The sharp divisions in this election, the polarisation, the cognitive dissonance should be no surprise to anyone. What we are seeing is the end result of 30 years of neoliberal ideology, the separation of the electorate into three; those who are convinced that its okay, indeed welfare enhancing for everyone, if you only look out for yourself (or at least your immediate family); those who believe the opposite, that co-operation and looking out for others is more beneficial for the economy and society; and the largest “centre” group who innately believe the second but act like the first because they believe that is the reality and hey what can they do. They don’t want to miss out on their share for nothing.
How do you make this large centre group less cynical and willing to consider alternatives? There have been two generations who have grown up post 1984. The Rogernomics economy is all they know. Will it take another GFC for them to question the political and economic status quo?
Many older boomers have grown wealthy on the back of property investment and don’t mind much if the ladder is being pulled up behind them. Their kids will be fine. Inequality? Pfft. It’s a meritocracy baby! Social Darwinism. The hard working and deserving prosper, the weak and lazy don’t. Anyone can do it if they try hard enough.
In addition there has been a massive influx of immigrants from nations with weak democracies or authoritarian governments and little to no social safety nets. They have low expectations of politicians and many don’t participate in our democratic process, the effect of which isn’t clear beyond falling voter turnouts. I would suggest however, anecdotally, that it contributes to a hardening of attitudes towards crime, beneficiaries and Maori.
In 1976 Gordon McLauchlan published a book The Passionless People, a scathing look at New Zealander’s whom he labeled “smiling zombies”. In a 2012 interview after releasing the equally scathing The Passionless People Revisited he said;
No, he says, he doesn’t foresee rousing New Zealand readers to fury. “New Zealanders don’t give a stuff about anything too much.”
I’m not sure this is entirely true. Many New Zealanders seem to care very much about their property value and their place on the economic totem pole. Aucklanders in particular have become far more concerned about addresses, schools, holidays and car marques. Maybe this was always the case. Maybe a century of egalitarianism was the anomaly and Rogernomics lifted the veil and allowed us to express our innate, repressed human nature. I’m sure the libertarians of ACT would argue this. Bruce Jesson too, said when talking about the 1987 stockmarket (and commercial property) crash that left such an indelible mark on a generation;
…generally speaking, New Zealand society moved in unison, with business, politicians and the media all shouting the market up and contributing to the ultimate debacle….Middle class New Zealand revealed itself to be greedy and gullible. The financial press showed itself incompetent.
The oppressive controlling years of Muldoon contributed to the wild cathartic swing in the opposite direction but New Zealand had like most other countries experienced wild booms and busts prior to 1984. And the neoliberal message is seductive and appealing to our basest instincts, fear, greed and envy. Indeed they are to be encouraged. As economist Brian Easton put it;
The pursuit of self interest became the central ethical principle in public policy of the rogernomes….It is an enormously attractive principle for what it says is ‘do what feels good for you and that’s good for society’. At a stroke most of the great ethical dilemmas are resolved.
The net result of this philosophy is a series of financial crises culminating in the GFC, structural unemployment, huge levels of debt and grossly inflated house prices. We have a Prime Minister who personifies bland and reassuring, aided and abetted by an acquiescent MSM to the point where a great number of us believe a type of Orwellian Doublespeak. He and his government assure us they offer stability and a coherent, proven orthodox way of managing the economy. They are the steady, sensible guardians. The others are reckless, loony, fringe and radical.
Never mind we have keep our heads above water only by massive government and private borrowing. Never mind the philosophy and policy framework they are following is the same one that led to the GFC. Never mind Labour are almost as bad as National, committed to a debt fuelled property market, free trade ideology and a defunct monetary policy. Labour only tolerate the poor not hate them. They are a management issue.
In 2012 I wrote this piece; Time to put Rogernomics to sleep.
There is no real left or right in mainstream New Zealand politics, only a banal centre, for what deregulation and leaving the economy to be determined by market forces does is absolve politicians of responsibility – “There is nothing we can do”. The Prime Minister becomes a manager rather than a leader, a public relations face to whisper sweet nothings to market participants. In this respect there was no difference between Helen Clark and John Key. Helen the activist became Helen the obsequious the further up the political ladder she went….
The model of the last 30 years is broken. Fiddling with band aids won’t fix it. At what point do you admit the experiment just hasn’t worked for New Zealand and won’t be solved by fervent repetition of ideological clap trap? We need to be open to fresh ideas and not allow the debate to be framed by the same elites. The time may be nearing for a third party to tap into growing discontent, perhaps targeting the under 40’s and blowing the New Zealand political landscape wide open. The Green’s have scratched the surface but they are desperate to throw off the hippy dippy tag and will not promote anything that is too far from the current economic orthodoxy.
I stand by that position. The Greens are a force to be reckoned with but in order to do so have become part of the banal centre, a “responsible” coalition partner for orthodox Labour. No talk about Steady State from the New Zealand Greens. New Zealand First has some good nationalist policies but a leader who has become almost breathlessly incoherent and is very much part of the Wellington status quo.
The new force to target the under 40’s is the marriage of the “radical” Mana Party and the “loony” Internet Party. They are the ones offering true alternatives and for this reason have borne the full force of the establishment and their henchmen in the MSM. The joint concerted effort against Hone Harawira in Te Tai Tokerau bears this out.
New Zealanders are not ready for change. Too many are smug and self righteous and will remain so until the next financial crisis, and too many have given up on the political process completely. Even if they did want change, they would have to fight hard for it, wrest it from the Wellington establishment and their MSM facilitators. Perhaps the “passionless people” can be roused. The next 3 years will be an illuminating study of the character of the contemporary New Zealander.