New Zealand: The myth of an egalitarian paradise.

The photo above is of my local beach in Northland, New Zealand and is typical of the natural beauty that surrounds me. I love the crazy town I live in and the people for the most part are exceptionally friendly. As a relatively new citizen, I also have no intention of moving back to the UK, as long my arse points down. The summers are long and relatively hot, while the winters are mild but wet, all this contributes to our wonderful environment. However, despite all you may have heard about New Zealand, it is not an egalitarian society and hasn’t been so for close to four decades.

Prior to arriving in New Zealand more than eight years ago, I was under the illusion that Aotearoa (New Zealand) was largely a fair place. This idea may have arisen from stories told by visiting Brits, suggesting that New Zealand was akin to the UK in the 1950’s. Although 1950’s Britain certainly wasn’t a socialist paradise, it did boast less disparities between rich and poor than what can be observed today. Up until the late 1970’s most elected governments in the UK were largely social democratic by nature despite the colour of rosette worn. Economics followed a Keynesian prescription stretching all the way through to the 70’s. On the other side of the world, New Zealand also possessed an egalitarian streak, but this all came to a crashing halt upon the arrival of neoliberalism in the mid 80’s.

In 1984 the Labour party was swept to power following a growing dissatisfaction with the Prime Minister at the time Robert Muldoon. Muldoon’s government like many before, ran a tightly controlled economy, an extensive welfare state, plus widespread state ownership in many sectors. But two major events occurred in New Zealand leaving the door ajar for competing economic ideas. Firstly, New Zealand lost a key trading partner when the UK joined the EU and secondly a series of oil crises in the 70’s sent the Kiwi economy spiralling into recession. In just 15 years New Zealand slipped from the 6th wealthiest country in the world to 19th. No amount of controls on prices, wages, rents and interest rates could save the economy. However, what was to replace it proved to have huge societal repercussions.

Douglas and Lange
Roger Douglas and David Lange

The fledgling Labour government headed by the likeable David Lange, who became the acceptable face of the party, was intent on ushering some major changes. Leading this economic charge was Finance Minster Roger Douglas, who would later go on to form the ACT Party, a US libertarian style free market party. Using an economic ideology later known as ‘Rogernomics‘, Douglas almost instantly scrapped the majority of financial controls, while deregulating the markets and removing or relaxing foreign investment regulations. Furthermore, taxes was slashed for high earners, while a regressive ‘goods and service tax’ was introduced, hitting low and middle income earners particularly hard. Douglas even tried to implement a flat tax, but this proved a bridge too far.

Like Thatcher in the UK, the NZ government embarked on a massive sell off of any government assets not nailed down, either fully or partially. Energy companies, the main airport, three banks and Tower Insurance, among others were all flogged off. All this continued unabated into the 90’s when National took over control. During this period the national rail network was sold off to financiers, quickly ran into the ground and eventually bought back by the government during Helen Clark’s tenure. Public services were purposefully starved of cash, thus affecting the most vulnerable in society. As an example, by the end of the 1990’s practically all psychiatric hospitals were closed, with these responsibilities left to private companies. In addition the 1990’s witnessed university tuition fees rise by a 1000% and this continues to skyrocket. Fees are now the 4th highest among first world countries.

The most startling aspect of these ‘reforms’ was the terrifying pace it was all carried out with. Roger Douglas once wrote, “it is uncertainty not speed that endangers the success of structural reform programs”. He continued, proclaiming, “speed is an essential ingredient in keeping uncertainty to the lowest possible level”. Douglas wasn’t remotely worried about uncertainty for everyday people who faced increased job insecurity or unemployment, but rather the fear of scaring potential investors away. This manufacturing and subsequent exploitation of a crisis is what Naomi Klein refers to in her book ‘The Shock Doctrine‘ as disaster capitalism. In the US, however, New Zealand was held up as the ‘gold standard’ of free market capitalism.

Far from being a success, between 1985 and 1992 the economy contracted by 1%, while other OECD countries increased by an average of 20%. One in six Kiwis were said to be living below the breadline by 1992 as poverty soared. Unemployment increased to a high of 20% by the mid 1990’s, but this was all part of the government’s plan to keep inflation low. As wages decreased, so did benefits, while the criteria to obtain assistance became ever more stringent. When a recovery did finally occur it was achieved primarily through insecure and part-time jobs, as witnessed all over the ‘anglosphere’. Unsurprisingly New Zealand saw most of the gains passed to the wealthiest, as income inequality increased at a rapid rate.

