Tag Archives: Neoliberalism

THIS TIME IS NO DIFFERENT. IMF’s dire warning on global economy – Liam Dann * Why a New Multilateralism Now? – David Lipton.

Merry Christmas and happy new financial crisis.

History suggests we are due for another financial crisis and right now the world is in no shape to cope with one.

With ingenuity and international cooperation, we can make the most of new technologies and new challenges, and create a shared and sustained prosperity.


With interest rates still low, central banks simply don’t have the firepower they did in 2008 to deal with a deep recession.

The official outlook for New Zealand’s economy remains solid with GDP growth expected to stay safely north of 2.5 per cent.

But these kind of forecasts will mean little if the world heads into a serious financial crisis.

NZ Herald

Why a New Multilateralism Now

David Lipton, IMF First Deputy Managing Director

Good morning.

Thank you for the introduction.

I appreciate the invitation to speak here today. This conference is tackling issues that have a great bearing on the stability of the world economy. Having just passed the 10th anniversary of the start of the Global Financial Crisis, and now looking forward, I’d like to address what I see as this morning’s key topic: the next financial crisis.

History suggests that an economic downturn lurks somewhere over the horizon. Many are already speculating as to exactly when, where, and why it might arise. While we can’t know all that, we ought to be focusing right now on how to forestall its arrival and how to limit it to a “garden variety” recession when it arrives, meaning, how to avoid creating another systemic crisis. Over the past two years, the IMF has called on governments to put in place policies aimed at just that goal, as we have put it, “fix the roof while the sun shines.” But like many of you, I see storm clouds building, and fear the work on crisis prevention is incomplete.

Before asking what should be done, let’s analyze whether the international community has the wherewithal to respond to the next crisis, should it occur. And here I mean both individual countries, and the international organizations tasked to act as first responders. Should we be confident that the resources, policy instruments, and regulatory frameworks at our disposal will prove potent enough to counter and contain the next recession? Consider the main policy options.

Policy Options for the Next Recession

On monetary policy, much has been said about whether central banks will be able to respond to a deep or prolonged downturn. For example, past U.S. recessions have been met with 500 basis points or more of easing by the Fed. With policy rates so low at present in so many places, that response will not be available. Central banks would likely end up exploring ever more unconventional measures. But with their effectiveness uncertain, we ought to be concerned about the potency of monetary policy.

We read every day that for fiscal policy, the room for maneuver has been narrowing in many countries. Public debt has risen and, in many countries, deficits remain too high to stabilize or reduce debt. Now to be fair, we can presume that if the next slowdown creates unemployment and slack, multipliers will grow larger, likely restoring some potency to fiscal policy, even at high debt levels. But we should not expect governments to end up with the ample space to respond to a downturn that they had ten years ago. Moreover, with high sovereign debt levels, decisions to adopt stimulus may be a hard sell politically.

Given the enduring public resentments borne by the Global Financial Crisis, a recession deep enough to endanger the finances of homeowners or small businesses would likely lead to a strong political call to help relieve debt burdens. That could further stress already stretched public finances.

And if recession once again impairs banks, the recourse to bailouts is now limited in law, following financial regulatory reforms that call for bail-ins of owners and lenders. Those new systems for bail-ins remain underfunded and untested.

Finally, the impairment of key U.S. capital markets during the global financial crisis, which might have produced crippling spillovers across the globe, was robustly contained by unorthodox Fed action supported by Treasury backstop funding. That capacity is also unlikely to be readily available again.

The point is that national policy options and public financial resources may be much more constrained than in the past. The right lesson to take from that possibility is for each country to be much more careful to sustain growth, to limit vulnerabilities, and to prepare for whatever may come.

But the reality is that many countries are not pursuing policies that will bolster their growth in a sustainable fashion. The expansion actually has become less balanced across regions over the past year, and we are witnessing a buildup of vulnerabilities: higher sovereign and corporate debt, tighter financial conditions, incomplete reform efforts, and rising geopolitical tensions.

Five Key Policy Challenges

So, let me turn to five key challenges that could affect the next downturn, areas where governments face a choice to take proactive steps now, or not, and where inaction would probably make matters worse.

The first challenge is the simple and familiar admonition: “First, do no harm.” This is worthy advice for doctors and economic policymakers. Let me mention some examples.

In the case of U.S. fiscal policy over the past year, the combination of spending increases and tax cuts was intended to provide a shot of adrenalin to the U.S. economy and improve investment incentives. However, coming at a time when advanced recovery meant little need for stimulus, this choice runs the three risks of increasing the potential need for Fed tightening; raising deficits and public debt; and spending resources that might better be put aside to combat the next downturn.

Another example is the recent escalation of tariffs and trade tensions. Fortunately, the U.S. and China agreed in Buenos Aires to call a ceasefire. That was a positive development. There certainly are shortcomings in the global trading system, and countries experiencing disruption from trade have some legitimate concerns about a number of trade practices. But the only safe way to address these issues is through dialogue and cooperation.

The IMF has been advocating de-escalation and dialogue for some time. That is because the alternative is hard to contemplate. We estimate that if all of the tariffs that have been threatened are put in place, as much as three-quarters of a percent of global GDP would be lost by 2020. That would be a self-inflicted wound.

So it is vital that this ceasefire leads to a durable agreement that avoids an intensification or spread of tensions.

Now to the second challenge, which is closely tied to the trade issue: China’s emergence as an economic powerhouse. In many ways, this is one of the success stories of our era, showing that global integration can lead to rapid growth, poverty elimination, and new global supply chains lifting up other countries.

But as Winston Churchill once said of the U.S. during World War II, “the price of greatness is responsibility.”

China’s Global Role

Chinese policies that may have been globally inconsequential and thus acceptable when China joined the WTO and had a $1 trillion economy are now consequential to much of the world. That’s because China now is a globally integrated $13 trillion economy whose actions have global reverberations. If China is to continue to benefit from globalization and support the aspirations of developing countries, it will need to focus on how to limit adverse spillovers from its own policies and invest in ensuring that globalization can be sustainable.

Moreover, China would likely gain at home by addressing many of the policy issues that have been contentious, for example through stronger protections for intellectual property, which will benefit China as it becomes a world leader in technologies; reduced trade barriers, especially related to investment rules and government procurement procedures, which will produce cost-reducing and productivity enhancing competition that will benefit the Chinese people in the long run, and an acceleration of market-oriented economic reforms that will help China make more efficient use of scarce resources.

This notion of global responsibility applies to Europe as well, and this is the third challenge. Our forecasts show growth in the euro area and the UK falling short of previous projections, and modest potential growth going forward.

The future of the European economy will be shaped by the way the EU addresses its architectural and macroeconomic challenges and by Brexit. The recent EMU agreement on reforms is welcome. Going forward, the Euro area would gain by pushing further to shore up its institutional foundations.

The absence of a common fiscal policy limits Europe’s ability to share risks and respond to shocks that can radiate through its financial system. And crisis response will be constrained because too much power remains vested in national regulators and supervisors at the expense of an integrated approach across the continent.

All of this prevents Europe from playing a global role commensurate with the size and importance of the euro area economy.

The Task for Emerging Markets

The fourth challenge is in the emerging markets. For all of their extraordinary dynamism, we have seen a divergence among emerging markets over the past year: between those who have not shored up their defenses against shocks, including preparation for the normalization of interest rates in the advanced economies; and those that have taken advantage of the global recovery to address their underlying vulnerabilities.

Capital outflows over the past several months have shown how markets are judging the perceived weaknesses in individual countries. If global conditions become more complicated, these outflows could increase and become more volatile.

The fifth and final challenge is the topic you will take up this afternoon: the role of multilateral institutions.

We know that these institutions have played a crucial role in keeping the global economy on track. In the nearly 75 years since the IMF was set up, our world has undergone multiple transformations, from post-war reconstruction and the Bretton Woods system of fixed exchange rates to the era of flexible rates; the rise of emerging economies; the collapse of the Soviet Union and transition to market economies; as well as a series of financial crises: the Mexican debt crisis, the Asian Crisis, and the Global Financial Crisis.

At each stage, we at the IMF have been called upon to evolve and even remake ourselves.

Now, we see a rising tide of doubt about globalization and discontent with multilateralism in some advanced economies. Just as with the IMF, it is fair for the international community to ask for modernization in its institutions and organizations, to seek reforms to ensure that institutions serve effectively their core purposes.

This applies to groupings such as the G20, as well as international organizations.

So, it was heartening to see the G20 Leaders to call for reform of the WTO when they came together in Buenos Aires. This reform initiative, which has the potential to modernize the global trading system and restore support for cooperative approaches, should now go forward.

The policy challenges we face are clear. As I have suggested, governments have their work cut out for them and may have to contend with less potent policy tools. It is essential they do what they can now to address vulnerabilities and avoid actions that exacerbate the next downturn.

The Multilateral Response

But we should prepare for the possibility that weaker national tools may mean limited effectiveness, and thus may result in greater reliance on multilateral responses and on the global financial safety net.

The IMF’s lending capacity was increased during the global financial crisis to about one trillion dollars – a forceful response from the membership at a time of dire need. One lesson from that crisis was that the IMF went into it under-resourced; we should try to avoid that next time.

From that point of view it was encouraging that the G20 in Buenos Aires underlined its continued commitment to strengthen the safety net, with a strong and adequately financed IMF at its center. It is important that the leaders pledged to conclude the next discussion of our funding, the quota review, next year.

But the stakes are bigger than any one decision about IMF funding. IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde has called for a “new multilateralism,” one that is dedicated to improving the lives of all this world’s citizens. That ensures that the economic benefits of globalization are shared much more broadly. That focuses on governments and institutions that are both accountable and working together for the common good. And that can take on the many transnational challenges that no one government alone, not even a few governments working together, can handle: climate change, cyber-crime, massive refugee flows, failures of governance, and corruption.

Working together, we will be better able to prevent a damaging downturn in the coming years and a dystopian future in the coming decades. With ingenuity and international cooperation, we can make the most of new technologies and new challenges, and create a shared and sustained prosperity.

Thank you.

Education Impossible, Poverty and Inequality, New Zealand’s Neoliberal Legacy – Principal of one of NZ’s most challenging schools.

‘I shut my door and burst into tears’.

I’ve travelled the world. I have seen hard and I have done rough. But this was something else. It was not how a school should function.

Very few of our kids were actually functioning as they should. It broke my heart every single day.

Our teachers are doctors, psychologists, counsellors, behavioural therapists, and, for a small part of their day, educators.

These are beautiful kids, they can be anything they want to be, they just need to know we believe in them.

At 9am on my first day as principal of a small primary school, I shut my office door and burst into tears. After just 30 minutes on the job, I’d been sworn at by a child, abused by a parent, and a teacher had threatened to walk out. It only got worse. I had kids breaking windows. There were four or five fist fights a day. The police were on call.

I’ve travelled the world. I have seen hard and I have done rough. But this was something else. It was not how a school should function.

The behaviour issues meant there was no such thing as learning. For six weeks, I went home crying every night and said ‘I’m not going back.’ But I did. Because nothing has ever beaten me, and I was furious that this was happening to our children.
I wrote a list of every child in our school. We identified all of their needs. Seventy five per cent of our kids had high-level health, wellbeing, behaviour or academic issues. Very few of our kids were actually functioning as they should. It broke my heart every single day.

So our staff meetings weren’t about appraisals or the curriculum, they were about survival. How do we get to day two? How do we get to day three? We had to go back to basics before we could even start teaching.
I began to understand what was going on in the community. In one family, the kids’ clothes were dirty because they had no power. In another, the fridge didn’t work, there were rats in the walls, and the ceiling leaked. Their kids were constantly sick. It was clear the landlord didn’t care: I suspected in his eyes they weren’t “good enough” people to have the house repaired.

Some kids weren’t at school because their parents had no money for petrol. The stress was immense, and there were a lot of mental health issues. Tough, then, to bring your child up with a lust for life.

When I realised that this was bigger than me, I reached out to everyone who could help. The kids lacked resilience. If someone said “boo” to them in the playground there was a fight, or someone was crying. So we ran programmes about friendship and anger management. The kids have learnt to brainstorm, and problem solve, and communicate. Now we don’t have fights. It meant that in term two, we could start teaching the curriculum.

We realised the other big issue was hunger. When you get to the bottom of why a kid is acting up, it’s often because they haven’t eaten anything that day. Now, with KidsCan’s help, I watch 15 to 20 kids sitting around the school’s breakfast table every morning, chatting over a hot meal of baked beans. It’s a really positive start to the day. They know there’s no shame in needing food, if anyone is hungry they can go into the kitchen and help themselves to snacks too.

The change is huge. They have energy. In term one we struggled hugely with exercise. Everyone would opt out. Now, every morning we pump the sound system and everyone walks or runs laps of the field to ready us for learning. They go for it! We don’t have a single kid that opts out of exercise now, because they’ve got food in their bellies, and that makes them feel happier and more secure.

The day we handed out KidsCan’s jackets and shoes was incredible, the kids couldn’t believe that someone would give them something. I’ve never seen them that excited. They said, “oh Miss, this is the coolest thing I own.” They literally walked higher and taller and prouder. The parents were gobsmacked; many said they just couldn’t have afforded them. And because they have that extra money, it seems the families’ out-of-school lives are better too.

In term one we were too terrified to take the kids out of school. But in term three I took them out to the zoo. We all wore our jackets and I said to them, “we’re a team, we’re a unit”. I could not have been more proud. It was an amazing day with not a single behaviour issue. I hardly see students in my office in trouble anymore. I see them for stickers, and pencils for good writing, and for a hug if they need it.

But caring for these kids does take its toll. Our teachers are doctors, psychologists, counsellors, behavioural therapists, and, for a small part of their day, educators. My biggest fear for our kids is that their needs are far greater than the Government recognises. They don’t understand what’s really happening in our schools. They’ve just been setting standards for kids, and comparing them as if they all arrive at school on an equal footing. They don’t.

These are beautiful kids. They just need to know we believe in them. Sometimes I’ll purposefully leave my class and put a child in charge. Once, one boy said “Miss, he’s the worst person to put in charge!”
I said, “No he’s not, I’ve picked him, and he’s going to do it, just you watch.” I came back in and everything was perfect.
We built that child up. He sat there with a full tummy, feeling warm, with us supporting him, all those things together create success. Many of the kids recognise they don’t have as much money as others, so they think they’re not as good as them. I want them to throw all that away and know they can be anything they want to be.

Stuff.co.nz

To sponsor a Kiwi kid in need for $20 a month, visit KidsCan

Inequality and Revolution – Bryan Bruce * An Analysis of ‘The New Zealand Way’ – Georg Menz.

Today inequality is an all too familiar word in our country and the coalition’s handing of the economy isn’t fixing it.

Why? Because it’s the same neoliberal approach the last National government took and the Clarke government before it .. going all the way back to David Lange and Roger Douglas who introduced this economic virus in 1984.

So how and when will things change?

Bryan Bruce . . . The Daily Blog

The New Zealand Way

Georg Menz

How did a country known for its progressive policies, its welfare state and its anti nuclear and environmental policies so quickly and emphatically embrace the tenets of Neoliberalism and the New Right?

New Zealand, in the 1980s, went from being one of the most regulated countries in the OECD to being one of the most deregulated.

. . . An Analysis of ‘The New Zealand Way’ – Georg Menz

THE EU IS A NEOLIBERAL, CORPORATIST PROJECT – Bill Mitchell * The Left Case Against the EU – Costas Lapavitsas.

“A cabal of elites who are unelected and largely unaccountable.”

Under current EU trade agreements being negotiated profit becomes prioritised over the independence of a legislature and the latter cannot compromise the former.

There is never a case to be made that a corporation should have institutional structures available that allow it to use ‘commercial’ arguments to subvert national legal positions.

The EU is not an institution or structure than anyone on the progressive Left should support or think is capable of reform any time soon. It has become a neoliberal, corporatist state and hierarchical in operation, with Germany at the apex, bullying the weaker states into submission. Divergence in outcomes across the geographic spread is the norm. It is also the anathema of our concepts of democracy, both in concept and operation. It is more like a cabal of elites who are unelected and, largely unaccountable. By giving their support to this monstrosity, the traditional Left political parties (social democrats, socialists etc) have been increasingly wiped out, such is the anger of voters to what has become a massive coup by capital against labour.

One of the the hallmarks of the neoliberal era has been the way it has pushed the concept of ‘society’ to the background. People live in societies not economies. Economies are meant to serve those societies (and us) not the other way around.

Over the past three decades, financial globalization has produced a highly interconnected but deeply unstable financial system. Almost all of the transactions that this sector is engaged in are unproductive, wealth shuffling.

The problem is that when the players get ahead of themselves the folly they create spills over into the real economy and starts damaging the well-being of all of us. What we have now is a financial sector that is way too large and which uses its financial clout to manipulate political systems to ensure policies structures allow it to get even larger.

“The framework of financial market liberalization may restrict the ability of governments to change the regulatory structure in ways which support financial stability, economic growth, and the welfare of vulnerable consumers and investors.” IMF

Under current EU trade agreements being negotiated profit becomes prioritised over the independence of a legislature and the latter cannot compromise the former.

In other words, a democratically-elected government is unable to regulate the economy to advance the well-being of the people who elect it, if some corporation or another considers that regulation impinges on their profitability. Corporation rule becomes dominant under these agreements.

The agreements create what are known as ‘supra-national tribunals’ which are outside any nation’s judicial system but which governments are bound to obey. The make-up of the tribunals is beyond the discretion of a nation’s population, and are typically dominated by corporate lawyers and other nominees. The notion of accountability disappears.

These tribunals can declare a law enacted by a democratically elected government to be illegal and impose fines on the state for breaches. With heavy fines looming, states will bow to the will of the corporations. Corporation rule!

There is never a case that can be made where a corporation has primacy over the elected government. So there is never a case for so-called ‘Investor State Dispute Mechanisms’ in bi-lateral agreements between nations.

A nation state is defined by its legislature and that institutions set the legal framework in which all activity within the sovereign borders engages. Corporations have rights under that framework as do citizens. But the assumption is that the legislative framework should reflect the goals of national well-being.

There is never a case that a corporation should have institutional structures available that allow it to use ‘commercial’ arguments to subvert national legal positions.

The EU technocrats work away every day on strategies and rule designs and negotiations which explicitly undermine the capacity of elected governments to represent the best interests of their nation. Their trade agreement negotiations are just one aspect of that behaviour.

This is core EU. If you were to eliminate it the ‘European Project’ as it has become would be terminated.

Prof. Bill Mitchell

Book review

The Left Case against the EU

Costas Lapavitsas

A new book advancing the case against the EU is of crucial importance in arguing that its neoliberal structures are irreformable and incompatible with left advance.

COSTAS LAPAVITSAS’S detailed critique of the EU is of immediate importance to all on the left. A renowned expert on the dynamics of contemporary capitalism and professor of economics at London University (SOAS), Lapavitsas was elected as a Syriza MP in 2015.

He resigned from the party in protest at the Syriza government’s capitulation to unending EU demands for austerity and its attacks on the labour movement.

The book contains a penetrating analysis of EU economics. However, its strongest recommendation is the author’s own political experience.

Lapavitsas’s conclusion is that the left can never win if it argues within the terms set by the EU, that the EU cannot be reformed and that its structures, including the single market, are fatally prejudicial to any attempt to implement left policies or indeed simply measures that promote industrial regeneration and defend employment of a left Keynesian character.

He warns the Labour Party that the single market ”is not compatible with the aim of beating neoliberalism, restructuring the British economy and reducing the power of the City in favour of workers and the poor through a far reaching industrial strategy.”

Why has the EU taken on this neoliberal character? Lapavitsas argues that it was always present.

Long before the Treaty of Rome, Margaret Thatcher’s favourite economist Frederick Hayek had advocated a Federalist Free trade association in Europe as offering the ultimate protection against socialism.

Supranational structures would make it possible to bypass popular pressure on national governments for democratic control over capital.

The same supranational institutions would give legal sanction to the myth that economic well-being demands that markets remain free and supreme even if, in reality, such markets are monopolised and also reflect the monopoly power of some states over others.

Lapavitsas argues that this antidemocratic potential became fully explicit with the Maastricht Treaty of 1992 and the introduction of a single currency. At that time, massive differences in economic power existed across the EU between the great industrial combines of Germany and to a lesser extent the Benelux countries and Sweden and the rest, Greece, Portugal, Spain and even Italy.

Trapped within the single currency, deficit countries could no longer devalue to compete. Nor could their governments use any form of state aid to stimulate industrial redevelopment.

As a result, inequality increased and trade imbalances, financed by German, French and British banks, grew to massive proportions.

The outcome, in 2008-2010, was financial crisis, but it is a crisis that is not resolved. Big capital in Germany and its allies elsewhere remain opposed to any fiscal union that would internationalise these debts across the EU. Why? Because this would rob them of the power to secure further institutional and economic change across the EU.

Here Lapavitsas exposes another and less well-known aspect of German industrial dominance, its reliance on driving down labour costs.

German capital investment in industry has in fact been quite low and the country’s high productivity has depended on a series of strategic reductions in labour costs.

In the 1990s, German industry was able to do this by driving industrial supply chains into Eastern Europe to exploit highly qualified but much cheaper labour. Once this potential was largely exhausted, there was an assault on the domestic labour market.

From 2002 the Hartz reforms ensured, says Lapavitsas, that “the protection of German workers in the labour market was profoundly weakened and wage pressures intensified.”

Where did German capital investment go ? Lapavitsas documents the capital flows and demonstrates that it was used to consolidate monopoly control elsewhere within EU economies. And the same pattern continues today. The drive to reduce labour costs continues in Germany and across the EU as competition intensifies with the US.

This is why German capital and its allies need the bargaining lever of debt and austerity to compel further institutional change and, like all processes that involve monopoly power and exploitation, it is unlikely to have a happy ending.

Lapavitsas urges the left, and especially Britain’s Labour Party, to look this reality in the face and seek instead “a radical internationalism that would draw on domestic strength and reject the dysfunctional and hegemonic structures of the EU giving, fresh content to popular sovereignty and democratic rights.”

The Left Case Against the EU

Get it at Amazon.com

“Out-Thatchering Mrs.Thatcher”. USER PAYS, NEW ZEALAND’S NEOLIBERAL CONVERSION, Rogerpolitics – Chris Trotter * An analysis of ‘The New Zealand Way’ – Georg Menz.

How did a country known for its progressive policies, its welfare state and its anti nuclear and environmental policies so quickly and emphatically embrace the tenets of Neoliberalism and the New Right?

New Zealand, in the 1980s, went from being one of the most regulated countries in the OECD to being one of the most deregulated. It underwent a very painful period of transition and adjustment during the reforms. Even now the beneficial effects are far from obvious. Market liberalisation has come at a very high social cost. Poverty and social inequality are rising. New Zealand presents a paradigmatic case of complete market liberalisation and the embrace of neoliberal doctrines.

With remarkable alacrity, the ideological and practical political infrastructure required to support the new economic regime was cemented into place. In the nation’s schools and universities; in it’s publicly and privately owned news media; in its local and national institutions, Rogerpolitics became the new orthodoxy. For the next thirty years it would not only inspire the design of the mechanisms by which political power is exercised, but also the moral justifications for their use.

Those New Zealanders born after 1984, New Zealand neoliberalism’s “Year Zero”, have absorbed the “free market” catechism practically without thinking.

Rogerpolitics does not believe that democracy is a market friendly form of government, and all Rogerpoliticians are expected to act accordingly.

New Zealand is a case study of a small country moving from strong isolationism to full fledged market liberalism. New Zealand policy makers concluded in the mid 1980s that isolationism was no longer a viable policy option. Instead, they turned their country into a laboratory of free trade and Chicago style Neoliberalism. Does this model have insights to offer to other small states?

Chris Trotter

“ROGERNOMICS” is political shorthand for the neoliberal economic policies introduced by Labour’s finance minister, Roger Douglas between 1984 and 1988. While most New Zealanders have heard of Rogernomics, nowhere near as many have heard of its inseparable companion, “Rogerpolitics”.

The term was coined by the New Zealand political scientist, Richard Mulgan, to describe the form of politics required to make sure that Rogernomics “took” in a country which, on the face of it, should have rejected neoliberalism out of hand. Had Rogerpolitics not been so successfully embedded in the key organs of the New Zealand state, then Rogernomics would not have lasted.

