Thursday 10 March 2022

Reports Of Labour’s Death …

Helping Doesn’t Help: Most of the members of Labour’s caucus have grown up in an intellectual environment completely dominated by Neoliberal ideas. Those who attempt to revive the social-democratic ideals of the pre-1984 Labour Party are regarded as intellectual Neanderthals: people who simply do not know how the world works; cretins and naïfs who should be kept as far away from real political power as possible.

THIS IS FROM one of Jacinda Ardern’s staunchest allies, The Daily Blog’s editor, Martyn Bradbury. He is not a happy man:

“Labour won’t do a thing about the Supermarket Duopoly. If they won’t bother picking up the largest recommendation from the Royal Inquiry into Historic State abuse after calling for it and paying over $140million, then they sure as Christ can ignore anything the Commerce Commission is frail enough to suggest.”

I agree with him.

How many occasions, since 2017, have there been when the Labour Party, presented with the findings of a committee of experts assembled to study a pressing social and/or economic problem – have ignored it? There was the late Sir Michael Cullen’s investigation into the pros and cons of a Capital Gains Tax. The report of the Welfare Expert Advisory Group. Multiple reports on the urgent need to tackle Climate Change. The Commerce Commission’s initial report recommending the breaking up of the supermarket duopoly.

Asking for an expert advice was once considered the smart play. Straightforward and simple, it had just 5 steps.

1) Assemble a group of experts and set them to work.
2) Receive their report.
3) After due consideration, declare it to be an excellent piece of work.
4) Pledge to implement most of its recommendations.
5) Implement most of its recommendations.

Throughout this Labour Government’s period in office it has shown a pronounced willingness to engage in Steps 1 and 2 of this process; a lesser degree of enthusiasm for Steps 3 and 4; and almost no willingness to proceed to Step 5. The question is – Why?

Let’s take another look at Step 1. In the past, politicians began the process of social reform already knowing what they wanted to achieve. This was especially true in the Labour Party, whose entire raison d’être was changing society for the better. If you didn’t have strong opinions on what needed to be done, and how to do it, then what was the point of becoming a Labour Member of Parliament?

This predisposition towards changing the world added an important twist to Step 1. It meant that when assembling your experts you were careful to ensure that a majority of them, and the Chair in particular, shared your own (and the Party’s) view of what needed to be done. Since Labour politicians spent a lot of time talking with all kinds of experts about social and economic reform, picking the right people wasn’t difficult. It also meant that Steps 2-5 were pretty much a pro-forma exercise.

Clearly, the present Labour Party is very different from the Labour Party of the past. What happened?

The answer, as always, is: Rogernomics.

A crucial aspect of Rogernomics was its ferocious intolerance of the moderate social-democratic thinking that had for decades pervaded not only the Labour Party, but also the union and academic circles which constituted the principal intellectual reservoirs of Labour policy.

Inspired and advised by the neoliberal ideologues of Treasury, the core leadership of the Fourth Labour Government made it clear to their colleagues that any attachment to the old ideas and the old sources of advice would not be career enhancing. The sympathetic professors and enthusiastic union officials of yesteryear were banished to the outer darkness, and in their place a whole new breed of ideologically kosher policy advisers stepped forward. Henceforth, the overwhelming majority of experts called upon to guide governments would be convinced Neoliberals.

The old ideas and old sources of advice did not go down without a fight. Indeed, the ideological conflict within Labour between 1984 and 1989 was so intense that it split the party. For those who remained loyal to the Labour Party, however, the whole idea of social reform underwent a profound change. There were now clear perimeters beyond which the guardians of the Rogernomics Revolution did not permit the party to venture. Gay Marriage? Why not. Compulsory Unionism? No way!

For those who lived through these intense debates and debacles it all seems like yesterday. But, it isn’t. It is very nearly 40 years since the Rogernomics Revolution and its intensification under Ruth Richardson transformed New Zealand society. A New Zealander born in 1984, could easily have a 20-year-old son or daughter – maybe even a grandchild. The Prime Minister herself was only four years old when Roger Douglas became Minister of Finance. And Jacinda Ardern’s own Finance Minister, Grant Robertson, was just thirteen.

Most of the members of Labour’s caucus have grown up in an intellectual environment completely dominated by Neoliberal ideas. Those who attempt to revive the social-democratic ideals of the pre-1984 Labour Party come before today’s Labour MPs with the unwelcome historical taint of the NewLabour splitters and Jim Anderton’s doomed Alliance. More importantly, they are regarded by the Government’s Neoliberal advisers as intellectual Neanderthals: people who simply do not know how the world works; cretins and naïfs who should be kept as far away from real political power as possible.

Unfortunately, the bits and bytes of twenty-first century Hyper-Capitalism long ago ceased to respond to the impulses of mere human ideology. Though they dare not admit it, the Neoliberals have lost control of the machine. All they are capable of now is presenting increasingly implausible explanations for why everything has gone so very badly wrong.

