Tuesday, 19 November 2019

Democracy "A Bit Bonkers" - Thoughts Inspired By Lizzie Marvelly's Latest Column.

Didn't See It Coming: NZ Herald columnist Lizzie Marvelly's latest column merits serious scrutiny because such a clear example of anti-democratic thinking is encountered only rarely on the pages of the daily press. Which is not to say that the elitism which lies at the heart of such social disparagement goes unnoticed by the people who are its principal targets. Just as Hillary Clinton’s description of Trump’s supporters as “deplorables” only strengthened her opponent’s hand, the “progressives” all-to-obvious disdain for the competence of ordinary people will inevitably rebound to the Right’s electoral advantage.

THE EXPRESSIONS of stunned horror that greeted the news that Donald Trump had won the 2016 Presidential Election spoke volumes. Almost none of the people gathered to celebrate the election of the USA’s first female president believed a Trump victory was even remotely possible. On display that fateful November night was a lethal mixture of social isolation and social ignorance. The shocked and horrified young Democrats who turned their grief-stricken faces from the television screens clearly knew next to nothing about the America that had just dashed their hopes.

In New Zealand, the world’s most “woke” country, the risk of something very similar to Trump’s upset 2016 victory grows stronger by the day. The 2020 General Election may deliver New Zealanders their first one-term government in 45 years. If that is the outcome, then it will likely be produced by exactly the same combination of forces that toppled the Kirk-Rowling Labour Government in 1975. An angry cocktail of resentments and denials; of ordinary people feeling abandoned by the decision-makers; of core values and cherished traditions perceived as being under threat. A dark tsunami of voter anger: barely perceptible in its approach, but rearing-up to terrifying heights as, finally, it comes ashore.

And, of course, like Hillary supporters, the partisans of Labour and Green haven’t a clue. They just don’t see it: the anger and resentment; the alienation and bewilderment. Or, if they do, they simply don’t rate it. In the eyes of the decision-makers and their opinion-former allies, “ordinary people” simply aren’t up to it.

Consider the latest contribution from NZ Herald columnist Lizzie Marvelly. The fact that New Zealand’s District Health Boards contain a majority of elected members strikes her as a serious design fault. “Democratic elections for District Health Boards have always seemed bizarre to me”, she writes. “Though it’s important to listen to the views of the community when designing services to serve them, the idea that anyone, regardless of their experience, qualifications and skill set (or lack thereof) could be elected to a position where they are tasked with effectively running the health system in their region seems a bit bonkers.”

In these two chilling sentences, we can identify all the ingredients of the looming political disaster. Of these, it is Marvelly’s careless disdain for the capabilities of her fellow citizens that is the most telling. That such people might possess insights and understandings of which the “experts” she so clearly prefers are entirely innocent, does not appear to have occurred to her. Neither, apparently, has the thought that democracy itself is predicated on the notion that the views of ordinary people, as expressed through the ballot-box, constitute the beating heart of political sovereignty.

No, “government of the people, by the people, for the people” cuts little ice with Marvelly. The word she offers up in preference to “government” is “governance”: something best left to professionals.

“Making a difference in an organisational setting, providing quality services for clients and ensuring at the very least that the bills are paid and the doors stay open, is a challenge that requires good governance,” opines Marvelly. Such work, she goes on to say, with all the breathless confidence of the recent convert, must be “conducted by directors who have the right mix of skills, experience and foresight to plan for worst and best case scenarios, pivot quickly when things aren’t quite right, and steer an organisation through times of both trouble and success.”

That working-class mums and dads, struggling to make their meagre wages stretch to housing, feeding and clothing their families might also have the skills, experience and foresight to plan for both the best and the worst, pivot quickly when things go wrong, and so steer themselves and their loved ones through good times and bad, is apparently an idea that has never crossed her mind.

Which is why, presumably, she felt compelled to suggest that “at least half of each health board around the country should be appointed experts, or even better, 60 percent.” With astonishing condescension, all the more objectionable for being unconscious, Marvelly concludes: “Retaining a minority of elected board members would allow DHBs to stay connected with their local communities, without giving the balance of power to people who may not have the skills to wield it properly.”

I have quoted Marvelly at some length because such a clear example of anti-democratic thinking is encountered only rarely on the pages of the daily press. Which is not to say that the elitism which lies at the heart of such social disparagement goes unnoticed by the people who are its principal targets. Just as Hillary Clinton’s description of Trump’s supporters as “deplorables” only strengthened her opponent’s hand, the “progressives” all-to-obvious disdain for the competence of ordinary people will inevitably rebound to the Right’s electoral advantage.

