Monday 21 November 2011

If We Were A Nation Of Grown-Ups

Things To Come: A society in its adulthood was the subject of the 1936 film adaptation of H.G. Well's futuristic novel The Shape of Things to Come. Perhaps this Saturday we should all make an effort to put an end to New Zealand's arrested development and vote like a nation of grown-ups.

IF WE WERE a nation of grown-ups, the biggest battle at election time would be the one between Labour and the Greens. They would be arguing about the wisdom of persisting with a system in which the environment is treated as something external to economic transactions, or adopting a new approach in which all human-behaviour is judged according to the severity of its ecological impact. Because, in an age of anthropogenic global warming and peak oil, that is the only argument that matters.

A grown-up nation’s political energies would be devoted to resolving the outstanding ideological objections preventing a productive meshing of the social-democratic and social-ecological programmes. How to keep human welfare at the centre of government action without losing sight of the ecological costs such policies inevitably entail. Not only the Labour and Green parties, but also the news media and the universities would be devoting all their resources to this debate.

A grown-up nation would pause, in the midst of the debate, and give thanks that the parties of the discredited neoliberal past were no longer around to tout the interests of farmers and businessmen. Parties which treated the environment as either a massive sink into which their sponsors were permitted to pour their waste; or, as an inexhaustible quarry from which farmers and businessmen could appropriate the planet’s resources with impunity.

A grown-up nation would shudder at the memory of the politics of distraction in which parties like National and Act engaged. It would recall the way the corporate news media constantly whipped-up fear of crime for commercial gain, and how conservative politicians exploited public fear to justify the incarceration of thousands of citizens in dehumanising penal institutions. It would remember the way criminality and poverty were constantly conflated by the parties of the Right: to the point where whole ethnic and economically deprived communities came to be regarded as either dangerous animals to be controlled, or suitable cases for therapeutic treatment. It would marvel at how effective these tactics were at focusing people’s attention away from the all-too-obvious causes of poverty and crime; economic and social inequality with all their manifold manifestations: unemployment, inadequate and over-crowded housing, domestic violence, family break-up, physical and mental illness and substance abuse.

A grown-up nation would long ago have devoted its energies to eradicating these contributory factors to human misery. It would remember the importunate shrieks and outraged imprecations of the tiny minority of obscenely wealthy individuals (in whose exclusive interests its institutions had been run) as a rigorous and strongly progressive taxation system systematically dismantled the edifices of privilege built up in the old regime’s final phase. It would congratulate itself on the radically democratic structures established in both the workplace and the community, and the speed with which these bodies were able to bring “the wisdom of crowds” to bear on the so-called “problems” of productivity and innovation. It would feel again the sense of wonder at how easily the processes of participatory democracy and consensus-based decision-making were incorporated into the institutions of local and central government.

If we were a nation of grown-ups these are the issues we’d be debating, and these the achievements we’d be gratefully and proudly recalling, five days out from a general election.

But we are not a nation of grown-ups. We are still a nation of moral and political infants reaching out desperately for the hand of a man who would see police constables raid the offices of newspapers and broadcasters rather than share with the voters the contents of a supposedly “bland” political conversation. We are a nation in which so-called “journalists” from major media outlets are perfectly willing to endorse (and even praise!) the state-enforced suppression of political information in the midst of a general election. We are a nation that worships wealth and fame. We are a nation profoundly ignorant of its own past. We are a nation obsessed with limiting government expenditure, but unrelentingly hostile to raising government revenue. We are a nation that still prefers to marginalise, blame and punish the poor rather than lift them out of poverty. We are a nation that is willing to do just about anything except accept what sort of nation we are.

We’re a nation with a lot of growing up to do.

We should all make a start this weekend.

This posting is exclusive to the Bowalley Road blogsite.


Kat said...

What more can be expected when we have a celebrity PM who acts like a teenager.

The people fell for it, so your onto something.

Brendan McNeill said...

"A grown-up nation would pause, in the midst of the debate, and give thanks that the parties of the discredited neoliberal past were no longer around to tout the interests of farmers and businessmen. "

In reality, we live in a very interconnected community, and grown ups understand this. We can indulge in class warfare rhetoric and dream of a world without farmers and business people, but if you continually work against the interests of that community, you end up working against your own interests.

Grown ups understand this.

