Monday, October 31, 2016

Karl du Fresne: The rise and rise of control-freak government

The ancient Greeks left us several words describing various forms of government: democracy, autocracy and oligarchy, to give just three examples.

But there was one omission, probably because it describes a type of administration that the Greeks never envisaged. For want of a better term, I’ll call it control-freak government.
This is a form of government in which policy-makers, politicians and bureaucrats constantly devise new ways of controlling our behaviour on the pretext that they have to protect us from our own foolishness. Perhaps we could call it a bullyocracy.

Control-freak government is based on the supposition that we’re all basically incapable of making our own responsible decisions. We need paternalistic minders and a suffocating regulatory regime to stop us from getting into trouble.

This busybody culture pervades our lives slowly and insidiously, eventually reaching the point where we become so accustomed to it that we assume it’s the natural order of things and accept restrictions on what we can do without a murmur of complaint.

In the meantime it restricts individual autonomy, erodes personal responsibility and piles needless extra costs on society.

One tiny example: Small-scale cheesemaker Biddy Fraser-Davies recently protested that at least half the $40,000 annual income from her four jersey cows gets swallowed up by government fees.

Fraser-Davies, who farms near Eketahuna, has been hounded for years by food safety officers from the Ministry for Primary Industries. This, incidentally, is the same government department that turns a blind eye to the large-scale, illegal dumping of fish.

Elderly women (Fraser-Davies is 74) are clearly a much more tempting target than big, hairy fishing companies . She says she was recently billed $10,000 for testing 10 of her cheeses and calculates the cost comes to $240 per kilo.

On radio recently, she recalled that after she featured on Country Calendar in 2009, the Food Safety Authority pounced within minutes because it had no record of her having filed a risk management plan. I suppose we should be impressed by the authority’s 24/7 vigilance (it was a Saturday night, after all), but this suggests an almost obsessive level of control-freakery. 

To my knowledge no one ever fell sick or died from eating Fraser-Davies’ cheeses, unless she’s buried the bodies somewhere on her farm.  Perhaps the MPI should send some men to start digging the place up.

To her credit, she refuses to be cowed by the public-sector commissars. This sets her apart from most timid New Zealand business owners, who keep their heads down and meekly comply. Presumably, getting offside with the enforcers is more trouble than it’s worth. 

The MPI justifies its cheese-testing regime because there’s a theoretical risk of harmful pathogens. Eliminating risk can be used to justify all manner of bureaucratic meddling. It’s all part of the grand mission to create a perfect world where Nanny State keeps us all safe.

A priceless example was the edict that went out years ago forbidding brass bands from playing on the backs of trucks. I must have missed the news reports about hapless tuba players toppling from truck decks and being crushed under the wheels while playing God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen in Christmas parades.

Perhaps I also missed hearing the anguished cries of builders and roofers plummeting from house rooftops. There must have been an epidemic of such deaths to justify the requirement that safety scaffolding now be erected around the roofs of houses under construction.

I'm told even chimney sweepers are now saying they can’t work without protective scaffolding, which can bump up the cost of the job from $200 to $1000.

It goes without saying there’s an element of risk in many undertakings. The crucial consideration should surely be whether the action taken to minimise risk is proportionate – or, to put it another way, whether the cost of trying to eliminate risk far outweighs any possible benefit.

Compulsory scaffolding around rooftops may have averted a few broken limbs, but at what cost to house owners and home buyers?

The police, too, have been captured by a control-freak mentality. Just look at their heavy-handed enforcement of liquor controls.

Wellington Police have an “alcohol harm reduction officer” (how Big Brother is that?) who gives the impression of being on a moral crusade. And while police numbers are stretched and burglars are able to strike with apparent impunity, there always seem to be enough officers to operate drink-drive checkpoints in the hope of nabbing some harmless mug who’s unwittingly had one glass of sauvignon blanc too many.

It’s another case of low-hanging fruit. Burglars are hard to catch; women on the way home from bowls, not so much.