The thousands of West Coasters who gathered in Greymouth last weekend to demonstrate their opposition to the Coalition Government’s policies will no doubt be dismissed as feral rednecks. Even worse epithets will be reserved for the 200+ women who attended the Speak Up For Women conference hosted by David Seymour in the Beehive’s banqueting hall.  Sticks and stones. The Act Party leader’s gesture, prompted by the failure of Massey University to defend the free speech rights of radical feminists, has significantly boosted Act’s chances of adding two – maybe three – new members to its parliamentary caucus.

There was a time when progressives and conservatives could both agree that 2+2=4. As next year’s election draws near, however, the confidence that there are still some propositions to which all politicians can sign-up – such as freedom of speech – diminishes. When young newspaper columnists openly disparage the notion that ordinary people can be trusted with the reins of government; when the same “experts” who led the world into its current condition are held up as the only persons capable of leading it out; then those still capable of grasping basic political arithmetic should not expect next year’s election to have a happy ending.

So long as ordinary people retain the right to vote; so long will pissing them off remain the very worst political strategy.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Tuesday, 19 November 2019.

Friday, 15 November 2019

When World's Collide.

Different Strokes: If a multicultural immigration policy imposes no obligation on immigrant communities to acknowledge and ultimately embrace their host nation’s most cherished traditions and values, then how is that nation to prevent itself from being reduced to a collection of inward-looking and self-replicating ethnic and cultural enclaves?

THE COALITION GOVERNMENT’S new “Culturally Arranged Marriage Visitors Visa” offers a powerful demonstration of multiculturalism at work. It signals to all those persons intending to settle in New Zealand that their traditional cultural practices will not be forbidden or discouraged by the authorities of their prospective new home. Regardless of how jarring those practices might be to the native-born population, official tolerance is guaranteed.

The cultural phenomenon of arranged marriages is widespread in the Developing World – with good reason. In traditional cultures, the extended family and its resources – both social and economic – has for centuries been the most important means of protecting and advancing its members’ interests. In circumstances of crippling poverty and inequality, the institution of marriage not only regularises procreation, it also offers multiple opportunities for increasing family wealth and prestige. The personal desires of the man and the woman involved are secondary to the advantages accruing to both sets of parents (the groom’s especially) from these carefully arranged and fiercely negotiated family alliances.

Westerners find it difficult to accept the level of individual self-sacrifice which arranged marriages require of the young men and women involved. Our own culture long ago abandoned the notion that parents are entitled to expect the unquestioning obedience of their offspring. In traditional cultures, however, such expectations remain extremely strong. Defiance of parental wishes is not just frowned upon, it can lead to the offender’s expulsion from the family home; withdrawal of financial and emotional support; and, in the worst cases, to their complete disinheritance.

Historically, immigrant children broke free from the strictures of their parents’ cultural traditions by taking advantage of the host nation’s more liberal legal and cultural regimes to seek partners and establish families independently. One or two generations was usually all it took for the cultural traditions of immigrant communities to become more honoured in the breach than in the observance.

Crucial to this process of assimilation was the host nation’s unashamed assumption of cultural superiority. Immigrants were told that they were joining a “modern” society founded on the principles of personal liberty, private property and human equality. Clinging to the ideas and practices of the “old country” was not the way to make “progress” in the new.

This “Melting Pot” approach to resolving the cultural tensions inherent in mass immigration worked relatively well in the age of “scientific racism”. This was because the diverse cultural practices of European ethnicities could be subsumed, in the racist ideology of the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, by lumping them all under the broad category of “Caucasian”. In essence, the Melting Pot “worked” because the only peoples thrown into it were white. The populations constructed in this way – especially that of the USA – are, therefore, best described as multi-ethnic, rather than multicultural, societies.

It is significant that the assimilation processes which transformed Europe’s “huddled masses yearning to breathe free” into “Hyphenated Americans” – as in Irish-Americans, Italian-Americans, German-Americans, Polish-Americans and, more grudgingly, Jewish-Americans – were simply not equal to the task of assimilating either the descendants of former slaves or, until quite recently, immigrants from Asia. In this regard, New Zealand and the USA have much in common. In both countries the hatred for Asian immigrants – the Chinese in particular – was so intense that their respective governments were obliged to pass legislation which viciously restricted Asian immigration.

The scientific racism of the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries also accounts for the dramatic difference between the way Australians treated “their” indigenous peoples as compared to the way Pakeha New Zealanders treated the Maori. According to leading New Zealand historian, James Belich, a small monograph entitled The Aryan Maori goes a long way to explaining the difference in treatment.

