Governing For The “Other Half” Of New Zealand

By   /   December 16, 2017  /   26 Comments

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THE LABOUR PARTY has never been very tolerant of dissenters. It is, therefore, unsurprising that very few within its ranks have reacted positively to my recent posting on The Daily Blog. No matter how many private reservations Labour supporters may be harbouring about Grant Robertson’s “fiscally responsible” economic policies, they would rather his critics refrained from giving public voice to their concerns.

THE LABOUR PARTY has never been very tolerant of dissenters. It is, therefore, unsurprising that very few within its ranks have reacted positively to my recent posting on The Daily Blog. No matter how many private reservations Labour supporters may be harbouring about Grant Robertson’s “fiscally responsible” economic policies, they would rather his critics refrained from giving public voice to their concerns.

The case they make for maintaining radio silence on the new government’s performance is that criticism, no matter how well-merited or constructive, will only reinforce the National Oppositions “shambolic” narrative. What Jacinda Ardern and her team need more than anything else at this time, argue their supporters, is a few weeks of relative calm in which to prepare themselves for the challenges of 2018.

Convincing New Zealanders that their new finance minister is not a swivel-eyed economic loon is regarded as crucial to this process of political consolidation. Grant Robertson winning accolades from mainstream journalists for his fiscal and economic responsibility is much more to be desired, at this stage of proceedings, than receiving the hearty endorsement of radical leftists. It’s “baby steps” that Labour needs to take right now – not giant strides.

One critic of my criticism put it like this:

“What you are dealing with in NZ today, is a fairly conservative political climate. The political Left is no longer a strong and coherent force. The electorate is split roughly down the middle between Left and Right. Any government somehow has to bridge the conflicts and disunity to represent the voting population, and it’s going to be centrist. The new government is treading carefully very deliberately, so as not to alienate the business sector or impede market confidence. The new government has to gain confidence and that imperative guides it for now.”

But, if the electorate is “split roughly down the middle”, then describing the Left as no longer “a strong and coherent force” makes no sense. Equally nonsensical is the suggestion that in a society characterised by “conflicts and disunity” the only viable strategy is to embrace the politics of centrism. Governing on behalf of the centre makes sense when, on social and economic issues, there is a broad measure of agreement. While that may have been the case in the 1960s, it is certainly not true of today.

Nor is it true that New Zealanders are living in a “fairly conservative climate”. Mainstream newspaper and magazine editors may like to think that their own conservative views are also those of the majority; and talkback hosts like Leighton Smith will loudly insist that they are; but that half of the population routinely excluded from mainstream political discourse seethes with entirely justifiable resentment and barely suppressed rage.

These New Zealanders are unlikely to be mollified or impressed by the spectacle of a Labour-led government “treading carefully very deliberately so as not to alienate the business sector or impede market confidence.” They have, after all, seen this happen many times before and they know that the moment “their” government makes the maintenance of business confidence its No. 1 priority, then all hope of it ever living up to its promise of “transforming” society flies out the window.

Because, of course, gaining and maintaining the confidence of the business sector involves a great deal more than managing-down Crown debt and building up healthy surpluses. Nothing requires more in the way of constant state intervention and control than a laissez-faire economy. The slightest hint that the plethora of legal constraints required to keep the markets “free” might be thinned-out or, horror of horrors, done away with altogether, is absolutely guaranteed to send the confidence of the business sector into a nosedive.

Just recall the howls of outrage that accompanied Metira Turei’s promise to make a bonfire of the MSD’s hated “sanctions”. New Zealand’s brutal social welfare regime fulfils exactly the same role as Britain’s nineteenth century workhouses: it is a means of ensuring that workers will accept low wages and poor working conditions in preference to enduring the humiliation and material deprivation of life on “the benefit”. Any relaxation of the “rules” governing beneficiaries’ lives would shake the business sector to its core.

Even more destabilising to the business sector would be any serious attempt on the part of a “transformational government” to rebuild the strength and fighting spirit of the trade union movement. Restoring “compulsory unionism”, and lifting the current legal restrictions on the right to strike, would instantly provoke employers into full-scale revolt. They do not need to read the works of Karl Polanyi to know that “the only way politically to temper the destructive influence of organized capital and its ultra-market ideology [is] with highly mobilized, shrewd, and sophisticated worker movements.”

