Wednesday 19 July 2017

Noticing Neoliberalism's Nakedness.

"But he hasn't got anything on!" - For 30 years New Zealand’s best and brightest business leaders, academics, journalists and politicians have been telling the rest of us that the only reason neoliberalism appears to be promoting a nakedly brutal and inequitable economic and social system is because we are too stupid to perceive the true beneficence of the free market. Painting by Thorarinn Liefsson.
IF THE 2017 GENERAL ELECTION turns into a messy boil-over, it will be the fault of New Zealand’s most successful people. For the best part of 30 years, the high achievers of New Zealand society have aligned themselves with an ideology that has produced consistently negative outcomes. Not for themselves. In fact, they have done extremely well out of the economic and social changes of the past 30 years. For the majority of their fellow citizens, however, the Neoliberal Revolution has been a disaster.
The real puzzle of the past 30 years is, therefore, why a political system intended to empower the majority has not consigned neoliberalism to the dustbin of history. Why have those on the receiving end of economic and social policies designed to benefit only a minority of the population not simply elected a party, or parties, committed to eliminating them?
A large part of the answer is supplied in Hans Christian Andersen’s famous fable, The Emperor’s New Clothes. Those who know the story will recall that the crucial element of the swindlers’ con was their insistence that the Emperor’s magnificent attire could only be seen by the wise. To “anyone who was unfit for his office, or who was unusually stupid”, the Emperor would appear to be wearing nothing at all.
The interesting thing about Andersen’s fable is that it’s actually supported by a critical element of scientific fact. If people whose judgement we have no reason to doubt inform us that black is white, most of us will, in an astonishingly short period of time, start disregarding the evidence of our own eyes. Even worse, if an authority figure instructs us to administer punishments to people “for their own good” most of us will do so. Even when the punishment appears to be causing the recipients intense, even fatal, pain, we will be continue flicking the switch for as long as the authority figure insists that the pain is necessary and that we have no alternative except to proceed. (If you doubt this, just google “Stanley Milgram”.)
For 30 years, then, New Zealand’s best and brightest business leaders, academics, journalists and politicians have been telling the rest of us that the only reason neoliberalism appears to be promoting a nakedly brutal and inequitable economic and social system is because we are too stupid to perceive the true beneficence of the free market. In language ominously reminiscent of Professor Milgram’s terrible experiment, we have been told by those in authority that there can be “no long-term gain without short-term pain”, and, God forgive us, we have believed them – and continued flicking the switch.
Nowhere has this readiness to discount the evidence before one’s own eyes been more pronounced than in our politicians. How many of them, when confronted with the social and environmental wreckage of neoliberalism, have responded like the “honest old minister” in Andersen’s fable, who, upon being ushered into the swindlers’ workshop, and seeing nothing, thought: “Heaven have mercy! Can it be that I’m a fool? I’d have never guessed it, and not a soul must know. Am I unfit to be the minister? It would never do to let on that I can’t see the cloth.”
How else are we to explain the unwillingness of the Labour Party and the Greens to break decisively with the neoliberal swindle? Or, the repeated declarations from National and Act praising the beauty and enchantment of its effects: “Such a pattern, what colours!”
Even as the evidence of its malignity mounted before them. Even as the numbers harmed by its poisonous remedies increased. The notion that the best and the brightest might perceive them as being unusually stupid and unfit for office led the opposition parties to concentrate all their criticism on the symptoms of neoliberalism. Or, in the spirit of Andersen’s tale, critiquing the cut of the Emperor’s new clothes instead of their non-existence.
Eventually, of course, the consequences of neoliberalism are felt by too many people to be ignored. Children who cannot afford to buy their own home. Grandchildren who cannot access mental health care. The spectacle of people living in their cars. Of homeless men freezing to death in the streets. Eventually someone – a politician unafraid of being thought unusually stupid, or unfit for office – breaks the swindlers’ spell.
“‘But he hasn’t got anything on,’ a little child said.
‘Did you ever hear such innocent prattle?’ said its father. And one person whispered to another what the child had said, ‘He hasn’t anything on. A child says he hasn’t anything on.’
‘But he hasn’t got anything on!’ the whole town cried out at last.”
Now, the whole New Zealand electorate may not be calling “Time!” on neoliberalism – and certainly not its best and its brightest – but Winston Peters is.
And the town is whispering.
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 18 July 2017.


