Morbid Symptoms: Neoliberalism’s Room for Manoeuvre Keeps Shrinking


TWO BIG ANNOUNCEMENTS TODAY. The first came from the New Zealand Initiative and purported to be about improving our education system. The second came from the Supreme Court of New Zealand and had the effect of stopping the Ruataniwha Dam in its tracks. On the face of it these two announcements have nothing whatsoever in common. What links them, however, is the way in which both demonstrate how dramatically Kiwi neoliberalism’s room for manoeuvre has shrunk.

The New Zealand Initiative is the successor organisation to the Business Roundtable. Its 54 corporate members represent upwards of a quarter of the entire New Zealand economy. So, in spite of the fact that the new organisation is fronted by a cheery little German – Dr Oliver Hartwich – and notwithstanding its careful balancing of gender and ethnicity when pushing its research staff in front of the news media, the New Zealand Initiative remains, like its predecessor, at the point of Kiwi neoliberalism’s propaganda spear.

Their latest paper, entitled “Amplifying Excellence” represents itself as an attempt to rescue Maori and Pacific Island students from the professional failings of New Zealand’s teachers. Actually, it is nothing more than yet another attempt to breathe life into the long dormant issues of bulk-funding for schools and performance-based pay for teachers.

Those of us with grey hair will recall the bitter political battles waged over both of these propositions back in the 1990s – battles won decisively by the teacher unions. Not that outfits like the New Zealand Initiative allow such historical defeats to stand in their way. Like rust, neoliberalism never sleeps. If it cannot gain entry by the front door, it’s more than happy to go round the back. Unable to sell union-busting and privatisation directly, its ideologues are now wrapping them up in the National Party’s distraction du jour – “social investment”.

Except no one’s buying their product. Worse than that, the punters are getting seriously pissed-off with the neoliberal salesman’s refusal to take his foot out of their front door. Not being willing to take “No” for an answer might have been a viable tactic when neoliberalism was young and untried. After thirty years, however, its product range has been tested to destruction. No one’s buying anymore – not even when the same old shit is hidden inside new and colourful packaging.

What to do?

The same question arises out of the Supreme Court’s judgement on the Ruataniwha Dam. For the neoliberal forces mustered against the market-thwarting challenges of environmentalism, the whole Ruataniwha project has become the Battle of Stalingrad. Its fanatical promoters long ago made the fatal mistake of allowing the massive irrigation scheme to become a symbol of the dairy industry’s necessary takeover of New Zealand’s waterways. It was a struggle they could not afford to lose. That winning might eventually require strong-arming the Department of Conservation into an unconscionable and illegal abrogation of its duty was not considered too high a price to pay.

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The only way of rescuing the Ruataniwha Project now would require the Hawkes Bay Regional Council to invoke the powers of Public Works Act. The new members of the Council have already signalled that such a draconian move would be a bridge too far. They have enough on their hands already, attempting to explain why their predecessors spent $20 million of the ratepayers money on a dam when they didn’t even own the land it was supposed to be built on!

So, two announcements and two examples of just how restricted neoliberalism’s room for manoeuvre has become. As the Italian socialist, Antonio Gramsci, so eloquently put in in his famous “Prison Notebooks”: “The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.”

Certainly, when it comes to the presentation of “morbid symptoms”, the New Zealand Initiative and the promoters of dirty dairying are right there at the head of the pack.


  1. Well written Chris,

    Thanks for the tip-off that the dam idea that was canned as it was a stupid idea when we are overusing our land already!!!!

    Considering the massive amounts of spillage and seepage of land based activities (Horticulture) using fertiliser, pesticides, fungicides along with transport of produce mainly using trucks with all that tyre pollution being washed off the roads into our streams and aquifers just to operate the scheme to it’s full potential ton remain financially viable, was just plainly a stupid plan that Government will be so pissed-off over this as they fought hard with our money to get it approved and set-up.

    Good good good failure looks good on them but I bet they will not show their disappointment about this as it may hurt during the elections.

