Nolan

          Excellent, always glad to find the rare occasion when I can say something that makes sense to someone ;)

      • http://www.tvhe.co.nz rauparaha

        You can’t have rational debate abour morality? Might want to break that gently to the moral philosophers ;)

        • http://www.tvhe.co.nz Matt Nolan

          I was expecting you to pick that one up ;)

          I’m talking about a the moral choice to avoid thinking about the trade-offs, and argue on the basis of a preference for your team to win.  I’m not arguing about the ability to rationally discuss issues that involve a moral element.

          There is of course a significant difference ;)

  • http://www.tvhe.co.nz rauparaha

    More seriously, are you actually complaining about humans’ tribal nature? Because it has plenty of social benefits in addition to the small cost of annoying political nerds!

    • http://www.tvhe.co.nz Matt Nolan

      Yes.  I’m complaining about a negative impact of tribal nature.

      There are pluses and minuses from group activity for sure, but in the context of objectively looking at policy there is a big negative here.  A negative I would like to raise.

      Remember, just because an institution evolved to be beneficial at some point in time does not mean it is optimal now – we should always be questioning institutions.

      • http://www.tvhe.co.nz rauparaha

        Very true but I think you’re painting the election to be about policies when it’s not. It’s an open question as to whether it even SHOULD be about policies. The contest between leaders can be incredibly insightful even when it’s fought over petty, minor issues.

        • http://www.tvhe.co.nz Matt Nolan

          When those are the issues that are going to determine policy yes.  But when I would like an election to provide us an indication of the will of the people – a flavour of what would satisfy the social contract (a very inexact one as Arrow showed, but still) – I find this sort of sports style excitement about an election upsetting.

          But that is my own fault for value my expectations ;)

        • http://www.tvhe.co.nz rauparaha

          Is it a noisy signal of the public preferences for policies mixed with their preferences for leadership qualities? Rob Salmond would probably know about this, but is there a difference in the weight that undecided voters put on those two things, relative to party loyalists?

        • http://www.tvhe.co.nz Matt Nolan

          Indeed – but given that for many choice is based solely on the name of the badge, rather than any underlying characteristics, the usefulness of this signal weakens.

          Furthermore, it means that I have to put up with these loyalists complaining constantly – can’t you tell that my post is a bitch about this arbitrary complaining getting in the way of my drinking!!!

  • Bren

    Do people really care about asset sales? Judging from the polls showing a majority of people against asset sales but voting for national anyway. I figured people didn’t really care about it. Not enough to change their vote anyway.

    • http://www.tvhe.co.nz Matt Nolan

      That is very true.  It doesn’t stop people yelling about it at me though :/

  • Bren

    Vocal minority then?

    • http://www.tvhe.co.nz Matt Nolan

      To be honest, I think you’re right.  It just feels like 90% :D

  • Richard29

    I couldn’t agree more. Fran O’Sullivan wrote a good critique of the asset sales policy from the right of the spectrum. Which was an improvement on much of what has come from the left of the political spectrum because it actually contains a critique and proposal of an alternative model rather than just name calling and finger pointing. Sadly such pieces of journalism is few and far between.
    http://www.nzherald.co.nz/fran-osullivan-on-business/news/article.cfm?c_id=1502864&objectid=10764698

    I’d also like to say that this is my first time to visit this blog and I am really liking the look of it, I have bookmarked you :)

    I even read your ‘For new Readers’ section and, as typically a Green voter, had a bit of a chuckle at the “Frog” peice. I don’t have an economics background (unless high school counts?) but have read a little Joseph Stiglitz and Herman Daly and come to this blog with a perspective of the utility of economic methods that is slightly more sophisticated than “Economics = Free Markets = Neo-Liberalism = Capitalism = Evil”. 

    Enjoy casting your vote tomorrow – it’s only once every three years :) 

    • http://www.tvhe.co.nz goonix

      Did you end up voting Matt?