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Role of Government

Written By: - Date published: 10:56 am, February 11th, 2014 - 45 comments
Categories: capitalism, climate change, community democracy, democratic participation, economy, Environment, global warming, political alternatives, sustainability - Tags: , ,

Modern western governments have been about essentially, two things. On the one hand they have ensured an environment favourable to the operation of the market economy. On the other they have been known to serve the interests of citizens by protecting us from the worse excesses of the market. That’s a simple but good enough brushstroke version of governance within a market context.

But the balancing act of governments, whether weighted this way or that, has run into some problems. The problems are such that governments can’t continue with those roles through the near and unfolding future. Obviously, one way or another, there isn’t going to be a market economy. But without a market economy to manage, what remains for government to do?

It would take a particularly enlightened government to ease us away from production and distribution based on market economics and, well…people who seek power don’t tend to be the most enlightened or smartest of people. You may disagree with that and think that they are indeed among the brightest and smartest while some even possess an ability to inspire. If you’re right, then we can expect some serious shifts of focus coming from government, erm…20 years ago. That was when the need for a radical shifts in focus became urgent. That said then, it’s probably safe to predict that we’ll persist with a market economy until climate change par boils it or whatever.

Back to the inconvenient truth whereby reality is dictating that the traditional role of government is now defunct. The inability to acknowledge that has set both them and all of us in society down a path of auto destruct. There is less than no point in seeking to preserve market conditions when overwhelming external factors dictate that the market can’t be preserved. For the same reason, there is also no need for government to protect us from the market beyond the very short term.

Meanwhile,  they’ve got us by the short and curlies, insisting that we stay standing on this here railway track, even though the debatable source of light at the end of a tunnel has transpired to be a hell thundering through the cold grey light of dawn.

So what should or could governments do? There is still a need for short term protection from the effects of the market. Beyond that, there is a need to help lay the groundwork for what comes after the market and for what must come in the face of climate change.

To my mind, that entails government removing both the market and themselves from social/political and economic spaces and encouraging us to fill those vacated spaces in order that we can develop our own, new institutions, that will allow us to make the necessary decisions and to take the appropriate actions that flow from those deliberations.

If they don’t willingly begin to aid us, and if we can’t force them to, then the future is one of totalitarianism amid diminished resources and capabilities in a world ravaged by climate change.

Don’t take my (sometimes hyperbolic) word for it. Listen to almost any of the serious thinkers or analysts from any number of disciplines – the future’s looking bleak.

Now, how about you don’t parody the inertia of government by just sitting back to watch the show? (It will be televised).

45 comments on “Role of Government”

  1. phil 1

    It’s the corporates that rule the Country, via the ‘government’. The term could be ‘patsy government’, Clayton’s government, or perhaps ‘faux government’. To go along with our dumocrupty.

  2. weka 2

    Yep.

    To my mind, that entails government removing both the market and themselves from social/political and economic spaces and encouraging us to fill those vacated spaces in order that we can develop our own, new institutions, that will allow us to make the necessary decisions and to take the appropriate actions that flow from those deliberations.

    If they don’t willingly begin to aid us, and if we can’t force them to, then the future is one of totalitarianism amid diminished resources and capabilities in a world ravaged by climate change.

    Something worth debating perhaps is how this is framed. In that paragraph, the framing puts the government in the position of power, and us in the position of powerlessness or fighting. The government is the active agent, we are passive, waiting for them to encourage us once they have stepped aside.

    Another perspective is what is happening within the grassroots movements like Transition Towns, permaculture, relocalisation etc. There, the idea is to just get on with the work needing to be done with the idea that the people in authority will follow. No-one is asking for permission or waiting for governance or waiting for the power structures to change, they’re doing what needs to be done and then some of them are seeking ways to engage with existing authority (to varying degrees of success).

    One of the challenges here (in this conversation) politically is that the left has a core value of government being the main vehicle of responsibility for the collective. If govt is to devolve, then how do we maintain the ethics of community?

    There is another issue in what you raise. How much time until external events force change? You say the govt can only protect us from the market for the short term, but the one constant in facing our future is that we really have no idea of timeframes. That necessitates a greater degree of flexibility. It is fair to say that in terms of our own actions, we have no time left to lose. In terms of strategy, the issue of timing is important.

    • Bill 2.1

      I take your points and don’t actually disagree with them.

      If grassroots activity reaches a level whereby government is forced to sit up and take notice and then act positively, then it’s all good. With a few exceptions (Venezuela being the obvious one), many heads usually get cracked before governments even consider ceding ground. Meanwhile, we don’t really have a functioning or powerful extra parliamentary left in NZ. What there is is either insignificant and mired in old school shit (the remnants of various Leninist inspired orgs) or has been largely co-opted (eg, unions).

      Will those involved in the positive things you mention take up the antagonistic, negative but necessary ‘bodies on the line’ role vacated by the old, decimated left should events unfold in such a way as to demand it? That’s just an open question.

      Meanwhile, I was trying to be positive (yeah, I know! ;-) ) and had in mind the example of Venezuela, where the government seeks to open up spaces formally occupied by the private sector or the state and then steps back while providing the means for people to develop those spaces (favourable legislation and access to resources)…a sort of deliberate and self inflicted ‘withering of the state’.

      Hair splitting bit here – I wrote that government only needs to protect us short term (lots of caveats); not that it only can.