    Thanks for the thoughtful article.

  2. Oh Chris!

    Wasn’t it National who complained about the Helen Clark Government for “social engineering”?????????

    Nactional = Social engineering.

  3. The only way of rescuing the Ruataniwha Project now would require the Hawkes Bay Regional Council to invoke the powers of Public Works Act….or Bill could just change the law…how all good neoliberals/dead end leaders create wiggle room for there ill conceived schemes!

    • Baggie Marry has already told the MSM that changing the law will be the next thing they look at.

      They really were Born to Rule weren’t they…

      • she says they will use “low level” conservation land as a swap.
        Knowing how National likes to redefine terms such as “affordable housing” and “swimmable rivers”, we should all be very worried.

  4. The New Zealand Initiative.

    So glad you have named them. They need to be brought out into the light for all to see. To view with disdain the surreptitious actions and the motives behind their activity’s.

    And not once, not twice , nor only when the situation warrants , – but constantly and incessantly.

    This group , more than any other , have been the very ones driving the whole neo liberal agenda for the last three decades. And while we pontificate , are perplexed , point fingers at lower tier officials , debate about small points of difference , argue amongst ourselves and become divided , rage against individual politicians and their party’s ,… it was the New Zealand Institute and others like them who influenced these conditions all along…

    They are , and have been , … along with other far right wing lobby groups and think tanks , an unelected body of individuals representing corporate interests that have wielded both economic and political power far in excess of the number of individuals that comprise their actual numbers.

    It was these who were behind the neo liberal revolution in New Zealand. With Roger Douglas as the willing Mont Pelerin Society emissary. Indeed, the NZ Institute / former Business Roundtable are directly linked to the Mont Pelerins.

    Revolution (part one) – Fortress New Zealand – YouTube
    Video for fortress NZ business roundtable you tube▶ 55:17

    And speaking of Roger Douglas and the Mont Pelerin Society , he was , along with Ruth Richardson , acting board of director members of the Mont Pelerin Society , … a London based organization who’s undeclared mission statement it is to undermine Keynesian economics and the regulated style of government of social democracy’s and re-appropriate both wealth and power back into the hands of a global select few , – with the aim of returning to the 19th century concept of an absolute and unregulated global free market – unfettered by the constraints of trade tariffs and Trade Unionism.

    Such as the TTPA would have been.

    This is why neo liberals such as Bill English, John Key and Tim Grosser were pushing so hard against public opinion, – to point of cloaking developments in secrecy , minimizing peoples concerns, and finally – overriding the democratic process in an attempt to push it through .

    This link will show both Roger Douglas and Ruth Richardson as acting board of directors for NZ circa 2010.

    Mont Pelerin Society Directory – DeSmogBlog…/Mont%20Pelerin%20Society%20Directory%202010….

    For an interesting and informative expose in exposing just who these ‘Mont Pelerin’s ‘ are , – their NZ branch the NZ Institute , – and the destructive influence they had in dismantling our once prosperous nation … here is a link :

    New Right Fight – Who are the New Right?

    It is important to note that well known figures such as Milton Friedman was the global public face for the Mont Pelerins , – what he advocated is broadly what we have today in NZ. It also explains much of the entrenched poverty we now have in NZ. Equally important is that the NZ Institute does not operate in isolation. They are present in many country’s under various names .

    If this information is understood and the obvious correlation and direct links are then made , it will go a long way to explaining the seeming inertia of NZ party politics to rectify many of the glaring social ills and poverty we now experience and just why despite widespread and constant protestations , – nothing of any real substance ever seems to be done about it.

    It is , … simply because , …most of our major party’s have had prominent individuals in those party’s captured by the lobbyists and donations in return for ‘sweet’ business deals of the NZ branch of the Mont Pelerins, … the NZ Institute.

      • Ha !…. Edit : its the New Zealand Initiative , not the New Zealand ‘Institute’ !

        I was too busy putting it typing it out to realize my mistake , however , the facts remain about the New Zealand Initiative and their direct Mont Pelerin society links and neo liberalism in this country.