Penned by Edward Tregear, a senior and well-respected public servant, The Aryan Maori purported to prove that the Maori were a far-flung offshoot of the Caucasian (or, as they preferred to say in those days, “Aryan”) race. Whether Tregear truly believed this claim, or whether he made it up for the express purpose of bringing the races together, is difficult to establish. The important point is that it worked. The idea that Maori and Pakeha were racially kindred was reiterated everywhere: in political speeches, newspaper articles and school textbooks. In Belich’s own words, The Aryan Maori “arguably ranks with the Treaty of Waitangi as a key text of Maori-Pakeha relations.”

Alas the Australian Aborigines had no Edward Tregear to soften the extreme racial prejudice of Australian settler society.

Influential monographs aside, the driving conviction of European settler societies was that they represented the distillation of all that was most admirable in the “old world’s” civilisation. In these far-flung outposts of the West, the “pioneers” asserted, all that was rotten in Europe had been discarded, leaving only its most wholesome influences in play. New Zealand’s national anthem asks God to “guide her in the nations’ van/preaching love and truth to man”, all in the name of “working out [the Almighty’s] glorious plan”. Or, to quote the Louisianan populist, Huey Long, in these “new worlds” it was a case of “Every man a king – no one wears a crown”.

Who wouldn’t want to assimilate themselves into the very point of civilisation’s spear? That’s the question a great many Pakeha still (very quietly) ask themselves. Scratch the descendant of a New Zealand settler, and the dull gleam of assimilationism, with all its vices and virtues, remains the most likely result. Much less common, outside the universities’ sociology and anthropology departments, is the deep cultural pessimism born out of twentieth-century Europe’s horrific self-immolation.

In the ears of post-war intellectuals, Europe’s claim to global moral leadership sounded obscene. What sort of civilisation could produce Auschwitz?

The First World War had raised all manner of questions about the moral endurance of the West – and the Second World War settled them. European “civilisation” had turned the world into a charnel house. And it refused to stop. In Vietnam, the New World appeared to have decided to carry on from where the Old World left off. Post-war Americans may have looked upon their country as a “shining city set upon a hill”, but non-European eyes saw only cities burning under American bombs.

The central moral question of the late-twentieth and early-twenty-first centuries thus became: by what right do Europeans pronounce upon who is, and who is not, “civilised”? After Auschwitz, and the Gulag; after My Lai and Srebrenica; who dares assert cultural hierarchies in which killers and colonialists occupy all the topmost places? And right up until the moment when the “wretched of the earth” started flying airliners into tall buildings and posting beheadings on Facebook, these were good – and fair – questions.

Here are some others.

In a world where no culture or ethnic group can credibly lay claim to moral superiority, is it not permissible for the citizens of a nation to demand that their government take particular care to nurture and defend its unique traditions and values?

If a multicultural immigration policy imposes no obligation on immigrant communities to acknowledge and ultimately embrace their host nation’s most cherished traditions and values, then how is that nation to prevent itself from being reduced to a collection of inward-looking and self-replicating ethnic and cultural enclaves?

Though the ashes of our fathers be scattered and dispersed; and the temples of our gods stand cracked and blackened; should not the voices crying out to save such treasures as still remain within – be heeded?

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 15 November 2019.

Could There Be Method In Massey University’s Madness?

Protective Zone: Reading the rules and guidelines released by Massey University, it is impossible to avoid the conclusion that its governing body considers the whole concept of free speech a disruptive threat to the orderly imparting of orthodox academic knowledge.

IN TRUE ORWELLIAN fashion, Massey University has announced its commitment to Free Speech by restricting it. Beneath the ponderous bureaucratese of its official communications, the University authorities’ censorious impulses are chillingly clear. The process of inviting controversial external speakers onto the Massey campus has been made so daunting, so potentially penalising, that only the most fearless staff members and students will now be game to attempt it. Reading the rules and guidelines released by the University, it is impossible to avoid the conclusion that its governing body considers the whole concept of free speech a disruptive threat to the orderly imparting of orthodox academic knowledge.

The Wellington-based lawyer and former Act MP, Stephen Franks, has speculated as to what the students and university staff of the 1960s and 70s would have made of such a blatant administrative power grab. The answer, of course, is “very short work”!

Two examples will suffice – both of them drawn from my old alma mater, the University of Otago. The first dates back to 1972, when the university authorities announced a new and draconian set of regulations. The students responded by occupying the University Registry. Roughly half the student body was involved in the protest, during which, according to legend, they consumed the Vice-Chancellor’s entire supply of chocolate biscuits!

