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Unthinkable Things

Written By: - Date published: 8:41 am, July 22nd, 2020 - 29 comments
Categories: australian politics, China, Deep stuff, economy, Economy, exports, Globalisation, International, jacinda ardern, labour, Politics, uncategorized, us politics - Tags:

It’s time to actually re-found New Zealand.

With the government clearly watching the unravelling of Australia’s Covid-19 response and putting in place $14 billion in preparation for a second infection wave, we are clearly now in a history-in-making territory of the highest instability outside a world war. We are getting into far riskier territory than a mere 1977-1982 oil crisis.

In budget 2020, simply to get through the year, they allocated $50 billion just for recovery. Bailing out South Canterbury Finance used to be big. Nope.

So let’s check the convergence we’re in:
– A parliamentary opposition so weak that National is now unlikely to have another shot at power until 2026
– A re-alignment of geopolitical dominance from the United States (and traditional Pacific friends) to China (and traditional friends)
– A longer, deeper, more jobless recovery for Australia and for ourselves such that the proper order of society and of the economy will only be sustained through total submission to government policy and to opportunities and projects funded by government debt
– The near-permanent decline of wool, tourism, outbound travel, airports and airlines, much mainstreet retail, restaurants, and heavy manufacturing, and the dominant rise of online shopping and commerce and even a tilt away from working in offices.

All this inside 2020, and we’re only halfway through the year. So we can expect more structural breakages.

This is the kind of moment you only get once a century.

Sure, most of our efforts should continue to be on mere survival as a country. Granted. But note what they did when it was going pear-shaped in March: they brought together a group of senior reps from NZ Defence, Health, Police, Civil Defence and more to dust off the plans you pull out when it’s unthinkable. That’s as close to a Deep State think tank as we’ve had for a while

More now is thinkable. “We haven’t got the money. so we’ll have to think”, said Ernest Rutherford over a century ago. It’s never truer than now.

It’s the only moment we’ll get like it to fundamentally re-imagine what we want this place to be.

All those items in the Too Hard drawer can be brought out. Questions that are so fundamental to our place and our people that they were unthinkable, but must now be said out loud.

I mean you can see, stumbling around, that this government do have their ambitious moments: re-nationalise all the polytechs; merge most of the District Health Boards, merge most of the water companies into regional blocs, more money on health and regional development than we have seen by several orders of magnitude, spend public debt on stimulus like none have done since the mid-1960s, fully command-and-control society until it’s stable. It’s an uneven picture, but as our crisis has deepened, that state has grown in power over us and in ambition, deepened and expanded by the month.

The policy imagination ought to be being as fired up as the government is allowing us to be.

Curiously the operators are keeping Prime Minister Ardern largely above the fray of major policy development. She rolls it out in set pieces with a smile when it’s ready to be rolled out. Management, even on this scale, is a failure of imagination.

We will only get to re-think New Zealand like this once. Plenty of countries re-found themselves. Singapore did. Ireland did thirty years ago. Australia did at Federation. The U.K. is now – painfully. China is right now. Israel did 70 years ago. Japan and Korea did after war and occupation. And most thrived as a result.

What further items might there be in the ‘too hard drawer’ for us to seize?

Can we confirm our new national confidence with a single written constitution, rather than a set of operating documents and treaties that don’t fit well? Something more interesting than the design of a flag.

Do we have an economic plan? Do we want one? A believable “Green New Deal’? How would enduring bipartisanship be possible? A bipartisan national transport plan? A massive re-nationalisation programme? Of water? Of fuel? Even of land? (Apparently tax will never be reformed by this government)

Re-adjust what we see as our threats? Full and final defence neutrality and withdrawal from Five Eyes? Merge Defence and Health? What does it gain us, and cost us? Draw our very close friends closer with a constitutional review that might include stronger common governing structure with our Pacific “realm” countries, perhaps some more formal structural ties with Australia?

Could we have blg national goals for when we celebrate the Treaty of Waitangi’s bicentenary in 20 years?

What priority would we assign to the effort needed to do any of that? And in what sequence do we do each one to enable the optimum change of our direction?