      As for time and tactics…yeah, I’d say it’s urgent and that as best we can, we act intelligently and ‘box clever’ where we need to. Mistakes will be made and lessons learned. Or we’ll all sit back and wait for whatever is coming down to land on us and be forced into the realm of chaotic reactions.

      • weka 2.1.1

        “If grassroots activity reaches a level whereby government is forced to sit up and take notice and then act positively, then it’s all good.”

        Still not my point. It’s not about forcing the govt to change. The idea is that you get enough people and enough movement happening around the right things (eg localising food production/sustainable land management, alternative currencies and timebanks, systems of decision making, energy etc), and then the people in govt will follow. Some of them at least. It’s easier to conceive of this with local govt because these are people already living in our communities. And increasing numbers of them are already at least partially on board with the need for change re AGW etc. (talking staff here as well as councillors, and this is why we need to support these people as much as possible). When those people, and the ones that are sitting on the fence, start feeling the pressure from serious things like fuel price increases and food shortages (not in the sense of going hungry, but when the market obviously starts failing to provide our standard of living and choice), there will already be many alternative systems in place for them to turn to (that applies to the general population in the community too). Once those people understand how their families are going to be affected, and they see the alternatives are already operating in the community, involving people in their community that have respect and value, then it will be much easier for them to change.

        We want a certain number of the population on board, then we want the pressure from AGW/PO/GFC, and then we want a tipping point.

        At that point, I agree there is the potential for the need for conflict. But I don’t think it’s a given that that will happen, so I am suggesting we look at other ways of framing this too. We may still have some choice in NZ about which ways it goes.

        I think the above theory is optimistic, and possibly overly so, but I think it’s value is that its grassroots, and its something that is inclusive. In the absense of the pan left movement we need, it will appeal to more people than political revolution IMO.

        Will those involved in the positive things you mention take up the antagonistic, negative but necessary ‘bodies on the line’ role vacated by the old, decimated left should events unfold in such a way as to demand it? That’s just an open question.

        Important question. I think some will for sure. But it doesn’t really get talked about. I think there are a number of reasons for this. One is the excess of the middle classes, who haven’t had to think about these things. Another is that avoidance of fear is a major tactic, and it probably serves the movements better at this stage to not think about the need for future violence. Or even protest, if you were meaning it at that level.

        Meanwhile, I was trying to be positive (yeah, I know! ;-) ) and had in mind the example of Venezuela, where the government seeks to open up spaces formally occupied by the private sector or the state and then steps back while providing the means for people to develop those spaces (favourable legislation and access to resources)…a sort of deliberate and self inflicted ‘withering of the state’.

        I reckon put up some links. I’m sure I’m not the only one here who is not familiar enough with the situation in Venezeula to know what you mean. I think maybe you forget how well read you in some of these areas compared to others.

        “Hair splitting bit here – I wrote that government only needs to protect us short term (lots of caveats); not that it only can.”

        ok, I don’t understand what you mean then. Do you mean the govt is protecting itself from the market?

        As for time and tactics…yeah, I’d say it’s urgent and that as best we can, we act intelligently and ‘box clever’ where we need to. Mistakes will be made and lessons learned. Or we’ll all sit back and wait for whatever is coming down to land on us and be forced into the realm of chaotic reactions.

        What I meant about timing is that, acknowledging we need to act now, we also need to acknowledge that we don’t know what the timing will be with AGW/PO/GCF pressure. So in my example above, where that pressure is crucial, the timing is also crucial. If it happens before we have critical mass around change, then things will be harder. If it doesn’t happen for decades we will lose much to the dying throes of capitalism (increased poverty, mass land degradation, worse AGW effects etc).

        • weka 2.1.1.1

          Meant to add a bit in there on edit, but lost my internet connection,

          Once those people (in local govt) understand how their families are going to be affected, and they see the alternatives are already operating in the community, involving people in their community that have respect and value, then it will be much easier for them to change.

          We want a certain number of the population on board, then we want the pressure from AGW/PO/GFC, and then we want a tipping point.

          At that point, I agree there is the potential for the need for conflict. But I don’t think it’s a given that that will happen, so I am suggesting we look at other ways of framing this too. We may still have some choice in NZ about which ways it goes.

          I think the above theory is optimistic, and possibly overly so, but I think it’s value is that its grassroots, and its something that is inclusive. In the absense of the pan left movement we need, it will appeal to more people than political revolution IMO.

          • Bill 2.1.1.1.1

            So, if I’m reading you correctly, the first paragraph is about building parallel institutions and reaching ‘critcal mass’ – something I’ve banged on about often enough here on ‘ts’. I think we broadly agree there. As to whether those enjoying ongoing privilege jump or adopt a siege mentality is an open question I think. A lot would depend on how well developed any parallel possibilities were and what pressure (say) a corporate/state nexus could bring to bear in terms of carrots and sticks….which you touch on in your edit. Eastern Europe was largely non-violent. So, who knows.

            As ever, I’m confused by what you might mean by revolution though. Your first paragraph is revolution – a new way superceding an old way- yet you then go on to say that what you outline would be more appealing than revolution.

            Further down – all I mean is that the state has always been a kind of buffer between us (the citizen) and the effects of a market naked in tooth and claw. Given that the market can’t survive a globally warmed future, we only need the state as a buffer for as long as the market persists.

          • Polish Pride 2.1.1.1.2

            I think all it needs is common sense and the right message.
            To get to this though, a certain level of concenus is required on a number of key questions.
            I also think the conversation needs to not be so focussed on the Govt being the problem. I believe it is a key part of it but is caught between two opposing ideologies, neither of which accurately determines what the role of the system should be.
            In designing, improving, building any system the first and most important question to both ask and have answered is:

            What is it that you want the system to do or what is the purpose of the system?
            then in this instance
            Who should the system be for? (answer this one first – just trust me on this).