Critical to the success of Rogerpolitics was the widespread public disillusionment with the style of politics that preceded it. In New Zealand’s case, the principal target of the public’s hostility was the National Party Prime Minister, Rob Muldoon, and his highly interventionist economic policies – “Muldoonism”.

An additional factor in the public’s antipathy towards Muldoon was his facilitation of the extremely divisive Springbok Tour of 1981. In the eyes of younger New Zealanders, “The Tour” was proof of their elders’ unfitness to rule. The people referred to by the then prominent political journalist, Colin James, as the “RSA Generation” had, in the eyes of the “Vietnam Generation”, been confronted with a straightforward moral test, and they had failed.

Without Muldoon and Muldoonism; without the Springbok Tour; the hunger for a new way of managing the economy and running the country would not have been so acute. The proponents of neoliberalism, or “free market forces” (as the ideology was more commonly referred to thirty-five years ago) were pushing against an open door.

It was the same all over the advanced capitalist world. The interventionist economic policies that had played such a crucial role in generating the unparalleled prosperity of the post-war period had finally run up against the buffers of the capitalist system. Every attempt to reduce the rising levels of unemployment and inflation that were the primary manifestations of the system’s failure only ended up pushing them higher. Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative Party captured the growing sense of unease with its 1979 slogan: “Labour isn’t working.” The following year, in the USA, the Republican candidate for President, Ronald Reagan, summed-up the popular mood when he declared: “In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem, government IS the problem.”

In its essence, this is what Rogerpolitics is all about: getting government out of the way. If politicians, by interfering in the economy, only made things worse, then the obvious solution is simply to prevent them from interfering.

. . . Bowalley Road

A Model Strategy for Small States to Cope and Survive in a Globalised World Economy? An Analysis of the “New Zealand Way”.

Georg Menz, Department of Political Science, University of Pittsburgh

Can New Zealand indeed serve as a model for other small states?

1. Introduction

A major issue of concern to contemporary social scientists is the relative decline of the autonomy of the nation state. Traditionally, the nation state served as a useful unit of analysis for scholars in international political economy. It may no longer be a useful starting point. Advocates of the globalisation thesis argue that the nation state is losing much of its room for maneuver in public policy decision making. This is a result of trade liberalisation and deregulation, particularly of the financial sector; rapid technological advances in telecommunications and data processing, and the exponential growth of international trade and foreign direct investment (FDI).

As I will argue below, two opposite arguments about the impact of globalisation on small states might be put forward.

First, it would appear that small states are particularly affected by a loss of autonomy as a result of globalisation. Smaller states face a constrained choice of responses to the impact of the world economy on their own national markets. By virtue of their economic and political power, size and strength, smaller states dispose of a relatively smaller array of policy responses than larger states. They cannot hope to set the parameters of the global economy given their relatively small economies and limited political and military clout.

Small states are usually host to only a small number of transnational corporations and, owing to the size of their own domestic market, they are commonly not only dependent on exporting their own products, but also on importing raw materials from abroad.

Alternatively, the opposite argument might be made. Small states are particularly well prepared to deal with open markets because of their economic structure. For many European small states, a protectionist trade policy was never a viable option.

Katzenstein (1985), who is often credited for his pioneering work on “small states”, points out that these states, due to their dependence on both imports and exports, are committed to the cause of international free trade. Foreign trade typically makes up a large proportion of small state Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Small states also depend on occupying market niches with relatively highly developed technology in sections of the economy where they enjoy a comparative advantage in production or a technological lead over their competitors.

In this study, I seek to analyse how one small state has responded to the challenges of globalisation. Using New Zealand (NZ) as a case study, I will examine New Zealand’s remarkable reform process as one possible policy response to dealing with a globalised world economy. “Model New Zealand” has been heralded as a successful model of structural adjustment by international observers. Regardless of whether one accepts the normative component of this judgement, New Zealand presents a paradigmatic case of complete market liberalisation and the embrace of neoliberal doctrines.

Can New Zealand indeed serve as a model for other small states? I seek to critically examine the reform process and shed light on its intellectual sources, employing some of the insights generated by the constructivist approach in international relations. Can New Zealand be properly considered a success story from which other small states can learn? The country went from being one of the most regulated countries in the OECD to being one of the most deregulated.

I argue that it underwent a very painful period of transition and adjustment during the reforms. Even now the beneficial effects are far from obvious. Market liberalisation has come at a very high social cost. Poverty and social inequality are rising.

The economic data reveals an equally mixed picture. In 1995, commentators admired the “turn around economy” and observed that the initial hardship seemed to be finally paying off. After the devastating impact of the Asian crisis in New Zealand, this assessment seems questionable and premature. New Zealand has been able to successfully fill some market niches in cutting edge agricultural engineering. At the same time, however, extreme liberalisation also means strong dependency on foreign capital, as is especially true for New Zealand with its large current account deficit and high level of foreign direct investment. Dependency on highly volatile foreign capital can become problematic rather quickly, as New Zealand’s recession in the wake of the Asian crisis vividly demonstrates.

2. Small States and Globalisation

How should we conceptualise globalisation? And how is it affecting the policy choices of small states? The purpose of this section is to arive at a working definition of globalisation and to analyse its impact on small states.

Since academic discourse on this subject is of a relatively recent nature, it is perhaps unsurprising that no single coherent definition of the phenomenon has yet emerged. However, from the writings of those authors who are willing to acknowledge globalisation as a genuinely new phenomenon a common thread can be extracted. These authors argue that the nation state is losing its autonomy, or posit, as Susan Strange has done “the retreat of the state”. The state’s sphere of control is decreasing, as an array of new actors moves in to undermine the state’s formerly comfortable command of territorially based authoritys. Among those actors are international institutions, networks and, most importantly, private transnational and multinational corporations.

While the nation-state no longer seems able to command the same array of macroeconomic tools, obvious winners are international markets. Global financial flows of gigantic proportions play an important role in shaping and curtailing governments’ choices.

Following the wave of deregulation and market liberalisation, which commenced in the late 1970s, particularly in the financial sector, the state’s macroeconomic weaponry chest looks considerably less well-stocked today. No longer can a government simply rely on monetary policy to set its economy’s parameters: If it tries to increase the interest rate so as to curtail inflationary growth, this move will simply attract mobile foreign capital.

National fiscal policy is also affected by the increased mobility of global capital. Nation states cannot freely determine corporate tax levels, because what the market deems to be an excessive rate will only cause companies to invest in regions or state more amiable to their interests. Some analysts have gone as far as positing a global “race to the bottom” in which regions and indeed nations have to compete for corporate investment by lowering their environmental, safety, health and social standards and offering tax breaks and other incentives”. Regardless of state incentives, due to the decrease in strict regulation of the financial sector, global capital is much more uninhibited to move into and out of new locales at relative ease. Large volumes of money are on the move, “free to roam the globe looking for the brightest investment opportunities”.

There are two factors contributing to the relative ease with which large scale global financial flows are occurring today at an unprecedented rate.

Firstly, deregulation of the financial markets made short term foreign investment and portfolio investment much easier than before. Secondly, technological innovation, another important factor mentioned by Strange and Drachels, has meant that such transfers of financial capital can take place at an ever accelerating pace. Rapid advances in modern computer based technology allow for rapid and easy data processing and manipulation. The progress of telecommunications technology enables global dissemination of information at unprecedented levels of speed. In fact, I would argue that innovations in technology as such undermine the feasibility of the nation state’s regulatory capacity.

The dramatic increase in foreign direct investment (FDI) should also be mentioned, which is a relatively recent development as well. Investment of a given company abroad in means of production (factories, plants, refineries, etc.) is a phenomenon unparalleled in previous economic history and ought to be distinguished from colonial patterns of raw material extraction through subsidiary companies within colonies. Foreign direct investment in production facilities either seeks to elude protectionist measures by the host country or endeavours to exploit different levels of wages or social standards for production.

Thus, global trade is to some extent no longer the exchange of goods among companies from different nation states (taking advantage of Adam Smith’s comparative advantage in the production of goods), but instead has to be re-conceptualised as the intra company exchange of goods in various stages of the production cycle”.

Closely related to the issue of establishing a concisely specified definition of globalisation are questions of distinctiveness and uniqueness. Is the current degree of global economic interdependence and growth of trade dependency indeed a genuinely new phenomenon? Is there something that distinguishes the global exchange of money, goods and services today from exchange routes and networks in the age of Cecil Rhodes’ Imperialism, Marco Polo’s Asian expeditions, trans Saharan trade routes, or Roman trade with its neighbours? Perhaps so, some authors might concede, but they are less convinced that the level of current global interdependence and international trade is more than just a return to the pre 1914 levels of global interchange.

Different scholars emphasize different policy areas, which vary in the degree to which they are affected by a globalised world economy. Obviously, there are also different normative points of view arguing about whether or not globalisation is a phenomenon worthy of appraisal or condemnation, usually depending on the author’s political persuasion .

Based on this discussion, I propose to define and conceptualise globalisation in terms of the speed and regulatory ease of worldwide flow of capital. While it is important to consider the rapid growth of international trade in recent years as well, the latter component does not constitute a genuinely new phenomenon and therefore does not really deserve a new label.

At this juncture, it is important to distinguish between globalisation as defined above and internationalisation, that is, the increasing global interdependence based on growth of international trade.

How and in what way is globalisation affecting small states? While Katzenstein contributed significantly to research on small states, his work and that of others exploring small states in the literature dates back to the mid 1980s or earlier. At that point, the imminent pressures of globalisation had not yet received the same amount of scholarly attention as is true of today, since they were not as readily apparent.

As briefly alluded to in the beginning, two arguments could be advanced here.

Based on Katzenstein’s research, one might argue that small states are actually particularly well prepared for a world of deregulated financial and trade flow. Since they have always been dependent on the international market place for the raw materials they imported and the export of the manufactured goods they exported, they had to be able to navigate the treacherous tides of the international marketplace from very early on. In fact, because of their status they had no choice other than to open up their economy. At the same time, they found ways to specialise in niche products.

On the other hand, the argument could be made that small states are but pawns in a game they cannot control nor even manipulate. The globalised economy finds small states in a particularly vulnerable position.

If we accept the premise that nation state lose some of their ability to manipulate their macroeconomic parameters, this must apply with particular vengeance to small states. They are even more vulnerable to the consequences of the rapid inflow and outflow of foreign short term investment. If governments of large countries can no longer counteract the speculative movement of the markets, this must be an even more unsurpassable challenge for small states.

Companies from small states cannot enjoy the advantages of the economies of scale, which a large domestic market offers. Small states are typically host to only a small number of transnational companies (TNCs), which are in a position to take advantage of deregulated international trade and investment opportunities. Their economies are made up by small and medium sized businesses, which run the risk of being taken over or run off the road by large foreign TNCs. The best these small and medium sized businesses can hope for is to diversify their customer base by gaining new markets abroad. However, they will cenainly be hard pressed to find products they can effectively and competitively market abroad owing to their limited resource basis for international advertising, marketing, and distribution.

New Zealand is a case study of small country moving from strong isolationism to full fledged market liberalism. New Zealand policy makers concluded in the mid 1980s that isolationism was no longer a viable policy option. Instead, they turned their country into a laboratory of free trade and Chicago style neoliberalism. Does this model have insights to offer to other small states?

3. Introducing the ‘New Zealand Way’

In 1984, the small South Pacific island nation of New Zealand gained worldwide attention by implementing the most comprehensive economic reform program of any OECD country to date. Within only a few years, New Zealand experienced a paradigmatic shift from neo Keynesiasism to New Right monetarism. It went from being one of the most regulated countries in the OECD to being the most liberalised and deregulated. In fact, neo liberalism found a much more zealous disciple in New Zealand’s Labour Party than is true for any other New Right leader. New Zealand “out Thatchered Mrs. Thatcher”.

A small remote island nation, over a thousand miles from its nearest neighbour Australia, it had previously been known for pre-empting its European cousins with progressive policies such as female suffrage in 1893, a comprehensive welfare system and a fervent environmental and anti nuclear policy. Now New Zealand stood at the forefront once again. This time, though, it overtook Western Europe on the right. It made headlines for a radical move away from Keynesian economics and the welfare state. Perhaps surprisingly, it was a Labour government, which under the stewardship of Prime Minister Lange and Minister of Treasury Roger Douglas jump started a radical programme of deregulation, market liberalisation and privatisation of state owned enterprises.

The OECD, The Economist, and other like minded apostles of the neo liberal New Right outdid themselves in praises for the blitzkrieg style economic reform programme which radically redefined the role and scope of government in New Zealand within a few years.

The reform programme included the deregulation of the financial sector, the removal of subsidies to producers, both in the manufacturing and the agricultural sector; the removal of tariffs on imports, a fundamental tax reform, a comprehensive restructuring of the public sector, a radical cut in the generous system of welfare provisions, a total remodelling of labour relations, and the corporatisation and privatisation of formerly government owned enterprises. The following table provides an outline of the reform program enacted in New Zealand between 1984 and 1994.

As can be seen above, the liberalisation programme occurred in two major waves. Under Labour Party guidance, from 1984 to 1990. the first wave of reforms was implemented. As Minister of Finance Roger Douglas played such a pivotal role in the process, the label “Rogermomics” is often applied to the reforms. These included industry deregulation, trade reform and capital market reform. Startling to many voters and academic observers, the National Party continued the reform programme, after it took over power from Labour in 1990. The second wave of reforms entailed macroeconomic stabilisation, corporatisation of state owned enterprises (SOEs), privatisation of SOEs, a comprehensive labour reform, and a fundamental restructuring of the welfare state.

As can be seen, the reform programme bears a striking resemblance with structural adjustment programmes commonly recommended for Third World countries.

The first steps of deregulation affected the financial sector. and included the removal of exchange rates and a floating of the New Zealand dollar. The government committed itself to a monetarist anti inflationary regime, by means of sustaining high interest rates and exchange rates. Price stability was enshrined as the overarching goal in the Reserve Bank Act of 1989, leading to what can be described as the “Bundesbank-sation” of the institution. Labour drastically cut down subsidies, abolished import licences, and began to phase out tariffs. It also opened up the economy to foreign direct investment. In fiscal policy, personal income tax for top earners was reduced significantly and a goods and services tax was introduced.

Government activity and the public sector as a whole were fundamentally restructured. Government departments were re-organised along corporate lines. In many cases, this meant transformation into SOEs and subsequent privatisation, in most cases to Australian or American companies. This corporatisation included government research facilities, hospitals, public housing, and universities.

As part of the second wave, the labour market was liberalised and the welfare state underwent severe cutbacks in scope and size. This translated into a full blown attack on the structural power of unions with the abandonment of collective bargaining imbedded in the 1991 Employment Contracts Act. At the same time, welfare benefits and eligibility were drastically curtailed.

This “big bang” reform program marked a revolutionary departure from the past. New Zealand has a long history of heavy state interventionism and government regulation. Barry Gustafson notes that:

“Manufacturers and wage earners were protected by import controls, and farmers were encouraged to produce and were protected from fluctuations in overseas markets by subsidies, tax incentives, and producer boards, responsible for the coordination of marketing of products. The banking system and value of the currency were tightly controlled.”

In fact, some of the economic measures pursued by its government were commonly associated with the State Socialist countries of the former Warsaw Pact such as tight controls on the circulation of currency, high tariffs, import quotas, and a central government agency co ordinating export policy. Government intervention has traditionally been regarded as beneficial and a cautiously modernising force.

Due to almost unlimited access for its agricultural products to its former motherland Britain, “England’s Garden” prospered throughout the 1950s and 1960s, boasting the third highest standard of living in the 1950s. New Zealand was able to provide its citizens a generous set of cradle to grave welfare provisions, universal health care and free access to education. Until the mid 1970s, unemployment was virtually unheard of.

Wage levels were set so as to guarantee a living wage “for a man, his wife and three children”.

The National Party government provided generous agricultural subsidies and managed the worldwide marketing of New Zealand’s agricultural products. Meanwhile, domestic manufacturing was protected from competition from abroad through high tariff barriers. The government willingly underwrote New Zealand’s continuing current account deficit by accumulating foreign debt. As delightful as life at the other end of the planet seemed, some troubling structural problems were already evident, such as the excessive dependence on the export of commodities.

In the 1970s these problems were brought to light as the global economy experienced meagre growth and high inflation. New Zealand was hard hit, exhibiting one of the lowest growth rates of any country within the OECD during the 1960s and 70s. There were a number of external shocks which New Zealand faced.

Firstly, main customer Great Britain joined the European Community, thereby becoming part of the Common Market for agricultural products. Though exceptional provisions were made to buffer some of the shocks for the New Zealand economy, this meant a sudden loss of New Zealand’s main market.

Secondly, in the wake of the oil crises of 1973 and 1979, New Zealand’s terms of trade deteriorated dramatically. Not only did oil prices rise exponentially, demand for commodities slipped. This hurt New Zealand’s economy badly, since its exports were still largely composed of wool, meat and dairy products. Notwithstanding a temporary boom in commodity prices between 1971 and 74, terms of trade deteriorated further throughout the 1970s and early 1980s. New Zealand’s unsophisticated reliance on agricultural products and its failure to diversify its export basis in time was beginning to backfire.

Thirdly, and related to this, in the wake of global stagflation, the Europeans were not alone in their hesitance to accept agricultural imports. A worldwide shift towards more protectionism occurred in the agricultural sector. This development continued to bedevil the New Zealand economy and only gradually came to an end.

Robert Muldoon, Prime Minister and Finance Minister between 1975 and 1984, attempted to address the economy’s sour performance by pseudo Keynesian methods. As part of the so called “Think Big projects”, he led an ambitious campaign to reduce New Zealand’s dependence on foreign oil imports and increase the domestic heavy manufacturing industry such as the steel industry in Northland. His macroeconomic policy was unfortunately poorly designed and inconsistent.

Though Keynes had called for state intervention to stimulate demand, this did not imply gross misallocation of funds to poorly planned projects.

Muldoon’s short sighted and ill advised course maneuvered unsteadily between heavy state interventionism, including the 1982 wage and price freeze, and cautious flirts with reforms. Essentially, this misguided lingering highlighted his lack of any real vision.

In 1984, the country underwent a severe economic crisis. Muldoon and his National Party had failed to offer anything more sophisticated than a simple wage and price freeze, while clinging on to an overvalued New Zealand dollar. Foreign debt had accumulated to a level of 40 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), well in excess of what crisis ridden countries such as Mexico and Argentina had taken. In this situation, the National Party called a snap election on 14 July. Labour scored an overwhelming victory.

4. Why did it happen and why in New Zealand? Analysing the intellectual sources

“Government bad! Market good!”

Notwithstanding the economic malaise the country faced in 1983 and 1984, the dogmatic zealousness with which economic reforms were implemented by Labour Minister of Finance Roger Douglas and his small group of cohorts in the Treasury Department presents somewhat of a puzzle to the outside observer.

How did a country known for its progressive policies, its welfare state and its anti nuclear and environmental policies so quickly and emphatically embrace the tenets of neoliberalism and the New Right?

The simplest answer is usually provided by the defenders of New Zealand’s neo liberal experience. They are quick to point out that New Zealand faced with tremendous economic structural problems and facing a severe crisis and government bankruptcy had little choice. A small country cannot continue down a path of isolationism, but must accept to navigate the tides and the ups and downs of the global market.

This is, of course, hardly a satisfactory answer. The country still had other policy options, such as moving towards a more neo corporatist direction, as in Western Europe, or a much more gradual and cautious reform programme such as that in Australia.

A more satisfactory answer can be provided if we follow some of the insights generated by the constructivist literature in international relations. Scholars in this tradition have questioned the static structure-agent relation embedded in the neo realist paradigm and posit a more dynamic interrelation between the two. Since our environment is socially constructed and interpreted, actors respond to their perception of the environment. Constructivist scholars emphasise the importance of what states make of their situation. In this process of forming one’s perception, it is of obvious importance what types of intellectual frameworks inform the actor and to what extent these parameters can be manipulated as a result of the inflow and acceptance of ideas. There is now a burgeoning body of literature on the influence of ideas on policy makers. Scholars basing their work on these premises emphasise the diffusion of ideas through network channels. The results of a “cognitive evolution“ might thus disseminate worldwide.

Especially interesting is the suggestion that while ideas might be out in the open, they have to find channels of access to policy makers and are then usually adapted to circumstances and institutional configuration of individual countries.

However, we should remind ourselves, that the influence of ideas on actual policy makers, particularly those originated by academics, has been pointed out quite some time ago.

Keynes himself asserted in 1936:

“Indeed the world is ruled by little else than ideas. Practical men, who believe themselves quite exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back.“

In the case of New Zealand, it seems fairly evident that the type of ideas and intellectual constructs embraced by Douglas and his associates at Treasury were imported from abroad, seeing that they constituted a revolutionary break with New Zealand’s state interventionist and later Keynesian tradition. Since the ideas behind the reform programmes were so alien to the New Zealand context, how can we account for this policy turn? Where, then, did these ideas originate?

In this context, the two major documents released by Treasury following the 1984 elections, Economic Management, and the 1987 elections, Government Management are informative to study. Economic Management was prepared by Treasury in a mere six weeks and provided the outline for the economic policies for the following six years. The spirit and at times even the letter of these documents betray their heavy indebtedness to the ideology of the New Right.

Most centrally, the neoclassical ideology of the Chicago School, the Public Choice writings and Austrian economics left their heavy imprints on the guidelines which were to dominate the New Zealand reform process.

A thorough summary of these intellectual sources would be well beyond the scope of this paper. However, one can adequately summarise these intellectual sources by pointing out the common themes stressed by these writers, namely a fundamental distrust in the state and a reliance on the market for the efficient allocation of resources and the greater good.

Or, to put it into slightly more acerbic terms, just as George Orwell’s pigs had chanted “Four legs good! Two legs bad!’ , so Friedman, von Hayek, Buchanan and their cohorts were chanting “Government bad! Market good!”

While New Zealanders profited over the decades from a benevolent state interventionism, Friedrich von Hayek, epitomising the Austrian school, portrayed the state as an inevitably power maximising leviathan, eager to clutch its paws around individual citizen’s liberties. Thus, the state was virtually guaranteed to intervene into an ever increasing array of individual liberties, thereby perpetuating a journey down a “road to serfdom”. The market, on the other hand, provides innovation and allows for creative discovery.

Chicago School economist Milton Friedman also strongly criticised government’s tendency to curtail an individual’s liberty. He postulated a minimalist role for the state. Only the unregulated market would provide for the most efficient price setting, send out the “right” signals, and thereby foster and encourage the activities of the utility maximising individual. Consequently, Friedman rallied against the welfare state and against any state intervention beyond a closely circumscribed array of public goods.

The sum of actions of rational, utility maximising individuals, on the other hand, would provide benefits for evelyone as the economy would move towards an equilibrium.

This semi religious belief in the invisible hand of the market in efficiently allocating resources and a general distrust in government was complimented by some of the Public Choice theorists, also originating at the University of Chicago as well as Virginia. Public choice applies some of the basic tenets of economics to political activity, arguing that bureaucrats, far from being benevolent altruistic and high spirited individuals, working in the interest of the greater public good, are really just as pettily minded profit maximising as anybody else. Thus, they attempt to maximise their department’s budget, size and scope.

How did Chicago influence New Zealand? What were the channels of influence along which these ideas travelled? And what characteristics of the domestic structure, emphasised by constructivists like Risse Kappen, nourished the implementation of the reform programme?

In this context, it is important to recognise the importance of channels of intellectual exchange with the United States. A number of Treasury officials had received their graduate training in the United States. To some extent, this mirrored the development in Latin American countries, particularly Chile and Mexico, where students trained in the US (the “Chicago Boys” in the Chilean example), applied with almost religious zealot the theories they had been indoctrinated with to restructuring the domestic structures of their home countries.

Similarly, many NZ Treasury officials had spent time at academic institutions in the US or had previous experience at such free market bastions as the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

We should mention in passing that many New Zealanders began to develop a negative self image of their own country as a sleepy backwater prone to old fashioned ‘boring’ Keynesian state interventionism. They were fed up with Muldoon’s heavy handed and fairly authoritarian paternalism.

In addition, we can point to at least two other intellectual sources.

