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July 13, 2008 | by  | in Online Only |
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An unedited interview with Jordan Carter – Labour Candidate for Hunua

I sat down with the Labour Party Candidate for Hunua – Jordan Carter. What follows is the unedited transcription of that interview. Topics ranged from economics, homosexual politics, internet policy, and David Farrar. Enjoy.


What qualifications did you attain during your academic life?

Academic? I’ve got a BA in politics and geography, and a Bcom in economics from the University of Auckland, and I have a first class BA honours in politics and international relations from Victoria. And im currently enrolled, although I’ve suspended it this year, in an MA thesis at Victoria.

Why Geography?

Umm, at high school when I finished in ’96, my two best subjects were economics and geography, so I started a BA in geography, and a Bcom in economics at Auckland, its that tragic, and went from there to politics and added it on. So it was the two things I was good at, and interested in. And they go together quite well actually, because one of the flaws of economic thinking is that people ignore space. They ignore the fact that economic activity occurs in places and people live in places. The Economic conception of the market is not attached to place. It’s not attached to geography. That’s why; some of the more extreme economic theories don’t work in practice, because they ignore that basic factor of distance. And so that has been helpful both in economics and in geography, they interact quite well.

And in politics?

Well they both tend to be quite important in politics as well yes. When I started off I didn’t really realise the similarities of it, I didn’t really understand how well those two would go together, but its proved to be quite a unique and interesting couple of things to know about.

So do you have an academic interest in say, the tragedy of the commons?

Umm, no, no, it wasn’t that kind of economics but the weird thing about economics in Auckland is that they seem to at that time – I finished in 2001 – they were quite focussed on providing analysts, so a lot of focus on calculations, a lot of focus on micro over macro economics, so that basically means a very neo-classical school of economics, that has a very analytic focus, whereas I was more interested in policy questions and stuff. The tragedy of the commons was something we did read about in stage three economics, but yea, its just one of the many tragedies in economics, and not enough people even know what that means – the tragedy of the commons.

Are there any particular economists that have influenced you? Are there any you particularly like the thinking of?

I find the discipline fascinating; John Maynard Keynes came along and said the general equilibrium model of classical economic thinking isn’t a general model. It’s a specific kind of model for a specific market – a perfectly competitive one.  And we need a better theory because in reality the market isn’t always competitive, and that became his general theory – Keynesian economics. So now sixty years later we’ve still got a debate about whether Keynes’ theory was a specific case, and the old general equilibrium model is trying to reassert itself. So…

With the writings of Milton [Friedman] and Hayek?

Ahh, well Hayek is a different kettle of fish, but yeah. So that kind of divide between Robert Barrow and the sort of neo-classical  macro theorists on the one hand, and Keynes on the other. I think Keynes himself would be the biggest influence, if you could claim an economist as an influence on me, I don’t have any economist heroes I don’t think.

No?

Well I don’t think so, im not into hero worship in any of my life. Keynes is interesting because he could write, he was a truly ground breaking thinker. And Marx was interesting, and Adam Smith was interesting, and Ricardo, and some of those older texts. A lot of current economics is a bit, well, you read it and you think ‘ok’ you don’t feel as if you are reading something that’s really insightful, and the terrible propensity of economics is turn itself into page after page of economic equations and that means that a lot of economics is hard to read, and boring to read.

One of your opposition candidates in the Hunua electorate, Roger Douglas (ACT), probably has a divergent view of economics to yours, care to comment?

Yes he probably does have differing views of economics to mine. Im a social democrat, hes a liberal…

But why do those two labels have anything to do with economics? Could you not be a social democrat but also seek certain neo-liberal or liberal solutions to problems?

Well, (pause), I do think that the two have quite differing understandings of the linkages between economy and society, because they prioritize two different types of society. That has implications for the type of economic system you’d like to see. So a social democrat holds as an assumption that people are morally equal and that has a substantive impact on their human rights, and their social rights, their cultural rights and their economic rights. They are going to want an economic system that focuses on full employment, and on a reasonably egalitarian distribution of income and wealth, and a liberal – whose focus is on individual freedom as the underpinning of their belief system, is going to want an economic system that is free to pursue their own interests, and to succeed or fail in their endeavors, so that has implications through all forms of economic policy, whether that is, fiscal policy, with the structure of the tax system, or what you spend on the state sector versus the private sector, the whole regime of economic policy in the long run is different, if there are different values and functions are motivating it. But in New Zealand we have social democrats who run reasonably neo-liberal economic policy, and I think that’s a historical oddity. And all around the world economies are more liberal then they were fifty years ago, I don’t think that being a social democrat implies that you have to be a protectionist for example. Or that you have to support very high income taxes.

