GUEST BLOG: Finn Flynn – The Road to Serfdom: ACT’s map to backwards

The saddest boy in the world with the loneliest robot ever built

As with early Christians, the martyrdom of Liz Truss for her faith in neoliberalism did not deter fellow believers from accepting that tax cuts for the rich, cutting economy-stabilising regulations, and cutting social services will eventually lead us all to the land of milk and honey, despite overwhelming evidence that the gospel of monetarism and austerity has failed worldwide except for the fabulously wealthy. ACT leader David Seymour is one such acolyte. 

He was introduced to the creed while studying philosophy at university – he also got a degree in electrical engineering – having studied the works of Friedrich Hayek.

If Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations is the Pentateuch for neoliberal economists, then Freidrich Hayek’s Road to Serfdom is their New Testament. Philosopher and economist Hayek published his ominous predictions in 1944 as the Western allies were linking arms with Joseph Stalin to beat Nazi Germany. Stalin was proof, as far as Hayek was concerned, that socialism inevitably leads to authoritarianism and the only bulwark against dictatorship is unalloyed individualism and laissez-faire capitalism. 

His views rose from the muddy trenches of World War One in which he had fought as a teenager. Millions had been drafted into the maw of war by competing monarchs – authoritarians by an earlier name – without much choice. They may have had the right to vote but they did not have the power of self-determination. Really, they were owned by the states in which they had been born to be used and abused at the whim of their overlords. Without economic freedom and individual choice, all classes except the capital-owning class were still living in a latter-day serfdom.

Authoritarian monarchism had effectively killed itself along with the millions who had died in its service on the battlefields of Europe, but the spectre of a Soviet mono-archy seemed a real threat to Hayek. 

His views on economic liberalism gelled perfectly with the American idyll of strong male individualism as part of the American Dream. The Road to Serfdom became a canon for neoliberals and neoconervatives kenneled for years by  the “socialist” president Franklin D Roosevelt who, according to FDR’s New York peers, was a “traitor to his class’ and had sold America’s soul by buying the American people with welfare programs for the poor at the expense of the wealthy. Hayek believed that Roosevelt’s tampering with Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” had reversed America’s trajectory and put it on the road back to serfdom. 

Hayek’s book is big on rhetoric, a theoretical work thin of real world examples. He doesn’t reflect on how Britain’s neoliberalism in the 1860s caused a potato blight that affected all of Europe to become a slaughter only in Ireland because Robert Peel refused to interrupt “market forces.” It doesn’t touch on the market distortions caused by the ultrarich in the 1890s through the 1920s that led to the great depression, nor how the hands-off response by Herbert Hoover forced a quarter of Americans into unemployment.  And of course, having died in 1992, he was in no position to comment on the Great Recession of 2008 caused by banking and finance deregulation, when the invisible hand was free to run amok.

Hayek influenced the Chicago school of economics whose champion, Milton Friedman, informed Ronald Reagan’s and Maggie Thatcher’s anti-government, anti-regulation policies.  And it inspired Roger Douglas who became New Zealand’s finance minister under David Lange’s 1984 Labour government.

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Under the previous prime minister Robert Muldoon, the accrual of petty rules and regulations had stifled economic innovation and vitality, which caused fiscal haemorrhaging. Reform was urgently due, but Douglas used a rusty pocket knife instead of a sterilised scalpel to cut to the core of the problem. He hacked off whole limbs rather than excising particular cancers.  Douglas’s frenzied slashing of regulations, the garage sale of public assets and destruction of public services no doubt saved the country from short term financial hazard, but it also profoundly damaged whole sectors of the economy for years to come. Opportunists, local and international, gorged themselves on the massively undervalued assets, launching the likes of Michael Fay, David Richwhite, Graeme Hart and Eric Watson to stratospheric wealth while hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders lost their jobs, homes, businesses and marriages.

David Seymour was only two years old when Roger Douglas first wielded his knife, too young to remember the damage that took so long to heal, and certainly never felt the effects himself. And Seymour wants to step in his mentor’s shoes. ACT’s policies follow Hayek’s dark walkabout.

Reagan, Thatcher and Douglas promised that giving huge tax breaks to the ultra wealthy would make all boats rise on an incoming tide of economic growth. But it has been nearly forty years and there is no single example of this happening anywhere in the world. Tax cuts sometimes generate a small short-term economic uptick but then show no further positive effect. Crude indicators like GDP might show total economic growth, but almost all the benefits don’t trickle down. They bubble up.

But neoliberal true-believers can’t let results get in the way of their idyll. Despite most Kiwis suffering significant financial strain during Labour’s first term, Roger Douglas promised that a bit more time and some doubling down would yield the promised results. It did not happen. Lange resigned as prime minister, Labour imploded and the National Party got in. By then, National had also drunk the Chicago School Koolaid, and starting in 1990, new finance minister Ruth Richardson continued Douglas’s dream with even greater fervour. 

The result was the same: rich people got richer, real income for the vast majority remained static or diminished, government regulation was indescriminately cut, leading to disasters like the leaky building debacle (more about that later) and cuts to social and infrastructure spending. Poverty increased, rents increased as did homelessness, and for the first time since the great depression, soup kitchens and food banks opened to feed the wretched. 