First, there is the IMF. Schwartz points out that New Zealand’s reform programme bears striking similarity to the recommendations of the IMF for structural adjustment. New Zealand removed its wage, price and interest controls. deregulated financial transactions and phased out subsidies for manufacturing and agriculture. As mentioned previously, some NZ Treasury officials had professional experience at the IMF.

Secondly, it is certainly no coincidence that New Zealand launched its reform programme a mere five years after a similarly minded individual had ascended to power at 10 Downing Street. The former colonial power Great Britain still exerted an intellectual hegemony over New Zealand. Thatcher exhibited distrust towards the state and its role in the economy, initiating an expansive programme of privatisation and an extensive restructuring of the public sector. She also significantly curtailed the role of unions.

Meanwhile, in the United States, supply side economics and market liberalisation also carried the day after the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980. Reagan’s policies included measures such as deregulation, prominently in the field of telecommunications and airlines, “rolling back the state”, cutting down welfare expenditures, and enacting tax cuts, particularly at the top end of the income scale.

Following the constructivist research agenda, the particular domestic structures of a host nation also ought to deserve attention in an analysis of the impact of ideas on a given polity. In the case of New Zealand there are indeed particularities, in fact peculiarities which fostered the swift and rapid enactment of a comprehensive package of economic reforms. Two central factors merit our attention here.

First, as part of its colonial heritage, New Zealand had up until 1993 a Westminster style “first past the post” system and only two major political parties. In fact, New Zealand constituted a more perfect example of the Westminster model than the British motherland. Thus, once Labour had got hold of power in 1984, it commanded a comfortable absolute majority of seats. Political opposition thus had practically no way of manipulating the course of events. The same applies for the situation of the National Party after 1990. Because of the amount of power the executive could wield in this system, no checks and balances were in place to act as a dam against the blitzkrieg style policy making approach of Mr Douglas. Thus he and his intellectual companion in the Treasury Department were able to quickly enact their programme.

There was no second chamber of parliament, no effective opposition and no presidential veto to impede the onslaught of reforms.

Secondly, Treasury played a central role in the reform processs. In fact, it “became the principal initiator” and formed a “consistent, cohesive, intellectually convicted group” as Prime Minister Lange later recalled. It was able to do so owing to its “near monopoly position with respect to economic policy advice” within the “unitary, centralized structure” of the political system in New Zealand.

Because the reforms constituted such a radical break with the intellectual tradition hitherto pursued we must look abroad for some of the intellectual sources of the New Zealand sources. In this context it is enlightening to accept the premise of the constructivist turn in international relations and consider how ideas and norms can influence policy makers. The Treasury documents outlining the economic reform programme bear the heavy imprint of the Chicago school, the Austrian school and to some extent the insights of Public Choice. Based on the premise of a distrust of the state and placing faith in the invisible hand of the market, these theories shared in common their advocacy of relying on an unregulated market and a minimised state.

They made their way to New Zealand by way of intellectual interchange with the United States. A feeling of disdain towards Muldoon’s heavy handed authoritarianism, commonly yet falsely associated with Keynesianism helped usher in a paradigmatic intellectual change in New Zealand and a shift towards the free market ideas of Chicago. Domestic structures, such as a Westminster style political system, ensuring an absolute majority for one party, and the strong influence, which Treasury could exert, both contributed to the implementation of these ides in to practice.

5. A Model Strategy? Analysing the implementation of the “New Zealand Way”

In 1984, economic crisis mandated immediate action. Defenders of the reform programme argued that there was little choice to a comprehensive restructuring in light of the apparent failures of Muldoon’s pseudo Keynesianism. In any case, in the early 1990s “Model New Zealand” was touted in the international press as a success story and not only by the OECD. A never ending stream of international journalists, academics, and politicians descended perennially upon Wellington to explore what it was that had turned this small South Pacific nation into a “job creation machine”.

Commonly, New Zealand’s relatively low unemployment rate was mentioned along with its economic growth rate as measured by GDP. In 1993, GDP grew by 4.8 per cent, by 6.1 per cent in 1994 and by 3.3 per cent in 1995. Employment grew by 2 per cent in 1993, 4.3 per cent in 1994, and 4.7 per cent in 1995. Meanwhile, unemployment declined from 9.5 per cent in 1993 to 8.2 per cent in 1994 and again to 6.3 per cent in 1995 (see also appendix).

Government was able to record a surplus in its budget balance, allowing it to enact a tax cut in 1997. The implication was, of course, that both developing countries and the advanced industrial countries could stand to learn a lesson or two from this powerhouse in the South Pacific. Slavish adoption of an IMF style structural adjustment programme seemed to have paid off for the Kiwis. An economy, which up until the 1980s had exhibited sluggish growth and still bore uncanny resemblance to a developing country owing to its heavy reliance on a large commodity sector, was now showing signs of remarkable growth.

Meanwhile, the advanced industrial countries of Europe were suffering no or slow growth while facing a pressing structural unemployment problem. There was considerable debate about liberalising the labour market and restructuring the public sector in order to be able to successfully compete in a global economy. New Zealand had enacted all these changes and seemed to be harvesting the fruits the reform programme bore. It had gone from being extremely regulated and protectionist to being the most ardent supporter of an unregulated market environment. New Zealand’s remarkable reform programme seemed to translate into impressive economic benefits. Thus, the country seemed well suited to serve as a model for coping with the challenges of globalisation.

However, a closer look reveals a much more mixed record. Upon closer inspection, it becomes evident rather quickly that the 1993-95 economic boom constituted little more than a temporary recovery from almost a decade of recession. Throughout the 1980s, the payoffs from the reforms appeared far from evident. New Zealand went through a drawn out period of extremely painful adjustments. On many indicators, such as employment, the economy is returned to pre 1984 levels only in the late 1990s. In the following section we shall examine the economic performance in more detail.

As I will point out, the country paid a very high price for its “success”. Both the social cost is chilling and the issue of loss of national autonomy is far from a purely academic concern for many Kiwis. Privatisation and economic liberalisation has meant that many economic decisions are no longer being made in Wellington, but in corporate headquarters in Australia, Britain and the US.

Due to its reliance on foreign capital both in the form of portfolio investment and FDI the country has made itself vulnerable to the whims of the international financial markets, as became painfully obvious during the Asian crisis. A genuine success is New Zealand’s cutting edge technology in the field of agricultural engineering. But overall, a sober analysis of the costs and benefits of the reform programme cannot lead to the sameenthusiastic conclusions of the international financial media.

Let us consider the economic side flrst. Throughout the 1980s, New Zealand’s macroeconomic indicators were anything but impressive. In fact, between 1985 and 1992 total growth across OECD economies averaged 20 percent, while New Zealand’s economy shrank by one percent. In both 1989 and 1991 GDP growth was negative. Between 1987 and 1991, the unemployment rate more than doubled from 4.1 to 10.7 percent, reaching unprecedented levels and exceeding the OECD small member countries’ average (see appendix 2 for further details). While labour productivity did begin to increase in 1986, this was mainly due to massive labour cutbacks and not even a consistent trend. In fact, between 1984 and 1993 productivity growth averaged only 0.9 percent.

While Muldoon’s practice of heavy borrowing from overseas was severely criticised, Labour actually continued this practice without passing down the benefits to NZ citizens. Both total public debt and public overseas debt continued to increase, the former reaching a record 80 per cent of GDP in 1987. Inflation continued to vex the economy until 1993, averaging 9 per cent.

In the short to medium term the reforms brought about the worst recession in New Zealand since the 1930s. The “reinvention” of government and the public sector translated into a massive rise of unemployment. A country in which unemployment was virtually unheard of now saw workers laid off by the thousands. Unemployment peaked up to record levels.

Yet after eight painful years of transition, the reforms finally seemed to pay off. In December 1991, inflation dropped to below two per cent. In 1993, the balance of payment deficit moved below two per cent of GDP and the government budget showed a surplus for the first time in fiscal year 1993/94. Real GDP began to grow again in 1992 and unemployment began to sink in 1994-95. However, unemployment was still well above pre 1984 levels and so was public debt. According to the OECD, real GDP in 1992 was still 5 per cent below the 1985-86 level. The GDP growth in 1993 seemed to have brought NZ merely back into a general trend of worldwide economic recovery.

In the meantime, New Zealand had become a dramatically different society. Before analysing the more recent development and the impact of the Asian crisis, it is worth shedding some light on the social costs of “Model New Zealand”.

New Zealand has always been proud of its social cohesion. A quasi social democratic commitment to social equality, equal wages and a welfare state had meant a stable, peaceful and socially cohesive society.

Now, as the commitment to “sleepy backward” Keynesianism went flying out of the window, so too, did the commitment to social equality. The income gap rose and as unemployment grew, so did social inequality. Despite a slight increase in productivity, real wages by 1999 had slightly decreased since 1985/86.

A lot of the growth in employment can actually be traced back to the growth of part time jobs which doubled from 200,000 to 400,000 between 1984 and 1995, while the number of full time positions decreased. These part time positions typically do not entail the same amount of benefits as full time jobs.

Following the first wave of corporatisation and privatisation, which lead to massive growth in unemployment, the National party, adding insult to injury, enacted a combined programme of welfare cuts and labour market deregulation in 1990/91.

Subsequently, poverty increased markedly. By 1991, 17.8 per cent of all New Zealanders lived below the poverty line, while the median income had declined by 19.2 per cent between 1982 and 1991.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, crime rates rocketed, violent crime increasing by 50 percent between 1982 and 1991, endowing New Zealand with the dubious distinction of having the third highest violent crime rate in the world.

New Zealand today has the highest youth suicide rate in the western world. For a country which is trying to portray itself as one of the few success stories in creating a bicultural society, Aotearoa New Zealand, the disproportionate rise in poverty and unemployment among its Maori and Pacific Island population presents at the very least a severe embarrassment.

Of serious concern is the emergence a two tier social stratification of society, which parallels racial lines and mirrors the unfortunate American experience. Symptoms of this development are the growth of urban ghettos in South Auckland and the growth of criminal youth gangs among Maori and Pacific Island youths.

Following the cuts in the welfare system enacted by National in 1990, real poverty emerged in New Zealand to a degree previously unprecedented. There was a rapid growth in the number of people reliant on soup kitchens and private welfare organisations. Furthermore, corporatisation and privatisation of the Housing Corporation has obliged this former component of the welfare state to raise profits. A logical result has been the steady increase in rents and sales of a number of flats. This policy accepted the eviction of the most needy, precisely those for whose purpose the system was created. This lead to the emergence of homelessness for the first time in the history of the country.

At the same time, the corporatisation of higher education has meant the introduction of steep fees for tertiary education. Government drastically cut its spending on the education sector. While New Zealand students previously were obliged to a nominal fee of approximately NZ$100 per academic year, rates increased to between NZ$3000 and NZ$20,000 by 1999. Student loans are available, but at market level interest rates only. At the same time, student allowances were cut both in size and scope. This has contributed further to social stratification and inequality. Meanwhile, the policy of privatisation and corporatisation was extended to cover the health sector with the better off being offered the option of buying into private health insurance schemes. Meanwhile. the quality and scope of public health provision is deteriorating.

In the medium to long term, the radical privatisation programme and liberalisation of the economy has made New Zealand extremely dependent on volatile international financial markets. Such dependency became readily apparent during the Asian crisis.

As speculators withdrew their money from the overvalued Asian currencies they did not stop and discriminate, thereby excluding New Zealand. The Asian flu rapidly spread to the country, plunging it into recession and causing a fall of the NZ dollar to below 50 US cents for the first time in eleven years. New Zealand’s Top40 share index followed the dramatic decline of its Asian cousins in late 1997 and again in June 1998. In a sense this was not surprising. seeing that New Zealand suffered from similar problems as Thailand did, namely a large current account deficit, caused by the large inflow of foreign capital. While superficially speaking, the situation might be seen as different from Thailand because a large proportion of the deficit was due to large sale FDI, foreign investors in East Asia had thought exactly that to be true of countries there.

It is clear that the negative impact of the Asian crisis also had to do with the extent to which Asian countries, such as Japan and Korea, had begun to replace Britain and Europe as main outlets for New Zealand products. Owing to the persistence of trade barriers to agricultural sectors, New Zealand farmers were glad to find customers in resource poor commodity importers such as Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan. The rise of the New Zealand dollar versus the currencies of most of its Asian trade partners inevitably made its products more expensive and thus less attractive. This also translated into losses in revenues from the tourism sector. Furthermore, since Australia toik 20.3 percent of NZ exports, some indirect effects also came to play a role.

The exposure of New Zealand’s economy to the international financial markets is so high because of a perpetual current account deficit. The external deficit to GDP ratio hovers between 6 and 7 percent, while the foreign liabilities amounted to 80 percent of GDP in 1998. This level of foreign debt was a record high for any OECD country. It makes New Zealand dependent on the volatility of the market. To some degree, this is a result of the policy of the private sector to accrue high levels of foreign debt, in order to finance investment so as to stay internationally competitive. Another large causal factor of the problem of a current account deficit is New Zealand’s radical privatisation programme, enticing overseas investors to invest in a country with a very business friendly environment and causing profits to be repatriated. The stock of foreign direct investment more than tripled between 1989 and 1994, now making up one quarter of the GDP. Whether this level of foreign direct investment can be sustained over a long term period now that key assets of the New Zealand economy have been sold off into private hands is, however, far from certain.

Regardless of whether or not one accepts the neoliberal premise that privatisation of public enterprises results in overall efficiency gains for the economy, for a small country such policy raises the non-trivial concern over real loss of sovereignty. Foreign control over New Zealand is anything but a purely academic subject. In 1995, foreign investors owned half the stock market, 40 per cent of government bonds, while foreign ownership of companies amounted to 33.6 NZ$ billion as compared to government assets of 30 NZ$ billion. Around 90 percent of the banking sector is foreign owned, primarily by Australian companies.

US, British and Australian companies profited from the wave of privatisations, buying up companies at relatively low prices, though NZ taxpayers’ money helped create the bulk of the infrastructure of these companies in the first place.

Major examples of privatisation include the sale of Telecom, Air New Zealand, Bank of New Zealand, New Zealand Rail, and the cutting rights for the states’ forests. At the same time, Asian investors bought up large shares of NZ real estate, both commercial property and forestry land. These developments led one NZ politician to comment that “we risk being transformed into sharecroppers on our land”.

With telecommunication, transportation, the financial sector, the energy sector and increasingly the natural resource base and urban real estate being turned over to foreign owners, constraints on the array of policy measures a NZ government can undertake are quite severe. In a small country, privatisation programmes run the risk of attracting predominantly foreign investors due to the small domestic capital basis. As the case of New Zealand demonstrates this can leave the “independence as a nation substantially undermined”, with decisions affecting the economic and political life of the polity being made in boardrooms in New York, London and Sydney and no longer in Wellington.

This also implies that for the sake of marginally reducing its debt levels, the NZ government has terminally abandoned its control levers over a large section of the economy, now no longer controlled by a democratically elected government, but rather by purely profit oriented private businesses. It has also given away valuable sources of revenue which are now used to maximise private sector profits. These profits, in turn, are being quickly repatriated to overseas locales. For a small country, following the ‘New Zealand Way’ there is a very real danger of turning into a banana republic.

However, while large scale enterprises where sold off to foreign buyers, New Zealand has been fairly successful in developing cutting edge products in a number of agriculture related technologies, thereby occupying specialised market niches. Companies specialise in high tech agricultural products and services, particularly geared towards the dairy and sheep farm industries. These range from technical equipment for livestock feeding to livestock genetics services. Companies have the advantage of profiting from high quality research and development conducted at the Department of Technology at Waikato University in Hamilton and the Department of Agricultural Engineering at Massey University in Palmerston North. High quality research in agricultural sciences is also being carried out on the South Island at the Animal Division and Food Sciences Department at Lincoln University in Christchurch. There are early signs of the development of a “cluster economy” in Hamilton where the university promotes the co operation with the regional Crown Research Institute (CRI) and the emergence of spin off companies commercialising in some of the fruits of the research activity. These are encouraging signs and indicators of New Zealand taking advantage of its experience, expertise, and technical know how to develop unique globally competitive leading products.

This is an indication of acknowledging and profiting from niche markets which other, larger countries are either unaware of or incapable of penetrating. However, we might voice some concern about the fact that these products are still related to agriculture. Thus, the economy’s reliance on this sector is sustained.

6. Conclusion: A Mixed Picture

New Zealand has launched an ambitious and comprehensive series of reforms, commencing in 1984. The country chose to respond to the challenges implied by a globalising world economy in a fairly radical fashion, moving from being one of the most regulated economies in the OECD to the opposite extreme.

This paper has analysed the New Zealand reform programme in a quest to explore its feasibility as a model for other small states in coping with the pressures of globalisation. It is commonly argued that increasing interdependence, exponentially growing trade flows and expanding foreign direct investment are undermining the nation state’s level of autonomy. More precisely, the nation state loses its capability to manipulate key macroeconomic tools and thereby effectively to control key parameters of public policy making. As my analysis has shown, the ‘New Zealand way’ presents a mixed track record. The fairly limited successes of the much heralded “Model New Zealand” have come at a significant cost. Unemployment, poverty, and social inequality all stand at unprecedented levels today in New Zealand. While some macroeconomic indicators have been stabilised, the short to medium term impact of the reforms has been devastating. The short term recovery of the mid 1990s faded in the wake of the Asian crisis.

New Zealand’s high level of foreign debt combined with an extraordinary level of foreign direct investment means that the country is highly exposed to the whims of the international financial market.

Owing to large scale privatisations, initiated in the mid 1980s as a measure to reduce foreign debt and in line with the neoliberal antistatist dogma, substantial sections of the New Zealand economy are now controlled by Australian, American and British companies. This leads to the repatriation of profits from NZ operations and a huge current account deficit. It also means that the NZ government has voluntarily abandoned its capability of controlling large sectors of the economy and has given away revenue generating resources.

The NZ government thus finds the range and effectiveness of its public policy options severely curtailed, not least due to the Fiscal Responsibility Act, the Public Finance Act and the Reserve Bank Act, all of which constrain the role of government in the economy.

It will be interesting to follow the further developments of the New Zealand economy. A current assessment of the reforms, however, cannot lead to an endorsement of any such package of measures for other small states. The costs are quite considerable, while the benefits of a policy of effective capitulation to the market seem fairly limited.

Journalists, policy makers, and academics will probably continue to flock to Wellington to study this most ambitious of all public sector reform programmes.

Yet a comprehensive candid assessment about the overall results of this programme leads to the conclusion that New Zealand in liberalising its economy has overdone it.

Download this report (pdf)

The New Zealand Way. European Consortium for Political Research

HOW SHALL WE LIVE? How Universal Basic Income Solves Widespread Insecurity and Radical Inequality – Daniel Nettle.

Answering the four big objections from critics of UBI.

“A host of positive psychological changes inevitably will result from widespread economic security.” Martin Luther King Jr.

Security is one of the most basic human emotional needs.

Contrary to the predictions of mid-twentieth century economists, the age of universal wellbeing has not materialised.

We are washed up on the end of one big idea, failed Neoliberalism, waiting for something else to come along. At best we are dealing with one symptom at a time. Each piecemeal intervention increases the complexity of the state; divides citizens down into finer and finer ad hoc groups each eligible for different transactions; requires more bureaucratic monitoring; and often has unintended and perverse knock-on effects.

Each conditional government welfare scheme generates a bureaucracy of assessment and the need for constant eligibility monitoring, at vast expense.

Something more systemic is needed; an idea with bigger and bolder scope. That big, bold idea just might be the Universal Basic Income.

For UBI to go mainstream, a positive case will need to be made that also draws on easily available simple social heuristics. If we can’t make it make intuitive sense, it will be confined forever to the world of policy nerds.

The health and wellbeing benefits observed in trials of UBI and minimum income guarantees, even over quite short periods, have been so massive that it is hard not to conclude that security does something interesting to human beings, out of all proportion to the monetary value of the transfer, just as Martin Luther King predicted.

Daniel Nettle is Professor of Behavioural Science at Newcastle University. His varied research career has spanned a number of topics, from the behaviour of starlings to the origins of social inequality in human societies. His research is highly interdisciplinary and sits at the boundaries of the social, psychological and biological sciences.

“Can we not find a method of combining the advantages of anarchism and socialism? It seems to me that we can. The plan we are advocating amounts essentially to this: that a certain small income, sufficient for necessaries, should be secured to all, whether they work or not.” Bertrand Russell

Today should be the best time ever to be alive. Thanks to many decades of increasing productive efficiency, the real resources available to enable us to do the things we value, the avocados, the bicycles, the musical instruments, the bricks and glass are more abundant and of better quality than ever. Thus, at least in the industrialised world, we should be living in the Age of Aquarius, the age where the most urgent problem is self-actualisation, not mere subsistence: not ‘How can we live?’, but ‘How shall we live?’.

Why then, does it not feel like the best time ever? Contrary to the predictions of mid-twentieth-century economists, the age of universal wellbeing has not really materialised. Working hours are as high as they were for our parents, if not higher, and the quality of work is no better for most people. Many people work several jobs they do not enjoy, just to keep a roof over their heads, food on the table, and the lights on. In fact, many people are unable to satisfy these basic wants despite being in work: the greater part of the UK welfare bill, leaving aside retirement pensions, is spent on supporting people who have jobs, not the unemployed. Thousands of people sleep on the streets of Britain every night. Personal debt is at unprecedented levels. Many people feel too harried to even think about self-actualisation.

Twin spectres stalk the land, and help explain the gap between what our grandparents hoped for and what has materialised. These are the spectres of inequality and insecurity. Insecurity, in this context, means not being able to be sure that one will be able to meet one’s basic needs at some point in the future, either because cost may go up, or income may fluctuate. Insecurity is psychologically damaging: most typologies put security as one of the most basic human emotional needs. Insecurity dampens entrepreneurial activity: one of the big reasons that people don’t follow up their innovative ideas is that these are by definition risky, and they worry about keeping bread on the table whilst they try them out. Insecurity deters people from investing in increasing their skills: what if they cannot eat before the investment starts to pay off? It encourages rational short-termism: who would improve a house or a neighbourhood that might be taken away from them in a few months’ time for reasons beyond their control? It also increases the likelihood of anti-social behaviour: I would not steal a loaf of bread if I knew there was no danger of going hungry anyway, but faced with the danger of starvation tomorrow, I would seriously consider it. Insecurity is a problem that affects those who have little to start with especially acutely: hence the link between insecurity and inequality.

Big problems require big ideas. Our current generation of politicians don’t really have ideas big enough to deal with the problems of widespread insecurity and marked inequality. Big ideas come along every few decades. The last one was about forty years ago: neoliberalism, the idea that market competition between private-sector corporations would deliver the social outcomes we all wanted, as long as government got out of the way as far as possible. Interestingly, neoliberalism was not such an obviously good idea that politicians of all stripes ‘just got it’. It took several decades of carefully orchestrated deliberate communication and advocacy, which was not at all successful at first, to eventually make it seem, across the political spectrum, that the idea was so commonsensical as to be obvious. I don’t think any of the early advocates of neoliberalism could possibly have dreamed that after thirty years of implementation of their big idea, available incomes would have stagnated or declined for the median family; public faith in corporate capitalism would have seeped away; even the UK Conservative party would have to concede that market mechanisms did not really work as envisaged; or that the major UK political parties would both be advocating government-imposed pricecaps in an area, the supply of energy, where the neoliberal market model had been followed to its logical conclusion. It feels like we are washed up on the end of one big idea, waiting for something else to come along.

Our current politicians propose to deal with symptoms piecemeal, a minimum-wage increase here, a price cap there, rent-control in the other place; tax credits for those people; financial aid to buy a house for those others. At best we are dealing with one symptom at a time. Each piecemeal intervention increases the complexity of the state; divides citizens down into finer and finer ad hoc groups each eligible for different transactions; requires more bureaucratic monitoring; and often has unintended and perverse knock-on effects. For example, helping young people to buy a house with government financial aid only maintains the high levels of house prices. Vendors can simply factor into the price the transfer from government that they will receive. The policy would be much less popular if millions of pounds of taxpayer money were just given directly to large property development corporations, but that might as well be what the policy did. No, something more systemic is needed; an idea with bigger and bolder scope. That big, bold idea just might be the Universal Basic Income.

A Universal Basic Income (UB1) is a regular financial payment made to all eligible adults, whether they work or not, regardless of their other income. People can know that it will always be there, now and in the future. It should not be a fortune, but it should ideally be enough that no-one ever needs to be hungry or cold.

