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Guest Post: Dancing to the Neo-Liberal Songbook

Written By: - Date published: 10:19 am, May 23rd, 2016 - 25 comments
Categories: capitalism, class war, Deep stuff, democracy under attack, Economy, Politics, Privatisation, Unions - Tags: , ,

Reflections on Noam Chomsky’s ‘Requiem for the American Dream.’

A Guest Post by Tony Veitch.

In his powerful 2015 documentary, Requiem for the American Dream, Noam Chomsky delineates 10 principles that motivate the Neo Liberals in the United States and, indeed, all over the world. These principles echo Adam Smith’s warning in The Wealth of Nations, where he wrote:

“… all for ourselves and nothing for other people, seems, in every age of the world, to have been the vile maxim of the masters of mankind.”

It seems to me, while watching the film, that we have seen ample evidence of the vile maxim since the 1980s. Most, if not all of these principles, have been applied by the neo-libs in New Zealand  over the last 30 or so years.  Many people have commented on how we have become a mean, self-centred society. This is how that neo-liberal aim has been achieved:

1. Reduce Democracy

Nearly a million New Zealanders didn’t bother to vote in the last general election. People feel disenfranchised and powerless, as if their single vote cannot make any difference. And, always, a low voter turnout favours the right. The right want a passive, disillusioned and accepting population; passionate about rugby and cricket and Lotto, but indifferent to the plight of the homeless or the inequalities in our society.

The left needs to have feet on the ground next election, door knocking and reminding people of their democratic rights and their democratic obligations.

2. Shape Ideology

To my mind this ties in with the first principle. We have been fed the mantra (or the myth) that the the free market model is the ideal, that business knows best. Yet business, being a hierarchical model, is actually inimical to democracy, or the participatory ideal. We have been subtly fed anti-democratic ideas by successive governments since the 1980s. However, business, as is so often proved, does not always know best.

3. Redesign the Economy

Jane Kelsey termed the New Zealand economic model the FIRE economy. Finance, insurance and real estate. This, coupled with the off-shoring of jobs, has transformed our economy in the last 30 years, to the extent that it is hardly the same country I grew up in.

Everything now is expressed in terms of cost, but little attention is paid to value in a social sense. Real wages have not increased in proportion to productivity and worker insecurity has been deliberately increased because it keeps the lid on workers’ wages. Capital is free to move in search of better returns; labour is not so easily moved.

4. Shift the Burden

GST, perhaps more than any other tax, shifts the burden from the wealthy to the poor. Coupled with tax cuts for the top earners, and the fact that corporates Apple and Compass can effectively pay little or no tax, this puts the burden for social amenities on the precariat.

5. Attack Solidarity

The vile maxim again. We have also seen a vilifying of the ‘losers’ on various forms of welfare, which is an attack on the solidarity of society. Government services have been systematically defunded, which largely hurts the poor most. Defunding also leads to calls for privatisation, because the last big untapped reservoir of income for corporates is the government tax take. So, looking at it this way, charter schools, for example, are just a form of corporate welfare.

6. Run the Regulators

Crony capitalism. National, ACT and Labour ex-MPs being given sinecures in organisations whose task it is to lobby government to secure corporate welfare and turn a blind eye when regulations are ignored or transgressed. A good recent example is the fishing industry.

The market prevails for the poor, but the rich have quite another set of rules.

7. Engineer Elections

Corporate donors mean National has much more money to employ focus groups and spend on shaping policy. In fact, corporates are influencing and interfering in the democratic process of this country. And do they expect a payback? Of course they do and the recent Scenic Hotels scandal is a classic example.

Where elections cannot engineered, simply remove the democratic mandate, as National have done with Canterbury’s ECan.

8. Keep the Rabble in Line

One of the most pervasive actions of the neo-libs has been their sustained attack on the union movement in this country. From a peak membership of about 48% in the 80’s, the movement has declined to about 16% in 2014. There is a direct correlation between social equality and high union membership. We feel uncomfortable in New Zealand talking about class, but, make no mistake, the wealthy have been engaged in class warfare for the last 30 years.

9. Manufacture Consent

I can recall Peter Ustinov (I think) quipping that he came to New Zealand in the 1960s, arriving on a Sunday, found the country was closed, so went home again. Now we have become a consumer society, where retail chains demand the ‘right’ to open over Easter and until midnight before Christmas. We have been trained by the PR, marketing and advertising industry to focus on the superficial things in life. Extend the ‘buy, buy, buy,’ without serious thought about need, to the general elections and you get voters motivated by greed and fear rather than by a rational discussion of the issues.

10. Marginalise the population

The vile maxim again. Divide and conquer. Demonise large sections of the people, the poor, the ‘bludgers’, the different, while lauding those few who are successful.

Looking at the principles Chomsky has identified, it’s easy to see the blueprint in operation in New Zealand. The documentary is available on Netflix and online. It’s well worth your time to watch it, because it will show you that those things you always suspected were going on really are going on. It’s not random, it’s not coincidence. It’s part of a plan.

To end, a quote from Noam Chomsky:

“There are . . . serious flaws in our society . . . which are going to have to be corrected by operating outside the framework of what is commonly accepted.”