My point is that just about any measure aimed at loosening the controls that keep the “free market” running smoothly will be deemed unacceptable by the business sector. Any attempt to make the lives of working-class people less constrained and fearful; any move to emancipate and empower the inhabitants of the social depths; will be interpreted by those who occupy the commanding heights of our society as a direct thrust at their interests and privileges.

Yes, raising taxes and/or increasing the deficit would be regarded as an unfriendly act, but so, too, would decriminalising marijuana, or emptying the prisons of all those found guilty of victimless crimes, or following the example of Costa Rica and abolishing the armed forces.

In the end, the promise to be a “transformational” government is a promise to put the need of the many ahead of the greed of the few. That will do nothing to retain the confidence of the business sector, but it might just be enough to win the confidence of that “other half” of the New Zealand people whose votes made this government possible.

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26 Comments

  1. David Stone says:

    It’s hard to google useful figures, but it looks like benefits cost NZ 30.6Billion a year paid to between 250 thousand and 300 thousand recipients. Whether this includes 65+ super I haven’t got clear yet but roughly that means that each beneficiary costs $ 100 000+ per yr.
    Obviously most of that must be absorbed in the administration of the departments, largely to police the recipients to see they don’t receive too much. Metira’s more relaxed modifications would likely have halved the overall costs of the scheme except for putting most of the policing staff on the dole too. Where they would cause less harm.
    If 3 million adults were paid a UBI of $10 000 with no administration costs like super it would cost about the same. If every adult were paid the actual super $12 500 to $15 000 it wouldn’t make much difference and could easily be recovered in a wee bit extra tax.
    Most if not all business people, engaged in any business that is serving or supplying the public rather than in the finance industry, and ultimately most of them too, can only continue to remain viable if there is buying power in the hands of most people. As the poverty trap continues to move through society as it is doing like a disease, infecting an ever larger portion of us with joblessness and inadequate remuneration the market for the successful businesses is withering.
    If Chris is correct in thinking the most of the business sector begrudges the payment of liveable wages and benefits then they don’t understand what supports their business.
    But I don’t think most business people do begrudge the poor and underprivileged a living. They want to make their enterprise work. Maybe they are sometimes to busy to stand back and look at the whole picture.

    Anyway where is Winston in all this steady as she goes crap? It doesn’t seem like what he was talking about. Have they got a secret plan they don’t want to talk about till they’r ready?

    D J S

    • CLEANGREEN says:

      Seems like it David.

      This steady as she goes shit is not transformartional it is just ‘National lite’.

      Anyway the tax working group must pull a big cash injection out of theitr hat else the national crap may be returning in 2020.

      You see we spend two years knocking on Michael Cullens door in Napier between 2005 and 2007 asking him to buy back our rail system which he finally did in 2008.

      But in that case he left it to late to get the thing up and running in time to convince the voters labour was up to fixing what was broken.

      This time they must now know that keeping this ‘go slow policy’ will quickly have them again out the door if they dont get cracking early and get these promses into gear to show what they are made of this time.

      • bert says:

        Actually I take note of this pertinent comment…Tracey Martin

        “What will 2018 bring? More of the same. There is so much to do and so little time, and what we do must be done well not just in haste. Our challenges are many. We have discovered large holes where there is no funding allocated to provide services required or announcements made by the previous government. Particularly in my role as Minister for Children and Associate Education with responsibility for those students with special needs. The care needed is so great yet no real budget was set. So that is a challenge but I believe we are up to it.”

        “What must be done, must be done well not just in haste”

    • Marc says:

      The roughly 285,000 on main benefits (plus supplements) do NOT include superannuitants, those receiving super, my friend.

      They would add another substantial number, and cost more per person in most cases.

      So perhaps try another calculation with that in mind.

      • David Stone says:

        Thanks Marc
        That has $11billion going to super with presumably negligible administration costs, so leaves just under $20 billion for 285 beneficiaries ,= $70 175 ea. Still leaves most of it in the administration system doesn’t it?
        D J S

  2. SpaceMonkey says:

    Perhaps we are living so far to the right that the left is still centre-right and the right is far right. Neoliberalism certainly looks to me the economic of facism.

