Edwards on Labour

March 19th, 2012 at 1:39 pm by David Farrar

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I find myself wondering whether I want to be bothered with the Party any more. Increasingly, it seems to me, the Greens reflect the philosophical and moral values to which I subscribe more accurately than the Party whose philosophical and moral values are now so ill-defined as to be beyond definition.

Strong words from a (I suspect) lifetime Labour supporter.

I’m a socialist at heart and, whatever it is, New Zealand Labour is not a socialist party. It wasn’t just Rogernomics that scotched that idea; Tony Blair’s ‘third way’, a significant influence on the Fifth Labour Government, was really just a watered down version of Douglas’s ‘trickle-down’ economics. The ‘third way’ was, by definition, a ‘middle-way’, neither one thing nor the other and ill-suited to political idealism of any stripe – a Clayton’s political philosophy.  

I read that Labour’s new leader, David Shearer, wants to move the party to that ideological no-man’s-land that is ‘the centre’. National already occupies that space but, as the distinctions between Key and Shearer lose focus – both promising to deliver ‘a brighter future’ and the Labour leader ditching policies specifically directed at putting more money into the pockets of the poor – I’ve no doubt that an accommodation can be reached between centre-right and centre-left.

Personally I am glad Labour is (mainly) not a socialist party. Socialism doesn’t work. It has been tried in dozens of countries, and nationalising the means of production etc is a failed experiment.

I’m a firm believer in progressive taxation – ‘From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs,’ as Marx  so neatly put it. You can call that Communism or Socialism or pure Christianity.  It doesn’t really matter. What matters is the core principle that the strong should support the weak. So it’s good that Labour’s new leader is at least intent on keeping a Capital Gains Tax as Labour policy. The earnings of the rich should be taxed to support the poor.

They are. Families below $50,000 income effectively pay no net tax at all.  We have a massively progressive tax system. If Brian feels it is not progressive enough, well Treasury does accept donations :-)

But I’m not comfortable with Mr Shearer’s reported intention to move the party ‘to the centre’. It’s a misnomer for one thing. Labour is already in the centre. It has already lost its working-class constituency. Any move ‘to the centre’ will merely be, as the share-brokers say, ‘a technical correction’, not as extreme as in ‘84 but a move to the right nonetheless.

What Labour politics now seem to be about is finding ‘sellable’ policies and a ‘sellable’ leader in order to regain power. (For National read ‘retain power’.) What Green politics seem to be about is persuading people to come across to policies not obviously or immediately founded in self-interest, but in the long-term interests of all of us and (there’s no avoiding it) of the planet. No doubt they’d like to be in government too. But it doesn’t seem to be their primary motivation.

So I find myself wondering…

The harsh reality is that Labour has a better chance of gaining power if they do lose left-wing voters to the Greens, so long as they pick up some centrist voters from National.

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36 Responses to “Edwards on Labour”

  1. Brad (75 comments) says:

    The term champagne socialist springs to mind…

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  2. PaulL (5,983 comments) says:

    I’m always mildly amused at those on the left who seem to believe that people on the right vote purely out of self interest, whilst those on the left are altruistic.

    What Green politics seem to be about is persuading people to come across to policies not obviously or immediately founded in self-interest, but in the long-term interests of all of us and (there’s no avoiding it) of the planet.

    My view is that the competition is not so much about where we want to get to, but about how we get there. This is why Shearer and Key espouse quite similar views of what NZ should be whilst still having reasonably different ideas on policies. Whilst Brian would appear to want more income redistribution I’d suggest someone like Key would focus more on education and mobility. Equality of outcome is not something anyone should aspire to – it makes a mockery of free choice.

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  3. tom hunter (4,564 comments) says:

    I’ll repeat my comment from the GD thread. Edwards was a self-styled close personal friend, advisor and biographer of Helen Clark. Yet he says the following:

    Tony Blair’s ‘third way’, a significant influence on the Fifth Labour Government, was really just a watered down version of Douglas’s ‘trickle-down’ economics. The ‘third way’ was, by definition, a ‘middle-way’, neither one thing nor the other and ill-suited to political idealism of any stripe – a Clayton’s political philosophy.

    Well who were these people who allowed this to happen? Why none other than Helen Clark (and Michael Cullen and Heather Simpson). Is Edwards only awake to this now? What else – aside from blind, partisan loyalty and perhaps personal loyalty to Clark – could have kept him from this revelation that has now only come with the ascension of Shearer?