We don’t need more project-based laundry lists or trite “shovel-ready” concrete pours. What we do need is a government that acknowledges the scale of the crisis we are heading into, and forms the framework for us to think. Lets us in.

The very worst of all worlds is that we accept that government should just keep borrowing, absolving us from the work of participation in our own future. We’re not dumb or lazy, we’re not weak.

With the multiple crises besetting us so deep, we won’t have a choice but to fundamentally change. Our government is paradoxically unafraid to go big but doesn’t have any policy core team in its front bench. There’s no Bill Birch or W. B. Sutch to be seen.

Hope comes when they trust us to think, to imagine, to speak otherwise unthinkable things that could chart us a fresh course. As Samuel Beckett wrote in his 1983 novella Worstward Ho: “Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”

We should be enabled to re-think New Zealand as if we are beginning it again. To re-found New Zealand.

29 comments on “Unthinkable Things”

  1. Dennis Frank 1

    Changing our national name to Aotearoa would be the most effective way to reboot the nation. Ditching colonialism, finally!

    You're right, big picture thinking is essential now. Here's a useful view of that: https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/health/coronavirus/121828783/dancing-with-elephants-why-regionalism-is-the-new-globalism-for-nz

    Experts like Texas-based Peter Zeihan,​ author of Disunited Nations,​ say coronavirus hit right when globalisation as a project was already headed out the door. The pandemic is only going to reinforce big changes that were well under way.

    What will follow is a division of the world into a tripolar system organised around three regional power collectives – Asia, North America and Europe. No top dog superpowers but rather integrated geographic spheres of influence, each with its own distinctive way of doing things.

    Globalisation won’t be dead. However, rather than being the kind of deal where 193 nations meet in a general assembly to vote on big stuff like climate change and social justice, action will emerge out of more local self-interest.

    Kiwi academics like Otago University professor of international relations Robert Patman​ say coronavirus has to be a time when the world finds what is working, what is failing. That must accelerate political change. And for New Zealand, it does feel like an opportunity, says Patman. We just need a clear view how the current mess of tensions is going to play out.

  2. Muttonbird 2

    It’s time to actually re-found New Zealand.

  3. Tiger Mountain 3

    More centrist wombling from Advantage imo, but hey if it provokes a few useful ideas…

    Society needs a fundamental shift in class power, ultimately involving the retirement of capitalist private ownership, and the death grip of international finance capital. Resource hogging by the elites denies the majority, it is not envy, merely rational to point this out.

    Such a change will be more than difficult in Aotearoa/NZ, a place still struggling with post colonial fall out, and 35 years of structural, hegemonic neo liberalism.

    The transition would be priority nationalisation of major economic activity, and the roll back of monetarism in all its hiding places. Starting with returning power generation and supply to full public ownership. Free Wifi and fare free public transport nationwide. Rail not road being the infrastructure priority. A basic income to all citizens, plus a new social security safety net agency for targeted assistance.

    People will no longer roam the world as they have been doing. We will consolidate into regions, districts and sustainable communities, linked by internet, rail and marine transport (as per the PGF proposal to reinstitute the Kaipara as a marine highway). We will grow, produce, and consume locally, the world will shrink and slow down in some respects.

    Yes folks…its eco s-s-socialism ahead.

  4. Wayne 4

    The one thing that won’t happen is a forcible socialist revolution (looking at you Tiger Mountain).

    But to take the examples of Finland, Israel and Ireland, they all had to reimagine themselves in the last 40 years. In all cases built around innovation. In a much more substantial way than NZ has ever attempted.

    A whole lot of very highly skilled people have lost their jobs, most notably in aviation. They won’t be sitting on their hands, saying “woe is me”. They will be thinking, what next. Expect some interesting things to come from them, driven by necessity.

    Does the current government have the gumption to set the scene for this new step? Will we see either major party come up with something truly imaginative over the next few weeks of the election campaign? Or is it a longer process more driven by flax roots?

    Questions rather than answers.

    But what I do know is that in a modern pluralistic democracy it will be the free will of many different people that will set the pace. The government can certainly spend money and do big programs. But the types of compulsion that exist in totalitarian societies won’t be happening here.

