Thursday 26 October 2017

Unfriendly Capitalism's Bodyguard Of "Expert Lies".

Making Neoliberalism's Bodyguard Of "Expert Lies" Redundant: That New Zealand was experiencing its very own “Brexit” moment became clear when Winston Peters declared that he and his party had rejected the option of facilitating a “modified status quo” with the National Party, in favour of empowering “real change” with Labour and the Greens.

CRUCIAL TO THE SUCCESS of the “Unfriendly Capitalism” indicted by Winston Peters has been its stalwart bodyguard of “expert lies”. Ever since 1984, when its unfriendliness began gathering pace, a seemingly endless procession of “experts” has been summoned to represent this new “unfriendly” capitalism’s cruelty as kindness. Some of these so-called “experts” were paid for by the big corporations. Others were commissioned by government agencies to prepare the way for changes destined to place an ever-increasing number of New Zealanders at the mercy of private economic power.

None of the core institutions of the New Zealand State were exempted from this “restructuring” process. Health, education, social welfare, the trade union movement, the universities, local government: all fell victim to the “gleichschaltung” (co-ordination) demanded by an increasingly foe-like capitalist system. And, in each case, these government “reforms” were presented to the public as the only rational response to what was, after all, “expert” opinion.

In a tiny number of cases, the tendered “expert advice” was so extreme that the government of the day simply balked at introducing reforms that seemed so patently politically unsaleable. For the most part, however, the experts’ findings were accepted and implemented.

That these arguments, for what can only be described as dramatic and socially-wrenching change, were received uncritically, and then promoted enthusiastically, by the news media was a crucial factor in their success. It encouraged the view that economic management had become such a complex business that “ordinary people” could not, realistically, be expected to play any useful role in the formulation of economic policy.

It required the system-threatening shock of the Global Financial Crisis of 2008-09 to set off a world-wide revolt against what we now call “neoliberal” economic orthodoxy – and the “experts” who have for so long expounded and defended its “principles”.

This revolt has come late to New Zealand because, through the worst years of the Global Financial Crisis, the Chinese economy’s absorption of so many of this country’s exports shielded it from the high levels of unemployment and the swingeing austerity programmes which have unsettled so many larger western nations.

On 20 October 2017, however, the NZ First leader, Winston Peters, from the stage of the Beehive Theatrette, told New Zealand that:

“Far too many New Zealanders have come to view today’s capitalism, not as their friend, but as their foe. And they are not all wrong. That is why we believe that capitalism must regain its responsible – its human face. That perception has influenced our negotiations.”

In that moment, it was clear that the revolt against neoliberal economic orthodoxy and the lies of its “experts” had finally reached New Zealand’s shores. That, in his declaration for a Labour-NZ First-Green Government, New Zealand was experiencing its very own “Brexit” moment, would become even clearer when Mr Peters declared that he and his party had rejected the option of a “modified status quo” in favour of “real change”.

Just how much “real change” Jacinda Ardern’s government is willing to countenance will be revealed in the people she chooses to advise her.

At the APEC summit in Vietnam in early November, where she is hoping to persuade the remaining 11 signatories to the Trans-Pacific Partnership to allow New Zealand to renegotiate the Investor State Dispute Settlement provisions of the agreement, who will Jacinda include among her expert advisers? A Prime Minister whose ambitions extended no further than slightly modifying the status quo would limit her APEC entourage to all the usual MFAT and private sector suspects. A Prime Minister determined to signal her commitment to “real change”, however, would invite Professor Jane Kelsey to join her in Danang.

A “Real Change” Government, determined to reverse the draconian policies adopted by a Ministry of Social development advised by neoliberal “experts”, would call upon the experience and expertise of Sue Bradford and Metiria Turei. Those who find themselves astonished and/or offended by the thought of two such bitter opponents of this country’s actuarially inspired and excessively punitive welfare system being asked to advise Jacinda’s government on its root-and-branch reform should, perhaps, pause and consider just how radical (albeit from the opposite end of the political spectrum) was the “expert” advice that created it.

In his review of four recent books addressing the worldwide “rage against the elites”, Professor Helmut K. Anheier, of Berlin’s Hertie School of Governance, writes:

“It is well within elites’ power to make decisions that benefit all of society, rather than narrow interests. Elites have surely failed in this regard over the last quarter-century, but they need not continue to fail in the future.”

But, is it reasonable to expect “real change” advice from the same neoliberal elites whose ideologically-driven recommendations created the very problems our new government is pledged to solve?

