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The corruption of democracy

Written By: - Date published: 11:07 am, June 11th, 2013 - 67 comments
Categories: capitalism, class war, democracy under attack, greens, john key, russel norman, Spying, telecommunications, uk politics, workers' rights - Tags: ,

The governance of the five nations linked by the Five Eyes Echelon spy network share many similarities in the ways the shining ideal of democracy are consistently being undermined.  In each country, the details are a little different, but they follow the same pattern.  Of the five countries, the US wields the most power with the UK being second-in-command, while Australia, Canada and New Zealand have the least leverage to maintain their own interests and independence.

The same kind of neoliberal, corporate-friendly, beneficiary-bashing, anti-worker, anti-democratic and big-brotherish measures favoured by the US and UK governments have been adopted by the Key government.  They don’t always take the same form, sometimes the NZ version is a little milder, but the end result is similar: more power and wealth for the 2% less for the rest.

So it is chilling to read the result of the latest measures by the UK Cameron government, aiming to tackle the use of corporate lobbyist to bribe members of the Houses of Commons and Lords, as reported by Seamus Milne in The Guardian. The evidence is as damning as it is shocking to those of us who favour democracy and a socially just and fair society:

First a Tory MP and then a clutch of greedy peers were caught on camera apparently agreeing to take cash from journalists posing as representatives of foreign companies. “Make that £12,000 a month,” grinned Jack Cunningham, Tony Blair’s former “enforcer”.

UK corporate lobbysists

After Cameron and Clegg failed to respond, they finally came up with legislation to (allegedly) curtail such corrupt practices:

So on Monday they came up with a plan: to crack down on trade unions. Wrapped in a panic bill to set up a register of lobbyists are to be powers to police union membership lists and cut union spending in election campaigns. The first will make what is already the almost impossible task of holding a legally watertight strike ballot still harder. The second is a direct attack on Labour funding.

The contemptuous class cynicism of the coalition leaders’ response takes some beating. Not only are unions the most accountable and only democratic part of the political funding system; but by including anti-union clauses in the new bill, Cameron and Clegg want to ensure Labour’s opposition – all the better to change the subject and wrongfoot the opposition in the process.

This kind of Orwellian doublespeak, and diversion is a hallmark of Key’s government, as outlined by Russel Norman in his ‘Muldoon and Key’ post.  It doesn’t take exactly the same form as under the Blair and Cameron government’s, but the underlying aim is the same.  In NZ as Norman explains, as with Muldoon, the Key government’s anti-democratic measures includes “The concentration and abuse of power”, Rigidity against change”, and “Divisiveness”.  In explaining the latter, Norman outlines a more subtle form of corruption than that of UK lobbying:

To be with Key and National is to get special favours. It is to have tender processes designed so that you’ll win. It is to get $2 billion in tax cuts. It is to get shoulder-tapped for a top job by one of your old schoolmates, it is to get a job you applied for a month after it closed, or to get a job for which you were underqualified  because of your profile as a sportsperson and a Key supporter.

To be against Key and National is to be silenced. It is to have Ministers breach privacy obligations by releasing your personal information to the media. It is to be the subject of personal attacks from right wing lobbyists if you dare to speak out to protect the environment. It is to have “threats and budget cuts… used to silence dissenting voices,” according to New Zealander of the Year Dame Anne Salmond.

The NZ government’s abuses of power include extensive abuses of urgency in the House, anti-protesting laws, over-riding local democracy, disallowing rights to family carers, and the government’s Bill to make,

it legal for the GCSB to spy on New Zealanders and expands its power to do so.

The latter makes legal capabilities already used by the US government through its part in the Echelon electronic spy network using the Thin Tread and Prism capabilities.

Echelon watching you

While John Key denies that the GCSB has been using such US-based systems to by-pass laws against spying on Kiwis, others have expressed concern.  Nicky Hager points to the undemocratic, Soviet style capabilities of the US agencies.  Meanwhile, “information technology and telecommunications lawyer Michael Wigley” argues that there is nothing to ensure the GCSB doesn’t make use of such systems in the future, and that,

 the agency has said it has not been involved in any reciprocal information sharing but that doesn’t rule out non-reciprocal information sharing.

The latest revelations related to the Kim Dotcom saga indicate the ways such powers can be used in the service of powerful corporates, in this case those of the Hollywood industry.  NZ Herald’s David Fisher claims that “top secret documents” show that Prism-like strings of data containing information on or related to Kim Dotocm were fed into the Echelon system.

Given the widespread corruption of democracy in the services of the rich and powerful elites, Green MP Stefan Browning is right to call for the end to:

our intelligence agencies spying on legitimate, peaceful, political dissenters.

He also urges people to submit to

the Telecommunications (Interception Capability and Security) Bill and the Government Communications Security Bureau and Related Legislation Amendment Bill. Submissions close 5pm, Thursday 13 June.

and argues for an inquiry in to abolition of the SIS.  Browning also calls for measures to

enable better oversight, a regular parliamentary select committee should replace the government-dominated Intelligence and Security Committee, and the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security should become an Officer of Parliament.