Five years earlier, the poet and prophet, James K. Baxter, the University’ Burns Fellow, had responded to a similar outbreak of official folly by penning his celebrated “A Small Ode to Mixed Flatting” in which he mocked the authorities attempt to ban the practice. He slyly referenced the wild Scottish poet, Robbie Burns – “that sad old rip/From whom I got my fellowship” who liked nothing better than to “toss among the glum and staid/A poem like a hand grenade”.

Needless to say, in 1972 – as in 1967 – the glum and staid lost the fight. The offending regulations were either amended or withdrawn altogether.

The second example is more recent, dating back to the mid-1990s. Students were, once again, in occupation of the Registry building – this time in protest at the impact of student fees. When the University authorities discovered that the Alliance Party leader, Jim Anderton, had accepted the occupiers’ invitation to explain his party’s fees-free policy, they were outraged. As Anderton emerged from the Registry, he was greeted by the University Proctor who threatened to trespass him if he again set foot on Otago’s campus.

It was then the turn of the university’s staff to protest. Hundreds crowded into a lecture theatre to affirm Anderton’s right to discuss politics with the student body. A Vote of No Confidence in the Vice-Chancellor was proposed.  The anger of the meeting was palpable. As in 1972, the University authorities backed away from the controversy precipitated by their errant authoritarian instincts.

What has happened to New Zealand’s universities that the fighting spirit of staff and students, once so evident on the nation’s campuses, has been reduced to a pallid pile of expiring embers? Historically speaking, university bureaucracies have never hesitated to tighten-up and screw-down the turbulent inhabitants of their ivory towers. What is it, then, about the times we live in that allows those same bureaucrats to do their worst and encounter resistance only from former staff and students old enough to remember when they couldn’t?

Talking to today’s academics it would seem that the teachers and students of the modern university are at each other’s mercy. Lecturers and tutors are subject to the detailed written appraisal of their “paying customers” – whose career expectations it is most unwise to set back with anything less than “As” and “Bs”. The students, meanwhile: products of parenting strategies as over-protective as they are over-expectant; cannot take too much in the way of challenging ideas or uncompromising expression. The use of the term “snowflake”, while derisive, is not entirely inaccurate. Academics have learned the hard way just how sensitive these kids can be.

Certainly, the Massey authorities seem confident that it will not be their restriction of free speech that provokes outrage and protest. In their estimation, it is much more likely to be the presence on campus of representatives of ideas and causes deemed “hateful”, “harmful” or “offensive” that gets the staff and students up in arms.

God help us, but there just might be some method in Massey University’s bureaucratic madness.

This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 15 November 2019.

Tuesday, 12 November 2019

Not So Much "OK Boomer" As "OK Ruling Class".

Distract And Divert: The rise of what we have come to call “Identity Politics” represents the ideological manifestation of the ruling class’s objective need to destroy class politics, and of the middle-class’s subjective need to justify their participation in the process.

THE RELIEF of the ruling class can only be imagined. Thirty years after the collapse of actually existing socialism in Eastern Europe, they have more or less faded into invisibility. The ruling class (also known as the bourgeoisie) along with the proletariat, are now little-used politico-historical terms: as distant from today’s activists as the “patricians” and “plebeians” of Ancient Rome.

If you’re lucky, the villains of the twenty-first century Left are the “One Percent”. Otherwise, the people’s enemies are identified by characteristics over which they have no control: ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation and age. The fact that, 80 years ago, belonging to the wrong ethnicity and/or sexual orientation was enough to get you exterminated by the Nazis is but one of the many ironies associated with contemporary leftists.

Even the “One Percent” designation, introduced into popular discourse by the short-lived “Occupy Movement”, is a curiously disembodied term. To be a member of the One Percent is an entirely passive condition. You are a statistic. A percentage of the population made relevant solely by another percentage – i.e. the quantum of societal wealth your statistical sliver possesses.

Once again, a person’s villainy has nothing to do with what they do and everything to do with what they are. The other disturbing aspect of Occupy’s vilification of the One Percent is the way in which the remaining 99 percent of the population are let off the hook entirely. As if 1 percent of any group has ever been able to control the other 99 percent without a lot of help!

The contrast with Karl Marx’s world of class agency could hardly be more stark. To read his (and Friedrich Engels’) The Communist Manifesto is to enter a world in which classes act. To be a member of the bourgeoisie is to be in constant motion. This is because, once secured, economic, political and social power must be constantly reinforced and protected. Proletarians, likewise, are constantly struggling to weaken the grip of their capitalist masters. In Marx’s defining sentence: “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.”

