Some thoughts on the political implications of regional demographic shifts and imbalances

[These comments are set in a 2013-43 timeframe but necessarily with a stronger focus on the 2013-23 period. The comments were to accompany Professor Natalie Jackson’s analysis and projection of demographic change* and the focus on that change, not other change, except incidentally.]

The demographic age and ethnic imbalances projected for the next 30 years are likely to influence local and national politics by adding region-to-region socioeconomic disparities to the national socioeconomic disparities which have developed over the past 30 years. Disparities reduce social cohesion which is the bedrock of political stability.

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A small country on the planet of the apps

Colin James to Golden Bay University of the Third Age and public meeting in Takaka, 20 March 2015

It’s 2015 and you have a health issue: the doctor will see you now.
Imagine it’s 2020: the robot will see you now.
Now stretch your mind to 2025: the customer (patient) will see you now.

This time travel is not as wildly fictional as it sounds at first hearing. The 2010s are a remarkable decade. The science and derivative digital technologies that gave us the transistor in 1947, the integrated circuit (which we now call the chip) in 1958, the ready-to-use personal computer in 1977, the public internet a decade later and the smartphone in 2007 has come of age. It is a new industrial revolution – but very much faster than the first in the eighteenth-nineteenth centuries. There is a loose parallel with the coming of age in the 1920s of the technologies developed from the science of electricity a century earlier which transformed many aspects of daily life. But this industrial revolution is much faster than that one, too.

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Election in a bubble

Colin James to the Victoria University post-election conference, 3 December 2014

The 2014 election came 30 years after the 1984 election which triggered a tectonic shift in policy, ideology and our understanding of ourselves. There was no tectonic wrench in 2014, though the Labour party could be forgiven for thinking the ground was liquefying under its ageing edifice. But pressure had been building up in the political, ideology and social plates and seismic analysis is appropriate in addition to the usual microscopic and telescopic inquiry.

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Some thoughts on New Zealand's international context

[Prepared for the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment]

A. The big picture
1. The geo-economic and geopolitical balance is changing rapidly. This is well known and has been rapidly and deeply altering the location of production and work. But it is changing the world in more than trade and economics.
China, India and other “emerging-economy” nations are demanding a bigger role in the rules, conduct and leading positions of international forums and organisations; the rules may change in ways that are suboptimal for New Zealand.
Associated with that, those countries will assert different forms of government and political organisation as the match for, or an improvement on, liberal democracy – China is demonstrating that in its resistance to real elections in Hong Kong;
Likewise they will assert different forms of economic organisation as the match for, or an improvement on, liberal-market-capitalism.
More new science and other innovation (one example: surgical and other healthcare procedures) will come from researchers in China, India and elsewhere.
That is, after half a millennium in which the “west” (western Europe and north America) has dominated the generation of ideas through new science and on how best to organise society, politics and the economy, that dominance is being, and will continue to be, challenged, modified and perhaps overturned.
The risk to New Zealand, which, being very small, needs a rules-based international order, is of an inappropriate or hostile set of rules or no agreed rules at all. It is not clear there an opportunity.

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The law, trust and predistributive justice

Comments to a lawyers in government conference

First, some context. We are living through a turbulent decade.

One element is the coming of age of a disruptive technology, digital technology, which is turning a hyperglobalised world into one that is hyperconnected and hyperdatamined and which is rapidly and radically transforming how goods and services – no longer distinct categories, by the way – are designed, funded, made and marketed, how children are educated and how adults add to their skills and how illness and disability can be treated, for example with nerve interference devices and gene manipulation. These changes open extraordinary new opportunities but also pose major issues of privacy and trust, ethics and ownership of ideas. We are only beginning to get an inkling of the extent and complexity of those issues, let alone write laws for them or develop social customs to manage them and even when we do, they go quickly out of date.

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Policymaking in a hyperglobalised world

Speech to a conference of the Industry Training Federation and Polytechnics, 31 July 2014

First, some context. We are living through a turbulent decade.

One element is the coming of age of a disruptive technology, digital technology, which is turning a hyperglobalised world into one that is hyperconnected and hyperdatamined and which is rapidly and radically transforming how goods and services – no longer distinct categories, by the way – are designed, funded, made and marketed, how children are educated and how adults add to their skills and how illness and disability can be diagnosed and treated, for example with nerve interference devices and gene manipulation. These changes open extraordinary new opportunities but also pose major issues of privacy and trust, ethics and ownership of ideas. We are only beginning to get an inkling of the extent and complexity of those issues, let alone write laws for them or develop social customs to manage them and even when we do, they go quickly out of date.

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Justice as Citizenship

Colin James’s paper to the Leading Justice Symposium, 29 April 2014 —

At 17 I learned from Plato that justice is not a simple concept. At 38, while learning law piecemeal, I encountered John Rawls’ justice as fairness theory, encapsulated in the difference principle. Law studies taught me the law and justice are not the same: the law must be certain if the law is to rule. But, as Plato argued, justice is essential to a well functioning society and left liberals appropriated that precept with their talk of social justice. Left-liberals now habitually talk of social contract (more in the Rawlsian than Hobbesian or Lockean sense), thereby adding a legal overtone. Ultra-liberals and conservatives talked up law and order, almost equating justice with retribution — the narrow sense of utu — but today’s conservative cabinet talks up rehabilitation and education, which serves fiscal imperatives and fits the investment approach they have imported into social policy.

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Investing in social change

Eisenhower 13Oct18There is a much interest in “inequality”. The wide and growing difference between the very well off and those on lower-middle and lower incomes and correspondingly low or zero net wealth has been bothering not just social liberals but conservatives, by which I mean Burkean or moderate conservatives who value social cohesion and are not libertarians or reactionaries (viz the Tea Party in the United States). Back in 2011 such practical conservatives as Lawrence Summers and Martin Wolf declared inequality the greatest policy issue for the “western” world.

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