New Zealand: The myth of an egalitarian paradise.

The photo above is 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 is 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 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. Meanwhile, tax 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 in 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. Also in the 1990’s university tuition fees rose by a 1000% and 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 going 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, unfortunately it 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 have 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 reflects 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.

 

 

 

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Homelessness; why are we failing as a society?

Last month I walked down Victoria Street West and Queen Street, one of the main drags heading towards the Britomart in Auckland on a Friday night. It had the usual array of students, tourists and young revellers out sampling what the downtown area has to offer. The vast majority of these people seemed generally oblivious to another section of our society. In fact their behaviour towards them was symbolic of how this group are often treated, which is ignored. The population I refer to is the homeless. During my walk I passed approximately 20 homeless people, mostly men and about half with some form of rough sleeping arrangement. It is disheartening, as you can’t give money to everyone and in reality the money feels relatively symbolic in its paucity. The real problem is, we live in a system that encourages massive inequality and a ‘winner takes all’ mentality. So my point is this; while we still have people who live in these perilous conditions, as relatively well off people step over or dodge around without even looking at them, we have no right to call ourselves a first world nation. This does not only apply to New Zealand but all over the so called advanced nations in the western world.

Homelessness is exceptionally difficult to quantify in the UK as there are varying definitions, such as, statutory homelessness, this is deemed when an individual has satisfied a criteria set by the government. At which point the local council has an obligation to provide housing related support. There is also non-statutory homelessness, where a person does lack a home, but does not qualify as suffering statutory homelessness, for these people there is a lesser obligation required from the council. Also there is hidden homelessness, which are people who do not show up on official figures for example, due to finding a temporary solution with friends or family. Finally the group that we generally relate to as homeless and the group I witnessed during my walk in town, rough sleepers. This is the group I will focus on for many of the statistics. It is estimated in the UK that 4,751 people sleep rough each night, this figure has almost doubled in 5 years.  In New Zealand in 2014 it was thought that 147 people were sleeping rough within a 3km radius of the Sky Tower in downtown Auckland, this was a 116% increase from 2013. But in June 2016 Auckland City Mission announced that the total had topped 200 and was steadily getting worse. It is clear to me that society needs to change dramatically for the prevalence of homelessness to decrease. This has to be spearheaded by a society that does not accept a system that treats the rich like royalty and the poor like crap. We need to start with education designed to tackle people’s misconceptions about the homeless.

Observing people on the street can give us a sharp reminder of reality, that many of us are only a couple of paycheques from the same predicament and this can evoke fear. On the contrary if you are a rich right winger and consider that everything is associated to personal choice, then in you’re own mind you are off the hook. This kind of thinking prevails as you believe that the homeless are on the street through no fault but their own, therefore, compassion is not required. So lets investigate what people think of the homeless. In a study by Shelter Scotland in response to the statement; “most homeless people have just been unlucky in their lives”, 48% agreed, 28% disagreed, while 22% neither agreed or disagreed. A further statement suggested; “most homeless people could find somewhere to live if they really tried”, for this one 45% agreed while 33% disagreed. The article concluded that the public could hold a view of sympathy for example the first statement, while retaining a judgmental view as noted in statement two. Certain groups were found more likely to be critical of the homeless, this included men where 51% agreed with the second statement as opposed to 41% of women. Furthermore, people with lower education were found to be less compassionate. Regarding the response to the second statement 33% of higher education participants agreed with this statement, in contrast 58% of people with no qualifications. Finally it was surmised that people with an authoritarian outlook socially or politically were more disparaging regarding their views towards the homeless. These social and political views were attained by asking about their attitudes towards areas such as; the law, freedom of expression, discipline and tradition. A simple conclusion drawn could be, don’t expect a thick, authoritarian, male to throw some money into a hat of a homeless person on the other side of the street.

It could be argued that our attitude towards homeless people is a product of our misconceptions, due to either a lack of knowledge or a narrative often perpetuated by the media. The first area that many people don’t appear to understand, are the causes of homelessness. The two general groups of factors at play here are individual and structural. It’s the interplay between these two that tend to cause problems.