Then would you like to see economic rights enshrined in the human rights act?

I don’t think we need to go that far, I think that the structure of Human rights, the rights of the person in relation to others in the state, about their freedoms and integrity as a human being is one thing. I think that trying to put economic rights in law is quite difficult. Because that’s a major field of political debate, we would hope that things like Habeas Corpus, and the right to free speech, were things that were not changing every couple of years, but as electoral cycles change, economic policy does and should change, based on the different values of the different parties that are represented in government.

I’d like to talk about homosexual politics, you are of course an open homosexual,

Yup

Do you think that the struggle for gay rights has largely finished in New Zealand, do you think that the battle has been won?

No, no, I think the battle for gay rights quote, unquote, will be won when there isn’t a battle for gay rights anymore. When the idea of someone being gay is no more particular or significant than them having red hair, or them being short…

Do you think that’s a practical reality?

Where we are today?

No, that kind of utopian idea of equality

Well is it utopian? people always, you know, make jokes about people who are say, short, people always chose characteristic about others as a way to denigrate them, like racism exists, sexism exists, homophobia exists, but if you want to have a society where people are accepted for who they are, and what they think and what they do, and what they say, and not just by the characteristics that they have by accident of birth, then you’ve got to build a society where that isn’t the issue, so the struggle for equality is never going to be over, because people are entitled to their views and some think that keeping gay and lesbian people in a subordinate, subjugated position in society is a good idea. I don’t think it’s a good idea. Is it finished? No its not. I think a lot of the legal work, in term of building formal legal equality between gay and lesbian New Zealanders and other New Zealanders is nearly there. There are several outstanding issues such as marriage and gay and lesbian adoption and so on, but law is just one thing, policy is another, culture is another. Homophobic bullying is still an issue in schools, and more so I think, I think, than racial bullying. Certainly at my school, when I went to school in Manurewa, it was such a mixed school, and occasionally there were tensions between various ethnic groups, but there were not many out gay or lesbians.

So if you were to champion one GBLT issue what would it be? What the most pressing concern, what’s the next step forward?

I almost think that its more down to, an understanding of education and cultural issues and public services. New Zealand is a very different place to what it was twenty years ago. Twenty years ago, when homosexual law reform came along, there was that petition with 800,000 signatures, marches of crowds in the streets. In 2004, I was in the counter-protest on parliament grounds when the civil union bill was being debated, and there were five and six thousand Destiny black shirts there, and a few colourful rainbow people holding up signs, and the anger and intolerance there was just so much less, so that’s a really good illustration of how much progress has been made, but there is still a long way to go, among specific communities, and various age groups. When you’ve a lot of progress towards legal equality, I think the focus begins to shift, in terms of specific legal issues, well we all know there is a concerted campaign to characterize equal rights to all people who are homosexual as ‘special rights’.

What do you mean by that?

I mean, in the politically correct or nanny state rhetoric of the centre right or ‘far right’ politics of New Zealand, there was a lot of flak during the civil union law passage of there being a granting of ‘special rights’ to same sex couples. But of course it wasn’t, it was granting the same rights to same sex couples that different sex couples had. And fair enough. If you accept that all people are morally equal, which I do, and I think most kiwi’s do, which is why a substantial majority of people supported that [the civil unions bill]. But there is a minority who don’t, and I think that the National party and its friends in parliament, have very carefully tried to build a perception of the Labour Party as being out of touch with ordinary new Zealanders, and Don Brash said as much during the last election campaign. He said that Labour isn’t the party of mainstream New Zealand, but of course it bloody well is. It always has been, that’s why it exists. But you know, you still get, that project, which to the credit to the right they have done quite effectively. Some of the appetite for law reform within the Labour Party has quietened a little bit due to the fact that it could create political risks, and I think that’s terrible. But it’s also realistic. It’s a democracy, you can only move as fast as people will let you.

You have worked with David Farrar, how do you feel about working with people from the right?