All developed societies agree on the need to protect citizens from desperate want that may befall them, usually for reasons beyond their control. However, the ways we currently make these transfers are incredibly complex. Guy Standing reports that in the USA, there are at least 126 different federal assistance schemes, not to mention state-level ones. In the UK, individuals have had until recently to be separately assessed for unemployment support, ill-health support, carer support, working tax credits (which amount to low-income support), and so on. The new Universal Credit system only partly simplifies this thicket. Each conditional scheme generates a bureaucracy of assessment and the need for constant eligibility monitoring, at vast expense.

Moreover, conditional transfers always generate incentive problems. If you go back into work after being unemployed, you lose benefits. If you are a carer and the person you care for recovers, you are financially penalised: you do better by keeping them ill. If your wages or hours go up, you lose out in benefit reductions. Under the UK’s new Universal Credit system, the marginal tax rate (the amount you lose of every extra pound you earn in the job market if you are a recipient) is around 80%, and that scheme was a reform designed to increase the incentive to work! Moreover, the 80% figure does not factor in the fact that if you move briefly out of eligibility, for example for some seasonal work, you are uncertain about when and whether you would be able to get back in afterwards, should you need to. This is a disincentive for taking the work.

It is very hard to eliminate these perversities within any system of conditional, circumstance-specific transfers.

The UBI, then, seems like a good idea. It is far from a new one. It has fragmentary roots in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In the twentieth century, there was one wave of enthusiasm in the 1920s, and another in the late 1960s and 1970s. The second wave generated a positive consensus, specific policy proposals, and a certain amount of pilot activity, but other paths ended up being taken. The idea has never quite died, though. It is now back in political consciousness in a very big way.

Why, when the UBI seems such a good idea, when it has been cognitively available to us for so long, when so many very clever people have modelled it and found it desirable, is there no developed society on earth in which it has been fully implemented? Partly this is because democratic governments, indeed societies in general, are poor at farreaching systemic reform, instead finding it easier to tinker with and tune existing systems. It’s only the political outsiders who dare propose massive change, they have less to lose. But it is also because human psychology is an obstacle to the UBI, and this is what interests me in this essay. As Pascal Boyer and Michael Bang Petersen have recently argued, when we (non-specialists) think about how the economy ought to be organized, we don’t derive our conclusions from formal theory, simulations, or systematic research evidence. No, we generally fall back on simple social heuristics, like ‘if someone takes a benefit, they ought to pay a commensurate cost’; ‘more for you is less for me’; or ‘people should only get help when they are in need’. These simple social heuristics are all well and good for the problems they developed to solve, basically, regulating everyday dyadic or small-group social interactions. But they don’t automatically lead us to the right conclusions when trying to design optimal institutions for a complex system like a modern capitalist economy.

Certain aspects of the UBI idea violate one of these simple social heuristics. In fact, the UBI sometimes manages to violate two different and contradictory simple social heuristics simultaneously, as we shall see. These violations are like notes played slightly out of tune: they just seem wrong, before one has had to think much about it. Politicians are afraid of these reactions; they don’t like going out to campaign and meeting the same immediate objections all the time. If you want to build a consensus for the UBI, you have to analyse these jarring notes with some care, and develop a counter-strategy. For UBI to go mainstream, a positive case will need to be made that also draws on easily available simple social heuristics. If we can’t make it make intuitive sense, it will be confined forever to the world of policy nerds.

Fortunately, the challenge can be met. Our simple social heuristics do not constitute a formally consistent system, like arithmetic (why would they?). Instead, they are a diverse bunch of often contradictory gut feelings and moral reactions each triggered by particular contextual cues. For example, we do have strong intuitions that people should not take a benefit without paying a commensurate cost, but these intuitions only get triggered when certain sets of features are present in the situation. These features include: the resource is scarce enough every additional unit of it is valuable to me; the resource was created by deliberate individual effort; the person taking the benefit is somehow dissimilar to me, so their interests are not closely tied in to mine; and it is feasible to monitor who is getting what at reasonable cost.

The features do not always obtain: the resource might be more plentiful than anyone really needs; its acquisition might be mainly due to luck; the other people might be fundamentally similar to me, or their interests closely bound up with mine; or the cost of monitoring who got what might be prohibitive. In such situations, humans everywhere merrily and intuitively sign up to the proposition: the resource should be shared out somehow. There are a number of ways this can happen: pure communal sharing, where each qualifying individual just takes what they like, or equality matching, where every qualifying individual is allotted an equal share as of right. Every society has domains in which communal sharing or equality matching is deployed in preference to market pricing (the rule ‘you should only take a benefit if you pay a commensurate cost’).

Hunter-gatherers deal with large game, chancy and producing a huge surfeit when it comes, by communal sharing. Even in the more private property focussed Western societies, communal sharing is ubiquitous. Households, for example. If I buy a litre of milk, I don’t give my wife a bill at the end of the week for whatever she uses. Su casa es mi casa. Communal sharing or equality matching happens beyond households too. It is anathema to suggest that the residents of Summerhill Square might charge passersby for the air they breathe whilst walking through. Very few people think that those who pay more taxes should get more votes. When proposals are made to move a resource from the domain of the communally shared or equality matched to the priced, there is outcry: witness the response that greets proposals for road tolls in places where use of the roads is currently free; or to charge money at the gates of the town park. The case for the UBI is the case for moving part, no means all, of our money the other way, out of conditionality and into the domain of the equality-matched. Getting your head around it involves framing your understanding of our current economic situation in such a way as to trigger the appropriate equality-matching intuitions. Here as in many other political domains, those who determine the framing of the problem get to have a big influence on the outcome.

Whenever one talks about the UBI, one hears the same objections, including:

– How can we afford such a scheme?

– Why should I give my money to people for them to do nothing in return?

– Why would anyone work if they were given money for free?

– Why should we give money to the rich, who don’t need it?

The first of these objections is the easiest to dispose of. There have been detailed recent costings for the UK, which vary in their assumptions, but the consensus is that introduction of a modest initial UBI scheme would require surprisingly little disruption to our current tax and expenditure system; perhaps modest tax rises, perhaps no change, perhaps tax cuts. If this surprises you, let me give you the following back-of-an-envelope calculations. There are around 65 million people in the UK, of whom 63% are aged between 16 and 64. Assuming that the over 65s will continue with their current pension arrangements instead of the UBI, that gives us at most 41 million adults to cater for, plus about 12 million under-16s. Let’s say we want to give £80 per week to each of the adults. This would cost £171 billion per annum. And let’s further say that we want to give £40 per week, to the mother or other caregiver, for each child under 16. That’s another £25 billion, giving a nice round £200 billion in total.

Of course, £200 billion a year is an eye-watering sum. But UK government expenditure in 2017 was £814 billion, so we are only talking about one quarter of what the government spends anyway. Increasing government expenditure by one quarter might be a rather rash move, but this would not be the net increase, because the UBI would produce savings elsewhere. The welfare bill for 2017, less retirement pensions, was £153 billion. It’s unrealistic to expect a UBI scheme to reduce this to zero: most UBI advocates argue for retaining some extra provision for the disabled, and also retaining, for the time being, means-tested benefits to pay housing rental in some cases (the cost of housing is so high in parts of the UK that many people would become homeless if this disappeared overnight). But certainly, we might hope to eliminate up to £100 billion, or 2/3, of the non-pensions welfare bill, including a very large part of the administrative cost. So we are already half-way there.

At present, most UK adults are taxed at a zero rate on the Iirst £8,164 of earned income, 12% from £8,164 to £11,500, and 32% above £11,500. What this means, in effect, is that anyone earning £11,500 or more is effectively being given a freebie from the state of £3680, compared to being standardly taxed at 32% from the first pound. This figure, £3680 per year is, you will note, not so very far off my proposed initial UBI of £4160 anyway. Personal tax allowances cost the government around £100 billion per annum in foregone revenue. If my proposed UBI were to be introduced, it would be reasonable to ask people to pay their taxes from the first pound. For people like me who earn more than £11,500 per annum, the introduction of the UBI would then be largely neutral, my tax bill going up by around £4000, offset by £4000 coming separately into my bank account as UBI.

So, if you will allow me very broad approximations, moving to a modest UBI would cost about £200 billion per annum, to be funded by about £100 billion of welfare savings, and about £100 billion from abolishing personal tax allowances, so pretty much fiscally neutral.

And this is just a business-as-usual analysis of the likely financial consequences. What advocates believe is that there will be positive knock-on effects: people will be able to move to more productive and enjoyable jobs, or start entrepreneurial activities; people have no financial disincentives to take casual work or increase their hours; the expensive negative psychological consequences of insecurity (anxiety, depression, addiction, maybe even crime) will improve. Thus, what you end up with will be a net saving for the government, not a net cost.

The initial scheme discussed above, and other proposals like it, are not immediately very redistributive. Those currently receiving full Universal Credit would only end up with about the same as their current entitlement; and, as I mentioned above, for well-off people like me, the UBI would be almost exactly offset by the increase in my tax bill. So what is the point of such a reform? The answer has to do with security. I see UBI not so much as an immediate solution to inequality (you would have to set it very high to have a big direct effect on the inequality figures), but as a prophylactic against insecurity. For a wealthy person such as myself, there’s not much financial difference between getting a personal tax allowance and receiving a UBI, until my life is hit with a shock. I am well-off now, but I might not always be. Say I suddenly lose my job, or need to care for my wife. I know the UBI will continue to be there, every week, without any action required of my part. I can factor it into my worst expectations. The same is not true of the transfer effected by my personal tax allowance. And this, briefly, is the best response to objection 4, ‘Why should we give money to the rich, who don’t need it?’ Well, as long as they remain rich, then they are net payers into the system, since their tax bill exceeds their UBI, so we are giving them money only in an accounting sense. But it is still better to have them make a large tax payment in and concurrently take a small UBI payment out, rather than just make their tax rate a bit lower, because they might suddenly become non-rich at any moment. The UBI is ready for that moment should it come. To counter objection 4, we need to activate the social heuristics: ‘anyone could have bad luck’ and ‘everyone is potentially in the same boat’.

There is a large difference between the knowledge that £80 a week will always come into my bank account, this week, next month, and for the rest of my life; and the knowledge that, if things go badly for me, I can do a complex application process, be subjected to a humiliating and lengthy bureaucratic examination, following which, after a delay of up to six weeks during which I will receive nothing, about £80 per week may or may not start to appear in my bank account, and could be withdrawn at any moment if I am ten minutes late for an interview, or am deemed to not be sick enough or not be trying hard enough to look for work.

It is ironic that the system we often refer to as ‘social security’ provides the exact opposite of that: it provides continual, unplannable for uncertainty akin to a sword of Damacles.

The insecure, such as those waiting for benefits decisions or enduring benefits sanctions, have short term problems of liquidity. They lose their homes and possessions, or end up having to borrow money at very high interest rates. This is expensive and spirals them into abject poverty. Reducing insecurity could have an indirect effect on inequality, by stopping this spiral. And the health and wellbeing benefits observed in trials of UBI and minimum income guarantees, even over quite short periods, have been so massive that it is hard not to conclude that security does something interesting to human beings, out of all proportion to the monetary value of the transfer, just as Martin Luther King predicted.

What about objection 2 (‘Why should I give my money to people for them to do nothing in return?’). The objection has two parts: there’s a part about my money being my money, and a part about giving to other people without them doing anything in return. Both parts are important.

First, the my money part. All societies distinguish between individually owned resources and communal resources, though they draw the line in different places. Across societies, alienating an individually-owned resource from someone is morally wrong; but depriving people of a communal resource is equally so. The kinds of cues that trigger intuitions of individual ownership are: my having transformed the material extensively through deliberate action; the resource having been given to me by someone in return for something specific; or the resource having been in my sole possession and use for some time. The kinds of cues that trigger intuitions of communal ownership are: the resource being very abundant; its use being hard to monitor and police; a little of it being essential for everyone’s survival; and the having of it being mainly due to luck. So I think a first move you need to make in making the UBI make sense is to loosen the hold of the individual ownership schema on the money in your wage packet.

The money in my wage packet certainly feels like a good candidate for individual ownership. I have worked hard to get where I have, and this leads to the intuition that every penny in my wage packet is mine, should not be given away to other people without a specific reciprocal service rendered. I supposed I should grudgingly admit that I have got some help from others in earning my salary as an academic, I mean it’s not quite all my own sweat. Following the logic of individual ownership, I should really have paid for all these inputs at point of use, but somehow I didn’t always do so. There’s the statistical computing language R, the backbone of all my research; developed by people I didn’t know and made freely available without me lifting a finger. Maybe 1p in every pound I earn is really owable to the R Foundation for Statistical Computing.

Then come to think of it there is the computer itself, developed by a mixture of public and private investment mainly before I was born. It’s unthinkable that I could be a productive modern professor without this input available. So really I should attribute 2p of each pound I earn to having had that available. Come to think of it, I could not really earn anything as a professor without the existence of an affluent society in which enough people are freed from daily subsistence activities as to want to spend their time studying behavioural science. So I guess I owe the Industrial Revolution say 5p; and then another 3p to those Europeans who invented a rather good system of universities for students to come and study at. Oh, and I do use the scientific method rather a lot (say 4p distributed across a wide range of people in many countries over the last couple of hundred years, and another 2p specifically for the intellectual work of creating my discipline). And a couple of pence in the pound for the philosophers of the enlightenment; without them to make the world safe for my kind I would at best be a priest with low wages. And then there’s the Romans. What did the Romans ever do for me? Well, there’s the sanitation. And the roads…

As soon as we complete this exercise, we are forced to concede that what seems like my money only partly meets all the triggers for individual ownership (my individual labour produced it). In large part, it is a windfall of cumulative cultural evolution. I just got lucky to be born into a shared cultural and technological heritage. I can’t pay back to all those parties whose cultural activities contributed to my luck, since many of them are long gone (and besides, they are innumerable and diverse). But accepting that what I earn is partly due to an abundant social windfall created by a whole society over time, whose use and scope is hard to monitor, and I acquired by sheer luck, loosens the hold of the intuition that all my money all belongs exclusively to me. It’s a short step from ‘a part of what I receive from society is due to our common, difficult to monitor, abundant social luck’ to ‘a part of what I receive should be shared out’.

So now we turn to the part about why I should give anything to strangers without requiring them to pay any particular cost in return. A popular pro-UBI argument here, which goes back to Thomas Paine, is that people should be recompensed for the natural heritage that has been alienated from them. The land has been enclosed and privatised; the water has been bottled and sold; you can’t just chop down the trees, hunt game or build a house where you want, as you would have been able to do at the dawn of society. The UBI is this recompense, the royalty, if you will, on an inheritance that was once socially shared but has been taken away by civilization. This reasoning is fine, but a bit lofty and philosophical. I prefer a quiverful of different, more forward looking arguments.

First, social transfers of some kind are necessary, and monitoring them under the current system is really costly. The UK government recently announced that it needed to review whether its rules on disability benefit claims had been applied correctly to recent claimants. This review is estimated to cost £3.7 billion. That’s enough to give my proposed UBI to everyone in the town of Hexham for over 8 years. Not the cost of the benefit, not the cost of administering the benefit, just the cost of one review of whether the benefit has in fact been correctly administered, for a benefit that only a small fraction of the UK population claims anyway. Scale that up and you appreciate the madness of how we currently administer social transfers.

Second, I do derive all kinds of payoffs from the welfare of others, even strangers. What are they? Well, I enjoy strolling around my city. I enjoy living in a nice orderly street. I enjoy going to the theatre. If my cocitizens were so hungry and desperate that they turned to assaulting their fellows, smashing property, not tending their yards, and abandoning the arts, my personal wellbeing would be directly reduced. I like writing books and giving lectures. It’s therefore in my direct interest that as many people as possible have the resources to read or attend these. Businesses can only flourish if there are people well enough off to be customers. This was the great insight of Henry T. Ford: he realised he could really make a lot more money once he paid his workers enough that they would be able to buy his cars. It’s the kind of reverse Ponzi scheme trick, or perpetual motion machine, of modern consumer capitalism: those at the top of the pyramid need enough money to get down to those at the bottom of the pyramid that those people can buy goods and services, which means that the money comes back up to them again. Otherwise the whole thing grinds to a nasty halt.

One way of thinking about this is to say that, in a community, because of the fundamentally social character of human life, the wellbeing of each individual creates a spill-over benefit for the others. It’s what economists call a positive externality. Because of the changes in behaviour that will follow from my neighbour not being in completely dire straits, my life improves a tiny little bit as theirs does. This improvement is very real and substantial, but hard to tie to any one act my neighbour does, and hence hard to monitor or account for in a ledger.

Third, the marginal wellbeing returns to keeping all of my money are diminishing. Diminishing marginal returns mean that if the first few hundred pounds of income massively improve my well-being, then the next few hundred improve it slightly less, and so on. A few years ago, Karthik Panchanathan, Tage Rai, Alan Fiske and I produced a simple model of what resource distribution a selfish actor should prefer when there are positive social externalities, and diminishing wellbeing returns. We imagined a simple world where there are two actors, me and someone else. We put a value 5 on the positive externality that flows to me as the other person’s well-being increases by one unit. Now we ask: if I can decide how all the available resources get divided up, what allocation should I prefer? The exact numerical answer depends on the value of s and the degree to which marginal returns diminish, but generally, the result is the following. I should want to keep everything up until the point where I myself have got off the steepest part of the increasing wellbeing curve. Above that, it becomes rational for me to want the other actor to have the next chunk of resource, since the positive social externality coming to me from their large increase in wellbeing (they are still on the steep bit of the curve, remember) outweighs the rather small increase in my wellbeing I get from keeping it (since I am on the flatter bit of the curve). There is no ‘problem of cheating’ in this model, since we assume that the positive externalities arise from behavioural changes that the other party will simply want to make anyway as their state improves. It’s a model of mutual benefit, or interdependence, rather than tit-for-tat.

This is the reasoning I would use with a well-off person to advocate funding a UBI from their taxes. The money you put into other people’s UBIs will directly increase your individual wellbeing, because in a society where no-one is desperate, it’s easier for the things you really value and derive benefit from to flourish. Furthermore, as already discussed, UBI offers security to you too. You may not need it right now, but you could do in the future. Both of these are self-interest arguments, where selfinterest is construed sufficiently broadly. You have to be careful about basing all policy arguments on self-interest: it can end up signalling that self-interest is the only normal reason for action, which could become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Nonetheless, perhaps here having self-interest on side helps buttress nobler motives. Experience shows that the long-term success of social policies is tied to the relatively well-off seeing themselves as getting something from them. Where schemes are perceived to benefit only an ‘underclass’, different in kind from the people footing the bill, support is easily driven away in the next downturn.

Objection 3 (‘Why would anyone work if they were given money for free?’) is based on the reasonable intuition that conditionality is important in motivating others to do something. One does not generally say to the plumber: ‘Here’s £100. I’m hoping that at some point you will fix my tap’. However nice the plumber might be, the incentives are a bit wrong here. And if people withdrew their supply of labour, the very affluence that can fund the UBI would be undermined.

The best way to loosen this objection is to remind one’s interlocutor of two things. First, the UBI is only ever going to be basic, and people want more than basic out of life. If people’s life ambitions were limited to gaining some modest level of income of £5000 or £10000 per annum a year and then stopping, then frankly, the behaviour of the vast majority of people in western societies for the last century would be completely incomprehensible. Lottery winners almost universally continue to work, though often not in their previous jobs. Academics don’t work less when they become full professors: they work harder. The very same critics who say that people won’t do anything if given money for free also often advocate the awarding of huge salaries, millions of pounds per annum, to CEOs and other leaders. Admittedly, those huge salaries are conditional on working, whereas the UBI is not. But the fact that the salary allegedly needs to be so huge to attract candidates implies that people are motivated not just by getting a little bit of money, but by getting a lot. So those who advocate large salaries must believe that the motivation for more money holds up at levels of income way above the basic (at least for the right sort of people, but hey, maybe all people are the right sort).

Second, more important than the amount of labour people supply is the productivity of that labour. By this, I mean people choosing to do activities that are socially useful, in which they are happy, and that they are good at. That has to be key to maximising social wellbeing as well as economic stability in future. There is plenty of evidence from pilot schemes of the effect of the UBI (or similar policies) on labour supply. In the 1970s North American schemes, reductions in work hours were real but very modest. No-one stopped working altogether (and these were minimum income guarantee schemes, which provide stronger disincentives for work than a fully unconditional UBI). The slight reductions in labour supply overall were mainly explained by the behaviour of specific groups: parents took more time out of the labour market to look after their children; and young people were more likely to stay on in education, to improve their skills. Need I point out that these are all things that the state currently subsidizes people to do, at considerable cost, because they are felt to be socially desirable? In short, as Michael Howard has put it: ‘In the pilot schemes people withdrew from the labour market, but the kind of labour market withdrawal you got was the kind you would welcome’.In more recent trials of a full UBI in India and Namibia, overall economic activity actually went up, as more people were able to afford to access job markets, or began entrepreneurial activities on their own accounts. I believe that under a UBI scheme, work would continue, and become better: innovation, worthwhile work, scholarship, and the arts would flourish, whilst degrading or miserable jobs would have to pay people more or treat them better. Hardly the end of civilization as we know it then.

If people persist with their intuition that UBI incentivizes people to do nothing, then the argument of last resort is the following: If you think it is stupid to give money to people even if they do nothing (UBI), then you ought to think it really stupid to give people money only on condition that they do nothing (the current means-tested benefits system). How much sense does that make?

There is one other great obstacle to acceptance of the UBI. People can’t figure out whether it is a left-wing idea, or a right-wing one, so neither side takes it fully to its heart. At first it seems left-wing: making the welfare system more humane and less conditional, transferring money from those with most income to those with less, is the latest tool to further a long-standing socialist or social-democratic concern with inequality and social justice. The neoliberal big idea has failed. A big idea based on collective action must replace it, and the UBI is part of that idea.

But good UBI arguments have come from the right, too. Freemarket economist Milton Friedman flirted with the idea, and the most serious Federal-level US policy initiative, the Family Assistance Plan (born about 1968, died about 1973) was proposed by a Republican president (Nixon) and largely killed off by the Democratic party. The right-wing (or libertarian) argument is that UBI massively simplifies the state, and could facilitate it relinquishing a lot of its micro-control over our lives. For example, if a UBI is there providing a protective floor for everyone, does the state also need to regulate minimum wages so closely? Couldn’t people protected from dire exploitation by the UBI make their own minds up about what paid labour they wish to do under what conditions? Perhaps, going further down this line, the UBI plus control of law and order, is pretty much all the state needs to do, internally at any rate. We’ve given everyone enough to avoid starvation and be able to participate in economic life in a minimally sufficient way. After that, they are on their own: they can contract for the goods and services they choose in the market. This argument makes UBI the missing piece that completes, not replaces, the neoliberal vision.

In another essay, I have written about the difficulty of inter-disciplinarity. Valuable integrative ideas can languish in the academic uncanny valley, not obviously owned by one discipline or another, and thus fail to have their potential recognized by anyone. Ideas that are quite good from two points of view, perversely, end up being championed by neither side, and thus have less immediate success than ideas that only appeal to one camp or the other. But what happens to the best of these ideas, in the end, is interesting: They go quite abruptly from all parties saying ‘that makes no sense’, to all parties saying ‘well, everyone knows that!’. There’s a similar adage in public policy: Important policy reforms are politically impossible, until just about the point where they are politically inevitable. We’ve seen plenty of examples of this in the slow and halting march of progress. Perhaps that is what will happen with UBI. We will look back and wonder what took us quite so long. Until then, and this is what scholars are uniquely placed to do, we have to keep the idea alive.

Excerpt from Hanging On To The Edges by Daniel Nettle (2018).

Evonomics

Everything You Know About Neoliberalism Is Wrong – Bill Mitchell and Thomas Fazi.

Even though neoliberalism as an ideology springs from a desire to curtail the state’s role, neoliberalism as a political-economic reality has produced increasingly powerful, interventionist and ever-reaching – even authoritarian – state apparatuses.