    Frankly it seems incoherent and the heart of that incoherence is the stubborn refusal of ‘socialists’ like Edwards to accept that the practical implementations of social democracy in the West are increasingly failing in the 21st century. He’s hardly the only one of course.

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  4. dime (9,664 comments) says:

    “It has already lost its working-class constituency.”

    Yes they have – to national!

    take out the union people or course. they do as told. no free thinking allowed.

    Labour hasnt catered to the working class in a long time. they cater to special interests and bludgers.

    also, how can an intelligent person still be a socialist?? are they blind? out of touch? dead inside??

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  5. Michael Mckee (1,091 comments) says:

    Brad (16) Says:
    March 19th, 2012 at 1:52 pm

    I think you might have it there.

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  6. RRM (9,661 comments) says:

    It does not surprise me that National and Labour in the 21st century are both less ideological than the old-school THE LEFT and THE RIGHT, both of which live on only (I suspect) in the heads of old men like Edwards. God bless America and the USSR for giving us half a century in which politics had to be all about whether you’re ‘left’ or ‘right’!

    Hopefully the few remaining old-school unionists / socialists will grow old and drop off the radar soon…

    This Leftie would welcome a future where two strong “centre” parties (centred about a point slightly to the right of the current centre, actually…) compete for votes with different mixes of policy details, and less of “the left” and “the right” having at each other with ideological shit-slinging negativity all the time like we see in contemporary American politics…

    FWIW this leftie’s favourite pieces of legislation in recent times, that have taken our laws in big steps towards a much fairer place than they once were, have been:

    :arrow: Homosexual law reform act – Labour
    :arrow: Resource management Act – Labour/National joint effort (although this does go too far in several respects)
    :arrow: Property (relationships) Act – 2001 amendments – was that Greens or Labour? I forget…
    :arrow: Civil Unions Act – Labour
    :arrow: Parole Reform Act – Act

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  7. Grendel (972 comments) says:

    it is fascinating this theory that someone the left (and esp the greens)are all about the future for all of us and not about feathering their own interests right now, but the rapacious right somehow is.

    when you cut through the noise and the detail, my political view is i won;t interfere in your life, you dont interfere in mine.

    but when it comes down to it, for the left and esp the greens they want and need to interfere in our lives right now, to further their own views, which they boldly proclaim are good for all of us.

    at least labour is vaguely honest about what its policies are doing. they don;t try to hide behind too many spin words (though all parties abuse ‘fair’ as if it somehow has an objective value) and make me think that screwing me over is better for me. the greens would have us beleive that killing off industries like mining is good for that industry and also all of us. less is more somehow, though of course the right people in party control will never have to go with less.

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  8. decanker (222 comments) says:

    “Socialism doesn’t work. It has been tried in dozens of countries…”

    OK, and if we stopped bailing out Capitalism we might find that doesn’t work either.

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  9. RandySavage (202 comments) says:

    nice work Decanker!
    youll have to excuse the threadstarter hes a wee bit “Dim”

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  10. Pete George (23,326 comments) says:

    RRM – I agree but competing not just on mix of policies but quality of personnel, I think that’s more important than anything these days. Competence is far more important than the party label, especially when the party in power changes from time to time anyway.

    I’d be quite happy to see the best from all parties in the top positions in Government, but that’s not looking likely in the forseaeable future.

    But things change, not long ago Labour was still rejecting Greens as coalition partner, now everyone talks as if Labour+Greens is essential for a leftish coalition.

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  11. Grendel (972 comments) says:

    People who actually believe in capitalism, not statism, don;t want bail outs for anything from the state.

    But nice strawman, just because lefties interfere with capitalism to the point that its not really capitalism anymore, does not mean capitalism does not work, it just means as always that statism does not work.

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  12. DJP6-25 (1,310 comments) says:

    Term limits would be a good idea. Presently you can go straight into parliament from university. You can stay there for life. Mix with mostly like minded people, and your entire reason for existence is to be in government. No wonder some here complain that National and Labour are almost the same. Having all MPs know that they’re only there for a limited time would change the mindset. Say six terms for an MP, and two for the PM. Less deadwood.

    cheers

    David Prosser

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  13. Bob R (1,357 comments) says:

    ***I’m a socialist at heart and, whatever it is, New Zealand Labour is not a socialist party. ***

    Responsible socialists (eg. Margaret Sanger) would acknowledge the importance of reducing the growth of the chav population for their system to be sustainable. I think that’s a flaw with modern leftists, they overlook inconvenient realities that old socialists like John Maynard Keynes & George Bernhard Shaw recognised. Namely, that modern societies are dependent on human capital, and that can go either way depending on what traits are being predominantly selected for.

    http://www.technologyreview.com/blog/post.aspx?bid=354&bpid=25495

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  14. ross69 (3,652 comments) says:

    > Socialism doesn’t work

    You wouldn’t like it whether it worked or not, so who are you kidding? By the way, can you remind us how much the government has spent bailing out the private sector? Cheers

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  15. Weihana (4,496 comments) says:


    ‘From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs,’

    In which case, what’s the incentive to have ability?

