Friday, 3 January 2014

2014: A Year For "Glorious Revolution"?

Goodbye and Good Riddance! James II "escapes" to France as the English people once and for all assert that their Kings will reign with their consent - or not at all. This "Glorious Revolution" of 1688 bequeathed to us the "Bill of Rights", still the Westminster System's best guarantee against tyranny. If protest from below is answered by defections from above (as it was in 1688) then 2014 has the potential to bequeath New Zealanders a glorious revolution of their own.
IF WE’RE LUCKY 2014 will be a year of non-stop argument. And, if we’re especially lucky, that argument will be about whether the top-down economic modernisation of New Zealand, which began in 1984, should be considered a success and, therefore, continue, or, whether it’s a failure – making 2014 the year for a new programme of economic and social change undertaken by the people themselves?
Thirty years have elapsed since the heady days of 1984, when an incoming Labour Government, guided by a tight-knit cadre of Treasury and Reserve Bank officials, took a wrecking ball to the economic and social settlement which had underpinned New Zealand’s development since 1935.
In its initial stages, very few New Zealanders disputed the necessity for Finance Minister Roger Douglas’s demolition derby. Since 1981 the country’s economy had come to resemble one of Heath Robinson’s outlandish contraptions: an ad hoc and increasingly complex machine which, ultimately, even its designer and operator could no longer coax into purposive action.
It was only after the dysfunctional Muldoonist machine had been reduced to a pile of junk that the real trouble began. The social and economic regime favoured by the coterie of radical bureaucrats and businessmen driving the “Quiet Revolution” simply could not be sold to anything like a convincing majority of New Zealanders. In these circumstances the “revolutionaries’” political mouthpieces (now located in both major parties) had little option but to lie and lie and lie.
The British historian, Steve Pincus, argues that it is precisely at these perilous political junctures that the modernising efforts of elites are most susceptible to challenges from below:
“It is precisely the modernising state’s actions to extend its authority more deeply into society that politicise and mobilise people on the periphery. State modernisation, not state breakdown – increasing state strength, not impending state weakness – is a presage to revolution.”
Viewed through Pincus’ analytical lens, the last quarter century in New Zealand has been marked by the repeated efforts of those on the periphery of political power to challenge (and if possible roll back) the bureaucratic, business and political elites’ “modernisation from above”. NewLabour, the Greens, the Alliance, NZ First: all of these insurgent parties are examples of Pincus’ politicisation and mobilisation – in this case of those New Zealanders determined to resist the elites’ neoliberal agenda.
What has so far prevented these electoral insurgencies from developing into Pincus’ revolutionary crisis is the de facto bi-partisan consensus binding the two major parties to the imposed neoliberal settlement. Neither the attachment of NZ First to National in 1996, nor that of the Alliance to Labour in 1999 was sufficient to do anything more than retard the pace of neoliberalism’s top-down modernisation. So long as that consensus endured, so too would the post-1984 reforms.
But what if events were to follow the pattern of the so-called “Glorious Revolution” of 1688?
In his 2009 book, 1688: The First Modern Revolution, Pincus argues that it was the linking-up of grass-roots protests against James II’s attempt to modernise the British state along Catholic absolutist lines, with key political and military defectors (including Winston Churchill’s illustrious ancestor, John Churchill) from the Jacobean regime, that brought about Jame’s downfall. Britain would indeed be modernised, but according to a very different set of political, economic and religio-social principles to those of the hapless Stuarts. The Glorious Revolution ensured that, in Britain, capitalism and democracy evolved side-by-side and without the bloody upheavals that typically accompanied revolutionary change in the rest of Europe.
So, what would be the 2014 equivalent of John Churchill’s ride to Axminister? In the New Zealand context it could only be David Cunliffe and his colleagues publicly forswearing their allegiance to the 30-year neoliberal modernisation programme unleashed by their predecessors in 1984.
The radical-populist argument such an announcement would inevitably inspire would very rapidly “politicise and mobilise” the electorate; transforming the 2014 General Election from a mere test of the public’s readiness to change political managers, into “a presage to revolution”.
This essay was originally published in The Dominion Post, The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 3 December 2014.