            Unless these are answered satisfactorily you are unlikely to achieve the outcome you want to with or without government.
            I have seen millions of dollars spent in both the public and the private sector because they failed to ask these questions (and more) and agree upon these things up front.

            • Polish Pride 2.1.1.1.2.1

              Also Capitalism and Neoliberalism are quite easy to destroy if you go through proper systems analysis starting with both questions of who and what the system is for.
              Once you have that systems analysis and justification you then only need to hold capitalism and neoliberalism up to that analysis to see how it fares and neither hold up under this scrutiny at all.

        • just saying 2.1.1.2

          This is a really interesting conversation. I’m looking forward to reading (hopefully) a whole lot of different insights and viewpoints after I do what I should be doing now.

          Just in the meantime this (the following) struck me, and the reason it did is that it’s a question (in its broadest sense) that I find myself aware of regarding the people around me to the point of affecting relationships in some cases. Yet it’s not something that is mentioned ordinarily.

          Will those involved in the positive things you mention take up the antagonistic, negative but necessary ‘bodies on the line’ role vacated by the old, decimated left should events unfold in such a way as to demand it? That’s just an open question.

          Important question. I think some will for sure. But it doesn’t really get talked about. I think there are a number of reasons for this. One is the excess of the middle classes, who haven’t had to think about these things. Another is that avoidance of fear is a major tactic, and it probably serves the movements better at this stage to not think about the need for future violence. Or even protest, if you were meaning it at that level.

    • adam 2.2

      “One of the challenges here (in this conversation) politically is that the left has a core value of government being the main vehicle of responsibility for the collective”

      What the… Really so a libertarian left does not exist? Nor has it? One idea at the basic level, even if your a social democrat, is that government is not to be trusted – not in your lexicon?

      What core value, this is the type of outlandish statement that gives the right the club with which to beat up the whole left. Come on Weka, you may see it personally as a core value, and that is your choice. But, if the majority of the left think the government has a role to play in morality and responsibility for action – then totalitarianism is the future. Plan and simple.

      I know it hard for some, but we are looking at the collapse of an economic system in our lifetime. This is not being driven by us personally, nor by nations nor is it predictable when it will fall over, but it is going to. I don’t like the idea, I really don’t, but look around and read what the hell is going on. Even the world bank (not a left wing group at all) and there report on climate change – They are even talking about fundamental changes to the way we run our lives and the economy.

      “There, the idea is to just get on with the work needing to be done with the idea that the people in authority will follow. No-one is asking for permission or waiting for governance or waiting for the power structures to change, they’re doing what needs to be done and then some of them are seeking ways to engage with existing authority (to varying degrees of success).”

      OMG yes, I could not agree more. As an anarchist you know I’m going to say bugger the authority, how can they justify their legitimacy – generally they can’t.

      “If govt is to devolve, then how do we maintain the ethics of community?”

      Governance verses Government chestnut. Don’t you think Weka with more democracy, not less, then ideas of governance come to the for. We do governance all the time, family, work, iwi, etc… Were use the form, and I have no problem with the that, indeed it could be argued as amoral familists it is the only real form of relationships we understand. (I digress) The mind set shift is we normally see/secede the handing of that form to government. We don’t need to, we can govern ourselves.

      Finally thanks Weka and Bill for starting the brain juices working this morning.

      • weka 2.2.1

        Not sure what you mean by libertarian left there adam, nor why you think that what I said negates it. Engari, fwiw, I don’t see libertarian ethics, as I hear them presented nowadays, as being a huge part of the left in NZ. although they definitely have a strong presence in some sub-cultures. Like I said, there is the expectation historically that the government has a responsibility to meet the communal needs of the people (health, education, roading, law etc). There has been some tension between that and those who seek to work beyond that model. A classic contemporary example is Maori wanting control of funds to deliver social security to their own people outside of WINZ/MSD. This get’s called ‘privatisation’ (and other things) by many in the left. Myself, I completely understand where Maori are coming from with this – they want to establish their own systems of governance if you like and they know that they are the best people to deliver support to their people. I can’t see why a new model can’t be set up, but that is beyond what the traditional left and right in NZ can cope with. (I don’t seen an inherent contradiction between the tradition social ethic of the left and that btw).

        Governance verses Government chestnut. Don’t you think Weka with more democracy, not less, then ideas of governance come to the for. We do governance all the time, family, work, iwi, etc… Were use the form, and I have no problem with the that, indeed it could be argued as amoral familists it is the only real form of relationships we understand. (I digress) The mind set shift is we normally see/secede the handing of that form to government. We don’t need to, we can govern ourselves.

        Yes, more democracy, of course. I just don’t see anarchy as presenting anything viable at this stage, sorry. Potential yes, definitely; useable in the immediate future, no. I also don’t see any evidence that we can govern ourselves (and bear in mind I’ve been involved in many different kinds of alternative systems for many years). Again, potential but not working models yet. Left to ourselves, eg if the global economy collapsed suddenly, and the NZ govt followed suit, I think we would have multiple systems springing up in NZ, some good, some bad, and we would all be on a mighty learning curve. The main thing I think about is how many people in NZ haven’t even been exposed to the ideas you are talking about, let alone adopted them or practiced them before the shit hits the fan. Of all the things I’m aware of I think iwi probably have the most to offer, but colonisation has taken its toll there too in terms of how to organise collectively.

