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Newsflash: Nation not a Business

Written By: - Date published: 8:11 am, September 2nd, 2010 - 50 comments
Categories: business, Economy, same old national - Tags:

Despite how (and for whom) National Ltd govern, the nation state is still not a business; nor will it ever be.

Bryan Gould has a good article on the difference between government and business – and why businessmen often make bad politicians (take note Steven Joyce).  Concepts that work well in business often don’t flow through to a government managing an entire economy.

For a start the economy requires government spending to be counter-cyclical.  You balance the books in the good times (thanks Michael Cullen), and spend in recession to keep money flowing – so it’s not harder for workers and businesses than needs be.  Labour understood and introduced a spending program just before the election.  They didn’t get to ramp it up properly, so we have far more unemployment than we need to have.  National’s program instead consists of cuts, an increase in GST to depress sales and the economy further, and tax cuts for the rich who have the ability to ride out a recession anyway.

National also fall for the “lump of labour” fallacy – the belief that there is a fixed amount of work available and that the task is to decide how that is to be shared out.  But by investing during a recession you create jobs.  And those jobs create incomes, which allows spending, which creates jobs, which…

Instead National cut.  Operating like a business that needs to batten down the hatches in difficult times they throw men overboard and cut the lifeblood of the country.  We all suffer.

Connected to this is that measurements of success are vastly different in business and government.  The businessman (& National Ltd) see only the famous “bottom line”.  It is all about the mighty dollar.  Governments are representatives of their citizens (all too often figuratively rather than literally); as such they should represent their best interests.  Much like CEOs forgetting the shareholders they’re meant to be enriching when they give themselves another hefty pay-rise, National fail to care about the citizens they’re supposed to be representing.

The measurements of success for a society is the health and happiness of its citizens, not the fiscal deficit.  Whilst we need to live within our means, no citizen is better off without a job.  They don’t do better when your policies and pay stinginess mean that teachers and health professionals are striking.  People aren’t happier the more you spend on prisons, their mental health is not improved by you cutting their access to ready education in their community.  They don’t lead fuller lives when you reduce the ability to get a good start in life with quality early childhood education.

National need to realise that a society is its citizens, not a set of numbers.  An economy is made of people, more than it is made up of dollars.  And government is for the people, not for the accounts ledger.

50 comments on “Newsflash: Nation not a Business ”

  1. Carol 1

    Thank-you, Bunji. I woke up thinking along the lines of your post this morning, especially these bits:

    The measurements of success for a society is the health and happiness of its citizens, not the fiscal deficit….

    National need to realise that a society is its citizens, not a set of numbers. An economy is made of people, more than it is made up of dollars. And government is for the people, not for the accounts ledger.

    And I was thinking we desperately need a government that shifts the focus back to the well-being of the whole society. I think that the first priority should be to articulate the kind of society the country wants, then to develop a range of policies that aim to deliver that. Within those policies should be economic & financial policies aimed at delivering that kind of society.

    But, instead, we have government run by accountants, business people, economists and financial advisors, who prioritise the economic/financial policies, then organise all the other policies around it.

  2. Bored 2

    I read the Gould article with interest earlier, and note that one of the first feedbacks stated this was pure Keynes and likely to draw the opposition of market economists. True, so I switched back to reading Tony Judt “Ill Fares the Land” in which his analysis basically states that the line between private delivery and public goods needed to be pragmatic. Neither has a monopoly of truth.

    From where any informed or critical observer sits neither a “Keynesian” Gould nor his “dry” critics are proposing anything realistic. If they were truly pragmatic they would recognise that both their economic paradigms rely upon a cornucopian abundance model on a finite planet. This is clearly a nonsense. Compound growth makes mathematically certain that limits will be reached, my critique is that neither models allow a flat line sustainable approach.

  3. Rob 3

    Very true Bunji. There is also an issue with it which I have been thinking about recently in the way money spent on staff returns to a government. When the government hires staff it actually gains back a third of the wages it pays them straight away through income tax, it will then proceed to accrue ever more when they spend that money and they get GST, the tax on the wages of the workers who sold it to them and the business tax on profits. It means that they are often losing a far lower amount of revenue than they budget for because it will return to the government as tax within a few months. Businesses on the other hand have only a very small amount of money spent on staff returned to them.

