Thursday, April 20, 2006

The Solomons

A reader has asked what I think of the government's decision to send more police and soldiers to the Solomon Islands. Really, I don't have any problem with this. The mission - providing law and order - is essentially humanitarian, and is being conducted at the request of the Solomon Islands government and with a mandate from the Pacific Forum. I don't see anything there to object to.

For those wanting some background, Graham Reid has an excellent summary over on Public Address. In brief, this is a country where the idea of government is weak, and where tribalism and corruption appear entrenched. The current riots - sparked by the (possibly corrupt) election of a Prime Minister tarred with the corruption of the previous government - are just the latest symptom of this. Fixing this will take a long time, and any solution is in the hands of the people of the Solomons themselves (as iraq shows, political cultures cannot be imposed from the top down; they need to grow organicly from the bottom up). But in the meantime, I don't see any problem with helping them out by acting as a neutral guarantor of law and order.

The worry is if we cease to be neutral and start favouring (or being seen to favour) some factions or solutions over others. And when that happens, it will be time to come home. But until then, I think the assistance we're giving to the Solomons is a Good Thing, and something worth supporting.


I just don't get how it's in NZs interests to provide charity to the Solomons. Would further violence in the Solomons actually have any effect on NZ citizens?

If not, then we shouldn't be there.

Posted by Duncan Bayne : 4/20/2006 03:08:00 PM

"A reader has asked"

Idiot/Savant answers readers questions! Next week, it's the gardening hour with special guest blogger Maggie Barry!


Posted by Sanctuary : 4/20/2006 03:26:00 PM

Well, it was also the easiest lead-in to the post. Writing these things isn't as easy as it looks sometimes...

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 4/20/2006 03:43:00 PM

I/S, while you're answering questions, how about mine? :-) I still don't get how we benefit from being in the Solomons. I'm presuming you do, as you're okay with us being there.

Posted by Duncan Bayne : 4/20/2006 04:12:00 PM

I don't think we benefit at all in any direct sense; we're helping primarily out of humanitarian concern for the welfare of people in our region.

You may disagree with this, but as I've pointed out to you on many ocassions, the vast majority of people in this country are not selfish Libertarians.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 4/20/2006 04:27:00 PM

I think it's in NZ's interest to have stable neigbours in the South Pacific - although the practical fallout if things went (more) pearshaped in the Solomons is slight - they *are* some distance away. We also have an interest in not attracting outside powers to intervene in the region - such interventions are usually a Bad Thing.

There is also a humanitarian imperative to help the Solomonese (sp?) - although how much they want to be helped remains to be seen.

Posted by Rich : 4/20/2006 04:35:00 PM

There's nothing wrong with humanitarian concerns - if you fund them out of your own, rather than taxpayers, pockets.

If benefit to NZ shouldn't be the standard by which taxpayers money is spent, then what should the standard be?

Posted by Duncan Bayne : 4/20/2006 05:05:00 PM

Duncan: the taxpayers of New Zealand seem quite happy for it to be funded out of their pockets. There's no great demand electorally, for example, for a party which would cut off all foreign aid. But clearly, we're simply far less selfish than you.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 4/20/2006 05:10:00 PM

I'm not asking whether voters like the idea, I'm asking what criteria you think should be used to determine whether NZ taxpayers money should be spent on peacekeeping in the Solomons.

So far, you've said it hasn't anything to do with whether NZ benefits, and hinted that it might have something to do with whether the country in question is in our 'region'.

Or ... perhaps I'm being dense and that was your answer - solely that voters want it to be spent?

And if you're in the mood for answering questions, why do you keep repeating the (blatantly obvious) fact that most NZers don't vote Libertarianz?

Do you think I'm not aware of that fact? Do you think that your readers aren't aware of it? It certainly has no bearing on the validity of my argument, or on the validity of yours.

Posted by Duncan Bayne : 4/20/2006 05:16:00 PM

Duncan: I'm quite happy for voters to decide. This isn't a question which threatens anyone's fundamental human rights; rather its a question of "what projects do we want to pursue collectively". And that I think is a question best answered by the members of our society, through the democratic system.

