Government control over us versus our right to free choice

Governments have to have some control over it’s citizens. Laws are generally for our protection and benefit, and taxing us is essential for providing public services and essentials like adequate health care and education for everyone.

But most of us don’t want to much control over our lives, and want to retain as much freedom of choice as possible.

Governments continually deal with trying to find the right balance between things that will put some controls and restrictions and responsibilities on us, and allowing us freedom of choice and to take responsibility for our own lives as much as possible.

Lana Hart (The Press) has a fairly scathing political lean, but also asks some reasonable questions in The sweet spot of government power (government power will never be sweet for al of the people all of the time).

No matter where the Sixth Labour Government and its coalition partners looked, there were things to fix up. Efforts to rid the halls of power of the stink of neglect permeated their work in the first year of their political residence, bringing more resources, stronger interventions, more oversight, and better support for the defenceless in our society.

‘Stink of neglect’ is an unfair appraisal, but there are always things to ‘fix up’ for any incoming government (and any returning government).

But we don’t want our governments to go too far in their control over our lives. We don’t want them needling into our private lives and making decisions that we should make for ourselves.

We want the right balance of government in our lives.

I’m sure it is a constant juggle to get the equilibrium right between enabling the government to create safe and fair living conditions for all their residents while allowing people the autonomy to make their own choices.

How far should government go at gathering information that, at some stage, may be helpful to a family in need?

This is a tricky question. Many of us probably don’;t want the government gathering our personal information – except when it may help us. Having our health records on hand if we need emergency care in any part of the country could be quite beneficial to us, even life saving.

At what stage does the government use the force of its many resources to intervene in a sector – such as water safety, housing, and tourism – that might better be left alone? When does a government that needs the support of New Zealand businesses have to step up its mandate to regulate it more tightly?

In the vast house of government, these questions must keep the occupants up at night.

Every Cabinet, and each Minister should be considering these things continually as a standard part of their demanding jobs.

As well every party and each Member of Parliament should be looking at a decent balance between freedom and intervention. Opposition MPs need to weigh up holding to account versus using the public to score political points. Parties need to develop good policy that doesn’t use our lives as political footballs – and in particular they should not bribe some voters at the cost of others.

Surely this – enabling people to live good lives –  is the role of all governments, whether local or national. They should exert some influence over us with legitimate rules without getting in the way of our individual rights to autonomy and free choice. Since some of us need more help than others, governments also need to step in to even out the inequalities that life throws at us.

Enabling people to live good lives? Or allowing us to live the lives we choose as much as is possible in a fair society, taking into account the rights and needs of others living in our community?

The reality is that some of both is required.

Leave a comment


  1. kluelis

     /  27th December 2018

    As in most political analysis we must firstly address the elephant in the room. But it gets harder because how many $1 stamps will it cost to send the elephant from say Mangamuka to Kirwee?’

  2. Blazer

     /  27th December 2018

    ‘Stink of neglect’’=very appropriate…

    As for Govt…the’Big brother is watching ‘..became a fact thanks to the John Spy…enactments on behalf of corporations.

  3. Gezza

     /  27th December 2018

    The problem with Lana’s article is that it’s airey fairy – it just goes nowhere. Why even publish such vague musings?

    The wealth of useful comment so far (at 7.35 am) is:

    Looking back at my Kiwi Homeland from afar I appreciate even more what collective generations have built in NZ. I don’t have a solution but finding a way to limit over touristing might be something to put on the “to do list”

    2 hours ago
    I think I agree with what you’re saying. As far as I’m concerned, the government can have a bit of control. But if they start telling me that boys can have periods, and they make that the official view of the country, and if you disagree you’ll be penalised through official channels, then they’ve gone too far. But that’s all nicely summed up in my username.

    2 hours ago
    I think we’re very lucky to live in a Social Democracy like New Zealand, and frankly If you don’t like it, you can leave, which is something you can’t do in some places!

    2 hours ago
    Oh barf!! I don’t want the government interfering in anything I do thanks very much.

    • Duker

       /  27th December 2018

      Exactly. She doesnt get to her point.
      The closest was this
      ‘At what stage does the government use the force of its many resources to intervene in a sector – such as water safety, housing, and tourism – that might better be left alone?”

      really. Shouldnnt intervene in housing ? Could it be shes just reasonably well off and has a holiday home she doesnt want to pay capital gains tax on in the future
      As for Tourism, its got government assistance all the way from the moment a visa is issued

      Overall , shes just a waffler

      • Pink David

         /  27th December 2018

        Maybe she recognises than any capital gains tax won’t change anything much, except make housing problems a bit worse.

  4. The Consultant

     /  27th December 2018

    There’s a good example of this that’s about to hit the Supreme Court in the USA. The case is Kisor v. Wilkie, in which a US Marine is seeking retroactive benefits for his PTSD.

    Although it does not sound like much, the case turns on the Veteran Administration Department’s interpretation of the word “relevant” in the applicable federal regulations, and how much leeway the courts should allow them in doing that.

    The reason this is important is that under current SCOTUS decisions the US Federal bureaucracies are allowed to write regulations that interpret a statute (if Congress has not directly, specifically addressed the matter at hand) and are then deferred to in how they interpret their own regulation!!

