Saturday, December 2, 2023

Elections: a box-ticking exercise we can all get behind

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Democracy is rare and precious, says Steve Wyn-Harris.
There are only 24 full democracies covering 8% of the planet’s population and we have the great fortune of being one of those countries, says Steve Wyn-Harris.
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Greek philosopher Plato lived 2400 years ago, and his thoughts have influenced Western philosophy since that time.

“One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors,” is one of his famous quotes.

However, it’s never stopped the vast majority of us who don’t go into politics moaning about those who do.

Most of the people who enter politics do it for good reasons in the beginning: altruism, to drive a positive difference, to make the world a better place and improve the lot of their fellow citizens. 

I’m sure for others the drivers might be ambition, ego and perhaps some like the pay cheque.

We have a lot of politics ahead of us as we head towards a general election in October this year. Just six months away.

Provincial New Zealand is certain that there will be a change of government, but current polling indicates that, under the mixed-member proportional (MMP) voting system, an election now would be close and could go either way.

The last election was an aberration driven by a good covid-19 response up to that point by the government and an opposition in shambles. It’s unlikely we will ever see another majority government under MMP again.

Previous MMP elections have been relatively close between the centre left and the centre right.

Forming a government has required horse trading with the likes of NZ First, the Greens, ACT, the Māori Party, and various independents, and that will continue depending on how the cards fall.

However, the Reserve Bank is hellbent on forcing a recession to get on top of inflation and has now got the Official Cash Rate up to 5.25% in quick measure. It was 2008 when we last saw it there, and the increased interest rates and the excessive cost of living driven by inflation and supply chain issues are certainly slowing the economy. You don’t have to be an economist to know this, you can just feel it.

The final quarter of last year saw the economy shrink by a modest 0.6% and in a couple of months we will find out how much the first quarter of this year has shrunk and then it will be official that, with two quarters in a row in decline, we are in recession.

The current problem for the Reserve Bank is that unemployment remains stubbornly at near record lows so until that rises the real impacts of a recession are unlikely to be felt until later in the year and probably into 2024.

It is troubling for many of us that our system is requiring people to lose their jobs and then possibly houses and security so that inflation can be brought under control to benefit the majority.

Remember that, before complaining about the increasing numbers on the unemployment benefit. It will not be a choice for most of them.

It will be how impacted the economy is, come the election, that will likely determine the outcome.

Will this turn into a deeper affair, or will there be the hoped-for soft landing?

James Carville was Bill Clinton’s strategist in his run for the White House in 1992. The United States was experiencing a recession and President George HW Bush was seen as being out of touch with ordinary Americans.

Carville coined the phrase “It’s the economy, stupid,” and Clinton and his campaign hammered away at this so that it became a mantra. It helped them win that election.

National here will be pursuing the same line.

It will be secretly wanting this current recession to really bite deep later in the year and Labour will be doing everything it can to make sure it doesn’t.

Meanwhile the independent Reserve Bank will have a sharp eye on the inflation figures and will be doing its  own thing to force it down.

Stalin said, “It is enough that the people know there was an election. The people who cast the votes decide nothing. The people who count the votes decide everything.”

Sadly, that remains the case for much of the world.

There are only 24 full democracies, covering 8% of the planet’s population.

We have the great fortune of being one of those countries.

For the rest of us who don’t aspire to be politicians, we get to vote and should exercise that privilege.

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