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State of Nations

Written By: - Date published: 6:11 pm, January 29th, 2014 - 24 comments
Categories: capitalism, class, class war, crime, Environment, Ethics, global warming, International, peak oil, poverty, prisons, sustainability, war - Tags: , , , ,

This post isn’t a ‘contrast and compare’ piece on the policy announcements of National, the Greens and Labour. It’s enough to say that National are pursuing privatisation while both Labour and Green are at least trying to do good things.

Shame about the reality of the bigger picture then.

Admittedly, I might have this the wrong way around. So with that in mind, let’s just say I’m going for the more positive scenario.

Market economies operate by way of profit. If something doesn’t spin a profit, then it simply doesn’t happen or stops happening pretty quickly. Two solutions are offered up. The state can step in and use tax revenue to fund non-profit but socially valuable activity/institutions. Or we find ways to monetise everything (eg – Nats so-called education policy) and settle for wrap around, degraded ‘user pays’ systems.

Those are the poles of any economy wedded to market (regulated/unregulated) principles. And we can argue the pro’s and cons of each scenario, or of some mish-mash of the two until the cows come home.

Except we can’t.

To borrow Paula Bennets’ phrase from a different scenario – ‘The Party’s Over’.

How over? Here’s one indicator.  31% of US oil and gas shares are owned by retirement funds. But we can’t use some 80% of discovered oil that your pension funds are invested in without ‘burning’ the planet.

Extrapolating the above 31% to apply to global fossil investment, it seems either we say  ‘hang it all’, drill and burn the oil to get you your retirement return meaning that you won’t get your retirement return because the planet’s burned. Or we don’t, which means that a huge chunk of your retirement investments will be worth precisely zero (the retirement component of about US$20 trillion worth of investment ) and you don’t get your retirement return.

Nice choice, and I can almost see a future filled with the stunned tears of people protesting that they only tried to do what was good and what was right.

Want to throw resource depletion into the AGW mix?

Well, here’s a wee trick. Market economies are about market share. They just aren’t – not in any way shape or form – about market size. If they were, then all the people in Africa, South America, Latin America and elsewhere would have been pulled into the consumerist ways of life a hundred years ago or more.

So what to do when looking at peaked resources and market share? Why – you shrink the market, and –  oops! – there goes any idea you might have had about reinvesting all of that US$20 trillion of oil money elsewhere (though your bank deposits underwrite any actual bank losses). So lots more people get equal status with countless Africans, South and Latin Americans… excluded.

Here’s, an admittedly quick, hodge podge of measures and indicators from across the world that suggest the groundwork for our exclusion is being laid in. I’m sure you can join the dots and add many, many more illustative examples without any difficulty.


‘Anti Social Behaviour Orders’ (ASBOs) in the UK.

Also from the UK, serious attempts to bring in ‘Injunctions to Prevent Nuisance and Annoyance’ (Ipnas)

In the US, natural life jail sentences for such misdemeanors as stealing a US$159 jacket.

Global internet and electronic surveillance

From Scotland, 3 years in jail for a stupid facebook post.

NZ cities passing bye laws to ban begging

Throughout the world, austerity being sold as reform that serves to remove progressive reforms won in the past.

The never ending wars against drugs and terrorism that allow the poor to be harvested for profit in private prison systems.

Wars of occupation in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya…

And against all that, an ever increasing number of protests across the world

Anyway, avert your gaze, keep your mouth shut and you may, by luck, get to hang in there. Just keep struggling and scrabbling faster than the necessarily ever faster slowest, and you might get health care and welfare and a pension fund. Yup. You too can be a part of a shrinking, multi-layered  elite, while the burgeoning majority (that you won’t be a part of, of course!) get their heads kicked in, or get jailed, or get killed for…well, the equivalent of planting a vegetable. I mean, never mind about getting shot or whatever for trying to organise people or some such. You can get murdered in some parts of the world for having the temerity to plant a fucking vegetable. And the dynamics of exclusion that play out elsewhere will be playing out over here, and sooner rather than later. Though, maybe there’s an alternative for the masters of the universe. Maybe they  have in mind something else – something other than shrinking the market to survive resource depletion?

If not, put aside concerns over the possible effects of Global Warming. That (if I haven’t got things the wrong way round – a possibility) probably comes after the lock down/ lock out that most likely, due to the Pareto Principle, won’t allow market economic practices  to continue and ‘civilisation’ (what’s going to pass for it anyway) to skite below catastrophic global warming.

So finally, I wonder if the likes of David Cunliffe understand what we’re up against when they ask that we all pull together to make NZ decent again, and whether they have the steel to see things through when international political pressure is brought to bear on the good intentions of their government?