I think that there is a danger in politics, in that it can take over all of your life. Politics is not all of my life, I spend a lot of time on it because I enjoy it, and I think its important. My relationship with David Farrar goes way back to when we used to spar on a thing called UseNet, the old newsgroups back in the mid 1990s. And I was part of a team with David, which took control of the Internet Society, where I now work, in an AGM in 2000, and I’ve always found David, on the issues we work with on InternetNZ, to be a bright, engaged, interesting and credible competent person, who is great to work with. He knows what he’s thinking and he says it. He has a lot of information at his fingertips, and he has a very good memory, and we are working for a common agenda. David was involved in the campaign for civil unions, and was involved in the campaign to keep the drinking age at 18. He’s a social liberal, we work very well on the issues we agree on, we have very different perceptions of what the word “freedom” means, so in politics, we will never be on the same side. And that’s fine. I’m not a member of the National party, and David’s not a member of the Labour party. You’ve just got to get over these things. In my professional life, I’ve had dealings with MPs from all over parliament, and I have no problem with that. Some people in politics do get really tribal, and that’s fine and I can see why. These people have been involved for quite some time, I’m not that old, I haven’t been involved in some of the really heated first past the post battles between the two tribes, if you like. I just don’t buy it, politically I’ll savage David, and David will savage me. That’s just part of our interaction.

So who is the politician from across the floor who you’d be most willing to work with?

I don’t know. I don’t know many of the centre right MPs very well. I don’t have a lot to do with them, except on some specific issues, so I may, if I do end up in parliament, there will be a process of getting to know them. There is no one I don’t particularly dislike, I think some of them are a little bit silly sometimes, and some of the rhetoric – I thought Don Brash was a deeply dangerous and divisive figure in new Zealand politics, and I would have had a great deal of trouble in having anything civil to say to him. If that had come to pass, but it didn’t, he’s out of there which is good.

You mentioned before that you haven’t had much experience in politics, you are standing for Labour in a new electorate, the Hunua electorate, which encompasses part of the old Clevedon and Port Waikato electorates, are you ready?

Well, I didn’t say I didn’t have much experience in politics, I said I was relatively young, I’ve been a member of the Labour party since 1997, so eleven years, and I’ve sat in various organizations in the party, and I’ve done governing and management roles in the IT industry. One of the key things about my job is that you need to be an advocate, explain ideas to people, persuade people, and you need to have a vision of how things could be done better. I think that’s what parliament needs, it also needs people with different age groups and stuff. After thinking about it reasonably carefully, over the last year or so, I decided I was ready to go, have an apprenticeship run if you will at this election, and to see if actually, the idea of being a candidate and an MP, translated into something I was any good at, and whether it would be enjoyable actually doing it.

But you are going up against Roger Douglas (ACT) and Dr. Paul Hutchinson (National) both quite well established politicians,

Indeed.

Any comment on that? Are you perhaps a little bit nervous, is there any trepidation going into that fight?

I think anyone would be a fool if they were not a little bit nervous about getting into the ring with two people who have been in political for a very long while, one of them who for a very long time – Roger Douglas – was a minister years before I was born, he has done a lot of things in his political career. Everyone thought it was over, probably including him, and he’d decided to jump back into the ring from the metaphorical grave, and I say good on him. Dr. Hutchinson is a low profile MP, in a very safe National seat, part of which is the old Maramarua seat which Bill Birch held for years and years. It has very well organized National party organization. I’ve seen them both speak, Roger Douglas is the master of the soundbite – a very good speaker, Dr. Hutchinson isn’t, I’m an ok speaker. The point about it is that you’re up there to put out and campaign for Labour party values, and I think I can do that. You’ve got to start somewhere. If you don’t try it, you are never going to improve.

You’re working for InternetNZ at the moment, is that one of your main key areas of interest in politics? Are you interested in better internet infrastructure for example?

I think that’s part of the mix. My main interest in politics is economic policy and labour market issues. How we can build good resources for a better public service. How we run the economy so that there is full employment, and so wages go up faster then they are. And IT, and broadband, telecommunications is an area that I’ve gotten to know quite well, through my job here [InternetNZ]. I’m interested in it, I think it’s important, and I would want to be involved in those kind of policies, if I was in parliament working in select committees or so on. But I wouldn’t describe it as my main interest, or my only interest. One of my problems is that I’m kind of interested in most things. I wouldn’t ever want to have a micro focus on a narrow policy area.

