Known principally for his weekly political columns and his commentaries on radio and television, Chris Trotter has spent most of his adult life either engaging in or writing about politics. He was the founding editor of The New Zealand Political Review (1992-2005) and in 2007 authored No Left Turn, a political history of New Zealand. Living in Auckland with his wife and daughter, Chris describes himself as an “Old New Zealander” – i.e. someone who remembers what the country was like before Rogernomics. He has created this blog as an archive for his published work and an outlet for his more elegiac musings. It takes its name from Bowalley Road, which runs past the North Otago farm where he spent the first nine years of his life. Enjoy.
The blogosphere tends to be a very noisy, and all-too-often a very abusive, place. I intend Bowalley Road to be a much quieter, and certainly a more respectful, place. So, if you wish your comments to survive the moderation process, you will have to follow the Bowalley Road Rules. These are based on two very simple principles: Courtesy and Respect. Comments which are defamatory, vituperative, snide or hurtful will be removed, and the commentators responsible permanently banned. Anonymous comments will not be published. Real names are preferred. If this is not possible, however, commentators are asked to use a consistent pseudonym. Comments which are thoughtful, witty, creative and stimulating will be most welcome, becoming a permanent part of the Bowalley Road discourse. However, I do add this warning. If the blog seems in danger of being over-run by the usual far-Right suspects, I reserve the right to simply disable the Comments function, and will keep it that way until the perpetrators find somewhere more appropriate to vent their collective spleen.
Zealandia Redux? What Winston Peters and his party now have to decide, is whether transforming their homeland into an economic, political and cultural colony of the People’s Republic of China was what they meant when they promised to put New Zealand first.
WHAT DOES NZ FIRST WANT? More than anything else, NZ First
and its leader, Winston Peters, would like to reconstruct the New Zealand
economy of the 1950s and 60s. These were years of extraordinary economic and
social progress, during which more and more New Zealanders were lifted into
relative affluence. The country’s infrastructure (especially its hydro-electric
energy generation capacity) was similarly enhanced. NZ First’s desire to
replicate this success is, therefore, commendable. But, is it possible? In a
world so very different from the one that emerged from World War II, is it
reasonable to suppose that the remedies of ‘Then’ are applicable – or even
available – ‘Now’?
At the end of World War II the United States of America
stood completely unchallenged: militarily, economically and culturally it was
without peer. The American mainland remained untouched by the fascist enemy;
its factories were geared to levels of production without parallel in human
history; and the sophistication of its science, which had bequeathed to the
world both cheap antibiotics and the atomic bomb, promised a future of
unbounded promise – and unprecedented peril.
Accounting for half the world’s production and nearly
two-thirds of its wealth, the United States nevertheless faced a problem. If
the rest of humanity was not to slide into the most wretched poverty and, once
again, fall prey to the purveyors of extreme political ideologies, then it
would have to be given the wherewithal to lift itself up into prosperity.
Except that, when the Americans spoke of humanity, they were not really
thinking of the human-beings who lived in the Soviet Union, or
civil-war-ravaged China, or in the vast continent of Africa. It was in the
rehabilitation of the peoples of Europe, South America and Australasia that the
USA was most interested.
New Zealand, also materially unscathed by the ravages of
war, was ideally positioned to benefit from the Americans’ self-interested
altruism. The United Kingdom constituted an insatiable market for this
country’s agricultural products, and the United States made sure its enfeebled
British ally received sufficient cash to go on buying (among other things) all
the butter, cheese, lamb and wool New Zealand could send it. It was an
arrangement which very quickly transformed New Zealand into one of the
wealthiest nations on earth.
Sixty-five years on from the fat 1950s, however, the world
is a very different place. Europe and Japan rebuilt themselves, and the USA’s
effortless hegemony became harder and harder to sustain. In lifting its own
people, and much of the rest of the world, out of poverty, American capitalism
had facilitated the rise of powerful working-classes in all the major Western
nation-states. They had created increasingly self-conscious and militant labour
movements which, if not tamed, would soon be in a position to transition their
societies out of capitalism and into a new, post-capitalist, form of economic
and social organisation.