Welcome to the Brave New World of Ministries of “Truth”.  Who can stop this widespread attack on democratic processes and replace it with a system that aims for a socially just, and fair society that works for the benefit of all?




67 comments on “The corruption of democracy”

  1. Humph 1

    It’s fine to say voters should make submissions on bills (when they’re not ‘debated’ and enacted behind closed doors…), but who has the time – and more importantly – the inclination to wade through screeds of (deliberately? and often confusing) verbose text?

    Most people work 40 hours a week and expect elected beneficiaries to ‘do the right thing’ – it’s their job, in theory, to read and understand newly dreamed up legislation. It’s this in particular that stifles democracy in this country, we don’t have the time and the bloggers and journalists that do are more often than not ignored.

    The political system has to change or we’ll only slip further down the slippery slope of tyranny due to an ever greater lack of transparency.

    Voter advocates for new legislation are needed, paid and sourced in the same way as jury duty. Under the current legislative procedures, this is the only way transparency can be revived under National from its almost lifeless shell.

    The Swiss system of (near) direct democracy must also be seriously considered. It’s not perfect, but it’s the best there currently is. Also, and this is my personal favourite, the career politician as a ‘job’ does not exist.

    • Drakula 1.1

      I think you have a point there Humph, I would like to know more about the Swiss System I think the partisan system is on the wane.

      Democracy has been corroded away it no longer exists!

  2. Bill 2

    Who can stop this widespread attack [on democratic – strikeout?] of unaccountable processes and replace it with a system that aims for a socially just, and fair society that works for the benefit of all?

    Only you and me. But that would require an onslaught of democracy. And that in turn would require denying positions of representation to people – any people – because they will always seek to develop ways or processes to secure their position. And that inevitably entails they wind up working for their own interests and (at best) not the interests of those they claim to represent or (at worst) decidedly against the interests of those they claim to represent.

    And seeing as how the world is heading for ‘interesting times’ with climate change and resource depletion, developing truely democratic systems of governence shouldn’t be treated as just some intellectual game, but rather a task of quite marked imporatnace to be undertaken with urgency.

    But I understand most people will just continue with the same old, same old and angle to survive by hanging on in there as the systems of governence we’ve become inured to these past 100-150 years become a brutal, blood letting train wreck.

    • Colonial Viper 2.1

      Only you and me. But that would require an onslaught of democracy.

      And not just any “democracy” but localised democracy. At the neighbourhood, work place, town, and regional level. A good large chunk of the detailed decisions currently being made in Wellington could be better made at a lower level.

      Also agree that this is a massive matter of urgency now, when you look at where we are on the curve.

      Every imperial system in decline seeks to assert more and more control over both their citizens and imperial holdings from the centre of empire.

      • Bill 2.1.1

        Hmm. I don’t know of anything the term ‘democracy’ can be meaningfully applied to that isn’t immediate and local.

        As for town and regional levels of governence – they become problematic insofar as the tendency might be to elect representatives to those remote centers of decision making. And that puts us back on the path to square one.

        There was a youtube vid on Brian Eno I was watching a few days ago that contained an unexpected and hopeful snippet. Back in1970 John Conway developed a simple computer programme that demonstrated how complexity arose, quite naturally from simplicity rather than from any plan or complicated arrangement being imposed from above.

        Natural complexity then, just is. It doesn’t need to be managed, drawn up or over seen. It’s dependant upon the configuration of simple elements. So democracy would, arguably, naturally give rise to self sustaining yet dependent complex systems in the larger scheme of things eg, the larger economy etc.

      • AmaKiwi 2.1.2

        CV +1 +1 +1 +1

    • prism 2.2

      Someone with the loudest voice or hardest ideals or best manipulator will always appear at the top of the pile Bill. Somone always gets to manipulate the discourse, either openly or covertly. They will call on authority, a populist, their God made in their own image, somebody else’s God, scientific proof from those who haven’t even gone to the Unseen University.

      What about the wisdom of the masses? A group of everyday citizens who don’t know much but know what they like is a recipe for porridge and bullshit mixed – perhaps useful for muck spreading. Or perhaps used as stucco on a solid structure. But of variable quality. We would just get a new sort of leaky building with the broad mass standing to their opinions.

      Select committees as now should be informed by fora who collect data and then present scenarios produced on computers using that data and attempting to show present, past contributory information and then likely future outcomes. Legislation would have to be explored thoroughly in this way so that some smartarse can’t push through some brainstorm or scheme for enriching his or her family trust whether it’s good for the country or not. And pilot schemes would be encouraged, publicised, monitored and assessed all the time. So we would address needs and visions of different approaches. And then the positive ones could go into law for five years and then be reviewed. With this system we wouldn’t have all this education argy bargy.