24 comments on “State of Nations”

  1. karol 1

    Well, I think any major shift will need to involve some leadership from above, and a groundswell of pressure from within the flax roots. But, while a lot of the people are still focused on getting and having the latest shiny things, such a groundswell will be small. It’ll only be when people see in their daily lives what power down means, that they will start to engage – but by then it may be too late.

    Russel Norman did produce a power down narrative yesterday in response to the PM’s statement. I summarised and quoted from some of Norman’s speech in my post last night.

    Norman’s speech was low key, and not full of flashy rhetoric. But his speech was very well done. He first created the context of NZ’s history of progressive legislation – Savage, Kirk, etc. Then this:

    He then said that NZ needs a Green government with “values of egalitarianism, sovereignty and democracy“. But, more than that, it needs to “integrate these values with new modern values of sustainability.“ The “next wave of progressive change that is sweeping the world is green.” This is necessary as we learn a new way of living “good lives” with finite and limited natural resources.

    We are learning to access the unlimited resources of human creativity, ingenuity and generosity in order to live prosperous lives…

    It was so low key, it’ll have missed most people. But that narrative needs to be repeated again and again, in differnet ways, differnt contexts.

    • Bill 1.1

      Hmm. I wasn’t really writing this post with any ‘major shift’ in mind. I was just kinda speculating on where we’re going and what it might mean.

      So, ‘powerdown’ – or the same effect as, is achieved by excluding people from resources…just like has been the lot for billions since colonisation snapped up the worlds’ resources for ‘the west’.

      Would I rather see an across the board step change? Of course. Is it likely? Nope. Does that matter to those who hold power and make decisions? Nope. Will it matter to us? Most likely.

      And if Labour and Greens try to push against an international tendency that would exclude ever more people from resources etc to preserve ‘the market’ or capitalism…and I do believe that is happening and will be happening more…. then they will most definitely be getting ‘the hard word’ from international quarters…even if they are simply undermining the excuses put forward to justify austerity.

      It happened to Helen Clark in a different and much less dire context (business as usual neo-liberalism) – and she backed down.

      Cunliffe and who-ever, maybe unsuspectingly, are taking on much, much bigger ‘kettle of fish’ in the present.

      People and institutions with much more power than the NZ government are out of ideas and playing for keeps. They aren’t going to quietly countenance a ‘western liberal democracy’ stepping out of the fold or merely (as I suspect would be the reality of Labour/Green government) contradicting the austerity line. These ain’t the days of Savage or Kirk who, in spite of their progressive tendencies, stayed very much within the parameters of ‘acceptable’ government for their times.

      • weka 1.1.1

        Are you thinking there are options here, or that there isn’t really anything to be done?

        Great post btw.

        • Bill

          I’m just looking at the trajectories of governments in a world squeezed between AGW and peak resources. I’ve suggested alternatives in other posts.

          In this one I’m more interested in whether the idea that total market size will be shrunk to accommodate resource depletion and maintain power is a reasonable one (ie, broadly correct) or whether it’s completely ‘off the wall’.

          If it’s not ‘off the wall’ and is something that’s pursued, then many, many people in NZ and across ‘the west’ are going to be living lives we’ve previously only associated with the excluded majorities in ‘third world’ nations.

          AGW is a second driver for that scenario to be pushed. I guess the hope in some quarters would be that a shrunken market that caters for the needs of far fewer people would run on far lower CO2 emissions.

          Lastly I’m wondering, if in spite of all the best intentions of a Labour/Green government, whether they are factoring in the stark reality of resource depletion and AGW…and regardless of that, whether they have the steel to face down inevitable international pressures that would have them stay on the austerity/surveillance/market and social exclusion bus.

          • Colonial Viper

            In this one I’m more interested in whether the idea that total market size will be shrunk to accommodate resource depletion and maintain power is a reasonable one (ie, broadly correct) or whether it’s completely ‘off the wall’.

            The overall size of the financial markets and the electronic credit IOUs out there in the ether far surpass, as you have already said, what the real physical economy can deliver on.

            And the financial system is continuing to expand.

            The leaders of our power elite have consciously, or unconsciously, embraced Thanatos on behalf of the entire world. (I doubt the people who have been in the bottom 50% of the world’s population are at all surprised by this, but most living in relatively wealthy western countries are going to be very surprised, at a guess.)

            Civilisations do not end in sanity. Even as the barbarian hordes descended into the Italian peninsula, money and resources were being poured into bread and circuses.

            • Bill

              I guess I’m not so much focusing on the financial sector as the possibility for people to be excluded from the ‘nuts and bolts’ of production and distribution.

              Seems we’re already being ‘eased out’ – diminishing welfare, more precarious jobs with worsening terms and conditions and a massive corporate bureaucracy of low/middle management types who will be surplus to needs soon enough.

              Then, short term, we have the possible implosion of economies like China and India leading to a whole new waves of cut backs and austerity….set against the bigger medium term picture I’ve tried to outline in the post.