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  16. dime (9,664 comments) says:

    “You wouldn’t like it whether it worked or not, so who are you kidding?”

    Correct. as one of lifes winners i would never like to live in a socialist state. Its great for shit bags though.

    “By the way, can you remind us how much the government has spent bailing out the private sector? ”

    lmao oh youve got us there lol jesus man. businesses fail. its all part of capitalism.

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  17. Weihana (4,496 comments) says:

    ross69,


    You wouldn’t like it whether it worked or not, so who are you kidding?

    What does “work” mean in this context?

    On the one hand we have people advocating the “rights” of the individual irrespective of the interests of the group to which these individuals belong. On the other hand we have people advocating the “needs” of the group irrespective of the desires of individuals who are expected to service these needs.

    Personally I believe what is best is that which is best for the individual AND the group. We are selfish creatures but also social creatures. Any political philosophy which focuses only on one aspect of our nature will inevitably fail.

    Therefore, the centre of the political spectrum is good in that it tends to balance the individualistic and social aspects of society.


    By the way, can you remind us how much the government has spent bailing out the private sector? Cheers

    Only a fraction of what the private sector generates on its own. Though that is not to ignore the public sector’s important role in providing regulation, law and order, as well as keeping the work force educated and healthy.

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  18. dime (9,664 comments) says:

    Weihana – do you think we are in the centre at the moment?

    if so, would you rather live in a centre right NZ?

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  19. Weihana (4,496 comments) says:

    Grendel (490) Says:
    March 19th, 2012 at 3:09 pm

    People who actually believe in capitalism, not statism, don;t want bail outs for anything from the state.

    That’s a pretty strict definition of capitalism, reflective more of libertarianism than anything else in my view. Capitalism, in simple terms, is the private ownership of the means of production. Temporary short term bailouts with the sole purpose of ensuring stability in the markets is not fundamentally anti-capitalist in my view.

    Private ownership of property is more than just the government leaving you alone. A pre-requisite for such ownership is reasonable stability of markets as well as a stable system of governance in which an individual can have confidence as to the value of things as well as confidence that contracts will be honoured and things, generally speaking, will continue as they have been. In the absence of such, ownership is a mere fiction protected in name only and subject to the mood of disaffected mobs.

    In the absence of stability nothing works. Whether or not a particular bailout will achieve what it intends is debatable but it is not sufficient to observe that businesses fail all the time. In a stable system they fail every now and again and consumers have multiple options with which to do business. But if everything starts to go belly up at the same time in a major economic crisis then it seems rather foolish to just let everything fail and assume that the market will fix everything.

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  20. Weihana (4,496 comments) says:

    dime,

    Yes I would consider NZ pretty much in the centre. I’m not sure I would prefer a shift to the right or left. It’s hard to know what that entails exactly.

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  21. dime (9,664 comments) says:

    A shift to the right would be something along the lines of interest free student loans being kiced to the curb. Wff gone. Maybe term limits on some benefits… Shit like that

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  22. The Scorned (719 comments) says:

    OK, and if we stopped bailing out Capitalism we might find that doesn’t work either.

    Capitalism isn’t being bailed out as its not around and wasn’t responsible for the crash,…. Government failure was…again! Hand in hand with its Corporatist buddy’s in big business Government interfered in the market and caused al sorts of problems that ended with the inevitable bubble bursting as the market (reality) bought things back into balance.

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  23. Rightandleft (655 comments) says:

    Dime,

    Don’t paint all unionists with the same brush. I’m a unionist and I voted National. And more than that I know quite a few other unionists who voted for centre-right parties. In fact those I know who were with the left tended to vote Greens rather than Labour. At least in my union we never tell anyone how to vote, and we’d certainly never expect them to listen to us if we did.

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  24. The Scorned (719 comments) says:

    You wouldn’t like it whether it worked or not, so who are you kidding? By the way, can you remind us how much the government has spent bailing out the private sector? Cheers

    You have just destroyed your own claim that “Capitalism” failed…..and validated the case that in fact it was State backed Corporatism that failed…as it was always going to do.