The process of neoliberalisation has entailed extensive and permanent state intervention, including: the liberalisation of goods and capital markets; the privatisation of resources and social services; the deregulation of business, and financial markets in particular; the reduction of workers’ rights (first and foremost, the right to collective bargaining) and more in general the repression of labour activism; the lowering of taxes on wealth and capital, at the expense of the middle and working classes; the slashing of social programmes, and so on.

These policies were systemically pursued throughout the West (and imposed on developing countries) with unprecedented determination, and with the support of all the major international institutions and political parties.

In this sense, neoliberal ideology, at least in its official anti-state guise, should be considered little more than a convenient alibi for what has been and is essentially a political and state-driven project, aimed at placing the commanding heights of economic policy ‘in the hands of capital, and primarily financial interests’.

Capital remains as dependent on the state today as it did in under ‘Keynesianism’ – to police the working classes, bail out large firms that would otherwise go bankrupt, open up markets abroad, etc. In the months and years that followed the financial crash of 2007-9, capital’s – and capitalism’s – continued dependency on the state in the age of neoliberalism became glaringly obvious, as the governments of the US and Europe and elsewhere bailed out their respective financial institutions to the tune of trillions of euros/dollars.

In Europe, following the outbreak of the so-called ‘euro crisis’ in 2010, this was accompanied by a multi-level assault on the post-war European social and economic model aimed at restructuring and re-engineering European societies and economies along lines more favourable to capital.

Nonetheless, the flawed notion that neoliberalism entails a retreat of the state continues to remain a fixture of the left. This is further compounded by the idea that the state has been rendered powerless by the forces of globalisation. Conventional wisdom holds that globalisation and the internationalisation of finance have ended the era of nation states and their capacity to pursue policies not in accord with the diktats of global capital. But does the evidence support the assertion that national sovereignty has truly reached the end of its days?

Social Europe

The Rise And Fall Of The American Middle Class – William Lazonick. 

Social Europe

William Lazonick is a Professor at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, where he directs the Center for Industrial Competitiveness. He is also a Visiting Professor at the University of Ljubljana where he teaches a PhD course on the theory of innovative enterprise. Previously he was an Assistant and Associate Professor of Economics at Harvard University, Professor of Economics at Barnard College of Columbia University, and Visiting Scholar and then Distinguished Research Professor at INSEAD.


The Lewis Powell Memo: A Corporate Blueprint to Dominate Democracy. – Elizabeth Warren. 

In 1971, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce enlisted a corporate lawyer named Lewis Powell to write a secret memo.

As soon as Powell finished his thirty-three-page paper, the chamber, a national organization representing the interests of many of America’s largest corporations, quietly began passing it from one power broker to another.

For the CEO crowd, the memo was electrifying. Powell had held nothing back. He forcefully argued that the entire free-enterprise system was under attack—and he called on the super rich to counterattack with all their might.

Powell was an unlikely firebrand. He was mild-mannered, gentlemanly, and unfailingly polite. Many people remarked on his deeply ingrained civility. He was intensely proud of his Virginia roots, which were noticeable in his soft drawl, and he idolized Robert E. Lee. Tall and thin, Powell wore thick glasses and old-fashioned suits. Yet despite all his courtly manners, when it came to defending his corporate clients, he was a take-no-prisoners, shoot-them-all kind of guy.

Powell served on the board of directors for more than a dozen of America’s biggest corporations, and his dedication to advancing the interests of corporate America was legendary. His work for tobacco company Philip Morris included signing off on the company’s annual reports touting the health benefits of cigarettes, and he railed against the press for failing to give adequate credence to the industry’s claims about tobacco safety. He was close personal friends with the top lawyer for General Motors, and when newspaper articles about cars with dangerous designs and product defects began appearing, Powell viewed those stories—and the reporters who wrote them—with alarm. He fervently believed that such challenges undermined people’s confidence in corporate America and put our country right on the slippery slope to socialism.

Many of those who received Powell’s memo shared his view that America’s system of free enterprise was at risk, but it was his call to action that really galvanized his CEO readership. His advice was visionary: Fight back! Reshape Americans’ views about business, government, politics, and law. Fund conservative think tanks. Influence young people by reasserting business interests on college campuses. Pay professors to publish pro-business work.

Using example after example, Powell made it clear that he wanted to return America to the pro-corporate, largely unregulated government that, in his view, had served this country so well before the Great Depression.

In the darkest days of the Depression, Roosevelt had offered hope to “the forgotten man at the bottom of the economic pyramid.” Without a hint of irony, Powell now spoke tenderly to America’s millionaires:

“One does not exaggerate to say that, in terms of political influence with respect to the course of legislation and government action, the American business executive is truly the ‘forgotten man.’”

Rich guys just can’t catch a break.

THE PLAN: TAKE OVER GOVERNMENT

Two months after Powell sent his memo to the Chamber of Commerce, President Nixon nominated him for the Supreme Court. The paper remained secret until after Powell was confirmed. But his idea had already spurred the millionaires and CEOs who’d read the memo to stop complaining and start acting. The rich and powerful enthusiastically took up his call to arms and began to use their considerable wealth to alter America’s political landscape.

Their efforts began to pay off almost immediately. Just over nine years after Powell’s memo began to circulate, and with considerable support from a “Business Advisory Panel” of corporate CEOs, Ronald Reagan was elected president.

Reagan swept into office under the banner of free-market economics, and he was cheered on with many boisterous calls for “liberty” and “freedom.”

Reagan’s approach was unmistakably aimed at helping giant businesses and their top executives, but its advocates promised working people that all those benefits going to big corporations would “trickle down” to them as well. The economic plan was as simple—and as sweeping—as the plan Franklin Roosevelt had put in place nearly half a century earlier during the Great Depression. But Reagan’s plan turned Roosevelt’s on its head.

Elizabeth Warren

from her book: This Fight Is Our Fight, the battle to save working people. 

***

Written in 1971 to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Lewis Powell Memo was a blueprint for corporate domination of American Democracy.

CONFIDENTIAL MEMORANDUM

Attack on American Free Enterprise System

DATE: August 23, 1971

TO: Mr. Eugene B. Sydnor, Jr., Chairman, Education Committee, U.S. Chamber of Commerce

FROM: Lewis F. Powell, Jr.

This memorandum is submitted at your request as a basis for the discussion on August 24 with Mr. Booth (executive vice president) and others at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The purpose is to identify the problem, and suggest possible avenues of action for further consideration.

Dimensions of the Attack

No thoughtful person can question that the American economic system is under broad attack. This varies in scope, intensity, in the techniques employed, and in the level of visibility.

There always have been some who opposed the American system, and preferred socialism or some form of statism (communism or fascism). Also, there always have been critics of the system, whose criticism has been wholesome and constructive so long as the objective was to improve rather than to subvert or destroy.

But what now concerns us is quite new in the history of America. We are not dealing with sporadic or isolated attacks from a relatively few extremists or even from the minority socialist cadre. Rather, the assault on the enterprise system is broadly based and consistently pursued. It is gaining momentum and converts.

Sources of the Attack

The sources are varied and diffused. They include, not unexpectedly, the Communists, New Leftists and other revolutionaries who would destroy the entire system, both political and economic. These extremists of the left are far more numerous, better financed, and increasingly are more welcomed and encouraged by other elements of society, than ever before in our history. But they remain a small minority, and are not yet the principal cause for concern.

The most disquieting voices joining the chorus of criticism come from perfectly respectable elements of society: from the college campus, the pulpit, the media, the intellectual and literary journals, the arts and sciences, and from politicians. In most of these groups the movement against the system is participated in only by minorities. Yet, these often are the most articulate, the most vocal, the most prolific in their writing and speaking.

Moreover, much of the media — for varying motives and in varying degrees — either voluntarily accords unique publicity to these “attackers,” or at least allows them to exploit the media for their purposes. This is especially true of television, which now plays such a predominant role in shaping the thinking, attitudes and emotions of our people.

One of the bewildering paradoxes of our time is the extent to which the enterprise system tolerates, if not participates in, its own destruction.

The campuses from which much of the criticism emanates are supported by (i) tax funds generated largely from American business, and (ii) contributions from capital funds controlled or generated by American business. The boards of trustees of our universities overwhelmingly are composed of men and women who are leaders in the system.

Most of the media, including the national TV systems, are owned and theoretically controlled by corporations which depend upon profits, and the enterprise system to survive.

Tone of the Attack

This memorandum is not the place to document in detail the tone, character, or intensity of the attack. The following quotations will suffice to give one a general idea:

William Kunstler, warmly welcomed on campuses and listed in a recent student poll as the “American lawyer most admired,” incites audiences as follows:

“You must learn to fight in the streets, to revolt, to shoot guns. We will learn to do all of the things that property owners fear.” The New Leftists who heed Kunstler’s advice increasingly are beginning to act — not just against military recruiting offices and manufacturers of munitions, but against a variety of businesses: “Since February, 1970, branches (of Bank of America) have been attacked 39 times, 22 times with explosive devices and 17 times with fire bombs or by arsonists.” Although New Leftist spokesmen are succeeding in radicalizing thousands of the young, the greater cause for concern is the hostility of respectable liberals and social reformers. It is the sum total of their views and influence which could indeed fatally weaken or destroy the system.

A chilling description of what is being taught on many of our campuses was written by Stewart Alsop:

“Yale, like every other major college, is graduating scores of bright young men who are practitioners of ‘the politics of despair.’ These young men despise the American political and economic system . . . (their) minds seem to be wholly closed. They live, not by rational discussion, but by mindless slogans.”A recent poll of students on 12 representative campuses reported that: “Almost half the students favored socialization of basic U.S. industries.”

A visiting professor from England at Rockford College gave a series of lectures entitled “The Ideological War Against Western Society,” in which he documents the extent to which members of the intellectual community are waging ideological warfare against the enterprise system and the values of western society. In a foreword to these lectures, famed Dr. Milton Friedman of Chicago warned: “It (is) crystal clear that the foundations of our free society are under wide-ranging and powerful attack — not by Communist or any other conspiracy but by misguided individuals parroting one another and unwittingly serving ends they would never intentionally promote.”

Perhaps the single most effective antagonist of American business is Ralph Nader, who — thanks largely to the media — has become a legend in his own time and an idol of millions of Americans. A recent article in Fortune speaks of Nader as follows:

“The passion that rules in him — and he is a passionate man — is aimed at smashing utterly the target of his hatred, which is corporate power. He thinks, and says quite bluntly, that a great many corporate executives belong in prison — for defrauding the consumer with shoddy merchandise, poisoning the food supply with chemical additives, and willfully manufacturing unsafe products that will maim or kill the buyer. He emphasizes that he is not talking just about ‘fly-by-night hucksters’ but the top management of blue chip business.”

A frontal assault was made on our government, our system of justice, and the free enterprise system by Yale Professor Charles Reich in his widely publicized book: “The Greening of America,” published last winter.

The foregoing references illustrate the broad, shotgun attack on the system itself. There are countless examples of rifle shots which undermine confidence and confuse the public. Favorite current targets are proposals for tax incentives through changes in depreciation rates and investment credits. These are usually described in the media as “tax breaks,” “loop holes” or “tax benefits” for the benefit of business. * As viewed by a columnist in the Post, such tax measures would benefit “only the rich, the owners of big companies.”

It is dismaying that many politicians make the same argument that tax measures of this kind benefit only “business,” without benefit to “the poor.” The fact that this is either political demagoguery or economic illiteracy is of slight comfort. This setting of the “rich” against the “poor,” of business against the people, is the cheapest and most dangerous kind of politics.

The Apathy and Default of Business

What has been the response of business to this massive assault upon its fundamental economics, upon its philosophy, upon its right to continue to manage its own affairs, and indeed upon its integrity?

The painfully sad truth is that business, including the boards of directors’ and the top executives of corporations great and small and business organizations at all levels, often have responded — if at all — by appeasement, ineptitude and ignoring the problem. There are, of course, many exceptions to this sweeping generalization. But the net effect of such response as has been made is scarcely visible.

In all fairness, it must be recognized that businessmen have not been trained or equipped to conduct guerrilla warfare with those who propagandize against the system, seeking insidiously and constantly to sabotage it. The traditional role of business executives has been to manage, to produce, to sell, to create jobs, to make profits, to improve the standard of living, to be community leaders, to serve on charitable and educational boards, and generally to be good citizens. They have performed these tasks very well indeed.

But they have shown little stomach for hard-nose contest with their critics, and little skill in effective intellectual and philosophical debate.

A column recently carried by the Wall Street Journal was entitled: “Memo to GM: Why Not Fight Back?” Although addressed to GM by name, the article was a warning to all American business. Columnist St. John said:

“General Motors, like American business in general, is ‘plainly in trouble’ because intellectual bromides have been substituted for a sound intellectual exposition of its point of view.” Mr. St. John then commented on the tendency of business leaders to compromise with and appease critics. He cited the concessions which Nader wins from management, and spoke of “the fallacious view many businessmen take toward their critics.” He drew a parallel to the mistaken tactics of many college administrators: “College administrators learned too late that such appeasement serves to destroy free speech, academic freedom and genuine scholarship. One campus radical demand was conceded by university heads only to be followed by a fresh crop which soon escalated to what amounted to a demand for outright surrender.”

One need not agree entirely with Mr. St. John’s analysis. But most observers of the American scene will agree that the essence of his message is sound. American business “plainly in trouble”; the response to the wide range of critics has been ineffective, and has included appeasement; the time has come — indeed, it is long overdue — for the wisdom, ingenuity and resources of American business to be marshalled against those who would destroy it.

Responsibility of Business Executives

What specifically should be done? The first essential — a prerequisite to any effective action — is for businessmen to confront this problem as a primary responsibility of corporate management.

The overriding first need is for businessmen to recognize that the ultimate issue may be survival — survival of what we call the free enterprise system, and all that this means for the strength and prosperity of America and the freedom of our people.

The day is long past when the chief executive officer of a major corporation discharges his responsibility by maintaining a satisfactory growth of profits, with due regard to the corporation’s public and social responsibilities. If our system is to survive, top management must be equally concerned with protecting and preserving the system itself. This involves far more than an increased emphasis on “public relations” or “governmental affairs” — two areas in which corporations long have invested substantial sums.

A significant first step by individual corporations could well be the designation of an executive vice president (ranking with other executive VP’s) whose responsibility is to counter-on the broadest front-the attack on the enterprise system. The public relations department could be one of the foundations assigned to this executive, but his responsibilities should encompass some of the types of activities referred to subsequently in this memorandum. His budget and staff should be adequate to the task.

Possible Role of the Chamber of Commerce

But independent and uncoordinated activity by individual corporations, as important as this is, will not be sufficient. Strength lies in organization, in careful long-range planning and implementation, in consistency of action over an indefinite period of years, in the scale of financing available only through joint effort, and in the political power available only through united action and national organizations.

Moreover, there is the quite understandable reluctance on the part of any one corporation to get too far out in front and to make itself too visible a target.

The role of the National Chamber of Commerce is therefore vital. Other national organizations (especially those of various industrial and commercial groups) should join in the effort, but no other organizations appear to be as well situated as the Chamber. It enjoys a strategic position, with a fine reputation and a broad base of support. Also — and this is of immeasurable merit — there are hundreds of local Chambers of Commerce which can play a vital supportive role.

It hardly need be said that before embarking upon any program, the Chamber should study and analyze possible courses of action and activities, weighing risks against probable effectiveness and feasibility of each. Considerations of cost, the assurance of financial and other support from members, adequacy of staffing and similar problems will all require the most thoughtful consideration.

The Campus

The assault on the enterprise system was not mounted in a few months. It has gradually evolved over the past two decades, barely perceptible in its origins and benefiting (sic) from a gradualism that provoked little awareness much less any real reaction.

Although origins, sources and causes are complex and interrelated, and obviously difficult to identify without careful qualification, there is reason to believe that the campus is the single most dynamic source. The social science faculties usually include members who are unsympathetic to the enterprise system. They may range from a Herbert Marcuse, Marxist faculty member at the University of California at San Diego, and convinced socialists, to the ambivalent liberal critic who finds more to condemn than to commend. Such faculty members need not be in a majority. They are often personally attractive and magnetic; they are stimulating teachers, and their controversy attracts student following; they are prolific writers and lecturers; they author many of the textbooks, and they exert enormous influence — far out of proportion to their numbers — on their colleagues and in the academic world.

Social science faculties (the political scientist, economist, sociologist and many of the historians) tend to be liberally oriented, even when leftists are not present. This is not a criticism per se, as the need for liberal thought is essential to a balanced viewpoint. The difficulty is that “balance” is conspicuous by its absence on many campuses, with relatively few members being of conservatives or moderate persuasion and even the relatively few often being less articulate and aggressive than their crusading colleagues.

This situation extending back many years and with the imbalance gradually worsening, has had an enormous impact on millions of young American students. In an article in Barron’s Weekly, seeking an answer to why so many young people are disaffected even to the point of being revolutionaries, it was said: “Because they were taught that way.” Or, as noted by columnist Stewart Alsop, writing about his alma mater: “Yale, like every other major college, is graduating scores’ of bright young men … who despise the American political and economic system.”

As these “bright young men,” from campuses across the country, seek opportunities to change a system which they have been taught to distrust — if not, indeed “despise” — they seek employment in the centers of the real power and influence in our country, namely: (i) with the news media, especially television; (ii) in government, as “staffers” and consultants at various levels; (iii) in elective politics; (iv) as lecturers and writers, and (v) on the faculties at various levels of education.

Many do enter the enterprise system — in business and the professions — and for the most part they quickly discover the fallacies of what they have been taught. But those who eschew the mainstream of the system often remain in key positions of influence where they mold public opinion and often shape governmental action. In many instances, these “intellectuals” end up in regulatory agencies or governmental departments with large authority over the business system they do not believe in.

If the foregoing analysis is approximately sound, a priority task of business — and organizations such as the Chamber — is to address the campus origin of this hostility. Few things are more sanctified in American life than academic freedom. It would be fatal to attack this as a principle. But if academic freedom is to retain the qualities of “openness,” “fairness” and “balance” — which are essential to its intellectual significance — there is a great opportunity for constructive action. The thrust of such action must be to restore the qualities just mentioned to the academic communities.

What Can Be Done About the Campus

The ultimate responsibility for intellectual integrity on the campus must remain on the administrations and faculties of our colleges and universities. But organizations such as the Chamber can assist and activate constructive change in many ways, including the following:

Staff of Scholars

The Chamber should consider establishing a staff of highly qualified scholars in the social sciences who do believe in the system. It should include several of national reputation whose authorship would be widely respected — even when disagreed with.

Staff of Speakers

There also should be a staff of speakers of the highest competency. These might include the scholars, and certainly those who speak for the Chamber would have to articulate the product of the scholars.

Speaker’s Bureau

In addition to full-time staff personnel, the Chamber should have a Speaker’s Bureau which should include the ablest and most effective advocates from the top echelons of American business.

Evaluation of Textbooks

The staff of scholars (or preferably a panel of independent scholars) should evaluate social science textbooks, especially in economics, political science and sociology. This should be a continuing program.

The objective of such evaluation should be oriented toward restoring the balance essential to genuine academic freedom. This would include assurance of fair and factual treatment of our system of government and our enterprise system, its accomplishments, its basic relationship to individual rights and freedoms, and comparisons with the systems of socialism, fascism and communism. Most of the existing textbooks have some sort of comparisons, but many are superficial, biased and unfair.

We have seen the civil rights movement insist on re-writing many of the textbooks in our universities and schools. The labor unions likewise insist that textbooks be fair to the viewpoints of organized labor. Other interested citizens groups have not hesitated to review, analyze and criticize textbooks and teaching materials. In a democratic society, this can be a constructive process and should be regarded as an aid to genuine academic freedom and not as an intrusion upon it.

If the authors, publishers and users of textbooks know that they will be subjected — honestly, fairly and thoroughly — to review and critique by eminent scholars who believe in the American system, a return to a more rational balance can be expected.

Equal Time on the Campus

The Chamber should insist upon equal time on the college speaking circuit. The FBI publishes each year a list of speeches made on college campuses by avowed Communists. The number in 1970 exceeded 100. There were, of course, many hundreds of appearances by leftists and ultra liberals who urge the types of viewpoints indicated earlier in this memorandum. There was no corresponding representation of American business, or indeed by individuals or organizations who appeared in support of the American system of government and business.

Every campus has its formal and informal groups which invite speakers. Each law school does the same thing. Many universities and colleges officially sponsor lecture and speaking programs. We all know the inadequacy of the representation of business in the programs.

It will be said that few invitations would be extended to Chamber speakers. This undoubtedly would be true unless the Chamber aggressively insisted upon the right to be heard — in effect, insisted upon “equal time.” University administrators and the great majority of student groups and committees would not welcome being put in the position publicly of refusing a forum to diverse views, indeed, this is the classic excuse for allowing Communists to speak.

The two essential ingredients are (i) to have attractive, articulate and well-informed speakers; and (ii) to exert whatever degree of pressure — publicly and privately — may be necessary to assure opportunities to speak. The objective always must be to inform and enlighten, and not merely to propagandize.

Balancing of Faculties

Perhaps the most fundamental problem is the imbalance of many faculties. Correcting this is indeed a long-range and difficult project. Yet, it should be undertaken as a part of an overall program. This would mean the urging of the need for faculty balance upon university administrators and boards of trustees.

The methods to be employed require careful thought, and the obvious pitfalls must be avoided. Improper pressure would be counterproductive. But the basic concepts of balance, fairness and truth are difficult to resist, if properly presented to boards of trustees, by writing and speaking, and by appeals to alumni associations and groups.

This is a long road and not one for the fainthearted. But if pursued with integrity and conviction it could lead to a strengthening of both academic freedom on the campus and of the values which have made America the most productive of all societies.

Graduate Schools of Business

The Chamber should enjoy a particular rapport with the increasingly influential graduate schools of business. Much that has been suggested above applies to such schools.

Should not the Chamber also request specific courses in such schools dealing with the entire scope of the problem addressed by this memorandum? This is now essential training for the executives of the future.

Secondary Education

While the first priority should be at the college level, the trends mentioned above are increasingly evidenced in the high schools. Action programs, tailored to the high schools and similar to those mentioned, should be considered. The implementation thereof could become a major program for local chambers of commerce, although the control and direction — especially the quality control — should be retained by the National Chamber.

What Can Be Done About the Public?

Reaching the campus and the secondary schools is vital for the long-term. Reaching the public generally may be more important for the shorter term. The first essential is to establish the staffs of eminent scholars, writers and speakers, who will do the thinking, the analysis, the writing and the speaking. It will also be essential to have staff personnel who are thoroughly familiar with the media, and how most effectively to communicate with the public. Among the more obvious means are the following:

Television

The national television networks should be monitored in the same way that textbooks should be kept under constant surveillance. This applies not merely to so-called educational programs (such as “Selling of the Pentagon”), but to the daily “news analysis” which so often includes the most insidious type of criticism of the enterprise system. Whether this criticism results from hostility or economic ignorance, the result is the gradual erosion of confidence in “business” and free enterprise.

This monitoring, to be effective, would require constant examination of the texts of adequate samples of programs. Complaints — to the media and to the Federal Communications Commission — should be made promptly and strongly when programs are unfair or inaccurate.

Equal time should be demanded when appropriate. Effort should be made to see that the forum-type programs (the Today Show, Meet the Press, etc.) afford at least as much opportunity for supporters of the American system to participate as these programs do for those who attack it.

Other Media

Radio and the press are also important, and every available means should be employed to challenge and refute unfair attacks, as well as to present the affirmative case through these media.

The Scholarly Journals

It is especially important for the Chamber’s “faculty of scholars” to publish. One of the keys to the success of the liberal and leftist faculty members has been their passion for “publication” and “lecturing.” A similar passion must exist among the Chamber’s scholars.

Incentives might be devised to induce more “publishing” by independent scholars who do believe in the system.

There should be a fairly steady flow of scholarly articles presented to a broad spectrum of magazines and periodicals — ranging from the popular magazines (Life, Look, Reader’s Digest, etc.) to the more intellectual ones (Atlantic, Harper’s, Saturday Review, New York, etc.) and to the various professional journals.

Books, Paperbacks and Pamphlets

The news stands — at airports, drugstores, and elsewhere — are filled with paperbacks and pamphlets advocating everything from revolution to erotic free love. One finds almost no attractive, well-written paperbacks or pamphlets on “our side.” It will be difficult to compete with an Eldridge Cleaver or even a Charles Reich for reader attention, but unless the effort is made — on a large enough scale and with appropriate imagination to assure some success — this opportunity for educating the public will be irretrievably lost.

