Friday 30 October 2020

To Remain The Same, Everything Must Change.

A New Day: A middle-class concerned about preserving its own social status, and determined to prevent its children being forced to accept an inferior position in the socio-economic hierarchy than themselves, will do just about anything. Given sufficient incentives, it can be persuaded to vote for the Left. Given a big enough fright, the middle-class will flee in panic to the Right. Cartoon by "Riddell".

CONSERVATIVE NEW ZEALANDERS are up for grabs. Not since the 1990s, when Winston Peters and Jim Anderton harvested thousands of votes from deep inside National’s heartland, has there been a better time to engineer a profound realignment of this country’s politics. If Jacinda Ardern, Labour and the Greens play their cards right (or, more accurately, centre-left) New Zealand could become a social-democratic haven to rival Scandinavia.

Let’s begin by acknowledging the upwards of 250,000 former National Party voters that Labour already has in its column. The pollsters of both parties have confirmed that most of these switchers are women aged 45 years or older. Obviously, a large number will also be mothers with deep and abiding concerns about their children’s future. Already, by shifting their vote from National to Labour, they have signalled their openness to new economic, social and environmental priorities. Though very far from being radicals, they do recognise that if the conditions they value most are to remain the same, then everything else will have to change.

This is the political mood that gives rise to the oxymoronic concept of “radical conservatism”: a state of mind distinguished by a willingness to embrace new strategies to achieve old goals. A middle-class concerned about preserving its own social status, and determined to prevent its children being forced to accept an inferior position in the socio-economic hierarchy than themselves, will do just about anything. Given sufficient incentives, it can be persuaded to vote for the Left. Given a big enough fright, the middle-class will flee in panic to the Right.

The left-wing Chilean academic, Ariel Dorfman, who worked closely with the 1970-1973 administration of Chile’s socialist President, Salvador Allende, makes some important observations about the middle-class and how it should be treated by left-wing activists. In his 1999 memoir Heading South, Looking North, he writes movingly about the way Allende’s young followers simply “evaporated” those who did not accept their vision of the future:

It was difficult, it would take years to understand that what was so exhilarating to us was menacing to those who felt excluded from our vision of paradise. We evaporated them from meaning, we imagined them away in the future, we offered them no alternative but to join us in our pilgrimage or disappear forever, and that vision fuelled, I believe, the primal fear of the men and women who opposed us … [T]he people we called momios, mummies, because they were so conservative, prehistoric, bygone, passé … [W]e ended up including in that definition millions of Chileans who … were on our side, who should have been with us on our journey to the new land and who, instead, came to fear for their safety and their future.

If Dorfman’s words strike a chord with observers of contemporary New Zealand politics, it is surely because so many of our own young leftists evince a similar degree of impatience with those who refuse to adopt immediately, and without reservation, their own “woke” vision of paradise. It is one of the biggest challenges that Labour and the Greens will face: learning how to communicate with conservative New Zealanders. How to reassure them that the Left’s goals and their own are congruent – not conflicting.

The most obvious issue around which a large measure of unity can be built is housing. For middle-class families, the inability of their offspring to enjoy the independence and security that comes from having a place to call one’s own is deeply disturbing. A state-funded and executed programme to construct not only state houses but also state apartment buildings would draw off a significant amount of pressure from the housing market, flattening prices and expanding the supply of affordable houses as rents fell and landlords offloaded their properties to first-home buyers.

Such a dramatic expansion in state-owned, rent-controlled properties (built by the state’s own construction corporation and workforce) would also have an immediate impact on the poverty and inequality afflicting working-class New Zealanders. The money freed up by significant reductions in rent; the educational and health benefits flowing to children from the provision of permanent, well-constructed and healthy places for their families to live in; as well as the employment opportunities provided by the state’s crash housing programme; all would go a long way towards rapidly improving the living standards of the poorest New Zealanders.

Another means of cementing-in the support of professional middle-class New Zealanders, and small-business owners, would be to embark on a comprehensive expansion of tertiary and trade-training across New Zealand.

The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed the extent to which this country relies upon foreign (read cheap) labour to keep a multitude of its industries running smoothly. A strong commitment to “indigenise” the New Zealand workforce: firstly by training the necessary numbers of workers required; and, secondly, by requiring employers to pay all New Zealanders a living wage, and to provide working conditions conducive to lifting productivity across the board. A subsidy could be paid to small, under-capitalised employers, to ease their transition from the old system to the new.