The world currently inhabited by New Zealanders reflects the
self-defensive policies set in motion by the ruling classes of the leading
capitalist nations in the mid-to-late 1970s – the period of Capitalism’s
maximum danger. Perhaps the most important of these policies involved the
integration of the populations of the Soviet Union and China into what was
intended to become, as soon as they were brought safely under its influence, a
truly global capitalist economy. Against such a massive expansion in the supply
of cheap labour, the working-classes of the West stood no chance. The golden
age of post-war social-democracy – the age which Winston Peters and NZ First
would so like to re-create – was at an end.
Or was it? The Chinese Communist Party’s embrace of
“Socialism – with Chinese characteristics” (a.k.a State Capitalism)
following the death of Mao Zedong, not only assisted China’s integration into
the global capitalist economy, but unleashed pent-up forces of commercial
dynamism which, in the space of just 40 years, transformed China into an
economic behemoth. It is now China which offers New Zealand an insatiable
market for its agricultural products. Indeed, so constant is Chinese demand for
New Zealand exports that the same level of state-sponsored economic and social
uplift which characterised this country in the 1950s and 60s is, once again,
becoming a possibility. But only under Chinese hegemony.
What Winston Peters and his party now have to decide, is
whether transforming their homeland into an economic, political and cultural
colony of the People’s Republic of China was what they meant when they promised
to put New Zealand first.
This essay was
originally posted on The Daily Blog
of Thursday, 19 October 2017.
The Special Relationship: Uncle Sam and Britannia, weapons in hand and accompanied by their heraldic national beasts, stand atop the world. The image neatly captures the racial assumptions of global power, but it errs in its inclusion of the feminine. It is the 5 percent of the human population that is White and Male who wield 100 percent of the power-that-matters on Planet Earth.
HOW DOES A TINY MINORITY control an overwhelming majority?
As a young history student, it was a question that continued to intrigue me.
How, for example, did Great Britain, a nation of less than 15
million in 1850, manage to control the more than 50 million Indians? More
specifically, how was a ridiculously small contingent of British businessmen,
bureaucrats and soldiers able to subordinate the interests of the entire Indian
Subcontinent to those of their British homeland?
The answer, it emerged, was that, at its heart, the whole
imperial enterprise was nothing more than a gigantic bluff. The British ruled
India for more than a century because they could. Or, more precisely, because
the Indian people believed they could. The moment Mohandas Gandhi and the
Indian National Congress persuaded them to stop believing in the imperial might
of the British Raj, its days were numbered.
With imperialism (at least of the pith helmet variety)
safely interred in history’s graveyard, it was tempting to believe that the
whole notion of a tiny minority controlling all the peoples of the planet had
been buried with it. New Zealanders still look back with pride at the role
their country played in the abolition of minority rule in Apartheid South
These were, as Paul Simon told us in his 1986 album Graceland, “the days of miracles and
wonders” To many, the fall of Soviet Communism and the triumphant progress of democracy
across so much of the Earth, seemed the most wondrous miracle of them all.
So far, so smug: so safely and conventionally liberal.
And then, just the other day, my attention was drawn to the
existence of a tiny minority whose power exceeds that of all the nineteenth
century imperialists combined. In spite of the fact that they comprise just
five percent of the world’s population, White Males control the planet.
I was stunned. In fact, I was in denial. Could White Males –
the minority among whom I must include myself – truly represent such a tiny
fraction of global humanity? I would have to check.
Not such an easy thing to do.