Grown ups also understand that farmers generate the majority of export wealth that allows us to purchase iPods and colour TV's, not to mention fuel for our cars, and even the cars themselves. They also pay the bulk of our taxes that fund our roads, schools, hospitals and welfare system.

We could do without some of those things I guess, and the world might be a better place, but if you eliminate the business person 'class' then who is going to provide the employment that puts bread on our tables?

Perhaps we could adopt the Greece model where 50% of the workforce is employed by the Government, 25% is on welfare of some kind, and the other 25% have discovered that they can bribe officials to avoid paying the bulk of their taxes.

Grown ups realize that at the very least they have to take personal responsibility for themselves and their families. If you outsource that responsibility to the State, then you have outsourced not only your dignity, but you have outsourced your independence and control over your destiny as well.

Sadly, we live in a culture of perpetual adolescence where the notion of personal responsibility is a right wing political ideology, and the construct of family is so 'last century'.

We are living in an unsustainable bubble and when it bursts, we will have no option but to mature into grown ups very quickly indeed.

I suspect this will not be an easy transition for many.

Anonymous said...

Shouldn't you wait till the after the election before getting in your waitakere man post?

Anonymous said...

This will be remembered as the 'cult of personality' election. I'm also looking forward to finding out in 3 year's time how many benefits were cancelled for people who were on the run from the police, and from the other innovative welfare policies.

Brendan is obviously living in the past if he thinks farmers generate all of the national income, and the foreign exchange receipts are shared around by the central bank: that was pre-1984. Also hilarious is his statement that farmers pay the bulk of the taxes. Maybe that is true in Greece, but not down here.

Anonymous said...

On July 21, 2006 the National Business Review (NBR) published its annual Rich List. The list contained the richest 187 New Zealand individuals and 51 families. This super-rich group had increased their wealth by just over $3.7 billion under a year of Labour government. That increase is as much as the entire wealth of the entire Rich List back in 1992.
By the time the previous National Party government went out of power in 1999, the Rich List had 135 individuals and 36 families, with wealth estimated at just over $9.8 billion, so the growth of the fantastically rich sped up under Labour. The graph of the rate of growth of wealth by these parasites is interesting. Under National in the 1990s it went up relatively modestly, and then after Labour entered government in 1999 it curved dramatically upward. The rise in the 2004-2005 year – when the super-rich got over $9 billion richer – makes the upward curve especially pronounced.

Grown ups argue from facts.

Mark Wilson said...

Chris, the problem is that in your "grown up" world there is little wealth produced to share. If you look at the list of things that the Greens will ban if they ever become the government it is clear that no sane person would be in business as it would be too hostile an environment to operate in. Why take on all the risks of wealth creation for little if any benefit?
We can have your society as long as we accept an increase in poverty, closure of schools and hospitals and a huge decrease in the average life span. There can be no justification of the wealth destruction the US Banks are responsible for and in a less corrupt country than the US the bankers would be in prison but that doesn't justify a different form of wealth destruction.
The other very sad fact is that 50 plus years of unrestrained social welfare has only created an underclass trapped in welfare dependency. The Labour Party will return to Government sooner or later and we will see their extension of Working for Families to those on the benefit. Why would anyone on wages below the average income work? Simply put, they won't.
It is not a question of harming the poor it is a question of providing a reason for others to provide the wealth to support the poor.
Greece is a wonderful example of how support for the poor leaked into support for the average income earners to the point the system collapsed.
As always, your comments are made in a reasonable tone, but you only have to read The Standard to see how most of the left villify the right rather than discuss the latters right to withdraw their wealth creation efforts if faced with sufficient hostility and envy.
Wealth creators have a unusual mix of entrepenurial skills and a huge amount of courage which by definition is not usually found amongst the left. The next Green / Labour government will be a massive wealth destroyer with the predictable backlash. Ask the voters of Spain about that.
For all the hatred of Ayn Rand by the left her analysis that in a global world capital and wealth creators will go where they are welcome and flee where they are not.
And, as in Greece et al, in NZ the left will be king of the hill, albeit that the hill be be just a pile of smouldering debris.

olwyn said...

@Mark Wilson: you do not acknowledge a distinction between wealth acquisition & wealth creation. Starting something like an engineering workshop is a form of wealth creation, buying up infrastructure which has been built from NZ taxes, and buying up large amounts of property so that renters can pay the mortgages are forms of wealth acquisition.