UnemploymentPostWar

After nearly 35 years of neoliberalism, New Zealand’s citizens appear to have a warped sense of political reality. This has resulted in the Overton window veering sharply to the right. Now, any hint of social democratic policies are viewed with deep suspicion. Many New Zealanders hypnotised by decades of a right wing narrative from both the press and successive governments claim that the state is over-generous to less fortunate citizens. Business leaders are constantly proclaiming that NZ is overregulated and hostile towards corporations. On the contrary, all evidence indicates the opposite, as NZ has topped the World Bank’s “ease of doing business” report three times since 2005. Furthermore, Forbes has ranked New Zealand in the top three “best countries to do business with” each year since 2010.

In certain quarters New Zealand is regularly labelled a ‘nanny state’, without of course any shred of evidence. Neoliberals have always contested that a developed welfare state discourages enterprise and hard work. Accusations such as this initially arose during the Labour government’s tenure between 1999 and 2008 led by Helen Clark. Although Clark’s interventions did manage to apply the brakes to runaway capitalism, it disappointingly fell well short of reversing the damage caused by neoliberal policies in the 80’s & 90’s. Counter to baseless right wing claims, since 2001 the government’s social spending as a percentage of GDP has been woefully short of the OECD average. Disappointingly, using this metric, NZ has less in common with Sweden, Finland, France and Denmark, while appearing more in line with US social policies.

Like many countries in the ‘anglosphere’ there are a plethora of myths circulating around beneficiaries allegedly cheating the system and ripping off tax payers. Or fables of numerous families turning their home into baby making factories for the sake of a few dollars. After a fairly minimal period of time investigating this, it quickly becomes apparent that most of the information is anecdotal, with a few genuine cases being blown out of proportion to fit a particular ideology. The National government led by John Key which came to power in 2008 were wedded to these myths. This was confirmed by policy, in 2012 single parents who wanted to keep their benefits were forced to start looking for work as soon as the child reached 5, this was decreased dramatically from 18. Two years later the government promised to slash welfare recipients by 25%.

bob jones
Sir Bob Jones

In New Zealand after 30 years plus of policies aimed at cultivating individualism, a third of the country’s children now live in poverty, while more and more people have resorted to sleeping in their cars as rent becomes impossible to afford. Meanwhile, attitudes in many corners of the nation have hardened. Sir Bob Jones leading business figure and all round heartless bastard, proclaimed beggars were “fat Maoris” and a “bloody disgrace”. In support of this ideology out of forty thousands Kiwi’s poled 72% believed begging should be outlawed. Ideas such as this were exemplified by the National government crackdown on welfare fraud allegedly costing the country $30 million. This is chump change when you consider tax evasion costs the nation 33 times more, however, you are 10 times more likely to be prosecuted for benefit fraud, whose ranks are generally made up of the poor and powerless.

Prior to Jacinda Ardern becoming Prime Minister, in an ideological quest to attain budget surpluses public services were decimated. In particular, between 2010 and 2015 the health budget was slashed by $1.7 billion. The Department of Conservation was mercilessly defunded and support for education was cut at all levels. John Key’s government also steadily eroded workers rights, while the wealth gap widened more quickly than any country in the developed world. This was aided by tax cuts for the wealthy and a rise in ‘goods and services tax’, primarily targeting the poor. Even within the last few months, a proposal for a diluted capital gains tax was voted down in parliament, highlighting that power remains in the hands of a few well connected individuals.

The evidence seems to indicate that New Zealand is a nation that has left it’s egalitarian roots far behind and yet is determined to maintain the façade of an equal society. In a way, it could be argued that the political direction over the last 30 years or so doesn’t match up with the general nature of the vast majority of New Zealanders. There appears to be a kind of societal schizophrenia at play. The vast majority of New Zealanders are often civic minded, fair people, who will generally help you out if you need a hand. In contrast the political parties that have often been elected over the last 4 decades have encouraged individualism, a free market orthodoxy and the idea of profit over people. All the while erroneously convincing the citizens of New Zealand that they still have equality of opportunity.

Many people in New Zealand don’t even remember a time before neoliberalism, therefore, are unlikely or unwilling to imagine another way of being. We regularly observe the nation’s successes measured by GDP, we celebrate gross opulence by publishing varying rich lists and are coerced into thinking wealth directly equates to success. We are repeatedly told that the present economic system is the only viable way to prosper. But who is specifically gaining out of all this and who are the people trying to convince us that we already have the optimal economic/political system?

