The weak neolib defence of asset sales

Written By: - Date published: 9:16 am, June 1st, 2010 - 23 comments
Categories: assets, class war, Economy, privatisation - Tags: ,

The neoliberal dinosaurs at Anti-dismal have presented their defence of National’s privatisation agenda by responding to my post “Privatisation: the facts“. Their responses offer an insight into the neoliberal mind:

Actually no we don’t [own the SOEs]. The government does. The government has the residual control rights over these assets and thus they own them.

In the neoliberal mind, the government isn’t an expression of society’s collective will and cooperation, it’s a business. You and I know that what the government owns it owns on our behalf. The privatisers see a business to be asset-stripped.

They may not [end up owning privatised assets] but why should we worry? The idea of the sale of any asset is to get it in the hand of whoever values the asset most highly. That may or may not be “Mum and Dads”.

Out comes the truth. The assets go to the people with money. Look closely: “whoever values the asset most highly”. Neoliberals equate value with money. Who values a loaf of bread more? A starving man with no money or a rich man who wants to sop up his soup? According the neoliberals, the one who will pay the most money. They don’t understand that an asset will be bought by the people with the most money even though others may value the asset more highly.

“Privatisation harms markets”. I’m not sure that even make sense. I’m not sure how getting more firms into a market can “harm the market” – whatever that means. The evidence tells us that privatisation increases competition in markets and I can’t see how that “harms the market”.

Oh dear. Who hear thinks the electricity market is working better now than it was when it was before the Bradford reforms that partially privatised it? The introduction of privatisation to natural monopolies has historically lead to under-investment and competition based on advertising, not quality and price.

“Privatisation leads to asset-stripping”. It may or may not. In some cases that is exactly what should happen. In a number of cases, eg NZ Rail, the business as sold wasn’t viable and thus needed reorganisation. Privatisation is a good way of doing this.

You read it here first (unless you’re one of the 6 people who read Anti-dismal): the Right supports asset-stripping. I love that they picked rail as an example of asset-stripping working. The fact is we got to the edge of losing a vital piece of national infrastructure which private owners had extracted huge profits from and then dumped back into the government’s hands, knowing it couldn’t let it collapse.

“We also get a bad deal on SOE sales.” How can we tell? If this means we don’t get the highest price possible for an asset then why worry? The idea idea for asset sales isn’t to sell at the highest price, if it was then the government should make all SOE’s into monopolises before selling them as monopolises command a higher price than competitive firms. Even Marty G should be able to see the problem with that!!!!

OK. That’s a bit of a mad rant. Selling assets at a low price is a good thing? For whom? Oh, yeah, the rich buyers, like Fay and Richwhite who made half a billion dollars by buying government assets for fire-sale prices and hocking them off quick for more.

“Kiwibank doesn’t need to be partially sold to get money for expansion. The cheapest source of capital is the government”
If this is true for Kiwibank then it is also true for all other firms and thus the government should supply the capital for all firms. To get capital allocated rationally you need the price of capital to be the market price so that it reflects the true opportunity cost of that capital.

Anyone who thinks that capitalism succeeds in rationally allocating capital needs their head read. We’ve just gone through the largest recession in generations because of mis-allocation of capital. We’re on the brink of environmental collapse because we’re expending our capital on building SUVs rather than creating clean energy. The neolibs can’t actually counter my point – if Kiwibank needs more capital, the government is the best value supplier.

23 comments on “The weak neolib defence of asset sales”

  1. Interesting comment. It boils down to NZ Government evil, foreign corporation good!

    The nelib mindset feels like a faith based belief system rather than one based on experience.

  2. tc 2

    They have an ideology and they’re not afraid to use it……umm in fact that’s all they’ve got.

  3. BLiP 3

    Sad. They really sound like a bunch of fawning economics Honours students greasing for extra merit.

  4. Nick C 4

    It seems the evil neo-liberals have taken over the victoria university students association and are selling its assets!