As for the Libertarian thing, I keep saying it because it doesn't seem to have sunk in yet. Your chosen system may be marvellous, Rand's (or Nozick's, or whoever's) gift to humanity - but the brute fact is that the vast majority of New Zealanders (rightly or wrongly) comprehensively reject that system. They do not think, for example, that the poor should be left to starve; they do not think that the rich should be allowed to buy elections or that government should be for sale; and they do not think that they should be at the mercy of their employers or supermarket owners. To the contrary, they see government as a way of protecting themselves from people who do think such things (and want to do them). The validity of arguments isn't about numbers, but politics ultimately is - and so unless you guys start winning elections, I think a pointed reminder that "sorry, we're not Libertarians" is a perfectly adequete response.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 4/20/2006 05:48:00 PM

Or, to put it another way: you keep asking why policy isn't the way you want it to be. In a democratic polity, "most people don't want things that way" is a perfectly good explanation.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 4/20/2006 06:04:00 PM

Duncan - we should be helping them out now rather than have a larger cost later on. Refugees who have seen horrific killings will be on our doorstep if that violence gets out of hand. A selfish explanation for ya!

Posted by Anonymous : 4/20/2006 08:00:00 PM

Anon: actually, there's a better selfish reason: so we can say "no thanks, we gave at the office" next time the Americans come calling for help with Iraq or (Cthulhu forbid) Iran.

Involvement in the Solomons seems far preferable to involvement in their hare-brained schemes.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 4/20/2006 10:09:00 PM

I/S: So, you're saying that we'd be somehow obliged to help America if we didn't help out in the Solomons? What makes it good to help out in the Solomons, but bad to help out in the Middle East?

I'm really not trying to be obtuse here, I'm trying to understand the value judgements that lead you to support NZs (taxpayer funded) humanitarian efforts in the Solomons.

W.r.t. Libertarianism - have you actually read our policies? I mean, I'm guessing you haven't, because otherwise you'd simply be lying when you say it's our desire for the "poor to be left to starve".

Posted by Duncan Bayne : 4/21/2006 08:12:00 AM


Thanks for taking the time to respond.

While you explained the decisions you reached (e.g. "help those who require it most" and "focus on helping our neighbours and friends first"), I'm curious to know what value judgements got you to those conclusions.

I mean, no-where in there do you use the word 'deserve'. Is it implicit, or do you not consider justice an important principle when deciding how to spend charitably?

Also, do you acknowledge that there is a difference between voluntarily spending your own money on overseas charity, and spending taxpayers money on the same charities?

Posted by Duncan Bayne : 4/21/2006 11:08:00 AM

Duncan, I find your argument somewhat shortsighted. By helping other countries to maintain democratic mechanisms and the rule of law we help contribute to a world order of free and peaceful states. Surely you can see that this has a large, if somewhat indirect, benefit for New Zealand taxpayers?

One more question: Should the New Zealand government have spent taxpayers' money to go to war against Germany in World War II?

Posted by Anonymous : 4/21/2006 11:24:00 AM


It's my assertion that the Solomons is too small to be worth it. Simply put, the Solomons could go to hell in a handcart and it wouldn't effect the national security of NZ - which is the only justification for NZ *taxpayers* money being spent on it.

Sure, NZ should have fought in WWII, because the alternative was being conquered by either the NAZIs or later Japan.

Should they have fought in WWI? Not as far as I can tell.

Posted by Duncan Bayne : 4/21/2006 02:31:00 PM


There is no evidence whatsoever for that happening, or even being possible. So, until there is, it can be discounted.

Without any evidence, the chances of "Solomon-lead domino effect" are exactly equal to "Grey-Alien-lead domino effect" - absolutely zero.

Posted by Duncan Bayne : 4/21/2006 03:36:00 PM

Your arguments seem (from the outside) to be purely logical. Plenty of people (me included) don't believe in pure logic (ie maximum utility etc etc).

When I help my neighbour it's not because I'm afraid of them, because I want them to be nice to me, because it gives me a nice feeling, or whatever. It's not 'because' anything. I do it because I want to do it.
I realise that may not make sense to you, or you may not believe it, or you may think I'm unaware of my motivations. But rather, I think attempting to reduce all human interactions to transactioanal utility is simply naiive.
In terms of the Solomons, we have the capacity to assist, and perhaps as members of the pacific community, the moral obligation. If it needs to rationalised in terms of utility, we have a military capacity that we're paying for regardless, and the opportunity for it to get more experience at peacekeeping in the Pacific where we attempt to extend an influence.

Posted by Anonymous : 4/21/2006 04:31:00 PM

It's not much about charity, there's a matter of genocide going on regarding a minority immigrant community that really did need stopped, as required by treaty.

Sure, it's pretty damn soft in terms of genocide, but the response seems to have knocked it on the head with minimal force thus far, so all seems well as far as such things go.

One would hope our govt. is applying some not-so-subtle hints for that lot to clean up their image regarding corruption and electoral integrity.

Posted by tussock : 4/24/2006 03:34:00 AM