        • Bill 2.2.1.1

          Just want to pick up on this one point –

          I also don’t see any evidence that we can govern ourselves..

          Couple of questions. Why would we expect to see any such evidence when we are inculcated from a very young age and by all the institutions we encounter to believe that others should govern us?

          Given the preponderance and reach of institutions that assume to govern us, where would the spaces be that would have afforded the opportunity to practice self governance?

          Given the depth of the conditioning mentioned in my first question here, why would we expect people to develop self governance systems and structures as a fall back or default position when ‘traditional’ or taught means of governance are at our disposal?

          If, as you imply, we can’t govern ourselves (and I hope my questions sign-post why I don’t ascribe to that view), then how on earth can we hold to the belief that some of us can somehow govern all of us?

          We might not be at all well practiced in self governance. But we have to try whenever and wherever it is possible. If we don’t make the effort and the mistakes, then all we are doing is inviting authoritarian forms of governance to hold sway over us and by our own measure of supposed inability, justifying their position of authority over us.

          • weka 2.2.1.1.1

            I’m not suggesting that there should be evidence that we can govern ourselves. I just responded to what I thought adam was saying, that it’s done an dusted that we can. I have no problem with the theory, I just don’t see enough of the practice yet.

            Having said that ;-) I’m not sure what you mean by self-governance, whether you mean individual or collective. Individually there are plenty of people that practice self-governance as individuals despite the socialisations. And there are attempts to practice collectively too, but it was these I was aiming my major criticism at.

            “Given the depth of the conditioning mentioned in my first question here, why would we expect people to develop self governance systems and structures as a fall back or default position when ‘traditional’ or taught means of governance are at our disposal?”

            Plenty of people are dissatisfied with the status quo. And plenty of people have theorised and tried to put into practice alternatives. Any expectation I have is based on observation. Not sure what you mean by default there though.

            “If, as you imply, we can’t govern ourselves (and I hope my questions sign-post why I don’t ascribe to that view), then how on earth can we hold to the belief that some of us can somehow govern all of us?”

            I said we can’t govern ourselves yet collectively (at this time). I think if we could we would be doing so, at least in some lesser ways even if not on a large scale.

            “We might not be at all well practiced in self governance. But we have to try whenever and wherever it is possible. If we don’t make the effort and the mistakes, then all we are doing is inviting authoritarian forms of governance to hold sway over us and by our own measure of supposed inability, justifying their position of authority over us.”

            Sure, and as noted, there is plenty of potential. I just don’t want to start with the assumption that things are givens, which is what adam seemed to me to be doing. For instance, we already know that here on ts we have no consensus on self-governance. This is the major limitation of the anarchist views (as I understand them from the outside). I know people I trust to self govern in the absense of collective governance. It’s the other buggers that worry me.

            I also don’t accept the absolutist position of either complete self-governance or authoritarianism as the only options. I would prefer to look at what we can work with from where we are now.

  3. shorts 3

    a central role of govt is to decide how determine the policy(s) the state will follow, how to implement them and how to enforce them – something our current govt (in particular) is very much lacking at

    of the parties I feel the greens and mana are actually thinking about the changing world and how best to adapt and implement policies to address our future/present challenges, labour is dragging the chain behind them (not necessarily a bad thing) and the right parties all have their heads in sand prefering to do the bidding of others (not the public)

  4. blue leopard (Get Lost GCSB Bill) 4

    @ Bill

    Hmm I don’t agree with your definition of the ‘traditional role’ of government – you appear to be speaking about the economic role of government – yet having done so have dismissed other important roles of governments.

    This is a website providing legal information from Cornell University in the USA, which provides a couple of lists outlining the roles governments traditionally take part in:

    (1) Schools.

    (2) Hospitals.

    (3) Fire prevention.

    (4) Police protection.

    (5) Sanitation.

    (6) Public health.

    (7) Parks and recreation.

    (8) Libraries.

    (9) Museums.

    (12) Sewage treatment.

    [second list]

    1) Finance (including Auditor, Budget and Comptroller).

    (2) Elections.

    (3) Personnel.

    (4) Public works.

    (5) Office of the Mayor.

    (6) Legal Affairs.

    (7) Planning.

    (8) Waterworks.

    (9) Social services.

    (10) Street and highway construction and maintenance.

    (11) Automobile licensing.

    Omitting these other aspects of government ends up turning the argument you are presenting into somewhat of a strawman – I doubt this was your intention – however when these other important services are acknowledged it undermines the point you are attempting to make.

    Even taking your definition into account, and noting this part of it:

    “On the other they have been known to serve the interests of citizens by protecting us from the worse excesses of the market.”

    Had governments not been nearly completely derelict in their duty of this aspect – [from having been fanatically following extremist ideas of neo-liberal ideology] – then I doubt very much that ‘the markets’ would be collapsing as they are currently doing. The aggressive pursuit of deregulation has allowed dishonesty, corruption and fraud to flourish and I believe it is this [and these 'qualities'] that has lead to the ‘fall’ we are witnessing.

    Notwithstanding this sad state of affairs – governments still have roles of social and structural services and are not solely ‘economic’ managers.

    • Bill 4.1

      yeah bl – I didn’t claim to offer up anything beyond a very broad brush stroke of what a government does in a market context. I’ll stand by that as sufficient for the point I was making.