  4. david civil servant 4

    Whereas Labour just persecute those who disagree with them

    http://dimpost.wordpress.com/2010/09/01/blogcoms-unbellyfeel-labpar/

    • bbfloyd 4.1

      davi…. got any more irrelevant or obnoxious comment? you seem to have got lost on the way to kiwiblog.. turn right, and look for a likely rubbish tip. there you go…

      • david civil servant 4.1.1

        Don’t be a cunt bbfloyd.

        • The Voice of Reason 4.1.1.1

          Idiot.

        • Vicky32 4.1.1.2

          david uncivil servant, your language is completely unacceptable. If you must be insulting, vary it a bit, ease up on your feelings against women and perhaps say “don’t be a dick”… 😀
          Deb

          • david civil servant 4.1.1.2.1

            Don’t be a cock Vicky.

            • Loota 4.1.1.2.1.1

              Takes one to know one obviously, eh mate? After all

              “Vulgar language is the last resort of the inarticulate with nothing to say”

            • The Voice of Reason 4.1.1.2.1.2

              The teenage years are full of self doubt and disappointment, David. But don’t worry, one handed typists have their own support group now, so you don’t have to suffer in silence.

  5. Jenny 5

    Bailout ‘may’ boost the economy

    I am underwhelmed;

    So market cheerleaders for the South Canterbury Finance bailout, can only give, at best, a qualified prediction for any positive effects of the bail out, saying it “may” boost the economy. Gee whiz, what a crazy guy that John Key is, gambling all that public money on a “maybe”.

    In my opinion this is at best wishful thinking and at worst spin to cover up, the fact, that the pain of the recession is being unloaded from the well off onto the rest of us.

    Using the examples of how bailouts have panned out overseas should be the ground used for making predictions, for any benefits, if any, for the economy.

    Taking these overseas examples as my template, I would like to make a different prediction.

    #1The bail out will not make the slightest bit of difference to the economic indicators that count for most people.

    #2. Unemployment will continue to grow unaffected.

    #3. Finance companies receiving massive tax payer largesse, will not show any such mercy to their own defaulters, and will continue to wreak their vengeance on grass roots home owners, dumping more families on the street.

    #4 Rather than re-negotiate mortgages to more affordable levels for families and businesses, Finance companies will accelerate foreclosures.

    #5 To celebrate their good fortune from this tax payer funded windfall, managers and directors at Finance Companies linked to SCF will reward themselves, with golden handshakes, golden parachutes, above the rate of inflation salary increases with generous stock options as garnish on top, etc. etc.

    #6 By re-inflating the SCF bubble the bailout will prolong the nation wide recession.
    The effects being noticably marked in the South Island.

    • Draco T Bastard 5.1

      Fallacy of Breaking Windows

      I’m not really surprised that our MSM resorted to such fallacy. They’re completely incompetent after all.

      And, yeah, your predictions are probably very close to the mark. The GFC is being used to enrich the already rich at everybody else’s expense.

  6. Their approach to Government is reflected in the prejudices of their supporters.

    These people generally believe that the state is bad, private is good, and they should be allowed to retain as much of their wealth as is possible. The concept of “common good” is poorly understood by them. They seem incapable of seeing that a strong state can achieve good things, such as schools, hospitals, infrastructure, superannuation and a safety net for the poor.

    Their cost approach continuously sees expenditure in these areas as being something that should be minimised.

    They think it makes for a better economy. They fail to understand the significant role of the state in ensuring that an economy is strong.

    They think they are better handlers of the economy but paradoxically they always seem to do worse for the ordinary person.

    You are right to mention Michael Cullen. Boy is he being missed right now.

    • Jenny 6.1

      .
      $1.3 billion of government money paid out to the speculators for Hubbard’s worthless South Canterbury Finance shares and bonds. Break out the $900 bottles of bubbly! Great news for the parasites, too bad for everybody else who happens to need a pay rise such as those pesky radiographers and teachers. This will also be paid for by all those unemployed people having their entitlements chiseled away and disabled people being hammered by the ACC and WINZ. Maier’s smug smile says it all…

      From the New Zealand Herald:

      Speculators reap fat reward as finance firm fails

      If indeed the government is running the company as a private business then they like many other managers of private businesses can easily see ‘their’ business as a cash cow with lots of perks to be distributed amongst themselves and their “speculator” mates.