Speaking of which, I wrote a column in this space roughly a year ago criticising the lower drink-drive limits introduced in 2014, which I predicted would catch out responsible, otherwise law-abiding people while hard-core recidivist drunk drivers would continue to behave as they always had.

I also said I would quite likely get pinged myself, since the new limits had made it much harder to judge when you were at risk of breaking the law.

My column attracted a pompous response from an overpaid poo-bah in the New Zealand Transport Agency. He wrote that there was no such thing as safe drink-driving, thus confirming what I’d suspected: that the objective of the law change was to deter us from drinking altogether.

But here’s the thing: road deaths have increased since drink-drive limits were lowered, from 293 in 2014 to 319 in 2015 and 263 so far this year compared with 253 at this time last year.

It’s a crude measure, admittedly, but it reminds us of what the economist Milton Friedman said about the folly of judging things by their intentions rather than their results.

Of course a few more country pubs have gone out of business in the meantime, because the people who previously socialised in them are terrified of having one too many and getting caught.

But why should the city-dwelling bureaucrats worry?  They never drank in them anyway. And if they go one over the limit at a fashionable Thorndon cafĂ©, they can just call a cab. Theirs is a different world from the one inhabited by the people whose lives they seek to control.

Karl du Fresne blogs at published in the Dominion Post.


Brian said...

Three Cheers! .At last, a challenge to our Nanny Society and the puritanical bureaucrats that survive on framing new and more absurd regulations, and from a Journalist too, albeit independent, so watch your back Karl; the liberal chardonnay drinkers in Auckland will be choking over their vintage.

Great One Karl, You have covered just what bureaucracy thrives upon, a pyramid of incessant rules and regulations, which are the essence of de humanising us all to a modern state of officialdom slavery.

May I suggest that in the final analysis what this all about? For it must impede financially and socially upon any nation that the outcome will end in degeneration. Yes it is control, and a control which even Hitler and more so Stalin, would have admired for it evolves beneath the radar, stays within in the law (provided the politicians play ball, they always do)! And to top it all, the bureaucratic icing on the cake is that most of us play possum. Fear is the pun intended.

It also points conclusively and ominously, to a back door entrance into a final state of Communism, “Control the people” as Lenin said, and control of the State is assured.

A final thought; “Should Donald Trump enter the White House what will be his action to curb the ever rising bureaucracy in the USA...An American Brexit ?, With this in mind we need one here and now in “God’s Own”.

Alan said...

Good one Karl - spot on. I lived in France for 10 years and spend some months there every year since returning to NZ. Compared with this country FRANCE is a place of wonderful personal freedom. This is a police state by comparison and worsening every day.

Anonymous said...

Did you know also that Brass bands are not allowed to march down the street anymore in cast one of the members falls over and breaks his teeth.
As for the speed limit. Last December I was driving one of my classic vehicles and I felt a vibration. I had been doing the 100 k speed limit but the speed had increased a little as I went up a rise. While concentrating on that vibration, I must have hit the most dangerous speed of 107 kph. This was at night, no one else on the road except two assh'''s of cops coming the other way with nothing better to do that stop me and give me a ticket. 10 unnecessary demerit points as a result of a 104 kph limit on the speed.
That regulation is encouraging accidents to happen by causing either people to have their eyes glued to the speedo , or deciding to drive at 80 kph max on the open road.

What will father xmas bring us for xmas this year. More stupid regulations.

There is an electrician in a city I know that has a garage full of in useable ladders because the new regulations forbid the use of them. How do you change a lightbulb now in a high ceiling room. Set up a scaffolding!!!!!!!


Unknown said...

My sentiments entirely Karl. I just refuse to comply with unreasonable laws as we all should. What a bunch of cowardly sheep many of my countrymen have become. I wrote to the authority on the failure of their lowering of the alcohol drink driving laws to lower the road toll and that they should repeal the law. I got a lame reply that they were still monitoring the effect of the law. I see our road toll here in 5th November 2016 is already higher than the total of last year so I will write again and protest. We all should. Anyone reading this, get off your apathetic arses and do it.
We sorely need a campaign of civil disobedience which could be coordinated on social media where we all agree to drink to just under the former limit and on one specific day all drive around and refuse to pay any fines that we are given. You know the old shove your law. We decide what our community finds acceptable not some mediocre ego on legs in Wellington which was the West Coasters response during 6 o'clock closing. That was when the NZ population were not the pussies they are today though.