The electorate was sick of the false promises and diminishing returns, and Prime Minister Jim Bolger fired Richardson from her portfolio in 1993. Not long after, the disgusted Douglas set up the Association of Consumers and Taxpayers – the ACT party.  

It’s been nearly 30 years since ACT’s founding, and the results are in. Uncompromising monetarism, austerity and tinkering with taxes has been a failure worldwide. And yet the fantasy still exists with true believers despite evidence to the contrary, the most recent example being the UK’s Liz Truss, recently removed as PM for tanking Britain’s financial fortunes within a mere six weeks. 

The Conservative Party has no choice, if it really intends retaining power at the next election, but to invoke the spectre of The Other, an ineffable evil from which only conservatives, they say, can save us. In the 20-teens, PM David Cameron rode on the fear of immigrants and Euro-sneering to steer the UK towards Brexit, surely one of the greatest political own-goals in modern history, but which kept the party in power for a decade. He knew that alienated electors fearing loss of their meagre stock in life will grasp onto the cuff of anyone who promises a better, more secure future, even if the recipe is the perverse logic of making the wealthy wealthier. The desperate will cling to wreckage no matter how flimsy.

The United States is the richest country in the world, but most of it is owned by a few hundred families while vast swathes of the population live below the poverty line. But a black man in the White House gave America’s nuvo-aristocracy the opportunity to divert attention from wealth disparity as the root cause of America’s mass poverty. They poured billions of dollars into conservative lobby groups and political campaigns that painted a Dante-esque picture of America’s impending slide into hell, and that good God-fearing white folk would lose everything to the antiChrist, just like Revelations predicted. Obama’s rise also raised from the dead the souls of KKK wizards and Charles Lindbergh’s Madison Square nazis. He triggered the exhumation of America’s slumbering racism. 

Racism is in America’s marrow. But money is in its blood. From its earliest days, race has run cover for greed, for money. Schoolbook histories of the 1622 Jamestown Massacre paint innocent God-fearing Pigrims being murdered by godless heathen simply because the native Americans were bloodlusting pagans. There’s no mention of the Pilgrims stealing crops and land from them, despite numerous warnings to desist. Eventually local tribes fought to stop the pillaging and get their stuff back. Greed killed the Pilgrims, but for two centuries historians blamed race.

Historian Howard Zinn’s A People’s History added impetus to  a trend among academics to re-view the Civil War primarily as a conflict of economic interests rather than of skin colour or abolitionism or states’ rights. Since then, other historians like Heather Cox Richardson and Kurt Andersen have written extensively on the struggle by a wealthy elite to expand their economic and financial pre-eminence, and to use the political system to advance that objective.

It was not socialism that kept Black Americans in serfdom after emancipation. It was a plutarchy – the still-rich barons of the South who used their wealth to distort democracy despite the liberating intentions of the North’s reconstruction policies. 

Pitting poor whites against poor blacks has worked distracting focus from the democracy distorting effects of ultra-wealth for 200 years until the 1960s. But the ploy became less effective after President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act in 1964, and Martin Luther King realised that racial equality was worthless if communities were still shackled by economic inequality of opportunity. He switched his focus to economic justice. So the plutocrats have had to use other Others to scare voters into voting against their own pecuniary interests.

Immigrants, gender diverse, Muslims, atheists, the Chinese government, socialists, communists, paedophiles and basement-dwelling baby eaters, anti-Bible and anti-gun anti-Christs… they were suddenly all out to get us. The answer was to build walls. The big beautiful wall Trump promised for the US-Mexican border was more emblematic than concrete. The real walls went up internally, between Americans, between counties, between families, between hearts. 

The wealthy increasingly lock themselves in metaphorical and material bunkers. Billions of dollars have been spent on securing gated communities, renovating disused Cold War missile silos as luxury survivalist foxholes ready for The Storm. The ultra-wealthy have bolt holes around the world in case they have to abandon the US, the home made unlivable by their excess. Many now own property in New Zealand. Multi-billionaire Peter Thiel is now building an underground “resort” on the outskirts of Wanaka. He has donated multi-millions to far-right Republican candidates, giving $30 million to favoured GOP candidates in the upcoming midterm elections. His vision for America, and ultimately New Zealand, is explicit: “Since 1920, the vast increase in welfare beneficiaries and the extension of the franchise to women – two constituencies that are notoriously tough for libertarians – have rendered the notion of capitalist democracy into an oxymoron. I no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible.” 

Nevertheless, for a former Wall St currency trader, the smell of money was too great. John Key sold Peter Thiel New Zealand citizenship within 12 days of his application. It’s worth noting that Key has recently admitted that he would have voted for Trump, and that if he was Brazilian he would vote for Bolsonaro. Incidentally, Thiel is now applying for citizenship to Malta, presumably so that when New Zealand is no longer safe for him, he can move on to another bolt hole.

Greed, according to Yuval Noah Harari, was once not really a thing, at least not for the 99.99 percent. Prior to modern times, serfs could expect a lifetime of menial work, with subsistence and procreation being the only marks of success. Benign servitude and a quick death was a lucky life. The less lucky suffered what Hobbes characterised as a nasty, brutish and short existence. The lack of possibilities meant that aspiration was a mental disorder. 