      • Jenny 6.1.1

        How the architects of the recession made sure to insulate themselves, against the consequences of their own actions.

        Vernon Small reports that in 2008, the veiled threat of an investment strike by New Zealand’s financiers was what forced Helen Clark’s hand in setting up what Small calls this morally hazardous scheme.

        Vernon Small:

        Scheme’s moral hazards snare Government – and taxpayers

        Such is the way the corporates get their way against the best instincts of liberal leaders and left wing governments.

        capcha – “updating”

  7. rich 7

    I find that a bit amusing. Bryan Gould’s achievement as a politician was summed up in this quote: “He didn’t take losing the [Uk labour] leadership election badly. Apart from resigning his seat and moving to new Zealand”

    • Uroskin 7.1

      Just imagine what a better world we would have lived in if Tony Blair had lost the leadership race against Bryan Gould. We would have at least been spared TB’s autobiography.

      • Carol 7.1.1

        Yes, I think Gould came back to NZ because he was PO’ed with the direction the UK Labour Party (and thence UK politics generally), was going… ie rightwards.

        • TightyRighty 7.1.1.1

          but it got more venal and corrupt as the major players resorted to any desperate measure to remain in power. that means it was heading leftwards. still use velcro on your shoes too?

          • Vicky32 7.1.1.1.1

            Er, TR, whatever do you mean by “that means it was heading leftwards”?
            “. still use velcro on your shoes too?”
            Yup, I do…
            Deb 🙂

  8. Olwyn 8

    @Mickey Savage: National supporters claim to think that the state is bad. In fact they think it is bad only insofar as it fails to privilege them, and a startling number of their cheerleaders have been paid by the state for their entire working lives – Dr Brash springs to mind.

    Once upon a time a large number of National supporters would have accepted this sentence; “The measurements of success for a society is the health and happiness of its citizens,” but would have disagreed with the left over how these objectives are best achieved. Having abandoned such objectives, they seem to be left with no vision whatsoever, juggling the desires of their financial backers against the PR initiatives necessary to implementing them. The poor Wellington man who rang the police on the night they got elected looks more insightful with each passing day, even if the action he took was less than practical.

    • Bored 8.1

      Of course National supporters think the state is bad, but they do go down the law’n order path when they get frightened, insisting that the full force of the state be brought to bear…its a sort of applied schizophrenia.

      • Jenny 8.1.1

        This seemingly schizophrenic approach to the state, as expounded by right wing champions of the rich like ACT can be explained easily.

        The Right only want less state control and interference in the affairs of wealthy people like themselves.

        But when it comes to dealing harshly with the consequences of the social decay caused by their uncontrolled financial dealings, they are in the front ranks of those calling for harsher and more oppressive powers to be handed to the police, the army and the secret security agencies.

        This ‘reactionary’ impulse from the right to build up the repressive side of the state can sometimes even build the state into an independent unacountable power in itself, that even they and their sponsors can become frightened of.

        In Nazi Germany the rise of the racist ideology of Fascism was funded by financiers, as an opposition to leftists and trade unionists. Eventually like Frankenstein’s monster, the power of the state became so ubiquitous that even these sorts of people at the very top of society dared not speak any criticism of the state.

        • Bored 8.1.1.1

          Jenny, I would urge some minor caution when describing the “seemingly schizophrenic approach to the state “ as the being exclusive to the Right. We ignore any privileged group running a polity (and their consequent sense of entitlement) at our peril. For example the same behavior was common to the “nomenclature” of the authoritarian Left.

          In our “social democratic” construct of a state the extreme Right has moved the whole debate around the role of the state from the post Great Depression / WW2 centrist consensus to an extreme, which is now branded the “centre”. Highly unhealthy, and the Labour Party have been co-opted to this viewpoint. They need to stop talking the language of business and concentrate on the language of civil society.