In other words: the human order is made and reproduced by human action. Which means the human order can be changed by human action. Our destiny is not predetermined by our ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation or age, but by how effectively we participate in class struggle.

Sadly, the effectiveness with which working-class New Zealanders – New Zealand proletarians – have struggled against the more-or-less continuous onslaught of the New Zealand ruling class and its bourgeois helpers since 1984 has been sub-optimal. They allowed themselves to be betrayed by the country’s trade union bureaucracy in 1991, and remained pathetically loyal to a Labour Party which had, between 1984 and 1990, dismantled the social-democratic economy their parents and grandparents had struggled so hard to establish in the 1930s and 40s. The most highly-skilled and enterprising members of the New Zealand working class decamped in their thousands for Australia. Those who remained were forced into competition with the swelling numbers of immigrant workers who were admitted to make good the shortfall.

Unsurprisingly, this process produced innumerable socio-economic victims and with them enormous socio-economic resentment and rage. To an extent not before seen in New Zealand, it became necessary to obscure the suffering of these working-class citizens and, at all costs, prevent it from assuming a political dimension.

This has always been a major aspect of the bourgeoisie’s function in capitalist society, but in the aftermath of the neoliberal revolution of the 1980s and 90s it came to absorb an ever-greater amount of middle-class energy. A great deal of that energy was devoted to making sure that the class oppression in which more and more of them were now engaged remained hidden – not only from the victims, but also from themselves. In essence, this involved masking conscious human agency behind the immutable markers of human identity. The rise of what we have come to call “Identity Politics” represents the ideological manifestation of the ruling class’s objective need to destroy class politics, and of the middle-class’s subjective need to justify their participation in the process.

Redirecting the rage and resentment of those on the receiving end of neoliberal economic policy away from those actually responsible – the capitalist ruling class and its middle-class enablers – was always going to involve a pretty substantive re-interpretation of social reality. It meant recasting the malignant behaviours associated with poverty and powerlessness as the inherent failings of particular human sub-groups: whites, males, straights and, most recently and ridiculously, Baby Boomers.

Is it really the contention of the 55-year-olds-and-under who now blame the Boomers for all their woes, that every human-being born on the planet in the years 1946-1965 has benefited unfairly from the economic, social and political trends of the subsequent decades? Even the billions of people born in the Third World? The millions more born in the Soviet Bloc? Are they really insisting that there was not a huge discrepancy between the experiences of working-class Baby Boomers living in the capitalist west and their middle-class compatriots growing up alongside them? If so, then the degree of Gen-X and Millennial self-deception; their inability to recognise what has actually been happening around them since 1984 – or the role they and their own middle-class families have played in it – is astonishing.

What a victory for the ruling class! To create at least two generations incapable of understanding that the wealth and comfort of their middle-class parents was the necessary price of their complicity in destroying the self-defence mechanisms of the New Zealand working-class. Or that their own difficulties in replicating their parents’ lifestyle is purely and simply because their parents’ success was so comprehensive that the going rate for oppressing the lower orders of society has fallen sharply. How pleasing it must be for those at the top to see how much more willing the young are to turn on their parents and grandparents than on the true villains – the ruling class.

If the members of Generation X and the Millennial Generation really want to improve their lifestyles, then they should force up the price of complicity in class oppression by threatening to embrace or, even better, adopt for a generation or two, the precepts of Marx’s class struggle.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Tuesday, 12 November 2019.

Sunday, 10 November 2019

Chosen To Rule? What Sort Of Christian Is Chris Luxon?

National Messiah? Chris Luxon identifies himself as an evangelical Christian. If he is genuine in this self-characterisation, then he will take every opportunity his public office provides to proselytise on behalf of his faith. He will also feel obliged to bear witness against beliefs and practices he believes to be evil. To do all he can to save the souls of those who are in the grip of sin. Christian evangelism is, above all else, faith in action.

CHRIS LUXON has some explaining to do. He has been identified as an evangelical Christian, which, if you’ll pardon the religious cliché, covers a multitude of sins. That’s why I believe Chris Luxon owes New Zealanders a working definition of evangelical Christianity – and how he intends to practice it.

A private matter? Well, that  might be true if Luxon was a person moving into private life. Clearly, however, that is not the case. Luxon has opted to become an even more public person than he was as Air New Zealand’s CEO. The core motivations of public persons are not matters to be evaded, they are matters to be explicated, elucidated and explained.