Predominantly, it’s the financial winners who are the ones selling us this capitalist lie and who coincidentally have the greatest opportunity to influence policy. But is unbridled capitalism the pinnacle of humanity and more importantly does economic inequality even matter to most New Zealanders? If the honest answer is no, then the left have failed and we have an obligation to create a narrative that encourages people to consider a more compassionate and fairer way of organising society. A story is required, one that may even appeal to the most self centred of right wing bigots, or maybe not. New Zealand has lived under a neoliberal system for decades, but that doesn’t necessarily prove anything in terms of its effectiveness. A new narrative would require us to explain how economic inequality negatively affects everyone including the rich.

The world and in particular the environment is incompatible with neoliberalism. Infinite growth on a finite planet simply cannot and will not work. Closer to home, New Zealand has some shocking suicide figures particularly for a first world country. We also possess third world health issues such as rheumatic fever, which is heavily linked to socio-economic factors and an embarrassingly ever expanding homeless community. Supporters of capitalism would predictably suggest many of these problems are due primarily to personal responsibility, however, you can only play the hand you’re dealt. For many people life is like trying to play a game of Monopoly with one dice and a tenth of the starting cash, while being expected to compete with everyone else.

The economic and political pathway New Zealand has taken for decades, also feels incongruent with the largely collectivist society I witness on a daily basis in Northland. It’s a place where work meetings often involve a shared lunch, where people bring in what they can afford. On many occasions colleagues will fetch in fruit and veggies from their garden into work, with a sign simply saying “eat me”. It’s a community that often trade skills to get jobs done, rather than paying in cash. I live in a region where I obtained my stash of firewood for the winter by helping a friend split his supply. That’s the New Zealand I know and love. So it’s time our politics and economic system reflect our innate compassionate and collectivist ideals. This is something through experience I know Kiwis are more than capable of doing.

Note: Since writing this article, it would only be fair to acknowledge the government’s wellbeing budget. This should be viewed as a valiant attempt on the road to addressing nine years of societal neglect under John Key. Of course, this is not perfect and has detractors on both sides of the political aisle. However, it must be recognized that the government is restricted, required to deliver this within the existing neoliberal framework. Proposals such as the wellbeing budget are deeply heartening and tentatively suggests New Zealand could be on course for a systematic erosion of this toxic, destructive ideology.

More than words: The identarian left and the manipulation of language.

If you’ve ever read 1984 you will have encountered many slogans used in the book such as; ignorance is strength” or “freedom is slavery”To people observing from the outside these phrases appear simply as contradictory. However, anyone having the misfortune of living with this type of indoctrination day in day out may view them as reminders or part of a spell designed to seep into your sub-conscious, influencing your actions. Social Justice Warriors use words in a similar way primarily to manipulate or create a powerful narrative, here’s a selection you my have heard; “words are violence”, “safe space”, “hate speech”, “invalidating my existence”, “woke”, “problematic”, “my truth”, “creepy”, “microagression”, “toxic masculinity” and “white privilege”.  

Both sides of the political fence routinely use these methods, but for the identarian left it is essential and a major tool of control. This political faction doesn’t revel in the luxury of money and the option of lobbying like the oligarchs of the right or the corporate left. Therefore, social control is imperative in order to implement their ideology. If a group can control the boundaries of acceptable language, this will in turn guide which thoughts are considered acceptable and which are not. In summary the identarian left is very much adept at mind control. More importantly this group ascribe themselves as the morality police, pushing an intolerant and puritanical worldview, based on total subjectivity.

This movement is a belief system that has a religious feel to it. Their churches are college ‘grievance studies’ departments. What is created is a sacred area holding ultimate power over the moral direction of both the academic institution and students alike. Social Justice preachers stand in the pulpit at the church of intersectionality, while delivering their sermons from the gospel of Jean Francois Lyotard or even Michel Foucault. In truth, what we witness are poorly educated professors, who are graduates of these departments, rising through the ‘ranks of the woke’ while regurgitating a particular set of beliefs.