Ancient Egypt remained unchanged for about 3000 years before being overrun by the Romans. The Romans lasted about 11 centuries. And while there was an evolving of technology and variations in the form of government, progress  was so slow that any given generation could not detect any real change in their circumstances. But with the withering of feudal society and the attenuation of monarchic power, the general populace could envision better futures for themselves. For the first time in human history, there was a road out of serfdom. Ambition was born.

Yet none of these civilisations disappeared as a result of disease, or even war. Rather, they were torn apart from within, from increasingly vicious infighting between patricians as they battled to take more of the cake for themselves. Eventually weakened by their own avarice, only then did they succumb to the opportunistic diseases of war and famine.

That’s how nations die. And it happens frighteningly fast. The Berlin Wall fell without prediction. The Arab Spring ignited after a street vendor in Tunisia immolated himself in protest at police corruption. No intelligence agency in the world had any inkling revolution was afoot. The uprising that toppled the Shah also combusted spontaneously without the CIA having a clue it was imminent. And that’s why Iran’s mullahs are so ferociously suppressing women’s street protests after the religious morals police killed a woman for not wearing her headscarf correctly. 

Who would have thought in 2008 when Obama won office that the White House would, in 2021, be invaded by gun-toting “patriots” calling for the vice president’s execution? In 2020, who would have thought that two years on, Jacinda Ardern, cabinet ministers, public service workers and medical staff would be routinely threatened with rape and murder? Who would have thought that our own “white house” would be laid siege for three weeks in early 2022?

Ostensibly it was about vaccine mandates, but the protesters had a full palette of fantasmological motives, almost all of which seeped from the United States via the internet. Q was with them apparently, along with God, John Kennedy Jr and Andrew Wakefield. But essentially it was an outpouring of unfocussed rage and fear. 

Fear is more contagious than covid, and has the power to coalesce mildly disgruntled individuals into raging mobs  And it’s that which demagogues aim to exploit. It is no surprise that self-ordained Bishop Brian Tamaki, fleecer of flocks, rose to the occasion, leading his lambs to rally against, well, everything. 

He had tried gaining political power by forming the Destiny Party in 2003 but New Zealanders lacked the collective anxiety to be conned by millennialism. But by 2019, things were changing. Debt was rampant, housing prices and rent were skyrocketing. More importantly, wealth disparity was becoming grossly conspicuous. So Hannah Tamaki launched her VisionNZ party to capitalise on the growing resentment and anxiety. When covid struck, political flibbertigibbet Jami-Lee Ross launched Advance New Zealand, but his reputation was so stained by lies, it failed so he teamed up with conspiracist and artless dodger Billy Te Kahika under the New Zealand Public Party, which also turned out to be a wet squib.

These fringe parties may have failed to sway the masses but the Tamakis’ predatory olfaction is shared by New Zealand’s established right wing parties. David Seymour smells blood in the water too.

Seymour is smart enough to know that charismatic Christianity in New Zealand will fly politically as well as a deep fried kereru. But he also knows that the best way to achieve power is offering his services to the lords of wealth. His promise is to help them make more money and accrue more political leverage. He made that plain in his ACT annual conference speech in July: “Some people think it’s somehow wrong that many of New Zealand’s greatest business people got together and donated over a million dollars to ACT in March alone. I’m very proud that such people are backing us.”

Conservatism is the natural home of millionaires because they seek to maintain the social and political structures that nurtured their wealth. And despite all the business-speak about innovation and embracing risk, they are actually risk averse. They worry that one wrong step and their jenga towers will crash. Ultra-conservatives go a step further, or more accurately, a step back. All rightwing governments legitimize their policies by invoking national myths of once-greatness. That means winding back any advances that challenge upper class supremacy. 

It’s worth noting that the National Party always seeks “businessmen” for its upper executive, believe that only businessmen are capable of running a government, and that the country should be run like a corporation. John Key was drafted because he was supposedly a businessman. (In fact, Key had never started or run his own business but has simply been a salary worker like most of us. Any business risks he may have taken were with other people’s money. What really qualified him for leadership of National was simply his wealth.) Chris Luxon similarly is simply a well-paid salary worker with a commerce degree.  

Seymour’s entire working life has been as a policy wonk and recidivist ACT candidate. He’s never had a real job. He has never even worked in a business let alone run one and yet, like Brian Tamaki, he postures as a new messiah; the messiah of the monied. 

Imported American conspiracy theories have created the perfect environment to grow right wing opportunities for political wannabes, and Seymour is no longer content to be National’s lapdog, He wants to be its pitbull. He has accused National of doing nothing about going backwards. “Five times National has followed Labour into Government, and five times Labour’s policies have comfortably survived the change. It’s the corrosive slump of easy options that’s given us New Zealand today. ACT is on track to play a powerful role in the next Government. We won’t allow National to lazily roll over Labour’s policies like it has in Governments gone by.”

Retrogression is at the core of ACT’s policies. At the party conference, Symour laid out ACT’s plan for the first 100 days of government, and it contains not one single constructive policy. Rather, it is about destruction. This is not to be confused with economist Peter Schumpeter’s  “creative destruction.” It is simply about, as he puts it, “a laundry list of reversals.”