What, then, is generally understood by the term Christian evangelism? At its core, evangelism is about the active spreading of Christ’s teachings – especially among those who are ignorant of his message. For a politician to identify himself as an evangelical Christian is, therefore, a matter of considerable importance.

If such politicians are genuine in their self-characterisation, then they will take every opportunity their public office provides to proselytise on behalf of their faith. They will also feel obliged to bear witness against beliefs and practices they believe to be evil. To do all they can to save the souls of those who are in the grip of sin. Christian evangelism is, above all else, faith in action.

It is, therefore, disingenuous (to say the least) for Luxon to present his evangelical convictions as having relevance only to himself and the congregation of the Upper Room Church to which he belongs. The very name of his faith community argues against this claim.

The “Upper Room” mentioned in the gospels is the room to which Jesus and his disciples repaired on the night of his arrest. In biblical tradition, it is the location of Christ’s last supper. The Upper Room thus represents the ignition-point of the chain of events that led to Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. It was Christianity’s first church: Ground Zero, if you like, for Jesus’s universal mission. In the Messiah’s own words:

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.

Does that sound like a private matter? Was the Upper Room really nothing more than the venue for a catered meal for Jesus of Nazareth and a few close friends? Is that it?

Obviously, not. A non-denominational congregation of believers calling themselves The Upper Room Church clearly draw their inspiration from the conviction that, gathered in that celebrated biblical space, were a group of human-beings charged with securing nothing less than the salvation of the whole world. Equally clearly, however, at least some of the church’s members – including Luxon? – are expected to secure the obedience of the nations by using techniques very different from the open preaching of the disciples who left that original Upper Room at Jesus’s side more than 2,000 years ago.

It's about this point that things begin to get murky. A swift consultation of Wikipedia’s entry on Evangelism reveals the following curious sentence:

Some Christian traditions consider evangelists to be in a leadership position; they may be found preaching to large meetings or in governance roles.

What in the name of all that is good and holy does that mean?

To answer that question it is necessary to go back to the time and place in which groups like The Upper Room came into existence – the United States of America in the 1930s.

It was a time of tremendous social and political upheaval, during which the traditional relationships between those at the summit of society, and those at its base, were challenged in ways that made the ruling elites, business leaders in particular, profoundly uneasy. The Upper Room was founded in 1935 with the objective of disseminating biblical verses highlighting the duty of Christians to obey “the powers that be” and eschew rebelliousness in all its forms.

The following year saw the formation of what came to be known as “The Family”. Established in response to the Seattle General Strike of 1936, The Family gathered together in “Christian fellowship” prominent and powerful politicians, state officials and businessmen, for the purposes of re-establishing the dominion of the godly throughout the USA – a mission which included the destruction of those unnatural instruments of Satan, the trade unions. The Family would grow in strength and power, extending its tendrils of influence through the US capital, drawing-in Congressmen, Senators – even Presidents – to its deeply heretical interpretation of the gospel.

This is what Chris Luxon needs to explain. Does he subscribe to Christ’s “preferential option for the poor”? And, is he committed spiritually to fulfilling Christ’s promise that “the meek shall inherit the earth”? Or, does The Upper Room, like The Family, preach a gospel of worldly wealth and power, in which the Mighty rule by God’s special favour, meaning that all his true servants are bound to do everything they can to further God’s plans for the men and institutions he raises above them?

More specifically, if Luxon should, at some future date, receive an invitation to attend the National Prayer Breakfast, staged annually in Washington DC by The Family, and attended by every President since Dwight Eisenhower (along with a mighty host of foreign potentates, corporate CEOs and lobbyists) will he accept and attend?

Or, has he already done so?

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 8 November 2019.

Saturday, 9 November 2019

Has Shane Jones Just Saved NZ First?

Counter-Puncher: The “activists” and “radicals” (his own words) from the Indian community who took such strong exception to Shane Jones’ remarks about Immigration NZ’s treatment of arranged marriages, may end up bitterly regretting their intervention. Jones is not the sort of person who turns the other cheek to his critics.

SHANE JONES may just have come up with a sure-fire MMP threshold-busting election strategy. He has committed NZ First to formulating a comprehensive “population policy”. If handled adroitly, this exercise will likely evoke a strong electoral response from “native” New Zealanders. Almost certainly powerful enough to guarantee the party’s return to Parliament.

