Tuesday, August 22, 2017

A faulty compass?

As New Zealand's election campaign begins many Kiwis have been using the Political Compass website, which asks its visitors a series of questions, gives them a place on the political spectrum according to their answers, and then suggests which political party best represents their views. 

I visited the Political Compass site, and was struck by the vagueness and ambiguity of some of its questions. There's the question, for instance, which asks whether military action that violates international law is ever justified. It's hard to answer this question with a simple I agree or I disagree, because the nature of the military action isn't specified. 

I protested against the US invasion of Iraq, which was most people considered a violation of international law, but if I think that, for example, the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia to remove Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge from power at the end of the seventies was justified, despite the fact that it went against international law. So how am I to answer?
There's the question which asks us to agree or disagree with the statement 'It's a sad commentary on our society that water is now bottled and sold as a commodity'. Without context, though, that statement is so vague as to have little or no meaning. 

In Bolivia in the '90s water was briefly privatised, and could only be collected and sold by certain private companies. It was even illegal to collect rainwater. In this context, I'd certainly condemn the commodification of water.
But the situation is different in New Zealand, where water is plentiful and nobody has a monopoly on collecting and providing it. Many people on the left would feel there's nothing wrong with the commodification and export of Kiwi water, as long as this is properly regulated and taxed (a socialist might add that the bottling and marketing of the water ought to be controlled by the community, and any profits from the enterprise ought to be shared). 

And yet if I disagree with Political Compass' statement about the commodification of water being a sad thing then I'm pushed towards the right of the Political Compass. Free trade is yet another area where the Political Compass is confused. The Compass asks us to agree or disagree with free trade, and pushes us to the right if we agree and to the left if we disagree.
Historically, though, the left has not been dogmatically in favour of either free trade or protectionism. Positions have varied from time to time and place to place. In early nineteenth century Britain it was the Conservatives who supported protectionism, in the form of the Corn Laws that drove up domestic food prices, and liberals and radicals who demanded free trade, so that the poor could feed themselves. Part of the criticism of the proposed trans-Pacific free trade deal was that it wouldn't really have been an exercise in free trade, because it would have preserved and created protections and advantages for powerful American companies.
I personally support the right of small Pacific nations like Tonga and Vanuatu to export their goods freely to New Zealand, but support the right of those nations to put up barriers to protect themselves from undesirable Kiwi exports, like the dodgy mutton flaps we dump on them. I think these small and poor nations deserve some advantages when they trade with us. I don't see, then, how I'm supposed to answer Political Compass' question about free trade with a simple 'agree' or 'disagree'.

The Political Compass is a great idea, but the questions it asks are poorly worded.

[Posted by Scott Hamilton]

26 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

This man is an internet troll. Its his compass that is faulty. He is an unemployed alcoholic and kava addict who bludges off the taxpayer and his family. He should shut up shop and take this destructive nonsense down. He thinks he can write, the rest of the world says he is a hack.

6:38 am  
Blogger Richard said...

I like this Scott. In the (more or less style) of myself and the Langpo's but here you have a key? In an artwork I did the numbers and so on referred to important dates in my own life or they were multiples of it and connected to certain historical events.

But some of the grids I did were also more or less random.

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