NZ First versus “irresponsible capitalism”

Winston Peters is positioning NZ First as the party against neo-liberalism. This approach turned around Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour in the recent UK election (but not enough to win), but can Peters pull it off?

Peters has hankered for ‘the good old days’ – see Winston Muldoon.

He is challenging Andrew Little as Leader of the Opposition – see Peters: Little is on the verge of not getting back into Parliament.

Sunday Star Times has more on the NZ First strategy:  Winston Peters dismisses ‘irresponsible capitalism’ of other parties with new economic policy

Winston Peters is positioning NZ First as the party of difference and says his policy announcements today will steer away from the “irresponsible capitalism” that every other political party is selling.

The neo-liberal policy adopted by New Zealand politicians in the 1980s is a “failed economic experiment”.

“We want to confront what’s going on and set it right,” Peters said.

“I look at Parliament today and the National party, the Labour party and now the Greens are all accepting of that with a little bit of tweaking. That is astonishing, particularly in the case of the Greens – they’ve done it to try and look respectable – it’s totally disrespectable economic policy.”

Greens picked a fight against NZ First last week that looks set to continue.

“They’re talking about tweaking the Reserve Bank Act, I’m not. This idea that you’re going to set up this wholly independent organisation that’s not answerable in any way politically to anyone at all, which they’re not, unlike the Reserve Bank of England – it’s responsible for reporting to the Chancellor of the Exchequer – in New Zealand, nothing at all.”

At the time New Zealand headed down that economic route of neo-liberalism “Australia grew 38 per cent larger in real terms than we did”.

“That’s all you need to know about whether this is a sound economic policy or not,” he said.

Except that now Australians envy the New Zealand economy, which is performing relatively well compared to the rest of the world.

But Peters doesn’t care about facts like that, he deliberately promotes populist misconceptions. An increasing number of voters don’t care about accuracy, they are happy to accept rhetoric.

I think that one of the defining things of this election will come down to the business end of the election, when voters look more closely at what’s on offer and start to form their voting decisions on what they think will be best for their personal finances and for the country’s finances.

Peters is very good at pandering to perceptions on the surface, but if voters peel back the layers they may be uneasy about what they see.

Time will tell how many Peters manages to persuade that the way forward is back to the past.

The 9th floor – Jim Bolger

In the third The 9th Floor interview Jim Bolger is headlined as ‘the negotiator’ but is stirring things up on ‘neo-liberalism’ and race relations.

RNZ: The Negotiator – Jim Bolger: Prime Minister 1990-97

I think Jim Bolger might be about to spark a debate. Two debates actually. One on our economic settings and the other on race relations.

On neo-liberalism:

He says neo-liberalism has failed and suggests unions should have a stronger voice.

“They have failed to produce economic growth and what growth there has been has gone to the few at the top,” Bolger says, not of his own policies specifically but of neoliberalism the world over. He laments the levels of inequality and concludes “that model needs to change.”

So should we scrap neoliberalism?

Or fix what’s wrong and leave what is generally working ok?

On race relations:

He says Treaty of Waitangi settlements may not be full and final and that Maori language tuition should be compulsory in primary schools.

Indeed Bolger is at his most passionate speaking about Maori issues. He has a visceral hatred of racism and explains the personal context for that.

We asked him whether future generations will open up Treaty settlements again – given Maori got a fraction of what was lost – or whether they are genuinely full and final. He says it is a “legitimate” question and “entirely up to us”.

If Maori are still at the bottom of the heap “then you can expect someone to ask the question again because it means that society has failed”.

He is also scathing of former National leader Don Brash’s Orewa speech on ‘Maori privilege’. “It wasn’t anywhere near as bad as Trump but it was in that frame.” Of course Don Brash never made it to PM, replaced by John Key in 2006. ‘Gone by lunchtime,’ was the political phrase popular at the time.

Bolger also says it’s time to give power back to unions.

Being a more recent Prime Minister makes the issues he raises more pertinent to today’s debates.

Once, twice, Thrace

James Thrace posted this twice at The Standard wanting comments on it, so thrice might hive him some more feedback.


At present, we are seeing the long con strategy being utilised by National. Merkel’s Germany has been doing it to good effect.

How to do the long con.

1) Soften up the electorate as much as you can whilst retaining as many of the core policy settings that enable society to function (even while cutting funding left right and centre). This means temporarily swallow the dead rats.

2) Make the same soothing noises each time so as not to spook the horses.

3) Utilise the lack of MMP understanding to your advantage knowing that by and large, most voters don’t really care about the ins and outs. It suits National for voters to just know the ‘high level’ overview which is “vote for this party, and vote for that person”.