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The mass of bubbles above indicates the individual factors in red and the structural factors in orange. What is immediately evident is that this is a complex process and each individual will have their own unique mix of factors. People often state the main reason for their loss of accommodation is due to friends or family being no longer able to provide support or a breakdown of a relationship. The Salvation Army suggests that this particular justification accounts for around 43% of all homelessness. It is noted, however, that this could be their final destination after a long chain of events. This is in stark contrast with public opinion which suggests the main reason for homelessness is drug or alcohol addiction. In truth this particular factor is a long way down the list and only accounts for 10% of people who are homeless. Importantly, it is the interplay between a series of individual and structural contributors that drives this process. An example of the interconnection between the two main groups could be; individual issues could arise from structural disadvantages such as poverty or poor education. Or personal issues such as the family could be put under pressure through structural issues, such as a lack of a job, leading to poverty. What is important to be aware of is homelessness is a complex mix of events that has led someone to this predicament and it is never just one thing.

If we look at system driven factors of both nation’s predominantly in the 80’s, massive changes occurred, as there was a shift from social democratic ideas to neoliberalism. The switch in ideology was presented in the form of business friendly policies, whilst being incredibly punitive to people struggling to get by. This practice continues unabated today, although many people in NZ hope to see some changes with the new Labour government. However, from 2016’s figures New Zealand spent less than the OECD average (21%) for public social spending at 19.7% of GDP, while the UK spent 21.5% of GDP. Both these figures are substantially lower than the countries considered with the best social provisions in place; primarily the Scandinavian countries, plus France, Belgium, Germany and Austria. Over the last three decades the UK and NZ have made it incredibly difficult to obtain assistance for those in need. There is often an array of hoops to jump through and a growing number of sanctions or punishments imposed if these tasks are not achieved. It’s quite clear that both countries are becoming more unforgiving by the minute. Another system driven dilemma is securing a home, either to buy or rent, it is not an easy proposition. In many nations in the west, house prices are astronomical, making purchasing unobtainable for many. In this current housing climate the only people benefiting from this are the rich. Without a shadow of a doubt the rentier class is back with a vengeance. From 1991 to 2013 private renting in New Zealand increased from 60% to 83%. This is thought to be due to a huge decrease in state housing stock, as many state houses were sold to community housing providers. In the UK Margaret Thatcher led the great ‘right to buy‘ scandal selling many of the countries council houses at well under market prices, while offering guaranteed 100% mortgages. This strategy was used again by Cameron from 2012. These recent sales have been snapped up by profiteers who buy-to-let, thus reducing the numbers of affordable homes for people that really need them.

So what is the impact of homelessness? Firstly the individual; looking at UK figures, the feeling of homelessness, furthermore, the isolation, increases the chances of physical (56%) and mental health problems (72%). The plight of being without a home suggests you are more likely to take drugs, with 26% being users, compared to 8% of the general population. It is noted that the longer you are in this predicament, the more difficult it is to get on your feet. It is offered that this is mainly because the problem becomes increasingly complex over time, involving multiple services such as health and criminal justice systems. The impacts are also felt on the community. It is suggested that a person who is homeless has; a 77% chance of sleeping rough, 53% chance of an involvement in street drinking, 32% of begging and a 10% chance of becoming involved in prostitution. All this affects society and the tax payer. Immediate and long term cost of homelessness is substantial. Using a strategy that prevents homelessness, while helping people quickly, will keep costs down for society, benefit the community and would undoubtedly help the individual who finds themselves in this terrible situation.

impact of homelessness

Over three decades of neoliberalism championing business at all cost, while looking at narrow parameters such as GDP, inflation and government debt, has relegated the needs of people to a distant last place. The current Tory government in the UK under either Cameron or May has been punctuated by austerity, an ideologically driven doctrine, purely designed to benefit the rich. While New Zealand under National until recently embarked on a similar adventure, ruthlessly underfunding health and education. Benefits for workers and the poor have become increasingly scarce, while difficult to attain, in contrast the rich have relished tax cuts, as GST in NZ has increased, which is effectively a regressive tax. These constant handouts for the rich on top of their already considerable advantage has produced a narrative that suggests what they have is achieved by merit. This despite their often superior education, previous inheritance, social connections and of course luck, which is the main requirement. This narrative pushed from every conceivable angle has given rise to uncompassionate MP’s, councillors, business leaders and punitive members of the public. In recent times fining homeless people seems to be gaining traction in many places in the UK; Exeter, Nottinghamshire and Hackney have all been guilty of this abhorrent, cruel behaviour and it appears to be on the rise. Of course that seems fair, lets penalise the most vulnerable group we can find, that sounds like a great idea. All the while we’ll let off the billionaires from paying tax, because after all they’ve got good accountants, that sounds like a plan. In New Zealand property investor and former politician Sir Bob Jones stated beggars were “fat Māori’s” and a “bloody disgrace to the human race”. This outburst from an uncompassionate, vile, excuse for a human being wouldn’t normally be a problem, if it wasn’t for 72% of a 40,000 person survey declaring begging should be outlawed in NZ.