    Simply put, Labour are no longer left enough and neoliberalism is dormant not extinct.

    • Historian Pete says:

      The U.S. has two rightwing parties competing against each other, both directed by competing groups of Oligarchs.The U.K Labour party is stacked to the gunnels with Blairites in the Parliament. The Australian Labour Party is on a par with the N.Z. National Party.This is the problem.If we do not implement some radical policies now, when will we get the chance?

  3. Quicksilver says:

    Transformation can be a slow process too, Chris. The new government is up against some very powerful, very pervasive institutions who effortlessly control public discourse and narrative because they own most of the bloody media.

    An abrupt revolutionary change in structures without apparent good cause will undoubtedly see a backlash of epic proportions, which Muddle Nu Zilund will support (remember most Hobbits are blind to poverty, racism and their own wage slavery & theres at least 40-odd % of these ignoramuses in the voting population, judging by last election, right?).
    Such a backlash could become self sustaining and result in a one-term govt., no matter how much you hope the sleepy hobbits wake up (don’t worry, there’s another Hosking out there waiting to pick up where he left off and keep the 40% nicely restrained in their idealogical straitjackets).
    In fact, you only need need sample the MSM headlines for any one day and the huge anti-Coalition bias is there for all to see, and this started before they’d had a chance to do even one thing!
    So yeah, I can understand the softly softly approach – for now.

    However, unsurprisingly, it appears this system of wealth extraction from poor to rich is about to go all GFC-ish again. And when it does, it presents the opportunity to respond, not with austerity and public bail-outs of private institutions, but something altogether more socially beneficial. A response more closely aligned with Labour and NZF’s policies.
    Remember, not even NZ’s greatest betrayer, R. Douglas, was prepared to usher in his revolutionary change to existing structures without the excuse of a (manufactured, in his case) crisis that apparently demanded his particular unsavoury response. It legitimised his radical reforms in the eye of the electorate. It made them somehow more palatable (to some, anyway), and gave him the breathing room to implement the “revolution of the rich”. Let this upcoming crisis be the Coalitions “anti-Rogernomics” moment.

    There’s no point painting the run down old blue shed a lovely fresh red, when it’s going to rain and wash it all off. You renovate when the time is right! 🙂

    • WILD KATIPO says:

      Nice comment.

      I particularly liked the reference of Douglas not being to prepared to move until he had his people lined up in Treasury to manufacture a crisis to justify their logic. Logic that consistently being shown to be flawed.

      They practiced this same deceit several times.

      What we are now living under is a direct result of that theft and deceit.

      Something that anyone with half a conscience would find gallingly intolerable and demand its rectification , which is , in a way , … what Mr Trotter is suggesting.

      The restoration of an economics system that is equitable for the many , not just the few.

  4. Iain Mclean says:

    Chris;

    “No matter how many private reservations Labour supporters may be harbouring about Grant Robertson’s “fiscally responsible” economic policies, they would rather his critics refrained from giving public voice to their concerns.”

    Yes. What a big bloody disappointment Grant Robertson is.!

    Fucking Fabian Socialists the lot of them, including Clarke, Cullen et al.

    Revisit John Minto and my thread of comments.
    https://thedailyblog.co.nz/2017/08/02/labours-last-throw-of-the-neo-liberal-dice/

    It was my hope that NZF would temper these guys. Maybe to come?

    Lets just hope that Winston can get this unfinished Trade Deal with Russia through.

    At a time when so many nations are pulling away from unelected officials as in Brexit, America, the TPPA and with many more to come, our fate seems to be sealed with the thumb of the Queen’s Commonwealth.

    Ted Malloch, an ex- Globalist believes the EU will break up in near future.

    With all the EU / MSM bashing of the man, you just know he is genuine.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ted_Malloch

    A recent 1hr interview on a show not to mention is well worth the listen.

    EU collapse is something Dr Steve Pieczenik has stated many months ago as well.

