Friday 28 August 2020

Putting The People First.

Putting People First: Here in New Zealand, by a miracle of historical alchemy, we were blessed with a prime minister and a government who, against all expectations, reversed the neoliberal formula. In “going hard and going early”, Jacinda Ardern’s government had opted to put people first.

IT’S EASY to identify the people in charge – they’re the ones whose needs are attended to first. Remember the global financial crisis of 2008-09? In the United States, the question posed by that catastrophic economic meltdown was stark in its simplicity. Who will the government save: Main Street or Wall Street? The answer that came back was chillingly unequivocal. Wall Street.

 When the US House of Representatives for once attempted to live up to its name by voting down the financial sector’s self-drafted “rescue package”, the reaction of Wall Street was ferocious. Its minions in the Executive Branch descended upon the Capitol Building en masse, making it crystal clear to the errant legislators that they had chosen the wrong side. The vote was held again. Wall Street was saved.

 That’s what makes New Zealand’s response to the Covid-19 Pandemic so remarkable. With the example of the global financial crisis to guide them, many Kiwis were resigned to the needs of “business” being put ahead of everybody else. After all, that’s what they saw when they looked abroad – especially to New Zealand’s ideological kith and kin in the United States and the United Kingdom. Here, too, many predicted grimly, it will be profits first, people second.

 But they were wrong. Here in New Zealand, by a miracle of historical alchemy, we were blessed with a prime minister and a government who, against all expectations, reversed the neoliberal formula. In “going hard and going early”, Jacinda Ardern’s government had opted to put people first.

 For thirty-five years it has been a very different story. For thirty-five years New Zealanders have been told that their welfare is utterly dependent on the health of the business sector. Looking after the business sector, we have been encouraged to believe, is the same as looking after ourselves. Because, in the final analysis, if you don’t have a thriving business sector, then you don’t have anything.

Jacinda Ardern turned that proposition on its head. Looking after the people, she said, is the same as looking after the business sector. If you don’t have a healthy people, then you don’t have anything. To the utter astonishment of the nation’s business leaders and their media mouthpieces, the state intervened unreservedly and decisively. It locked the country down.

 And we got it. Blessedly free of the sort of economic expertise that insists such policies are completely counter-productive, New Zealanders cheered-on a government prepared to borrow tens-of-billions of dollars to keep them and their loved ones safe. When was the last time anyone had done that?

 Older New Zealanders recalled the stories their parents had told them about the Second World War. Stories about people united in a common cause. Stories about sacrifice and valour. Younger New Zealanders hardly dared to believe it was actually happening. Jacinda was defying economic gravity. But, when she talked about “the team of five million”, the vast majority of New Zealanders’ chests swelled with pride.

 Not everybody cheered Jacinda on. Almost from the moment the country went to Level 4, the volume of the complainers’ chorus began to swell. Instinctively, the social classes which had benefitted the most from the Neoliberal Revolution, grasped the enormous potential dangers that were set to flow from Jacinda’s reversal of social and economic priorities.

 It’s the motive force behind the talkback hosts’ spittle-flecked expostulations. The explanation for the business “community’s” endless whining and moaning. The reason why academics (who should know better) are lending their prestige to “Plan-Bs” which, when stripped of all the obfuscating non-science, are about allowing the aged and vulnerable members of our society to be sacrificed on the altar of “The Economy”. Some of the nation’s professors have even called for our democratic institutions to be set aside in favour of an administration of technical experts – like themselves.

 Neoliberals have every reason to fear what ordinary people have learned from the Covid-19 crisis. How are all those arguments about there not being enough money for all the things they so desperately need going to sound after the dollar-downpours of 2020? All those trite phrases about not being able to solve problems by “throwing money” at them – who’s going to believe that now?

 And if Jacinda and her team are re-elected on a landslide? Will they even try to put the genie back in the bottle?

This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 28 August 2020.


Guerilla Surgeon said...

I've always said, there are numerous problems that could be solved by "throwing money at them". Homelessness for a start. It's very rarely been tried, that's all. And throwing money at a problem like homelessness would probably create jobs. And now that we have this crisis, we might have to train New Zealand people to do them at decent wages rather than import cheap labour. For all the right-wing moaning about immigration all around the developed world, it's the right elites that are using migrants to keep wages down. Particularly in the US. They keep repeating the mantra that "locals don't want to do the jobs". Yeah right – not at the wages you're offering is all.

Kat said...

Post October 19 the Neoliberals could be experiencing something akin to Mike Hosking's worst nightmare of discovering his beloved car has a seized engine, no petrol, four flat tyres and bodywork riddled with rust.

Unknown said...

Oh, this article says all the things I absolutely believe are happening. It ignites a tiny hope in me that we can have a people-focused future in New Zealand and lead the world in the way we care for our citizens. A side benefit will be that business will thrive and prosper in that environment.

oneblokesview said...