These gatekeepers of ‘special knowledge’ are held in high regard by often impressionable, young women, who are drawn to this area of study. This can be viewed as a process of confirmation for these disciples, who have convinced themselves that they are victims of a harsh and cruel world, one which should revolve around their every whim. In this sense college operates as no more than a very expensive echo chamber. A place to peddle subjectivity, unfounded beliefs, and an anti-scientific doctrine with no space for critical thinking. Questionable ideas such as Derrida’s deconstructionism, Foucault’s musings on power and Lyotard’s criticism of empirical evidence, have chipped away at any notion of truth, thus the age of ‘lived experience’ is upon us as the gold standard of all knowledge.

Like all powerful groups, what is required to recruit believers and to dupe outsiders is a believable story. As with all good tales, it has to evoke emotion, reality is not necessary but it is essential to resonate with its target audience. Language embedded within this narrative sets the tone regarding what is considered civilised and indeed permitted within society. What is also crucial is an amplifier, in order to reach as many people as possible with their message. For this they have a willing ally in the form of mainstream media and their billionaire owners, who are keen to use this as distraction to divert attention from the real issues notably neoliberalism. So what is the story that has captivated, mainstream media, government departments, grievance studies students and even Hollywood?

75th Annual Golden Globe Awards - Show

Like many tales it’s simple, or more accurately life has been simplified for the simple minded. Our multi-faceted, complex, highly evolved distinctive features that make us unique, have been whittled down to things we can do nothing about. Our special blend of good, bad and indifferent, abilities and traits formed from a combination of nature and nurture are suddenly reduced to melanin levels and genital configurations. Individual assets, experiences or any contributions to the world in this subjective supposed utopia account for nothing, nada, zip.

If you are a white, heterosexual and male (like me), you are a sinner and there is nothing you can do to secure forgiveness. No amount of saving lives as a healthcare professional or educating our kids or even pulling people from a burning building, as a firefighter can shed the mantle of privilege placed upon your shoulders. You are riddled with “toxic masculinity” and considered a piece of shit by the high moral priestesses of grievance studies academia and you better just live with it.

To keep the moral sinner on their toes, identarians like many tribes have created their own language, designed to detect, socially isolate and destroy non-believers, often purposely annihilating their careers. This parlance is also used to excuse identarians from any undesirable actions they may perform, while creating mechanisms to silence dissent. One such method is akin to playing god and principally centres around victimhood, a strategy used extensively by intersectionalists. By announcing certain groups as oppressed based on skin colour or genitalia, regardless of whether they have actually experienced oppression, allows them to decide who is good and who is bad. Ironically identarians use all the tools of stigmatisation to achieve this; othering, labelling and stereotyping. But all in a good cause right?

Identarians have created the word “woke” suggesting that they are somehow the enlightened ones. This of course is not supported by any evidence, but rather we are told it is “their truth”, thus immune from any form of critique. Furthermore, by occupying the role of victim it is considered that vitriol and hatred can be administered outwardly without complaint. In a recent article, academic James Lindsay offered that “identarians repeatedly claim the final word, as people who have lived oppression (real or imagined) cannot be questioned or overruled, and their proclaimed truths are, therefore, considered final”. This logic (or lack of), produces another linguistic web, rendering any form of disagreement impossible. However, if dissention does occur, this subsequently provides further proof for identarians regarding the potency of privilege and oppression.

The Social Justice establishment has created and implemented widely accepted word play guarding them against criticism and to admonish them from any irrational, violent and frankly thuggish behaviour. One of these linguistic Orwellian snares is the use of the term “microaggressions“. Being called out, verbally flogged, doxed, no-platformed and socially ex-communicated for an overt disagreement with the identarian rhetoric is clearly not enough . Society in their opinion, should now be persecuted for unintentional transgressions against the church of Social Justice. This poses two severe problems; one is the complete reliance on subjectivity, thereby the same alleged microaggression may illicit a very different response dependent on the recipient. Secondly like most of postmodernism, microaggressions completely disregard the nature of intent, while focusing on emotions and feelings of the individual involved.

As identarians see oppression everywhere, an example of a microaggression could be questions such as, “where are you from”? Apparently this line of ‘interrogation’ insinuates that the person being asked is not from around here. Clearly in the world of SJW’s, this question has less to do with natural human inquisitiveness and more about perceived malicious undertones. This form of control extends beyond what the general public are permitted to say, focusing on the implications of what might be said. In effect, this is an attack on a individual’s thoughts not on the words uttered per se. Taking this a step further, behaviour such as this clearly opens the door for an Orwellian style thought police. Even more disturbing than monitoring conscious thought, identarians are attempting to adopt the role of judge, jury and executioner of unconscious thought.