Since the mid-1980s, both Labour and National have followed the population policy first enunciated in the 1986 Review of Immigration Policy commissioned by the Labour Party Immigration Minister, Kerry Burke. In essence, the Burke Review was about engineering New Zealand’s demographic transformation. From a “white” country – albeit one with an indigenous adjunct – New Zealand was to become a multicultural nation. NZ First has consistently opposed this policy. It has not, however, found a way of moving beyond rhetorical flourishes about “Asian Invasions” towards formulating a clear, “first principles” population policy of its own. That may be about to change.

The “activists” and “radicals” (Jones’ words) from the Indian community who took such strong exception to his remarks about Immigration NZ’s treatment of arranged marriages, may end up bitterly regretting their intervention. Jones is not the sort of person who turns the other cheek to his critics. He is, however, the sort of highly-educated individual who understands the wisdom of taking controversial issues right back to first principles. Shrewd enough, also, to recognise the advantage of undertaking such an exercise in relation to the rapidly changing shape of New Zealand’s population.

Unlike the young commentator on Maori issues, Morgan Godfery, Jones recognises the threat posed to tangata whenua by the dramatic expansion in the number of immigrants from China and the Indian sub-continent. In the space of less than 40 years, the percentage of the New Zealand population designated “Asian” has undergone a seven-fold increase: from 2 percent to 15 percent. If this extraordinary rate of increase continues, then within the next decade the “Asian” population of New Zealand will overtake that of Maori. Godfery insists that this need not be a problem since, in relation to the political position of the indigenous people, it is the Treaty of Waitangi that counts – not the size of the Maori population. Godfery’s optimism is heroic.

A population policy is, however, about a great deal more than mere immigration statistics. It begins, as the Burke Review does, by asking questions about what sort of country New Zealand should be. Back in the mid-1980s, the assumption of the Review’s authors was that New Zealand was much too deeply rooted in the values and prejudices of its colonial past. Though they did not express it in terms as explicit as our trans-Tasman cousin’s “White Australia” policy, New Zealanders subscribed to exactly the same notion that immigration should be shaped by the existing racial contours of the nation. This view limited the countries-of-origin of any new arrivals to the British Isles, North America, North-West Europe, Australia and the island micro-states of the South Pacific. The Burke Review dismissed this stance as racist and short-sighted. The Empire was dead. New Zealand and the rest of the world stood on the threshold of “The Asian Century”.

In the years since Jim Bolger described New Zealand as “an Asian country”, to the present day, the implications of the Burke Review’s repudiation of the “cultural fit” approach to immigration have revealed themselves in demographic and cultural changes that have altered New Zealand dramatically, if not irrevocably. Crucially, the whole process was facilitated by the consistent support of both major parties. Politically, it is not wise to challenge the “Multicultural New Zealand” consensus. Not unless you enjoy being called a racist and/or a white supremacist.

Jones may not enjoy being called a racist, but he is unwilling to let such taunts deflect him from what he clearly perceives to be his duty to defend the cultural and political integrity of his homeland. In this he is (like his leader) hugely assisted by his indigenous identity. Eight hundred years of continuous occupation of these islands gives Maori a slightly more solid position from which to pronounce upon Aotearoa’s core values than people who have been here for eight hundred days. It allows him to become the spokesperson for all those who have lost patience with a political class that point-blank refuses to listen to anyone whose views run counter to the official multicultural consensus.

The problem facing the political class of New Zealand (along with just about every other western nation) is that the impatience of these dissenters has grown to the point where its potential for serious political disruption is obvious to anyone with the slightest trace of populist ambition. And Shane Jones has considerably more than a trace.

Taking the NZ First membership back to first principles on immigration would likely produce a policy radically at odds with the official consensus. New Zealand would, in all probability, emerge from this exercise as a unique mixture of indigenous and western values: an egalitarian, secular and democratic nation under no obligation whatsoever to subordinate – or even adapt – its cultural values and political institutions to the needs of people arriving here from other parts of the world. To those who do not like this version of New Zealand, the members and supporters of NZ First would doubtless reiterate Jones’ advice to catch the next plane home.

It is not difficult to grasp why, all around the world, the immigration issue has become the ideal opener for some very large cans of worms. It feeds directly into just about every facet of life under neoliberalism. Jones and NZ First may begin by formulating a radically different population policy, but from there they are certain to move into a host of other contentious issues.

Not the least of these is likely to be the role played by the mainstream news media in defending the neoliberal/multicultural consensus. It is probable that Jones already perceives the enormous political benefits of casting the nation’s media as mouthpieces for the unmandated transformation of New Zealand’s society and culture. Alongside the “radical” and “activist” immigrants who daily assail him, he will be able to set “woke” journalists. Their increasingly shrill attacks, far from harming NZ First, will only highlight how little they have in common with “garden variety” New Zealanders. What else can they be but “enemies of the people”?