      • Colonial Viper 2.2.1

        Select committees as now should be informed by fora who collect data and then present scenarios produced on computers using that data and attempting to show present, past contributory information and then likely future outcomes.

        Very Star Trek but people aren’t going to go for that. Why have select committees of MPs involved at all? They seem as much a part of the general riff raff as anyone else. but a society run by self proclaimed experts and specialists is doomed to failure, if not through silo thinking than through lack of buy in and legitimacy. It’s also a philosophy in harmony with the elitist nature of groups like Bilderberg who intrinsically believe that they are more competent and visionary at ruling than any of us.

        What about the wisdom of the masses? A group of everyday citizens who don’t know much but know what they like is a recipe for porridge and bullshit mixed – perhaps useful for muck spreading. Or perhaps used as stucco on a solid structure. But of variable quality. We would just get a new sort of leaky building with the broad mass standing to their opinions.

        Maybe you should consider history for a moment, and think about how the Kurow Three, Davidson McMillan and Nordemeyer, changed the course of this country, people who were no more than a run of the mill doctor, school principal and priest.

        Letting a bunch of self proclaimed technocrats and specialists run the country, might as well put Treasury in charge and be done with it.

      • Bill 2.2.2

        The loudest voice, the idealist or the manipulator can only thrive where democracy is absent or severly compromised.

        And who makes everything that is good or worthwhile function and advance in civilisation if it isn’t us ‘everyday citizens’ and our collective skill sets? People acting in concert aren’t thick or stupid Prism. It’s the denial of our legitimate agency by illegitimate authorities that’s the recipe for porridge and bullshit.

        • karol

          I agree that strong local democracy is (part of what is) needed for democracy to thrive, but I disagree that it is the whole of the solution.

          I tend to agree with Prism though, that the loudest voices, the most manipulative and power hungry people will dominate if there are not significant measures to prevent that.

          Even if we have strong functioning local democracy, there will be those with access to the most powerful arms, electronic surveillance systems, and/or propaganda platforms who will be able to over-ride local democracy. These resources have been developed already, and can’t be undone.

          People acting in concert, in the interests of the people are part of the solution. But there also need to be systems in place to hold the power hungry in check. Those more over-arching systems are also a potential threat to democracy, hence the need for counter-balancing checks, one of which should be strong local democracy.

          I see no easy solutions.

          • Colonial Viper

            These resources have been developed already, and can’t be undone.

            Of course they can. You defund them.

            But there also need to be systems in place to hold the power hungry in check.

            Some established ways work best. Civil institutions, workers unions, collectives, binding referendums (local and national). Civic education and civic participation.

          • Bill

            power hungry people will dominate if there are not significant measures to prevent that.

            Such significant measures are intrinsic to a functioning democracy. And if they are left out or not developed and honed, then you don’t have democracy. What you have is something like we have now – a primer for tyranny.

            ..there will be those with access to the most powerful…

            How? Democracy encourages legitimate empowerment and denies illegitimate empowerment of the types you mention. What you say kind of suggests a two tier arrangement where some people live and act from within democratic systems of governence and some (mysteriously) not only live seperately and hold sway over those that do.

            I suspect you are unwittingly taking aspects of present day social configurations and projecting them onto, what would be in reality, a completely – a radically – different complex of social structures with entirely different encouragements, rewards, fears and punishments to those of the present day.

  3. ianmac 3

    Against Atomic Weapons. But you cannot uninvent the technology. Just try and control it.
    Against wholesale trawling of the internet. But you can’t uninvent the technology. The best we can do be made fully aware of how it it works and try and have mechanisms to control it.
    This Government is in Denial and we do not get to know the full extent.
    “…it legal for the GCSB to spy on New Zealanders and expands its power to do so.”
    What to do about it. Mmmm.
    David Shearer does have Question 4 today which asks “Has he received any information that shows foreign intelligence agencies are routinely collecting emails,………….”

    • Colonial Viper 3.1

      You don’t “uninvent” technologies, you defund them, and then you stop acting in ways which keep fanning the fires of extremism and terrorism.

      Just ask yourself. Where did the IRA come from? Who formed Al Qaeda and where did they get their military training? What’s the history of Iran that they are now so set against the west?

      • karol 3.1.1

        Sounds simple.

        But who/what decides, enforces and maintains such a policy?

        Also, how to ensure the power-hungry don’t find some way to accumulate wealth, resources and/or assets?

        • Bill

          In a (necessarily) undemocratic market economy there are massive, inescapable and inbuilt incentives, alongside obvious avenues or ploys, to accumulate wealth, resources and assets. And if you take away those incentives and avenues for accumulation (through, for example, the development of a democratic economy that places economic/political/social power firmly in the hands of those producing and consuming – distribution becoming a natural adjunct to the excercise of that decision making power), then you, obviously, also take away the market economy in the process. Not a bad thing in my book, but we know that…. 😉

        • Colonial Viper

          Also, how to ensure the power-hungry don’t find some way to accumulate wealth, resources and/or assets?