Since the fall of Nazi Germany in 1945, the entire concept
of “race” – of “whiteness” and “blackness”, “Übermensch” (Supermen) and
“Untermensch” (Subhuman) – has been declared dangerously unscientific and
politically disreputable. As a consequence, the agencies of the United Nations
neither collect, nor publish, data on the “racial” composition of the human
In order to pursue this question further, therefore, it was
necessary to descend into the underworld of what is today referred to,
euphemistically, as the “Alt-Right”. For the advocates of “White Supremacy”,
the ratio of “Caucasians” (Whites) to the rest of humanity is a very important
The world of the White Supremacist is not a nice place to
visit. It is enveloped in a thick and choking atmosphere of unabashed racism.
The fetishization of ethnicity that constituted not only the essence of Nazism,
but also of the ideology of “Scientific Racism” (which, alongside the
imperialist era it did so much to justify, reached its apogee at the turn of
the nineteenth century) certainly did not die with Hitler. On the Internet it
is alive and kicking.
From the Georgia-based National Policy Institute (the least
sulphurous of the American websites visited) I learned that the “White Race”,
which constituted 35 percent of humankind in 1900, had, by 1950, shrunk to just
under 28 percent, and was projected to collapse to just 10 percent of the
global population by 2060. The present-day figure, calculated at 6-8 percent by
the only slightly more respectable CIA
World Fact Book, makes the NPI’s projection look wildly optimistic.
In hard numbers, the total of “White” human-beings is
generally agreed, by White Supremacists, to be 750 million. With the current
human population estimated at 7.5 billion, the “White Race” thus tops-out at 10
percent of the total. Divide that figure by two, and “White Males” are, indeed,
representative of exactly one twentieth of the human species.
Such a tiny number, and yet, in every sphere: be it the
global financial system; the global media; or, the ability to project decisive
military force anywhere on the planet; the power lies preponderantly, and
indisputably, in the hands of White Males.
So, how does Donald Trump’s and Harvey Weinstein’s tiny
sliver of humanity get away with it? Because we can. Because the rest of
humanity lets us.
“You will not replace us!”, chanted the White Supremacists
marching through Charlottesville on 11 August 2017.
Yes, my brothers, they will – just as soon as they find
This essay was
originally published in The Press of
Tuesday, 17 October 2017.
The God Above: It is in the indistinct depths of prehistory that the first and most profound revolution in human affairs; the overthrow of the servants of the Earth Mother, by the worshippers of the Sky Father; took place. At the heart of this masculinist revolt lay a deep-seated fear and resentment of all things female – and a burning desire to master them.
WHO MAKES “MEN”? With the behaviour of movie magnate, Harvey
Weinstein, dominating the headlines, the nature and origins of masculinity have
become a hot topic. At issue is whether all expressions of masculinity are to a
greater-or-lesser extent “toxic” – or only some? And, whether the ultimate
liberation of womankind is contingent upon the unequivocal elimination of the
culturally constructed beings we call “men”?
In many ways the battle for control over the construction
and meaning of gender is the greatest revolutionary struggle of them all.
Indeed, it is possible to argue that until this critical issue has been
resolved, all of those historical upheavals to which the term “revolution” has
been applied have been mischaracterised.
The key question to ask in relation to these historic
transitions is whether or not, after the power relationship between master and
slave, lord and serf, capitalist and proletarian shifted, the relationship
between men and women; between the masculine realm and the feminine realm; was
similarly changed? Or, was it still very much a matter of, in Leonard Cohen’s
words, “that homicidal bitchin’ that goes down in every kitchen to determine
who will serve and who will eat.”? After the “revolution”, did masculinity (like
“whiteness”) continue to confer a huge societal advantage upon all who fell
within its definitional boundaries – regardless of their personal beliefs
But perhaps “revolution” is the wrong word to describe the
longed-for dethronement of masculinity? Perhaps the near universal institution
of patriarchy (rule by the fathers) is actually the product of the first great
social revolution in human history. Perhaps what feminist women are seeking to
achieve isn’t a revolution – but a restoration?
And here we must step out of the hard-copy world of recorded
history and enter into the much less solid realm of pre-history and mythology.
