The Greferendum has left me certain of just one thing

I can’t say I have a strong opinion on whether Greece should have voted Yes or No in the referendum. It seems like both outcomes lead to uncertainty, and both have major downsides.

One thing I can say for certain though: we shouldn’t be celebrating this as a serious victory for democracy.

When the Council of Europe thinks Greece hasn’t met it’s fairly mild guidelines, I don’t think we should be using them as a case study for how to do direct democracy. I don’t think we’d accept less than two weeks of decision making in a referendum in the UK, and I don’t think we should hail it as a victory just because we agree with the results.

Less than two weeks to campaign, unbalanced coverage, and no opportunity for observation. None of that sounds like a strong democracy to me.

Perhaps the practical need to make a decision quickly outweighed the needs of a fair democracy – but if that’s the case, why was this referendum held at all? For me it just leaves a sour taste.

Immigration: unequivocally good?

Michael Clemens from the Centre for Global Development on immigration [emphasis mine]:

The research we have shows that immigration has had a positive effect on economic growth in Europe overall. This remains true in economists’ most sophisticated forecasts for the future. Christian Lutz and Ingo Wolter forecast a positive effect of immigration on German economic growth. Katerina Lisenkova and Miguel Sanchez forecast a positive effect of immigration on UK economic growth. And so on.

I would go as far as to say that this is a consensus opinion among economists. That is saying a lot, because economists are known for putting caveats on everything. But all the serious evidence we have points to large gains in overall economic activity from reduced barriers to labor mobility. Ninety-six percent of American labor economists agree that the economic benefits of US immigration exceed the losses.

That is essentially unanimity. While a handful of economists make vague claims of economic harm from immigration, they generally have not done any peer-reviewed economic research to support that claim, and their views should be regarded as political opinions rather than reflecting economic expertise.

Of course, speed matters. There are many reasons to expect the impact of a million immigrants to depend on whether they arrive over three years or over 20 years. This is largely absent from public debate, which tends to focus instead on absolutes like “stop them all” or “let them all in immediately.”

A more nuanced debate would begin from the solid consensus of serious economic research that there are large overall economic benefits, and discuss how to transition in order to capture those benefits. Economic development in poor countries is associated with more emigration—not less—for the same reasons that you’re more likely to see people from an outlying neighborhood living and working in an upscale part of your town-center when that outlying neighborhood gets richer. One of the great policy challenges of the 21st century is how to build policies that translate mobility into economic benefit, rather than building naval blockades and mass-detention camps.

More of interest from Michael in Vice

I have recently been struggling to come up with a single policy/movement that would have a greater impact than opening borders (even gradually).


Is it the responsibility of citizens to vote?

As the election draws near a common phrase has been cropping up on my Facebook feed: “it is the responsibility of citizens to vote”. And that phrase makes me uncomfortable.

Until recently I couldn’t articulate why, but the recent debate in US politics on compulsory voting gave me some clarity. It is simply because the correct phrase should be “it is the responsibility of citizens to use their vote responsibly”. An irresponsible vote is not one that strengthens democracy or improve a country’s ability to govern.

Voting responsibly doesn’t mean that people should vote for who I want them to (whenever I decide who that is anyway), or that I think protest votes don’t have a place in politics. It simply means it is the responsibility of a voter to consider their choices carefully – not to tick a box without thought.

Compulsory voting discussions gave clarity to me here because they are the enemy of responsible voting. Even when there is a “none of the above option” it encourages lazy voting. Why not tick a party box if you have to turn up anyway? Might as well tick something, even if you haven’t considered the options much.

Voting should be a conscious choice, with a deliberate thought behind your decision to change the place you live on through politics.

Countries like Australia are not better democracies because of compulsory voting – they are worse. And even in non-compulsory world we need to be careful of what we are asking citizens to do on polling day, and the somewhat lazy rhetoric we use to get people out to vote (nit-picker that I am).

That said, get out there and vote on 7th May, just think about it first!

Are police cameras such an obvious win?

Recently read this interesting article from Bloomberg on the perils of police cameras. They seem like such an easy and obvious win in response to incidents like Ferguson, but Bloomberg make a strong argument for why it isn’t quite so simple.

On recruitment and effective policing:

Police cameras are also prone to intentional abuse. With mysterious frequency, they seem to accidentally get switched off or malfunctionat critical moments. One obvious remedy is to require that cops always keep them on. But that can be counterproductive. Witnesses and victims may be less forthcoming on camera. Attracting competent officers could become harder if their every interaction is recorded. Crucially, officers may simply avoid engaging certain communities, or avoid areas where confrontations are likely, if they know they’re being filmed.

On privacy:

equipping police with cameras and audio recorders means that they’re constantly conducting surveillance on innocent civilians — and potentially storing it all. Police frequently enter private homes and encounter people in medical emergencies who may not want to be filmed. Some officers may be tempted to record people on the basis of race or religion. And some departments have asserted that the public has no right to see such footage.

Having recently read The Circle, this particular that seems particularly resonant to me – do we really want the police to surveil us constantly?

The leadership debates fail to impress

Amongst the top qualities and abilities I want the leader of my country are:

  • ability to negotiate
  • ability to manage and work with others
  • ability to strategise

Being a strong public debater doesn’t seem to me to directly be a strong qualification for governing.

In that respect I’m not convinced the leadership debates in the way they are formatted will give us any useful information about who we should vote for. Instead they will mislead us into believing personality and polemical speeches are things we should care about most.

They aren’t.

That isn’t to say we shouldn’t be testing the parties and their leadership, but the importance attached to the leadership debates is bizarre.