  9. Draco T Bastard 9

    Actually, they don’t understand economics at all. Neither do Labour. This is because they believe it all revolves around money. The neoliberal pie-in-the-sky BS works with money as more money can always be printed. It doesn’t work in the real world as the resources have limits to them. How much we have, how much can be reused, how much is available at any one time and how much of the natural environment is needed to maintain life on Earth. Without taking any of those into account, which most economists and politicians don’t, the economy will always collapse and the final collapse will catastrophic.

    • Olwyn 9.1

      I am not sure whether the neo-liberals themselves believe this, or whether they just convince everyone else, so as to grab actual resources in exchange for high numbers on a screen, rather as previous colonists dazzled people with beads, blankets and whiskey in exchange for land. Look at NZ at the moment, where the land is worth more numbers than can be matched by what NZ can produce. And what do these numbers translate into materially but consumer items; the modern equivalents of beads, blankets and whiskey.

      • Bored 9.1.1

        Olwyn and Draco, the neo Libs dont really care about resources or the planet, only the transaction at hand. Its selective blindness for short term gain. And they dont care that their families and children will become extinct because that might interfere with current privelege / status. Its the “Hey live once live well and fuck you” mentality.

  10. Its convenient for NACT to blame the state as big brother, but the NACTS are actually the committee of the ruling class, converting the state into the Board of NZ Inc.
    The ruling class is driven by profit maximisation, it uses the national interest, and indiviudal freedom, arguments to divert attention from its class rule. That class rule dictates that only those policies that increase profits by screwing more value out of the working class need apply. This is especially true in a global crisis of capitalism when the ruling class is into a survival of the fittest struggle. SCF clients are losers in this fight, the infratils and banksters are the winners.
    Those who object are losers, whingers and scroungers by definition.
    It doesnt even need to pretend anymore that its ruling for all kiwis. It can get away with it because enough of them aspire to join the ruling class.
    Gould doesnt have any answers, the party he abandoned turned to the right and adopted Blairite market policies. There is no social democratic option because the ruling class doesnt want it or need it having captured the centre ground and divided the working class against itself. When workers unite and revolt against class rule, social democracy will be wheeled out again to keep the lid on with a few minor reforms.
    Such is capitalism.

  11. randal 11

    everyone knows that national is a dumping ground for dumb rich people who rely on slogans to do their thinking for them.
    their insistence on treating the whole economy as a business is stupidity in the hihgest extreme and the lack of percipience is dangerous when it is allowed to flourish as a policy that affects us all.
    drop the dumbos immediately.

  12. outofbed 12

    Mint Asset Management’s Shane Solly said it was outrageous that some investors had been able to buy the bonds at a discount last week only to have them paid out yesterday.

    “Those bonds were trading at quite deep discounts. Those people that paid 70c are [now getting a] dollar-something return.

    Denmark.> State > Rotten

  13. ZB 14

    http://emigratetonewzealand.wordpress.com/migrant-stories/
    Many of their accounts have a lot in common, the same issues crop up time and time again:
    * Low salaries
    * Problems finding work
    * Expensive, poor quality accommodation
    * Problems with the education standards
    * Feeling that NZ is actively mis-sold
    * Isolation
    * Crime
    * High cost of living
    * Lack of culture
    * Dangerous roads and drivers
    * No future for their kids
    * Missing family, friends, old lifestyles etc.
    * The ‘Kiwi way’, ‘WWINZ’ (won’t work in NZ) small mindedness, #8 wire mentallity,xenophobia, etc.

    Now look at the major parties claims…
    ACT – claims to protect consumers and taxpayers – that’ll explain the high cost of living, poor quality goods…etc.
    National – claims to protect business – that’ll explain the crime, no future for the kids.
    Labour – brought in rogernomics.
    Green promise great ecology and environment – nothing to deliver!

    The problem is simple, what NZ is doing doesn’t work. Sure the immigrant who don’t do well
    talk, exaggerate, but a lot of their concerns are now mainstream concerns – the canary in the mine.

    NZ youth have a highest suicide rate than older people! Unlike any other western nation
    where the old commit suicide more.

    National, Labour, ACT, UF, Maori, Greens, and all failing NZ. Why?
    Because the media has one voice, pro-right neo-liberal economics is all there is, profit profit profit.