Paid Advertisements

Business pays hundreds of millions of dollars to the media for advertisements. Most of this supports specific products; much of it supports institutional image making; and some fraction of it does support the system. But the latter has been more or less tangential, and rarely part of a sustained, major effort to inform and enlighten the American people.

If American business devoted only 10% of its total annual advertising budget to this overall purpose, it would be a statesman-like expenditure.

The Neglected Political Arena

In the final analysis, the payoff — short-of revolution — is what government does. Business has been the favorite whipping-boy of many politicians for many years. But the measure of how far this has gone is perhaps best found in the anti-business views now being expressed by several leading candidates for President of the United States.

It is still Marxist doctrine that the “capitalist” countries are controlled by big business. This doctrine, consistently a part of leftist propaganda all over the world, has a wide public following among Americans.

Yet, as every business executive knows, few elements of American society today have as little influence in government as the American businessman, the corporation, or even the millions of corporate stockholders. If one doubts this, let him undertake the role of “lobbyist” for the business point of view before Congressional committees. The same situation obtains in the legislative halls of most states and major cities. One does not exaggerate to say that, in terms of political influence with respect to the course of legislation and government action, the American business executive is truly the “forgotten man.”

Current examples of the impotency of business, and of the near-contempt with which businessmen’s views are held, are the stampedes by politicians to support almost any legislation related to “consumerism” or to the “environment.”

Politicians reflect what they believe to be majority views of their constituents. It is thus evident that most politicians are making the judgment that the public has little sympathy for the businessman or his viewpoint.

The educational programs suggested above would be designed to enlighten public thinking — not so much about the businessman and his individual role as about the system which he administers, and which provides the goods, services and jobs on which our country depends.

But one should not postpone more direct political action, while awaiting the gradual change in public opinion to be effected through education and information. Business must learn the lesson, long ago learned by labor and other self-interest groups. This is the lesson that political power is necessary; that such power must be assidously (sic) cultivated; and that when necessary, it must be used aggressively and with determination — without embarrassment and without the reluctance which has been so characteristic of American business.

As unwelcome as it may be to the Chamber, it should consider assuming a broader and more vigorous role in the political arena.

Neglected Opportunity in the Courts

American business and the enterprise system have been affected as much by the courts as by the executive and legislative branches of government. Under our constitutional system, especially with an activist-minded Supreme Court, the judiciary may be the most important instrument for social, economic and political change.

Other organizations and groups, recognizing this, have been far more astute in exploiting judicial action than American business. Perhaps the most active exploiters of the judicial system have been groups ranging in political orientation from “liberal” to the far left.

The American Civil Liberties Union is one example. It initiates or intervenes in scores of cases each year, and it files briefs amicus curiae in the Supreme Court in a number of cases during each term of that court. Labor unions, civil rights groups and now the public interest law firms are extremely active in the judicial arena. Their success, often at business’ expense, has not been inconsequential.

This is a vast area of opportunity for the Chamber, if it is willing to undertake the role of spokesman for American business and if, in turn, business is willing to provide the funds.

As with respect to scholars and speakers, the Chamber would need a highly competent staff of lawyers. In special situations it should be authorized to engage, to appear as counsel amicus in the Supreme Court, lawyers of national standing and reputation. The greatest care should be exercised in selecting the cases in which to participate, or the suits to institute. But the opportunity merits the necessary effort.

Neglected Stockholder Power

The average member of the public thinks of “business” as an impersonal corporate entity, owned by the very rich and managed by over-paid executives. There is an almost total failure to appreciate that “business” actually embraces — in one way or another — most Americans. Those for whom business provides jobs, constitute a fairly obvious class. But the 20 million stockholders — most of whom are of modest means — are the real owners, the real entrepreneurs, the real capitalists under our system. They provide the capital which fuels the economic system which has produced the highest standard of living in all history. Yet, stockholders have been as ineffectual as business executives in promoting a genuine understanding of our system or in exercising political influence.

The question which merits the most thorough examination is how can the weight and influence of stockholders — 20 million voters — be mobilized to support (i) an educational program and (ii) a political action program.

Individual corporations are now required to make numerous reports to shareholders. Many corporations also have expensive “news” magazines which go to employees and stockholders. These opportunities to communicate can be used far more effectively as educational media.

The corporation itself must exercise restraint in undertaking political action and must, of course, comply with applicable laws. But is it not feasible — through an affiliate of the Chamber or otherwise — to establish a national organization of American stockholders and give it enough muscle to be influential?

A More Aggressive Attitude

Business interests — especially big business and their national trade organizations — have tried to maintain low profiles, especially with respect to political action.

As suggested in the Wall Street Journal article, it has been fairly characteristic of the average business executive to be tolerant — at least in public — of those who attack his corporation and the system. Very few businessmen or business organizations respond in kind. There has been a disposition to appease; to regard the opposition as willing to compromise, or as likely to fade away in due time.

Business has shunted confrontation politics. Business, quite understandably, has been repelled by the multiplicity of non-negotiable “demands” made constantly by self-interest groups of all kinds.

While neither responsible business interests, nor the United States Chamber of Commerce, would engage in the irresponsible tactics of some pressure groups, it is essential that spokesmen for the enterprise system — at all levels and at every opportunity — be far more aggressive than in the past.

There should be no hesitation to attack the Naders, the Marcuses and others who openly seek destruction of the system. There should not be the slightest hesitation to press vigorously in all political arenas for support of the enterprise system. Nor should there be reluctance to penalize politically those who oppose it.

Lessons can be learned from organized labor in this respect. The head of the AFL-CIO may not appeal to businessmen as the most endearing or public-minded of citizens. Yet, over many years the heads of national labor organizations have done what they were paid to do very effectively. They may not have been beloved, but they have been respected — where it counts the most — by politicians, on the campus, and among the media.

It is time for American business — which has demonstrated the greatest capacity in all history to produce and to influence consumer decisions — to apply their great talents vigorously to the preservation of the system itself.

The Cost

The type of program described above (which includes a broadly based combination of education and political action), if undertaken long term and adequately staffed, would require far more generous financial support from American corporations than the Chamber has ever received in the past. High level management participation in Chamber affairs also would be required.

The staff of the Chamber would have to be significantly increased, with the highest quality established and maintained. Salaries would have to be at levels fully comparable to those paid key business executives and the most prestigious faculty members. Professionals of the great skill in advertising and in working with the media, speakers, lawyers and other specialists would have to be recruited.

It is possible that the organization of the Chamber itself would benefit from restructuring. For example, as suggested by union experience, the office of President of the Chamber might well be a full-time career position. To assure maximum effectiveness and continuity, the chief executive officer of the Chamber should not be changed each year. The functions now largely performed by the President could be transferred to a Chairman of the Board, annually elected by the membership. The Board, of course, would continue to exercise policy control.

Quality Control is Essential

Essential ingredients of the entire program must be responsibility and “quality control.” The publications, the articles, the speeches, the media programs, the advertising, the briefs filed in courts, and the appearances before legislative committees — all must meet the most exacting standards of accuracy and professional excellence. They must merit respect for their level of public responsibility and scholarship, whether one agrees with the viewpoints expressed or not.

Relationship to Freedom

The threat to the enterprise system is not merely a matter of economics. It also is a threat to individual freedom.

It is this great truth — now so submerged by the rhetoric of the New Left and of many liberals — that must be re-affirmed if this program is to be meaningful.

There seems to be little awareness that the only alternatives to free enterprise are varying degrees of bureaucratic regulation of individual freedom — ranging from that under moderate socialism to the iron heel of the leftist or rightist dictatorship.

We in America already have moved very far indeed toward some aspects of state socialism, as the needs and complexities of a vast urban society require types of regulation and control that were quite unnecessary in earlier times. In some areas, such regulation and control already have seriously impaired the freedom of both business and labor, and indeed of the public generally. But most of the essential freedoms remain: private ownership, private profit, labor unions, collective bargaining, consumer choice, and a market economy in which competition largely determines price, quality and variety of the goods and services provided the consumer.

In addition to the ideological attack on the system itself (discussed in this memorandum), its essentials also are threatened by inequitable taxation, and — more recently — by an inflation which has seemed uncontrollable. But whatever the causes of diminishing economic freedom may be, the truth is that freedom as a concept is indivisible. As the experience of the socialist and totalitarian states demonstrates, the contraction and denial of economic freedom is followed inevitably by governmental restrictions on other cherished rights. It is this message, above all others, that must be carried home to the American people.

Conclusion

It hardly need be said that the views expressed above are tentative and suggestive. The first step should be a thorough study. But this would be an exercise in futility unless the Board of Directors of the Chamber accepts the fundamental premise of this paper, namely, that business and the enterprise system are in deep trouble, and the hour is late.

***

Lewis Powell

Greenpeace

The Mother of all Blunders – Bryan Gould. 

“Neoliberal economic policies have failed, and an important aspect of that failure has been that most of such new wealth as has been created has gone to the richest people in society.”

Jim Blogger, former NZ Prime Minister

Jim Bolger headed a government that set about cutting taxes and therefore public services, and weakening trade unions, policies often seen as the hallmarks of neo-liberalism, and that is to say nothing of Ruth Richardson and her boast of delivering “the mother of all budgets”.

It is beyond dispute that the countries which have enjoyed the best economic outcomes have been those – like the Scandinavian countries – which have at the same time most stoutly resisted the growth of inequality.  As for the rest, the application of neo-liberal policies has meant a poorer economic performance, accompanied by greater social division.

We do not have to choose, in other words and as is so often asserted, between social justice and economic success.  The former is an essential element in producing the latter and is not just a “luxury” we can do without.

Or, to put it in another way, the failure of neo-liberal policies is largely attributable to their inevitable tendency to exacerbate inequality and to foster a lack of concern for the less fortunate.

And a moment’s reflection will tell us why that is so.  An economy will always be more successful if it engages with and uses all of its productive capacity – and that means its human resources – rather than leaving some of them under-used and undervalued.

The loss and damage we sustain, if we fail to take account of the interests of the whole of society, creates not only a weaker economy, but a more divided and unhappier society.

In today’s politics, it is the right that is ideologically driven while it is the left that constantly seeks merely pragmatic solutions to pressing problems.  The left’s difficulties in attracting majority public support suggest that solutions to problems will stand a better chance of being accepted if they are seen to be grounded in a coherent analysis of what has gone wrong.

It may be that, in their anxiety to gain support from the “middle ground”, the left has too easily been frightened away from developing such an analysis.  Surprisingly, they seem reluctant to engage in an ideological debate and prefer to leave the territory uncontested.

If Jim Bolger can do it, and link outcomes to policy frameworks, why not the left?  But, if there were to be a next time, Jim, could you please see the light and find the road to Damascus a little sooner?

Bryan Gould

The Ideology That Dares Not Speak Its Name – Chris Trotter. 

“Neoliberalism (neo-liberalism) refers primarily to the 20th-century resurgence of 19th-century ideas associated with laissez-faire economic liberalism. These include extensive economic liberalisation policies such as privatisation, fiscal austerity, deregulation, free trade and reductions in government spending in order to increase the role of the private sector in the economy and society. These market-based ideas and the policies they inspired constitute a paradigm shift away from the post-war Keynesian consensus which lasted from 1945 to 1980.”

Admirably clear. And while there’s certainly scope for scholarly debate around detail and emphasis, Wikipedia’s definition is more than sufficient to dispel the feigned ignorance of neoliberalism’s most zealous defenders.

Why, then, do neoliberals like Hosking continue to insist that they have no firm grasp of the term’s usage – other than as an expression of left-wing abuse?

The answer is simple. To survive and prosper, neoliberalism and the policies it inspires cannot afford to be seen as ‘just another ideology’ – like communism or fascism. Rather, it must be accepted as a law of nature – as unyielding to human influence as the weather.

…… Bowalley Road

Populism is the result of global economic failure – Larry Elliott. 

The rise of populism has rattled the global political establishment. Brexit came as a shock, as did the victory of Donald Trump. Much head-scratching has resulted as leaders seek to work out why large chunks of their electorates are so cross.

The answer seems pretty simple. Populism is the result of economic failure. The 10 years since the financial crisis have shown that the system of economic governance which has held sway for the past four decades is broken. Some call this approach Neoliberalism. Perhaps a better description would be unpopulism.

Unpopulism meant tilting the balance of power in the workplace in favour of management and treating people like wage slaves. Unpopulism was rigged to ensure that the fruits of growth went to the few not to the many. Unpopulism decreed that those responsible for the global financial crisis got away with it while those who were innocent bore the brunt of austerity.

Anybody seeking to understand why Trump won the US presidential election should take a look at what has been happening to the division of the economic spoils. The share of national income that went to the bottom 90% of the population held steady at around 66% from 1950 to 1980. It then began a steep decline, falling to just over 50% when the financial crisis broke in 2007.

Similarly, it is no longer the case that everybody benefits when the US economy is doing well. During the business cycle upswing between 1961 and 1969, the bottom 90% of Americans took 67% of the income gains. During the Reagan expansion two decades later they took 20%. During the Greenspan housing bubble of 2001 to 2007, they got just two cents in every extra dollar of national income generated while the richest 10% took the rest.

The US economist Thomas Palley says that up until the late 1970s countries operated a virtuous circle growth model in which wages were the engine of demand growth.

“Productivity growth drove wage growth which fueled demand growth. That promoted full employment, which provided the incentive to invest, which drove further productivity growth,” he says.

Unpopulism was touted as the antidote to the supposedly failed policies of the postwar era. It promised higher growth rates, higher investment rates, higher productivity rates and a trickle down of income from rich to poor. It has delivered none of these things.

James Montier and Philip Pilkington, of the global investment firm GMO, say that the system which arose in the 1970s was characterised by four significant economic policies: the abandonment of full employment and its replacement with inflation targeting; an increase in the globalisation of the flows of people, capital and trade; a focus on shareholder maximisation rather than reinvestment and growth; and the pursuit of flexible labour markets and the disruption of trade unions and workers’ organisations.

To take just the last of these four pillars, the idea was that trade unions and minimum wages were impediments to an efficient labour market. Collective bargaining and statutory pay floors would result in workers being paid more than the market rate, with the result that unemployment would inevitably rise.

Unpopulism decreed that the real value of the US minimum wage should be eroded. But unemployment is higher than it was when the minimum wage was worth more. Nor is there any correlation between trade union membership and unemployment. If anything, international comparisons suggest that those countries with higher trade union density have lower jobless rates. The countries that have higher minimum wages do not have higher unemployment rates.

“Labour market flexibility may sound appealing, but it is based on a theory that runs completely counter to all the evidence we have,” Montier and Pilkington note. “The alternative theory suggests that labour market flexibility is by no means desirable as it results in an economy with a bias to stagnate that can only maintain high rates of employment and economic growth through debt-fuelled bubbles that inevitably blow up, leading to the economy tipping back into stagnation.”

This quest for ever-greater labour market flexibility has had some unexpected consequences. The bill in the UK for tax credits spiralled quickly once firms realised they could pay poverty wages and let the state pick up the bill. Access to a global pool of low-cost labour meant there was less of an incentive to invest in productivity-enhancing equipment.

The abysmally low levels of productivity growth since the crisis have encouraged the belief that this is a recent phenomenon, but as Andy Haldane, the Bank of England’s chief economist, noted last week, the trend started in most advanced countries in the 1970s.

“Certainly, the productivity puzzle is not something which has emerged since the global financial crisis, though it seems to have amplified pre-existing trends,” Haldane said.

Bolshie trade unions certainly can’t be blamed for Britain’s lost productivity decade. The orthodox view in the 1970s was that attempts to make the UK more efficient were being thwarted by shop stewards who modeled themselves on Fred Kite, the character played by Peter Sellers in I’m All Right Jack. Haldane puts the blame elsewhere: on poor management, which has left the UK with a big gap between frontier firms and a long tail of laggards. “Firms which export have systematically higher levels of productivity than domestically oriented firms, on average by around a third. The same is true, even more dramatically, for foreign-owned firms. Their average productivity is twice that of domestically oriented firms.”

Populism is seen as irrational and reprehensible. It is neither. It seems entirely rational for the bottom 90% of the US population to question why they are getting only 2% of income gains. It hardly seems strange that workers in Britain should complain at the weakest decade for real wage growth since the Napoleonic wars.

It has also become clear that ultra-low interest rates and quantitative easing are merely sticking-plaster solutions. Populism stems from a sense that the economic system is not working, which it clearly isn’t. In any other walk of life, a failed experiment results in change. Drugs that are supposed to provide miracle cures but are proved not to work are quickly abandoned. Businesses that insist on continuing to produce goods that consumers don’t like go bust. That’s how progress happens.

The good news is that the casting around for new ideas has begun. Trump has advocated protectionism. Theresa May is consulting on an industrial strategy. Montier and Pilkington suggest a commitment to full employment, job guarantees, reindustrialisation and a stronger role for trade unions. The bad news is that time is running short. More and more people are noticing that the emperor has no clothes.

Even if the polls are right this time and Marine Le Pen fails to win the French presidency, a full-scale political revolt is only another deep recession away. And that’s easy enough to envisage.

The Guardian

New Zealand’s Neoliberal Drift – Branko Marcetic. 

In New Zealand, neoliberal reforms have widened inequality and undermined the country’s self-image as an egalitarian paradise.

A few years ago, when the 2008 global financial crisis was just one or two years old, a coworker and I were talking about the increasingly common sight of homeless people in Auckland, New Zealand. While homelessness in Auckland was nothing new, we agreed that we were seeing more and more men and women curled up in doorways, draped in layers of old clothes and blankets, and holding up tattered signs asking passers-by for money on Queen Street, the city’s main commercial hub.

It was sad, I remarked, that while the problem seemed to be getting worse, the government seemed to be doing very little to help these people escape poverty. She too expressed sympathy for the poor and stressed the importance of giving them a leg up, but confessed she found it difficult to feel bad for homeless people. After all, New Zealand had a generous welfare state that made sure no one was left behind.

“I mean, if you can’t make it in New Zealand,” she said, “then there must be something really wrong with you.”

Her attitude is not particularly unusual — millions of New Zealanders share it. The image of New Zealand as a kind-hearted social democracy, a Scandinavia of the South Pacific, is deeply engrained in its culture.

In fact, this view extends far beyond the country’s borders. A Kiwi in the United States is likely to field three common queries: questions about the country’s natural beauty, about The Flight of the Conchords, and about how much more progressive New Zealand is than America. (There’s an occasional fourth that has something to do with Lord of the Rings.)

To be clear, New Zealand has earned this reputation. Its quality of life is consistently ranked among the highest in the world. In metric after metric — whether examining corruption or life expectancy — it rates well above average. Perhaps most significantly, New Zealanders themselves report extreme satisfaction with their lives.

All of these accolades cover up another truth, however: New Zealand hasn’t been a social-democratic paradise for a long time now. Often considered a “social laboratory,” New Zealand eagerly adopted radical neoliberal reforms in the 1980s like few countries before or since. Nevertheless, its kindly image persists, in and out of the country.

A Social-Democratic Laboratory

All countries have narratives. In United States, it’s the “American Dream,” the idea that hard work makes millionaires. In New Zealand, it’s the idea that a benevolent, liberal state will look after its people.

This self-image can be traced back to the period between 1890 and 1920, when the country became known as the “social laboratory of the world.” By then, New Zealand already had a long egalitarian streak: it established government life insurance in 1869 to help those who couldn’t afford private plans, assisted new immigrants, and embarked on an expensive public works scheme to lay roads and railway lines. But in 1879, a severe depression dented New Zealanders’ widespread belief in the free market and individualism.

The Liberal governments of Richard Seddon and then Joseph Ward, which first took power in 1893, passed a flurry of social welfare reforms, including distributing free textbooks, improving workplace conditions, establishing food and drug standards, and breaking up large estates to provide land for settlers. The Industrial Conciliation and Arbitration Act of 1894 instituted a guaranteed minimum wage and a system of compulsory arbitration for settling industrial disputes. The 1898 Old Age Pensions Act created one of the world’s earliest public pension schemes, even if it was small, means-tested, and only applied to “persons of good character.” (Much of this came at the expense of the indigenous Maori, who were dispossessed of more and more of their land to make way for English settlers and railroad lines).

Foreign visitors returned with tales of an egalitarian paradise and “a country without strikes”. American Progressives drew on New Zealand’s example to push for similar changes back home.

New Zealand’s reputation for progressive enlightenment continued into the twentieth century, even as consistent labor agitation undermined its popular image. The benefits of its burgeoning welfare state expanded over the years, particularly during World War I, when it began covering widows, the blind, influenza victims, and consumption-stricken miners.

Then, like the rest of the world, the Great Depression devastated New Zealand’s economy. The downturn hobbled the country’s labor movement. Widespread economic suffering — exacerbated by the country’s lack of unemployment relief — swept the Labour Party to power in 1935. Its leader, Michael Joseph Savage, promised New Zealanders a “reasonable standard of living in the days when they are unable to look after themselves.”

The country’s first Labour government gave unemployed workers an immediate Christmas bonus, launched a state housing program, established compulsory union membership, and started a Keynesian scheme of guaranteed prices for exports. The centerpiece of its stimulus package was the 1938 Social Security Act, which established universal superannuation for those sixty-five or older, universal free health care (at least in theory), and welfare payments for the poor and unemployed. Savage died trying to enact this bill, putting off cancer surgery to help get it passed and win that year’s election. (Once again, Maori were left out — the law’s language gave officials wiggle room to discriminate and pay them reduced benefits).

Perhaps most importantly, however, the government’s commitment to full employment would endure for decades to come. Successive Labour governments paired this policy with a gradually increasing family allowance, culminating in 1946, when a universal benefit for all families with children passed.

By 1949, the International Labor Organization (ILO) claimed the Social Security Act had “deeply influenced the course of legislation in other countries.” English prime-minister-to-be Clement Atlee praised New Zealand as “a laboratory of social experiment.” In 1944, Labour prime minister Walter Nash wrote that the country offered a “practical example” of what “may well become typical of most democracies tomorrow.”

While Labour’s time in power ended in 1949, its policies of government intervention New Zealand endured. The country remained a highly controlled economy with an extensive welfare state and widespread state ownership in various sectors through the 1970s. Government-guaranteed full employment enjoyed bipartisan support. Even Robert Muldoon, who served as the right-wing National Party’s prime minister from 1975 to 1984, once joked that he knew all seventy unemployed New Zealanders by name.

Weird Science

This all changed in the mid-1980s. As in the Depression years, a crisis sparked a political sea change. New Zealand lost a major trading partner with the United Kingdom’s turn to Europe in 1973, while a series of oil shocks through the 1970s plunged the country into recession. In 1965, New Zealand ranked as the sixth wealthiest country per capita; fifteen years later, it fell to nineteenth.

Again like in the 1930s, the Labour Party implemented a major political transformation, making New Zealand once again a “laboratory of social experiment.” But this time, Labour responded to the crisis by deregulating, selling off public assets, and slashing state investment.

The reforms came to be known, somewhat derisively, as “Rogernomics,” after the finance minister Roger Douglas, who would go on to found ACT, a radical free-market party that has recently embraced US Republican-style law-and-order policies. Prime Minister David Lange acted as an affable and charming salesman for the reforms but had little interest in either economics or policy more generally. For the most part, he allowed his team to experiment with the economy however they liked.

Through the 1980s and 1990s — first under Labour, then under National Party rule — New Zealand ushered in neoliberal reform on an unprecedented scale. Controls on wages, prices, rents, interest rates, and more were scrapped. Finance markets were deregulated, and restrictions on foreign investment were removed or relaxed. Based on the belief that welfare helped create unemployment by encouraging dependency, the system was overhauled in ways that the government’s own official encyclopaedia describes as “particularly swift and severe.”

In 1986, Labour slashed the tax rate for high-income earners and introduced a goods-and-services tax. This change effectively hiked taxes on low- and middle-income earners, given that they spend a larger proportion of their earnings on consumption. (Douglas even tried to institute a flat tax, which turned out to be a step too far for Labour.) Legislation in 1991 eliminated hard-fought reforms like compulsory union membership, compulsory employer-employee bargaining, and unions’ special place in this process.