You run a political blog, JustLeft, how important do you think blogging has become in the New Zealand political environment. For example Kiwiblog is quite popular, the Standard is quite popular…

I think that blogging has an influence in politics, in the sense that it’s a bit of a thing that destroys, there are some political journalists who spend an unhealthy amount of time interviewing their favourites menu, by consulting the political blogs and getting leads for stories and stuff. And the blogs can provide a way to turn party talking points into news stories. The thing that I wish was great about political blogging, and isn’t, is the dialogue. The discourse, because if you read any comments section on any political blog in the blogosphere, you’ll see exactly what I mean. It’s trash. There is the odd gem of wisdom, among a whole bunch of people who have already made of their minds, and it’s an echo chamber. You know, it’s hard to take it seriously. I certainly don’t take it seriously. I only have comments on my blog because it drives traffic. More people come to your blog if they can comment. I tend not to read them. And there are all sorts of people in the blogging world who want to get their hate on towards other people in the blogging world. It’s silly. So blogging could in a political sense be more important if it was not political blogging. People write family blogs, or blogs like the public address system, kind of, like some of it is political and some of it isn’t. And the stuff that isn’t has a much higher quality of debate and discussion around it. I think it’s a shame, it’s a lost opportunity.

Some commentators are quite disparaging of the blogosphere, they think it is some kind of place where the politicos go and hang out, and it has no real relevance to ordinary new Zealanders…

Well you could say that about the whole political system couldn’t you?

That’s a slightly disparaging view of the New Zealander’s don’t you think?

Umm, no, I think, no, I’m not meaning to be disparaging at all, in any political system there are groups of people who are more engaged, and a group of people who are less engaged. Do I think the blogs represent New Zealand? No I don’t. Do I think they are well connected to mainstream views? No I don’t. I think their influence lies in feeding information and stories to the mainstream media that then filter out. They are not a reflection of how society is, they are not a reflection of the values, or thank God, the kind of conversations that most people have about politics. Some people think the blogs are more important then they are, you’d never win an election with a blog. It’s just a piece of the puzzle.

But if you made some comparisons with Obama’s campaign in the United States, political blogging and internet organization has been incredibly successful, do you think that has a role in new Zealand?

I think that it has a growing role, those campaigns really showed that people like organizing themselves online. And that’s what Obama’s campaign did, much better than Clinton’s campaign. The Republicans haven’t come close to it so far. It’s about giving people tools that they need to organize in the way that suits them. So you enter in your post code and your address and you get returned the basic demographic data, that comes back and says “there are six other doctors on your street, why don’t you ring them up and canvass them, ask them who they are going to vote for, and enter it into this website.” But that’s a whole different ball game from blogging. And also the political culture in America helps that because in presidential campaigns it’s all about personality. They are built around personality and vision. And New Zealand politics, for better or worse, tends to be about policy and issues. Personality is very important as well, but it’s not as overwhelming. So in New Zealand politics, Helen Clark, and John Key, are less relatively important in the firmament in the media, than Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama. Or as it were, Barack Obama and John McCain. Over time that will be more important, as ways of organizing political parties and campaigns, you’ve got to move where people are and more people are moving online.

One of the largest and most frequent crimes in new Zealand is probably intellectual copyright infringement, if theoretically a substantial amount of people are committing a crime, and its justified socially because everyone is doing it, why is it still a crime?

Are you talking about file sharing?

Illegal downloading of music, even until recently format shifting, that was a crime…

It was illegal, ill give you that, it’s not in the crimes act,

Yes, but lots of things are illegal that aren’t in the crimes act.

Yes, hah. A law that no one follows, or respects is a problem. And copyright is hard, because people have this tool that they can use for legitimate purposes or illegitimate purposes, and through the nature of the medium, and the fact that CDs have always been distributed without any prohibitions on copying actually encoded into them, people began copying them into mp3s, and applications arose which enabled them to do soPeople do have a right to protect their intellectual property, so I don’t support something like making it a free for all. But, the music industry and others need to realize that technology has changed the game. They aren’t going to be able to keep operating the same way, the, sort of, defend our big industrial age labels at all costs.

So there’s an adjustment process the content industries need to go through so they can work in a world where people can make their own content, and take bits of commercial content, mashups, playlists, whatever. But that has to happen within an evolving copyright framework, not just by saying it’s too hard and we’ll just repeal it.

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About the Author ()

Conrad is a very grumpy boy. When he was little he had a curl in the middle of his forehead. When he was good, he was moderately good, but when he was mean he was HORRID. He likes guns, bombs and shooting doves. He can often be found reading books about Mussolini and tank warfare. His greatest dream is to invent an eighteen foot high mechanical spider, which has an antimatter lazer attached to its back.

Comments (2)

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  1. Griffin says:

    I really, really, really, really wanted this to be edited.

  2. James Read says:

    Congratulations on a very interesting interview. I look forward immensely to seeing the Hunua battle progress, as the advocates of 3 different economic philosophies battle it out for the seat.

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