Category Archives: Social Policy

An Example for NZ. The Dutch GreenLeft party shows new ideas can turn the tide of populism – Rutger Bregman. 

Wake Up Andrew! Labour is fast becoming irrelevant. 

Let’s be honest, rightwing, anti-Islam populist Geert Wilders is this election’s real winner.

We seem to be forgetting that his party gained five additional seats in the Dutch parliament. And more importantly: over the past 10 years, Wilders has wrenched most of the other parties toward his position on the fringes – particularly the fiscally conservative People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) and the culturally conservative Christian Democratic party (CDA), both mainstream parties with widespread support.

Suppose a denizen of the 1980s had stepped into a time machine and travelled to watch the runup to these Dutch elections. Imagine how surprised – or, more accurately, dismayed – they would be. So-called progressive and moderate politicians are currently making pronouncements that would have put them behind bars for inciting hate 30 years ago.

In 1997, a Dutch judge sentenced the far-right politician Hans Janmaat for saying “As soon as we have the power and the opportunity, we will eliminate multiculturalism.” Pretty tame compared to Wilders, who’s constantly denouncing “palaces of hatred” (mosques) and “Street terrorists” (Moroccan youth).

At the start of his campaign, current prime minister Mark Rutte of the VVD said he hated the idea of a “multicultural society”. Rutte hasn’t prevailed over the populist right, he has joined its ranks.

Remember: real politics isn’t about figureheads and seats in parliament. Real politics is about ideas. And there can be no doubt regarding the extreme ideas that have been gaining ground in the Netherlands for decades.

This election’s outcome also offers little that’s new on the economic front. A neoliberal, technocratic cabinet is departing, and a new one will take its place.

As always, the business-friendly VVD will cater to the banking and tobacco lobbies, big business and high finance. The more progressive D66 is still toeing the economic line of the 1990s. And this election barely touched on the real challenges of the 21st century: climate change, growing inequality and the rot at the heart of our banking industry.

So is there no hope? There’s always hope.

The Netherlands’ proportional democracy offers a wide menu of political flavours, and it functions significantly better than the US and British systems. And the party with the gravest dearth of ideas – the social-democratic Labour Party (PvdA) – has been mercilessly punished for it. Never before in Dutch history has a party lost so many seats.

Meanwhile, the big winners on the left are GreenLeft and the radical Party for the Animals (PvdD). Their victory isn’t enough to compensate for the swerve to the right, but it has increased the chance that the Netherlands will take serious new steps toward a sustainable economy.

The big question now is how we can turn the tide. How can history once again move in the other direction – the direction of bridges over walls, open over closed? As always, change will have to start with new ideas. Radical ones, because ideas tempered by “as long as” and “except for” won’t change the world. We now know where the strategy of the middle, of the Hillary Clintons, Tony Blairs and Lodewijk Asschers (the leader of the Dutch Labour party), leads: nowhere.

New ideas rarely come from the moderate parties in The Hague or Washington, in Brussels or Westminster. The world’s political centres are not the breeding ground for true change, but rather where it comes home to roost. Just as Wilders has been yanking the Netherlands rightward for years, Dutch politicians such as GreenLeft’s Jesse Klaver and Marianne Thieme of the Party for the Animals can pull things in the opposite direction. To do so, they can draw on new ideas – from a participatory democracy to a universal basic income, from a progressive system of taxation to a healthcare system based on cooperation and trust.

“This is not the end, but the beginning of our movement,” Klaver wrote yesterday. But for that to be true, it’s essential to avoid the freefall that has plagued the country’s Labour party since it joined the ranks of those in power: the plunge into moderation, into monotony, into wine watered down to the point of tastelessness.

Today, in the afterglow of the people’s endorsement, the heady aroma of power is understandably intoxicating. But consider this: the most influential Dutch politician of the past 15 years – Geert Wilders – has never been a part of the country’s ruling coalition.

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Rutger Bregman is the author of Utopia for Realists: And How We Can Get There

The Guardian

Open Society Needs Defending – George Soros. 

