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Today is a FREE taste of an Insight Politics article by writer Nathan Smith.
What Are You Willing to Give Up?
A Tricky Question Loaded with Assumptions.
What are you willing to give up so you can return to normal life? That tricky question is loaded with assumptions.
It’s a bit like switching on the TV to watch a 100 m race when the runners are already 99 m down the track. The whole thing reeks of being way too late. But this question is being asked by many Kiwis when they see suggestions for vaccine passports, as reported in the NZ Herald:
“A new vaccine passport being developed by health officials will be in the form of an app that people will be able to download in just over a month’s time…
“Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson told TVNZ’s Breakfast that the technology around vaccine certificates was being worked on alongside members of the business sector – acknowledging the proof of vaccination people may need to give in future when attending a concert or event, for example.”
Note that Robertson says a vaccine passport is “being worked on alongside members of the business sector”. If you want to know how the “business sector” is thinking, read the New Zealand Initiative:
“…A simple amendment to the Human Rights Act, specific to Covid vaccination status, would solve this problem.
“The Human Rights Act aside, employers can make it a condition of employment that new workers are vaccinated. But for most employers, employment laws will prevent them from mandating vaccination as a condition to continued employment for their existing workforce. Changes to the Employment Relations Act are needed to allow this.”
Ok, so NZ Initiative chairman Roger Partridge says companies are willing to step around rights. Good to know. It’s worth pointing out before going any further that if businesses could abrogate the Human Rights Act and the Employment Relations Act, they would do so – tomorrow. “Rights” only increase the friction of doing business and friction is pain for business.
So if vaccine passports are introduced to control the movement of Kiwis within their own country, then the pressure for such passports will come from business and their paid-for thinktanks. It won’t be the government that introduces them directly. Remember the maths when/if that happens.
Why do vaccine passports matter to businesses? More importantly, are the interests of businesses aligned with the interests of Kiwis?
Because when you ask it like that, you are forced to answer from first principles. Doing that is not as easy as it sounds and often reveals uncomfortable truths about the world. But exposing first principles is the only way to answer the question: what are you willing to give up?
The first principle of doing business is to convince other people that the money in their pocket is better off in the company’s pocket. The aim for all (competent) businesses is to create a monopoly. After all, monopoly is for winners and competition is for losers. In other words, the natural end-point of a successful business is to become the state, since the state holds the monopoly on all business.
Any talk of “Kiwi companies”, “sustainability” or “stakeholders” is just marketing-speak. Of course, many CEOs are deeply sincere in believing these things. But, like I said, these people are the losers of the business world. The logic of business is monopoly, nothing else.
Done right, this means business is the same thing as empire. The logic of empire sees borders as a threat. Only by dissolving all borders into one empire can a polity ever feel truly safe. Same goes with supply chains. The Vestey Brothers knew that any piece of the supply chain that wasn’t owned by their company was a threat. So they bought everything.
New Zealand companies will pretend that vaccine passports are about keeping Kiwis safe. But their core aim is to reopen the borders since, as Sir John Key once said, “New Zealand won’t get rich by selling to itself.”
What these companies will never mention, however, is that Covid-19 is a direct consequence of global supply chains and the frictionless travel they lobbied for. The corollary of globalisation was always the spread of infectious diseases. What surprised epidemiologists is that a pandemic took so long to arrive.
This also means the Human Rights Act and the Employment Relations Act simply do not mean very much to New Zealand companies operating at a global level. In fact, given that a large chunk of their workforce and supply chains are outside New Zealand, these Acts are largely irrelevant to them. Abrogating rights and encouraging vaccine passports are in their rational self-interest.
Does this sound like their interests are aligned with the interests of normal Kiwis? Didn’t think so.
But what exactly are the interests of normal Kiwis? Let’s keep thinking from first principles.
If you call yourself a “Kiwi,” that means you are part of a community. And the primary interest of any community is its security. We call the mechanism to achieve security “government” which follows a simple transaction: I give up my autonomy in exchange for security. This “social contract” is why the government has a monopoly on force.
A different way of thinking about the monopoly on force is that a person can only “own” property if they can defend it. By creating the social contract with a government, each of us voluntarily gives up ownership of all property. Since the government has the guns, it owns all the things.
We don’t sign this “contract” as we pop out of the womb. It is an assumption built into the legal reality of the modern nation-state. This legal reality is the result of a weird process called “war”.
War is as the thinnest section of the hourglass-shaped funnel called “cultural evolution”. At one end of the funnel are the current legal parameters. Naturally, not everyone agrees with these. So if these arguments cannot be resolved within the legal parameters, society must pass through the thin section of the funnel called “war” to decide the matter.
The idea is to pass through this skinny section as quickly as possible to limit the bloodshed and create a new set of laws. It’s a bit cartoonish, but this is essentially how the legal parameters of the nation-state were created back in 1648 (with a few software upgrades – following wars – in the centuries since).
This is not a casual exercise. Highlighting these realities lets us answer the question at the start of this column.
“You” are not “giving up” anything because you do not own anything. You do not own anything because you cannot defend your property. You cannot defend your property because the social contract with the government involved trading your autonomy for security.
The only access to influence government decisions for 99% of Kiwis is to tick a box once every three years at an election. None of us (aside from during a few referenda) have any real influence whatsoever on the writing or passage of legislation or regulations. The workings of government are entirely and inescapably unavailable to the average person. This is by design.
Only by banding together can some citizens wield disproportionate influence on government. Vehicles like lobby groups, think tanks and unions can wedge open the system, build relationships with civil servants and bend their ear to manipulate procedural outcomes. The civil service is just a bunch of people who can be persuaded.
The thing is, the companies advocating for vaccine passports all know that the only way to get anything done is to band together by using lobby groups, unions and think tanks like the NZ Initiative.
By the way, all these methods are also available to you, dear reader. And that’s my key point.
I understand that we are all convinced at primary school that voting gives us power and “human rights” can never be revoked. You are welcome to believe all that. But try to understand that the companies paying for the NZ Initiative’s influence do not believe that – and they are winning.
The “human rights” you are afraid of “giving up” are a pleasant fiction. Always have been. They exist only because the government allows them to exist. If business groups find a way to lobby the government to abrogate those rights, those rights will be abrogated. This is the mathematics of the situation.
If you can’t defend it, you don’t own it. This is true for business as well. The government could dissolve all business today (unwise, but possible) and there is nothing companies could do about it. Fonterra does not own an attack helicopter division. If it did, it would be the government.
But what Fonterra does have is the means to influence the government to align with Fonterra’s self-interest.
And I am trying to tell you: so do you.
The basic fact is that the government has all the power to remove your rights, to introduce vaccine passports. If you don’t like this, the only way to stop the government is to band together, just as the companies did. If the government still does not listen, then it will be time to create a new government.
However, just because the companies can band together does not mean you will be allowed to do the same. But then that will just prove what I’ve been saying all along: if you can’t defend your rights, you don’t have rights.
Your move, New Zealand.
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