Guerilla Surgeon said...

" David Cunliffe and his colleagues publicly forswearing their allegiance to the 30-year neoliberal modernisation programme "

Not holding our breath are we? Wishful thinking unless someone has the nous to see political capital in it, and I'm not sure there is any. Douglas and co. were very thorough in their social engineering. They OWN the debate.

Anonymous said...

Quote from Chris' post:
"In his 2009 book, 1688: The First Modern Revolution, Pincus argues that it was the linking-up of grass-roots protests against James II’s attempt to modernise the British state along Catholic absolutist lines, with key political and military defectors (including Winston Churchill’s illustrious ancestor, John Churchill) from the Jacobean regime, that brought about Jame’s downfall."

The historic comparison is far fetched and inappropriate, given quite different scenarios and forces at play.

Where is the "grass roots" protest or revolt then, I ask? There is little to be seen of it, as the present NZ populace is as conformist as few have ever been for a number of generations.

The young ones are pre-occupied with tweeting, tending their Facebook and other social media accounts, exchanging instagram photo messages and the likes, all services provide by the giant new global corporations of the IT age, that the left so despises.

There is little in the form of grass roots dissent in work places and at WINZ offices, as most are too complacent or scared to challenge the system, no matter how dis-empowering and unfair it may seem. People rather resort to escapism, and there are many forms of doing this. Others find ways to "adjust", whether it means bending the rules or whatever.

Yes, NZ is overdue for a revolutionary change, but the mainstream media, owned largely by corporates, or by other private interests, or by a conformist, similarly focused remnant of "public broadcasting", is not providing any information that needs to be shared to fuel this. Rather they do the opposite and charm the present regime and leader. Alternative information is only shared by a few committed groups and individuals via social media blogs.

The rest is now in firm control of private business interests, their agencies to deliver banking, credit rating and sundry other services, to uphold a system that is firmly in place. The 99 percent movement has faded away, while after the GFC the government printing presses have flooded markets with bail out money.

The economy is of course not as healthy as we are made to believe, but really, with the conventional and additional, new means of "fixing", and manipulation, and endless conditioning and brain-washing, the whole machinery keeps ticking on and on.

Yes, some get richer by the day, and many get poorer, but it takes informed, aware, courageous and collective effort to push for change, that though does NOT exist in this present NZ society.

I wish it was otherwise. We may get a change of government, but NZ alone cannot change, what has been put firmly into place on a global scale over three or more decades. A world economic catastrophe may create the ground for revolutionary change, not a change of leader of one Labour Party, and not the passion of a few hundred or thousand of activists and supporters.

So should Labour and the left manage to win power, it will likely be a very sobering experience, yet again.

Davo Stevens said...

Divide and conquer has worked well over the last 30yrs. Scatter the opposition and divide them up that way you won't get a revolt.

NZ is run by two branches of the same company; Gnats and Labs. Every few years they just swap places for a while. And we get the Same Old Stuff.

Perhaps one thing we could look at is political donations; when some-one donates $20.00 they are probably just generous but when some-one donates $20,000 they want something. So those with money call the shots.

Public broadcasting need a damned good shake-up too. It has been steadily destroyed by subsequent gubbies. We never get good broadcasting when the broadcasters are controlled by corporates.

The Flying Tortoise said...

Did someone say there's going to be a revolution?
Bring it on!
Let's get rid of these right wing greedy bastards who are fucking this country!
Where do I sign up...

Davo Stevens said...

Actually Tortoise we are waiting for you to lead the charge!

Tell me, how do you get airborne with those heavy shells? ;))

markus said...

"In its initial stages, very few New Zealanders disputed the necessity for Finance Minister Roger Douglas's demolition derby. Since 1981 the country's economy had come to resemble one of Heath Robinson's outlandish contraptions."