GJE said...

and don't forget first car buyers that can't afford a mercedes...I know it's disgraceful..Lets all vote for prosperity for all now!

Polly said...

Winnie is and has been for sometime holding well advertised, and well attended public meeting across the country.
I think there is a good value gamble that he will become the leader of the opposition parties to National.
Should that not happen then I believe he will dominate them anyway by sticking to bottom line's.
So far, I want a referendum on Maori seats number of seats in Parliament.
He's also a master of the TV screen.
He's on a roll and my vodka intake getting is more often.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Some people have gained a hell of a lot from neoliberalism – and.

They tend to vote.

They tend to be influential.

They own the press.

So the only story we have basically heard in the last 30 odd years is that neoliberalism is good for us. I'd be surprised if people weren't ignorant about it to be honest.

Mark Hubbard said...

There's so much rhetoric/nonsense talked about neoliberalism, Chris. But I'm so jaded with political commentary right now, and the obscene lolly scramble this election has turned into, I can't be bothered arguing it anymore. One very good piece to balance your piece, however, can be found in this from Rob Hosking:

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"There's so much rhetoric/nonsense talked about neoliberalism"
Yes, mostly along the lines that it works. It doesn't work. It's never worked. And if it really did work the whole world would be run along those lines, because everyone would get rich right?
Throughout history there has been wealth redistribution. Usually from the bottom to the top. This used to be some basic form of protection money, in order to keep some form of standing army going. But finally we got redistribution downwards – a little. And it went to pay for things like infrastructure which we all use. Neoliberalism assumes that everyone is going to be healthy and employed until they die. We know that in any large enough group of people there will be exceptions to just about any rule. So were not going to be healthy and employed till we die many others will be sick, through no fault of our own. And we take money off other people to pay for this. The only people who object are IMO immature idealists.

Quick joke to lighten the mood:

How many libertarians does it take to change a light bulb?
None. The free market will take care of it.

It's axiomatic. And it's cultish. There's absolutely bugger all evidence for it, and no one has ever provided me or anyone else I know with a time or a place where it has worked. Apart from some vague notion of the 19th century where government was small, and everyone was happy. Which really shows an incredible ignorance of both history and economics. We don't have perfect self-control, we don't have perfect control over externalities. So leaving those whose life experience has been somewhat shit out of society, is to put it simply – wrong.

Richard Mayson said...

Oh how this needs saying again and again Cchris but the pathos of it all is not only the cynical manipulation of the neoliberals, but the gullibility and stupidity of the masses. How else would those who fleeced NZ of more than two hundred million escape jail and be able to buy Mercury Island and one of them get a knighthood for doing so. Not forgetting too that the original architect of this also got a Knighthood with the name Douglas.

And then as if to cap it off the biggest con man in NZ's political history, who played the masses for the suckers they are, whilst feathering his and his peer's nests in Wall ST and London, not only gets a NZ Knighthood but an Aussie one as well.

But to infer that the not too subtle racism and xenophobia of Peters might be the Corbyn/Sanders/Warren of it all, is to be equally conned. We do not need a NZ version of Trump albeit with a functioning brain unlike the USA one.

Sad truth is the inspirational, courageous, "radical" needed so desperately in this country, has yet to surface. Surely it can't be that far away, but he/she ain't here for this election.

David George said...

The right practised public enterprise and private protection; the left practised public protection, and private enterprise. If we had a level playing field market forces would work.

Mark Hubbard said...

Can someone tell Mr/Mrs/Ms/Miss Guerilla just to read Rob's piece. He/she/it proves so many of the points made in that piece.

Smiley face.

Tar and Feather The Bastards said...

I've been saying for the last 15 odd years that there is no "trickle down effect - it's torrent up" It's that simple. People are too exhausted & beaten down by working long hours for low wages that they don't have time or energy to examine where their lives are at. Their children don't get the attention & direction they need (causing future problems) It's a vicious cycle with those up top getting richer & richer. I ' wasn't going to vote this election but now I think I will . .for the Greens. Labour needs to take a leaf out of Corbyns book in the UK & stop being National lite !!

Victor said...


It's a long time since I came across a new light-bulb joke.