Because it is here, in the indistinct depths of time, that the first and most
profound transition in human affairs; the overthrow of the servants of the
Earth Mother, by the worshippers of the Sky Father; took place. At the heart of
this masculinist revolt lay a deep-seated fear and resentment of all things
female – and a burning desire to master them.
Rule by the mothers – Matriarchy – drew its justification
from the self-evident need for all living things to submit to the implacable
statutes of Mother Earth. Hers was the endless cycle of birth, death and
re-birth from which no living creature escaped. And the vessels within which
all living things are nurtured, and out of which all new life emerges into the
world, are female. Such was the deep magic of generation and fruition which
flowed from the timeless creator of all things: The Goddess.
But the sons of the Goddess were lesser beings than their
sisters. Helpmeets and protectors, certainly; seed carriers also; but from the
deep magic of the mothers they were perforce excluded. Men were the takers of
life: the killers of beasts and other men – their brothers. This, too, was a
dark and powerful magic, but dangerous and destructive of the settled order. It
was a force which the Mothers were careful to keep in check.
It is easy to guess where this story is going.
Men looked skyward, away from the Earth. They observed the
gathering darkness in the heavens and heard the deep rumble of the sky’s anger.
They witnessed the brilliant spears of light that stabbed the Earth, their
mother. In awe they watched her burn, powerless beneath the thrusts of a deity
who owed nothing to the slow cycles of growth and decay. Here was a magic to
surpass the impenetrable secrets of femininity. Here, in light and fire, they
found the power of beginnings: the shock and disruption of all that was new.
Not the circles of the Earth Mother, but the straight lines of the Sky Father –
the Maker of “Men”.
Masculinity is the world’s disease, and civilisation is its
symptom. Patriarchy is the product of the first, and the only true, revolution
in human history – and endures as its most malignant legacy.
This essay was
originally posted on The Daily Blog
of Monday, 16 October 2017.
To Rove Free, Or Bark In Another's Interest? Aesop's ancient fable concerning the House Dog and the Wolf offers a moral every bit as relevant to today's political realities as it was to those in Classical Greece. Once inside the "Wellington Bubble" is it only a matter of time before our progressive wolves become "great favourites" of the House?
EVEN IF WINSTON VEERS LEFT, the progressive New Zealand
community still has a problem. Their new political representatives: the people
upon whom so many progressive voters have pinned their hopes for meaningful
change; will soon discover that the speed at which they, themselves, are being
transformed is far outstripping any changes in the wider world. Indeed, it will
not be long before their elevated status leads them to begin questioning the
wisdom of the many economic and social changes they are expected to make.
Even the lowliest Labour or Green backbench MP, on a salary
of at least $160,000, now finds themselves among the top 5 percent of
income-earners. It will require considerable willpower on their part to resist
the lifestyle choices made possible by such a generous income. An even greater
effort will be needed to prevent the blandishments of their fellow
movers-and-shakers (who will be drawn to them like bees to honey) from turning
their heads. As fully-paid-up members of the New Zealand political class, they
will be expected to play by its rules. The most important of these: “Insiders
do not talk to Outsiders!”, is intended to render meaningful economic and
social change all-but-impossible.
It will only take a few weeks for these MPs to pass over
from the world inhabited by their friends and constituents, into the
“Wellington Bubble”. Once inside, they will find it very difficult to leave.
Only when they are inside the bubble will the true character of events be
revealed to them – nothing of which may be communicated to those living
outside. They will soon come to accept that the power to solve problems is only
ever made available to those who understand the importance of working inside
the bubble. Trying to effect change from the outside will only bring home to
them how powerless outsiders truly are.
These lessons will force our newly-minted progressive MPs to
make some hard choices among their friends and comrades. They will have to
decide who has what it takes to become an Insider, and who will forever be
counted among the outsiders.
