Wednesday, July 20, 2005



"Compromise" is not a dirty word

So, what do I think of Nandor Tanczos' proposal to replace criminal convictions for cannabis posession with instant fines? It's unquestionably a backdown from full legalisation - but its also unquestionably an improvement all the same. At the moment, thousands of New Zealanders have their lives blighted every year by criminal convictions for something which should not be a crime, and which nobody under the age of 50 truly gives a rat's arse about anymore. This bill will end that. And it looks achievable; far more MPs will be comfortable voting for this, as they can cover their arse with their older constitudents and say truthfully that they haven't voted for legalisation and that the law still "sends a message" (even if people will continue to ignore it).

People like Not PC may oppose the bill for reasons of ideological purity, but I think that is a mistake. Instead, I think we should support the bill as a progressive step, celebrate if it passes, and then turn right around and keep on fighting. "Compromise" is not a dirty word if it leads to progress, but we do not have to accept only the progress we are offered.

10 comments:

Idiot,

Like your style. Compromise is the art of politics. Most political change is also incremental - and for a good reason. It allows flawed changes ot be corrected.

Revolutionary change informed by idological purity is just benign dictatorship in drag. And the benign tag never last long...

Posted by Matt : 7/20/2005 08:19:00 PM

Idiot,

Like your style. Compromise is the art of politics. Most political change is also incremental - and for a good reason. It allows flawed changes to be corrected, and positive ones built apon.

Revolutionary change informed by idological purity is just benign dictatorship in drag. And the benign tag never last long...

Posted by Matt : 7/20/2005 08:20:00 PM

Well said I/S. Couldn't agree more, just as I argued on PC's post about this issue.

Posted by BerlinBear : 7/20/2005 11:16:00 PM

Matt: I'd say that most change is incremental because that it what is politically possible at the time, not because it is necessarily better that way. As for allowing flawed changes to be corrected, in politics whether a policy is "flawed" is very much in the eye of the beholder - and one person's "flaw" may be someone else's primary virtue. We have only to look at the debate over civil unions vs proper gay marriage to see this...

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 7/21/2005 12:00:00 AM

Idiot,

It is true that in policy over "moral" issues (civil unions, republicanism) and the like, one mans flaw is another's virtue.

However with a wide range of other (and I would argue more substantive) issues, there is considerable agreement on prefered outcomes. Law and order policy should reduce crime, economic policy should grow the pie and the like. (There will, of course, be debates around the margins as to what is most effective.)

I may be speaking form a public policy perspective (university indoctrination via an honours degree), but I think there is considerable merit in an incremental approach. It allows general consensus to be formed, impacts to be assessed, and greatly reduces shocks associated with revolutionary policy.

I'd put a link to Charles Linbolm's classic 1959 aticle "The Science of Muddling Through", but it doesn't seem to be online. Bugger.

As an old union worker (roughly) told Stud Terkel in Hope Dies Last, when discussing interaction with younger student activists: "they see political change as a sprint, we see it as a marathon."

Posted by Matt : 7/21/2005 12:42:00 AM

"they can cover their arse with their older constituents" - maybe Matt Robson could put in an amendment making illegal for the over 50s to smoke dope, just like he wants to do with making it illegal for under 20 year olds to drink alcohol.
More seriously, the prohibition abolition is a long time coming! And it doesn't tackle any change for other drugs: they stay firmly in the commercial hands of gangs (and part time tv stars hangers-on).

Posted by Uroskin : 7/21/2005 09:58:00 AM

Matt: if there's agreement on outcomes, then it is by definition not a political issue. And the desirability of increased standards of living or reduced crime aren't political issues - the political issues are over who benefits, who pays, how much, and what tradeoffs will be made in the process.

In some policy areas there may be reason for caution due to uncertainty about the outcomes or the reversability of change. But unless you're an outright Burkean, there's no merit in incrementalism for its own sake. It's simply a question of tactics and pragmatics, of how to get there from here (assuming you have a specific "there" in mind, rather than simply crufting solutions on top of one another).

As for sprints and marathons, of course its a marathon. Rome wasn't built in a day, and you don't change the world overnight. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't take the opportunity for a sprint if it presents itself. In this case, one hasn't presented itself, so you do what you can, and then keep right on pushing.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 7/21/2005 10:58:00 AM

I'd dispute that everyone agrees that "increased standards of living or reduced crime" are intrinsically desirable.

There are downsides to increasing living standards - and those greener than me will have views on this.

Equally, there is a minimum level of crime commensurate with a free and vibrant society (in my view). North Korea is (probably) mostly crime free.

Posted by Rich : 7/21/2005 11:35:00 AM

"they see political change as a sprint, we see it as a marathon."
So how come the enactment of prohibition on alcohol and drugs took no time at all (outlawing something is always politically easier than sensibly dealing with it) while current dismantling of all that past misguided law takes a snail's pace?

Posted by Uroskin : 7/21/2005 12:38:00 PM

Rich: see the mention of "tradeoffs" above. I don't think any Green would disagree that an increased standard of living and material comfort is desirable; what they question is whether it can be done sustainably (for various interpretations of "sustainability"). Likewise, I don't think anyone actually disagrees that the optimum level of crime is none - but as you point out, we are not willing to live in a police state or pursue the Judge Death Solution to achieve it.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 7/21/2005 01:29:00 PM