Friday 3 December 2021

Can Luxon “Reimagine Capitalism” – Like Muldoon?

Outflanking The Socialists: Because there really isn’t any other way that National can win. Christopher Luxon, like Rob Muldoon (above) needs to go fishing where there are fish to catch. Using what for bait? Simple. A solemn promise to halt the upward redistribution of wealth among the sort of highly-educated, middle-class bureaucrats who get paid for telling working people what to do.

THE PROBLEM with Jim Bolger’s sagacious intervention of last Sunday was that it diagnosed National’s disease, but supplied no remedy. It is all very well to tell National’s new leader, Christopher Luxon, that he must articulate a clear “vision” to the electorate. Who would disagree? Much more helpful, however, would’ve been some indication as to what that vision might be.

The nearest Bolger got was a suggestion that the new Leader of the Opposition might like to “reimagine capitalism”. Now, as a man of the Left, I have to say this was a pretty startling piece of advice. Most of those on the centre-right of politics struggle with the idea that there is anything about capitalism that requires “re-imagining”. What Bolger’s radical diagnosis appeared to be saying, however, was that National’s longstanding mistrust of political imagination might just lie at the heart of the party’s electoral difficulties.

Fair enough. But asking Luxon to re-imagine capitalism strikes me as a rather tall order for someone who’s only just celebrated his first year as an MP. Tall, but not impossible. Because, as Newsroom journalist Nikki Mandow reminded us on Monday morning (29/11/21):

“[I]t was Luxon who first introduced former KiwiRail chief executive Peter Reidy to the high engagement, high performance management model.

‘He’d been using it for a couple of years at Air New Zealand and was getting great results in terms of engaging frontline workers and their union to improve productivity’.”

Does this “high engagement, high performance management model” count as an example of reimagining capitalism? Maybe it does. It certainly counts as persuasive evidence that Luxon isn’t afraid of new ideas, new ways of working, and – wonder of wonders for a National Party politician – that he isn’t afraid of interacting productively with workers and their unions.

And that lack of fear is likely to prove crucial to Luxon successfully hauling National out of the rural and provincial swamp in which his predecessor, Judith Collins, had allowed her party to become mired.

Because, if there is one fact that National’s new leader must make his colleagues understand, it is that there simply aren’t enough farmers, small businesspeople and conservative Christians living in New Zealand to carry their party to victory. Nor is it any longer the case that a middle-aged White male, with a background in business, can expect to be automatically deferred to by centre-right voters – let alone centre-left converts.

Not that I’m suggesting a business background is a handicap, merely that it’s not enough. Not with half the workforce made up of women. Not when the blue collars of New Zealand’s proletariat are, increasingly, fastened around brown necks. Not when a growing proportion of New Zealand’s population grew up in powerful and active states, for whom the planning and implementation of economic development remain core government functions. (As was once the case right here in New Zealand!)

If Luxon’s caucus is unwilling to exercise their collective political imagination upon these electoral and cultural fundamentals, then National’s future is bleak. Eventually, Labour – which understands, at least theoretically, that these key transformations must be acknowledged and responded to – will work out how to make change happen.

Luxon’s tenuous – and presumably temporary – advantage is that Labour has yet to master the art of turning theory into practice. If, while his political opponents continue to faff about, Luxon reaches out, like Boris Johnson, to that part of Labour’s traditional working-class base that is no longer quite sure whose side Jacinda Ardern and her government is on, then National can begin to amass the additional numbers it needs to reclaim the Treasury Benches.

Outlandish? You reckon. Impossible? Well, it certainly won’t be easy, but it should not be forgotten that National has done it before. Luxon could do a lot worse than to set about rehabilitating the reputation (and some of the policies) of Rob Muldoon. Not the whole shebang, mind, but, at the very least, Muldoon’s willingness to reimagine, and reconfigure, capitalism in the way ordinary New Zealanders wanted it.

Because there really isn’t any other way that National can win. Luxon, like Muldoon, needs to go fishing where there are fish to catch. Using what for bait? Simple. A solemn promise to halt the upward redistribution of wealth among the sort of highly-educated, middle-class bureaucrats who get paid for telling working people what to do.

This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 3 December 2021.


Tiger Mountain said...

National has long been the party of shovelling socially produced wealth “upstairs”–and being reasonably blatant about it. Whereas post ’84 Labour has used the “invisible hand of the market”, managerialism, deregulation and penetration of public infrastructure by private capital to achieve similar.

“High Performance work” is basically a class collaborationist approach to workplace organisation that co-opts unions and is present in several OECD countries. In New Zealand unionists such as Rex Jones of then EPMU–Engineering Printing and Manufacturing Union and ex NZ Labour President Nigel Haworth set up an NZ High Performance Work Institute which seems to have faded away.

HPW lives on in the recesses of some Govt web pages it seems though.

Christopher Mark Luxon will be flogging the proverbial if he goes down that route when work, paid and paid, has changed so much for so many.

Shane McDowall said...

Sssh Chris!

Stop giving National ideas.

Perhaps you are a double agent working for National.

Let them wallow in their rural, provincial bog.

jafapete said...

Indeed, I have obsrved ovrr my lifetime thar protecting tge interests of the advantaged is National's raison d'etre.

Phil said...