    • Tiger Mountain 4.1

      Not great examples–“the Irish Tiger” was based on neo liberalism, austerity for many, and tax breaks for corporates, Israel a human rights travesty from the start, based on land theft and the subjugation of Palestinians, Israel would likely be long gone if not for decades of massive US dollar and military support, Finland is a real history lesson, including supporting the Nazis in WWII! Finland bounced back and forth between a genuine welfare state and EU austerity like various other European countries–not an exemplar.

      Don’t panic Wayne there won’t be socialism down on the farm this year, Labour is still hanging on to the neo liberal consensus indulged by all main Parliamentary parties since 1984–but as the Advantage piece raises–Things-have-changed. Mass perception and thinking often lags behind necessary societal change.

      This election at least is simple…do you want to keep a lid on Covid?–Vote Jacinda

    • Dennis Frank 4.2

      Or is it a longer process more driven by flax roots?

      I first encountered flax roots thinking when I joined the Greens after the 1990 election. I was sceptical but accepted the premise. It's consistent with the idea that new thinking emerges spontaneously from folks with that innate ability, and the antique binary political frame is irrelevant to the natural process of innovation.

      Nowadays I see the relevance of recycling Hegel's dialectic: combine bottom-up with top-down, so that the dialectic can bounce ideas back & forth between govt & public. So there's still a valid place for politicians advocating govt plans. The dialectic ought to sort out the wheat from the chaff, eh? Designs that withstand critical appraisal will prove themselves more resilient. Social darwinism at play…

      • Draco T Bastard 4.2.1

        Nowadays I see the relevance of recycling Hegel's dialectic: combine bottom-up with top-down, so that the dialectic can bounce ideas back & forth between govt & public.

        My Participatory Democracy idea is that we keep parliament but get rid of the government and opposition aspects of it. Parliament isn't the government and nor does it hold the government. Parliament would be the administration arm of the government while the people are the government.

        In other words, parliament is there to carry out the will of the people.

        But that brings up the questions of how we ensure that the will of the people is known and how we ensure that parliament then carries it out.

    • Draco T Bastard 4.3

      But what I do know is that in a modern pluralistic democracy it will be the free will of many different people that will set the pace.

      A democracy is, by default, communist. Which, of course, is why National have always tried to undermine it. The most recent example was when they tried to get rid of MMP and put in place a less democratic solution.

    • Brigid 4.4

      Looking at you Wayne

      "This election at least is simple…do you want to keep a lid on Covid?–Vote Jacinda"

    • AB 4.5

      "But the types of compulsion that exist in totalitarian societies won’t be happening here."

      But you are quite content with compulsion when it sits in the hands of non-democratic actors – i.e. the owners and managers of the private economy. You seem to dislike it only when it sits in the hands of democratic actors – e.g. elected governments. Your inability to recognise the existence (and illegitimacy) of private power is weird, frankly.

  5. infused 5

    I think what this shows is you have no real understand of what's going on.

    China is under massive pressure. They are losing. Along with Russia.

    Next year is going to suck for everyone. Everyone is living in a bubble right now which is going to pop in December/Jan.

    Crazy new policy, which is what is going to come from a Labour/Green govt will sink NZ.

    • Drowsy M. Kram 5.1

      "Crazy new policy… from a Labour/Green govt will sink NZ."

      Rats of at least average intelligence will abandon a sinking ship – nowhere else to go?

      I’d like to see NZ putting more resources into STEM education, and the (further) development of science and technology parks and innovation centres.

    • Draco T Bastard 5.2

      That describes what Ad was going on about.

      Crazy new policy is what's going to bring us out of the disaster that globalism has brought us.

      • infused 5.2.1

        keep dreaming buddy.

        • Draco T Bastard 5.2.1.1

          The problem is that you guys are dreaming and that dream is a nightmare for the rest of us.

          And you refuse to believe that what you want is totally delusional – and psychopathic.

  6. Draco T Bastard 6

    Sure, most of our efforts should continue to be on mere survival as a country.

    Define survive within that context.

    But note what they did when it was going pear-shaped in March: they brought together a group of senior reps from NZ Defence, Health, Police, Civil Defence and more to dust off the plans you pull out when it’s unthinkable.

    It's what a government does when the country is in a war and the supply lines have been cut.