Understandably, the politicians expected to front for the damage done by the Invisible Hand are in the market for some credible alternatives to more of the same. When Jacinda and Grant sign-off on yet another working group it’s not because they know already what they want the experts to tell them, it’s because the experts they currently rely upon for advice have run out of answers, and they are genuinely interested in what these new experts might say.

When the reports emerge, however, they all read as if they’ve been written by Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, or Max Rashbrooke and Susan St John. The lips of their bureaucratic advisers curl contemptuously; their media advisers’ eyebrows arch provocatively; and with a heartfelt sigh the hapless politicians set the offending document on top of the surprisingly high pile of its predecessors. Another No Go.

The brilliant creators of “The Simpsons” television series said it all in the episode satirising the ideas of Ayn Rand. On the walls of the Randian childcare centre a sign read simply: “Helping Doesn’t Help”.

It’s the story of this government’s life.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Thursday, 10 March 2022.


Brendan McNeill said...

"Let’s take another look at Step 1. In the past, politicians began the process of social reform already knowing what they wanted to achieve. "

The past is a foreign country.

Jacinda Ardern was elected Prime Minister by surprise. Neither she, nor her low talent high rent cabinet colleagues had any serious idea about what they wanted to achieve in Government, and even less the ability to execute on the agenda they finally agreed upon. Think Kiwibuild, planting one Billion trees, eliminating child poverty.

Once you get past the PM and two or three of her cabinet colleagues, the talent pool becomes a puddle. You have the absurdity of Chris Hipkins carrying two or three major portfolios, including Health it would seem, given that Andy the pseudo Health Minister apparently cannot be trusted to front the Covid response.

Just as there are no successful businesses run by talentless people, there are no successful governments populated with talentless people. At one level I feel sorry for the PM. She can only work with what the party and the electorate has dished up to her. She has been handed an impossible task.

This is on the Labour party to correct. Stop fretting over gender equity, LGBT representation, and every other woke criteria. Select for talent and forget the rest. If there is any lesson for Labour from these two terms in Government, it should be this. I doubt they will learn anything.

In a way I'm pleased with this outcome. Just imagine if they had the skill to execute on their middle class Marxist sentiments.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Call me cynical, but I figured this out as soon as I heard the reported come out what it contained. I heard a representative of consumer say it was extremely sound, but – I was out running at the time – I thought to myself they will do nothing, because they are afraid to upset the status quo. They become the party of the status quo in spite of all the hysterical outpourings about Marxism and the like from conservatives. Socially liberal perhaps – that seems to annoy conservatives as well – but economically conservative. That's what I told the only guy in the last 40 or 50 years who's ever canvassed me.

Incidentally, I've been looking around for other blogs, given that a couple of my favourite ones have moved to a comment system that reduces the discussion to the level of kindergarten kids. I was deleted for using the word rum for instance, (Funnily enough it had no problem with "sodomy" and "the lash")and I discovered that you can make comments on that MSN newsfeed thing. And it's given me a certain appreciation for the commenters here given the general level of ignorance and spite on that site – maybe it's only the ignorant and the spiteful that bother to comment I don't know - but it's prevalent.

Take the story of that woman with five kids who was about to sleep out in a park in a tent because there was no government help for us for instance. Two seconds after it was published somebody was saying "Why has she got five kids if she can't afford to keep and house them?" Honestly, sometimes I despair but I must say the only person who's ever said anything like that here has been Brendan, but I'm pretty sure that most people here will realise that you can actually have kids when you can afford them and through economic misfortune find out that you can no longer do so.

Of course that leads me to the next statement which was "Where the hell is her husband blah blah blah? And you think for Chris'st sake, he could be dead in which case don't you think you're being a bit mean? Or I suppose he could have run off – but then is that her fault? Is she supposed to then hunt him down like a dog, put a gun to his head and demand child support? I've known several of these jerks who gone off to Australia never to be heard of again. So I must say in the main, you're not such a bad lot.

The racism is fair bit worse there too. :)

Jens Meder said...

As long as National has nothing else to offer than tax reductions, Labour will remain the leader with its innovative and sustainably widening wealth ownership creative policies through a permanent NZ Super Fund (to keep the super entitlement sustainable from age 65) and KiwiSaver policies for extra retirement wealth -

with both being more effective national wealth ownership and economic security creative than substantial wealth ownership creation by an elite only.

But unfortunately, a universally higher savings rate based widening wealth ownership based economic policy does not seem to be very popular, as reflected by the unwillingness to even discuss the pros and cons of it (e.g. the KiwiSaver $1000.- kick-start unconditionally to all who have not received it so far, including seniors and newly born babies) - as reflected in the evasive and uninterested attitudes in this subject matter on this discussion forum.

So, Labour might feel safer by still being cautious about the innovative "ownership society" concept.

So far, a lot has been talked and complained about, with no new socio-economic vision besides what we have had already so far.

Archduke Piccolo said...

Well, we all knew this, didn't we? Admirable though Jacinda Ardern is in many ways, she IS a so-called Neo-Liberal wedded to the Milton Friedmanite economic nonsense that has wrecked so many economies including New Zealand's. Milton Friedman and his acolytes had no idea whatever how the real world works and has a Nobel Prize in Economics to prove it.

