Wednesday, 14 January 2015

False equivalences

In which Gordon Campbell reckons free-marketers are potential terrorists:
The problem, as Caryl says, is not religion. It is fanaticism. The problem is extremism in the service of an idea, and secular materialists are just as prone to that excess as the religiously inclined. Arguably the fanatical ideologues of market economics have done more damage in New Zealand – both to individuals and to the social fabric – than religion has in the past 30 years. Income inequality breeds violent responses, too. Just as surely as jihadi preachers. Perhaps if we were serious about this Je Suis Charlie stuff, we would be calling for SIS surveillance of Treasury economists.
Campbell did correctly note that communist fanatics were some of the 20th Century's greatest monsters, so at least there's that.

But a few notes:

  • Hard to say that religion's done much of anything in New Zealand over the last 30 years. Religious people might have delayed gay marriage for a few years, but it seems unlikely that New Zealand would have gone there much more quickly anyway. Similarly, they posed little barrier to prostitution's legalisation. Religion's kinda meh here, so hard to point to gross benefits or gross harms of any substance. I'd expect that Tamaki's done a fair bit of harm in extracting from poor communities, but they're choosing to give him money, so who am I to judge?
  • The 80s transition did impose demonstrable costs on a lot of people who lost their jobs at the meatworks and in other protected industries. If we take a gross cost measure, I expect that the market reforms led to greater gross costs in New Zealand than did religion. But they also provided substantial gross benefits: New Zealand is now much richer than it otherwise would have been had it stuck with Muldoonism. Net benefits of opening to foreign trade and liberalising the economy have been rather large. Nobody's now demanding that Japanese companies disassemble fully assembled TVs before shipping them here to be reassembled by Kiwi workers - for example. 
  • There's some evidence that inequality reduces crime rather than breeding violent responses, at least in US data. 
  • I'd be surprised if at least some Treasury economists didn't already have security clearances, so Campbell might have had his wish. I hope he's here engaging in hyperbole though rather than actually wanting the state to spy on economists. I also don't quite get why he reckons Treasury to be a hotbed of market fanaticism. The whole living standards framework there now being pushed seems more a way of ex post justifying darned near anything the analyst wants to support rather than any kind of free-market extremism.
Fanatical supporters of freedom for everybody, fanatical people who demand the murder of others - all much of a muchness for Gordon Campbell. Keep that in mind when reading his op-eds.

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