The most relevant poll/survey of voters carried out in 84 found that, on the question of attitudes to the Muldoon Government's Economic Interventionism, "responses were notable in that despite the unpopularity of the Muldoon style of intervention (except among 1984 National voters), the principle of intervention was generally endorsed and the size of the "misdirected" category - particularly with respect to Labour and Social Credit voters - was unexpectedly high."

The Question was: "In your opinion, has government intervention in the New Zealand economy under National in the 1980s been 'about right', 'excessive', 'misdirected' or 'too little' ?":

1984........All Voters...Lab Voters

About Right.....31..........4
Too Little...........1...........1

Hence, only a third of all voters in 1984 and less than 40% of Labour voters thought Muldoon's interventionist policies 'excessive'. Significant interventionism of one sort or another was endorsed by two-thirds of all voters and more than 60% of Labour voters at the time of the 1984 Election.

Anonymous said...

Chris it's just plain silly to want to return NZ to the Muldoon era. Bringing back the old Post office run telephone and telegraph department, the make work railway, import licences - You really should move on. Are you serious?

Chris Trotter said...

To: Anonymous@8:37

I've just re-read my posting to ensure that I have not experienced some sort of major brain-fade, and that I didn't really issue a call for a return to the days of Muldoonism.

I have to say that I breathed a large sigh of relief to discover that my recollection and the text are still on the same page - so to speak.

May I, respectfully, suggest that you do the same? The exercise would reveal that what is being called for is not a return to Muldoonism, but for a modernisation of the NZ economy that is undertaken democratically, from the bottom up.

As Markus's figures indicate, this is what most Kiwis were hoping for in 1984.

They're still waiting.

OneTrack said...

Chris, maybe you could have another post on exactly what the results of the revolution would look like. You have said it wouldnt be 1970s muldoonism. What would it be?

Anonymous said...

Then I take it you are suggesting some kind of syndicalism a la Catalonia in the 30,s. Dream on.

Victor said...

A thought-provoking item, Chris.

If you've not already read them, may I recommend to you Tim Harris's "REVOLUTION - The Great Crisis of the British Monarchy, 1685-1720" and his earlier work "RESTORATION - Charles II and his Kingdoms, 1660-1685"

Professor Harris paints a very detailed picture of the three kingdoms as wracked by recurrent unrest, riot, rebellion, plot and mayhem, fueled by religious and political paranoia.

Even then, James II needed to offend just about all the major players (Whigs and Tories, Anglicans and Dissenters, English, Scots and at least some Irish) before the crisis point was reached.

I can't say that I see a parallel between that situation and our current rather somnabulent and politically passive society.
Quite the opposite, in fact.

But perhaps I should get out more.

Davo Stevens said...

Love him or hate him, Rob Muldoon's govt. cared about ordinary Kiwi's. How he went about intervention is a matter for debate. Subsequent govts. since only care about the top 1%.

No-one is advocating going back to the heavily regulated days of yore, just using a bit of common sense, something that is apparently in short supply with the bunch we have now.

Since 1984 we have systemic un-employment where there are people who have never had a job and have no prospect of ever finding one. Hardly looking after the people! We need to change that and get people into work again. Will private enterprise pick up all those un-employed? Dream on!!

The greatest asset that any country has is it's population. That population needs to be well educated, well fed and healthy.

@ anon 08.37; I see nothing that suggests a return to Muldoon era politics in Chris' post. BTW, I am quite happy to use my real name here too.

Bogusnews said...

Interesting post.

I was initially very resistant to Rogernomics, but once I saw the benefits by the end of the 90's I was converted.

Under Muldoon you have quite correctly said NZ became a basket case and something urgently had to be done.

From 1990 to 1999 we gained an additional 283000 new jobs, paid almost 23 Bil off the national debt, and left the Clarke govt with a very robust and healthy economy - almost 3% growth and a 5bil surplus.

Sounds like something was working pretty well to me.

Davo Stevens said...

Yes, we did pay down a considerable amount from the deficit in the 90's but at the expense of the real economy.

The banks were sold off overseas, our rail system was sold off as was so many of our assets. We lost the income that those assets generated generally making the country poorer.

