Thursday 9 April 2020

“Lord, give us Democratic Socialism – but not yet!”

Not Now, Not Ever, Never! The problem with Labour's leading activists is that there is never a good time for democratic socialism. Never. They are like Saint Augustine who prayed to the Almighty: “Lord, give me chastity and self-control – but not yet.” In the case of Labour's "junior officers", however, the prayer is a little different: “Lord, let the Labour Party give New Zealand democratic socialism – but not yet.”

IT PAINS ME to ignore the Prime Minister’s advice, but it’s time to kick some Labour Party butt. As the saying goes: “Sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind.” And, no, I’m not talking about putting another boot into the tragic posterior of the Minister of Health. My beef is with the junior officers of Labour’s army. These are the folk who should be the most aggressive in the fight for social justice. The ones willing to take the risks necessary for victory. The ones with their eyes firmly fixed on the democratic-socialist prize. Unfortunately – and frustratingly – this is not what we’ve got.

On display is the sort of military prowess that saw a gaggle of chinless, baggy-panted British toffs hand over Singapore to a near-exhausted, numerically inferior and utterly astonished Japanese army in February 1942. Rather than delighting Labour’s allies and supporters with bold and imaginative contributions to the debate on how best to wrestle down the looming Covid-19 recession, Labour’s junior officers are offering nothing but orthodoxy and caution. Even worse, they are expending what little energy they can summon-up on upending buckets of cold water on every radical idea that comes forward.

Why do they always do this? How did dreary pragmatism become Labour’s default-setting? A full explanation would require a book-length answer. Suffice to say that once a party embraces the fundamental tenets of neoliberalism, anything other than orthodox and cautious policy responses will be treated as the political equivalent of upending a can of petrol over your head and striking a match. To be considered a credible contender for bigger things (an electorate seat or a high position on the Party List) requires constant proof that one’s hands are nothing if not “safe”.

Hence the following snippy little comment from lawyer, Greg Presland (The Standard’s “Mickey Savage”) responding to my criticism of his casual dismissal of the suggestion that Kris Faafoi should’ve rescued the best of New Zealand’s magazines by accepting Bauer Media’s offer to sell its entire stable to the Crown for $1.00:

“Gee Chris. In the middle of a pandemic when the country’s collective health and economy are under major threat and possibly a third of businesses are going to the wall do you really think the Government should be sweating about saving the Listener?”

Yeah, Greg, I do. I really do. Because even Blind Freddie (and The Spinoff’s Duncan Grieve) can see that Bauer’s ruthless cutting of its losses is about to be replicated across the entire media industry, and that only the Crown has the resources (not to mention the responsibility) to keep our news media alive and kicking against the pricks. Unless, of course, Greg’s desired outcome is actually the more-or-less complete collapse of this country’s independent media – with an all-powerful state media monopoly the last man standing. That there is absolutely nothing “social” or “democratic” about such a “solution” should surprise no one.

And lest any reader feel tempted to nod in agreement with Greg’s heartfelt concern for “possibly a third of businesses” poised to go “to the wall”: please, just stop and think it through. Is he suggesting that while the Government cannot afford to “sweat” about saving this country’s magazine publishing industry, it can afford to – and fully intends to – save all the others? Can the nation’s small and medium-sized enterprises now breathe a huge sigh of relief, secure in the knowledge that the same ministers who refused to lift a finger to shore-up the foundations of our democracy will nevertheless work like Trojans to rescue their little businesses?

Isn’t it more likely that the only New Zealand businesses with any reasonable hope of being bailed-out by the Crown will be the ones which are, in that memorable phrase from the Global Financial Crisis of 2008-09, “too big to fail”. Remember that Newsweek cover proclaiming “We are all socialists now”? Published the same week Barack Obama nationalised the auto industry.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Obama was right to take over General Motors. Nationalisation is what you do in a crisis – especially when the industry your saving is vital to the future of your country. And that’s the amazing thing, Greg. That you still don’t get that. But don’t feel too bad, because no one in a position to make a difference in the Labour Party has had an intelligent thought about the New Zealand media since the government of Norman Kirk!