This accepted orthodoxy of neoliberalism spans the entire spectrum of politics. A few individuals can see through the embedded selfishness of capitalism particularly in the UK under Corbyn. Sadly New Zealand doesn’t seem quite as ready for radical change. Our present PM although a huge relief from the dreary Bill English and National is more Helen Clark than Jeremy Corbyn. Unless we turn away from neoliberalism and it’s love affair with individualism, brutal competition and free market voodoo, in favour of our fellow human beings, change will be minimal. On huge issues like this I tend to look towards ‘utilitarianism’ in particularly Jeremy Bentham. Like all philosophies utilitarianism is not without it’s issues, however, Bentham stated, “it is the greatest happiness of the greatest number that is the measure of right and wrong“. Maybe we can start to aim for this by encouraging compassion, empathy and an ability to look outside of our own world, while realising that blame has no positive outcome for anyone.

 

 

 

 

 

At what point did the left stop using facts and the pursuit of truth? We need to do better than this.

Sometimes I get despondent with the left. It frustrates me that many on the ‘social justice activists’ side of the left have discarded with the tried and tested method of using facts in exchange for lazy stereotypes or sloppy ad hominems. This was highlighted again today through an ill thought out idea found on a Kiwi lefty website page. This ‘article’ for want of a better term was entitled “who is the white dude of the year“, underneath this headline was a selection of neoliberal politicians and media figures, who hadn’t exactly covered themselves in glory over the last year from a leftist perspective.

Highlighting these people who each have made some questionable decisions over 2017 is fine, but to criticise them based on the colour of their skin? Really? Is this because in SJW land white men are the last group who can be roundly criticised without any push back? In which case what separates us from the alt-right who target black and Muslim people, apart from our perceived moral superiority? There is no doubt many of the world’s richest people are white, older, males, but attacking a distinct demographic rather than the individual greed or economic system that supports them is self-defeating.

Primarily in my country of birth in the North of England the majority of the poor are white. I can guarantee you there are not too many people in the council estates of Manchester who feel particularly privileged right now. By supporting this sort of postmodern groupthink and entering into the oppression Olympics is alienating the very people that the left used to stand for. By rejecting the fight against class warfare and massive economic inequality, while adopting identity politics is precisely why the left has declined in numbers. Not only this, but the parties responsible for this exodus are still either, continuing down this political road or are squabbling within the party membership to gain an ideological control of the party.

Following a more in depth look at this article, it is clear that there is a distinct lack of text, no facts, just a gallery of offenders. So instead of embarking on the slippery slope of intersectionalism, what could we have said about these people in a more constructive manner? Take former Finance Minister Stephen Joyce for example, this was the man who claimed leading up to the NZ election that there was a fiscal gap of $11.7bn regarding Labour’s proposed alternative budget plan. The claim was indeed discovered to be a total lie which has now been confirmed by economic experts, despite Joyce doggedly sticking to his story.

To be fair to Mr Joyce he is impeccably qualified to be Finance Minister with a BSc in zoology after not making the cut for vet school. Following his triumphant graduation in zoology he embarked on and spectacularly failed the majority of his economics papers he took during the 80’s, scoring 3 passes out of 9. This of course makes him uniquely qualified to run as he did under National New Zealand’s finances or maybe not. Obviously in the eyes of the right he is a successful businessman and a millionaire following the sale of a radio station he jointly set-up, therefore, giving him all the legitimacy he needs.

In truth Joyce is no more than a career right wing ideologue who will create a story to fit his tired agenda of unrestrained capitalism which he indeed benefits from. Despite the fact he is woefully under qualified to comment on the likes of macroeconomics, his narcissism and bloody mindedness has steered him to some other interesting career highpoints. Most notably while defending the Transpacific Pacific Partnership Agreement (another corporate landgrab), he was physically assaulted resulting in the infamous ‘Dildogate’. Sit back and enjoy John Oliver as he takes you through this highpoint of New Zealand politics.