First on his 100-day axe list was repealing Three Waters. New Zealanders have been complaining for generations about the shit, toilet paper and tampons, not to mention the cocktail of heavy metals, that choke our beaches after every heavy weather event. Aucklanders have been goading politicians to clean up the mess for at least 30 years, but they seem more concerned with fiscal matters than faecal matter. Too costly, they say.

Over that time, Auckland’s population has grown from less than a million by roughly 55 percent. And it’s not just a big city problem. Rivers and lakes across the country are now heavily populated by agricultural runoff. 

LAWA (Land, Air, Water Aotearoa),  a monitoring agency shared by regional councils, government, and science organisations, revealed recently that of 1727 rivers and lakes, 82 percent of non-alpine waterways are polluted to some degree, the main culprits being E coli, synthetic fertilisers, stock urea and heavy metals. Algal blooms, once rare, are now standard summer visitors. And in Canterbury alone, at least 600 people have to use bottled water for months because of elevated nitrate levels, the result of animal sewage ingress and nitrate fertilisers.

All over the country, old underground pipes are letting filthy water into household  supplies. Wastewater treatment plants are having trouble with increased sewage volumes as populations grow. Local bodies face huge infrastructure upgrade costs, in many cases far beyond the rating base able to pay for them. One in five New Zealanders get their drinking water from systems that do not comply with first world standards. Its systems fall below the performance assessments of all UK water supplies, in some cases less than half the quality of British water.

ACT’s answer is to go backwards. It wants infrastructure to be returned to the same local bodies that cannot afford to maintain let alone upgrade them. In other words, ACT offers no solutions; to the contrary it offers to accelerate water quality decline. Why? Because it is politically expedient to do so. Slogans – “repeal Three Waters” – are easier to sell to the electorate than actually fixing a serious problem.

ACT prescribes selling off public assets to private operators, supposedly to attract investment, create more jobs and ignite economic growth, but which again benefit only large corporations. Privatisation of water systems has been a disaster worldwide. Note the Flint disaster in Michigan where the private provider knowingly supplied water contaminated with heavy metals to its consumers. Also note the price gouging by the American Bechtel and Biwater consortium after they took over local water supplies. And just recently, UK private water company Southern Water has stopped sending out information of sewage leaks on beaches after rain events. The message is clear; private profit trumps public health. Welcome to ACT world. And even public water supplies are in jeopardy due to municipal underfunding; Jackson, Mississippi’s must boil their tap water or risk disease or death. Third world water in a supposedly first world state.

If you want to know what deregulation does, simply remember when the Building Act 1991 freed the building industry from many of the rules that governed construction quality. By 2009, the estimated cost of remediating or replacing leaking buildings stood at more than $11 billion, not to mention the incalculable costs of stress-induced illness, suicides and marriage failures. If you want to find out more about the devastation caused by industry deregulation, read Rottenomics by John Dyer.

Similar building sector disasters happened in Canada and the UK. If anyone wants to delve into how deregulation corrodes quality building, check out documentaries of the Ronin Point and Grenfell Tower disasters. They were built during Thatcher’s deregulation to supposedly improve competitive efficiency and productivity. Now there are more than 1500 apartment  towers in the UK that are constructed in the same way as Grenfell and Ronin Point. Over decades, local authorities have spent multi-millions on propping up these shonky structures, and still they are not deemed safe from collapse. Yet ACT is still for “competitive efficiency and improved productivity” or to put it another way, capitalism without constraints. 

Another ACT target for destruction are Reserve Bank tools to better regulate the value of money in the New Zealand economy. Since 1999, the Reserve Bank has used the international convention of an official cash rate (OCR) to control inflation. OCR is the wholesale interest  rate for borrowing money. If the Reserve Bank raises the cost of borrowing, borrowing will drop, slowing the economy and reducing the risk of inflation – theoretically.  But it doesn’t always work because inflation and interest rates are not inextricably linked. Since the 2008 Great Recession, central banks around the world progressively lowered their cash rates – to zero in some cases – in order to stimulate economies.  Classical monetary economic theory predicted rising inflation. But it did not happen. Why? Cost of living pressures had not caused commensurate wage increases because unions were weak and labour protection laws were weaker. That campaign has been spectacularly successful; real incomes rose for the top 10 percent but flattened or dropped for the lower 90 percent. The classic wage-price spiral was not the cause. Rather, the cause of current global inflation is a profit-price spiral. According to author Thomas Hartmann, the average markup on goods manufactured and sale price in the US in 1980 was about  21 percent. Now it is 61 percent.

Capitalism only works well when there is true market competition, but unfettered capitalism  eventually destroys competition and degrades into a sum zero game. 

Proof? All of us have played the board game Monopoly. And almost none of us have played right to the end. Why? Because there is a tipping point where one player gets enough cash to dominate the market, and the end is inevitable. At that point, the rest of us cash in our cards and head for the fridge. 

Worldwide, reserve banks used short term stimulants to kick start local economies devastated by covid. The New Zealand government did the same. But ACT insists that the Reserve Bank should focus solely on using the OCR to control inflation. Why? Because inflation eats away at investment returns for the wealthy. If inflation reduces the value of a dollar over time, then lenders – wealthy investors and financial institutions – reap less return on money they have already lent. They get the same nominal dollars back, but their spending power – their value – is less. So ACT must stamp out any instruments that undermine the interests of the wealthy. 