        And a small typo error certainly does not let them off the hook in answering for all their subversive activity in any way whatsoever at all.

  5. Doc now has no mandate except to follow its political masters wants. It has lost all independence as a conservation department of govt.

    That is a serious situation and a part of the mix this crowd has resorted to while assisting private companies to cash in on the trashing the environment

    The resource management act and DOC are regarded as foes to private developers and investors who couldn’t give a stuff about the environment.

    We have far too many Cows but having more matters to this Govt much more than rare endangered native fauna.

    Now there is a threat to make DOC and arm of business NZ by giving it power to disinvest in conservation in favour of assisting business expansion it ownership of our peoples treasured assets.

    Independence of our Govt departments has never been such a sad joke.

    Forest and Bird need more public support to fight the power of Business NZ on conservation matters.

    DOC won’t and are ham strung by illegal Govt direction behind closed doors.

  6. Yea, I don’t believe New Zealanders are or well ever be motivated enough to directly challenge or depose an elected government .
    There have been a number of occasions in New Zealand’s history when unrest and dissatisfaction has broken out in riots,withdrawal of labour and demonstrations. However the government of the day has always prevailed due to poor public support to the aggrieved or institutional bute force.
    Political apathy is deep seated in the Kiwi psyche of she’ll be right and all politicians are self serving assholes,we just need to keep our distance and get as much out of life as we can within the restricted parabolas.
    A well conditioned and institutionalised populous,very frustrating.

  7. DOC weren’t strong armed in to this. Their conservation for profit mantra and nat dictated corporate leadership has been more than happy to push for commercial interest over public or even conservation interest. It’s disgusting, but they are now a fully politicised neolib government department. I truly hope this government goes down for thinking we will allow them to change the laws which protect our land.

  8. I remember reading an article in North and South magazine, way back at the start of National’s sad destructive long term – it was about the fears of many in the conservation field, on the future of DOC.
    It was doom and gloom back then and it seems things have only gotten worse with time.
    Time and time again is clear on all matters, that if NZ wants to move forward it needs to ditch the hand-sitting corrupt National party.
    Money for jam is what they are getting!

  9. Wild Katipo, Chris, thank you for shining a light on these happenings.

    I agree there are people placed in positions as “Change Agents”
    They presented studies in the 80s and 90s which promoted neo-lib ideas.

    We often came across them in education, and the NZEI was active in refuting many ideas put forward. In the end both the secondary and primary teacher unions ran a very good programme showing how poor the concept of bulk funding/vouchers would be,
    BUT.. nek minute!!
    So yes, they just keep coming. Over 9 years they have altered things beyond belief, and now it is the Universities turn.
    Vote people, vote for change and don’t despair.

  10. I remember ‘the other parent’ of the NZ Initiative , in its last report , saying the free market wasn’t possible in the absence of infinite resources. Didn’t matter in our foggy popular culture. Only in reality.

  11. Banks require continuous expansion of their Ponzi financial system to provide the interest payments on money created out of thin air.

    Corporation require continuous expansion of markets to provide opportunities for growth in profits: ‘no one’ wants to accept steady state economics.

    Opportunists look for opportunities to extract more than their fair share from the commons.

    Banks, corporations and opportunists form a deadly combination that exploits the general populace and exploits the environment to the point of collapse.

    Collapse has not yet occurred, so banks, corporations and opportunists will continue to promote looting and polluting and exploitation……and call it ‘sustainable development’.

    Regional councils, district councils and city councils are simply agencies for rubber stamping looting, polluting and exploitation -as required by central government- and do not even comply with NZ Statutes these days because they are not required to.

    The vast majority of people in NZ do not know and do not care, which is why the ‘Orcs’ are able to continue to do what they do.

    • The only bank allowed should be a State owned bank run by an independent publicly elected body. Not the Govt.

      Growth is a product of private banking and fractional reserve plunder.