The pandemic has similarly exposed the tertiary sector’s reliance on full-fee-paying foreign students. A reduction in the number of New Zealand universities, the abolition of student fees, and a strict limit on the number of foreign students would restore a measure of sanity to these necessarily elite institutions. They could once more become places of higher learning and public-good research, bringing to an end their tawdry existence as over-priced and commercially-driven degree factories.

These are but two proposals that could be described as middle-class and conservative friendly. A government prepared to listen to its people would be certain to hear many more.

The restoration of New Zealand to its former status as a “property-owning democracy” – a goal as enticing to its working-class as it is fondly remembered by its middle-class – holds out the promise of a political journey upon which the overwhelming majority of voters can embark together. Making home ownership something to which all New Zealanders could aspire, transformed National into the “natural party of government” for nearly four decades. By making it available again, Labour can acquire the time it needs to transform New Zealand into the Sweden of the South Seas.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 30 October 2020.


Brendon Harre said...

Providing a better built environment for Kiwis will require many systemic changes. I outlined some her.

Barry. said...

Chris - somehow I get two visions reading through this. The first is one of a socialist nirvana. However todays newer generations want it all and want it now. They want travel and daily coffee or two and a flash new home. A socialistnirvana will not deliver that cloud 9 option.
The other vision that developed towards the end of your post was that of a communist heaven. Again the current cancel culture wont allow that. The current mood of cancel culture and things like the BLM are devoid of logic - but communist culture is based on a faulty but insistant pattern of logic.
And we all know what happened to Allende.

Brendan McNeill said...


The real concern by conservatives is that Labour through its blind immigration / refugee resettlement policies will make New Zealand just like Sweden’s third largest city Malmo: Christchurch is New Zealand’s third largest city with a slightly larger population than Malmo. Is this the Sweden the left want’s for New Zealand?

Labour is committed to introducing hate speech legislation that will criminalise those who criticise Islam, or any religious faith or arguably any ideology. Islam and Christianity unlike race and ethnicity are choices not a function of birth. To deny the ability to critique a religious worldview is foreign to western liberal democracies. But the Christchurch Mosque Imam asked Jacinda for hate speech laws, and she has promised to deliver.

Labour is committed to rolling back the three strikes legislation. Those worst affected will be those communities these violent criminals come from. Statistically more than half will be Maori.

So, you can have your violent Sweden, your hate speech laws, your criminals - I’d rather not.

Ricardo said...

Rather than construct a huge and expensive state housing apparatus which history shows time and time again does not work, could we please really try the following:

- free up land and airspace by removing density restrictions and planning complexity (e,g, car parks not necessary for people who want to bike or use public transport)
- provide better financing options for local government to fund the necessary infrastructure increases for more housing thereby reducing local government disincentives to grow housing
- bite the bullet and really sell a capital gains tax. Remove the rational if not overwhelming advantages of property investment and redirect investment to productive purposes
- re-examine domestic building models, construction preferences and supply chains. Look at Japan's pre-fab technologies in a wood and carbon sequestering world

No ruling party or coalition has yet had the cojones to energetically educate the public on what has to be done. Much more affordable housing can be provided by the market, the market has just got to be unbound from all its current chains.

Reducing housing costs will be the single and biggest means of reducing child poverty (read family accommodation costs), providing a stable base for our young workers and families and improving a whole range of social "well being" indicators.

Persuade the middle class that a CGT will benefit their children, will not send them into penury and will boost NZ, then we can see some real change.

Harold said...

Who's going to pay? Thanks to covid you socialists have already run out of other peoples money! You will have to front up, your own cash, not holding my breath for that. If the govt did build houses flats etc. Then a future National/ACT govt. could sell them for below market rate to the tenants, just like Thatcher did in the 80's. Remember the Red Wall Chris ? Wonder what happened to that.

Jens Meder said...

Congratulations, Chris, for having at last come up with the Property Owning Democracy vision which no REASONABLE Socialist or Plutocrat view can argue against without exposing their faith as undemocratic elitism or State Monopoly Capitalism.

On what grounds can a democratic Socialist argue against the vision of a poverty-less personal property ownership (potential) based society with 100% of citizen participation in ownership (potential) -

or a democratically minded Plutocrat oppose the systematic participation in capitalism by all citizens and claim that would be Socialism ?