So, if the Government is not going to be in a position to rescue every small business in New Zealand, and if up to a third of those small businesses could “go to the wall”, in Greg’s none-too-felicitous phrase, then wouldn’t this be the very best time to introduce a Universal Basic Income? Especially when the ability of the MSD to process and monitor tens-of-thousands of additional beneficiaries promptly, efficiently and sympathetically is just a teeny bit questionable?

Nope. Wrong again. According to Andrew Little’s former Chief-of-Staff, Neale Jones:

“I cannot think of a worse time to implement a UBI than in the middle of this economic crisis. Some of us are doing fine. Others need unprecedented government support just to stay afloat. UBI would spread that support thinner, or quickly spend 10s of billions we may need later.”

Meaning Neale has no grasp at all of Keynesian economics. No understanding of the crucial importance of keeping up the level of aggregate demand. No historical grasp of the crucial role spending plays in lifting a nation out of an economic slump. Nor does he understand the practical and moral efficiency of universal, as opposed to means-tested, state support. The massively positive effect of telling every Kiwi: ‘You are important in your own right, not because you’re in need of charity but because you are a citizen of New Zealand.’ Everyone keeps telling us that “we’re all in this together” – a UBI would prove it.

But, no. Neale says that being in the middle of a once-in-a-lifetime economic crisis is actually the worst time to consider a payment to every citizen to keep them and the economy afloat. The worst time.

The problem is, Neale, there is never a best time for you guys. Never. You and Greg remind me of Saint Augustine who prayed to the Almighty: “Lord, give me chastity and self-control – but not yet.” In the case of you two junior Labour officers, however, the prayer is a little different:

“Lord, let the Labour Party give New Zealand democratic socialism – but not yet.”

Not yet.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Thursday, 9 April 2020.


Kokila Patel said...

Maybe there is a belief it would be better to have just the state media of TVNZ and RNZ? That way they can control the messaging better and that is longer game.

Jens Meder said...

Yes, so far our socially concerned liberal welfare democracy has not been very effective in the effort towards 100% of citizen participation in the self-control, responsibilities and resulting benefits of adequate individual wealth ownership creation.

Or is it advocacy of the original Socialism defined as (productive) wealth ownership monopoly by the State that younger Labour activists should be doing more energetically ?

And why would a UBI make everyone feel good, when smaller than NZ Super it is hardly enough for a have-not ?

Geoff Fischer said...

The government is facing the questions "What can we save out of this society and this economy?" and "What must we save?"
Apart from lives of the old and infirm the "must saves" are those things that they deem to be "essential". The government itself. The health system. The army and police force. Food production and distribution. Transport. Electronic communications. Water and energy supplies. Daily newspapers, although they are well down the list.
Periodical publications are excluded.
The many exclusions imply a qualitative change to New Zealand society which will trouble some of us. For example if one compares the history of the "New Zealand Herald" (an "essential service") which urged civil war upon us in the eighteen sixties, promoted bloody imperial wars throughout the twentieth century and was a bell ringer for neo-liberalism from the nineteen-eighties, with the "New Zealand Listener" (dispensable) which was an erudite voice of reason throughout the second half of last century, one might wonder what sort of New Zealand will emerge from the Covid-19 epidemic.
However I offer a few words of caution and hope. Caution, because the "Listener" of 2020 in not what it was in 1970. Hope because New Zealanders are now making their own way independently of the once-great institutions of the social democratic era. They will go on doing that regardless of what the New Zealand government is able to save or chooses to abandon.

Kat said...

Speaking of Norm Kirk he once said: "People don't want much, someone to love, somewhere to live, somewhere to work and something to hope for...."

Try telling that to the "aspirational" devotees of Rogernomics. Try telling that to those who see climbing over others to get what they want as being clever. Try telling that to a generation of fast food addicts who want everything and want it now. Try telling that to anyone who votes for the National party these days.

"It's been a long, long time comin'
But I know a change gonna come
Oh yes it will......."

Hilary Taylor said...

I really, really do too Chris...think it was a massive failure of imagination not to save the Bauer mags in the interim....yep, proud Listener subscriber for decades. UBI too...opportunity gift-wrapped on a silver platter. Spain has just done it I believe.

Nick J said...

A UBI does not convince me, but creating demand does.

What Chris identifies as key are the concept that we are all in this together and that welfare is a citizens right, not a means tested trial by bureaucrat.

sumsuch said...

Well, I never.

David George said...

Perhaps the Labour party aren't particularly interested in actual socialism Chris.