Most state-owned assets were fully or partially sold off, including three banks, the Tower insurance company, shipping companies, the national airline and the country’s main airport, and various energy companies, among many others. In some cases, the results were disastrous, as when National sold off the country’s national rail network to a consortium of financial companies, who soon ran it into the ground forcing a government buyback. It wasn’t the only privatized asset the government later had to rescue. 

Government disinvestment from public services abandoned the most vulnerable citizens. Nearly all psychiatric hospitals closed down by the 1990s, their responsibilities passing on to nongovernmental organizations. University tuition fees shot up by nearly 1,000 percent in 1990 and have climbed steadily ever since. The price of attending college in New Zealand now ranks as the industrial world’s fourth highest. The abrupt end of farm subsidies and protectionist policies hit farmers hard, plunging them into debt and leading to a spate of suicides. One prominent Kiwi recalled seeing a beggar on the streets of New Zealand for the first time in his mid-fifties, an experience he described as “like being kicked in the stomach.”

All of this happened at a dizzying pace. And it had to because the reforms were hugely unpopular.

“It is uncertainty, not speed, that endangers the success of structural reform programs,” wrote Roger Douglas in 1993. “Speed is an essential ingredient in keeping uncertainty down to the lowest possible level.” Douglas would later reportedly advise foreign leaders to keep their equivalent programs hidden from the public and to implement them as quickly as possible to bypass opposition.

New Zealand once again became a global poster child for policy innovation, as Jane Kelsey outlines in The New Zealand Experiment. The New York Times gushed that a “heavily protected, over-regulated, high inflation economy” had been turned into “one of the most open in the world.” The Financial Times claimed New Zealand offered a “blueprint for a shrinking state.” The Wall Street Journal applauded that “this little Prometheus unchained itself from a rock of high taxes, high tariffs, heavy welfare burdens, and pro-union labor laws,” and celebrated that “anybody can follow New Zealand’s example to prosperity.” None praised New Zealand more than the Economist, however, which ran story after story on what it called a “free market experiment in socialist sheep’s clothing” that was “out-Thatchering Mrs Thatcher.”

New Zealand’s neoliberal employment reforms attracted policymakers’ attention internationally. In 1996, Newt Gingrich — then House Majority Leader — sent a congressional delegation to study the country as a “model” for industrial relations deregulation. Powerful neoliberal institutions like the IMF, the Asian Development Bank, and the World Bank exported New Zealand’s grand “experiment,” organizing and funding study trips, speaking tours, seminars, and reports that promoted the program.

Partly thanks to this, countries like Mongolia and Thailand copied New Zealand in their own reforms and worked closely with prominent architects of the experiment. In 1998, New Zealand’s minister of international trade boasted that the “success of New Zealand’s economic reforms” was now as internationally well known as its sheep, its rugby team, and its milk brand.

If you look narrowly at metrics like inflation and government debt, the reforms worked. If you look at more fundamental economic measures like employment, income levels, and economic growth — all of which free-market policies are supposed to boost — they were a miserable failure.

The economy shrank by 1 percent between 1985 and 1992, while other countries in the OECD saw 20 percent growth. Poverty skyrocketed, with one in six falling below the poverty line by 1992. Unemployment jumped, too, and even when it later fell, much of the recovery was in part-time work. Income inequality widened sharpley, with the bulk of income gains going to the country’s wealthiest citizens.

Binging on Neoliberalism

While these reforms profoundly shifted New Zealand’s politics, citizens’ self-image hasn’t kept pace. There remains a prevailing view that their country is an idyllic paradise apart from the rest of the world’s ills that, if anything, is too generous to its less advantaged citizens.

Surprisingly, many business leaders believe that New Zealand is an over-regulated, antibusiness economy hostile to economic success. Complaints that companies are mired in “red tape” never seem to end. CEOs regularly report that fear of regulations keeps them up at night.

These beliefs stand at odds with reality. Three times since 2005, New Zealand has topped the World Bank’s annual “Ease of Doing Business” report, which measures regulations that, at least according to the World Bank, enhance and constrain business activity. Every other year, it’s come third or, more often, second. It ranked first twice during Helen Clark’s Labour government, which often faced accusations that its legislation was making it impossible for businesses to succeed.

Furthermore, Forbes has listed New Zealand in the top three “best countries for business” each year since 2010. It ranked first in 2012. Two years later, Forbes called it best in the world when it came to “red tape.”

Every year since 2009, the conservative Heritage Foundation has put New Zealand in the top five countries for its “Index of Economic Freedom.” Investment banker and right-wing commentator Peter Schiff said he would like to live in New Zealand because of its lack of governmental interference.

Resistance to “the nanny state,” a paternalistic government unreasonably worming its way into every little of detail of individuals’ lives, has also become widespread. This belief most commonly finds its expression in complaints about the welfare program, which many think discourages hard work and desperately needs to be cut back. This narrative took center stage from 1999 to 2008, when Clark’s Labour government went some way toward slowing, though not ultimately reversing, the march of neoliberalism.

New Zealanders would be shocked to find that since 2001 and throughout all of the Labour years, social spending as a percentage of GDP has been on or below the OECD average. New Zealand has consistently appeared in the lower half of OECD social spending, closer to the United States than to countries like Finland, Denmark, Sweden, and even France and Germany, which rank far above it.

Nonetheless, popular myths about New Zealand’s safety net persist. Tales abound of unscrupulous beneficiaries gaming the system and ripping off taxpayers, or of apparently sociopathic parents churning out children just to receive more paltry benefits. Much of this is based on anecdotal evidence and high-profile yet rare incidents that receive heavy publicity. As per usual, it is also heavily racialized — the “dole bludger” that exists in popular imagination is usually Polynesian — even though 44 percent of working-class welfare recipients are Pakeha, or white.

The dramatic changes to the welfare system made by John Key’s National Government, which took power in 2008, are founded on these myths. As of 2012, single parents who wanted to keep their benefits had to start looking for work as soon as their child turned five (previously, they could wait until the child was eighteen); parents who had children while on welfare had to start job-hunting after one year. These changes enjoyed wide approval, even among voters who identified as left-leaning. Two years later the government promised to cut welfare rolls by a further 25 percent.

Meanwhile, charities like the Salvation Army reported a massive strain on their resources as overwhelming demand for food and other assistance outstripped their ability to provide it. Poverty, a normalized, structural feature of the New Zealand economy since the 1980s, has reached shameful levels: a third of the country’s children now live in poverty, and an increasing number of families live out of their cars as rents in cities go up.

Meanwhile, attitudes have hardened. A 2013 bill that would have provided free breakfasts and lunches at schools in low-income neighborhoods failed after the opposition called it “an abdication of responsibility of parenting.” One influential right-wing blogger and pollster mocked the bill as a plan to “replace parents”:

[I]f a family is so incompetent that [it] can’t arrange breakfast or lunch for their kids, then surely we can’t trust them to do dinner also . . . So I think we also need huge state owned dining places where kids can get their dinners for free.

After businessman and one-time Trump prototype Bob Jones said beggars were “fat Maoris” and “a bloody disgrace,” an online poll found that 72 percent of the nearly forty thousand respondents thought begging should be outlawed.

Such views also spurred a recent crackdown on welfare fraud, which saw as many as one thousand people a year being prosecuted for costing the country around $30 million annually. By contrast, less than a tenth of that number are prosecuted for tax evasion, despite the fact that this problem cheats taxpayers of $1 billion annually.

Public services have been further hollowed out over the past nine years. In its quest for budget surpluses, no matter how small and meaningless, the Key government slashed health funding, relentlessly defunded the Department of Conservation, and cut support for education at all levels. It has ramped up privatization over public objections, ignoring the fact that selling profitable state-owned assets for a one-time payment makes little economic sense.

Workers’ rights have also been steadily undermined — a stunning fact for a country once viewed as an international model for its labor laws.

Shortly after coming to office, the National Party introduced a three-month probationary period for all new employees, during which they could be fired for any reason without appeal. A 2010 Department of Labor survey and a 2016 Treasury report found this extra flexibility had done nothing to help employment, but had simply cut “dismissal costs for firms” while creating uncertainty for workers, a fifth of whom had been fired under the provision.

In 2010, the government passed legislation that excluded film workers from the definition of employees. Warner Brothers had threatened to move the production of The Hobbit to Ireland if the change wasn’t made, and the measure had been both publicly urged and privately promoted to top policymakers by the film’s director, national treasure Peter Jackson.

Anti-union sentiment became so bad that a group of global unions issued a joint statement in 2012 calling for “an immediate end to concerted attacks on workers in New Zealand” and “an end to the union-busting measures.” More recently, the government narrowly succeeded in revoking workers’ long-held right to rest and meal breaks.

While the benefits once afforded to workers and the poor are slowly being eroded, it’s never been a better time to be wealthy. Inequality may not be as extreme as in other countries, but as journalist Max Rashbrooke notes, the wealth gap has widened more quickly than anywhere else in the developed world.

Certainly, the National Party’s tax policies have helped: in 2010, the Key government embarked on a series of reforms that gave the biggest cuts to high earners and further raised the goods-and-services tax — a stealthily regressive tax regime that undermined any gains for lower-paid workers.

While New Zealand has been hesitant to welcome Syrian refugees, its doors are open wide if the price is right. It offers the global rich two separate residency visas, one of which — the Investor Plus, introduced in 2009 — has only two conditions: émigrés must invest $10 million over three years and spend at least eighty-eight days in the country in the final two years.

Since then, there has been an uptick in ultra-wealthy individuals gaining residency. As Peter Thiel recently showed, citizenship appears to be easily available to those with a high enough net worth.

Indeed, a recent New Yorker article revealed that New Zealand has become a popular refuge for billionaires preparing for the breakdown of society. But this has been known for years, at least since Robert Johnson told  the Davos World Economic Forum in 2015 that hedge-fund managers were buying farms as “boltholes” to escape increasing unrest over inequality. New Zealand’s absurdly loose rules around foreign property ownership make this strategy possible: buyers don’t need visas and pay no stamp duty. Until recently, it was one of the few developed countries to have no capital gains tax. (Even now, it only applies to houses sold within two years of their purchase.)

New Zealand’s laws benefit the rich in other ways. For years, it operated as a tax haven, allowing foreigners to stash income in anonymous trusts and pay no tax on it. John Key expressly requested this rule, which a top law firm said would put New Zealand on even footing with the Cayman Islands, Luxembourg, and Ireland — all world-famous tax havens. While some have denied this label, the Panama Papers heavily implicated New Zealand and showed that these trusts more than quintupled from two to eleven thousand over a decade.

Ironically, the politicians behind this continued neoliberal rollback all directly benefited from the programs they are now dismantling. The social development minister who cracked down on single parents on welfare was once a single parent on welfare. Former prime minister John Key, whose government sold off thousands of state houses, grew up in a state house. Virtually everyone involved in the reforms that have burdened generations of young people with student debt enjoyed the right of free education.

But a significant part of the population has long since internalized the idea that this is simply the way it has to be. Just prior to Donald Trump’s victory, the New Zealand Listener (the country’s equivalent to Time magazine) criticized Trump and Bernie Sanders for “their unimplementable and often mendacious policy prescriptions.” Some of Sanders’s signature policies included a public health-care system and free college — both of which once existed in New Zealand (and one of which, public health care, still does, albeit in a modified form).

The First Step

Despite adulation from people like Peter Schiff, New Zealand is hardly the libertarian promised land. It continues to have a robust government involved in many aspects of its citizens’ lives.

But neither is New Zealand the progressive paradise that foreign travelers once breathlessly described — or that many of its citizens still believe it is. Perhaps it never was, given that ideas about self-reliance and individualism have always been central to its culture and self-conceptions.

Still, decades of neoliberal reforms have not only hardened social attitudes and eroded some of the country’s greatest legislative accomplishments, but also rolled back many of the elements central to its self-image. A country once proud of its egalitarianism now has higher income inequality than much of the developed world. A country once known for its prosperity now suffers with shameful levels of poverty. A country that markets itself as “clean and green” now must face the reality of its environmental degradation.

For the vast majority of the population, much of this remains invisible, which explains why Kiwis continue to view their country through social-democratic-tinted glasses. Perhaps if they looked more honestly, they could start to solve these problems.

Jacobin Magazine

 

How economic boom times in the West came to an end – Marc Levinson. 

Unprecedented growth marked the era from 1948 to 1973. Economists might study it forever, but it can never be repeated. Why? 

The second half of the 20th century divides neatly in two. The divide did not come with the rise of Ronald Reagan or the fall of the Berlin Wall. It is not discernible in a particular event, but rather in a shift in the world economy, and the change continues to shape politics and society in much of the world today.

The shift came at the end of 1973. The quarter-century before then, starting around 1948, saw the most remarkable period of economic growth in human history. In the Golden Age between the end of the Second World War and 1973, people in what was then known as the ‘industrialised world’ – Western Europe, North America, and Japan – saw their living standards improve year after year. They looked forward to even greater prosperity for their children. Culturally, the first half of the Golden Age was a time of conformity, dominated by hard work to recover from the disaster of the war. The second half of the age was culturally very different, marked by protest and artistic and political experimentation. Behind that fermentation lay the confidence of people raised in a white-hot economy: if their adventures turned out badly, they knew, they could still find a job.

The year 1973 changed everything. High unemployment and a deep recession made experimentation and protest much riskier, effectively putting an end to much of it. A far more conservative age came with the economic changes, shaped by fears of failing and concerns that one’s children might have it worse, not better. Across the industrialised world, politics moved to the Right – a turn that did not avert wage stagnation, the loss of social benefits such as employer-sponsored pensions and health insurance, and the secure, stable employment that had proved instrumental to the rise of a new middle class and which workers had come to take for granted. At the time, an oil crisis took the blame for what seemed to be a sharp but temporary downturn. Only gradually did it become clear that the underlying cause was not costly oil but rather lagging productivity growth – a problem that would defeat a wide variety of government policies put forth to correct it.

The great boom began in the aftermath of the Second World War. The peace treaties of 1945 did not bring prosperity; on the contrary, the post-war world was an economic basket case. Tens of millions of people had been killed, and in some countries a large proportion of productive capacity had been laid to waste. Across Europe and Asia, tens of millions of refugees wandered the roads. Many countries lacked the foreign currency to import food and fuel to keep people alive, much less to buy equipment and raw material for reconstruction. Railroads barely ran; farm tractors stood still for want of fuel.

Everywhere, producing enough coal to provide heat through the winter was a challenge. As shoppers mobbed stores seeking basic foodstuffs, much less luxuries such as coffee and cotton underwear, prices soared. Inflation set off waves of strikes in the United States and Canada as workers demanded higher pay to keep up with rising prices. The world’s economic outlook seemed dim. It did not look like the beginning of a golden age.

As late as 1948, incomes per person in much of Europe and Asia were lower than they had been 10 or even 20 years earlier. But 1948 brought a change for the better. In January, the US military government in Japan announced it would seek to rebuild the economy rather than exacting reparations from a country on the verge of starvation. In April, the US Congress approved the economic aid programme that would be known as the Marshall Plan, providing Western Europe with desperately needed dollars to import machinery, transport equipment, fertiliser and food. In June, the three occupying powers – France, the United Kingdom and the US – rolled out the deutsche mark, a new currency for the western zones of Germany. A new central bank committed to keeping inflation low and the exchange rate steady would oversee the deutsche mark.

Postwar chaos gave way to stability, and the war-torn economies began to grow. In many countries, they grew so fast for so long that people began to speak of the ‘economic miracle’ (West Germany), the ‘era of high economic growth’ (Japan) and the 30 glorious years (France). In the English-speaking world, this extraordinary period became known as the Golden Age.

What was it that made the Golden Age exceptional? Part of the answer is that economies were making up for lost time: after years of depression and wartime austerity, enormous needs for housing, consumer goods, equipment for farms, factories, railroads and electric generating plants stood ready to drive growth. But much more lay behind the Golden Age of economic growth than pent-up demand. Two factors deserve special attention.

First, the expanding welfare state. The Second World War shook up the social structures in all the wealthy countries, fundamentally altering domestic politics, in particular exerting an equalising force. As societies embarked on reconstruction, no one could deny that citizens who had been asked to sacrifice in war were entitled to share in the benefits of peace. In many cases, labour unions became the representatives of working people’s claims to peacetime dividends. Indeed, union membership reached historic highs, and union leaders sat alongside business and government leaders to hammer out social policy. Between 1944 and 1947, one country after another created old-age pension schemes, national health insurance, family allowances, unemployment insurance and more social benefits. These programmes gave average families a sense of security they had never known. Children from poor families could visit the doctor without great expense. The loss of a job or the death of a wage-earner no longer meant destitution.

Second, in addition to the growing welfare state, strong productivity growth contributed to rising living standards. Rising productivity – increasing the efficiency with which an economy uses labour, capital and other resources – is the main force that makes an economy grow. Because new technologies and better ways of doing business take time to filter through the economy, productivity improvements are usually slow. But in the postwar years, productivity grew very quickly. A unique combination of circumstances propelled it. In just a few years, millions of people moved from low-productivity farm work – more than 3 million mules still plowed furrows on US farms in 1945 – to construction and factory jobs that used the latest machinery.

In 1940, the average working-age adult in western Europe had less than five years of formal education. As governments invested heavily in high schools and universities after the war, they produced a more educated and literate workforce with the skills to produce far more wealth. Advances in national infrastructure gave direct boosts to national productivity. High-speed motorways enabled truck drivers to carry bigger loads over longer distances at higher speeds, greatly expanding markets for farms and factories. Six rounds of trade negotiations between 1947 and 1967, ultimately involving nearly 50 countries that signed the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), brought a massive increase in cross-border trade, forcing manufacturers to modernise or give up. Firms moved to take advantage of technological innovations to operate more productively, such as jet aircraft and numerically controlled machinery.

Between 1951 and 1973, propelled by strong productivity gains, the world economy grew at an annual rate of nearly 5 per cent. The impact on living standards was dramatic. Jobs were just for the asking; in 1966, West Germany’s unemployment rate touched an unprecedented 0.5 per cent. Electricity, indoor plumbing and television sets became common. Stoves burning coal or peat were replaced by central heating systems. Homes grew larger, and tens of millions of families acquired refrigerators and automobiles. The higher living standards did much more than simply bring new material goods. Retirement by 65, or even earlier, became the norm. Life expectancy jumped. Importantly, in Western Europe, North America and Japan, people across society shared in those gains. Prosperity was not limited to the urban elite. Most people began to live better, and they knew it. In the span of a quarter-century, living standards doubled and then, in many countries, doubled again.

The good times rolled on so long that people took them for granted. Between 1948 and 1973, Australia, Japan, Sweden and Italy had not a single year of recession. West Germany and Canada did almost as well. Governments and the economists who advised them happily claimed the credit. Careful economic management, they said, had put an end to cyclical ups and downs. Governments possessed more information about citizens and business than ever before, and computers could crunch the data to help policymakers determine the best course of action. In a lecture at Harvard University in 1966, Walter Heller, formerly chief economic adviser to presidents John F Kennedy and Lyndon B Johnson, trumpeted the success of what he called the ‘new economics’. ‘Conceptual advances and quantitative research in economics,’ he declared, ‘are replacing emotion with reason.’

Wages and investment were private decisions, but Schiller hoped government guidelines would contribute to ‘collective rationality’

The most influential proponent of such ideas was Karl Schiller, who became economy minister of West Germany, Europe’s largest economy, in 1966. A former professor at the University of Hamburg, where his students included the future West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, Schiller was a centrist Social Democrat. He stood apart from those on the Left who favoured state ownership of industry, but also from extreme free-market conservatives. His advice called for ‘a synthesis of planning and competition’. Schiller defined his philosophy thus: ‘As much competition as possible, as much planning as necessary.’

Most fundamentally, Schiller believed that government should commit itself to maintaining high employment, steady growth and stable prices. And it should do this all while keeping its international account in balance, within the framework of a free-market economy. These four commitments made the corners of what he called the ‘magic square’. In December 1966, when Schiller became economy minister in a new coalition government, the magic square became official policy. Following Schiller’s version of Keynesian economics, his ministry’s experts advised federal and state governments how to adjust their budgets to achieve ‘equilibrium of the entire economy’. The ministry’s advice was based on an elaborate planning exercise that churned out five-year projections. In the spring of 1967, the finance ministry was told to adjust taxes and spending plans to increase business investment while slowing the growth of consumer spending. These moves, Schiller’s economic models promised, would bring economic growth averaging 4 per cent through 1971, along with 0.8 per cent unemployment, 1 per cent annual inflation and a 1 per cent current account surplus.

But in an economy that was overwhelmingly privately run, government alone could not reach perfection. Four or five times a year, Schiller summoned corporate executives, union presidents and the heads of business organisations to a conference room in the ministry. There he described the economic outlook and announced how much wages and investment could rise without compromising his national economic targets. Of course, he would add, wages and investment were private decisions, but he hoped that the government’s guidelines would contribute to ‘collective rationality’. Such careful stage management cemented Schiller’s fame. In 1969, for the first time, the Social Democrats outpolled every other party. The election that year became known as the ‘Schiller election’.

Schiller insisted that his policies had brought West Germany to ‘a sunny plateau of prosperity’ where inflation and unemployment were permanently vanquished. Year after year, however, the economy failed to perform as he instructed. In July 1972, when Schiller was denied control over the exchange rate, he stormed out of the cabinet and left elected office forever.

Schiller left with the West German economy roaring. Within 18 months, his claim that the government could ensure stable prices, robust growth and jobs for all blew up.

The headline event of 1973 was the oil crisis. On 6 October, Egyptian and Syrian armies attacked Israeli positions, starting the conflict that became known as the Yom Kippur War. By agreeing to slash production and raise the price of oil, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran and other Middle Eastern oil exporters quickly backed the two Arab countries. Shipments to countries that supported Israel, including the US and the Netherlands, were cut off altogether.

Oil-importing countries responded in dramatic fashion. Western European countries lowered speed limits and rationed diesel supplies. From Italy to Norway, driving was banned on four consecutive Sundays in order to save fuel. The Japanese government shut down factories and told citizens to turn out the pilot lights on their water heaters. US truck drivers blocked highways to protest high fuel prices, and motorists queued for hours to top off their gasoline tanks. In a televised address, the US President Richard Nixon warned Americans: ‘We are heading toward the most acute shortages of energy since the Second World War.’

Faced with higher petroleum prices, economic growth in 1974 collapsed. Around the world, inflation soared. When oil prices receded, the world economy failed to bounce back. Double-digit inflation dramatically undermined workers’ wage gains. From 1973 to 1979, average income per worker grew only half as fast as it had before 1973. Help-wanted signs vanished as unemployment rose. The economic experts, only recently so confident that their rational mathematical analysis had brought permanent prosperity, were flummoxed. Stable economic growth had given way to violent gyrations.

The underlying problem, it turned out, was not expensive petroleum but slow productivity growth. Through the 1960s and early ’70s, across the wealthy world, productivity had risen a strong 5 per cent a year. After 1973, the trend shifted clearly downward. Through the rest of the 20th century, productivity growth in the wealthy economies averaged less than 2 per cent a year. Diminished productivity growth translated directly into sluggish economic growth. The days when people could feel their living standards rising from one year to the next were over. As the good times failed to return, voters turned their fury on political leaders. In fact, there was little any Western politician could do to put their economies back on their previous tracks.

To give a short-term boost to an underperforming economy, central banks and governments have a variety of tools they can use. They can lower interest rates to make it cheaper to buy a car or build a factory. They can lower taxes to give consumers more money to spend. They can increase government spending to pump more cash into the economy. They can change regulations to make it easier for banks to lend money. But when it comes to an economy’s long-term growth potential, productivity is vital. It matters more than anything else – and productivity growth after the early 1970s was simply slower than before.

Turning innovative ideas into economically valuable products and services can involve years of trial and error

The reasons behind slowed productivity growth had nothing to do with any government’s economic policy. The historic move of rural peoples to the cities, around the world, could not be repeated. Once masses of peasant farmers and sharecroppers had shifted into more productive work in the cities, it was done. The great flow of previously unemployed women into the labour force was over. In the 1960s, building thousands of miles of superhighways brought massive economic benefits. But once those roads were open to traffic, adding lanes or exit ramps was far less consequential. In rich countries, literacy had risen to almost universal levels. After that historic jump, the effects of additional small increases in average education were comparatively slight. If higher productivity growth were to be regained, it would have to come from developing technological innovations and new approaches to business, and putting them to use in ways that allowed the business sector to operate more effectively.