A great ideological rant.

I am searching the internet for a country that created a better life for its citizens without focusing on business or to keep it simple PAID JOBS.

Yep google cant find one.

Maybe thats why Cuba is now allowing business and property ownership, as is Vietnam, Capitalism(there it is again/another word for business) has dragged millions and millions out of poverty.

So no worries, concentrate on people and let business wither and die.....Ideology is not the real world !!!!

Mike Grimshaw said...

What we have with Labour is a inverted version of the UK Social Democratic party. If that party is centre-left on economics and centre right on defence and social issues, the Labour party in NZ(in government) is centre-right on economics and center-left on defence and social issues.

That is, a party of the status quo. Now, if you are to be a party of the status quo then you need to be a very efficient manager.... and this is where the current Labour party and Labour-led government fails. It proclaims ( implicitly) the culture of status quo centrist managerialism without being able to deliver.

John Hurley said...

'If you don’t have a healthy people, then you don’t have anything.'
Say the Wildebeast as they nudge the older specimen into the river (to distract the waiting crocodiles).

Let's face it there is a degree of ambiguity with Covid. Initially Covid could have been anything now people are becoming more blase even Helen Clark is suggesting we may have to live with it (rather than eradicate).

And it is a fallacy to think you can separate people/ well being/ economy or intervene in markets (beyond a certain point). I remember seeing a woman selling crape paper flowers in Tijuana and thinking how unless there is a familial connection only those crape paper flowers will entice money from the tourist.

What has happened in the past decades is population driving up house prices , sending wealth in one direction while taxpayers fund infrastructure. There needs to be some claw back. Meanwhile real wages have been falling in tourism and hospitality (low value services). Now that tourism has fallen flat we see who swims naked. ANZ has admitted that this model (immigration induced growth) was never sustainable and that GDP/capita lagged GDP.

House price inflation isn't wealth creation it creates a hole that has to be filled. One half has managed to live off the other half in both directions. Post Covid see how Jacinda gets on uniting the country over how to deal with housing inequality?

Frit said...

Chris - I appreciate the sentiment, but there is, as ever, one thing missing from your vision.

In order to reject 'Neo-liberalism' (which is now as trite and misused a term as 'fascist')- you have to accept the logical extension of rejecting capitalism. That is, we all enjoy and share bountiful kumura, beef and eggs. We sup farm fresh milk and hell, we may even swim through farms (most of our 'rivers' are perfectly swimmable - don't believe the gripe). BUT - to do that, get ready to drop the big tv's, the affordable table and chairs for the family to eat at, the $4 tee-shirt. Back to hand me downs and legacy assets (cutlery, crockery, football boots, 'walkmans' (forget mobile phones - they are gone in your utopia).

I am not saying which is right or wrong, or even preferable, but please, stop longing for one, without accepting the opportunity cost.


David George said...

Just who is driving the Neo-Liberal band wagon is the question.
A very interesting essay from a genuine (in every sense of the word) insider. America at the point of no return.
Neoliberalism elevates as a matter of “principle” the international over the national; it rejects the latter as narrow, particular, cramped, even bigoted, and celebrates the former as cosmopolitan and enlightened. Neoliberalism is (for now) forced to tolerate nations and borders as unfortunate and unhelpful obstacles but it looks forward to a time when such nuisances finally are behind mankind forever.

Until that time, neoliberalism works to warp state power into instruments whose primary mission is not to secure the well-being or interests of individual peoples or nations but instead to enforce the international neoliberal order—in particular the movement of capital, goods, and labor across borders in ways that benefit the transnational neoliberal ruling class. In practice, this amounts to widespread, close-knit cooperation between business and government—or what neoliberals euphemistically refer to as “public-private partnership.”

This benign-sounding phrase—who could object to “cooperation,” to government and business “solving problems” together?—masks a darker reality. What it really describes is the use of state power to serve private ends, at private direction. Its proponents always leave out the little detail that big business is the senior partner.

Hence, foreign policy—that quintessentially public function, to “provide for the common defense”—will be further reoriented around securing trade, tax, and labor (“migration”) patterns and paradigms that benefit finance and big business. American conservatives, still fighting “government regulation” as if America were stuck in Groundhog Day 1981, have yet to grasp the reality that the majority of this country’s policies are oriented around securing trade, tax, and labor (“migration”) regimes that benefit finance and big business.