          • weka

            “In this one I’m more interested in whether the idea that total market size will be shrunk to accommodate resource depletion and maintain power is a reasonable one (ie, broadly correct) or whether it’s completely ‘off the wall’.”

            I guess I always assumed this would happen, although I haven’t thought about it in the frame you are presenting here before, which seems a more intentional strategy rather than an inevitable consequence.

            I don’t know about AGW being a second driver, or whether resource depetion will happen soon enough to have any effect. Seasoned Peak Oil analysists are talking about how the effects of peak oil aren’t happening as fast as predicted. Looks to me like the future is still very much up in the air.

            I have no doubt that key people within the Greens get the reality (and would probably include Norman in that). I doubt that they can factor in the stark reality of peak everything or AGW, other than in broad strokes in terms of working in the right direction. How could they? Those that do get it, are unable to talk about it in public or be honest about it in their work. I would guess they have to have a special kind of cognitive dissonance.

            No idea about Labour.

            “and regardless of that, whether they have the steel to face down inevitable international pressures that would have them stay on the austerity/surveillance/market and social exclusion bus.”

            This is where my mind went immediately to strategy. Assuming there was a L/GP coalition at the critical time, how could they be supported and/or pressured to do the right thing. What would the right thing entail? What are the conditions that might enable them to choose one or other? etc I think there is definitely work that could be done now on this, esp changing the political discourse.

            btw, it’s my understanding that Lange faced this dilemma in 1984. The pressure was on immediately after the election and we all know where that led.

            another btw, the term ‘powerdown’ has been used for a while now to refer to powering down with intention and degrees of democracy (esp in grassroots terms), rather than the colonisation comparison you used. I think it’s useful to consider both, and how we might go one way or other, or where they overlap.

            • Colonial Viper

              Assuming there was a L/GP coalition at the critical time, how could they be supported and/or pressured to do the right thing. What would the right thing entail? What are the conditions that might enable them to choose one or other?

              Yes this is critical. Constant broad societal pressure must go on to the pollies, and open acceptable policy space up for the political parties to move into.

              I don’t know about AGW being a second driver, or whether resource depetion will happen soon enough to have any effect. Seasoned Peak Oil analysists are talking about how the effects of peak oil aren’t happening as fast as predicted.

              I once thought that fossil fuel reserves would run down fast enough to prevent really severe climate change.

              I changed my mind a few months ago. With the accessing of arctic oil and gas (and then after that Antarctic oil and gas) and global coal consumption likely to climb year on year for at least 10 years, we’re pretty much screwed on this track.

              • weka

                Unless the GCF fucks that 😉

                “Constant broad societal pressure must go on to the pollies, and open acceptable policy space up for the political parties to move into.”

                Spot on. I’ve been enjoying how you’ve been mentioning this idea in various ways in the past few weeks. Would love to see more discussion at some point.

                • Bill

                  On pressure. The second to last link in the post – ‘protests’…if you have the bandwidth to run a simple graphic, I recommend you link through and wait for it to play through to the present.

                • Colonial Viper

                  I figured you would pick up on the idea and run with it 🙂

            • Bill

              I don’t really go for conspiracy or intention. I’m aware it might come across like that in the post. Maybe that’s because I’m just looking at things and trying to figure it/see it for what it is.

              Anyway, I think it’s a given that the real economy is being bled to gorge the financial sector. And that, in itself, is excluding people from being able to access resources. So maybe, rather than seeing intent or deliberate and nefarious plans to leave people with nought, it could be seen as a consequence of feeding financial capital markets….ie, a secondary effect but just the same as though there was a deliberate intention.

              Or maybe just the basic competitive grasping of ‘the market’ is playing a role…take Sony(?) apparently deliberately fishing out Mediterranean (?)tuna stocks and throwing them in deep freeze for later – shades of Futurama (anchovies) – but true.

              “another btw…” yeah, I was more contrasting the two scenarios (powerdown and colonisation). Both have similar effects with regards CO2 levels – ie they decrease. But sure, one leaves us utterly fucked, excluded and powerless while the other doesn’t..

  2. Tracey 2

    Bill english turning his sights on internet shopping. Seems he is pretending he is doing it to help mums and dads.

    ” A bigger threat to New Zealand’s tax base is the increasing use of online retail spending, which avoids the country’s 15 percent goods and services tax, he said. What made both issues murky was that traditional jurisdictions were muddied by the questions over geographical and digital boundaries.

    “The most urgent issue is not the large end of town, it’s the small end of town, it’s hard-working mums and dads spending on the internet,” English told the committee.”

    • Murray Olsen 2.1

      Wouldn’t it be good if they took the same approach to internet shopping and GST that they took to the GCSB? “It’s not good, the tax isn’t being paid, so we’ll scrap it.”