          I don’t think that the accumulation of wealth and assets in of itself is a huge problem; the problem is when individuals can do it on such a massive scale capable of distorting the whole of society and the whole of government.

          In a “market economy” which empowers capital, the massive accumulation of capital automatically translates into massive influence over the economy. This is what should be disallowed.

          This is not a new problem of course and there have been many effective ways to manage this in the past.

          For instance, an 89% income tax rate on earnings over $400,000 pa would effectively cap incomes near 10x the median working wage. A 50% death tax applicable to every dollar of assets over the first million dollars automatically undoes a lifetime worth of wealth concentration, and encourages capable people to focus their talents on more than making more and more millions off the communities they live in.

          And possibly most importantly – a massive societal revaluing (up valuing) of unpaid work, emotional labour, and other non-financial contributions to the nation by ordinary people.

          • karol

            However, such measures cannot be implemented at a local democracy level. It requires an over-arching system of governance.

            • Colonial Viper

              I’m not saying that a sovereign system of governance will not be necessary in future. I’m saying that significant parts of that governance can be devolved downwards.

              Also, there are plenty of powers that could be decentralised from Wellington.

              For instance, why not enable regions or cities to set their own fuel tax, and have them develop and run public transport with it?

              Or whenever a major property asset is bought/sold, why not allow regions or cities to set a stamp duty to ensure that the local community benefits?

              • Bill

                Why not go much further along the path that would devolve power – right on down to the immediate local level – and ‘lock it in’ through establishing and developing robust and inter-locking democratic systems?

                If you leave any remote governence in place then we’re going to wind up right back here again.

                • karol

                  But how can you successfully and enduringly “lock in” devolved power, without an over-arching system of governance? One local democracy is only stable til another local coup decides it wants to start colonising others, possibly by force of arms.

                  • Bill

                    It gets locked in by dint of the fact that many interlocking democracies constitute ‘a’ democracy and that would be like confronting a behemoth for anyone inclined to usurp it or control it. You could swing your question on it’s head and ask how you achieve any democracy if an overarching system of governence is left in place?

                    As for control and power being taken at the barrel of a gun, well…that’s kind of how we got into this mess in the first place, right? But that was off the back of many disparate – often isolated – systems of governence existing in the world…many of which were undesirable. And it was in a point of time when securing resources in order that market economy advantages could be built up made sense to small elites who already had populations under their undemocratic control.

                    And how would a similarly medacious small elite even begin to gain traction in a democracy? I can’t see how they could or even why they’d want to.

                    • Colonial Viper

                      And how would a similar medacious small elite even begin to gain traction in a democracy? I can’t see how they could or even why they’d want to.

                      The traditional way is by using democratic systems to gain a foot hold, and then by dint of some “emergency” declare those same democratic systems suspended in favour of emergency powers…

                      An educated involved populace is very good protection against this kind of thing though.

                      One local democracy is only stable til another local coup decides it wants to start colonising others, possibly by force of arms.

                      I certainly see this happening in the USA; however it is not NZ culture to allow or participate in this (even though we have a million firearms in this country).

                      But how can you successfully and enduringly “lock in” devolved power, without an over-arching system of governance?

                      There are many many ways, especially if the power of central government is limited and towns/regions have their own ability to tax and manage assets.

                      Of course, anything can be unpicked over time, but the 5th Labour Govt made it painfully easy for the NATs to do that. Channel 7 public broadcasting as a counterbalance to a fully commercial TVNZ – a “balanced” system which Labour created? The NATs just defund the Channel 7 part of it and it goes away, leaving just the commercial part. Nothing could be easier.

                    • Bill

                      CV – you seem to be assuming that democracy involves heirarchies and that people/groups occupying certain points of whatever heirarchy would then find themselves in a position whereby they could ‘game’ the entire edifice. Granted, that’s entirely the situation in this system we call ‘social democracy’. But an actual democracy simply couldn’t have such structures. If it did, it wouldn’t – couldn’t – be democratic.

                      In a democracy there are no footholds – they simply don’t exist – and no possibility of anyone (or group) securing a position whereby they could unilaterally ‘call the shots’ because the possibility of their being such positions of power and/or influence doesn’t exist.

                    • Colonial Viper

                      It’s roughly thereabouts that you lose me slightly Bill. Humans, like other primates, whether pre-historic, pre-capitalist, pre-industrial, whatever, naturally form into communities with a definitive (if quite flexible) social framework and social ordering. And a hierarchy (or maybe multiple overlaid hierarchies), no matter how subtle, is going to be part of that.

                      Put in a more practical example: a large proportion of employees out there today would shy away from the chance of being “their own boss” having to take collective responsibility for all kinds of issues, as opposed to just doing a solid 9 to 5, taking orders but walking in and walking out, and collecting a regular pay cheque every fortnight.