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  25. David Garrett (6,774 comments) says:

    DJP: As well as term limits, in a perfect world I think there should also be a minimum age that one has to attain before being an MP, or at least before being PM…I recently learned that in the US a person must be at least 30 (or perhaps it is 35?) to be president…it is in the Constitution apparently…When it was drafted, 30 was distinctly middle aged, so one must assume the drafters did not envisage giving the levers of power to – say – a Jacinda Ardern or Chris Hipkins, both of whom seem very wet behind the ears to this old curmudgeon…I remember debating Iain Lees-Galloway at a meeting on some justice issue once…I was astounded at his unworldliness and lack of knowledge of the subject…

    Age limits would of course never work now…

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  26. dime (9,664 comments) says:

    rightandleft – i like to tar you all with the same brush :)

    i will accept the police union and nzalpa but thats about it :D

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  27. Rightandleft (655 comments) says:

    It is 35 to be President in the US and I believe 25 to be a Senator. The youngest US President was Teddy Roosevelt at age 42, though he took over after the elected Pres was assassinated. The youngest elected President was JFK at age 43, followed by Clinton, who was 46. It is also law that the President must have been born on US soil. Even a child born to American citizen parents while they’re overseas on holiday is still forever barred from Presidency. (This law was actually intended to prevent one man, Alexander Hamilton, from ever being President.)

    The problem in the US though is that Senators and Congressmen never retire and rarely loose re-election. As a result the oldest Senators like Robert Byrd served into their 90s. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina served until he turned 100 in fact. There are many old men in their 70s and 80s serving now, not really representing the average views of the nation.

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  28. mikenmild (11,246 comments) says:

    dime
    That’s just weird – what’s so special about police and pilots?

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  29. BlairM (2,306 comments) says:

    David Garrett – it’s 25 to be a congressman, 30 to be a Senator, and 35 to be President. Of course, when the Founding Fathers made these rules, your average 25yo had been working about half his life already. I definitely think a minimum age of at least 30 should be considered for being an MP in NZ. Even Prebs once told me he thought that 27 (the age he got elected at) was too young to be in Parliament.

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  30. BlairM (2,306 comments) says:

    It is also law that the President must have been born on US soil. Even a child born to American citizen parents while they’re overseas on holiday is still forever barred from Presidency.

    No, this is not the case. The only stipulation in the Constitution is that a person must be a “natural-born citizen”. While this is a concept yet to be tested by the Supreme Court, it is generally accepted that the congressional definition of natural-born applies ie. someone with at least one parent who is a citizen. This means you can be born in Timbucktu and still be President, in theory at least. Thus far it has only been seriously tested by a certain Governor George Romney, who was born in Mexico to US Citizen parents (who had escaped the States because of the polygamy laws!). Nobody seriously questioned his right to run for President at the time – though he dropped out of the race before he could put that right to the test properly. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_W._Romney#1968_presidential_campaign

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  31. BlairM (2,306 comments) says:

    The problem in the US though is that Senators and Congressmen never retire and rarely loose re-election. As a result the oldest Senators like Robert Byrd served into their 90s. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina served until he turned 100 in fact. There are many old men in their 70s and 80s serving now, not really representing the average views of the nation.

    I agree that there should be term limits on Senate service, but you miss the point of the Senate – they are not there to represent the “average views of the nation” – that is what the House is for. They are there to represent the interests of their State, and their own conscience, as is the traditional role of a person elected to an Upper Chamber. So age is not the issue – in fact it is advantageous for Senators to be older and/or have more life experience than their peers in the House.

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  32. David Garrett (6,774 comments) says:

    rightand left: Thank you, very informative…one of the great things about this place…lots of very kowledgeable people…or at least people who can google better than me!! And of course logically there has to be an upper limit as well…We make judges retire when they hit 70 (I think) but theoretically someone could be making laws in the NZ parliament – which Judges admimister – at 85…

    BlairM: Very interesting…no-one who has heard any of the three adolescents I referred to earlier speaking could fail to think them utterly naive and without life experience….the worst of the lot would have to Gareth Hughes, aged 16 3/4….