Achievement of the 100% Ownership Democracy "pipe dream" is effectively initiated and accelerated by granting the $1000.- KiwiSaver kick-start unconditionally to all who have not received it , from new-born babies to seniors still alive at a certain date, and by systematically sticking to raising the savings (and investments) rate for national and personal (retirement) wealth ownership creation, the country will become well prepared for facing the challenges of the future.

E.g. - if within a generation most people die with leaving some wealth for their descendants or the country, the ageing population factor will not be economically as painful to the young as it will be when they themselves have to pay for all the goods and services they have to deliver to an increasing proportion of "own nothing" retirees.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Oh deary me Brendan, here we go again. A sudden spike in explosions, due to a lot of surplus explosive devices being on the market from various civil wars, available to criminal gangs. And yet you blame "socialism" for this. This sort of thing has been declining since 2016 and there were zero explosions in 2018. And while things have escalated a bit since then there are still fewer than they are. Obviously the turf wars have settled down a bit. In general, Swedish crime remains remarkably low, lower than New Zealand under neoliberal governments anyway.

"Labour is committed to introducing hate speech legislation that will criminalise those who criticise Islam, or any religious faith or arguably any ideology. Islam and Christianity unlike race and ethnicity are choices not a function of birth."

I'm pretty sure Brendan that "criticising" Islam will never be criminalised. After all, that would pretty much put a stop to all theological debates between Christian sects as well I imagine. Admittedly there is always a conflict between critiquing and actual vilification. I don't know how, or even if labour is going to tweak this – but as always you assume the worst. Anyway, if you need to be "theologically qualified" to critique a religion, you won't be criticising Islam anyway will you?

Just as a matter of interest Brendan, do you ever change your mind when presented with evidence to the contrary of your beliefs? Just wondering if you still believe that Christianity is responsible for the beginnings of education and poor relief. Just askin'.

Odysseus said...

Omigod I agree with much of what you propose. Housing is key to combatting inequality and poverty. We need a huge expansion of public housing urgently. Land must be freed up; the RMA tossed on the dung heap and innovative techniques like large scale prefabrication must receive government investment. I would go further and overhaul local government to the point of abolition, it is a major impediment to growth in New Zealand. I agree entirely that the universities should no longer be foreign student farms, and immigration should be tightly controlled. At the same time I would offer tax incentives for companies to upgrade plant and equipment to make them more efficient and productive. Our per capita GDP is 20 percent lower than Australia and 30 percent lower than the US, and it continues to decline. We are becoming a poor country.

I agree strongly with Brendan that free speech must not be hobbled - any efforts to do so will cause widespread public protest and rightly so. Democracy must be defended.

Shane McDowall said...


"Using other people's money" is what capitalists do.

Between 2006 and 2012, 67 New Zealand finance companies went bust taking $3000 millon of "other people's money" with them.

And how generous of PM John "Free Market" Key to donate $1600 million of taxpayers money to the feckless investors of Canterbury Finance.
If an iwi authority were bailed out on such a scale there would be outrage from the non-racist anti-Maori bigots. But, as the beneficiaries of the taxpayers largesse were overwhelmingly white we heard barely a peep from the Don Brash types.

When are people going to wake up and see the stock exchange; futures markets, and currency trading are parasitic on the productive sectors of the capitalist economy.

The money these spivs-in-suits create is all smoke and mirrors, and disappears in market crashes with boring monotony.

Want to live in a real unfettered economy? Might I suggest Somalia, no pesky government to steal your hard earned money. But you might want to keep an eye out for warlords, bandits and pirates.

Bon voyage, and please take all the ACT voters and Libertarianz wankers with you.

sumsuch said...

You seem oblivious to the constant disproval you get on the objective forums, Brendan. You remind me of my own b.a. relatives. Why don't I associate evangelicalism with the highest standard of truth? Surely if you lot are right, outside Christ, you'd be entirely consistent with proven reality. But endlessly studying your Harry Potter book seems to addle your brains.

What do you think of climate change? Yep, you types believe what is simple and pleasing , for the moment. And the complexity of the modern world only helps to build your congregations.

Turning 180 degrees is the most human thing there is. And there are not many years left for the human things.

greywarbler said...