    I've been saying for awhile that we were vulnerable because, if the shit hit the fan, our supply lines could easily be cut and thus we need to produce more here especially in regards to defence.

    Well, the shit has hit the fan and our supply lines have been cut.

    Now we come back to the definition of survive and what we need to do to achieve that.

    The answer is simple (produce what we need here) but hard to achieve because we've thrown away a large percentage of our manufacturing base and we haven't even developed that which we now need.

    How long does it take to produce a IC fabrication plant?

    How long to develop our local resources to provide for that fabrication plant?

    What about vehicles? Do we need to produce personal transport or are our bus manufacturers enough?

    The list goes on.

    The very worst of all worlds is that we accept that government should just keep borrowing,

    The government should never borrow but that was also true before the crisis hit.

    If we're going to re-found NZ then we should, at the very least, admit that capitalism has failed us and get rid of that so we don't have the bludging capitalists sucking the rest of us dry.

    • Tiger Mountain 6.1

      Agree with your comments too Draco, never say never I guess, though subjective, short term thinking of the people, is always an issue in making progress.

      In NZ we have hundreds of thousands of working class people that are either aspirationaly aligned with capital, forced into false contractor or gig status, and or under the thumb of mortgages and other debt. They are under pressure and the way out is not necessarily that obvious.

      An old unionist friend of mine, the late GH Andersen of Northern Drivers Union and SUP fame, was against mortgaged home ownership for working class people because he felt it made them less likely to take extended strike and other direct action. He preferred universal, long term, transferable, state owned housing that allowed people stable yet flexible housing, without a thumping great mortgage dominating their lives.

      In the Covid setting, while I want to see a Labour Green Govt in Sept, it is then time for a mass push to roll back neo liberalism once and for all, while setting up a manufacturing sector and what ever else is required.

      • Draco T Bastard 6.1.1

        n old unionist friend of mine, the late GH Andersen of Northern Drivers Union and SUP fame, was against mortgaged home ownership for working class people because he felt it made them less likely to take extended strike and other direct action. He preferred universal, long term, transferable, state owned housing that allowed people stable yet flexible housing, without a thumping great mortgage dominating their lives.

        Agree with him there.

        I'm against it as well as it opens workers up for exploitation by the private banks and people who own multiple houses that they can then rent out thus becoming bludgers – exactly as we're seeing.

        • Brigid 6.1.1.1

          But surely it's the private banks that is the problem, both in exploitation of the mortgagor and in driving the housing market bubble.

          A robust CGT wouldn't be a bad idea either.

          • Draco T Bastard 6.1.1.1.1

            But surely it's the private banks that is the problem

            There is more than one problem.

            • There is the problem of ownership which allows and encourages exploitation
            • There's the desire by many to live upon the work of others (wealth)
            • There is the desire for power over others (authority)

            All of these interact with each other.

    • theotherpat 6.2

      and everyone needs to get cracking on the proverbial vege plot!

  7. Byd0nz 7

    Oh for the long distant future when the Realization movement discovers that we sit on a rock hurtling through space and that the people of earth as of one and through necessity dump the money systems and evolve in a World without money, where all the worlds' people work together in keeping the planet habital for mankind leaving the moribund corrupt money systems behind kaj adoptas Esperanto kiel la mondan lingvo.

  8. Stuart Munro 8

    A parliamentary opposition so weak that National is now unlikely to have another shot at power until 2026

    National have been morally and intellectually bankrupt for decades, it hasn't kept them out of power. But the crisis has obliged governments to be more hands on, running directly counter to neoliberalism, which suggests, nay, demands, that governments abandon their responsibilities to the "ineffable" agency of the market.

    Provision for the crisis shows that the level of government intervention during the next few electoral cycles will be an order of magnitude greater than had been becoming the norm. But with the exercise of that greater power comes commensurate risk. Handle the crisis well, and the public response will be overwhelmingly positive. Screw it up, and the public will punish even though the electoral alternatives are frankly rubbish.

  9. feijoa 9

    Definitely time for a reset. If the right wingers try it as in Naomi Kleins "Shock Doctrine", why cant lefties do it too???

    More roads is definitely NOT the answer

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