Next up is Don Brash, a man who was the Governor of the Reserve Bank from 1988 to 2002, this spanned the calamitous years of enforced neoliberalism by both Labour and National. He sits at the far end of his chosen doctrine, an ex-leader of the National Party and a member of the extreme neoliberal ACT Party. Don Brash has found it remarkably easy to seek out controversy over the years. This usually surfaces as thinly veiled racism or a harking back to better times that never were.

The Orewa Speech  was presented on the 27th January 2004, as leader of the National Party this was the first incident to attract the public glare. The message focused on his perceived worry about separatism within NZ and his views that Māori somehow received an unfair advantbrashage. This conclusion was reached despite the fact Māori did and still trail woefully in positive outcomes for health, education, income and mortality rates. This mentality was and is totally predictable as Brash is a fully paid member of the ‘dog eat dog’ society who disregard any sociological or environmental impact on the individual. He would rather believe that everything in life is a result of individual choices, therefore, justifying his relative success. Conveniently forgetting of course that he grew up in a comfortable environment, attending university at under and post graduate levels (without student fees), before going on to work for the World Bank in Washington all before the age of 26.

Mr Brash will never admit that this pathway for a multitude of reasons is just not available for many people. Nor does he subscribe to the notion that all of us need some help at different times of our lives in a variety of ways. On the contrary according to Don everything in life relates to personal responsibility, omitting the fact he had an excellent education, a stable environment and many influential mentors to help him through his own life. So, what was Don’s latest escapade, that elevated him on to this hit list? Well his most recent outburst centred around his frustration of having to listen to a few sentences of Te Reo (Māori) on Radio New Zealand. Oh the pain! I’m sure it must have been terrible for Don’s delicate ears.

Ironically, New Zealand’s two official languages are Te Reo and Sign, with English being a de facto language due to popularity of use. Ambiguously, Brash has long used the slogan “one people” and offers that we should be united by our Britishness, which incidentally entirely disregards Māori culture and any other culture that doesn’t see themselves as British. Brash’s many race related tantrums can be encapsulated in this statement while talking about a traditional Māori welcoming called a Powhiri, he stated; “I mean, I think there is a place for Maori culture but why is it that we always use a semi-naked male, sometimes quite pale-skinned Maori, leaping around in, you know, mock battle”? It is clear that Don Brash has no interest in the idea of “one people” at all, what he does want is for Māori to know there place in the pecking order. It is apparent that this type of attitude would be more at home in a ‘make New Zealand great again rally’, unfortunately he is not alone with his thoroughly outdated and ill thought-out views.

The point I’m trying to make is this, I could continue to critique this cast of characters in the original ‘left wing’ piece with little effort. All it takes is a modicum of laptop based research, enabling you to challenge them on a political, ideological, moral, historical and even a personal level without resorting to identity politics or privilege theory. Both of which are inherently anti-reason or truth and are designed to stifle debate rather than encourage it. These methods are purely used to silence dissenting views, alongside other tactics such as banning opposing speakers from universities.

What are we scared of? Are we so devoid of debating skills that we have an inability to critique what is being said and then counter these opposing views issue by issue? By resorting to disparaging remarks based on skin colour is no better than a juvenile insult in a schoolyard or the kind of bile that occurs within the Alt-Right. This does nothing to address the issues at hand, while discrediting our ability to embark on robust dialogue, thus reducing the left to the moral cellar. We will never win back the trust of the working class, while we alienate whole swathes of the population by using terms such as ‘white privilege’.

We need to revert back to judging what is actually being conveyed, not the group the sender belongs to. We have to discard postmodernist rubbish where the perception of the receiver no matter how ridiculous is considered more valid than the content from the sender. Until this happens, intersectionalism, postmodernism and other tools of the Alt-Left will continue to tear us apart, all the while neoliberalism will ceaselessly strive to decimate the planet.

 

Turn left, turn left, TURN LEFT!!! Hey New Zealand where have all the Socialists gone?