                    • Bill

                      If it’s natural to form into heirarchies, then how could it ever have come about that I was a member of a collective where no social heirachy existed? It couldn’t possibly have happened.

                      How could we, if heirarchy was simply ‘natural’ have possibly imagined to construct and develop systems that levelled hierachies of (say) knowledge/skill on an ongoing basis and further, safeguarded our social situation from being influenced by any such ‘external’ factors? We couldn’t have. At least, not any more than we could have flapped our arms and lifted off the ground – a natural limitation that we have to live with.

                      Yes, most workers fear the idea of a collective. That’s true in my experience. But is the fear natural? Or is it born of a lifetime of conditioning that sets up the vertical division of labour and deference to supposed authority as ‘a norm’ – a ‘norm’ that just happens to present an environment that day in, day out, picks away at their sense of self – their esteem – and any belief they might have had in their abilities as well as those of their workmates?

                    • Colonial Viper

                      In a workers collective, on tax matters I would tend to defer to the opinion of the accountant in the collective. On a matter of a lease, I would probably defer to the lawyer in the collective. On the matter of the earthworks, I would usually defer to the landscape architect.

                      I might also give more weight to the opinion of someone who had been there longer with a proven track record of good judgement, as opposed to the new 17 year old kid on the block.

                      So hierarchies don’t need to be formal, but human beings rely on them a lot in every social situation. Every one’s say on everything is not going to be necessarily equal, nor should it be.

                      Yep I accept that there is a lot of social conditioning at play in the current arrangements.

                    • weka

                      “Put in a more practical example: a large proportion of employees out there today would shy away from the chance of being “their own boss” having to take collective responsibility for all kinds of issues, as opposed to just doing a solid 9 to 5, taking orders but walking in and walking out, and collecting a regular pay cheque every fortnight.”

                      They might be happy to have the collective take responsibility if it mean they didn’t have to be too involved (as opposed to one boss).

                      There are hierarchies and there are hierarchies too (or scales of grey). I’m thinking about one of the examples that Daniel Quinn uses in Beyond Civilisation. He talks about old style family circuses. There was definitely a hierarchy of sorts eg the ring master got paid more, but they had to do more work and take more responsibility too, which wasn’t something everyone wanted. But the reason they functioned well was because everyone had a role to play in the good of the whole organisation that in turn made sure that each individual was looked after (had a way of making a living).

                    • weka

                      If it’s natural to form into heirarchies, then how could it ever have come about that I was a member of a collective where no social heirachy existed? It couldn’t possibly have happened.

                      I’ve worked in collectives that purposely built in things like consensus decision making. But they were constructions, no natural evolutions. Personally I think we are probably too far away from our pre-patriarchal/dominator roots to know what is natural now.

                      But again, what are we meaning my hierarchies here? If I’m having brain surgery, I want someone in the room who is in charge. I don’t want consensus decision making about which part of my brain to cut into (at least not during the op itself) 😉 It makes sense to that in some situations having different levels of whatever is useful.

                      How could we, if heirarchy was simply ‘natural’ have possibly imagined to construct and develop systems that levelled hierachies of (say) knowledge/skill on an ongoing basis and further, safeguarded our social situation from being influenced by any such ‘external’ factors?

                      How did you level hierarchies of knowledge/skill? Are you talking about power?

                    • Bill

                      How did you level hierarchies of knowledge/skill? Are you talking about power?

                      There was a firm commitment to skill sharing. And without market impositions, no-one had anything to gain from being possesive over their skill sets. Of course, there was a balance insofar as there was no desire to ‘burn out’ any particular person who happened to possess a wide set of skills or particular skills that were going to be in high demand. Incidently, I think that’s where I realised that the old maxim ‘From each according to their needs, from each according to their abilities’ was utterly unrealistic.

                      Am I talking about power? Yes insofar that if a group is relying on one person who is in possession of any required knowledge or skill, then an opportunity exists for that person to ‘control’ certain agendas. And yes, insofar as people gained a sense of empowerment.

                      As far as deferring to somebody with a skill when a particular task is being undertaken, I believe a distinction has to be made between deferring to their practical knowledge but not allowing that to bleed into other areas of the relationship eg elevating that person to a de facto ‘boss’ position whereby they adopt and deploy the ‘usual’ psychological traits of the boss directing or controlling the worker.

                    • weka

                      So would it be fair to say it was a leveling of power rather than skill eg you can have people with skill sets that are rare and expert but this doesn’t give them more power than anyone else?

                    • KJT

                      Effective company board meetings are deliberately structured so that everyone has an equal chance at input and the less assertive are able to speak. Good boards do take advice from those with expert knowledge in their own area.

                      Then, when the same people get into Government, they do the opposite.

