Here are some questions that I think about when I hear political debates, policy announcements, and the like. Hopefully some of you will agree that these are things worth thinking about. Some (perhaps more than half) are traditionally associated with the right wing, some with the left, and I think a few defy those political categories. I couldn’t manage to add anything witty to these ramblings, so I apologise if you fall asleep while reading. (My tentative answers are in brackets, obviously)
– What is the government responsible for? (Wish I knew)
– Are any aspects of ‘quality of life’ outside the scope of the government’s interests? If so, what? (Dunno)
-If the government finds itself with the ability to do something with morally good consequences, is that sufficient justification for it to do it, or are there other principled limits to the proper exercise of its power? (There are some limits, not sure what)
– Is there a ‘law above the law’ or something analogous? Why/why not, and if yes, then what does it say, and what role might it play? If not, then what, if anything, constitutes the political ideal, and what justifies political change? (Controversial claim: if there is no law above the law, then all political posturing becomes pointless)
– What policies are democratically justified by a mere majority (51% of parliament) – any and all?
Note that the majority in NZ will tend to favour policies that benefit the middle class, or for which others would bear a disproportionately greater cost. If there is a hierarchy of rights, with some being inalienable, should this be reflected in what politicians can enact? (I know many law students will be upset at me, but I favour a fairly solidly entrenched constitution for this reason)
– Do citizens have the right to enforce their morality on others?
(If not, then the concept of democratic government falls to the ground. Morality is very broad, and most political issues seem to me to have a moral dimension. I tentatively suggest that the political left, insofar as they are fans of bigger government – government playing a role in more areas of society – are in a sense more ‘moralistic’ than the political right. This is not by itself a problem in my view, as moralism need not be negative – it’s just something to be aware of.)
– Does the government have a duty to protect vulnerable people against abuse? (Presumably)
– Should the government protect the life of unborn children? If so, to what extent? (Yes – to at least the current extent legislated for).
– Should the government legislate against physician-assisted suicide? (Yes)
– Does society’s obvious interest in family life (the general wellbeing of families) translate directly into a government interest – and if so, in what cases, and what tools are appropriate to use to further any such interest? (Yes. Dunno)
– What are the most pressing challenges for our natural environment, and what is the government’s role in mitigating or counteracting these? (Dunno – perhaps those relating to agriculture? Dunno.)
– To what extent, precisely, is the NZ government morally obligated to seek the welfare of non-citizens (e.g. with overseas aid)? (Perhaps more than currently achieved)
– What determines the ideal tax rate for different income brackets? e.g., at what point does “tax the rich more!” become unjustified? (Dunno)
– What does compassion look like or even mean when you’re spending what at least started out as other people’s money? (Dunno)
– How should poverty be defined? How should it be dealt with? (Dunno, but I think not solely in a ‘relative’ sense).
I do have broad interests in ethics and public policy, but I’m an amateur and woefully unqualified to give answers to most of these questions. (But no less an amateur than many people airing their opinions). In the previous two elections I gave my party vote to the Maori Party and United Future. Not sure who will get my vote this year, I just know it won’t be the Greens, Mana, or the Act party. I am socially conservative, I care about the trees, and I am a fiscal pragmatist, whatever the heck that means.