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  33. Rightandleft (655 comments) says:

    BlairM,

    I haven’t missed the point, I get that’s why the Senate is there and I disagree with the very premise of it. I think it incredibly undemocratic that 250,000 people in Wyoming get the same amount of say in the Senate as 16 million Californians. The fact that it is then necessary to secure 60 out of 100 votes to pass any significant law (that’s the number needed for cloture to cut off any filibuster or threatened filibuster by the minority party) increases the problem. It allows the representatives of a small minority of the populace to thwart the will of a significant majority. The Senate should be done away with, along with the electoral college. The purpose of both was to keep the people from having any actual say in the governance of the nation and ensuring the right men continued to rule over the plebs. That’s why Senators were elected by the state legislatures and not the people until 1913.

    I much prefer the NZ system because here the party that wins the election gets to actually pass the laws they promised. In the US the party that wins is generally still blocked from doing much of anything by the minority party in the Senate. Thus little ever gets done other than running up more debt to pay for pork projects back home to keep the plebs content.

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  34. kiwi in america (2,477 comments) says:

    Edwards’ comments are very illuminating and highlight Labour’s massive task. National won because it has dibs on the centre of NZ politics which is where real power lies. Clark/Cullen presented themselves as sufficiently Blair/3rd way centrist to overcome nervousness about Clark’s obvious socialist instincts. For 2 terms she kept them pretty well under wraps but lefties can’t help themselves and by their 3rd term, Labour proceeded to push away its socially conservative working class base to National and scared off middle class swing voters with all the nanny state interventions, progressive social reforms (Civil Unions/adoptions rewrite and legalising prostitution), allowing a blow out in the size of the union dominated public sector as well as showing its nasty proclivity to use the taxpayers to fund their campaigns (the pledge card rorts) and to shut off dissent (the EFA).

    Goff campaigned on a grab bag of lefty promises (CGT, extending WFF to beneficiaries, repeal National standards) that really only appealed to its base of beneficiaries, unionists, feminists and the rainbow coalition. The 27% it garnered in 2011 represented that base. Shearer knows that he has to retain the base and yet appeal to the centre sufficient to chip off votes from National and not leak too much to Mana or the Greens to be the dominant partner in a centre left government. The Greens had to swing to the right and mute its more extreme socialist instincts to appeal to enough urban middle class liberals to get over 10%. As Shearer moves Labour more to the centre, the Greens will more aggressively go after Labour’s socialist core – the Brian Edwards types.

    Edwards hankers after policies that have failed everywhere they’ve been tried. The left always sees the failure of its policies as the implimentation being insufficiently pure (sullied by the need to make electorally palatable compromises) or the messaging was bad. Thats why Obama’s election was so seminal for the left – here at last was a charismatic articulate professor with street cred who could persuade the great unwashed of the benefits of the left’s progressive agenda. All we got was an inexperienced empty suit who gives good speeches but can’t govern or lead except to push the left’s agenda and then acted all shocked when the centre right leaning US electorate rejected his recipe and handed his party its most severe beating in mid terms for 80 years.

    Edwards represents a couple of very solid reliable voting blocks for Labour – academic urban liberals and the so-called chattering classes or what I call the commentariat. His role as consultant and biographer to Clark means he has tribal Labour loyalty and Labour could always rely on liberal academics like him to fill key party and campaign roles at the local level. For someone so deep inside Labour’s machine and such a long standing staunch supporter to express such sentiments sends a signal to these blocks to make the break to the Greens once Shearer makes the changes that need to be made.

    If Shearer is a genuine reformer (its too early to tell), then Labour will ditch the trade union affiliation. That frees the working class left leaning union activist part of the base to either form a new New Labour Party (around a Matt McCarten type figure) or to merge with perhaps a renamed Mana Party that moves white hard left activits like Minto or Bradford into co-leadership with Hone to become a more broad based hard left party. If Labour loses 5% of its urban liberal socialist academics to the Greens and another 5% of its hard left unionist/beneficiary base to a hard left party, Shearer must now win now win 12 – 13% off National and hope that Peters stays above 5% to have any chance of leading a left coalition because of the churn on the vote on the centre left. Based on current form, that will be a tall ask.

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  35. Mark (497 comments) says:

    Funny statement

    I’m a firm believer in progressive taxation – ‘From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs,’ as Marx so neatly put it. You can call that Communism or Socialism or pure Christianity.

    Yes like in Greece where people aviod paying tax as they have decide the need thier money more than the state.

    I have to laugh at including pure Christianity, as the above statement violates the 9th commandment and the Soviet Union, North Korea, etc which I suspect he admires for doing what he states above waged war on religion.

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  36. Paulus (2,562 comments) says:

    Poor Edwards – nobody loves hm – diddums

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