                      I fancy the idea that occurred in some Polynesian societies. the “talking Chief”, to make the speeches, then the “doing Chiefs” who took charge in their own areas of expertise. The navigator when at sea, the expert on crops when planting and the expert on warfare when fighting.
                      Unlike us, they did not make the mistake of giving the “talking Chief” “the windbag”, power over the others. He was their mouthpiece, not their boss.
                      The point is the tribe chose whoever they felt had the best skills to lead on each occasion. After the need was over the “Chief” reverted to being one of the tribe.

                    • Bill

                      Both a levelling of power and a sharing of skills. No point in being too dependent on too few people in important areas. And as KJT signposts, no point in allowing power to accrue to and reside with certain given people ‘just because’.

          • Bill

            Taxation only offers a partial solution within the context of a managerial bureaucracy or some-such and in and of itself points to a major problem ie, a situation where an over-arching and remote system of governance has been allowed to persist. It also suggests that the market economy is persisting in some form or other. Taxation has no role in a democracy for that very reason – that it legitimises an illegitimate and unnecessary layer of centralised control/decision making and legitimises profit.

            Where producers and consumers make economic decisions on the basis of social need, then neither taxes nor central planning/decision making are needed.

            And individuals…specifically those who chase profit and who would be the precursors of corporate dominance within a market context…wouldn’t have the economic rewards they have in the present day. They would have lost their incentive and subsequent leverage. A democratic economy is implicitly geared by social need and such like and most definately not the profit motive. The profit motive would have as much relevence as pig ownership has in the modern western context. (Note that pig ownership is very important in some presently functioning economies and confers many social privileges…but not in ‘the west’)

            And with the profit motive effectively neutered, all the undesirable behaviours it promotes and rewards would likewise be of no use – simply wouldn’t find encouragement from the economic quarter.

            • Colonial Viper

              Well without taxation you’re still left with the problem of how the commons is going to be funded.

              I’m familiar with the arguments around money not being a resource or store of value in of itself, but our economy still requires it to perform every single action, with or without a profit motive.

              And with the profit motive effectively neutered, all the undesirable behaviours it promotes and rewards would likewise be of no use – simply wouldn’t find encouragement from the economic quarter.

              OK so no profit motive – but people and organisations alike will still need an income in this economy to survive, right? Also the motivating forces for people in the current economy are (in no particular order): money, power, status, authority, security, intrinsic. What do you see that rebalancing to in future?

              • Bill

                but people and organisations alike will still need an income in this economy to survive, right?

                Maybe and maybe not. In kind of depends on how you define ‘income’. And there is no reason why income, if it exists, isn’t ‘communalised’. That was precisely the situation in the workers collective I was a part of. An income was generated – but not on the individual level. I mean by that, that we paid ourselves absolutely nothing by way of a wage. The money that was generated by the business (yes, we had a business – we weren’t a pile of useless dreamers) was allocated in various ways by us eg – building fund, maintenence fund, reinvestment into the business etc. And all purchases were made on a communal basis – food, whatever other consumables etc as determined by us – and we then just helped ourselves from what we had bought in.

                Would it be possible to expand that space we had created outward to encompass an ever greater proportion of what is produced and distributed so that no means of exchange is necessary? I don’t know. What I do know is that within the space we had, our interactions, behaviours and relationships underwent a remarkable change, freed as they were from ‘costing’ every activity or from weighing up activities against relative economic advantages/disadvantages.

              • Bill

                Where it’s demonstratably to an individuals advantage to cooperate, then the motivations of a competitive scenario lose their power – as do the rewards which either diminish or become ‘punishments’ or liabilities.

                Not trying to be trite, but under a market economy you gain advantages by being a bit of a bastard. Under a democratic economy, I’d suggest bastards would diminish their own status and standing and eventually learn that bastard behaviours were to their detriment.

              • Colonial Viper

                Yep I can agree with all of that in principle, nonetheless money (and tax) has many important functions today which would still need to be fulfilled even if it were in other ways or via other accounting methods.

                And with the proviso that elements of individual performance, reward and recognition are still crucial for good societal functioning. They may not be financial rewards, but they must provide community and societal recognition for excellence and contribution, nonetheless.

                Communal enterprises can be very successful. That’s similar to the way that many silicon valley billion dollar corporations started out.

                • Bill

                  There are social needs to be fulfilled that we fulfill today using tax revenue. Many of those needs would persist (some wouldn’t). And if well structured democracies are anything, they are incredibly good at discovering novel solutions to seemingly intractable problems.

                  Functioning collectives/cooperatives/societies are very good at recognising and acknowledging the contributions made by people – much, much better than is the case in our atomised undemocratic society, sitting as it does beneath the over riding demands of the market economy and its singular means of reward flowing from its myriad of perverted incentives.

                  • emergency mike

                    So over on whaleoil there’s a post about a video of a guy doing a bad make up job on himself and making jokes about wanking.

  4. vto 4

    So the British government is completely and utterly corrupt

  5. Clare Curran 5

    Perhaps people might like to read my post on Red Alert published on Sunday night which raises these issues and was perhaps the first comment made by a NZ politician.