There will certainly be some pain ahead and some difficult decisions for the government once we try and return to normal. Tourism will be the worst affected and the implications for Kiwi employees and businesses like Ngai Tahu Tourism are frightening. A good time for us to go out and see our own country and help in that way at the least.

Yes, very sad to see the iconic titles disappear, hopefully some Kiwis will take them up but the entire print media sector is in trouble regardless. The Listener, over 80 years in business, it's impressive 400,000 circulation dropped to around a tenth of that.

Some closing thoughts from a former Listener journalist follow a lovely nostalgic essay:

"Which brings me to Bauer Media, the company that lowered the boom on the Listener after 80 years as part of New Zealand’s cultural fabric. Bauer’s exit is further evidence that foreign control of New Zealand media is generally ruinous. Australian ownership did grave – some would say irreparable – damage to both our major print media companies and it seems the Germans are no better. Overseas owners have no emotional stake in the country and no long-term commitment to our wellbeing. They don’t understand our culture and ethos and are largely indifferent to New Zealand affairs. They are interested in us only for as long as they can make a profit, and when that ceases, they cut and run. Well, auf Nimmerwiedersehen, Bauer."

Simon Cohen said...

Dear old Kat.
So according to her 45% of NZ's population [national voters]fast food addicts,aspirational devotees of Rogernomics and those who see climbing over others to get what they want as being clever don't want someone to love, somewhere to live, somewhere to work and something to hope for...."
If she is typical of Labour Party members it is no wonder that over the last 4 elections the maximum percentage of votes labour has received is 36.90 and the minimum is 25.13 for an average of 30.87.So on average less than a third of NZers seem to agree with her.
If the change is going to come I will wager it won't be in her lifetime.
Isn't amazing that all these labour party supporters have to hide behind nom de plumes.One would think that if they had the courage of their convictions they would be proud to be publicly identified.
As for the continuing deification of Norman Kirk it only succeeds because he died young and in office.
What I remember of him is the vitriolic attacks on the Values Party and their green policies,His opposition to abortion,his homophobia and his anti feminism.

BlisteringAttack said...

The problem is yet another flat-footed Labour minister out of his depth.

If you thought the conveyor belt of hopeless talentless Labour ministers was going to end, well no, here we go again.

If Faafoi could think on his feet, he would have bought the swag of mags for $1 and on-sold the Listener to TVNZ for $2. Given that three quarters of the Listener is TV listings and ads, then that's its new home.

The other mags could have been on-sold when we get out of the COVID-19 woods.

Simple as that.

Patricia said...

What gets me is that for the past 40 years we have been told that government is bad and private enterprise is good - sorry George Orwell - but we refuse to see what the power of money can and will do.

Kat said...

Well well, young Master Simon Cohen, you continue to throw darts in the hope of hitting something. It appears I am now in your badly aligned sights just as Greywarbler was. Your comments on my political membership are as accurate as your dart throwing. Based on your comments your knowledge of Kirk and the Values Party circa the early 1970’s would appear just someone else’s opinion you may have stumbled upon. I am sure I would not be the only one here that would be interested in seeing more historical detail regarding your assertions of vitriol towards the Values Party by Kirk. Perhaps your “memory” is attuned more to the Muldoon years. I would add that homosexuality, abortion and feminism attitudes in the 1970’s in New Zealand should not be measured by later day standards.
My name is Kat, Katrina, Kerry, Tom, Dick, Harry, Bob………..even Leonard if you like.

greywarbler said...

Simon Cohen your critical response to Kat, like a flyswat whacked at some pesky insect, is the answer to your musing about why Labour supporters don't sally forth under their own names.

Now that is an amusing pseudo - Sally Forth. It begs the question as to whether actual names used are the person's real name anyway. The important thing is for blog identification to be made by using a dedicated address.

David George said...

I hadn't seen that Norm Kirk quote before, thank you Kat.

He was a simple, straightforward man but not so stupid as to say something obviously wrong.
Perhaps Big norm was alluding to this, from The Sermon on The Mount, the most sublime few words in our culture.

And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin:

And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.

Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, [shall he] not much more [clothe] you, O ye of little faith?

Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?

For your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.

But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.

Take therefore no thought for tomorrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.

What does it all mean?