To protect this bizarre idea, SJW’s employ yet another ‘booby trap’, thus curtailing any disagreement regarding alleged microaggressions. This is achieved by accusing the micro-aggressor of ‘victim blaming’. And so the game of oppression roulette continues. The intended outcome is to silence all open, inquiring dialogue, making society subservient to the wishes of the Social Justice thought constabulary. This link contains an example of suggested microaggressions and the alleged message it sends. It was published by the UCLA ‘grievance studies’ faculty. It’s fair to say that documents like this highlight how untethered from reality these people really are.

In Social Justice land any hostile language, conflicting words or aforementioned microaggressions are not just considered insulting, but are viewed as violent, contributing to trauma. The phrase “words are violence” is worryingly being accepted in society as a universal truth. This is yet another Social Justice mechanism of coercion, that has gained traction, allowing the church of Social Justice to “strike great vengeance and furious anger” on unsuspecting sinners. This reasoning proposed by psychologist and emotional researcher Lisa Feldman Barrett goes something like this; chronic stress can cause physical damage, no argument there. However, she continues proclaiming, “if words can cause stress and prolonged stress can cause physical harm, words can cause physical harm”. This logic suggest A causes B, B causes C, therefore A causes C. With this in mind her conclusion should be, words cause physical harm, not violence.

This “words are violence” strategy achieves a couple of things; firstly by ‘believing’ this allows identarians to lay claim to reprisals on the basis of self defence. Which is exactly what has occurred in numerous US colleges, a direct physical response to a verbal disagreement. Examples of this were played out at Evergreen State College, Middlebury College and UCLA Berkley. Secondly, the use of a disproportionate and aggressive response to a contrary opinion will likely convince many people to keep their views to themselves in public, effectively closing down free speech.

berkley riots

This silencing of free speech is a classic identarian tactic. Professor of English at New York University Ulrich Baer defended identarians, proclaiming in an article written in the New York Times, “when those views invalidate the humanity of some people, they restrict speech as a public good”. In this piece Baer is proclaiming that speech can invalidate the humanity of entire groups of people, when all the listener has to do is reject the idea and humanity remains whole once again. If somebody punched me in the face, I would undoubtedly label this as an act of violence. In contrast, as uncomfortable as being lambasted may be, they are and always will be words for which do no direct physical harm. The recipient may feel, upset, hurt and some words may have a lasting psychological effect, but it is still does not equate to violence. My suspicion is this conflation is intentional, allowing in the mind of an identarian an opportunity to respond in an heavy handed manner.

The ultimate game-plan for the identarian left is to prevent anyone opposing their puritanical version of morality. The jewel in the crown for identarians is the development of the concept “hate speech” and furthermore declaring themselves as moral arbiters. This restriction of free speech may have, at one time been used to curtail bigotry and bullying, now it is primarily used to stifle any hint of opposition. Identarians invariably weaponize these regulations to shut down disagreeable speakers, destroy careers and at times justify violence. Even the laws around hate crime in places such as the UK are so vague and malleable that it effectively allows anything to be viewed as such. The Crime Prosecution Service in the UK defines a hate crime as;

“any offense that is perceived by the victim, or any other person, to be motivated by hostility or prejudice based on a person of disability or perceived disability; race or perceived race; religion or perceived religion; sexual orientation or perceived sexual orientation; or someone who is transgender or is perceived to be transgender”.

What ideas of hate crime and indeed hate speech suffer from is “concept creep“. It is argued that notions such as; bullying, trauma, mental disorders, addiction and prejudice, now encompasses a much wider range of phenomena. In effect what is observed is an expansion of meaning, reflecting an ever increasing sensitivity to harm. Nick Haslam Professor of Psychology at Melbourne University proposes that the broadening of terms used to explain events is known as horizontal creep. Whereby, the behaviour qualifying an incident as abuse has become over time less extreme, this is referred to as vertical creep. In no way is this to condone any form of abuse, but to acknowledge that the boundaries have become elastic, vague and potentially unhelpful.

As an example we’ll use bullying, the meaning has expanded into; online behaviour, workplace conduct and forms of social exclusion that doesn’t actually target the victim with hurtful actions. Being excluded from a group of friends in this sense can now be described as bullying. Behaviour that was considered less extreme than once typical acts of bullying, now lie within these new boundaries. Haslam calls this vertical creep, stating that this behaviour does not need to be intentional or repeated, nor is it required to occur in the context of a power imbalance.