Once inducted into the rules of “Insiderdom’, these people
will become the MP’s most trusted advisers and helpers. Regardless of what
office they hold (if any) within the wider party, these will be the ones who,
working alongside the MP, are permitted to wield the real power. Perhaps their
most important role is to supply outsiders with explanations and excuses for
why so many of the party’s promises for real and meaningful change cannot – at
this time – be fulfilled.
As a means of protecting the world of the Insiders, this
current arrangement is vastly more sophisticated than those of the past. Summer
warmth is always more likely to encourage a relaxation of vigilance than the
icy blasts of winter.
When the Labour Party was in its infancy, back in the 1920s
and 30s, the salary paid to ordinary MPs was derisory – less than the wage of a
skilled tradesman. Traditionally, the role of legislator was deemed one for
which only “gentlemen” were socially, professionally and financially equipped.
The rough-hewn working-men and women who entered the hallowed halls of
Parliament were, therefore, met by a veritable force-field of class prejudice
and scorn. Labour was the party of Outsiders – and the Insiders weren’t the
least bit shy about letting Labour’s MPs know it.
While this state of affairs undoubtedly gave the enemies of
progressivism considerable satisfaction, it was, politically-speaking,
dangerously counter-productive. In terms of their lifestyle, working-class
Labour MPs remained largely indistinguishable from their constituents. The
complex apparatus erected around present-day electorate MPs by Parliamentary
Services, was non-existent. When people came to a Labour MP seeking assistance,
they were met more often than not by their spouse, who acted as the MP’s unpaid
electorate secretary. There are countless stories about Labour MPs – especially
during the Great Depression – reaching into their own, near-empty, pockets to
prevent their constituents from going hungry. These were gestures that bred a
party loyalty strong enough to bridge generations of voters. As Outsiders
living among outsiders, the fires of progressive fervour that distinguished
Labour’s team of parliamentarians were never in any danger of going out. No
bubbles of wealth and privilege surrounded them to shut out the cries of the
angry poor who were Labour’s nation.
In the words of Aesop’s fable – The House Dog And The Wolf
THE MOON WAS SHINING
very bright one night when a lean, half-starved wolf, whose ribs were almost
sticking through his skin, chanced to meet a plump, well-fed house dog. After
the first compliments had been passed between them, the wolf inquired:
“How is it cousin dog,
that you look so sleek and contented? Try as I may I can barely find enough
food to keep me from starvation.”
“Alas, cousin wolf,”
said the house dog, “you lead too irregular a life. Why do you not work
steadily as I do?”
“I would gladly work
steadily if I could only get a place,” said the wolf.
“That’s easy,” replied
the dog. “Come with me to my master’s house and help me keep the thieves away
“Gladly,” said the
wolf, “for as I am living in the woods I am having a sorry time of it. There is
nothing like having a roof over one’s head and a bellyful of victuals always at
“Follow me,” said the
While they were
trotting along together the wolf spied a mark on the dog’s neck. Out of
curiosity he could not forbear asking what had caused it.
“Oh, that’s nothing
much,” replied the dog. “perhaps my collar was a little tight, the collar to
which my chain is fastened – ”
“Chain!” cried the
wolf in surprise. “You don’t mean to tell me that you are not free to rove
where you please?”
“Why, not exactly,”
said the dog, somewhat shamefacedly. “You see, my master thinks I am a bit
fierce, and ties me up in the daytime. But he lets me run free at night. It
really is very convenient for everybody. I get plenty of sleep during the day
so that I can watch better at night. I really am a great favourite at the
house. The master feeds me off his own plate, and the servants are continually
offering me handouts from the kitchen. But wait, where are you going?”
As the wolf started
back towards the forest he said:
“Good night to you, my
poor friend, you are welcome to your dainties – and your chains. As for me, I
prefer lean freedom to fat slavery.”
This essay was
originally posted on The Daily Blog
of Saturday, 14 October 2017.