    • Bill 5.1

      That the same site where attempts have been made to use log-on details to identify people and thence their activity on various sites and further to, on occasion, ‘shut them down’? Y’know, a bit like monitoring and spying….not to mention censoring. If so, we need to invent a more appropriate word to replace ‘irony’ Mz Curran.

      • weka 5.1.1

        I had two words come to mind: bloody cheek.

        • Anne

          I think it is only fair I explain what may have happened Bill and weka.

          I saw Clare’s post for the first time this morning, and left a comment to the effect that karol had also written an excellent post over on The Standard. I saw the two – while emphasising different aspects – as being complimentary to one another. That may have lead to Clare responding in kind. There’s nothing wrong in her (Clare) doing that.

          • Bill

            It’s not the linking. It’s the penning of the post given the history of the author.

            • Anne

              Fair enough Bill. But maybe she should be given a bit of space to show she has… mended her former ways. At this point that’s where I think it should be. Lets leave it there.

              • weka

                For me it’s the linking, or even just the hubris of claiming something as she does it (eg being the first politician to comment). Has Claire Curran ever acknowledged the issue with Red Alert and login details? I doubt that she can acknowledge what happened to CV, but has there been any attempt to make amends? What would evidence be that she has mended her ways? I think she is quite capable of writing the post she did and still not being trustworthy when it comes to Red Alert or Labour members. That’s the problem.

                btw, I think it’s fine for her to comment here. More tact would be nice though.

    • karol 5.2

      Thanks, Clare. I was pleased to see that the Labour Party is concerned about the 2 Bills related to surveillance and the GCSB, as well as the implications of Prism & Thin Thread.

      However, your post doesn’t substantially focus on the main core of my post, “The Corruption of Democracy” apart from the final sentence, where you say:

      This is simply intolerable in a democracy where New Zealanders have ultimate power over the way they are governed.

      This seems too cosy a view of the current state of “democracy” in NZ. I disagree that “New Zealanders”, especially those with least power and the lowest incomes have “ultimate power over the way they are governed.” And I dispute that the majority of Kiwis have such power.

  6. vto 6

    So given that the Lords in the British Parliament are accepting money for policy…..

    Does that mean we need to know what Lord Archer and John Key meet about?

    In my opinion absolutely…. the conflict is immediate and clear.


    In addition, from the above post it appears that the state and corporatism have merged and that we now have fully fledged fascism in our land (.. but no that can’t be right. Not here. Oh, it’ll be all right. I think thats rubbish. Now, what’s on the telly tonight (fucking dripheads)).

    And in evidence of the merger of state and corporate look no further than THE SKY CITY DEAL.

    Fascism is what we have in New Zealand.

  7. karol 7

    On the debate above with Bill and CV, I do think that hierarchies tend to develop over time in collectives as I saw in the network of women’s movement groups in London back in the late 70s. They developed because some people tend to be more active and have personalities that garner more attention than others. Some individuals do have a tendency to dominate.

    Maybe there are some collectives that remain non-hierarchical, but I think most will not.

    I favour a balancing between layers of democratic governance including strongly empowered local collectives, plus various layers of collective organisation that reach across geographic locations. Communities are no longer totally isolated within specific geographical regions. We live within and between multiple intersecting networks, linked by various forms of communication.

    I also think it’s necessary to work from where we are. Tearing everything down and starting again is (as yet) not an option. So I think local democracy needs to be restructured into flatter systems. And the more widespread layers need to be held accountable to local groups.

    • Bill 7.1

      Some individuals do have a tendency to dominate

      And well constructed meetings with well developed procedures suppress that tendency by deliberately empowering everyone by seeking their input and creating spaces that encourage those who are less confident…not allowing one or two people to dominate discussions and being careful to do that in a way that isn’t utterly dismissive of those with a penchant for being more vocal.

      Tearing down existing institutions isn’t necessary and any attempt to would probably and in bloodletting. Far better to create and develop democratic institutions that run in parallel with existing ones and that eventually supplant them.

      • karol 7.1.1

        Far better to create and develop democratic institutions that run in parallel with existing ones and that eventually supplant them.

        Yes, I agree with that.

        It’s possible, though not always easy (speaking as an ex-teacher) to manage, prevent individuals dominating. however, that dominance, it doesn’t always occur in organised meetings. it can be in the daily informal interactions in a community.

  8. karol 8

    I think one of the main stumbling blocks to a more democratic society is capitalism: it’s values of competitive, profit-making, status-loaded acquisition of material goods and power are firmly entrenched in a hierarchy of power.

    And now we have Palantir, now operating in a Wellington near you, as reported by Tova O’Brien on 3 News tonight. It’s part of the privatisation of the analysis of surveillance data.