Watch it Odysseus - don't throw the baby out with the bathwater. Local government has to be less divided into administration/councillors I think. But they should know their own area and people should interact so that they are supportive combining group of people working in with each other - council advising and providing and budgeting in conjunction. Central government doing the nation stuff and mediating with local and assisting with funding national oriented tasks.

At present there is a ford to a local national park that is becoming impassible, the local council cannot cover all the cost to making necessary changes and the present degraded access will cause an accident. This is an example where the tourism side of national government and the environmental and waterways side should assist the locals so the park can be available for locals and our important nature tourism.

greywarbler said...

Harold you are funny. Having no working knowledge of how money is created and distributed, you stand at the side with the most heft, align yourself to the people there, and villify all the rest. That is nothing more than a sophisticated game of mud throwing indulged in by boys using up their excess energies for no particular point but having fun for idle minds. Grow up.

greywarbler said...

It's a pleasure to read 'Ricardo' someone with realistic and positive ideas for doing something about a problem, especially about housing. I can't understand why everybody doesn't understand the need a human has for a house, a secure, lockable place of their own. Other societies might not need to lock up but when everybody has access to everything, living standards go down a bit. The useful tools don't get returned and have to be searched for when needed is a small example.

In an impersonal and often predatory environment in cities with moving populations it is essential to have household security. I remember the film Popi way back; a Puerto Rican father with two little boys. He was a small man working in a lone position at a mortuary heaving bodies around and earned a meagre living, which could be undermined by thieves breaking into the family's bedsit. When they rattled the knob, he barked like the security dog he couldn't afford!

But I don't agree with this statement from Ricardo- Rather than construct a huge and expensive state housing apparatus which history shows time and time again does not work, It is tight, narrow minds that fail to make the system flexible enough to word effectively for both citizens and the state. The care of the home and grounds can be part of a state tenants agreement, with help when needed. Buying the house from the state at an affordable amount with a buy-back as part of the agreement, the value set by an agreed system, rather than at market rates, ensures that the state isn't over-extended and ensures that those who can afford to buy are able to have more autonomy to express their own desires for the property (large projects needing agreement). These methods are more flexible and practical than old socialistic ideas.

Here is a USA link setting out most of the advantages, especially financial, from owning your own home: And there is a deep psychological connection with both home and place, and perhaps on a person's own personality and being. Traveller and writer William S. Sax says this:
"People and the places where they reside are engaged in a continuing set of exchanges; they have determinate, mutual effects upon each other because they are part of a single, interactive system." That quote is from an item in The Atlantic:

It is likely that by denying our young people particularly, the right to buy their own home and so facilitate the life they build for themselves, New Zealand is destroying the heart and soul of the nation that had grown after the various economic depressions and repressions of workers that were ended by World War Two. As the nation blossomed, we failed to maintain the goodwill and commitment to the values that underwrote the civil society that grew then. When problems arose we had not formed an agreed NZ charter to guide us, and must now think urgently about what we need to enable us to stand together in a world of great political and environmental turmoil. If we can cohesively face the future in a thoughtful, responsive and cordial way we can avoid much of the despoliation of the good society we had expected to be continuous.

Anonymous said...

Since (unless we fool ourselves through excessive, seriously inflationary "debt free" credit creation) additional wealth ownership creation in a sustainable way is physically impossible without raising (i.e. SAVING) more capital for PROFITABLE (!) investment and productivity and capital debt repayment -

no government (Right or Left) will be ultimately successful in getting more done without achieving a higher national and personal wealth ownership creative savings rate per head of population.

Even policies of the Greens are subject to that reality.

Jens Meder

Geoff Fischer said...

I agree that the Imam of Al Noor masjid should not be regarded as an authority on how to protect believers from harm. He himself failed to protect his own community of worshipers despite (or more correctly because of) his collaboration with the NZ Security Intelligence Service.
He is equally deluded, and delusive, when it comes to the proclaimed need for "hate speech" laws.
We don't need more censorship. We need effective self-defence measures such as are in place in every Jewish synagogue, and which would have stopped Brenton Tarrant in his tracks with few casualties resulting.

sumsuch said...

Witnessing America, lifting the neediest seems intimately involved in lifting the class above them. So ... Labour is twice not enough. And without a positive simple case for the people fascism crawls up. No suggestion 'Jacinda' is doing anything but managing very, very, very present circumstances.