4) Incrementally, and surely, keep hammering home the same message of being “sound economic managers” and portraying the opposition as a bunch of inept muppets.

5) Constantly belittle any brainfart or policy ideas that erupt from those quarters.

6) Make any issues that crop up during your governing period anyone else’s fault but your own. Blame your support parties. Sheet home all responsibility to them (RMA delays = blame Maori party, Party Drug/Marijuana issues = blame Peter Dunne)

Once achieved, and the same message has sunk in, it’s odds on proof that the electorate is softened up and all the ducks are in a row, so now you can go hard.

Sell one message, and one message only.

Tax cuts, tax cuts, tax cuts.

Play to peoples wallets because 9 years of constant tax rises means people are poorer. Everyone is sick of hearing the same things – housing crisis, unclean water, mass sell offs of land etc.

Tax cuts, tax cuts tax cuts.

The majority do not care. The majority want more money to continue to obtain the things to buy to make their struggling, and probably miserable existence somewhat better. Consumerism has taught us all “feel down, buy junk, feel better.”

Tax cuts, tax cuts, tax cuts.

The majority listen, their ears perk up. More money say they! More money indeed say National.

Tax cuts, tax cuts, tax cuts.

9 years in power with constrained control under MMP, in order to keep selling yourself as the “long term” government is nothing. All people hear now are tax cuts. No one hears anything else. All talk of “30 new taxes since 2008” is ignored.

Tax cuts, tax cuts, tax cuts.

Overwhelmingly, the majority will vote for what’s good for their wallets. 9 long years of constantly struggling to get by and seeing more of your pay disappear each week means tax cuts will be a boon..

Tax cuts, tax cuts, tax cuts.

The opposition decries, “no, we can’t afford”. Shut up say the proletariat ‘You’re not the government, how do you know what we can afford. That John Key is such a nice guy’

tax cuts, tax cuts, tax cuts.

The masses hunger. They want these tax cuts. Nothing will stop them now from getting them. The party offering the message, simply, must. WIN!

Election day looms near. The repeated mantra of ‘tax cuts, tax cuts, tax cuts’ has assumed a soothing quality to the soma’d masses. No one wants to be a Delta, or an Epsilon. We all want to be Betas. Only the best can be Alphas. Being a Gamma wouldn’t be too bad, but a Beta is better.

Tax cuts, tax cuts, tax cuts.

Election day itself

Party vote “tax cuts” say the masses. The dutiful tick goes to the party with the right message.

After 9 long years of softening up the hoi polloi, the governing party is returned with an outright majority. Too late, the people awaken. The look of horror is abject. The next three years is a selloff. Too late, the damage is done, the plan is to be carried out. The bankers and merchant men took over the country.

New Zealand. The greatest experimental country for neo-liberalism to mass transfer and consolidate wealth to the few, since, well, ever.


There are comments on it here:

CV’s ideal Labour

Colonial Viper has been under fire at The Standard lately because he is prepared to challenge the Labour status quo, and  establishment Labour activists don’t like their boat being rocked. CV has had his author rights removed and there have been a number of calls to shut him up at The Standard altogether.

CV is a past Labour candidate (2011 in Clutha/Southland), and as a party member has clashed with Clare Curran in Dunedin South.

His disillusionment with the current version of Labour is obvious.

Last night he summarised his ideals:

I’ll support Labour 100% and Andrew Little 100% if he:

1) States that it is time to turn NZ away from free market neoliberalism and apologises for the role the 4th Labour Government played in wrecking the country.

2) Says that there will be a total clear out of the no-hopers out of caucus, Labour Parliamentary staff and consultants who have led Labour to electoral losses over and over and over again.

3) Commits to transitioning the nation to a livable UBI and/or living minimum wage within Labour’s first term in government.

Give me a call when it happens.

It is actually common to see those ideals expressed by current and ex Labour supporters, although not usually together like this.

This is a similar sort of leaning to Jeremy Corbyn’s UK Labour, and to Bernie Sanders’ preferred style for US Democrats.

I see one big problem with this in New Zealand. If Andrew Little and Labour took this path they would only be representing a part of Labour, and that would struggle to be a half of the party.

The CV type Labourites want to ditch their centre and focus to the left. Another comment at The Standard yesterday, swordfish on ex Labour member Nick Leggett’s possible move to National:

Yep, absolutely a Blairite. Along with his good chum, Phil Quin, Leggett’s a core member of the extra-Parliamentary wing of the old ABC brigade, very close to Shearer, Goff and Shane Jones, has written for the on-line presence of the lavishly-funded Blairite ginger group, Progress, and so on. Utterly opposed to anything resembling true Social Democracy.