      If you run down the list you provide and then reflect on whether the service or infrastructure was initially provided to facilitate or protect business and the business environment or whether it was intended as being provided for the public good you might get an idea of where I’m coming from. Also maybe reflect on many came about as a reaction to the endless clusterfuck that resulted from usurping community in favour of industrial units (forced enclosures and industrialisation). Some examples – education. Was it done as an act of philanthropy or did factory owners need workers who were able to read? Fire service – initially a desire to protect private property. Same with the police. Health services – initially for what or who? Maybe also think your way through how many developed in a given direction due to public pressure or other sources of fear bearing on government, rather then any altruistic desire to ‘do good’.

      Dunno about your last bit. Market economies are notoriously unstable. And sure, if the liberal elites had been held to account as they were some decades back by mass movements, then we wouldn’t be having all this austerity nonsense.

      edit – damned internet gremlins. Didn’t mean to post in triplicate.

      • Colonial Viper 4.1.1

        For a while there, some members of the power elite took enlightenment values and principles quite seriously. Whether it was from a religious perspective or a humanist perspective. And in the modern day (the last 100-200 years) an educated, liberal elite helped to ensure that incremental positive change kept occurring in society.

        Nowadays those same types of people seem pre-occupied with other more material concerns, including careerism and materialism.

        • blue leopard (Get Lost GCSB Bill) 4.1.1.1

          + 1

          Thank you CV, thank you for acknowledging what used to exist and still does in some circles.

          [& so much more succinctly than my fulmination @ comment 9!]

        • Bill 4.1.1.2

          Routinely, pressure has had to be applied to elite liberal circles before progressive reforms have eventuated. (Thinking women’s rights, labour rights, ‘racial’ equality etc)

          • Colonial Viper 4.1.1.2.1

            Yes, exactly. In a way, you have to co-opt and seduce those who are sympathetic within the liberal elite, then pressure, leverage or force the rest who are resistant.

            By the way, that’s also the strategy that the right wing and corporate interests have done to help turn the liberal elite against the working class and the underclass. Trotter’s recent writing on how non neo-lib economists in NZ were shut down and shut out is very instructive.

      • blue leopard (Get Lost GCSB Bill) 4.1.2

        My answer to Bill is at comment 9

  5. Colonial Viper 5

    Organised mass movements of people placing civic pressure on political parties and governments to ‘do the right thing’ are crucial.

    I think Bill is right; 20-30 years ago we could have got away as a civilisation with moderate and incremental changes to deal with climate change, peak fossil fuels and income inequality.

    Instead, we allowed the take over of govts by corporates and multi-millionaires, and now it’s starting to look too late to avert a civilisation scale disaster led by a toxic combination of the insane and the ignorant.

    But we have to try.

  6. captain hook 6

    I would disagree that government is holding on to all its traditonal roles. It is now under constant attack and traducement from the neo liberals who want to steal all they can from the state and remove its influence from any remaining public good.
    they also equate the public good with communism and their cause as capitalism when in fact it is just theft by stealth.
    time for people to stand up and tell it like it is.

    • Bill 6.1

      I can see where you’re coming from. When I offered the broad brush stroke in the post, I was well aware that really, governments have only been concerned with the market environment until pushed by popular demand (the suffragettes, labour movements, civil rights movements etc).

      Now, they have been more or less captured by the corporates whose influence faces no real opposition from the presence of popular movements pushing in other directions . So the future, as it stands, would seem to offer corporatism or a state centered back lash resulting in a command economy. Neither scenario does any of us 5/8ths of fuck all good.

      We need change. Big change. And a part of that could involve a positive change in the way governments see themselves and their role. Don’t think I’m holding my breath by the way – it’s probably going to be hard roe to hoe, involving us going up against both the state and the corporate sector.

      Now, where was that tiny ray of hope I tried to implant in the post? Fuckit. Gone. Oh well, back to reality then.

  7. captain hook 7

    There isn’t much hope at the moment.
    the world is being run by accountants and psychos who can just never have enough and as the world environment turns to custard and all the rest they dont give a stuff because they are the BOSS.
    pretty simple really.

  8. Flip 8

    Big topic there Bill.

    I think you have missed the point of government though. Fundamentally it is there to protect the security in the broadest sense of its people now and into the future. If government kept that in mind I think they’d have a few more clues.

    It loses its legitimacy when it fails to do this for most of the people it is there to serve.

    I could catalog the many ways in which the government should do that and its failures currently (and to be fair some successes) but I do not have the time/energy or incentive to do it.

    The management of economic markets is but one aspect it is failing in.

    • Bill 8.1

      Fundamentally it is there to protect the security in the broadest sense of its people now and into the future

      Try squaring that with the history of social struggle and sacrifice embarked on by people against government. I can’t.

      • Flip 8.1.1

        That would take a book to do. And in trying there is a good chance you might fail though I’m sure individuals would stand out. But the ideal exists and perhaps if the system was better, then it would produced a better quality of person and we’d get closer to the ideal.

        Two things are flawed. The system and the people. Both can stand improving.

        Are people the products of the system or the system a product of people? Probably both are true.

  9. blue leopard (Get Lost GCSB Bill) 9

    If you run down the list you provide and then reflect on whether the service or infrastructure was initially provided to facilitate or protect business and the business environment or whether it was intended as being provided for the public good you might get an idea of where I’m coming from.

    I feel that you (amongst others) are rewriting history in order to make sense of what is going on now and it is not accurate nor helpful – infact I believe you are falling into a trap of buying into the framing those that you politically oppose.