ACT also wants to eviscerate the graduated income tax system that has fueled New Zealand’s economic development for decades. Instead, the income tax rate for those earning up to $70,000 would be 17.5 percent. Above that, the rate is 28 percent. Seymour says that everyone will get a tax cut, but he does not say how ACT would make up the revenue shortfall. Which services will be axed? Education? Hospital services? Infrastructure investment? Or will he borrow, like Liz Truss, to pay for tax cuts? He won’t say.

We can assume that the revenue shortfall will be made up by increasing GST which is a regressive tax along the same ideological lines of a poll tax. John Key pulled the same trick in 2010 when GST went from 12.5 to 15 percent while he reduced marginal and company taxes. He promised it would encourage saving but merely increased private debt. Whatever the excuse, it is less tax for the rich and more tax for the poor. Or to tell it like it really is, more money for the rich and less money for the poor.

ACT wants to kill the Public Interest Journalism Fund. The fund was established because truth-to-power journalism essential for maintaining accountability has been overwhelmed by the infotainment model favoured by media conglomerates. The once reputable New Zealand Herald, though always conservative, is now a long form advertisement for professional sports enterprises and “reality” programmes like The Bachelor. Bread and circuses for the plebs.

At the same time, ACT is against any legislation that would inhibit hate speech. So, rational journalism out; lies and lunacy; in. 

 ACT wants to repeal the Zero Carbon Act along with electric vehicle subsidies. It’s okay… the rich can always keep their feet dry on their gin palaces while the rising tides of global climate change flood the rest of us. After all, short term savings for rich people are more important than long term thinking for New Zealand as a whole.

ACT also wants to repeal constraints on oil and gas exploration. Again, another example of ACT thinking only of short term benefits for its plutocrat pay-to-players. It has no interest in New Zealand’s long term prospects.

ACT wants to repeal any laws that inhibit property investors wringing the maximum amount of profit from an unfettered, skyrocketing real estate market. The Brightline test would go. Yet it has no answer to the thousands of young Kiwis who are denied the possibility of buying their own house even if they save up for a lifetime. ACT would also loosen the Residential Tenancies Act designed to prevent slum landlording. 

ACT would also bring back 90-day employment trials. This harks to the American system of creating a serfdom of workers, where employees have the right to fire new employees supposedly because they are not the right fit. Hiring and firing on a 90-day cycle is a great way of depressing wages, and causing complete obedience to the master’s wishes for fear of being let go. The next step is more unpaid internships; another scam. The apotheosis of labour laws for ACT will be right-to-work legislation – a euphemism for right-to-fire without cause, now law in half of American states. The upshot is that America now has some of the worst managers in the world, because when things go wrong, they blame their staff then fire them. 

ACT says it would repeal fair-pay agreements because they get in the way of big business exploiting workers. Take a look at employee abuse at Starbucks and Amazon as ACT’s perfect future. 

ACT’s meta-policy is to create a vast pool of under-employed people who will accept any job under any conditions at any pay. This is the road to serfdom, where the lords of loot have total control over the labour market so they can maximise profits.

ACT will also reinstate three-strike legislation. This is also an American idea that has filled up its prisons with people for committing venal crimes like serial shoplifting and car theft. Tough-on-crime is the red meat thrown by all right wing parties to their old propertied supporters. ACT has no policies about reducing recidivism, improving inmate education and job skilling, reducing violence in our communities, reducing poverty as an incubator for child crime, or anything to do with mental illness that affects the vast majority of inmates. Why? Because ACT doesn’t need to provide real-world solutions. As envisioned by Hobbes, ACT’s only responsibility is to protect the property of the wealthy and nothing more. 

ACT wants to bring back charter schools. We’ve tried them before to very mixed results. Forty years of US experience shows that charter schools – private schools funded with public money, many for-profit – provide no better education than directly public-funded state-run schools. What it does do is reduce quality oversight, kills curriculum standardisation so that students can be taught crackpot theories like Creationism as a reality. Religious groups, white nationalist groups and conspiracy theorists love unintegrated school systems because it allows them to inculcate students with wildly differing world views that creates schisms in our sense of national identity and cohesion. Already our year-2020 team of five million has been fractured by imported antivax and white nationalist conspiracies, and now hate speech and death threats are de rigueur. 

Like many alt-right parties, ACT is bent on rescinding any measure that might help communities that could benefit from tailored remedies. The stats are crystal clear; Maori and Pasifika communities have much worse health and wellbeing outcomes, and more poverty than Pakeha, but under the guise of “fairness” ACT wants to extinguish any agency whose focus is to accelerate improvements in those areas.. It would get rid of Oranga Tamariki and the Maori Health Authority, and is against any mention of co-governance. Sure, these agencies have had problems, but ACT’s answer is to throw the baby out with the bathwater rather than trying to make them work better. Destruction rather than construction.

And so on, and so on. 

Hayek insisted that socialism uniquely led to tyranny despite seeing for himself that cartel capitalism helped create Hitler’s totalitarian nightmare. Yet even today, the socialism-equals-tyranny trope infects every level of US politics. Hayek’s cure – unfettered capitalism and the cult of individualism – is today the disease that threatens the foundations of democracy and led to the storming of the US capital. Authoritarianism has taken a different route. 