Descriptions of trauma are also detaching themselves from any form of objectivity, as the recipient is now sole determiner of the meaning, thus providing further evidence of moral relativism. Trauma now encompasses a multitude of events from distress following wartime experiences, through to childbirth, sexual harassment and even a relationship breakup. Here’s a definition from the US Government’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration;

“Individual trauma results from an event, series of events, or set of circumstances that is experienced by an individual as physically or emotionally harmful or threatening and that has lasting adverse effects on the individual’s functioning and physical, social, emotional, or spiritual well-being”.

My issue is certainly not to contest that these events can be difficult and contribute to mental health distress, but rather there is a distinct lack of a spectrum or a rational to refer to. Here postmodernism rears it’s ugly head yet again. All trauma from the most mild all the way to life shattering events are now considered on an equal footing, as severity is now decided upon by the recipient. Through this lens, objectivity is seen as archaic and subjectivity holds sway. With all this in mind; a traumatic event does not need to be a discrete moment, it has no requirement to be a threat to life or limb and does not need to manifest to the extent where it would cause marked distress on almost everyone. Neither does this event have to be outside normal experience or cause significant distress within the traumatised person, who merely has to register it as “harmful”. This type of postmodern “word salad” renders any definition of trauma as pointless and begins to strip words of any remaining substance.

Within this piece, I’ve attempted to uncover the linguistic rules and games that most of us are required or forced to play by. They are created to trap, cajole, manipulate, silence, shame and mould society into complying with the moral fundamentalist minority. Here stands a group of people possessing a myopic viewpoint, with limited life experiences and no tolerance for diversity of thought or indeed freedom of speech. To counter this, these puritans only hold power if we indulge them in their stupid, infantile activities and enter into this charade. This is why it is vital to fight for free speech, resisting any invitation to tread into a murky world, whereby words hold very little meaning, while emotion and subjectivity conquers all.

Are the Koch’s and Bill Gates really that different? Oligopoly, the ultimate game of power and control.

I’m sure many people would contest that comparing the Koch brothers who deal in fossils fuels with Bill Gates who provides vaccines in Africa a bit of a stretch. However, I’m going to suggest that they have much more in common than we’d like to admit. If we observe their methods and ultimately what is achieved, there are some striking similarities. Sure, conservatives like the DeVos’s and the Koch’s morally conduct their affairs differently to Zuckerberg or Gates, but are they really so distinct? You could sensibly propose that Bill Gates’s life is more virtuous than the Koch’s. This indeed is a compelling argument. But is it true? When we consider the two groups; right wing neoliberal oligarchs and philanthrocapitalists (also oligarchs), apart from obscene amounts of money, both sects share their unquestionable desire for power and control.

I will offer that power and control are intrinsically linked. Some semblance of control over your own group, rival factions or even the general populace is required to gain power. That said, to control certainly on an external level, requires some exertion of power, either through elections, coercion or even physical force. The extent and methods required depends on your resources and who you intend to control to obtain power or conversely who you will overpower to wrestle control. At this stage it would be sensible to lay out what these seemingly opposing tribes, both morally and politically have in common and of course how they differ. To finish I will argue that the overall goals of oligarchs regardless of their flavour are strikingly similar.

By the very existence of their extreme wealth, I think it’s safe to assume that all oligarch’s share a strong, deep conviction towards the ‘free market’. Each side fully subscribes to the idea of utilising their wealth to shape the world, often at the expense of democratic processes. Unsurprisingly, many would argue that the Koch’s and Bill Gates share nothing in common, concluding that one wants to continue extracting fossil fuels at the expense of the planet, while the other tries to save lives.

But, if the outcome is all that matters rather than the process, surely we must ask ourselves hard questions regarding the importance of democracy. This dilemma arises due to billionaires not being democratically elected and yet able to use considerable influence to effect major changes, good, bad or indifferent. It has been offered by philosophers and social psychologists alike that huge wealth generates social distance or “ethical independence”. Put simply the rich have no need to cooperate or partake in democracy to get what they require.