  12. Shocking, we need to vote the National party out, because if they get in again their ACT reforms, they will take teachers out of classrooms and substitute it with screens and our rivers will be full of faeces from foreign owned farms exporting profits.

    They are so brazen they might even try to change the laws now, so they can force it through after legally failing.

    That’s what dictators do. Like Trump with his muslim ban.

    • Ummmm, hate to burst your bubble there Savenz but Obama did the same, with more countries in the ban and for a longer period! Was he a dictator? Or better to just ignore that fact eh?

      • Actually, you are wrong.
        It is true that the seven countries in the original “ban” were listed as problematic under Obama, but wrong that he ever imposed a ban.

      • Actually, you are wrong.
        It is true that the seven countries in the original “ban” were listed as problematic under Obama, but wrong that he ever imposed a ban.

      • Actually, you are wrong.
        It is true that the seven countries in the original “ban” were listed as problematic under Obama, but wrong that he ever imposed a ban.

      • IMRight, I don’t recall Obama ever listing 7 countries by name. I believe he did it by the names of INDIVIDUALS and ORGANIZATIONS.

        So trying to deflect to Obama is just more useless alt-right propaganda that won’t wash with us.

    • Surely the ban is to be on visitors from countries that have no effective government with the capacity to vet or inform or control who travels where. Most if not all being countries where the US and allies have destroyed their government and order,” and left them for the rats to find”. So inevitably there are people within those broken countries with a deep and bitter resentment of the US, and provide every good reason for Tromp to see a need to keep them away.
      D J S

  13. I heard Martine Udahemuka from the New Zealand Initiative on RNZ yesterday morning and then on TV later.

    Ms Udahemuka proves the notion that you can be educated but still be stupid. Her utterances also suggest you can have an honours degree and be morbidly stupid. (To use the word from the title here.)

    Her (or her masters’) blinding ideology, sees her having little understanding of kids learning, of teaching or of schooling.

    That someone with a university education, representing some of the so called ‘elite’ of our business people, puts forward such intellectually bereft nonsense and brazenly expects it to be accepted, is probably the biggest condemnation of what they think of our education system.

  14. ” What to do? ”

    There’s two things that can be done. One of them is polite. The other is not.

    I was reading the June 9 issue of the ‘Otago/Southland Farmer’ news paper. Fascinating…..( Uuugh. )

    How many others have read it?

    It features a young woman and the ‘ new face’ of Southland Federated Farmers on the front page who also happens to be the meat and fibre chairwoman. Her and her husbands cunning plan is to try and avoid the inevitable ensnarement of the Banksters by being diverse in their farming practices.
    I see.
    As I read through the paper I saw a peppering of National Party Ministers. There was steve baldy joyce guffawing with a couple of hands in trousers types as they leaned back in that knowing fashion while not knowing much would be my bet. There was eric the never ready roy all polished of shoe and trying to remember where he left his car keys while hoping the greenies would all die of cancer because he wants to flush cows out with fresh water and get shit in return no doubt. Nathan Guy was there kissing any arse going past. Anything it takes to get farmers working harder as he sells them to foreign owned banks like the nice little slaves they are to the Big Blue National Party Monster. nate was waxing lyrical about how deeply important farming was the the Gubbimint in the way that the Gubbimint was able to administer to the people of Nu Zillind.

    A polite politician might try to take the farmer away from National and rejig that farmer/politician/urbane people relationship entirely. That would mean an end to the Kiwi 1% ers and a new era of prosperity for our mere 4.7 million.
    The 1%er’s that comprise National and sundry privateers ( Whom we’ve come to know as ‘ neoliberals’ ) who are well used to wallowing in easy billions will have a different idea about that all together.

    An impolite politician might amass about him or her an angry mob and go rampaging about the cities. The disenfranchised would join the mob and there’d be a riot the likes of which has not been seen in NZ and people would die and stuff would get broken. No real and lasting ‘ good ‘ would come of that. No one would like to see some of our politicians hanging by their crooked necks more than me but it’d be a fleeting satisfaction.