Thanks. It's a good one.

pat said...
....only problem is, regardless of school of economics all rely on "growth"....and growth is the underlying problem.

peteswriteplace said...

Total mess, but not so easy to get rid of. Bit like getting totally incompetent Tories out of power.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Victor. There is a variation that goes something like "how many'liberals'does it take to change a lightbulb. None, the government does it for them." 'Liberals', because it's American. But it doesn't seem to be quite so funny somehow. There is also a variation of the Emo Philips (voted best joke in the world) joke which substitutes libertarian sects for Christian. But as I read the original first, and as it sort of steals that I don't find it quite so funny. :)

Guerilla Surgeon said...

I see Mark can't bring himself to address me directly. Perhaps if you wouldn't post links to places with pay walls I might read it. But I'm not paying money to read that rag.

Nick J said...

Surprise surprise Mark Hubbard, Hosking would say that. He's writing for the NBR ffs. Mouthpiece for the business class. Rather proves Chris point.

David Stone said...

Hi Chris
Well this is the key to unlock all the ills of society that need to be fixed , no significant progressive movement can be made without addressing neoliberalism, So if Winston is indeed the only one identifying the issue (which indeed he is ) it doesn't give us much choice in September does it! Shane Jones notwithstanding.
David J S

David Stone said...

Unless you want to vote for the really true believers from forever and vote Social Credit. You still can.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

The problem is, with the advent of Trump the post truth world has gone mainstream, Truthiness abounds, and we are halfway into an Orwellian nightmare. :)

Bushbaptist said...

"Trickle Down" was how the Neolib bull was sold to the masses. Pour money in at the top and we can all sit around under the table and our cups shall be runnething over! It was never intended to work, just an excuse to make life easier for those poor little rich kids at the top.

A better analogy is that money in an economy is much like cream and milk; put it in at the top and it stays there, put it in at the bottom and it will quickly rise to the top but on its way through it will improve the lives of many. Keynes recognised this quantum and that was why he developed his financial strategy, one that was adopted by FDR in the US and Mick Savage here. It started what was an un-precedented growth in prosperity that was shared by all.

Think about it: how did all those thousands of State Houses get built? How were the passes through our mountains put there? How was the Railway put through all of the country. And not a single Dollar (Pounds then) was borrowed to do it.

Charles E said...

Oh dear, when will you realise that neo-liberalism only exists as a monster of the bitter left's construction, which the majority do not and cannot see. It's like Islamism and their construction of what the rest of the world is. The majority of Muslims have no idea what they are talking about, regard them as nuts and expect they will fade away in due course. As will the neo-lib obsessed. Move on, the world has left you on your own island shouting at the moon. There is a word for such people.

Simon Cohen said...

Unfortunately Bushbaptist your knowledge of NZ history is cursory.Julius Vogel borrowed millions of pounds to put the railways through all the country.But don't let history get in the way of a good story.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"There is a word for such people."

Well, judging by the way young people are voting in Britain, and by the way people are abandoning your man Trump, I think the word must be "The Future" :).

Bushbaptist said...

@Simon Cohen; Nice deflection. Not the point I was making go back and read what I posted.

Hint: Vogel put the Railway between the main centres and ports not "throughout all of the country." The secondary Rail links were still being built in the 1940's and 1950's --- Long after Vogel had shucked off his mortal coil. My uncle worked on the New Plymouth branch line in 1956.

State houses, National Grid, the passes across the Southern Alps (Lewis Pass opening in 1963 I think, Haast Pass opened up in 1958) And many other services all built without any borrowed capital. How did they manage to do that?

Charles E said...

My man Trump?
No evidence for that GS as I have said before. He is more your man, as I presume you are anti globalisation, anti TPP and on the side of the workers on the scrap heap who voted for him.
Whereas if you look at my record, I supported the idea that Clinton was the only choice. still do.

However having said that, since the election I have growing sympathy for his supporters due to the hysterical nonsense spewing out of the liberal side over there of late. But the man himself is a jackarse to use a fine American term.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Well Charles, as I have said before – he will be your man Trump until you stop connecting every left-wing person on this site with all the Communist dictators from Stalin on down. :)
And actually if you knew anything about the US election, you would realise that it was not workers on the scrapheap who voted for him, but those with above average incomes. Somewhere between $50,000 and $100,000. A rather strange statement though, are you implying that you are not on the side of the unemployed, those who have been put out of work by globalisation? You're quite happy to consign them to the scrapheap? And yes I am against globalisation and a number of economists now have decided that it's gone too far. So thanks for reminding me of that Charles. I will write more on that later.