  5. Olwyn 5

    Or a greed-based system dependent on the propagation of naive faith in others. Or an Iliad played out in terms of wealth and destitution rather than the traditional weaponry – where you get to lord it over the destitute until a bigger warrior forces you into destitution as well. In the meantime you believe in it as much as you see yourself or your team in the lording-over role, and do not want the government queering the pitch for you.

  6. Bunji 6

    Wow. I liked your original article, but I think they’ve highlighted your points even better! Often nothing makes the left’s points more obvious than listening to those on the raving right…

  7. insider 7

    I dunno, the kneejerk ideology you criticise is matched here by an equally weak ‘not on my watch’ anti privatisation agenda and petty ‘neo liberal’ name calling BTW to them that’s probably as offensive as me calling you a socialist, so the names only appeal to your fellow travellers.

    backed up by evidenceless assertions, like the one on the electricity market. Well, if you look at the evidence, there has been some real gains since that time. Reliability of the system which is what most of us want most of all – tends to be better now than in the golden era of government ownership where there were rolling power cuts and grand projects loved by faceless and unaccountable engineers but not necessarily the best for the customer. Prices are no longer cross subsidised which is better for long term decision making, and decisions over the system that affect you and me are done in the open not by a cosy club.

    If you are not kneejerk anti privatisers, are there any government assets that you would consider selling if the price were right?

    • felix 7.1

      I dunno, the kneejerk ideology you criticise is matched here by an equally weak ‘not on my watch’ anti burglary agenda and petty ‘burglar’ name calling.

      If you are not kneejerk anti burglars, is there anything in your house that you would consider letting the burglars have?

    • snoozer 7.2

      neoliberal is the name of the ideology. It’s not name calling any more than socialist is.

      “If you are not kneejerk anti privatisers, are there any government assets that you would consider selling if the price were right?”

      “If the price is right” is a tautology. Of course if the conditions needed to make me do X are satisfied I do X.

      “If you were hungry enough, would you eat a rat?”
      “Sure, if I was hungry enough to eat a rat I would eat a rat”

      The above example comes from National’s policy formation after Key took the leadership.

    • rainman 7.3

      @Insider: If you’re not a kneejerk anti-nationaliser, are there any currently private assets you would consider nationalising?

      • insider 7.3.1

        Well the government owns so much of NZ’s national scale businesses it’s hard to find one! To me it would have to be something that we desperately need as a country and that is failing badly in private ownership, and for which there are no alternatives.

        If energy security circumstances were differnt you might be able to make a case for NZ Refinery, but it is working well as it is and regulations for emergencies in place, so why bother? You could argue for the telephone network, but there are plenty of alternatives to that so what do you gain?

        Of what they already own there are some that I just don’t see the point of owning, others that I could go either way on and some I’d retain – but most of them aren’t ‘businesses’ as such.

  8. tc 8

    yes insider, TVNZ and a few of these other ‘commercially focused’ SOE’s that are surplus to requirements as not providing essential services or in a monopoly/duoploly providers scenario are long overdue for some float off to inject better management and practices.

    I thought there’s plenty of research and evidence that shows privatising essential services (power and water) escalates cost to consumer as you introduce a profit element that never existed before and in rare cases this is done properly it’s because the private partner is heavily regulated/covenanted to maintain service/investment and the prices rises are controlled…..I read it all here as links last year from memory.

    The public sector may have inefficiencies but from memory the evidence pointed to a lower cost outcome for consumers than a private/shareholder element did…..private management contracts without actually ownership leaving the public’s addresses most of your ‘best practices’ being adopted.

    I all for getting a more effective service being delivered but not selling the farm……once it’s gone it’s gone.

    • insider 8.1

      “once it’s gone it’s gone”

      I bet that’s what Labour thought when they sold off that airline 🙂

    • insider 8.2

      I’d be all for keeping part of TVNZ as long as it was reformed. Either that or boost the charter approach. I tend to see it almost as part of the education system where the state should have a role as part of building a healthy democracy.

      To me health and education are the two places where a state presence is important even though private models exist. That doesn’t mean 100% control and doesn’t mean lack of contestability.

  9. Rharn 10

    Call it what you will but to my mind the free market is nothing less than a bunch of ‘freebooters’ pillaging and raping those at the ‘coalface’ producing the wealth. The arseholes are only better than pirates in as much as they have the governments support for plundering our state assets.

