Friday, 20 October 2017

Sounds Good Doesn't It?

Now, all of us, every progressive New Zealander, must help Jacinda and her Labour-NZ First-Green Government to do this!

Image courtesy of Young Labour.

This posting is exclusive to Bowalley Road.

We Have A New Progressive Government!

So tonight I'm going to party like it's 1999!

Video Courtesy of YouTube

This posting is exclusive to Bowalley Road.

Thursday, 19 October 2017

Winston’s Dream Can Only Be Realised By Putting New Zealand Second.

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.

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

5 Percent Of The Population, 100 Percent Of The Power.

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 Africa.

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”, “√úbermensch” (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 family.

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 statistic indeed.

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 their Gandhi.

This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 17 October 2017.

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

The Maker Of “Men” – Masculinity and its Origins

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 and/or inclinations?

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.

Monday, 16 October 2017

Dainties and Chains: Progressive MPs And The “Wellington Bubble”

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 at night.”

“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 hand.”

“Follow me,” said the dog.

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.

Saturday, 14 October 2017

An Expression Of Democratic Interest.

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 politically sub-optimal.

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 politicians.

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.