    Sure, some of these services may have facilitated business – even perhaps started with that aim -(although perhaps not) yet please recall and acknowledge that there did used to be the idea out amongst many in the community that “community” existed and that existence was highly valued. Please do not forget that values other than profit motive did used to be important.

    There is a difference between the ideology that businesses and jobs were important and good for the community and therefore a government supplying services that support these community-benefit-providers and the one that we have now which is community is simply a ‘made up notion’ and profit is the value to aim at – in fact aiming at profit will provide us with all the social needs and services [oops! Not that 'social' should be acknowledged to exist, let us remember - it is an only the individual exists zone from here on in snuffle snuffle].

    I posit that these services started with the best intentions – at least some of them and when business interests became stronger and more powerful they warped them to suit themselves*.

    Today people such as yourself are observing how warped and self interested things have become and are assuming that this is the way it has always been. That the motivates running rampant now (because they have been encouraged by powerful interests*) are the sole motives that exist now and are the only ones that ever existed.*

    I think this is a sad rewrite of history and ignores those people now and in history that actually acted successfully to make this world a better place – and boy do we directly benefit from the improvements those people made – and are making – yet no longer do we even have the honour to acknowledge those peoples’ motives ever existed.

    So no, Bill, I do not think that governments have been quite as narrowly focussed and devoid of good intention as they are now – I imagine it has usually been a mix of ‘good’ (wider interests: acknowledging peoples’ interests) and ‘bad’ (narrow & self-serving) intentions and the balance at present is increasingly weighted toward the ‘bad’.

    * If government was always the way that you seem to think – then why is this professor is writing about the ‘anti-government’ campaign? [conducted by big business & powerful people]. Surely Big business wouldn’t need such a campaign if governments had been as focussed on business as you appear to think?

    http://www.governmentisgood.com/articles.php?aid=9&p=1

    about the professor

    • Colonial Viper 9.1

      Indeed. Falling for the Right Wing’s “government is the problem” meme is not going to be very helpful to us. Yes, governments in the past have been keen to help business interests…but when those business interests are owned by people who live in the same town as you, the scope for malfaesance is much more limited than when those business interests are multinational and anonymous.

      Where it has gone wrong now (esp in the USA and UK) is that the power of government and of corporations (particularly the banks) not only far overshadows anything that legitimate citizens can gather on their own behalf (since unions and various civil organisations have been smashed) but that governmental and private sector corporate power have been merging.

      In NZ we still have viable opportunities to make our democratic systems fairer, bolster the power and transparency of the judiciary and other regulatory bodies, and increase the role played by local communities. Taking real steps towards economic democracy is also still possible.

      But for how much longer however, I am not sure.

    • Bill 9.2

      In a rush. Will respond anon.

    • Bill 9.3

      I think this is a sad rewrite of history and ignores those people now and in history that actually acted successfully to make this world a better place – and boy do we directly benefit from the improvements those people made – and are making – yet no longer do we even have the honour to acknowledge those peoples’ motives ever existed.

      I in no way ignore or dismiss people or acts that have pressured government into ‘doing the right thing’. Nye Bevin comes instantly to mind. And, of course, there have been many other good people trying to work through government. But that doesn’t diminish the fact that our governments have institutionally been generally far from benign.

      Think of the suffragettes, the unionists and those engaged with civil rights movements etc who had to fight, and fight hard and long to wrest concessions from governments that were content to break heads.

      A quick walk through history from the callous ‘free market’ dogma of the Victorian era, up through the slaughter of millions in WWI and millions more in WWII with depression and oppression sandwiched in between, kind of blows away any argument for how benign governments have been.

      Post WWII, gains were made. But they were made because western governments were shit scared that the populace would find state communism attractive and because people were demanding change.. And when the idea surfaced in the 80s that all gains should be rolled back, did you witness any western government opposing the idea? People in various countries did, but their governments? I didn’t.

      • blue leopard (Get Lost GCSB Bill) 9.3.1

        Hi Bill,

        I think that you would be sorely disappointed if you think that removing government from society will end wars.

        Humans have good qualities and bad ones – this is reflected in governments.

        I view governments as a way to organise large groups of people – I am open to alternative forms of organisation yet fail to view there would be any ‘structure’ that would cause an end to war; as soon as people collect together in groups – competition and wanting what the other group has arises – this is best addressed by ethics, not structures (or removing structures completely).

        Emphasising the golden rule, cooperation, cause and effect, valuing diversity, ensuring wealth is spread around and channelling our propensity for aggression in some way are ways that can counteract our aggressive streak – not removing our organisational structures -which, in my view, would likely create more conflict – not less (I am open to being proven wrong on that one – would prefer to be wrong on this. It would however take some convincing!)

        We have become more capable of killing en masse because of technological development. We also have private interests making weapons – who need these weapons to be used so they can make more profit, we have powerful groups in the world that want more and more profit and power – and don’t care about harming other lives nor wiping out whole cultures in the process. Addressing these problems is more likely to lead to less wars – dropping governments will simply lead to other groups being created and I am extremely confident that conflicts between the new groups would arise.

        • Bill 9.3.1.1

          Yeah bl. Except I didn’t say anything about ‘removing government from society’. If anything, what I’m proposing is a way to ensure that government is firmly embedded within society. At the moment it sits somewhat separate and above.

          Embedding government within society would obviously diminish the concentrations of power you signpost in your comment…democracy always undercuts any concentration of power or influence .