    • Luxated 11.1

      I’ll admit I only skimmed this and I might get around to writing a full reply if I remember to read it in full. There is however one clear and probably not surprising thing, this response completely and utterly missed the point.

      Anyway, none of this has anything to do with my point, which is very simple: we the people do not have residual control rights over state assets, the government does, and thus the government, and not we the people, is the owner of those assets.

      As you nearly completely avoid in your post, the government derives its power and therefore its possession of assets from the people, the government has no power in and of itself only the power the people invest in it. Some things (the military for example) disturb this somewhat but that doesn’t erode the basic tenant.

      Well actually the electricity market is doing better thanks to the Bradford reforms so Marty is wrong here.

      I would like to see Marty’s evidence for this assertion: “The introduction of privatisation to natural monopolies has historically lead to under-investment and competition based on advertising, not quality and price.”

      Simultaneously making unfounded assertions about the effectiveness of privatisation while calling on Marty to provide evidence is fairly hypocritical (Not that Marty shouldn’t provide evidence mind you). Note the main page of someone’s blog isn’t what I would call a good source (no matter how good the author is or isn’t), link directly to posts which happen to be cited, hopefully making it a reasonably secondary or tertiary source.

      Later own you do actually directly cite a report, which is great. Except that you’ve really got to take ‘independent’ research institutes work with a grain of salt. When speaking about privatisation its best not to listen too closely to a group whose members include Telecom, Meridian Energy, Contact Energy and Westpac. Also when the chairman has his career described as including:

      In 1987 he established the investment banking services of Fay, Richwhite & Company Limited. Here, he was a Director and Head of Investment Banking and led a number of their M&A and capital management mandates. They included advising Bell Atlantic and Ameritech on the acquisition of Telecom New Zealand, and managing the public float of Telecom New Zealand.

      It might just pay to ignore him when he rambles on about how much ‘better’ rail in NZ was under private hands, just a little bit of self interest and justification perhaps?


      The 2009 analysis reveals little evidence to suggest that overall the economic outlook for rail has improved since 1999…

      Report published on the 23 of June 2009, Kiwirail established on the first of July the previous year. So most of that economic outlook would be down to Toll then? Granted the Government did buy the track earlier than that (2004-2005 from memory) but that won’t magically improve Toll’s performance if they don’t invest in improved services.

      Perhaps I’ll have some time later to address the post more than superficially (someone else will probably beat me to it mind you).

      P.S. Before you accuse me of such, I’m not dismissing the ISCR report out of hand just pointing out that it isn’t exactly ‘independent’ in this matter.

      P.P.S. The quote regarding Rob Cameron ISCR chairman is supposed to be cited, doesn’t seem to work. Its all on the ISCR webpage anyway

      • Armchair Critic 11.1.1

        P.S. Before you accuse me of such, I’m not dismissing the ISCR report out of hand just pointing out that it isn’t exactly ‘independent’ in this matter.
        I read the report and found that parts of the analysis and the assumptions were just wrong. Which leads to the conclusions being wrong too.
        Otherwise, I did pretty much what you did and agree with your response to PW.
        It also occurred to me that two of the last three comments from PW that I have seen were pure link-whoring, and the other was a mix of link whoring and engaging in discussion. What’s up with that?

  10. joe bloggs 12

    this scaremongering about an orgy of asset-stripping is a clear distortion of what English has said.

    The Capital Markets Development taskforce recommended a broader range of high-quality equity offerings for retail investors by encouraging “partial listings of central and local government-owned companies, agricultural businesses like Fonterra and local subsidiaries of financial services firms”.

    That’s a world away from asset-stripping – don’t you recognise the straw-man tactics that Bill’s used to rark you up?

    • McFlock 12.1

      So the basic problem is:

      are National a threat to every NZer who isn’t a millionaire because they’ll do what they say they are considering; or are National a possible threat to every NZer who isn’t a millionaire because they’ll do something other than what they say?

      The essence of NZ “democracy” in action…

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