    They basically get two bites at the cherry, receiving deference both for interpretation of the statute and for interpretation of its interpretation. As one legal commentator noted:

    “the lawmaker as it drafts regulations, the judge as it interprets its own laws, and the executive as it enforces the laws that it has drafted and interpreted.”

    Thus does the Administrative State grow forever. As other legal commentators noted two decades ago:

    Regulations are laws just as statutes are laws. Like statutes, regulations dictate behavior by those to whom they apply. Like statutes, regulations drive the expenditure of time and other resources on the part of those who are being regulated. Like statutes, if regulations are violated, enforcement proceedings, civil penalties, and perhaps even criminal sanctions may follow.

    We deal with the same crap here in NZ.

    • Duker

       /  27th December 2018

      What a bizarre analysis. Complex laws for things like welfare and tax can never be fully detailed in legislation. Its a broad brush.
      IRD and WINZ , ACC. EQC etc would have their own interpretations of legislation until the courts rule otherwise- which is common situation as well.
      Its completly normal for government agencies to have in house lawyers to decide the regulations- in the US the process is well detailed and the interpretations are published for all to see. Sometimes a new president will over rule the regulations promulgated under a previous president.
      You make it sound like its something bad.

      • The Consultant

         /  27th December 2018

        in the US the process is well detailed and the interpretations are published for all to see.

        [As noted] in a May 12, 2000 Legal Backgrounder for the Washington Legal Foundation, wholesale deference has caused some agencies to stop trying to write clear rules. Instead, they write mush and then give it concrete form only through subsequent, less formal interpretations – without providing notice to the public and without following the Administrative Procedure Act (APA).

        That is something bad.

        until the courts rule otherwise
        That’s the point in this case; the courts in the USA have been giving government departments deference twice over and effectively removing themselves from a legal process.

        More fundamentally, once regulations have been promulgated, the question of what they mean is a pure question of law that only a court should be allowed to decide. The agency has already had the opportunity to exercise its “expertise” and “policymaking prerogatives” — the rationale for granting it deference in Chevron.

        Hence the court cases.

  5. Alan Wilkinson

     /  27th December 2018

    As discussed earlier re immigration, Govt is incompetent to judge good people yet somehow we have empowered it to judge good acts, nowhere more ambiguously than in the RMA but rampant everywhere.

    Govt power over our lives should be limited to clear, simple and universal rules.

  6. The Consultant

     /  27th December 2018

    French Protests Were always going to happen:

    “Everything is taxed,” Charline Petit told The Telegraph in 2014 as she explained why her bagel shop was shutting down. “You can’t move without being taxed. Even when you are not making any money, you are taxed. I had to lie about my income to rent an apartment. So then the tax authorities said I had not been declaring enough. I was taxed again. If I stopped working, I would get all kinds of benefits, but as a business person, I get nothing. You are better off unemployed.”

    Labour has been chipping away at the Rogernomics reforms for thirty years and while they can likley never nationalise much industry again – despite good cracks at it on Air NZ and Kiwirail – tax is another story. Another decade and many more of us we’ll be where Carline Petit is.

    • Duker

       /  27th December 2018

      [Labour] nationalise much industry again ?

      national beat them to it , with buying 45% of Chorus in 2012. It wasnt even in deep shit. Then they gave cheap loans to install FB network which they get to payback with money raised from FB users.

      Its clear your mind doesnt see national as corporate lolly maker.

      • The Consultant

         /  27th December 2018

        Au contraire.

        I see National as a pale pink version of Labour, which is why they handed out dosh for things like the America’s Cup and World Rugby Cup and other corporate tit suckers. They also retained Welfare For Families after Key described it as “communism by stealth”, and so on and so forth.

        Same with taxes and things like Chorus. National were determined on a nationwide fiberoptic network and to get it they would spend lots of money via one company that knew how to do it, rather than the Australian model, which has failed. But they also did not want it to be a private monopoly, so the answer was to split the trench-digging/cable-laying part away from the rest of Telecom and treat the result like Transpower – another natural monopoly of cables that is owned by the government, which I have no problem with for that reason.

        Personally I did not and do not agree that such a network is going to be much of productivity or wealth creating boon to the economy. Farmers out in the backblocks are not going to start writing software for the world: if that was the case other countries would have their own Silicon Valley’s, and they don’t, despite similar efforts by their governments. It’s a variation on the old “commanding heights” argument.

        So National suck – but they suck a little less than Labour. Hence my votes for them over the years.

        If it’s any consolation I regard Labour as a pale blue version of National.

  7. The Consultant

     /  27th December 2018

    And I do like this from that article….

    “Reduce taxes. Reduce expenditure in an even greater proportion.

    And, to clad this financial thought in its political formula, I add: Liberty within. Peace without.

    This is the entire plan…I grant you only that the attempt is bold. But first, if the gravity of the situation has been clearly established and second, if it has been proved that the tradition means will not extricate us, it seems to me that my thought has at least some right to be considered by my colleagues.”

    Frenchman Frederick Bastiat writing in Peace and Freedom or the Republican Budget.

    In February 1849.

  8. Kitty Catkin

     /  27th December 2018

    The catchcry about National’s neglect is given the lie by the amount that they spent.


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