The real power in the neoliberal order resides not with elected (or appointed) officials and “world leaders”; they—or most of them—are a servant class. True power resides with their donors: the bankers, CEOs, financiers, and tech oligarchs—some of whom occasionally run for and win office, but most of whom, most of the time, are content to buy off those who do. The end result is the same either way: economic globalism and financialization, consolidation of power in an ostensibly “meritocratic” but actually semi-hereditary class, livened up by social libertinism.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"This benign-sounding phrase—who could object to “cooperation,” to government and business “solving problems” together?—masks a darker reality. What it really describes is the use of state power to serve private ends, at private direction. Its proponents always leave out the little detail that big business is the senior partner."
Interesting you should say this considering that under neoliberalism big business is always the senior partner. How many times has Rio Tinto blackmailed the government in the last 20 years or so? The EC is probably the only organisation that dares take on big business and even they are relatively cautious.
And under neoliberalism, the state uses its powers to serve private ends all the time. Tax breaks, reducing taxes on business and increasing them on ordinary people, bribes to remain in situ as with Boeing, bribes to create jobs which never appear – as with Boeing again, various other types of subsidies. And in spite of the ideologues carrying on about all this is wrong, in a practical sense it always happens under neoliberalism. You know, that "benign sounding phrase".

John Hurley said...

@ Frit
My understanding of "neoliberalism" is a market economy lead by price signals and efficiencies compared to (say) Muldoon who tried to control wages and prices. The problem is neoliberalism and globalistation (as Kiwi Dave points out).

I asked Eric Crampton for his opinion on Twitter on some points.

Benjamin Franklin noted:
The proneness of human Nature to a life of ease, of freedom from care and labour appears strongly in the little success that has hitherto attended every attempt to civilize our American Indians, in their present way of living, almost all their Wants are supplied by the spontaneous Productions of Nature, with the addition of very little labour, if hunting and fishing may indeed be called labour when Game is so plenty, they visit us frequently, and see the advantages that Arts, Sciences, and compact Society procure us, they are not deficient in natural understanding and yet they have never shewn any Inclination to change their manner of life for ours, or to learn any of our Arts; When an Indian Child has been brought up among us, taught our language and habituated to our Customs, yet if he goes to see his relations and make one Indian Ramble with them, there is no perswading him ever to return, and that this is not natural to them merely as Indians, but as men, is plain from this, that when white persons of either sex have been taken prisoners young by the Indians, and lived a while among them, tho’ ransomed by their Friends, and treated with all imaginable tenderness to prevail with them to stay among the English, yet in a Short time they become disgusted with our manner of life, and the care and pains that are necessary to support it, and take the first good Opportunity of escaping again into the Woods, from whence there is no reclaiming them. One instance I remember to have heard, where the person was brought home to possess a good Estate; but finding some care necessary to keep it together, he relinquished it to a younger Brother, reserving to himself nothing but a gun and a match-Coat, with which he took his way again to the Wilderness.

David George said...

GS "under neoliberalism big business is always the senior partner".
I don't follow, that's what that excerpt actually said?
I trust you read the full linked essay, you're in for a real treat.

David George said...

Thank you John, I'm sure you will find plenty to agree with in this lucid and, dare I say, prescient essay. Just a note the liberalism he refers to in this case is “liberal” in the classical sense of devotion to human liberty, with a private sphere protected by natural rights, the equal moral dignity of individuals, freedom of conscience, and a limited state. Not to be conflated, as the Americans are wont to do, with leftism.

Excerpt: The collapse of the bonds of mutual legitimacy that have tied liberals to conservatives in a democratic system of government will not make the liberals in question Marxists quite yet. But it will make them the supine lackeys of these Marxists, without the power to resist anything that “Progressives” and “Anti-Racists” designate as being important. And it will get them accustomed to the coming one-party regime, in which liberals will have a splendid role to play—if they are willing to give up their liberalism.

I know that many liberals are confused, and that they still suppose there are various alternatives before them. But it isn’t true. At this point, most of the alternatives that existed a few years ago are gone. Liberals will have to choose between two alternatives: either they will submit to the Marxists, and help them bring democracy in America to an end. Or they will assemble a pro-democracy alliance with conservatives. There aren’t any other choices.

David George said...

Not sure if I remembered to put up the link to the essay "The Challenge of Marxism" by philosopher Yoram Hazonay. It's causing quite a stir and is a must read for anyone interested in where we are and where we're going, free speech, liberalism, Marxism and conservatism.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

KD. The Challenge of Marxism. I won't bother with a detailed critique, because of course no matter how good it might be, you will simply go "Meh", because the man is telling you what you want to hear. But there might be children lurking. So I'll just say that it is one of the most god-awful, disingenuous pieces of writing I've ever come across. The man conflates identity politics with Marxism – wrong.
Black lives matter for instance apart from a few extremists who of course the right always seize on and expand their views to cover the whole movement, does not in fact want to overthrow capitalism, it just wants to - to put it simply, right some of the wrongs that exist under capitalism. Similarly feminists might want more female CEOs, but they are not undermining the whole structure of capitalism.
Sorry, but this is just another RWNJ making generalisations about movements that he knows very little about, and harking back to the old Nazi theme of cultural Bolshevism. Interesting that an Israeli should descend so low. But extreme right Israeli factions seem very close to fascism it seems to me.