The job figures have been massaged too. How many of those "jobs" are still in our economy? Not many! They were mostly just short term jobs.

Unions have a place too, they make sure that some of the income is spread out throughout the economy not just accumulated at the top as it is now.

Sheesh! People think that "Rogernomics" is something new, there is nothing new in politics/economics, it's all been done before. All little Roger did was turn back time to the Victorian England economic style. If this bunch have their nasty way we will see a return to the old "Workhouses".

Milton Friedman should have been strangled at birth!

Jigsaw said...

Davo - how incredible that you STILL think that the state owned assets sold off in the 1980's actually earned us any money! Almost without exception owning hotels, printing companies, forests etc COST the taxpayer more and more-the second more being the incredible inefficeniences that penalized people twice. I guess the only logical excuse for your opinion is that you are too young to recall what happened and instead rely on people like Chris Trotter who yearns for a Polish shipyard economy. I wonder how he could possibly persuade New Zealanders to lower their standard of living so far!

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Jigsaw, they provided jobs. Its customers that keep the economy running, not entrepreneurs. People had money to spend. Now many of them don't.

peterpeasant said...

How the hell Muldoon came into this discussion is beyond me.

Methinks that Chris is stretching a very long bow indeed in entertining the concept "a glorious revolution" (I wish).

The Labour weakness is the disaffecred non voters.

That is the REALPOLITIK.

Jigsaw said...

Depends how far you go to provide jobs when those jobs are paid for by everyone else. You socialists seem unable to see that such a system is not sustainable. We have done all that stuff in this country in my lifetime and found that it couldn't last-how difficult is that to understand?
Muldoon was a socialist-remember the wage and price freeze?

Guerilla Surgeon said...

You capitalists fail to see that your neoliberal nonsense has failed a huge proportion of the people in every country it's been tried. As one idiot commentator put it on another site, "it's the price of economic freedom." But of course – he's not paying it, and people with no money have none :-). The gap between rich and poor is growing, and when enough people have bugger all stake in the economy, you get a revolution of one sort or another. I would have thought that gradual economic change would be preferable to that. I would have thought that it was better economic and SOCIAL sense to subsidise people in paying jobs than the unemployed. That's the problem with you neoliberals you tend to forget that people are people, not just stock units. People deserve to have their needs and maybe some of their wants satisfied by the economy. Otherwise what is it for, and why should people co-operate with it?

Anonymous said...

...the new religion of 'environmentalism' is a deadly toxin to capitalism and by extension, economic success ..why its endemic spread ensures dark days ahead for New Zealand and many of the world's large and small economies.. 'greenies' always in the news. No room in the minds of low-life 'greenies' for capitalism, the driving force behind all successful economies and the subsequent advancement of humanity ...the continual brain-washing of an imminent environmental destruction result...programmed by those in control of the state for asssuming even greater power ...

Cpt747 said...

...words and more words...'action' is only the truly way forward...OK

Davo Stevens said...

Jigsaw; that system worked well from 1945 to 1974.

Rob Muldoon hated the idea of printing money for infrastructure. When he and Bill Birch set up the so-called "Think Big" projects he trotted off overseas and borrowed the money from Germany and Saudi Arabia. The result was a massive increase in our overseas debt that crippled the economy paying the interest on those loans.

Now before you go off on one of those neo-liberal rants about printing money, think. As the returns come in the printed money is written off. The end result is we have assets that didn't cost us anything and certainly didn't cost us huge interest rates that we struggled to pay. Printing money only works when it is spent within the borders, as soon as it leaks off overseas it feeds inflation (devalues the currency).

It was those interest payments that fed inflation here was the reason why he had to put on a price/wage freeze. Add to that the oil shock of the 70's and you have a recipe for disaster.

Why did the Govt. recently get the rail carriages made in China? They could well have been built here, we had the expertise to do it. Answer is simple; John Key saved a few million bucks doing that. Yes, it would have cost a little more but THAT MONEY WOULD SPREAD THROUGH OUR ECONOMY and more people would have been better off if they had been built here. The country would have benefitted in the long run, something that this Govt. can't see.