Mao Zedong, another authoritarian “socialist”, famously said, “political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.” He was wrong. It grows out of bank accounts. After all, it’s money that pays for the guns. Ukraine’s success has been largely the result of the US and Europe bankrolling its armed forces while at the same time squeezing Russia’s economy. Without either, Ukraine would have been ground to paste long ago. And it is money that is winning the war against US democracy. The Koch brothers, Sheldon Adelson, Peter Thiel and other oligarchs have pumped literally billions of dollars into supporting Trump and his acolytes by numerous means. The lords of loot are financing the replacement of democracy with a plutarchy, all in the name of freedom. The freedom these guys want – and all of them are white males – is the same as the lords who threatened King John with revolt unless he signed the Magna Carta Libertatum – the Great Charter of Freedoms. Despite the movies, these freedoms were not for the commoner, but just for the wealthy barons who wanted deregulation; the right to do whatever they liked with their land and serfs without constraint, laws to better protect their property, and lower crown taxes. Sound familiar?

“There is a direct correlation between growing economic inequality and the growing popularity of authoritarianism. Scholars of authoritarian systems note that a population that feels economically, religiously, or culturally dispossessed is an easy target for an authoritarian who promises to bring back a mythological world in which its members were powerful.” – Heather Cox Richardson, history professor, Boston College.

Seymour is the collective bargaining agent for the barons of business. His job is to discredit everything about our government –  politicians, bureaucrats, civil servants and employees like teachers and nurses – as self-serving, stupid, lazy and venal. He will tell us how badly off we all are, even though, despite his claims, New Zealand is one of the most privileged countries in the world by numerous indices. He will tell us that only ACT can fix us (once he has knocked National into line). And then he will lead us to the feet of the barons.


Finn Flynn is a former journalist who has returned to New Zealand after more than a decade living in the US. He has witnessed the rapid decline of the so-called greatest country on Earth, from the buoyancy of Obama’s “audacity of hope” to the paralysing cynicism of Trump’s sulphuric politics. New Zealanders shake their heads in disbelief at America’s slide without realising that they too are on the same slippery slope to failure.


  1. What a one-eyed view of history! Two clear examples:

    The Irish Potato Famine was caused by two main factors: Firstly, potatoes are not derived from seed but by division of the tuber and in the case of Ireland the entire spud crop was derived from 4 potatoes imported from the USA. With such a vulnerable and widespread monoculture, it was inevitable that disease would result. Secondly, Catholic countries did have the ‘Right of the Primogeniture’ (look it up) as did Holland and England, so farms were endlessly divided among sons until they were too small to reliably support their owners. This drove the farmers to plant the highly productive potato exclusively in order to subsist on the land. A perfect storm ensued.

    America isn’t a racist country these days and hasn’t been for decades. Today whites aren’t anywhere near the top in the income leagues. Indians are number one, Philippinos are second and Taiwanese Americans come third with Sir Lankans fourth. Followed by Japanese, Malaysian and Chinese. Famously, research shows that 80% of American millionaires are first generation millionaires. These facts, if nothing else show that the USA really is the land of the free, for those that are prepared to make the effort.

    I suggest you read a little wider in order to inform your opinions.

      • Stephen, Andrew has not been factual on straight forward issues let alone history, can’t see it changing.

          • Bob the Last I guess you haven’t heard of the ‘Bigallo boys, or the white knights, or the Skid rows, Aryan Brotherhood of Texas, or American Nazi Party, or Third Reich, or American Freedom Party, or American Renaissance, or Aryan Republican Army, or Aryan Nations,, or Asatru Folk Assembly, or Atomwaffen Division,, or RAHOWA, or Creativity Alliance, or EURO, or Hammerskins, or Identity Evropa, or National Association for the Advancement of White People or National Socialist Movement etc… There thousands of these white supremacist groups that are 1000s percent racist!!

            • Stephen no I’ve not heard of all of them but I accept they exist if you say so.I can say I don’t agree with any of them and yes they sound racist.

  2. Long post with several things I’d like to argue but it boils down to this: who is actually offering socialism? Not Labour, not the Greens.

    If our options are slow decline or quick decline then why not vote to get this over with faster?

    Let’s face it, ACT isn’t offering to stab a healthy patient – they’re offering lethal morphine for a terminal cancer patient.

    Let’s fucking get on with it and come the revolution – best reason I’ve heard to vote for anyone in the last 5 years.

  3. Having a clean out of all those time wasting , money squandering, government departments must have certain attraction to tax paying kiwi battlers and putting a halt to the back door take over of New Zealand by self serving Maori individual’s, determined to make anyone but Maori feel like expats , as in Asian countries, while turning New Zealand into a gorse farm…Voting for ACT just this one time might send a signal to politicians that letting minorities rule will eventually lead to the unemployment line…

    • gorse is a great nurse crop for natives which has a lot more intrinsic value than a handful of sheep on eroded and basically dead soils.

      • Yes Bill…Gorse is good shelter for native plants , and we could include those native trees and bush in our carbon sink as well…oh wait….We only include pine trees growing on land we sold to overseas owners….Bugger….