Anonymous said...

Any thoughts on The Making Of The English Working Class as a text (Wolfgang Rosenburg) v's the present where a focus is on the diversity thingy (racism) and a denial of real hardship?
The English Working Class are the enemy - "the right" whose concerns are sneered at as "supposed". Jo Cox.
A works as housemaid at a hotel. Saturday is day off (scheduled). Phone rings: "can you come in?". Always staff take sickies. Her friend is supervisor in a supermarket. Her staff don't take sickies as it is a popular job with good pay ($18/hr) and is popular with students. "A"'s pay is rock bottom and so the staff know they won't get fired.
having said that i saw Africans scrambling to get first pick at a load of rubbish the other night, just to get a feed - shame on the imperialist West and their catholic religion.

Anonymous said...


Guerilla Surgeon said...

Anonymous said...

What I'm getting at is that once Wolf Rosenburg used The Making Of The English Working Class as a text for economic history but now what? Identity politics has placed the white working class up with the oppressors.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"Identity politics". The term that assumes everyone's problems are the same, no matter what sex or ethnic group they belong to. What utter bullshit.

Anonymous said...

In the 1950s and 1960s, left-wing intellectuals who were both inspired and informed by a powerful labour movement wrote hundreds of books and articles on working-class issues. Such work would help shape the views of politicians at the very top of the Labour Party. Today, progressive intellectuals are far more interested in issues of identity. ... Of course, the struggles for the emancipation of women, gays, and ethnic minorities are exceptionally important causes. New Labour has co-opted them, passing genuinely progressive legislation on gay equality and women's rights, for example. But it is an agenda that has happily co-existed with the sidelining of the working class in politics, allowing New Labour to protect its radical flank while pressing ahead with Thatcherite policies.
— Owen Jones, Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class[18]

Postmodemity is a vague and inclusive term which pertains to both culture and politics. Looking at politics, we could say that if the modem period has been characterized by the grand theories of liberalism, socialism and human rights, then the postmodem period sees the universalism inherent in these ideas as a mask to hide the dominance of white European males. Postmodemity heralds the end of these theories and is concemed with the assertion of the power of particular interests. The emergence of ethnic or "identity politics" is a preeminent expression of postmodem values. We see it operative in the multicultural movement which denies the idea of a common culture in favor of perspectives which are Eurocentric,

We no longer see working class New Zealanders we see Winston. And there is a moral panic about racism. Racism is just tribalism (in this context) – a tribe within a geographical area.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

" allowing New Labour to protect its radical flank while pressing ahead with Thatcherite policies."
So? That's New Labour, and has nothing to do with the actual value of the policies. Or are you assuming that women don't deserve to be emancipated, gaze don't deserve to be equal and we shouldn't care about racism?

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Dammit AutoCorrect. And damn my his poor editing. Obviously that should be gays. :)

Nick J said...

Post modernity is the creation of those (mainly) French intellectuals who saw their Marxist Leninist dreams exposed as the murderous tyranny and totalitarianism of Stalin as expressed by Khrushchev s famous repudiation, and from the works of the dissidents such as Solzhenitsyn. The emperor unclothed was clothed again as the Marxist in disguise, the post modernist. The bourgeois enemy resurrected as white European males aka the patriarchy. The proletariat re-emerges as identity groups such as gays, feminists, non white minorities or anybody who wants to claim unearned privilege and costless respect as a "victim".

This is all a crock of the proverbial and helps the disadvantaged and needy not at all. This malevolent destructive theory contains the seeds of totalitarianism. Look at the way any questioning of its basis denies any right of reply because the questioner is automatically an enemy therefore not worth answering. Especially if he is a European male. If you check out the social sciences and arts in universities you will find this cancerous rot preeminent. And it has spread to politics. Like Marxism, Post Modernism will lead us to the next great counter totalitarianism, a mirror image, the next Fascism. Or perhaps if we were smart we would repudiate it now with logic, common sense and reality. I fear it is too deeply ingrained in people's minds to do this, so suffer we must.