    • Will@Welly 2.2

      Tracey – we all know what will happen – all the small consumers will see their goods subjected to GST, while the big boys continue to flout the rules. This is just Bill English and National just feigning concern. More b.s. and spin.

    • RedBaronCV 2.3

      And this internet shopping is insignificant, is it not, compared to the spending of corporates on services sourced overseas, avoiding decent enviromental,health and safety standards, and not being taxed a cent. How about GST levies on imported services as they cross the border, non refundable of course. This should make local sourcing of labour more attractive.

      • Tracey 2.3.1

        English says not.

        • RedBaronCV

          He was talking about income tax avoidance ( & given the size of the banks tax avoidance he is wrong) not cross border labour shopping which is likely to be even larger.

  3. Joe 3

    Roger Douglas and others in the 80s, argued for the process of deregulation, corporatisation, asset sales and currency flotation based on the TINA principle.

    This so called “principle” is now being regurgitated and peddled in Christchurch to soften up public opinion for a sell off the assets of the City Council to pay for the grandiose rugby stadium, metro sports facility, town hall and other white elephants.

    • Lanthanide 3.1

      The metro sports facility isn’t a white elephant in the terms the others are, because it is for the general public and will improve their fitness etc.

      The town hall is a white elephant because it’s a hideously ugly building, and the performing arts groups in Christchurch think it is unfit for purpose (too large) and would rather have several new venues built instead.

      The stadium is a white elephant because it’ll cost far too much and probably only be used by rugby. Frankly if rugby wants a big flash stadium, the crusaders and those who pay to go to rugby games should pay for it, not the rate payers.

      Convention centre is an obvious white elephant because they’re building massive ones in both Auckland and Queenstown, so there’s no reason for Christchurch to have a state-of-the-art one as they’re proposing. Sure we need something, but not on the scale they’re proposing.

      • Molly 3.1.1

        The convention centre in Auckland is a white elephant also – in the way that all convention centres usually are.

        Also, up here in Auckland we had a purpose built sports centre for the general public – I believe the cost was around $60 million. The facility is well built – all chrome and concrete – and clean lines. Feels like a hospital. Participants come in on schedules and can relax in the bar. Which knocks out the pre and non-drinking set. It will always need to be funded by council and ratepayers.

        Moutere Hills Community Centre – on the other hand – cost $2.5 million to build, and is much less imposing. After a few years of operation, it provided enough surplus income to employ a full-time manager. The community feels like they own it, and use it accordingly. Not just for sports but for a variety of other uses. After a fire, they have worked hard to rebuild – and the community has been behind it all the way.

        I don’t know the budgeted cost for the facility, but it should be part of the process that a proposal such as the Metro Sports Centre – includes the cost of the loss of opportunity to provide a number of smaller facilities.

        Not only do they provide a place – they become a magnet for community to start meeting and social networks to form. Much better value for money.

        Edit: And for my mind – a better location for those community hubs for the Green Party than schools are.

  4. miravox 4

    Along with the new law against everything in the UK an old laws (1824 Vagrancy Act) is used so people can’t take food from rubbish bins either

    A man will stand trial next month after being caught taking some tomatoes, mushrooms and cheese from the dustbins behind a branch of Iceland.

    It is expected Paul May, a freelance web designer, will argue that he was taking the food because he needed it to eat and does not consider he has done anything illegal or dishonest in removing food destined for landfill from a skip…

    …Lawyers for the three men have asked the Crown Prosecution Service to consider dropping the case, but the CPS responded this month that the case would go ahead, because “we feel there is significant public interest in prosecuting these three individuals”.

    Public interest in seeing it thrown out of court, I reckon.

  5. aerobubble 5

    Tricky Cunliffe promises not to raise GST when elected.

    [lprent: What is the relevance to this post? ]

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  • Government starves RNZ into selling Auckland asset
    Just weeks after TVNZ opened its refurbished Auckland head office costing more than $60 million, RNZ (Radio New Zealand) has been forced to put its Auckland office on the market to keep itself afloat, says Labour’s Broadcasting spokesperson Clare Curran. ...
    3 weeks ago
  • Government must be more than a bystander on the economy
    Despite what he might think John Key is not a political commentator, but actually a leader in a Government who needs to take responsibility for the conditions that mean a rise in interest rates, says Labour’s Finance Spokesperson Grant Robertson.  “John ...
    3 weeks ago
  • Māori Party all hui no-doey on housing
    The Māori Party should stop tinkering and start fixing tragic Māori housing statistics in the face of a national housing crisis, says Labour’s Māori Development spokesman Kelvin Davis. ...
    3 weeks ago
  • Labour committed to eliminating child poverty
    Labour accepts the challenge from Children’s Commissioner Andrew Becroft to cut child poverty and calls on the Prime Minister to do the same, says Leader of the Opposition Andrew Little. ...
    3 weeks ago