Capitalism with a “human face” has no need of a bodyguard.

This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 24 October 2017.


Guerilla Surgeon said...

As I have been saying for sometime now, neoliberal economics is wrong on a number of levels. The formulae they used in their mathematics was stolen from physics, and according to modern physicists is laughable. And for years, psychologists have been expressing the opinion that in fact people do not behave as economists assume they do i.e. selfishly. At least not all the time. And some economists started taking notice of this – and I notice that the Nobel prize for economics was one in 2002 by a behavioural economist, and now in 2017. And some of them have started using quite sophisticated maths according to a mathematician friend of mine.
And yet we still get the same old bullshit, both from business in particular, and conservatives in general. It's become simply a religion. They've been "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result" for so long, and they have so much of themselves, both personally and economically invested in their fantasy that they cannot change their minds even when contrary evidence is presented. Although I would make an honourable exception for the World Bank if their policies hadn't done so much damage to so many countries and people before they decided they were wrong.
So let's hope that this new government can resist the pressure of the RWNJ's. I live in hope, but I still remember that back down from Helen Clark's government way back. And I notice that Labour still want to be associated with the TPP. It doesn't augur well.

Polly said...

A well written and praise worthy piece of writing:
I believe New Zealand's new Government will strive hard to give new direction, and with good intention.
But should they also stop growth of the economy by spending without promise of growth in their spending then they will fail.
I myself would have liked to have seen Winnie as the Finance Minister.
We shall have to wait and see but without growth and nurture to a economy then it will wilt. blemish and subsequently die.
As would a apple tree.

Gerrit said...

Question is, will the new rulers being raised from the plebs like us turn into the new "elites"? Will the cosiness of a BMW back seat lift them above the plebitudes that placed them in a position of "enlightened elites" status?

Reminds me of a song with the lines "meet the new boss, same as the old boss" Hopefully we wont get fooled again.

Anonymous said...

This revolt has come late to New Zealand because, through the worst years of the Global Financial Crisis, the Chinese economy’s absorption of so many of this country’s exports shielded it from the high levels of unemployment and the swingeing austerity programmes which have unsettled so many larger western nations.

Also because Helen Clark's Government did an excellent job at making neoliberalism liveable in the lead up to the crisis.

David Stone said...

Hi Chris
An excellent summery to my mind. You are an excellent example of GS's point about people being driven by what they believe in , hoping it will pay the bills ,which as you have been a teacher GS, I'm sure applies to you also. But Chris probably works harder for New Zealand ,and more persistently than any politician ever has.
Actually G S it always struck me from the outset of Rogernomics that the ideology misunderstood what motivates people. We mostly choose something we expect to give us some sense of worth, that will make a contribution to society. Provideing sufficiently for ordinary needs and wants is necessary but secondary. There are people obsessed with making as much money as they can by whatever means but they are a small minority.
One major miscalculation the neoliberals made was to bring banking into the same lasses faire regime as everything else. If the trickle down had ever a chance of working that scuttled it.
In 2007, just before the financial crisis total world debt was at $149 trillion US. The world's great financial neoliberal fiends
panicked and told each other that debt was too high and must be reduced. They have been doing everything they can think of for the ensuing decade to reduce it. It now stands at $232 trillion. They don't know what they'r doing and they never did. Debt is clearly out of anyone's control , and the only way to reduce it or arrest it's all devouring growth will collapse the world economy. Unless some countries agree to co-operate in changing the whole system. That's a lot to ask of Jacinda.
I was thinking that Winnie should be F M too , but on reflection that would have really set the cat among the neoliberal pigeons so to speak. If they are to make real changes it might be best to do so quietly bit by bit leaving Winnie away from the spotlight doing his foreign affairs stuff and leaving the gardians of the status quo reassured.
Cheers D J S

Guerilla Surgeon said...

David. I don't think that conservatives care about debt and/or deficits anymore do they? At least in the US where the trends seem to be set. They just want to reduce taxes, and now claim that deficits don't matter. Which is certainly a change from the pre-Ronald Reagan times, when they espoused prudence. Which in itself assumed that running a country was like running a business or a household. Another fantasy.

David Stone said...

I think they are absolutely shitting themselves about the debt G S , but they can't do anything about it. They are sticking their heads in the sand and hoping for a miracle to get growth started again. Austerity (otherwise known as fiscal responsibility) is the only idea they seem able to imagine. Not grasping that it is strangling the very life force that they wish to continue to feed on.
Cheers D J S