Some in Labour have been happy to see Jones, Goff and Leggett  leave the party, and want Shearer out too. They try to drive away any suggestion of centrism from their discussions.

But it’s more complicated than this. Colonial Viper has been labelled a Right Wing Nut Job because he has been challenging the Labour establishment.

Some in Labour seem to want to paper over the cracks, or chasms, and pretend they are a united major party.

Andrew Little seems to be caught in no person’s land. He has managed to dampen down public dissent in the Labour caucus, but not at The Standard – Little supporter Te Reo Putake was recently banned from The Standard in what looks like an uncivil war.

Little’s uncertainty and lack of confidence is hurting Labour, but so is the fractious bickering amongst the troops.

Can Labour continue as a single party? If they do and ditch their centre they are likely to continue to shrink.

A philosophy and a political ideology which will take us into the 21st century

Tony Veitch posted “I want to pose a problem for a Sunday to commentators on the Standard.”

We need a philosophy and a political ideology which will take us into the 21st century and hopefully cope with the enormous problems facing mankind.

George Monboit hinted in a lecture that some sort of idea was being formulated and will be broadcast next year. Until that happens – some thoughts:

Neoliberalism is discredited and dead.

Socialism may be able to take its place, but we cannot have infinite growth in a finite world.

So any ideology will have to aim at equality without growth, economic justice without any skewering of the rewards. Such a philosophy must allow for human initiative and endeavour without the financial payment.

Such a philosophy must motivate people to make the potentially enormous sacrifices which will be required if we are to combat climate change; must eliminate greed at a motivating force, yet encourage entrepreneurship!

I can’t get my head round all the parameters of such a philosophy, except to be convinced that we are in desperate need of something political to believe in!

Your thoughts?

My thoughts are that we don’t need a philosophy or a political ideology to govern in the 21st century. There has been a big change away from being driven by ideology, and instead to address each issue pragmatically in the context of the current situation and needs.

Some political discussion, for example at The Standard or Kiwiblog, is driven by “how does this fit with my ideology and therefore what should my position be on it”.

But it’s far more sensible to simply use the approach “what’s the best way to deal with this”.

And that’s what has been happening to a large extent this century in New Zealand, first under Helen Clark’s leadership and now under John Key.

We have moved from governing by ideology to governing pragmatically.

There are a few remnant political dinosaurs who yearn for a set of rules by which they must think and act but that’s an extinct way of governing, in New Zealand at least.

Wayne Mapp on New Zealand neo-liberalism

Wayne Mapp has responded to Mandy Hager’s A calculated feeding of the beasts within.

I appreciate it is an article of faith for the author of this item, as well as most the commenters, that New Zealand is in the grip of a neo-liberal hell hole, and that anyone who contests this is deluded.

So for mhagar her approach to anyone who might disagree with her is to state;
“ok, lets deal straight away with the first obvious distracting argument that might erupt that New Zealand under the current government cannot be labelled as neo-liberal.”

To begin with not, it is not a distracting argument, her whole thesis is built on the assumption that the government is neo-liberal, she cannot wish away those who might contest that.

She cites the British Dictionary definition that neo-liberalism is “a modern politico-economic theory favoring free trade, privatization, minimal government intervention in business, reducing government expenditure on social services, etc.” and broadly speaking I would agree. But it is important to note that the whole package is required.

After all the GATT, since 1947, has favored free trade, as has the EU for all its members. So one element is not enough.

I think it is probably fair to characterize the Roger Douglas reforms and also those of Ruth Richardson as meeting the test of neo-liberalism.

But is it true of Helen Clark and John Key? Because it is really necessary to label Helen Clark as neo-lberal in order to stick the same label on John Key

The last Labour govt rolled back the ECA, it introduced Working for Families, interest free student loans, income related rents for Housing New Zealand houses, Kiwisaver, created KiwiBank, did a buy back of KiwiRail and air New Zealand. She increased the top tax rate from 33% to 39%.

However, she did not bring back compulsory unionism, or restore all benefits to pre 1991 levels. And she did not try and turn back New Zealand to its pre 1984 condition with massive government ownership of much of the economy, exchange controls, high tariffs and import controls. And for many commenters on this site because she did not do that she is neo-liberal. And they want Labour to apologies for her. Mind you if Labour did the majority of New Zealander s would think Labour had gone mad. To some extent David Cunliffe did apologize, but Labour got the expected electoral verdict.