Unknown said...

Postcript on my former blog.
Here is the text I just sent to the minister and associate minister of transport. Feel free to copy and paste it to them or express your own indignation with the oppressive nanny state failed laws being instituted in our land
Their emails are
Associate minister
Dear Minister
I see our road toll as at 4th November is already higher than the total last year which was higher than the year before that when you instituted the lower drink driving laws. When are you going to repeal this deadly failed legislation that is destroying the social life of New Zealanders particularly in the country areas of our increasingly oppressed land. As anyone with any common sense can now see this law is contributing to more deaths, not less. It is also having the effect of destroying jobs in the hospitality industry which is also under stress from the ridiculous liquor licensing legislation .
I was recently in Germany and what a breath of fresh air it was to be treated like the adult I am in that cultured land.
Stop treating adult Kiwis like children and repeal this failed legislation and put the limit back to the reasonable former level.

Anonymous said...

It's amazing how government workers and NZTA can change the drink driving limits to endorse their social agenda's and already the result is a road toll increase and more money for government. Sorry but I'm an old man and I will carry on being a responsible drinker doing what l know is realistic and continue to do so without being told what is safe by wankers who continually put more and more restrictions on the NZ public.

Auntie Podes said...

ACC is, I believe, the cause of much of the restrictive legislation imposed upon us. It is just one of the penalties we pay for the cover provided by ACC. This much vaunted scheme, which was supposedly going to provide cover for any accident, has, due to partially to abuse, seen the cover it provides reduced while the cost rises exponentially. At the same time, as Karl points out, 'elf'n'safety come up with a raft of precautionary measures which, without fail, cost to implement many times what they supposedly save. Of course, all these petty impositions have to have their enforcers and inspectors to make sure nobody is breaking "The Rools". In their turn, the enforcers and inspectors must have their testers, examiners, wage clerks, support staff and, above all, managers to keep them in order. Also, the fact that the system invites and most certainly gets abused, requires more public "servants" to gather information about the abuse before investigating and prosecuting a rather small percentage of the ratbags cashing-in on their fraud.

It makes me wonder whether it is worth our while having a gummint at all. Think about it, many of these oh so passionate politicians we are foolish enough to elect feel that they actually have to do something to justify their existence. So, while they sit back in their luxurious green leather armchairs pretending to listen to their peers waffling away about their pet irritations, they ponder about what laws and regulations they can suggest to suppress the itches that they suffer. Year after year all these clowns write laws which impose more and more costs, restrictions and downright impositions on the long suffering electorate.

Is it worth it? Is it blazes!

Ernest said...

I was talking to a man working on the roof of a new built house and raised the question about safety with the scaffolding requirement now imposed upon us. He said he had been working as a roofer for 30 years and had never once had an accident because he always followed the basic rules which dictated how he moved about on a roof. He also said that his work mates did not suffer from falls. He also stated that the scaffolding rules placed an additional equipment rental charge of $2,000 minimum on the house buyer/owner and slowed down the work of the roofer thus increasing the cost of the particular job. Of course the politicians would call this progress!!

Dave said...

Two council employees turned up to do an inspection for our cafe food rating, the total inspection took about 10 minutes, what made me laugh was the two council staff put on white coats and hair nets just so they could take our fridge temps and visual inspection. Even out staff do not have to wear white coats and hair nets!.

Peter said...

Yes, we are al seeing it and laughing at how foolish it is. What are we doing about it. Time to sack the ompous politicians and get some common sense.

Talking of the useable ladders - why do we have to pay for a top rung when we can't stand on it? I have great old ladders which have no problems with me climbing right up them!!!

Through it all we wrap children in cotton wool so they never learn by doing!!!

Too much