New Zealand has an election on the 23rd September. Currently it’s fair to say, I have nobody particularly inspiring to vote for. Economically it would appear whichever way it goes; a right coalition or a left coalition, neoliberal policies will still persist the following morning. That’s not to say there are no differences, but they are to be found in funding certain programmes or the nuances of the said programmes rather than a re-structuring of a failed economic system. So far during the run up to the election, the ‘NZ left’ have had an interesting time of it. Firstly Labour unveiled Jacinda Adhern as their new leader, which initially caused euphoria among progressives. jacindaThis was known unimaginatively by the press as ‘Jacindamania’, which has only slightly started to wane over the last few weeks, primarily because her mention of the dreaded ‘T’ word, that is taxes. Then Metiria Turei, the joint leader of the Greens fell on her sword, after admitting she lied to authorities, therefore, claiming more benefits than she was entitled to. Ms Turei in her defence stated her actions were nothing more than trying to “survive as a solo mum”. The point of this was to initiate a debate regarding the most vulnerable sections of society and the major problems regarding welfare. Instead Turei’s admission became a starting pistol for intense abuse by right wing factions, both National and ACT desperately portrayed Ms Turei as nothing more than cheat and a criminal. This would be laughable, if it wasn’t so tragic. This very National government has consistently allowed corporations to dodge tax and create an environment that provides socialism for the rich and capitalism for the poor. The tactic of using the poor as an object of aggression, for having the temerity to survive, while the rich get ever richer, is seen all over the neoliberal world and is used to perfection in an effort to keep societies divided.

I came to live in New Zealand from England in 2011, having visited here on our honeymoon in 2010. The longer I spent here, the more I realised that the people are essentially egalitarian, however, this communal spirit stops with a government that is ideologically neoliberal. The differences in NZ from life in most parts of the UK are palpable and hugely welcome. Fruit from your trees gets shared out at work, fish is handed over the fence if somebody has had a good day on the water and people are generally happy to give you hand if you get stuck. Quite often your labour can be used instead of money, for something you may need. For example my last batch of fire-wood was paid for by helping my friends to chop and split wood for the day. Although to most people in the UK this may seem odd as products are bought with that stuff they call money, here it’s pretty normal to exchange goods for your labour. At first I thought maybe this was because I live in provincial New Zealand, therefore as the saying goes ‘if we all get along, we go along’. However, after living in Auckland which is bigger, more frantic and less personal it is still my opinion that even Auckland is a much friendlier place than the average English city. After a few years here I have concluded that this friendly Kiwi attitude permeates pretty much all over the country. So imagine my surprise whilst getting to grips with NZ politics, when I noticed there were no prominent left leaning parties, a problem that still persists today. This blind devotion to neoliberalism hasn’t always been the case, but it’s a doctrine that was borrowed off the US and the UK in the 80’s. The effect of this was to push all acceptable politics to the right and to marginalise the left.

Like most countries in the Anglo-American world Social Democratic parties swung wildly to the right following free-market capitalism being the adopted orthodoxy. It’s not difficult to find examples of this lurch to the right from supposed peoples parties; Bill Clinton took the Democrats to victory in 1993, likewise Tony BlairMSC_2014_Blair_Mueller_MSC2014_(cropped) swept to the top job with Labour in 1997. Both leaders were similar with their liberal rhetoric and easy charm. At the heart of their success, however, was an adherence to a market economy, which managed to sway the support of the corporations and the media. Both Clinton and Blair accomplished the task of achieving relative longevity by balancing neoliberal economic policies, while offering social justice concessions. With this heady cocktail of ideas, often known as the 3rd way, both were able to successfully lure the electorate. Clinton brought in the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 while Blair was instrumental in introducing a minimum wage in the UK. These types of policies softened the blow of deregulation of the financial sector and masked the damage that would occur in years to come. One of Bill Clinton’s most destructive actions was to repeal the Glass-Steagall Act which was initially designed to separate commercial and investment banking, this act had been in place since 1933 following the depression in the US. It’s fair to acknowledge that a lack of these types of safety mechanisms among others were a reason the global financial crisis was allowed to reach the devastating conclusion it did. Meanwhile under Blair’s watch university tuition fees were ushered in and privatisation by stealth for the health service increased. The UK and US are not alone regarding their acceptance of a neoliberal doctrine. New Zealand has it’s own tale to tell, which could very well shed some light on the original question “where’s the left”.