For a long time we have be told that wealth acquisition on the part of the already wealthy will lead to wealth creation, of which everyone will be a participant. It hasn't happened. Our workers are leaving in droves and we have children dying of third world diseases.

I see the choice in this election as being between Labour's more risky attempt to reverse the hollowing out of this country, and National's furtherance of the culture of acquisition, until such time as there is nothing left here to acquire.

I am actually quite puzzled by National's continued popularity, and cannot believe that it is based purely on Mr Key's supposed likability. I can only see two possible answers (1) People are no longer able to believe in soberly and patiently building wealth, and think that National offers more chances for those with a little liquidity to land on the right side of the wealth divide in a single bound, or (2) If we are really nasty to the poor and needy, the international banking community will see that we are doing what we are told and will not foreclose on our large private debt.

In fact I see this election as potentially divisive whatever the outcome: the people who have suffered and watched others suffer under National have really had a gut full, and the people who are waiting with baited breath to clip the ticket on our power companies as they disappear into foreign hands will be very angry if this does not eventuate.

Dave Kennedy said...

Mark, you make assumptions of Green Policy that are quite wrong. Please read our plan to get our economy going in a logical and sustainable way.

The Greens would like to support small to medium sized businesses that have struggled under this government. Remember it was the Greens who created the Buy Kiwi Made campaign that National wiped. Our economic package was also properly costed well before Labour even started on theirs (see the last page).

Productivity has increased in New Zealand by 59% since 1989 and yet wages have only increased by 16% in real terms over that time. We have our richest NewZealanders and our large corporates raking in an average 20% increase in profits over the last year yet workers haven't received their share of the wealth they have generated.

Anonymous said...

"Wealth creators have a unusual mix of entrepenurial skills and a huge amount of courage "

Oh please.

Most New Zealand businesses are imitative. Trademe is a copy of eBay and Mitre 10 Mega is a carbon copy of Home Depot. The Warehouse is a NZ version of Wal Mart. In most cases running a business is simply following a trail already blazed and being reasonably good with money. most business owners are as replaceable as most employees.

These aren't true wealth creators, but imitators.

Jeremy Bowen said...

The hard part is to put all these thoughts and ideas into easily understood language rather than the language of a sociologist's PhD., this isn't meant as a criticism but a challenge to us all who agree with the premise of A Nation of Grown-Ups and wish to talk or write about it. As far as our Nation goes I'm not sure we're that different from many in the West we're just different from those few we may like to be like such as the Scandanavian states. All Governments with a debt problem seem to down play the revenue gathering side of the equation and put cutting Government spending forward as the prime solution. We all must look at ourselves, right inside and say 'what am I prepared to give or give up to help the planet and the Nation. This is the tough stuff, the easy stuff is to look elsewhere. We can vote and then we swallow it and get on with life bearing in mind my previous sentences or we can vote and take direct action where it is needed.

Anonymous said...

The strong stench drew me to the this blog.

Took me just a little while to realise the stench was hatred.

Now I see it is a hatred of people.

Jeremy Bowen said...

Well, well, anonymous folks and their complaints of stench. Sooner or later they pop up and are always frightened of signing their name and so float in a stench of their own. Keep up the discussions Chris, there is nothing like open debate in the forum.

Galeandra said...

Thoughtfulpost followed by illuninating comments, illuminating because they demonstrate the infantile impulses that you imply drive the values and aspirations of many of us. If only people like Brendan understood the meaning of words such as 'we live in a very interconnected community' and acted to change the ways that the ownership society creates its very ownership and treats its have-nots.

Brendan McNeill said...

@Galeandra, I'm open to your ideas. Why don't you tell us all how we should all act to "change the ways that the ownership society creates its very ownership and treats its have-nots".

We already have a highly redistributive taxation and welfare system. Should we increase taxation levies on the 'wealthy'?

If the answer to that is 'yes' how do you stop them exiting the country with their wealth without enacting currency and border controls and restricting freedom of travel?

Should we simply 'confiscate' an individuals property if they collectively own more than (say) $1.0M in assets, sell the excess and redistribute the proceeds to the poor?

Would you exclude the family home from that asset valuation?