Neoliberal leaders often fit into the more recognisable guise of bombastic, power hungry CEO’s, trampling on all that resembles competition. There’s no doubt that these individuals exist, see Jeff Bezos for details. Worse still, the system justifies their behaviour by spinning yarns of ‘homo economicus’, ‘trickle down’ economics and picturing them as ‘job creators’. However, in our midst are those who present as an arguably more agreeable face of power and control. They appear on Ted Talks, are promoted by the mainstream media and portrayed as modern day saviours. These are the neoliberal ‘left’ or philanthrocapitalists and their influence on society is as pervasive as the Koch brothers. Carefully crafted characters such as Gates and Zuckerberg are considered to be oracles of the 21st century. They mould our world from a position of exclusivity that is only experienced by a handful of people and yet we so easily defer to their perceived wisdom.

FAvH
Friedrich Hayek

Historically speaking, the stage that allowed these actors on both sides to perform so freely is neoliberalism. This was first conceived by among others, Friedrich Hayek and Ludwig von Mises in the late 1930’s, but failed to gain much traction in the west. This all changed when Keynesian economics started to falter in the mid 1970’s. When the time arose, the objective for Thatcher (UK), Reagan (US) and Roger Douglas in New Zealand was to change the moral and political record. A collective society based on human capital, full employment and relative equality was abruptly abandoned, for competition, individualism and the idea that wealth is virtuous. Out of the rubble of a dismantled social democratic society, rose a small number of individuals who were uniquely positioned to capitalise on increased privatisation, laxed trade regulations and an ever financialised world.

This accumulation of capital is rarely reinvested in society and the people within it, but used to create a system that accrues ever more wealth, power and influence. The elite are in a position to apply pressure at the governmental level for maximum effect, with some tactics being cruder than others. Neoliberalism provides the means that ensures money is sucked out from underneath the mattresses of the poor to the heavily guarded vaults of the rich. These mechanisms are the ‘nucleotides’ of the neoliberal DNA; international trade agreements, decreased market regulations, low taxation, privatisation and reduced government spending are just a few examples.

For decades this ideology of neoliberalism has been supported by the likes of International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. These institutions have been instrumental in forcing desperate sovereign nations to adopt strict austerity measures to reduce debt, by offering an all strings attached bailout package, as witnessed in Greece. In effect these loans had nothing to do with Greece’s economic problem. These were purely constructed to pay off their debts to French and German banks. It has since been recorded less than 10% of the cash borrowed was actually used to reform the economy and to help the Greek people.

As if the world’s oligarchs don’t have enough systemic advantages, many invest heavily in ‘think tanks’ and varying institutions solely to persuade government’s to tip the scales further in their favour. One such right wing funding source are the previously mentioned Koch brothers. Charles and David Koch are co-owners of Koch Industries the largest privately owned energy company in the US. The Koch’s favourite past-time is trying to discredit climate change science and policy solutions. In this arena they have spent a massive $127 million funding 92 organisations between 1997 and 2017. The Koch’s claim to be Libertarians, supporting; drastically lower corporate and personal taxes, minimal public services and a massive reduction in regulations.

Koch brothers

Their undeniable self interest doesn’t stop at muddying the waters regarding climate change. The Koch’s fund a group called the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), aimed at making it more difficult to prosecute corporations for violations of environmental and financial law. It’s important to realise that the Koch’s do not do all this in isolation, rallying 100’s of wealthy conservative families in an effort to preserve and promote their privileged way of life. Groups such as Americans for Prosperity are a huge and rich organisation, designed to battle against the Democrats, supporting ultra conservative Republicans, espousing ideological policies, while blocking anything in Congress that may oppose the Koch’s best interests.

They are the masters of organising ‘astroturf’ groups. These are alleged grassroot citizen organisations or coalitions. Groups such as ‘Americans for Prosperity’, the ‘Heartland Institute’ and the ’60 plus association’ support entities such as the Competitive Enterprise Institute and their fight for free speech. Which of course is nothing of the sort, it is a mere cover up for anti-science rhetoric, supported by 47 groups all affiliated to the Koch’s. Further to this, the Koch’s spend millions each election cycle and helped fund the Tea Party, spending upwards of $45 million. The Koch’s also donate millions each year to candidates that suit their ideology, this includes past presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Interestingly, despite spending roughly $900 million during the 2016 election cycle, the Koch’s have already declared that they will not be funding Trump next time around.