    As John Minto reflects, maybe NZ need to experience another 3yrs of Neo-Liberalism before we finally wake up and put our total trust in NZF.

    Time will tell.

    Cheers.

    • Strypey says:

      I really don’t understand this uncritical bashing of the EU. The reason right-wing US conspiracy theorists really rail against the EU is because their function is to parrot talking points produced by corporate PR companies. Anyone who actually follows the way the EU uses it regulatory powers will find that it routinely regulates against corporate interests for social or environmental reasons. For example, the EU defends the right of workers to travel freely between EU countries, preventing corporations from keeping workers penned up inside national borders, and forcing them to compete with each other for jobs, by taking lower wages and worse working conditions (eg NZ to China).

      I’m not saying the EU is perfect, not by a long shot, and yes, there are constant attempts by corporatists to hijack it and use it to regulate in their favour. But the same is true of the US, and there the corporatists succeed much more often (see the recent vote against Net Neutrality by the FCC).

  5. WILD KATIPO says:

    WHERE BIKERS STARE AT COWBOYS
    WHO ARE LAUGHING’ AT THE HIPPIES
    WHO ARE PRAYING’ THEY’LL GET OUT OF HERE ALIVE…

    Always find those lyrics funny…

    What I dont find funny is the very valid points Mr Chris Trotter raises…

    Just take these two points for instance…

    ………………………………..

    … ” Just recall the howls of outrage that accompanied Metira Turei’s promise to make a bonfire of the MSD’s hated “sanctions”. New Zealand’s brutal social welfare regime fulfils exactly the same role as Britain’s nineteenth century workhouses: it is a means of ensuring that workers will accept low wages and poor working conditions in preference to enduring the humiliation and material deprivation of life on “the benefit”. Any relaxation of the “rules” governing beneficiaries’ lives would shake the business sector to its core.

    Even more destabilising to the business sector would be any serious attempt on the part of a “transformational government” to rebuild the strength and fighting spirit of the trade union movement ” …

    …………………………………

    1 / The facts are , – it was Ruth Richardson in her RADICAL ‘reforms’ in her zeal to dismantle our social democracy that approached Treasury to ascertain a weekly income for a low wage worker. Following having a small task force report back and present a bare minimum that someone could survive on , – she then determined how much beneficiaries would receive by setting their benefits 20% BELOW that !

    In other words , – that the unemployment benefit would be unlivable.

    It was also Ruth Richardson who introduced the punitive and widely held in contempt Employment Contracts Act 1991. And its primary purpose was to gut Trade Unions power and force people to accept the minimum wage to be offered . Something even Roger Douglas , – Richardsons fellow neo liberal traveler failed to achieve.

    *********************

    Ken Douglas, then president of the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions, recalled in the 1996 documentary Revolution:

    ” The Employment Contracts Act was deliberately intended to individualise the employment relationship. It was a natural outcome of the ideological propaganda of rugged individualism, of self-interest and greed and the appeal to individuals that you could find better for you by climbing over the tops of your colleagues, your mates, and so on. Ruth Richardson was very clear, very blunt, very honest about its purpose. It was to achieve a dramatic lowering of wages, very, very quickly ”.

    Roger Douglas, minister of finance in the preceding fourth Labour government, said (after his retirement from politics):

    ”I think the labour market changes in 1990 were first class. I think, unfortunately, Caygill and the Labour party had let the fiscal situation slip from where it was in 1988 and Ruth put that back on the road ”.

    Ruthanasia – Wikipedia
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ruthanasia

    **********************

    The article then goes on to say that Ruthanasia came to an end after the 1993 election. It didn’t . It is still here with us 27 years after that vicious woman conducted her social , economic and and industrial genocides on New Zealanders.

    And genocide it was , – as the fall out on the health and security of thousands of New Zealanders declined , – as combined with low wages and a dismantled health system , along with poor housing and insufferable conditions in cold damp houses leading directly to the deaths of hundreds, …many of which the cause of death had gone unnoticed until recently when the deliberately manufactured housing crisis under the recent National government was being highlighted…

    1600 deaths attributed to cold houses each winter in New Zealand …
    http://www.noted.co.nz/…/1600-deaths-attributed-to-cold-houses-each-winter-in-new-zeala...