New Zealand had always been considered a social democratic state prior to the mid 80’s. From the 1930’s onwards the state owned many assets including Post, Railways, Inter-Island ferries, electricity generation, major public construction works, public housing, hospitals, mining and broadcasting to name a few. The government looked after their citizens and unemployment was quite often below 1%. By the early 80’s people were becoming tired of the National Prime Minister Rob Muldoon from a personal perspective. While many businesses in Auckland were becoming frustrated by a tightly controlled economy. To the surprise of many, Muldoon called a snap election in June 1984, this proved to be his undoing as his opponent David Lange was victorious by a landslide, leading the 4th Labour government. On the night of the election results and following celebrations, David Lange was saddled with the news that the previous government had accrued huge amounts of debts and NZ dollar was massively over-valued. douglasThe newly crowned Finance Minister Roger Douglas who was heavily influenced by the neoliberal ideology of Milton Friedman seized on this New Zealand financial crisis. Douglas had already written a book outlining a radical change to the NZ economy, which was considered ridiculous by most people in the political world. But what Douglas and the rest of the Troika (Richard Prebble and David Caygill) would do next, however, was classic ‘shock doctrine’ as described in Naomi Klein’s wonderful book. This ‘shock therapy’ as used in Chile, Russia, Argentina, US and UK, was to utilise a disaster such as a coup (Chile) or a financial crisis (US and UK) to usher in ideologically driven capitalism. This method, still used today, is consistently in the form of massive deregulation and the privatisation of state assets. These proposed economic changes were heavily supported by the NZ Treasury and the Business Round Table, an exceptionally right-wing think-tank. Within a short period of time New Zealand was transformed from one of the most regulated countries economically to one of the least.

The Labour government proceeded  to sell off national assets worth $2.5 billion at bargain basement prices, while slashing top tier tax from 66% to a paltry 33%. Company taxes were reduced in a similar fashion, at the same time a new regressive Good and Services Tax (similar to UK VAT) was introduced. The Labour regime limited the right to strike, as real wages declined by 10%. Furthermore unemployment climbed from 8.5% to 16.2%. To counter any excessive payments regarding high unemployment the government reduced benefits and abolished payments for under 18’s. As neoliberalism took a hold in NZ, it was common practice to reduce unemployment payments if the gap between declining average wages and the dole became too close. In classic ‘disaster capitalism’ style, Roger Douglas declared that reforms had to be done as quickly as possible, to avoid any form of resistance to them. He even tried towards the end of his tenure to introduce a flat tax, which was a bridge too far for Lange. Following Labour’s resounding defeat in 1990, the country was now in the hands of National, where there would be no let up on the neoliberal doctrine. While in the 80’s NZ had Rogernomics, the 90’s resulted in Ruthanasia. images.duckduckgo.comRuth Richardson was now the Finance Minister and was prepared to put free-market capitalism on steroids. It was their goal to privatise anything that wasn’t nailed down, including health, education, while reducing unemployment, sickness and welfare benefits. Active campaigns using adverts and TV programmes were used to demonise welfare recipients such as benefit cheats, unfortunately the same amount of effort was not expended on tax evaders/avoiders. Like their traditional opponents the National government were happy to maintain high levels of unemployment purposely to keep wages low and therefore, inflation low. Any collective in the form of unions which opposed these draconian reforms were systematically dismantled, with the Employments Contract Act. This intentionally individualised the employment relationship and pitted employee versus employee, this also had the dramatic effect of lowering wages. Although Ruth Richardson was gone by 1993, the National government continued until 1999. By then the die was cast, most people didn’t know any better than capitalism and consumption. The incoming Labour government led by Helen Clark managed to put the breaks on runaway capitalism, but by then individualism and consumerism were ingrained on a national psyche that once stood for egalitarian values.

So I guess the question is, why socialism, why go left? The answer is simple, unbridled capitalism does not have the answers to our very serious problems, both nationally and globally. If you are uncomfortable with socialism. then fine call it something else. The important thing is we need to move away from a massively individualistic society to a collective one. Jeremy Bentham stated “it is the greatest happiness of the greatest number that is the measure of right and wrong”. Not only is that a moral statement, but a practical one when we think that we live in a finite world and what we do has direct consequences on someone or something else. To live a life as if we are in isolation is foolish and irresponsible. To emphasise this point, the worlds 8 richest people have more wealth than the poorest 50%, while 1 in 9 people will go to bed hungry. How does this make sense? Gandhi famously said;

“The world has enough for everyone’s need, but not enough for everyone’s greed.”