For Helen Clark to unwind pretty much everything since 1984 would have meant opting out of much of the worlds economy. The closest analogies are Argentina and Venezuela, not notably successful economies.

In my view John Key has been an incrementalist. He has reversed very little of the Helen Clark reforms, though he has modified them. So there has been the 90 day bill (pretty much modeled on Germany and Scandinavia), some limited partial privitisation, and more direct intervention for welfare beneficiaries, a reduction of the top tax rate from 39% to 33%. He has restrained the growth of government expenditure so that it hovers around 33% rather than 35 or 36% of GDP. Even so large scale borrowing was required yo sustain government expenditure during the GFC, in the order of $35 billion. In contrast the tax cut was $4 billion, so the bulk of the borrowing was to maintain government expenditure generally.

There is a reason why most commentators, including Brian Easton (hardly a right wing economist) do not see John Key as neo-liberal. He has just not been radical enough to earn the label.

Mhagars critique of the current state is rather different. It is more about the modern style of life. In her view “we are encouraged to live shallowly, selfishly, devoid of compassion for our neighbors and suspicious of everyone.” In addition she sees modern New Zealand as having no place for arts and intellectuals. At least on the last point that is hardly any more true of New Zealand than it has ever been. Surely the 1940’s and 1950’s was far more conformist and resistant to intellectual life than the modern era.

Her view is a bit of a caricature of modern life in New Zealand. Certainly where I live in Bayswater/Devonport there is a strong sense of community. But at least I can understand why someone might have that view.

There is a plethora of consumerist advertising, with the internet and mobile communications encouraging a more personal life. Traditional sporting clubs and community activities are on the wane (not that many on the intellectual Left actually like the style of Clubs such as RSA, Lions, Rotary, Rugby clubs, Schools PTA’s, Workingman’s and Cosmopolitan Clubs).

I would also note that many of the regions do not provide the job rich communities that once existed. Farming, forestry and fishing are more large scale. Public works projects such as roading, etc are much more capital intensive with far fewer manual jobs.

But coming back to Hhagars core point about the nature of modern life. Is that a function of neo-liberalism, or is it a function of technological and social change the world over?

Mapp ends up making a simlar point to me in “The social democracy of my youth has so radically collapsed”.

Neo-liberalism has been a small part of complex social evolution. And even if it could be attributed to isolated polotocal politices neo-liberalism can’t be undone.

“The social democracy of my youth has so radically collapsed”

Mandy Hager has written a lengthy post at The Standard titled A calculated feeding of the beasts within, which she introduces with:

There was a piece written in The Guardian last year by Paul Verhaeghe about the way that Neoliberalism has shaped current behaviours, titled Neoliberalism has brought out the worst in us. It touched on something I have been thinking a lot about lately: how the social democracy of my youth has so radically collapsed into our current culture of individualism, privatisation and personal greed.

Some things have changed radically over the last half century but calling it a ‘collapse’ is highly debatable.

I doubt that most people would agree that we have experienced a societal collapse – and I suspect most people would have no idea what ‘neo-liberalism’ is supposed to mean.

Most who lived through the seventies and eighties will remember that post-Muldoon something had to drastically change in New Zealand and urgent action was required, or we really would have had a major collapse.

But societal changes are not just reactions to political changes. Technology has had a huge impact on us, and major shifts started before the eighties.

The population is much more mobile now. Locally due to a rapid change to the use of cars by far more people, enabling a spreading out into the suburbs and less time spent amongst neighbours. And internationally due to air transport that has made it easy to travel anywhere in the world.

Television had a major impact on social interaction, keeping people indoors much more resulting in much less neighbourly interaction. I can remember when meetings used to be scheduled around popular TV shows.  TV also meant we started to see much more of the world beyond our suburban/village and family bubbles.

Computerisation has had a huge impact on how we work and live. I hadn’t heard of computers in my childhood but wrote my first program (on punch cards) in 1972, and witnessed and experienced the gradual changes which become rapid.

Associated with computerisation is the huge change in personal communications through telephone and then internet transformations.

And changes in health care technology have also had a major impact on our lives, helping significantly extend most lifespans.

And New Zealand has been impacted in a major way by outside forces, notably the change in trade with Britain as they chose the European Union over colonial food providers. This forced a farming rethink here and Rogernomics was a part of the reaction, not the driving force.

In many ways politics and governance has battled to respond rather than forged societal changes.

I have seen significant changes in New Zealand society in my lifetime but that’s been affected by far more than a shift in economic approach.