I think you are over analysing on this one. The electorate voted for Jacinda rather than Labour policy which was mostly kept hidden during the election campaign.

greywarbler said...

Interesting Tiger Mountain - 'High Performance Work'. This is what the public get fed. Perhaps
you could comment on this productivity thing and whether it is a chimera and whether Mr Ganesh Nana is doing good work for us.

May 2021 Working longer hours but producing less: NZ's poor productivity
The Productivity Commission’s Productivity by the numbers report released on Thursday shows New Zealanders worked 34.2 hours per week, higher than the 31.9 hours per week worked in other OECD countries, and produced $68 of output per hour, less than the $85 per hour in other OECD countries. The figures cover the year to March 2020.

“New Zealanders are working harder rather than smarter, this makes improving living standards even more difficult,” said Productivity Commission chairman Ganesh Nana.

Jens Meder said...

Well, in this you are right, Chris, that just a new leader without new policies might not help National very much, and that's what also Jim Bolger suggested, when drawing attention to the undesirable results of free market neo-liberal capitalism leading to intensified socio-economic polarization into haves and growing numbers of have-nots.

So, since without capitalism we all would be very poor, National's drive towards
active participation in capitalism by all citizens through compulsory (retirement and potential home ownership wealth) savings - with even welfare benefits containing a proportion of those not immediately consumable savings - would make both National and Labour compete more creatively on the economic level.

For this, will National keep up with contributions into a permanent Super Fund and the KiwiSaver effort and give up on raising the NZ Super entitlement age ?

greywarbler said...

High engagement, high performance. Let's be the 'quaint' country that is good at making
old systems work using human skills and keen people adept at their various callings. Labour have turned into a bunch of snobs who eschew physical labour; that's so last century. So to keep up with the world they want to live in, they have turned away from the 'wilderpeople' and looked to successes like Peter Jackson and Fran Wilde. Let's be quaint and busy, charging enough but not too greedy. Proud, individual, controlled, principled.

I have been getting an idea perhaps of the sort of society and country that Luxon might promote and preside over from reading books about the survivors of Brits WW2 SOEs or Special Operations Executive, see google. Stirring stories and often placed in France. Pan, a part of McMillans printing I think put out a lot of great non-fiction paperbacks in the 1950s. A good one is 'Moondrop to Gascony by Anne Marie Walters' and there are a number of writers who have delved into Nancy Wake's story. To survive. the French people drew on attributes of character and conviviality that I fear are vanished/ing from New Zealand.

John Hurley said...

The conventional script for beltway Republicans in the pre-Trump era called for limiting the power of government and letting social policy be set by individual choice and market mechanisms. But for the national populists and conservatives of the new post-Trump Right, that laissez faire approach simply cedes power to woke corporations and lobbying interests. The only way to reform the state is to take control of it and replace current ruling class functionaries with a new elite that will serve the interests of working and middle-class Americans.

A conventional economic analysis of large -scale immigration impacts
The distinctive feature of the New Zealand economy is that land is an important input into the productive process. This is obvious with the agricultural, fishing and forestry sectors but it also applies to international tourism. In a simple model of the New Zealand economy where the supply of land is fixed, and New Zealand’s isolation means it is not a ‘natural’ location for the production of a broad range of internationally traded goods and services, then an increase in the labour supply through large scale immigration will reduce the marginal product of labour. As a result:

 Real wages will fall
 Owners of land will benefit
 There will be an outflow of ‘native’ labour in search of higher wages in Australia
 The economy will be bigger, but average incomes will fall
 Resources will flow into low value service production.

I get up at 5am for work and I'm treated to Nathan Rawiti's views on First Up. They are so exclusive they think they are the only ones in the room.

sumsuch said...

'Steeping' in the warm bath of your intelligence and education. Yes, I may not have commented if that word hadn't come to me. I have words, you have sentences and paragraphs and conclusions. V. the other Left Blogs.

Off work with a hand in a cast and kept company by Orson Welles on Youtube talking about everything and its underwear.

Whenever however I introduce the slightest abstraction to Facebook the phone goes dead. Ideas have lost their currency in the brave new world. Why Trump could make an attempt on democracy with no backlash. Why there are fools, who I personally know, up and willing for that here too. Thankfully, god (very ironic), they are a minority.

John Hurley said...

Rat bags of real estate. Nichloa Willis is pointing to people in cars as a justification for giving away shade protection to her developer mates.

Jens Meder said...

Muldoonist capitalism of subsidized production and excessive welfare expenditure (NZ Super from age 60) for which he confiscated all the capital owing to our Universal Super Fund which had been borrowed for consumption - (not for wealth creation, but for its consumption !) - took us close to insolvency - and necessitated the Roger Douglas initiated reforms in 1984.

Unfortunately these were too liberal ("everone knows best how to spend his/her money") and neglected the introduction of systematic wealth (capital) ownership creative savings measures - with the natural and inevitable results that capitalists (savers and investors)
got richer while those who did not do it and consumed all their income, naturally and inevitably remained or became have-nots.

With this we have now a wonderful opportunity to introduce universal "people's capitalism", economically the "Third Way" not towards the "Right" or "Left" from the traditional political spectrum , but "Upwards" for all.

John Hurley said...

This may help explain National