    • Vicky32 14.1

      Sure, Labour brought in the Rogergnomes, but all of them, at their earliest opportunity became ACT…
      Therefore, I believe they simply hijacked Labout, who should not be blamed for them. That’s the way I see it anyway,
      Deb

      • Draco T Bastard 14.1.1

        No, Labour are definitely still following at least some of the failed policies brought in by the 4th Labour Government.

        Free-capital movement
        Ownership of NZ by foreign owners
        Cutting government back rather than using it as the driver of the economy as it should be

  14. I can’t read this shit without feeling angry, frustrated and powerless cos theres nothing i can do to stop it or influence it in any immediate or meaningful way.

    The whole culture of corporate capitalist greed and finance is so alien to, not just me, but i would hazard to say, Pasifikans in general, that short of selling our souls completely to be part of that culture, there seems no way to gain from it, exploit it to our advantage and still remain essentially Pasifikan.

    Not that i want to. So i guess the choice then, is to stop reading the shit and live in blissful ignorance like the rest of the silent, invisible underclass.

    If theres another choice i’d be glad to hear it ?

    • Draco T Bastard 15.1

      I can’t read this shit without feeling angry, frustrated and powerless cos theres nothing i can do to stop it or influence it in any immediate or meaningful way.

      I think you’ll find yourself in agreement with the majority there.

      The whole culture of corporate capitalist greed and finance is so alien to, not just me, but i would hazard to say, Pasifikans in general,…

      And most of the Pakeha as well. After all, the psychopaths that designed the system make up only a small part of the population.

    • Descendant Of Smith 15.2

      It’s not only pasifikans that don’t get this, there’s plenty of us of European descent that don’t get it as well.

      Part of the trick it seems to me is finding the communality that exists between New Zealanders who share some sort of view about a fairer more decent society.

      In my terms it is about an egalitarian society. Those are principles and precepts that I grew up with. One that still allows achievement and excellence and accomplishment but in recognising that while people have different skills and abilities there remains a commitment to the whole.

      A party founded on those sorts of principles would have my support.

      Egalitarianism (derived from the French word égal, meaning “equal”), is a trend of thought that favors equality of some sort. Its general premise is that people should be treated as equals on certain dimensions such as religiously, politically, economically, socially, or culturally. Egalitarian doctrines maintain that all human persons are equal in fundamental worth or moral status.[1] In large part, it is a response to the abuses of statist development and has two distinct definitions in modern English.[2] It is defined either as a political doctrine that holds that all people should be treated as equals and have the same political, economic, social, and civil rights[3] or as a social philosophy advocating the removal of economic inequalities among people.

      I also liked the notion of co-operatives and in particular the UK one highlighted in a post a couple of weeks ago. I’m not sure of all the practical aspects but it has motivated me to doing a bit more research around this and talk to others about it, including some growers of produce. This has also enlightened me of the terrible waste of corporates paying for crops ahead of time and compelling the growers to let them perish if not needed. There’s people in these communities that need food – including the poor, particularly Maori and Polynesian, people who harvest their crops for them for pretty crappy pay.

      From small acorns oak trees grow.

      • Descendant Of Smith 15.2.1

        Hmm I see a little synchronicity in thought occurring at the same time.

        The more I think about it the more ” The Egalitarian Party” sounds like a good name that clearly espouses what that party would/should stand for.

        Certainly Labour no longer stands for those that labour.

        • outofbed 15.2.1.1

          The Egalitarian Party/
          Greens are the closest we have got

          Ecological Wisdom:
          The basis of ecological wisdom is that human beings are part of the natural world. This world is finite, therefore unlimited material growth is impossible. Ecological sustainability is paramount.
          Social Responsibility:
          Unlimited material growth is impossible. Therefore the key to social responsibility is the just distribution of social and natural resources, both locally and globally.
          Appropriate Decision-making:
          For the implementation of ecological wisdom and social responsibility, decisions will be made directly at the appropriate level by those affected.
          Non-Violence:
          Non-violent conflict resolution is the process by which ecological wisdom, social responsibility and appropriate decision making will be implemented. This principle applies at all levels.

          • mcflock 15.2.1.1.1

            personally, my vote goes to the Alliance (official name: “Alliance yes it still exists and no JA hasn’t been a member for years”).