          You also don’t seem to give any consideration of how structures impact on behaviour. As a brief example, market economies reward and so encourage certain behaviours (competition and ‘doing over’ your ‘neighbour’) while failing to award others (co-operation).

          Structure is important and not the neutral phenomenon you appear to think it is.

          • blue leopard (Get Lost GCSB Bill) 9.3.1.1.1

            @ Bill

            I fairly well agree with the points you make here.

            Somewhere along the line I thought you were arguing against government – the manner in which you omitted to acknowledge all the roles governments conduct undermines the good that they do (sometimes) serve and I really do think that this plays into the anti-government theme of powerful interests which has successfully consolidated their power and undermined democracy.

            I did miss your main point which if I am [now] understanding correctly is one of trying to motivate people to join in – not sit on the side-lines – I agree with this and apologise for having missed your main point!

            “You also don’t seem to give any consideration of how structures impact on behaviour. As a brief example, market economies reward and so encourage certain behaviours (competition and ‘doing over’ your ‘neighbour’) while failing to award others (co-operation).”

            Good point – this is true. My belief is that the whole ‘individualistic and competitiveness’ emphasis has come from an aversion to acknowledging ethics (how people got ‘right put off’ Christianity from all the negative things Christian organisations pursued – such as anti-intellectualism and child molesting and proceeded to ‘throw the baby out with the bathwater’), and this is where I was coming from re emphasis on ethics, however you do make a good point – I did omit this aspect and should have know better after having read and discussed here on The Standard the article by Caleb Rosado which covered that point well.

    • adam 9.4

      Where to begin blue leopard (Get Lost GCSB Bill) where to begin.

      “So no, Bill, I do not think that governments have been quite as narrowly focussed and devoid of good intention as they are now – I imagine it has usually been a mix of ‘good’ (wider interests: acknowledging peoples’ interests) and ‘bad’ (narrow & self-serving) intentions and the balance at present is increasingly weighted toward the ‘bad’.”

      The road to hell is paved with…good intentions. Sometimes there is a reason for a cliche, feel free to read what you said again. Because the right/capital think that good intentions are on their side too. Not all, I’m pretty sure there are some in Labour and National who know its all a big lie and what they are doing is not good for anyone but a few.

      To your other comments blue leopard, please I know we live in NZ and the state/government here is quite pervasive and everywhere. Indeed it goes a long way into our lives and business. But, you sound like an apologist for the state, it kinda sounds like the same arguments Maori and all other indigenous people get about all the good colonisation has done for them. See here’s a list even, be thankful you have a government to tell you what good they do and how you can do the right thing in return.

      Look I’m an anarchist blue leopard, so I will ask one question. Why can’t you and yours be able to perform what’s on your list – once you get use to being democratic? Because the only one on your list I think we need some real hard out organization on is point (6) Public health. But then again, what is to stop us from being federal, or any other organic structure we might wish to choice to spread over the country? And BL a history of the modern state is the history of mass death, and winners in history don’t talk about all the killing they do, because they won.

      • blue leopard (Get Lost GCSB Bill) 9.4.1

        @ adam

        “The road to hell is paved with…good intentions. Sometimes there is a reason for a cliché…”

        Yes there is sometimes a reason for a cliché – it is a short saying that quickly relays a wise idea – clichés can also be quoted inappropriately and lead to messed up ideas. I consider the latter is what you have done in your comment.

        “The road to hell is paved with…good intentions.” means that we have to take a great deal of care and be thoughtful about our good intentions and specifically what new conditions pursuing them will create. I.e. we don’t always create what we intend – sometimes good intentions lead to unintended bad consequences however sometimes they don’t

        This cliché doesn’t mean that all good intentions lead to hell! It doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t cultivate good intentions; it means that we need to consider with great care what effects our good intentions will create.

        I’m saying that some politicians have good intentions and have improved things for a lot of people for having had them. As others on this thread have mentioned – this has often come about from people pressure – pressure from people out here in society – who also have good intentions.

        Good intentions are not a sign that everything is going to go wrong! – I sincerely hope that is not what you meant by quoting that cliché in response to what I wrote – because that really is the implication you have left in my mind from your having done so.

        “But, you sound like an apologist for the state, it kinda sounds like the same arguments Maori and all other indigenous people get about all the good colonisation has done for them. See here’s a list even, be thankful you have a government to tell you what good they do and how you can do the right thing in return. “

        I listed what I saw as the ‘traditional role of government’ (I am wondering now whether some are incorrect and are actually roles of the State, not government). Where did I ‘apologise’ for any malpractice by the State? I didn’t .

        To the contrary, there was a severe criticism that successive governments have been derelict in their duty in my first comment. Did you miss that? [Perhaps it is you that needed to read my comment again]

        Yes it can be read that I believe government provides a beneficial role in society – No this doesn’t mean I think that all things a government or State does is good.

  10. Ad 10

    1. We do at least need a well regulated society, even if we have no democracy.
    We can now make a distinction in the term “government” between democratic enagagement, and regulation. New Zealand has not gone to hell in a handcart despite all kinds of major utilities shifting from public to private hands (not that I like it). So public regulation is different to public ownership, and is also different to public democratic accountability.

    2. We need security from harm from those who are more powerful than us.
    There’s a fair number of instutitions needed for that.

    3. We may argue that we don’t need any redistribution of wealth at all. Go for it. But I think we need at least some minimal tax. This needs collecting across a country rather than across a city, because rural residents would never be able to afford services themselves.