    3 News can reveal that a controversial American data company called Palantir has set up base in Wellington and is dealing with the Government.
    Palantir helps spy agencies understand intercepted data. It is also the creator of software called Prism, though it insists it’s not the same PRISM that the US National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower warned the world about. They say the name’s just coincidence.
    Palantir is a multi-billion dollar software company. It works with the NSA, the CIA, the FBI and the US military, to name just a few. It helps spies trawl through, and make sense of, masses of data.

    Key doesn’t know if the GCSB uses this company but he has heard of them – great! Who IS in control of the country then? the Greens are worried about Palantir’s data mining activities. Oh, and more potential cronyism:

    Palantir co-founder Peter Thiel, who also founded PayPal, spends a lot of his time in New Zealand. He knows the Prime Minister, but Mr Key says he didn’t speak to him about using Palantir’s technology.
    Both spy agencies refused to tell us if they use Palantir technology.

    Palantir is recruiting in NZ, they require their employees to be,

    “passionate about the mission”, “spend late nights in the vault” and “although you loathe bureaucracy, you believe a revolution in intelligence is imminent”.

    • prism 8.2

      I hereby announce that I am no longer going to call myself prism because the word has changed in an unpleasant way. I used the name because it seemed to put a positive light on the world. I will now be Rosetinted.

      • vto 8.2.1

        Claim the patent prism, it is exactly what they would do.

      • karol 8.2.2

        Ah, nothing is sacred to capitalists. Maybe you could sue them for breach of your copyright?

        • Rosetinted

          It won’t be long before someone works out how to patent the letters of the alphabet and then we will have to develop tonal grunts (again, though I don’t remember this happening you understand). Or we could try yodelling or the alpenhorn which have been used to call from mountain to mountain.

          I thought I heard that someone, was it actually The Obama, saying that the present patent system needs revising?!!?

          • karol

            Gordon Campbell has an article on Dotcom, copyright and patents, in the latest issue of Werewolf.

            It shows the need to patent and copyright systems need revising.

            Campbell points to the unequal treatment of patents and copyright: the treatment of online copyright infringement (Dotcom charges) is different from the treatment of patent infringers. Hollywood corporates are charged with patent infringement frequently – there’s been a couple of such cases against Warners – they get slapped with a wet fine notice and carry on with business as usual, while copyright infringers get a criminal conviction.

  9. Huginn 9

    Jimmy Wales of Wikipedia is asking why we found out about this from a whistleblower and not the executives of the corporations.
    He tweeted a link to this:

    > how far up the chain of command did the decision-making process reach? Did the NSA contact the CEO of Verizon, the chairman of the
    > board of Google, etc. and say, “Do you mind if we take a peek?” or
    > did they target some VP of operations and say, “Do this for us, and
    > don’t tell your boss”?
    > If the decision to comply with the request reached the executive
    > levels, why were there no mass resignations, a la Nixon’s Saturday
    > Night Massacre? Why did no one take a stand and say, “I will not
    > sign off on doing this”? If some number of executives all tendered
    > their resignations with no explanation, Wall Street would have taken
    > notice.

    We know what happened in the case of QWest before 9/11. They
    contacted the CEO/Chairman asking to wiretap all the customers. After
    he consulted with Legal, he refused. As a result, NSA canceled a
    bunch of unrelated billion dollar contracts that QWest was the top
    bidder for. And then the DoJ targeted him and prosecuted him and put
    him in prison for insider trading — on the theory that he knew of
    anticipated income from secret programs that QWest was planning for
    the government, while the public didn’t because it was classified and
    he couldn’t legally tell them, and then he bought or sold QWest stock
    knowing those things.

    This CEO’s name is Joseph P. Nacchio and TODAY he’s still serving a
    trumped-up 6-year federal prison sentence today for quietly refusing
    an NSA demand to massively wiretap his customers.


  10. muzza 10

    Excellent article , Karol.

  11. karol 11

    Why NZ herald journalist, David Fisher is not keen on state surveillance capabilities:

    When the Operation 8 defendants were awaiting trial, one of those facing terrorism-related charges allowed me to sift through police evidence released under discovery. Among thousands of pages were dozens of text messages I had exchanged almost two years earlier with the accused person.

    A few years later, I asked a military source with extremely sensitive information: “What will they do to track down the source?” The source told me that my mobile phone records would show who I had spoken to and where I went.

    • muzza 11.1

      Having recently sat on a jury, what I learned up close, (not for the first time), is the level of incompetence of the so called, *trusted institutions*!

      *The Crown* prosecution, was built around failed *intelligence*, which had been *fashioned*, by officers who were *in training*, using witnesses that were not credible!

  12. AmaKiwi 12

    Follow the money.

    Ed Snowden said he could read any of your files, see all your accounts, bypass any passwords. No company will pass up an opportunity to mine their competitors’ files.

    NSA is about American companies dominating any and all foreign competitors. If they haven’t done it already, they will be doing it now.

    • AmaKiwi 12.1


      American companies will bribe NSA contractors to get them access to competitor’s data.

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