Open societies are in crisis, and various forms of closed societies – from fascist dictatorships to mafia states – are on the rise. Because elected leaders failed to meet voters’ legitimate expectations and aspirations, electorates have become disenchanted with the prevailing versions of democracy and capitalism.

Well before Donald Trump was elected President of the United States, I sent a holiday greeting to my friends that read: “These times are not business as usual. Wishing you the best in a troubled world.” Now I feel the need to share this message with the rest of the world. But before I do, I must tell you who I am and what I stand for.

I am an 86-year-old Hungarian Jew who became a US citizen after the end of World War II. I learned at an early age how important it is what kind of political regime prevails. The formative experience of my life was the occupation of Hungary by Hitler’s Germany in 1944. I probably would have perished had my father not understood the gravity of the situation. He arranged false identities for his family and for many other Jews; with his help, most survived.

In 1947, I escaped from Hungary, by then under Communist rule, to England. As a student at the London School of Economics, I came under the influence of the philosopher Karl Popper, and I developed my own philosophy, built on the twin pillars of fallibility and reflexivity. I distinguished between two kinds of political regimes: those in which people elected their leaders, who were then supposed to look after the interests of the electorate, and others where the rulers sought to manipulate their subjects to serve the rulers’ interests. Under Popper’s influence, I called the first kind of society open, the second, closed.

The classification is too simplistic. There are many degrees and variations throughout history, from well-functioning models to failed states, and many different levels of government in any particular situation. Even so, I find the distinction between the two regime types useful. I became an active promoter of the former and opponent of the latter.

I find the current moment in history very painful. Open societies are in crisis, and various forms of closed societies – from fascist dictatorships to mafia states – are on the rise. How could this happen? The only explanation I can find is that elected leaders failed to meet voters’ legitimate expectations and aspirations and that this failure led electorates to become disenchanted with the prevailing versions of democracy and capitalism. Quite simply, many people felt that the elites had stolen their democracy.

Project Syndicate 

Reborn Social Democracy As ‘Progressive Communitarianism’ – Justin Reynolds. 

The new authoritarianism sweeping through liberal democracies increasingly justifies parallels with the 1930s.

Now, like then, electorates face multiple insecurities: a lack of decent work, crumbling welfare systems, widening inequalities and rapidly changing migration patterns.

And now, like then, there is little faith in the capacity of governments to address those issues, seeing them commonly as ‘elites’ content to trust in the creative destruction of the market or the ability of communities to sustain social solidarities even as their shifting populations wax and wane. This enervation has left a void into which the nationalist right has stepped with crude agendas for economic protectionism and closed borders.

But a closer study of that fateful pre-war decade suggests opportunities as well as dangers. The turbulent years in which fascism flourished also gave shape and momentum to the political ideology that went on to underpin the prosperous and peaceful post-war era: social democracy. Understanding how social democracy emerged, and why it proved successful, can help progressives meet today’s challenges.

Fascism and social democracy are usually considered radically different ideologies, but both emerged from a small circle of socialist intellectuals attempting to respond to the unsettled social conditions of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In a sense, fascism is social democracy’s dark twin.

Social Europe 

The Big Kahuna. Comprehensive Capital Tax + Universal Basic Income. – Gareth Morgan. 

We’re like those people, you probably know them, even if only from the mirror, who have stuffed their houses with all the latest “labour-saving devices” purely so that they have more time to… work. It’s hard to avoid the conclusion we’ve all gone a little bit funny about money.

We may have slightly lost track of the benefits, the sheer quality of life that the affluence of the West affords, but we’re in danger of completely losing sight of the obligations.

Our forefathers arrived determined that whatever kind of society they built here, it wouldn’t make the same mistakes as the Old Country.

They didn’t question the equal worth of individuals, nor that this translated in practice into the need for the state to redistribute wealth to ensure a dignified existence for all. That, in essence, is a key purpose of transfer policies, or at least, it was, until everyone seemed to forget

The tax and transfer system came to represent little more than the electoral equivalent of an automatic teller machine: push the right buttons, and it will reliably deliver votes. Any thought of the actual purpose of the thing has been lost in the scramble for political advantage. Little wonder it’s been apparent for quite some time that the system is sick.