It is my belief that the Big Bux Biz Corporations knew Milton Friedmanite economics as tripe, and took to it BECAUSE they knew it was tripe. When, to go with the wherewithal, they were given the licence to loot and plunder and profiteer from the Common Weal, were they going to pass it up? The 'trickle down' theory was simply a sugar-coated appellation for what was really the 'let 'em eat shit' theory. I can explain that if you want.

In this country, Kiwis were robbed blind by the corporates, who accepted public property stolen by an incompetent government and fenced off by incompetent finance ministers. And the price-gouging that followed! Pitiful. I remember being warned well before 1984 by Labour Party members' concerns that Roger Douglas might get the finance portfolio. Bill (Sir Wallace) Rowling, probably the most unappreciated Party Leader this country has ever seen, left the political scene all too soon. His appellation of Douglas and his like-minded ilk as 'nakedly ambitious rats' was dead on the money.

The really sad part of the whole Roger 'I Got Milton Friedman's Hand Up My Bum' Douglas and Ruth 'Guess Where Milton Friedman's Other Hand Is' Richardson period of economic vandalism was that most Kiwis knew bloody well they were being screwed, and the people who might have gone into bat for them - the Unions - simply rolled over. 'We're here to preserve jobs', they whined, and couldn't even achieve that modest objective. Then they wondered why members took advantage of the removal of the 'Union Clause' ('compulsory unionism) and kept their subscriptions.

In the last five years Labour has had a golden (studded with pearls) opportunity at least to try to tackle a good many socio-economic problems - COVID notwithstanding - and threw them all away. For all the talent the Party no doubt has - in contrast with National's usual line-up of place-seekers and time-servers - Labour lacks the one quality this country wants badly: political courage. Rowling had it (something that even Bob Jones acknowledged). Since he went, the heart went out of the Labour Party. Michael Cullen notwithstanding, it has never really returned.

Next term (if this country lives long enough) we will get another somnolent National Party Godelpus maladministration.


Ion A. Dowman

sumsuch said...

If Martyn was her ally I wouldn't go over there.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"Just as there are no successful businesses run by talentless people" ....Well, if you count Donald Trump. Whose only talent seems to be self-promotion. Honestly Brendan, some of your statements are so anodyne that I despair. Firstly of course, I suspect that no matter what a Labour government did you would claim it wasn't successful. Secondly, no matter how talented a Labour politician was, you'd say they lacked it. I mean for goodness' sake you were a great fan of John Key as I remember, whose only talent seem to be hassling waitresses and gambling. Oh of course, and looking cute forgot that. Of course his government wasn't particularly successful either – according to me anyway. :)
The Labour government's response to the Covid pandemic is regarded as exemplary round the world. And people who know what they are talking about – unlike you – think so. I'm pretty sure that if a National government had been in power, people like you would have pressured them on the economy enough so that we would have had thousands of deaths. Just judging by the way you people were talking at the beginning of the epidemic anyway. You know – let's keep the country open and all that – let's do what Sweden did and so on.
Now unlike you on the whole, I'm perfectly prepared to criticise a labour government when it does things that are in my opinion wrong. Not building enough houses for instance. But it would be interesting to know your criteria for a "successful" government given that the economy of New Zealand – apart from the tourism sector has done extremely well in the last few years. And let's face it, the tourism sector isn't exactly full of well paying skilled jobs.
So how about some specifics?

Jens Meder said...

Archduke Piccolo - privatization of public property which does not return profits to the govt. but is forced by political pressure to be subsidized in order to supply goods and services below the costs of them -

is economically sound, because private enterprise cannot survive without profitability, and profitability is the crucial factor for sustainable survival.

Everything subsidized by govt. to keep the cost of living down is serious, foolish self-deception which leads to straightforward slavery where - like a slave owner - the govt. just feeds you to the extent of what it can afford on what it can take from you.

sumsuch said...

So good. That this can't be published on a major news outlet is an indictment of us. Remembering how our opinion was preeminent in the media til 2000 or so.

sumsuch said...

I can't see Martyn as Jacinda's staunch ally. The Standard certainly. Why I've been punt-kicked off. Though they are starting to publish more lefty things there. I'm not in it for the name-glame. Tho' as you see from the last sentence I'm not entirely unhuman, unlike my disembodied Scots presbyterian uncles I can talk about my good acts.

Enough about me, let's talk about the WW ll reality, no matter how slower it creeps. We know it and everything is about it rather than these endless not-muches like Ukraine and the pandemic. Now inflation. Will we die by a thousand minor matters? We rationalists who have an obligation to reality.

The small points of this time, which come from extended stomachs, don't help the ferocious response to the end of the species needed. Rationalisation is our real motto. But I appreciate your fight for reality.

sumsuch said...

My middle-way medium is the haiku of comments. No good at saying the salient, nor any long form writing like you. In my dreams I imagine you being pissed off enough at me to not use my idea that Putin is 'the mule' from Asimov's Foundation series. I know you like these references. I can't put a prose poem in the papers about this.