In contrast to the Brothers Grim, power and control can also be acquired through more insidious mechanisms such as philanthrocapitalism. Many of these characters involved in this practice are labelled by the right wing media as lefties. This theory seriously suggests that these rich, well connected, privileged people who attended top universities, while using capitalism to rake in huge profits support politics of the left. Just to clarify the Democrats and the left are not synonymous with each other. Politics in the US like much of the west provides nothing more than varying shades of neoliberalism. For the CEO class such as Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and Richard Branson, the question is, how can philanthropy be used to reinforce a flawed political and economic system such as capitalism.

Supposedly charitable acts, as seen by Bill Gates are conceptualised using market based solutions, looking at costs and benefits. It’s fair to say that philanthrocapitalism is no more than the social justice arm of a destructive global free market. Gates has certainly taken advantage of his huge giving-power to influence global health policies, including the World Health Organisation, where he is their top donor. The Gates Foundation has spent over $1 billion on policy and advocacy, even investing in training programs for journalists at major media organisations. Further to this, the foundation has heavily funded research which has later gone on to be published in scientific journals. These types of activities must be seen as a threat to global democratic decision making. The Gates Foundation also sits on the board of H8, a self appointed group of 8 health related organisations, who have been instrumental in setting up the health agenda for the G8, a group of self important, self selected nations.

Bill Gates
Bill Gates

Both the pretend left and right wing oligarchs, share another mission, that is to pay as little tax as humanly possible. The Koch’s do this rather bluntly by using ‘astroturf’ groups and lobbyists to coerce the government into lowering tax levels and provide tax breaks. The ‘smarmy’ army to ‘their’ left in contrast use charm offensives. In 2015 Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan, to much fanfare, proclaimed that they would donate 99% of their shares in Facebook (valued at the time at $45 billion) to the “mission” of “advancing human potential and promoting equality”. Which all sounds very nice, I’m sure you’ll agree. Here’s the catch, Zuckerberg did not set up a charitable foundation which would have automatically held a non-profit status. Instead of this Zuckerberg established limited liability company (LLC). The mainstream media unsurprisingly failed to mention this, instead they continued to gush over this blockbusting moment of perceived altruism.

Unlike a charitable foundation a LLC  allows someone to make investments in a for-profit company, while also permitting the owner to make political donations. Within this framework Zuckerberg is free to lobby for changes within the law and can do whatever he desires with his money. You may ask, “what’s the problem, it’s his money’? Indeed, but is this really the actions of a charity? Zuckerberg can also cunningly use this method to avoid tax. This can be achieved by donating the appreciated shares to charity, which would generate a deduction at fair market value of the stock without triggering any tax. Clever huh?

In a nutshell this means Zuckerberg has made a ridiculous amount of money, for which he is unlikely ever to pay tax on. As a society, do we really want people like Mark Zuckerberg or Bill Gates deciding the direction of our societal needs? All governments have flaws, but at least there are checks and balances deciding where the money is required, with more than one person making the call. These oligarchs could have quite easily aided society by paying tax just like everybody else, but of course this does not afford them the power or control that they feel they deserve.

So, what have we learnt apart from, don’t trust rich people? Well, we know billionaires span the entire (neoliberal) political spectrum from; George Soros to Sheldon Adelson, from the Koch’s to Michael Bloomberg and from Tom Steyer to Robert Mercer. Many of whom remain hidden like puppeteers, but some use public recognition to their advantage, such as Gates and Zuckerberg. We really shouldn’t be remotely surprised that billionaires manipulate governments and society to benefit themselves in some way. I am aware that much of this article is US centric, however, this is not something that is unique to the States. Similar patterns of oligarchic control can be witnessed all over the world, but particularly within the ‘anglosphere’.

All acceptable politics and political parties within the west are shoehorned into a narrow corridor of neoliberalism, with only minor differences separating them. Parties and the politicians from which they belong are criticised and held to intense scrutiny, but rarely is this kind of ferocious attention applied to the primary problem. This being a political/economic system that is thoroughly in chaos, held together by outdated concepts, some questionable politicians and billionaires who desperately fight to maintain the status quo. It’s the same system that assures the elite of ever increasing bank balances, thus securing more power and control over our ailing planet

Lets be honest, this is not a system for you, me or billions of others like us. In many ways capitalism is no different to feudalism, both possess hierarchies, each system serves the chosen few and neither has any interest in the rest of society. I suspect it’s about time we constructed something anew, outside of this tired and repetitive dynamic. How about we construct a society that works for everybody, oh and we need to do this quickly because the world’s a bit screwed up. No pressure!