    2 / And much of this leads directly into the other point , – ( despite more or less having outlined both above ) – is one which Mr Trotter has made abundantly clear over the years , – nay , – decades… in that the REASON we find ourselves in this position with the reversal of the emancipation of workers , and in fact the increasing prevalence of worker exploitation , decreased real time wages and the erosion of rights , conditions and the security of work itself , – is the direct result of the neo liberal dismantling of our economic and social / political system over 33 years ago.

    The erosion of hard won emancipation’s of workers that generations fought – even died for – in this country. Those hard won victory’s that not so long ago made New Zealand the envy of the world as a model of egalitarian lifestyle.

    And the first thing to realize is that in New Zealand neo liberalism is NOT orthodox.

    And the other is that it is NOT designed to introduce lower prices through competition and higher wages by ‘ trickling down’.

    It was introduced into New Zealand to displace Keynesian economics , dismantle our social democracy and enable the plundering of the assets and wealth that the taxpayers of this country had built up over generations , – and that had done so in a remarkably effective manner.

    It was planned and implemented by the London based Mont Pelerin Society , using their local branch the Business Roundtable ( now renamed the New Zealand Initiative ) and their political operatives Roger Douglas and Ruth Richardson. Both of the latter being Board members of the Mont Pelerins themselves.

    True economic ‘ orthodoxy ‘ in a historical sense regarding NZ is Keynesianism. Developed by John Maynard Keynes during the 1930’s from Cambridge University , England. And it was under the first Labour govt , and more specifically , its Prime Minister Michael Joseph Savage that ran with the new economic theory and because of that , – ushered in an era that was unsurpassed in general egalitarianism and prosperity.

    That was , until 1984.

    The 4th Labour govt.

    Which , along with the Bolger led National govt several years after were to prove among the most unpopular govts in NZ’s history. Mainly due to their neo liberalism and the subversion of the NZ way of life and destruction of the prosperity of the New Zealand population at large. I always like to include a magnificent chronology (via the below link ) of the events that led up to the neo liberal subversion which includes the individuals involved , their motives and the catastrophic effects of that unorthodox subversion on NZ society and that has plagued this country circa 1984.

    New Right Fight – Who are the New Right?
    http://www.newrightfight.co.nz/pageA.html

    Other good links are these two both of which are NZ produced visual / audio documentary’s graphically showing the neo liberal take over of NZ:

    New Zealand – In a Land of Plenty Full Doco – YouTube
    Video for New Zealand – In a Land of Plenty Full Doco▶ 1:44:13
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x04aJ_ICqYo

    New Zealand – Somebody Elses Country Full Doco – YouTube
    Video for New Zealand – Somebody Elses Country Full Doco▶ 1:47:20
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QJQvKIHV6n4

  6. Matthew Hooton says:

    What happens after your last paragraph?

  7. Louis says:

    Your opinion is your own Chris, you do not speak for others and can only speak for yourself. I harbour no reservations in regards to Grant Robertson and I think the new government is doing great considering how obstructive National and the media are being. It was never going to be BAM! everything changed, it was always going to be in steps to achieve goals and its way past due “to put the need of the many ahead of the greed of the few” and thats what the new government are attempting to do and good on them!

    • bert says:

      Yes and here I thought it was only my 13 year old daughter and 16 year old son who wanted instant gratification? Fuck, they’ve only been in 5 seconds!

  8. Marc says:

    The only ‘leftists’ that I meet in New Zealand tend to be grey haired, often bearded folks over sixty or seventy years old.

    Most of the younger generation have long moved on and settled for the modern day of neoliberal age treats like fancy i-phones, the newest Samsung Galaxy, perhaps a useful tablet, to keep them busy 24/7 with games, chatter, newest pics and click bait ‘news’, never mind what some distant ‘government’ in Wellington may be up to.

    So what is the solution, Mr Trotter, or are we going to open a ‘revolutionary retirement home’ for the remnants of truly left thinking people still around here and in a few other places?

  9. R.P. Mcmurphy says:

    no party is tolerant of dissenters so why single out the NZLP. if you dont have anything positive to say then you should be quiet.