    We must ask; why is Labour not courting the farmer with an entirely new set of proposals since there are National Party politicians in the Otago/ Southland Farmer news paper wooing the farmer to a point of it being just a little bit of sick inducing? Farmers don’t have the voting numbers at about 50 k of them. They do have the money though. Or at least the money’s there after they sell their product and it then becomes someone else’s. See above.

    I have to ask… Is there any other farmer out there who, not only reads this Blog but might have an opinion on the above??

    It would bewilder most as to why Labour hasn’t tried to lobby the farmer. The reason for that is that Labour are duplicitous with National in their dishonesty.

    That’s why, as a country and as a people we’re in the shit up to our nostrils. All the rest, all the debate, all the high thinking is merely the fluff packaging the awful truth.

    • “why is Labour not courting the farmer with an entirely new set of proposals”

      Labour has positioned itself as the champion of the rural working class, focusing on issues like workplace safety. This is a realistic approach, given Labour’s union ties, and the industrialization of mainstream farming, with ownership of rural land increasingly shifting from farming families to holding companies representing investors.

      The Greens, with their ties to the organics movement and other small, diversified forms of farming, have a better chance than Labour of pitching themselves as the party of the family farmer. Putting forward candidates like John Hart seems like part of a strategy to do that. But the work NZ First is doing building themselves a base in the neglected regions is going to be more appealing to socially conservative rural folks. The Greens are going to have to work hard to convince rural people not only that their green tech approach is going to be more productive long-term than National/ NZ First brown tech, but that their socially liberal policies are not going to be the end of civilization.

  15. CT wrote
    “Their latest paper, entitled “Amplifying Excellence” represents itself as an attempt to rescue Maori and Pacific Island students from the professional failings of New Zealand’s teachers.”

    It’s the same game that’s been played in the USA (with Black and Hispanic students) where it’s turned into a disaster for the kids, the teaching profession and the tax payer.

    • Maori and Pacific Island students need to be rescued from the failings of politicians. We all need to be saved from the lunacy and problems people like John Banks created in Parliament and then the quasi solution charter schools they came up with.

  16. The big worry now is that the government will simply take over the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council and send in the Commissioners.
    They have set the precedent with ECAN in Canterbury when they could not press forward with their plans to irrigate and intensify farming. Look how well that worked out for the environment and the state of Canterbury waterways!
    With Commissioners in charge, they could invoke the Public Works Act in favour of “benefitting all of New Zealand” when we all know that the benefits will accrue to the famers and funders of the National party.
    Watch this space closely!

  17. The problem is that with a lack of socialist ideology, alternative ideologies creep in to fuill the void. Enter the Alt-Left and Alt-Right, which are nasty, neo-fascist variants of the usual Left-Right, Liberal-Conservative axis.

  18. Bollocks, Andrew. Teachers work with and get to know other people’s children, and come to care about them far more than you would ever know. That is why they tend to look for egalitarianism and a fair chance for all. Most parents , fortunately, come to get some appreciation of that. Would I be right in suspecting that you care greatly about your own children, so sent them to a private school?

  19. I always enjoy your contributions Chris (even though I don’t necessarily agree with all of them) because they always invite the reader to THINK outside the square.
    One persistent grumble on this blog is why can’t NZ Labour be more left, why are they a pale shade of pink and why can’t Andrew Little be more like Jeremy Corbyn?
    I think you have answered us over the last few years, if we have had the patience to read your articles.
    NZ Labour has not had to deal with the same endemic class society history as UK Labour has, therefore has evolved its own path to track the individual path of NZ society. We are not the same as Britain and if NZ Labour tries to copy UK Labour hoping to recreate the same results then they are in for a miserable time because it isn’t going to happen.
    NZ Labour has to go its own way, it will be frustrating for a lot of people but everyone has to ask themselves: What is better – a pale shade of pink or bright blue?. By demanding too much we may well have to put up with a lot more blue and the continued decay of our social services and social awareness.

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