If that is not a call for civil disobedience on a massive scale . . . well, I don’t know what is!

25 comments on “Guest Post: Dancing to the Neo-Liberal Songbook ”

  1. Wow! True colors and all that! Sad really!

  2. Bill 2

    Just so people know. The very first hyperlink, unlike the second, is a link to the actual film/doc.

    And yes, it’s well worth the watch.

    And thanks Tony for doing this post to provide a take in a New Zealand context.

  3. Colonial Viper 3

    4. Shift the Burden

    GST, perhaps more than any other tax, shifts the burden from the wealthy to the poor.

    GST is a hugely regressive tax, and everyone knew it when it was introduced by the neoliberals.

    We now need a anti-neoliberal political party that is willing to scrap GST and replace it with a Financial Transactions Tax or other scheme.

    BTW do the Greens have a position on GST?

    • Johan 3.1

      To: CV
      Nothing wrong with GST, just make a quick calculation on how much this Tory gov’t siphoned out of the Canterbury rebuild, from GST, taxes on wages and company profits;-)))

    • weka 3.2

      The Greens consider GST a regressive tax that is unfair on people with low incomes and low wealth. When National raised GST they proposed an eco-tax instead (carbon and agricultural water use). They also gave National shit on their blog each anniversary of the GST raising because Key had said National wouldn’t.

      The GP tax policy isn’t online at the moment (I’ll assume it’s being revised), but I found this in the archives from 2010.


      It doesn’t mention GST at all, which surprises me (I got the above stuff from the GP blogs and press releases). Would be interested in what you think about their tax policy in general.

      Ecological tax reform is a simple idea: shift taxes off work and enterprise, and onto waste, pollution and scarce resources.

      • Colonial Viper 3.2.1

        I prefer my old Labour branch’s take on GST: 20% GST applying to each dollar of an item or service over $100. Which turns it into a wealth tax.

        It is effectively 0% GST on all items required for day to day living.

        • Craig H

          That’s an interesting idea. One suspects there would be a lot of items sold at $99.90 though…

  4. esoteric pineapples 4

    “If that is not a call for civil disobedience on a massive scale . . . well, I don’t know what is!” – in a country where it is socially unacceptable to even boo the Prime Minister

  5. Ad 5

    God this is awful.

  6. The New Student 6

    Well that certainly consolidates my random musings. Kia ora Tony

  7. Draco T Bastard 7

    We feel uncomfortable in New Zealand talking about class, but, make no mistake, the wealthy have been engaged in class warfare for the last 30 years.

    The wealthy always engage in class warfare. Simply can not have wealthy people without such warfare happening.

  8. Richardrawshark 8

    is this tin foil hat stuff? Ok i see the link, but the natural progression of this ends up at some point in anarchy or massive revolutions, History has many examples.

    Ideologically they aim for small government user pays I thought, is not what your saying a form of scaremongering?

    Did they raise GST deliberately for that purpose or instead to make up for the rich tax cut more simply.


  9. weka 9

    “A Guest Post by Tony Veitch.”

    Might it be a good idea to put a note beside that that this is Tony, not the other one?

    • I did think about it, weka, but I think the other Tony Veitch is the one that has the problem. I’m sure readers will quickly realise that our Tony is a clever, thoughtful person, not a self absorbed victim blaming criminal.

      • weka 9.1.1

        Fair enough trp, I was just mindful of the recent post with the name in the title that more intermitten readers might have seen.

        • te reo putake

          Ha! That’s one of the methods Slater uses to inflate his numbers over at WO. We’re not that shallow and not that bothered!

          • lprent

            My only issue with inflated numbers on this site is figuring out what causes them so that I can make them drop back to reality. I’m interested in measuring what is actually happening rather than doing a Cameron and inflating numbers.

            Ok this got rather long. Kicking the rest of the comment to OpenMike.

          • weka

            Sorry, I don’t understand what you mean there trp. I meant that people that were upset by the post defending TV the abuser might be shocked to see a guest poster by TV. Nothing to do with inflating numbers.

    • billmurray 9.2

      Thanks for bringing that up, I was not going to read when I saw the pen name, this Tony Veich needs to get new pen-name.
      I intend to get doc’o, thanks Tony

      • weka 9.2.1

        It is his real name and he doesn’t want to cede to the other one (fair enough too). Tricky.

  10. aerobubble 10

    Zero inflation is the product of govt interventionism, inflation targetting, so much so that instead of price rises companies take on debt and lower service and product quality, directly as a response to big govt neo-liberalism. The financial sector has become so locked into returns, as they depend on leverage those returns into massive debt portfolios, that any infrastructure spending would shake their now post 2008 shonkey positions. Between a unmovable hard place the huge debt mountains, and an infinite force for change as epitomized by rise of outlier candidates, the only reason Clinton is viable is she is a women, all her positions are stale pre-2008. The one play book to rule them all, simplified stupidity, for thirty years has brought us to this crisis.

  11. Doogs 11

    Not Peter Ustinov, I believe Alan Whittaker, a TV Brit TV journalist of the time.

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