  4. Bang-on mate ACT is a far-right party and is regurgitating old unworkable proven policies that are designed for the wealthy. It uses ‘race’ to target the white majority constituency in NZ making spurious claims that Maori are practicing apartheid and are undermining our liberal democracy and getting shit loads of money to spew such garbage.

    • Stephen. It’s a bit rich targeting ACT as the big racists when the Greens have done so much to insert divisive identity politics into everyday life at every level that they can.

  5. Excellent article, unfortunately nothing in it was news to me.

    It did focus my attention on how bleak the next decade is going almost certain to be.

    • @ R.C.
      “…unfortunately nothing in it was news to me.”
      With respect, I don’t think it’s unfortunate at all. I think it’s hope-giving in fact. We’re not the only ones who know that rogers treachery, and in ACT, his on-going influence over us, is a grave danger to us all and we need to be ever mindful, and reminded, of that. We need to be constantly reminded of what douglas and his crooks and cronies did to an entire generation of AO/NZ’ers lest it slip by them and we become complacent and allow douglas and his rich, a-political, billionaire money-cultist, criminal elite arse holes slip into their good night without recrimination, and no disrespect to actual arse holes, who, unlike roger’s arse holes, come in handy now and then.
      It’s brilliant that someone like @ Finn Flynn comes home to flay douglas. I just hope to God he keeps going until the last of them are in prison.
      @ F.F. Investigate the yawning gap in the logic and common sense between farmer-created export currencies, and who gets to spend it. Perhaps the four now foreign owned banks taking billions out of our gross population of 5.2 million economy in net profits yearly and those now nine multi billionaires could help with that? Aye Boys? You’d be helpful with that wouldn’t you? Citi Bank? Wine Box? Winnie The Poop? Paul White? BNZ? Fay/Richwhite? Fletcher Challenge? Alan Gibb? Carter Holt Harvey? Chandler? Graham “Anyone can do what I did” Hart? Eric ‘I sat on Russell Crowe’ Watson?
      The truth behind AO/NZ’s economy is beyond imaginably huge. The truth, and the rotten lies, span at least 140 years ( AO/NZ invented Refrigerated shipping. Look it up.) and the fortunes built, also built a complex, self-legitimizing, politically protected, deep-state prison where the truth is kept well hidden. Aye Boys? You naughty, naughty little boys.

  6. ACT stands a chance at the next election because one can never overestimate the blind stupidity of the average kiwi. There are always plenty of morons to be happily exploited, dominated and enslaved by an oily little rogerite like Dave The Twerker.
    Just look around? AO/NZ today post roger. Poverty, hardship, people living in cars, homelessness, rapacious corporate greed, underfunded infrastructure, our politicians, now indistinguishable from one another, are on high $ix figures plus entitlements while retired people having been stripped bare by the IRD all their working lives now have to survive on $460.00 a week. There are now nine billionaires and four foreign owned banks taking billions of dollars off-shore in net profits while kids live in cars with their whanau.
    If you vote for ACT, you clearly don’t get out much and I hope to all the baby Jesuses you don’t breed.

    • ACT stands a chance because Labour have proven to be the most incompetent government in the history of New Zealand and cannot for the life of them admit to any wrongdoings, only front the media in a burning economy to talk down to us all on ‘how much they’ve done for New Zealand’. National are aiming to drive the economy further into the ground Labour are pounding it into, by means of tax cuts and flogging Labour in public. Neither appeals, neither has any realistic and logical plan to get us through this bloodbath economy that 2023 will be and the following years.
      This country needs to vote on policy, not people. Vote after educating themselves on what each party wants for NZ and throw the ballot in for what they believe. I can confirm that the majority of people from all circles I know don’t want another 4 years of hollow promises and increasing inequality, with a tinge of fearmongering and division thrown in. So ACT may not get all the votes, but you can ensure they’ll be getting those who don’t educate themselves fully and don’t like the look of national or labour anymore. Whoever else comes to the mix, irrespective of who is in charge of that party, if they have a solid plan, I’ll vote for them.

      • “Labour have proven to be the most incompetent government in the history of New Zealand”

        Oh dear another irrational uninformed opinion.

  7. Excellent Post BTW @ Finn Flynn.
    If Finn’s Post is too long for the liddle brains of some of you to keep up with, perhaps blame rogers gutting of our educational system. Or are you just too ‘special’ to maintain focus?
    The chilling thing is, you can still vote and breed.

  8. Finn, you had me nodding my head up until this statement.

    “At the same time, ACT is against any legislation that would inhibit hate speech. So, rational journalism out; lies and lunacy; in.”

    2 Comments: Is this the rational journalism that gave us this?
    or that gave us the wonderfully balanced “Fire and Fury’?

    Apart from Chris and Martin here and a recent nod to Yvonne van Dongen, where exactly are these rational journalists? I’d line up to read them.

    • Fantail. I would not, but others may vote ACT on the ‘freedom of speech ‘ issue alone. Ardern’s assertion that only from government do we hear the truth sent shivers down even reasonable spines. Her UNO address advocating global censorship did likewise, and was condemned internationally as authoritarian. All New Zealand political party leaders, bar ACT, blocking their ears to the parliament grounds protestors was unbelievably stupid, and Mallard’s soft torture even worse, with a predictable outcome that the stupid failed to foresee, and about which the msm has apparently maintained a silence.