            Of the parliamentary parties, yes the Greens are definitely the nicest folk and probably the most socially-minded, but a few elections ago I had to make a choice between voting according to my beliefs and voting for a diluted set of my beliefs on the grounds that it’s “in with a chance”.

            I chose to vote according to my beliefs on the grounds that I couldn’t trust the Greens to act for NZ workers if they were given a choice between that and the lesser spotted West Coast rock slug, but I could be pretty sure that the Alliance would call foul on both issues. And I also felt it important that *somebody* in NZ be seen to stand up for democratic socialist values and solid controls on capital, other wise the concepts could well disappear in a sea of neoliberal pragmatism.

            I’m not suggesting that the Alliance will be kingmakers in parliament in 2011. I just think that if people voted genuinely for what they believed in (rather than viewing elections as a horse race where you get a prize if you back the winner), then NZ would be a much better place.

    • Puddleglum 15.3

      I know just what you mean Pollywog.

      Sometimes I wonder which is worse: That the elite are just a bunch of greed-obsessed soulless and corrupt people who feel fully justified in protecting and increasing their advantage; or, ‘the economy’ as currently structured actually DOES require the rest of us to ply the already wealthy and powerful with even more wealth and power for fear that we’ll lose our menial jobs, our sub-standard housing, our remaining health and our children’s already minimal prospects.

      I look out my window at the other houses in my street – crap rental accommodation, transient people living the lives of transients, broken footpaths, men in their late 50s riding rusty bikes back home from grubby jobs at 7 o’clock at night without any of those decorations of nifty flashing bike lights strapped to designer bike helmets. I think of the kids I see when I walk the dog – the younger ones with clothes that a rag doll would be ashamed to wear, the older ones (boys) skinny, hooded, swaggering and trying to look like their not shit scared by F-ing and blinding their way through a vocabulary you could fit on the back of a postage stamp.

      Then I think about how SCF investors are ‘cushioned’ from the horrors of losing their ‘investments’ because the people in my street – courtesy of a magnanimous government always concerned about us ‘little Kiwi battlers’ – are paying out or losing what little support they have from government to make life less risky for these investors because it’s supposedly in all ‘our’ best interests!

      Then again, I have this utterly irrational optimistic streak: Salvation sometimes does come – but usually not from the direction you expect.

  15. That the elite are just a bunch of greed-obsessed soulless and corrupt people who feel fully justified in protecting and increasing their advantage

    High Net Worth Individuals

    The message from on high is, that’s who we’re supposed to aspire to be like cos thats who the system is being geared towards.

    It’s what Key and English see themselves as, who they’re trying to attract to NZ, and who they’ve just proven they are willing to protect, no questions asked, when the chips are down.

  16. Kleefer 17

    “Concepts that work well in business often don’t flow through to a government managing an entire economy.”

    Governments can’t “manage an economy”. The less involvement the government has in an economy the better. Whenever the government intervenes in the economy it shafts one group of people and leaves them worse off. The current financial mess is a classic example of the failure of central planning, in this case of the money supply and interest rate through central banks.

    • Bunji 17.1

      Whilst the US reserve did keep interest rates too low and helped inflate a housing bubble, most of the current GFC was a result of a lack of regulation of the financial industry – ie a lack of government intervention.
      Perhaps you’d prefer a world where there was no government intervention and businesses could say your food, drink and medicine contained whatever they wanted to say, whilst it was laced with whatever was easiest for them. That’s pretty much the world the finance industry was operating in – you have an AAA+ investment that actually consists of NINJA (No Income No Job) loans.

    • Draco T Bastard 17.2

      Reality has proven otherwise. Remove the power of the people from the economy and watch as a few become incredibly wealthy and everyone else starves.

  17. ZB 18

    Government can’t manage the economy. Well no! Governments get in the way of
    economy! Well yes. Governments need to get in the way of those parts of the
    economy leading us down the wrong track.

    We need to get out of the way of citizens so they can start businesses.
    – do away with welfare and give everyone $10,000 tax credit (taken as a income
    support if the indivudal wants it.

    We need to get in the way of business friendly government.
    – do away with National and ACT parties.

    We need broadband.
    – do away with Telcom.

    Then watch the country turn around.

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