So lets get to our pressing problems and why New Zealand needs to turn left. First up homelessness, a report by Yale University concluded that New Zealand has the highest homeless rates in the OECD. More than 40,000 people live on the streets or in emergency housing or substandard shelters, this equates to almost 1% of the population. While there is one person living rough or in sub-standard accommodation, in my opinion we have failed as a society. This is clearly a difficult problem to solve; there is indeed the physical aspect of having enough accommodation, psychological problems, such as people feeling disenfranchised with society and many other complex contributing factors. But the answer is not how many houses to build, or how we increase mental health provision. The answer is the government needs to find the political will to actually complete these projects regardless of any barriers that may exist. Government’s seem to find money to fund war or bank bailouts, but somehow the cupboard is bare when it comes to the most vulnerable in society. This is quite simply an ideological decision to allow certain sections of society to suffer.

New Zealand has some highest suicide rates in the world. NZ youth suicide has twice the prevalence of Australia and five times that of the UK. Although the reasons are multi-faceted, economic inequality is a huge factor with regards to mental health problems. Feelings of worthlessness and status anxiety increases, while trust decreases. The very fabric of society disintegrates, at a time when many people would benefit from a supportive network. Inequality also has a huge effect on child poverty, in 1982 child poverty was 14%, now it sits around 28%. All the while the incomes of the top 10% compared to the lower 10% have increased from 5 times to 10 times greater. The examples I have mentioned highlighting where NZ falls down have one thing in common, ‘people’. If the wealth of the rich compared to the poor widens, yet many health and social indicators show NZ is severely lacking, this indicates to me that the system has failed and the government has no inclination or desire to change course. One last thought on this; New Zealand’s richest two men (Richard Chandler and Graeme Hart) have more wealth than 30% of the poorest people. That in itself is sickening.

On to my last reason for NZ to turn left. The most important issue we face on this planet is climate change. The National government have signed up to the Paris accord, however, this according to renowned climate scientist James Hansen doesn’t go far enough to avoid temperatures elevating by 2 degrees. Climate scientists warn that this rise would have dramatic affects; one in which seas will rise by more than 5 metres over the coming centuries, and one in which droughts, floods and extreme heatwaves will ravage many parts of the world. Currently National seem to be randomly tossing figures around without any concerted plan. For example the government have stated that it will aim for a 2030 target of 30% below 2005 emission levels, which actually is equivalent to cutting emissions to 11% below 1990 levels. Their rhetoric is meaningless as are their actions, but this shouldn’t be surprising as it’s a party wedded to big business, including the fossil fuel industry.

During this election cycle, National have ran an exceptionally negative campaign towards Labour and the Greens. This has been a two pronged attack; ridiculing Labour by stating their proposals are not affordable, while scaring the public into believing they’ll be paying masses of tax to pay for services. One of the stand-out moments was Steven Joyce the current Finance Minister, claiming there was a $11.7bn hole in Labour’s budget. steven joyceThis was of course total rubbish, but it didn’t matter, it had the desired effect. In the right-wing world there is no requirement to tell the truth only the result matters. These tactics were designed to make Labour seem indecisive regarding taxes, at the same time slowing the Jacinda effect. My thoughts are Jacinda Adhern should have been bold the moment she took office, stating; these are the problems, this is what we’ll do, this is why we’ll do it and here’s how we’ll pay. Obviously the only way they could pay is through taxes. Bizarrely, New Zealand, appears to be tax phobic, which would indicate that the people are heavily taxed. This couldn’t be further from the truth, tax is a little less than most OECD countries and is a lot less progressive than it once was (top tax rate was 66%). Tax is obviously spent on services such as health, education, police, prisons and welfare. Therefore, what we pay on tax is directly linked to what sort of services we want in New Zealand. Tax is no more than the pooling of our resources to make the nation better. Scandinavia is well known for their high taxes, but have an excellent standard of living, often topping rankings in; education, low crime, good health outcomes and excellent social cohesion. Tax isn’t the only solution to problems in New Zealand or anywhere else for that matter, but it does offer a means to improve services and reduce inequality.

So why do I keep harping on about inequality? It’s quite simple, inequality is directly connected with; increased crime rates, poorer health outcomes, less social mobility, substandard education, a decrease in social cohesion and a less stable economy. The ruling elite will continue to divide society, convincing the middle class to blame the poor, while the poor blame the immigrants. All the while the rich will get tax cuts or avoid tax completely. Rather than looking at the most marginalised and the vulnerable in society we should be looking towards the ruling elite to locate where the problem lies. As I stated at the top of this piece, the choices for the election are not particularly stark, but I still hope for a change of government and maybe a step in the right direction.