      The Arts Council ‘Shakespeare ‘ performing ban was another attempt to stifle the voice of the young and deny thinking youth an opportunity to develop the practical skills needed to interpret and speak – literally- on a public forum : the manager of a government department expressed concern to me about staff not speaking out at the weekly floor meetings. Since then, those floor meetings have been totally terminated. They no longer even take place. The banning of the Commissioner for Children is to protect power mongers from independent criticism. That this is not in the best interests of those who do need the protection, is of no concern to the greedies.

  9. This piece needs to be read by as many critical thinking kiwis as possible…but thanks to Rogernomics there’s not enough of them left

  10. I’d be up for a bit of right wing nationalism as long as it delivered for every citizen equally – the only problem is, like an old western, libertarianism favours the rights of the ranch holder over the towns folk and anyone downstream which in turn requires an independant and principled sheriff to advocate fairness – where are you going to find one of those these days?

  11. Concerning the Irish Potato Famine – This is bullshit
    ‘farms were endlessly divided among sons until they were too small to reliably support their owners. ‘

    Andrew you prize Joe Hunt the majority of Irish peasant farmers DID NOT OWN ANY LAND. They rented their land from landlords who were often absent and who left the renting of their land to agents who often sublet so the tenant farmer at the bottom of the heap was at the bottom of a pyramid of people.
    Farmers often had to bid for the lease of their land on a yearly basis and the farms were left unimproved because any improvement that added to land value was added to the rent.
    PROOF that Irish agriculture was backward because of the grip of landlords is proven the vast increase of agricultural production and improvement in living standards in the independent Irish Republic which like New Zealand proved a country can achieve prosperity through agriculture. Then the Irish ate bacon and cheese as well as potatoes.
    PROOF that the Irish famine was caused by capitalism and colonialism comes from accounts of the time that state markets full of bread, meat and fish flourished next to poorhouses full of destitute people unable to purchase it and that guarded convoys of grain, and cattle continued to leave Ireland for England throughout the famine.
    ( Bit like the beggars lined up along Queen Street, in front of Gucci and Louis Vuitton – capitalism in action )
    Andrew might wish to study an expert on famine economics Amartya Sen who pointed out that people in democracies do not starve to death because they have votes. This is clearly shown in Ireland. In 1847 the Roman Catholic Irish peasanty did not have votes and were powerless so they starved or fled.
    In the 1880s the blight returned. This time to farms owned by Ulster protestants who could VOTE because they had PROPERTY RIGHTS.
    Immediate state aid came from a British government dependent at the time upon the support of Irish Unionist members of Parliament.
    In 1847 the Irish were dependent on potatoes because of capitalism and colonialism not because they were Roman Catholics.

    • Stevie. Yes, it’s a huge generational issue. I’ve forgotten many details but will inevitably reread it.
      The Irish didn’t only starve or flee, they were forcibly deported, just like the Highland Scots, usually with nothing but the rags on their backs. There were shiploads of Irish orphans sent to Nth America. Some were fortunate to be adopted by good families, some destined to be child slaves, deprived of even what affection their dead families may have once been able to give them.

  12. David Seymour just needs someone at his level to talk the truth about him. Of course that would hurt Labour! Heh. A party not willing to talk the truth about ACT shows the lack of people’s rational parties.

  13. “”The Corn Laws were tariffs and restrictions put in place from 1815-1846 in the United Kingdom. The Corn Laws caused the price of ‘corn’, which also includes barley, corn, wheat, and all other grains, to increase. The Laws were designed to protect English farmers from inexpensive foreign imports of grain.””
    So was it neo-liberalism to have such laws or neo-liberalism to reform them when most of the Irish population were starving?

  14. The corn laws were like modern American and European agricultural subsidies. State welfare for wealthy people.
    The farmers who benefited from them were the Tory landowners who produced grain surpluses at guaranteed prices.
    Critics at the time pointed out that while bread prices remained high(because of the cost of grain) gin was produced with surplus grain. Cheap gin kept much of the newly created British working class in a state of inebriation( read Dickens look at the artworks of Hogarth and others).
    Reform of the Corn Laws allowed American maizemeal to be imported to Ireland( the stirabout that had to be boiled for hours to make it edible). Big fucking deal! You miss the point that the meagre relief granted to the Irish famine victims was because they were powerless.
    You can all it neo-liberalism if you like. I call it capitalist/colonial bastardry.

  15. Excellent (long) post. Until the last paragraph, where we are all privileged. We have some of the most negative social statistics in the world. From our mountain of murdered children and world leading bullying figures, to our suicide rates and outcomes for poor children, I don’t think we have the evidence to support that view.
    When an intake of 2000 students to the main professions contains something like 13 low decile people, and not a decile 1 among them, all accepted and dismissed as personal inadequacies, (not structural), you really can’teven pretend privileged. All very much enthusiastically brought to us by an excessively bigoted, punitive and venal public service.

    But he’s right,( whoever the returning expat is) it does make fertile ground for fascism. But so does assumptions of privilege. It show a professional managerial bias in itself.

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