    4. Humans have got along without states for quite some times, but they tend to start looking pretty feudal pretty fast. Might be worth reading up on those stories of shipwrecked groups of people – why some of them have worked, why others fail.

    5. Have another look at the series “Deadwood”, this time as a group on the cusp of forming society, feeling themlseves through the necessity for cetain kinds of order. Then have a read of the UN Declaration fo Human Rights – and think about the kinds of collective will needed to achieve those.

  11. Really interesting post, Bill.

    Have you ever read Monbiot’s Age of Consent?

    It goes in the opposite direction from what you are suggesting, but with the same goal – democratisation of how we organise ourselves. He argues for the institution (via institutions) of global democracy to match corporate globalisation.

    If I remember correctly from when I read it, he discusses self-governance movements (e.g., anarchism) and comes up with the usual criticism – what does a thoroughly non-hierarchical, democratic collectivity do when it is confronted with a centralised entity that seeks to subdue or destroy it?

    From hunter-gatherer bands to the Spanish Civil War, the question is always how such thoroughly democratic arrangements are able to protect themselves from centrally-organised force.

    I see modern nation states, fundamentally, as mechanisms established to operate, enforce and embed ‘real-existent’ capitalist market economies and other totalitarian systems (‘totalitarian’ in the technical sense – totalising systems that allow no alternatives).

    A thoroughly democratic (i.e., non-centralised, self-governing) world would therefore be one without nations. No New Zealand, no Australia, no United States, no China … no Leviathan.

    Without market economies to administer, modern nation states lose their point. Which is not to say that some of their functions would no longer need to be addressed – but probably not ‘nationally’. ‘Custom’ – rather than law – would start to matter a lot more.

    • Bill 11.1

      No – never read it. Would I be right in guessing that he’s offering up some variant on ‘democratic centralism’?

      The question of the defence of democracy if or when it’s assailed by a centralised force is, I agree, a particularly difficult one. Beyond non-compliance with such authorities at a deep cultural level persisting for, if necessary years or even through generations, and guerilla ‘hit and run’ tactics in a situation of ongoing conflict, I don’t have any answers.

      Presumably, any centralised authority would have had to have built itself up from some base of ‘consent to be ruled’. In a democratic world, the question could just be as well turned on its head then and we could ask how such centralised force would ever gain a foothold in the first place.

      And yes. No nation states or whatever in a democratised world.

      • Puddleglum 11.1.1

        I actually think that in the long run – and that may well be a VERY long run – the only sustainable form of global human social organisation (assuming we endure long enough for that option to happen) is a non-hierarchical, democratic form. I have no idea how that could – or will – happen but, while that might be disappointing for me, I don’t think my lack of comprehension of that process has any influence on the likelihood of it happening.

        In natural systems, complex entities (like multi-cellular life forms) don’t come into existence by the subjugation of lower levels but, rather, arise through the interests of the component ‘lower levels’ being sufficiently met that engaging in complex forms of life works.

        I can’t see why it would be any different for human social organisation. Subordination is never a long-term ‘goer’ in evolution – but incorporation is commonplace (e.g., mitochondria in cells – hardly subordinated and, without them, cellular existence would be impossible).

        As a species, we’ve already taken the ‘no going back’ form of inherent sociality. Our particular form of individuality – personhood in all of its various and complex forms – depends upon relatively stable and supportive social systems for its existence. Destroy that and you destroy persons, which are perhaps the most impressive by-product of human social organisation (far more impressive than the pyramids, flying to the moon, etc.).

        And individual diversity, incorporated into a social system, is just what has made our form of sociality successful. In the ‘big picture’ I like to think that the short period since we departed from a roaming, hunter-gatherer form of life (i.e., the period of time we call ‘history’ or ‘civilisation’) is just a transitional process of adjustment to becoming a globally pervasive species. We haven’t yet worked out how to transform a pretty creative and successful (or at least self-sustaining) small-scale form of sociality into one that can inhabit the entire earth in a reasonably enduring way.

        If we are to avoid social suicide, there’s only one way to go now – ‘Horton Hears a Who‘; and ‘everyone counts‘.

        • Bill 11.1.1.1

          In natural systems, complex entities (like multi-cellular life forms) don’t come into existence by the subjugation of lower levels but, rather, arise through the interests of the component ‘lower levels’ being sufficiently met that engaging in complex forms of life works.

          I can’t see why it would be any different for human social organisation.

          I think I touched on that theme in the ‘Shh It’s the P word” post I did a while back – (maybe in comments? – can’t quite remember). Anyway, complex order arising from simple initial conditions as against the chaos that seems to reign when there are attempts to impose order from above.

          Maybe one day…..

          • Puddleglum 11.1.1.1.1

            Yep, you did.

            Just wanted to indicate that I think you’re right.

            There’s only one way forward – all the other apparent doors have brick walls behind them.

  12. Flip 12

    Many have completely bought into the ‘market’ being the only answer to anything.

    It looks and smells like an ideological belief, and faith in Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations as the truth. It is ‘The Bible’ of modern economics. It brings out the religious fever of the right. A lot of economic experts are the priest of the new religion. It looks more like a religion the more one looks at it.

    • adam 12.1

      Funny you should say that … *grins* I always ask those who are free marketeers if they believe in logic and reason. And if they say yes – then I ask do they believe in the unseen hand, and if they say yes – I ask them about their fairies at the bottom of their garden.

      Your so right – they are the new priests, they believe in something which defies logic and reason.

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