It's sometimes naively interpreted as some sort of hippy anthem but the kicker is in it's most significant line: 'but seek ye first the kingdom of God'.

Psychologist Dr Jordan Peterson (from 12 Rules For Life) explains:
" Orient yourself properly. Then - and only then - concentrate on the day. Set you sights at the good, the beautiful, and the true, and then focus pointedly on the concerns of each moment. Aim continually at heaven while you work diligently on Earth. Attend fully to the future, in that manner, while attending fully to the present. Then you have the best chance of perfecting both."
I've always felt, and now I know, that our deepest yearnings are not for the material, that the envious and the greedy are both wilfully deluding themselves into thinking that the material will fill the void it never can, that they're placing the cart before the horse.

David George said...

BTW Kat, is that really necessary; casting those that don't believe what you believe, that they are different, that they are evil? You must surely know where that kind "thinking" leads.

The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either - but right through every human heart - and through all human hearts.
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Kat said...

It is not about what I believe or don't believe and more about the mindsets that have been fostered since Norm Kirk spoke those words. Those deaf ear examples I gave in my view are just some of the reasons why we are a divided country. I never said they were "evil" though, that is your word. It was always going to be a hard road changing those mindsets suckled from the teat of neo-liberalism over the past forty years. That may explain some of the frustration with the Labour party from the author of this blog. However in saying that the current global pandemic situation we find ourselves in has the naked potential to be the catalyst for change and in doing so hopefully some reflection on those words of Norm Kirk.

greywarbler said...

Jordan Peterson says some good things, and some ones that I find negative. A mixed bag who has managed to get a big following. Look at what people do as well as what they say, and get a picture of the whole person. That is what periodicals like the Listener etc can do if they are run in the right way. They fill in the gaps around the terse news items in the newspapers. They feed the brain with writing from wordsmiths. NZ tends to a brute, physical society; I remember Muldoon dismissing thoughts from universities 'ivory towered' academics. A country that doesn't bring its lesser educated up to meet the intellectuals, and follows opinions from those intellectuals without understanding and acting on the needs and thoughts of the 'lower class, the working class' is a country that is split and an axe can hew through what should be strong wood. Germany had high intellectuals; Hitler spoke to some inchoate aspirations in the people's minds. Roger Douglas came from a family of Labour politicians but had become distanced from the working people in his intellectual heights. And so he and others split the very Party set up to assist the working people.
The middle-classes were drawing away from the lower, the physically employed with simple aspirations and so it remains. We need to read good thoughtful words, but go further than Jordan P to the Desiderata* from 1927 written by Max Ehrmann, a USA lawyer where he compasses the way to go and how to understand our desires and our hearts.

In advertising their job is to know what is in human hearts and desires, rather like Jesus. But commerce wants to sell us stuff and know how to appeal to us. Jesus tried to give us stuff that would feed our souls, and get us to lean across and feed our nearby neighbour, and the distant one too. That is why Christianity is hard to practice, as it blends in to what our hearts desire and advises simplicity and austerity, but heart's desires are at the heart of advertising for commerce. Hence prosperity churches, and mere numbers of the congregation that forms a power bloc good for wielding control, voting, and then good for getting all sorts of tax relief.

Tax relief is something that churches believe in, and that crosses over to what rich men also believe in. So lots of complexity in Christianity, and even in other religions which decide that caring about neighbours is not the way that they should follow. and ridding themselves of such people is the preaching of the moment. So people who quote from the Bible cannot be paid heed to unthinkingly.

* "Desiderata" is an early 1920s prose poem by the American writer Max Ehrmann. Although he copyrighted it in 1927, he distributed copies of it without a required copyright notice during 1933 and c. 1942, thereby forfeiting his US copyright. Wikipedia

*Desiderata was written in 1927 by Max Ehrmann, a poet and lawyer from Terre Haute, Indiana. The word desiderata means “things that are desired.” Ehrmann said he wrote it for himself, “because it counsels those virtues I felt most in need of.”

* Words of Desiderata -

Suggestion - go to heading in google and change from All to Images and see the numerous ways that this one piece of writing can be presented. That's human imagination at work, there is a desire for beauty and form. Can we tap into that in our present materialist way and add a desire to see beauty in other humans that will ensure that we don't leave them sleeping on cardboard on our streets, beaten up by sick partners or parents etc?