Neither Labour nor National will be able to do very much to counter this strategy. Their complicity in the creation of multicultural New Zealand precludes them from doing anything more than mumbling embarrassingly about immigration numbers. The Greens, naturally, will be rendered incandescent with rage by the “racism” of their partner in government. To no avail. Providing Jones is equal to the task of describing the New Zealand his party’s population policy is determined to preserve, protect and defend, NZ First’s worries about clearing the 5 percent MMP threshold can be put to rest – and Winston reassured that he has chosen a worthy successor.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Thursday, 7 November 2019.

Friday, 8 November 2019

Too Late To Change Capitalism’s Flightpath?

Collision Course? In conditions of ideological white-out, the international bankers’ “Woop-Woop! Pull Up!” warning may have come too late to save global capitalism.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN when international bankers are more willing to embrace radical solutions than our politicians and their electors? At both the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, Keynesianism is back in fashion. The economic doctrine which underpinned the thirty golden years of rising prosperity and declining inequality between 1950 and 1980 has risen from the grave – much to the horror of its erstwhile undertaker, Monetarism.

The monetarists and their guru, Milton Friedman, insisted that the problem of inflation was always and everywhere a monetary problem. Deficits, they insisted, were evil. Expanding the money supply to kick-start the economy would only produce a further inflationary surge. Moreover, increased government spending, by crowding out the private sector, was inimical to capitalist profit. The inevitable upshot of John Maynard Keynes’ pernicious doctrines, Friedman’s followers predicted, would be an economy forever engaged in chasing its own tail.

Unfortunately for the monetarists, the experience of the past ten years has left their theory in tatters. Since the Global Financial Crisis of 2008-09, the global money supply has undergone an unprecedented expansion. In theory, innovations such as Quantitative Easing and negative interest rates should have generated runaway inflation. In reality, prices have stubbornly refused to spike. Monetarism has been weighed in the balance and found wanting. For the monetarists, the writing should be on the wall.

But it isn’t. At least, not on the walls that matter at Treasury and in the caucus-rooms of our parliamentary parties. In those places monetarism continues to be treated as Holy Writ. Regardless of whether the call for a major, state-led, fiscal stimulus comes from the IMF or New Zealand’s own Reserve Bank Governor, our political class remains unmoved. Deficits are for getting down. Surpluses are for building up. The Government must take great care not to crowd out the private sector by intervening too actively in the economy.

Never mind that it was massive state spending (necessitated by a succession of destructive earthquakes) that pulled New Zealand through the Great Recession with so little in the way of serious economic and social damage; the political class remains unconvinced. In their minds, the superiority of the free market as an allocator of scarce resources is indisputable. Large-scale state intervention is absolutely the wrong way to go.

Nor is it the political class, alone, which responds to social and economic need in this way. Four years ago, a senior lecturer at AUT, Peter Skilling, published an article in which he revealed the extraordinary tenacity of the idea that the “market” is best left to decide who gets what in our society.

In the focus groups he’d convened to study people’s attitudes towards inequality he found that:

“In keeping with survey results, most focus group participants – when asked individually – expressed a preference for a more equal distribution of incomes (better wages for the low-paid; restraint in executive compensation). In the subsequent group discussion, however, these preferences were marginalised by the view that, while a more equal distribution might sound nice, it was likely not feasible given the ‘realities of the market’.”

Even more interestingly, Skilling discovered that: “while this ‘market reality’ trope was typically advanced by only one person in each group, it seemed able to over-ride a majority preference for greater equality.”

Seldom has the Italian communist, Antonio Gramsci’s concept of “hegemony” – formulated in the 1920s – been vindicated so convincingly. Except in extremis, Gramsci argued, ruling classes maintain their position not by physical force, but by the force of ideas which the overwhelming majority of citizens have been persuaded to accept as “common sense”.

This is the extraordinary irony of the present situation. Forty years ago, the ruling classes of Western capitalist societies convinced their citizens that the Keynesianism which had so improved their lives was a flawed and deficient economic doctrine which needed to be abandoned in favour of a new doctrine that elevated and privileged the role of “market forces”. Forty years later, with a substantial portion of those same ruling elites now convinced that monetarism has failed, and that Keynesianism is, indeed, the doctrine which offers the best hope of economic, social and political stability, the political class – and we, the people – remain firmly wedded to our “common sense”.

In conditions of ideological white-out, the bankers’ “Woop-Woop! Pull Up!” warning may have come too late.

This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 8 November 2019.