What about companies that own more than $5M in assets, should they be collectivized, and the employees be made shareholders?

What about farms, should they be subdivided and collectivized?

I'm guessing you realize that all of this has been tried before, and the results are well known?

So... you have the attention of everyone reading this blog. Let's hear your plan as to how we are going materially change the way ownership and wealth distribution works in a liberal democracy called New Zealand.

rouppe said...

"It would recall the way the corporate news media constantly whipped-up fear.."

Do you mean whipping up fear like this? Oh wait, that was Labour.

Also the Greens are acting exactly like those corporate nasties you are talking about by being beholden to WFF and Greenpeace.

I laugh at comments such as those you make about "the tiny minority of obscenely wealthy individuals". Because you are dishonest. You use that tiny minority to enact change that has a massive effect not on that tiny minority, but on the substantial portion of middle-class New Zealanders that are constantly expected to pay more, and more, and more to benefit those that you choose - on purely ideological grounds - to be more deserving. Therein lies the path of Stalin.

As a grown-up, I'd rather not go that way.

Victor said...

Lines written in an uncharacteristic mood of partisan clarity and optimism.

I'm not sure I can sustain it till Saturday. But I shall try.

Ethos, Pathos and Logos
Were no three musketeers,
But elements of rhetoric
The ancients once held dear.

Bold Goff deployed all three last night,
With fortitude and skill.
He gloriously tamed the wriggling worm.
Was he still “Fill-in Phil”?

His phrases circled, then they soared,
Like Parker’s Saxophone,
Or like Perelman playing Bach,
With wondrous strength and tone.

Small wonder, then, he panic caused
Midst the assembled panel.
They swore that black was really white
And wrapped themselves in flannel.

Go now unfurl the drapeau rouge,
For the issue remains unclear!
Is there still hope for the good old cause,
Even, perhaps, this year?

cheesefunnel said...

The partisan comments on this and other blogs continue to amuse me. Everybody is hard one way or the other, party is in league with the devil, while party is doing God's work, praise be! As far as I can discern National have done nothing but twiddle the same knobs as the previous Labour government, a nip here and a tuck there, yet the commentators on this blog talk as if they were cultural vampires out to turn the world to dust. Nine years of the previous Labour government did nothing to alleviate any 'poverty' problems we may have, what makes anybody think another dose of either party is going to make a whiff of difference? The record of history is crystal clear on what does the most to raise peoples standards of living, yet we muddle around in the middle, or even worse in ideologies which belong in previous centuries. There really is very little to choose from on either side.

Anonymous said...

"I'm guessing you realize that all of this has been tried before, and the results are well known"

Yes, much has been successful in the Scandinavian social democracies. We better get on it.

Anonymous said...

Hone sums it up pretty well:

“Hungry kids, mouldy damp rooms in cold houses; overcrowding; third world diseases; kids scared for life by preventable illnesses; impossible electricity costs; unaffordable medical bills etc etc – how did it come to this?

“The answer is simple. We’ve had 27 years of Labour and National polices (15 years Labour and 12 years national) which have enriched the wealthy at the expense of families and children on low incomes. We now have hundreds of thousands of kids living in poverty but we also have the richest 150 New Zealanders getting an increased in wealth of seven billion (sic) last year. And these rich pricks did not pay tax on most of their unearned income.

“Neither Labour nor National have policies to deal with child poverty. Labour had nine years but left the kids to suffer. National has contempt for families in poverty and has demonised those struggling on benefits. National blames the poor for the economic problems caused by the economy being run for the 1%"

Dan said...

Chris. You are an intelligent man. You are also tremendously arrogant and have the deeply unattractive but all too common leftist trait of unwaverable self-righteousness.

Surely all who disagree with you are either a) ignorant political adolscents or b) evil farmers and business owners?

I mean there is no other option surely?

You are showing yourself to be the political adolescent - with your childlike caricaturing of your opponents.

The Left does not have a monopoly on morality, and it certainly does not have a monopoly on 'grown-up' political discourse.

You would do well to acknowledge that.

Henry Barnard said...

@Brendan: "We already have a highly redistributive taxation and welfare system."

1) type "Wealth and income inequality in New Zealand" into Google
2) Read articles that emerge - e.g. the ones from `The encyclopedia of New Zealand', `', etc
3) Come back to the statement you made and think about it.