People Power: "Politics without romance" was how the extreme right-wing "public choice" theorist, James Buchanan, described the substitution of market forces for Democracy’s “expressive interests”. If the 2017 election was about anything, it was about turning that around.
REGARDLESS of NZ First’s ultimate decision, Writ Day, 12
October 2017, was a day for celebration. The 2017 General Election, now completed, will, eventually,
deliver a government which has been shaped by the will of the New Zealand
people – in full accordance with democratic principle. The tragedies and
injustices that impelled the electorate's judgement will carve-out for themselves
a substantial and urgent claim upon the new ministry’s programme. The
priorities of government will change, for the very simple reason that we, the people, have
changed them. Any politician who believes it possible to simply pick up where
he or she left off before the voting started, is in for a rude awakening.
Not that our elected representatives need to be told this.
Those who live and die by the democratic sword require no lessons in the
keenness of its blade. Of much more concern to us should be the people in our
community who wield delegated authority. Those employees of central and local
government whose daily decisions influence people’s lives so dramatically. The
class of persons who used to be called “public servants”, but who are,
increasingly, taking on the appearance of our masters.
It’s a process which has been underway for the best part of
thirty years; set in motion, as you would expect, by the radical “reforms” of
the Rogernomics era. The idea of public service was, of course, anathema to the
devotees of the so-called “free” market. The ideas of the latter only made
sense if human-beings were driven entirely by self-interest. That thousands of
people willingly, and for only modest financial reward, were daily devoting
themselves to the welfare of their fellow citizens, flatly contradicted the
free-market ideology of the “reformers”.
That these free-marketeers seized upon the “public choice”
theories of the American economist, James Buchanan, is unsurprising. A Nobel
laureate, Buchanan was feted by the Right for his “insights” into the behaviour
of public institutions. These he characterised as classically self-interested
entities, whose actions, more often than not, turned out to be economically and
It was only after Buchanan’s death that researchers
uncovered his life-long links to the most extreme anti-democratic elements of
the American Right. Buchanan’s concern, like that of his wealthy backers, was
that the stark contrast between private selfishness and public altruism would,
in the long term, prove politically unsustainable. Only by forcing the public
sector to become as vicious and unaccountable as the private sector could the
dangerous example of collective caring be negated.
The recent furore about the level of remuneration paid to
the upper-echelons of New Zealand’s largest local government bureaucracies points
to the “success” of the public choice theorist’s reforms. The old local
bureaucracies, presided over by executive officers known, quaintly, as “Town
Clerks”, exerted minimal pressure upon the public purse. The new bureaucracies,
however, modelled as they are upon the ruthless rapaciousness of the private
sector, are presided over by CEOs who clearly draw their inspiration from the
obscene bonuses paid out to their corporate counterparts. Such unaccountable
looting of the public treasury is, of course, music to the free-marketeers’
ears. Collective unaccountability and excess being infinitely preferable, as an example of public sector conduct, to
collective responsiveness and restraint.
If our new government is serious about wanting to bring
public spending under control, it could do a lot worse than to start by
reversing the perverse reforms of Buchanan’s “public choice” disciples. After
all, if there is one group these free-market theorists hate more than
responsible and caring public servants, it is responsive and caring
It is a measure of the free-marketeers’ success in
undermining the credibility of anyone claiming to serve the public good, that
merely suggesting a politician might be responsive and caring is enough to
invite instant incredulity and derision.
Buchanan and his ilk’s hostility to democracy arises
precisely out of its ability to create public institutions capable of
responding positively to the expressed interests of ordinary citizens.
Democracy also makes it possible for ordinary citizens to redirect economic
effort away from purely private purposes and towards more publicly beneficial
endeavors. In other words, the expressed will of the people is able to
override the “logic” of the market.
“Politics without romance” was how Buchanan described the
substitution of market forces for Democracy’s “expressive interests”. If the
2017 election was about anything, it was about turning that around.
This essay was
originally published in The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The
Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 13 October 2017.