The intervention of the state via tax and transfers is intended to redistribute resources from some in society to others.

We’ve all but lost sight of why we tax and transfer in order to redistribute, the extent of redistribution that we deem desirable and whether or not we achieve those objectives.

The first reform we recommend covers an issue that successive tax studies have recommended be addressed by New Zealand governments in order to lift economic efficiency.

It’s a comprehensive capital tax (CCT) that all owners of productive capital (land, buildings, structures, plant and equipment, intellectual property) are annually liable for.

Hand-in-hand with the CCT proposal, we alter the income tax régime to a single “flat” rate on every dollar of income. All income, whether cash or in kind, is captured for taxation purposes. This is what the CCT achieves.

Resources are taken from those who have relatively more in society and given to those who have relatively less: it’s a “progressive” scheme.

The greatest source of means for the well off isn’t income (which can be manipulated to appear artificially low), it’s wealth, and the present system largely leaves that beyond the reach of the redistributive machinery.

The redistributive goals of our society have been reduced to assistance of last resort. Like an ambulance at the foot of the cliff, it kicks into action only when a person’s lot has fallen so far below what society deems adequate that our compassion is engaged.

The second reform is directed at making quite explicit the redistribution objective of the state, by paying every adult an unconditional basic income (UBI).

This is a quite different approach to the present one. The UBI provides for every adult to receive enough to eat, clothe and house themselves, unconditionally, this being the universal entitlement to an adequate basic income.

In a society that produces far more than required for the basic needs of food, clothing and shelter, why shouldn’t a basic income be guaranteed? If nothing else it’s a signal that the society is sufficiently developed for all to live in dignity.

But what of the person who chooses unpaid rather than paid work? The economy comprises a raft of unpaid occupations, parenting, care of the elderly, volunteer organisations such as sports clubs, artistic or creative pursuits, and so on. The amount of time that anyone can spend on these is largely limited by their access to independent means, their own income or wealth, or that of an earning spouse.

This book is about a revolution in our tax and transfer system, not the next step in an incrementalist journey of patching up the current, structurally compromised régime.

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Gareth Morgan

from his book: The Big Kahuna, Turning Tax and Welfare in New Zealand in its head.



Why Populism In New Zealand Is A Right-Wing Thing – Chris Trotter. 

In the final analysis, revolution should be about overturning and replacing the existing order.

Populism, in almost every instance, is about restoring the old one.

At its heart, populism is a revolt against the idea of political and cultural diversity. The populist seeks to make real the homogeneous nation of his imagination, and whether or not he’s successful depends upon how closely his imagined national community resembles the idealised nation of his fellow citizens. A populist movement only ever gains significant political momentum when large numbers of citizens discover that they share a common vision of what and who their nation is – and isn’t.

And if you’re not included in the populists’ definition of the nation, then your chances of being invited in are slim. Seriously, they’d rather build a wall.

Ideologically-speaking, nearly all of New Zealand’s populist moments have been driven by a deeply conservative restorative impulse. The National Party, in particular, owes its existence to the determination of rural and provincial New Zealanders to overthrow Labour’s socialist usurpers and restore the nation’s rightful rulers – farmers and businessmen.

 

National’s choice of name was no accident. The new party was (and still is) perceived as standing for the pioneering virtues of the nation’s early settlers: those enterprising men and women, overwhelmingly of British stock, whose Christian capitalist values gave New Zealand its distinctive cultural signature.

 

The Labour Party, by contrast, was (and still is) seen as the party of the big cities: those sinkholes of moral corruption, physical squalor and political insubordination, whose representatives are incapable of recognising and protecting the cherished values of “heartland” New Zealand.

Bowalley Road

More than 300,000 UK children dragged into poverty due to benefit cuts.

The Government is being urged to rethink a dramatic lowering of the controversial household limit on social security payments, or face a devastating surge in poverty and homelessness. The numbers who will be affected is significantly higher than the Government expects. Pressing ahead will fly in the face of Theresa May’s promise, in her Conservative conference speech last month, to “make society fairer for families” The Independent