When it comes to influencing innovation, governments have power. Grants for scientific research and education, and policies that make it easy for new firms to grow, can speed the development of new ideas. But what matters for productivity is not the number of innovations, but the rate at which innovations affect the economy – something almost totally beyond the ability of governments to control. Turning innovative ideas into economically valuable products and services can involve years of trial and error. Many of the basic technologies behind mobile telephones were developed in the 1960s and ’70s, but mobile phones came into widespread use only in the 1990s. Often, a new technology is phased in only over time as old buildings and equipment are phased out. Moreover, for reasons no one fully understands, productivity growth and innovation seem to move in long cycles. In the US, for example, between the 1920s and 1973, innovation brought strong productivity growth. Between 1973 and 1995, it brought much less. The years between 1995 and 2003 saw high productivity gains, and then again considerably less thereafter.

When the surge in productivity following the Second World War tailed off, people around the globe felt the pain. At the time, it appeared that a few countries – France and Italy for a few years in the late 1970s, Japan in the second half of the ’80s – had discovered formulas allowing them to defy the downward global productivity trend. But their economies revived only briefly before productivity growth waned. Jobs soon became scarce again, and improvements in living standards came more slowly. The poor productivity growth of the late 1990s was not due to taxes, regulations or other government policies in any particular country, but to global trends. No country escaped them.

Unlike the innovations of the 1950s and ’60s, which were welcomed widely, those of the late 20th century had costly side effects. While information technology, communications and freight transportation became cheaper and more reliable, giant industrial complexes became dinosaurs as work could be distributed widely to take advantage of labour supplies, transportation facilities or government subsidies. Workers whose jobs were relocated found that their years of experience and training were of little value in other industries, and communities that lost major employers fell into decay. Meanwhile, the welfare state on which they had come to rely began to deteriorate, its financial underpinnings stressed due to the slow growth of tax revenue in economies that were no longer buoyant. The widespread sharing in the mid-century boom was not repeated in the productivity gains at the end of the century, which accumulated at the top of the income scale.

For much of the world, the Golden Age brought extraordinary prosperity. But it also brought unrealistic expectations about what governments can do to assure full employment, steady economic growth and rising living standards. These expectations still shape political life today. Between 1979 and 1982, citizens in one country after another threw out the leaders who stood for the welfare state and voted in a wave of more Right-wing politicians – Margaret Thatcher, Reagan, Helmut Kohl, Yasuhiro Nakasone and many others – who promised to tame big government and let market forces, lower tax rates and deregulation bring the good times back. Today, nearly 40 years on, voters are again turning to the Right, hoping that populist leaders will know how to make slow-growing economies great again.

More than a generation ago, the free-market policies of Thatcher and Reagan proved no more successful at improving productivity and raising economic growth than the policies they supplanted. There is no reason to think that the populists of our day will do much better. The Golden Age was wonderful while it lasted, but it cannot be repeated. If there were a surefire method for coaxing extraordinary performance from mature economies, it likely would have been discovered a long time ago.

Aeon

How a Ruthless Network of Super-Rich Ideologues Killed Choice and Destroyed People’s Faith in Politics – George Monbiot. 

Neoliberalism: the deep story that lies beneath Donald Trump’s triumph.

The events that led to Donald Trump’s election started in England in 1975. At a meeting a few months after Margaret Thatcher became leader of the Conservative party, one of her colleagues, or so the story goes, was explaining what he saw as the core beliefs of conservatism. She snapped open her handbag, pulled out a dog-eared book, and slammed it on the table. “This is what we believe,” she said. A political revolution that would sweep the world had begun.

The book was The Constitution of Liberty by Frederick Hayek. Its publication, in 1960, marked the transition from an honest, if extreme, philosophy to an outright racket. The philosophy was called neoliberalism. It saw competition as the defining characteristic of human relations. The market would discover a natural hierarchy of winners and losers, creating a more efficient system than could ever be devised through planning or by design. Anything that impeded this process, such as significant tax, regulation, trade union activity or state provision, was counter-productive. Unrestricted entrepreneurs would create the wealth that would trickle down to everyone.

This, at any rate, is how it was originally conceived. But by the time Hayek came to write The Constitution of Liberty, the network of lobbyists and thinkers he had founded was being lavishly funded by multimillionaires who saw the doctrine as a means of defending themselves against democracy. Not every aspect of the neoliberal programme advanced their interests. Hayek, it seems, set out to close the gap.

He begins the book by advancing the narrowest possible conception of liberty: an absence of coercion. He rejects such notions as political freedom, universal rights, human equality and the distribution of wealth, all of which, by restricting the behaviour of the wealthy and powerful, intrude on the absolute freedom from coercion he demands.

Democracy, by contrast, “is not an ultimate or absolute value”. In fact, liberty depends on preventing the majority from exercising choice over the direction that politics and society might take.

He justifies this position by creating a heroic narrative of extreme wealth. He conflates the economic elite, spending their money in new ways, with philosophical and scientific pioneers. Just as the political philosopher should be free to think the unthinkable, so the very rich should be free to do the undoable, without constraint by public interest or public opinion.

The ultra rich are “scouts”, “experimenting with new styles of living”, who blaze the trails that the rest of society will follow. The progress of society depends on the liberty of these “independents” to gain as much money as they want and spend it how they wish. All that is good and useful, therefore, arises from inequality. There should be no connection between merit and reward, no distinction made between earned and unearned income, and no limit to the rents they can charge.

Inherited wealth is more socially useful than earned wealth: “the idle rich”, who don’t have to work for their money, can devote themselves to influencing “fields of thought and opinion, of tastes and beliefs”. Even when they seem to be spending money on nothing but “aimless display”, they are in fact acting as society’s vanguard.

Hayek softened his opposition to monopolies and hardened his opposition to trade unions. He lambasted progressive taxation and attempts by the state to raise the general welfare of citizens. He insisted that there is “an overwhelming case against a free health service for all” and dismissed the conservation of natural resources. It should come as no surprise to those who follow such matters that he was awarded the Nobel prize for economics.

By the time Thatcher slammed his book on the table, a lively network of thinktanks, lobbyists and academics promoting Hayek’s doctrines had been established on both sides of the Atlantic, abundantly financed by some of the world’s richest people and businesses, including DuPont, General Electric, the Coors brewing company, Charles Koch, Richard Mellon Scaife, Lawrence Fertig, the William Volker Fund and the Earhart Foundation. Using psychology and linguistics to brilliant effect, the thinkers these people sponsored found the words and arguments required to turn Hayek’s anthem to the elite into a plausible political programme.

Thatcherism and Reaganism were not ideologies in their own right: they were just two faces of neoliberalism. Their massive tax cuts for the rich, crushing of trade unions, reduction in public housing, deregulation, privatisation, outsourcing and competition in public services were all proposed by Hayek and his disciples. But the real triumph of this network was not its capture of the right, but its colonisation of parties that once stood for everything Hayek detested.

Bill Clinton and Tony Blair did not possess a narrative of their own. Rather than develop a new political story, they thought it was sufficient to triangule. In other words, they extracted a few elements of what their parties had once believed, mixed them with elements of what their opponents believed, and developed from this unlikely combination a “third way”.

It was inevitable that the blazing, insurrectionary confidence of neoliberalism would exert a stronger gravitational pull than the dying star of social democracy. Hayek’s triumph could be witnessed everywhere from Blair’s expansion of the private finance initiative to Clinton’s repeal of the Glass-Steagal Act, which had regulated the financial sector. For all his grace and touch, Barack Obama, who didn’t possess a narrative either (except “hope”), was slowly reeled in by those who owned the means of persuasion.

As I warned in April, the result is first disempowerment then disenfranchisement. If the dominant ideology stops governments from changing social outcomes, they can no longer respond to the needs of the electorate. Politics becomes irrelevant to people’s lives; debate is reduced to the jabber of a remote elite. The disenfranchised turn instead to a virulent anti-politics in which facts and arguments are replaced by slogans, symbols and sensation. The man who sank Hillary Clinton’s bid for the presidency was not Donald Trump. It was her husband.

The paradoxical result is that the backlash against neoliberalism’s crushing of political choice has elevated just the kind of man that Hayek worshipped. Trump, who has no coherent politics, is not a classic neoliberal. But he is the perfect representation of Hayek’s “independent”; the beneficiary of inherited wealth, unconstrained by common morality, whose gross predilections strike a new path that others may follow. The neoliberal thinktankers are now swarming round this hollow man, this empty vessel waiting to be filled by those who know what they want. The likely result is the demolition of our remaining decencies, beginning with the agreement to limit global warming.

Those who tell the stories run the world. Politics has failed through a lack of competing narratives. The key task now is to tell a new story of what it is to be a human in the 21st century. It must be as appealing to some who have voted for Trump and Ukip as it is to the supporters of Clinton, Bernie Sanders or Jeremy Corbyn.

A few of us have been working on this, and can discern what may be the beginning of a story. It’s too early to say much yet, but at its core is the recognition that – as modern psychology and neuroscience make abundantly clear – human beings, by comparison with any other animals, are both remarkably social and remarkably unselfish. The atomisation and self-interested behaviour neoliberalism promotes run counter to much of what comprises human nature.

Hayek told us who we are, and he was wrong. Our first step is to reclaim our humanity.

Evonomics.com

The Guardian view on Davos: beat extremists by tackling extreme economics. 

Eight men, six of them American, own as much wealth as the 3.5 billion poorest people in the world.

“If that’s not insanity, I don’t know what is!” Bernie Sanders. 

A good measure of the topsy-turviness of our political economy could be found at Davos today. As the billionaires gathered for the World Economic Forum, the toast of the Alps was Xi Jinping. The first Chinese president ever to address the summit, his speech this morning was bound to be a big moment. Just as striking, though, was what Mr Xi said. The general secretary of the Communist party of China launched into an eloquent defence of openness and free markets. It was, as several observers remarked, the kind of speech one might expect to come from an American president. Except the US president-elect, Donald Trump, will not be popping in to Switzerland this week and won his new job partly because of his protectionism. He was at it again this week, threatening BMW with swingeing import tariffs if it followed plans to build a new plant in Mexico, rather than America. It did not sound like an empty threat.

Extreme economics breeds extreme politics: the campaigns for Brexit and Mr Trump both harnessed anger at the vast gap between the super-rich and the rest of society. One of the ironies of this anti-elitist politics is that it has been spearheaded by people who would normally count as part of an elite. Mr Trump is a billionaire property developer, Nigel Farage is an alumnus of Dulwich college who worked in the City. These people are effectively squatting a space in forward-looking politics – a space that has gone almost unoccupied by the political mainstream.

Even after the fall of Lehman Brothers, mainstream politicians from Britain through continental Europe to America have continued to push the same old dead economics: a reliance on a bloated finance sector, a penchant for austerity (even when it is not working, as the Office for Budget Responsibility pointed out today about Britain’s budget position), and a hankering after the same failed economics. Consider: since the 1980s, the UK has taken the lead in slashing marginal tax rates and its corporation tax rate is in freefall. While ministers acknowledge the depth of anger against three decades of grotesque inequality, their attempts to do anything about it are sadly desultory.

The Guardian

The Crisis of Market Fundamentalism – Anatole Kaletsky. 

The biggest political surprise of 2016 was that everyone was so surprised. I certainly had no excuse to be caught unawares: soon after the 2008 crisis, I wrote a book suggesting that a collapse of confidence in political institutions would follow the economic collapse, with a lag of five years or so.

We’ve seen this sequence before. The first breakdown of globalization, described by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in their 1848 The Communist Manifesto, was followed by reform laws creating unprecedented rights for the working class. The breakdown of British imperialism after World War I was followed by the New Deal and the welfare state. And the breakdown of Keynesian economics after 1968 was followed by the Thatcher-Reagan revolution. Comparable political upheavals will follow the fourth systemic breakdown of global capitalism heralded by the 2008 crisis.

The disappearance of “good” manufacturing jobs cannot be blamed on immigration, trade, or technology. But whereas these vectors of economic competition increase total national income, they do not necessarily distribute income gains in a socially acceptable way. To do that requires deliberate political intervention on at least two fronts. 

Macroeconomic management must ensure that demand always grows as strongly as the supply potential created by technology and globalization. This is the fundamental Keynesian insight that was temporarily rejected in the heyday of monetarism during the early 1980s, successfully reinstated in the 1990s (at least in the US and Britain), but then forgotten again in the deficit panic after 2009.

Project Syndicate 

The Ghost of Poverty This Christmas – Bryan Bruce. 

In 1843 Charles Dickens released his classic tale A Christmas Carol.

Creatives are like sponges. They soak up what’s happening in society and squeeze the gathered material into their work. Dickens was a master of it.

A year earlier he’d read a British parliamentary report on the condition of children working in mines for 10 hours a day – naked, starving and sick. The cause of this misery, he recognised, was greed – a few people getting very rich at the expense of the many. (Sound familiar?)

So, in that magical way it takes a genius to do, Dickens poured all of Victorian Britain’s mean-spiritedness into his fictional character Ebenezer Scrooge, the miserly old man who hates Christmas.
Until, that is, he is visited on Christmas Eve by three Ghosts (Of Christmas Past and Present and Yet To Come) who reveal to him how giving can be much more rewarding than taking.

173 years on a lot of Kiwis have got that message. They help their friends and neighbours whenever they can, they run food banks, free used clothing and furniture outlets, and open their maraes to the homeless.

But none of these things would be necessary if the meanness of Scrooge had not become institutionalised into the Neoliberal economic policies successive New Zealand governments have promoted over the last 30 years.
Yes it’s true that children no longer work in factories or down mines  – but that’s simply proof (if proof be needed) that things can change if we vote to alter them.

What I suspect is that if Dickens could return like one of his ghosts to visit us today, he’d look in dismay at the long lines of poor outside the City Missions this Christmas and tell us that we are going backwards towards the selfish society he railed against – where the poor were dependent on the good will of strangers for food and the essentials of life.

That we have lost sight of what is really important is clear….
85,000 of our children are living in severe hardship
•14 % of our kids (155,000) are experiencing material hardship which means they are living without seven or more necessary items for their wellbeing. • 28% per cent of our children (295,000) are living in low income homes and experiencing material hardship as a result.

So thank you to all of the good people throughout our country who know this widening gap between the have and have-not  isn’t right and do so much to help those less fortunate than themselves.
But let’s also make a new year’s resolution – to encourage our friends and families and everyone we know to vote for a better deal for all our children next year.
10% of New Zealanders now own 60% of the wealth of our country while the bottom 20% own nothing of worth at all.
Let’s make the scrooges of New Zealand pay their fair share.

My very best wishes to all of you this Christmas Eve.
Take care.
Bryan Bruce. 

How The Democrats Can Fix Themselves. The Party Needs New Economic Thinking – Joseph Stiglitz. 

The party’s adherence to neoliberal orthodoxy has hurt its prospects. 

Bill Clinton pushed through financial-market deregulation; lowered capital-gains taxes (which benefited the rich and led to a regressive tax system); pursued trade agreements that contributed to the further deindustrialization of America; pursued investment agreements that have paved the way for regulatory ‘takings’; pursued intellectual-property agreements that reflected the interests of big corporations and were not focused on the advancement of science or the well-being of ordinary citizens; reformed the welfare system in a way that arguably eviscerated it; and strengthened criminal-justice and police systems in a way that arguably contributed to mass incarceration. With a history of policies such as these in the background, there can be no debate about how to interpret Hillary Clinton’s defeat. While she distanced herself from these policies, she failed to provide a strong enough alternative vision to what had come before. She and her allies in the Democratic Party were seen as simply too aligned with the neo-liberal agenda, which itself was too aligned with the bankers and the comfortable elites.

Institute For New Economic Thinking

Full Article in Vanity Fair

The End Of Neoliberalism? Global economy slip sliding away – Bernard Hickey. 

The assumption at the beginning of globalisation was a rising tide would lift all boats. That didn’t happen.

Like any building with concrete cancer, trust in a big idea can seem very solid right up until the moment of collapse.

Trust among the general populace in globalisation has been ebbing away over the past 10 years or so since the Global Financial Crisis, but it never seemed like it was about to collapse – until now.

The election of Donald Trump in the US appears to have been that moment of collapse.

Trump’s first act as US President will be to tear up the next big act of globalisation – the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

The modern version of globalisation kicked off in the mid-1980s with the reforms unleashed by British PM Margaret Thatcher and the end of communism in 1989. New Zealand’s version was unleashed by the Lange-Douglas Government of 1984 and it has been full steam ahead ever since.

Both sides of politics and the broad populace essentially agreed on a social contract. It goes something like this: controls on imports and exports of goods, services and capital would be removed and currencies would be freed to float. This would generate an extra boost to economic growth and the benefits would be broadly shared around in the form of higher incomes, cheaper stuff and more vibrant and diverse societies.

The idea was the inevitable disruptions would be followed by stability and a better life.

The big assumption underpinning this social contract is that most people would be broadly better off because of these massive changes, and the few who weren’t better off would be somehow protected or cushioned or compensated and it would all work out better in the end.

This question of who would benefit from stronger economic growth is a crucial one because it has now been long enough to know the answer.

Between 1988 and 2008 real incomes for poor people in emerging countries such as China rose 60-80 per cent, as did incomes for the richest 2 per cent of the globe.

More than half of the actual gains in dollar terms of the economic growth went to the richest 5 per cent of the world’s population.

The world is demonstrably better off overall but big chunks of the population in the developed democracies of the world missed out.

Now these people are revolting.

NZ Herald 

Clinton & co are finally gone. That is the silver lining in this disaster. – Hazem Salem. 

Hillary Clinton has given us back our freedom.

Only such a crushing defeat could break the chains that bound us to the New Democrat elites. The defeat was the result of decades of moving the Democratic party – the party of FDR – away from what it once was and should have remained: a party that represents workers. All workers.

For three decades they have kept us in line with threats of a Republican monster-president should we stay home on election day. Election day has come and passed, and many did stay home. And instead of bowing out gracefully and accepting responsibility for their defeat, they have already started blaming it largely on racist hordes of rural Americans. That explanation conveniently shifts blame away from themselves, and avoids any tough questions about where the party has failed.

In a capitalist democracy, the party of the left has one essential reason for existing: to speak for the working class. Capitalist democracies have tended towards two major parties. One, which acts in the interest of the capitalist class – the business owners, the entrepreneurs, the professionals – ensuring their efforts and the risks they took were fairly rewarded. The other party represented workers, unions and later on other groups that made up the working class, including women and oppressed minorities.

This delicate balance ended in the 1990s. Many blame Reagan and Thatcher for destroying unions and unfettering corporations. I don’t. In the 1990s, a New Left arose in the English-speaking world: Bill Clinton’s New Democrats and Tony Blair’s New Labour. Instead of a balancing act, Clinton and Blair presided over an equally aggressive “new centrist” dismantling of the laws that protected workers and the poor.

The Guardian 

It is the way government organizes the market.-Robert Reich. 

​If a democracy is failing the rules might enhance the wealth of a comparative few at the top while keeping almost everyone else relatively poor and economically insecure. Those with sufficient power and resources would have enough influence over politicians, regulatory heads, and judges to ensure that the “free market” worked mostly on their behalf. This is not corruption as commonly understood. In the United States, those with power and resources rarely directly bribe public officials in order to receive specific and visible favors, such as advantageous government contracts. Instead, they make campaign contributions and occasionally hold out the promise of lucrative jobs at the end of government careers. And the most valuable things they get in exchange are market rules that seem to apply to everyone and appear to be neutral, but that systematically and disproportionately benefit them. To state the matter another way, it is not the unique and perceptible government “intrusions” into the market that have the greatest effect on who wins and who loses; it is the way government organizes the market.

The terminus of our species? – Rutger Bregman. ​

The Lesson of Neoliberalism. 

Some argue that these days, it hardly matters anymore who you vote for. Though we still have a right and a left, neither side seems to have a very clear plan for the future.

In an ironic twist of fate, the neoliberalist brainchild of two men who devoutly believed in the power of ideas (Hayek & Friedman) has now put a lockdown on the development of new ones. It would seem that we have arrived at “the end of history,” with liberal democracy as the last stop and the “free consumer”as the terminus of our species.

By the time Milton Friedman was named president of the Mont Pèlerin Society in 1970, most of its philosophers and historians had already decamped, the debates having become overly technical and economic. In hindsight, Friedman’s arrival marked the dawn of an era in which economists would become the leading thinkers of the Western world. We are still in that era today.

We inhabit a world of managers and technocrats. “Let’s just concentrate on solving the problems,”they say. “Let’s just focus on making ends meet.” Political decisions are continually presented as a matter of exigency – as neutral and objective events, as though there were no other choice.

John Maynard Keynes observed this tendency emerging even in his own day. “Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences,” he wrote, “are usually the slaves of some defunct economist.”

When Lehman Brothers collapsed on September 15, 2008, and inaugurated the biggest crisis since the 1930s, there were no real alternatives to hand. No one had laid the groundwork. For years, intellectuals, journalists, and politicians had all firmly maintained that we’d reached the end of the age of “big narratives” and that it was time to trade in ideologies for pragmatism.

Naturally, we should still take pride in the liberty that generations before us fought for and won. But the question is, what is the value of free speech when we no longer have anything worthwhile to say? What’s the point of freedom of association when we no longer feel any sense of affiliation? What purpose does freedom of religion serve when we no longer believe in anything?

On the one hand, the world is still getting richer, safer, and healthier. Every day, more and more people are arriving in Cockaigne. That’s a huge triumph. On the other hand, it’s high time that we, the inhabitants of the Land of Plenty, stake out a new utopia. Let’s rehoist the sails. “Progress is the realisation of Utopias,”Oscar Wilde wrote many years ago. A 15-hour workweek, universal basic income, and a world without borders…They’re all crazy dreams –but for how much longer?

People now doubt that “human ideas and beliefs are the main movers of history,”as Hayek argued back when neoliberalism was still in its infancy. “We all find it so difficult to imagine that our beliefs might be different from what they in fact are.” It could easily take a generation, he asserted, before new ideas prevail. For this very reason, we need thinkers who not only are patient, but also have “the courage to be ‘utopian.’” Let this be the lesson of Mont Pèlerin. Let this be the mantra of everyone who dreams of a better world, so that we don’t once again hear the clock strike midnight and find ourselves just sitting around, empty-handed, waiting for an extraterrestrial salvation that will never come.

Ideas, however outrageous, have changed the world, and they will again. “Indeed,” wrote Keynes, “the world is ruled by little else.”

Rutger Bregman, from his book ‘Utopia for Realists’

Neoliberalism and Austerity. Simon Wren-Lewis. 

I like to treat neoliberalism not as some kind of coherent political philosophy, but more as a set of interconnected ideas that have become commonplace in much of our discourse. That the private sector entrepreneur is the wealth creator, and the state typically just gets in their way. That what is good for business is good for the economy, even when it increases monopoly power or involves rent seeking. Interference in business or the market, by governments or unions, is always bad. And so on. …

I do not think austerity could have happened on the scale that it did without this dominance of this neoliberal ethos. Mark Blyth has described austerity as the biggest bait and switch in history. It took two forms. In one the financial crisis, caused by an under regulated financial sector lending too much, led to bank bailouts that increased public sector debt. This leads to an outcry about public debt, rather than the financial sector. In the other the financial crisis causes a deep recession which – as it always does – creates a large budget deficit. Spending like drunken sailors goes the cry, we must have austerity now.

In both cases the nature of what was going on was pretty obvious to anyone who bothered to find out the facts. That so few did so, which meant that the media largely went with the austerity narrative, can be partly explained by a neoliberal ethos. Having spent years seeing the big banks lauded as wealth creating titans, it was difficult for many to comprehend that their basic business model was fundamentally flawed and required a huge implicit state subsidy. On the other hand they found it much easier to imagine that past minor indiscretions by governments were the cause of a full blown debt crisis. …

While in this sense austerity might have been a useful distraction from the problems with neoliberalism made clear by the financial crisis, I think a more important political motive was that it appeared to enable the more rapid accomplishment of a key neoliberal goal: shrinking the state. It is no coincidence that austerity typically involved cuts in spending rather than higher taxes… In that sense too austerity goes naturally with neoliberalism. …

An interesting question is whether the same applies to right wing governments in the UK and US that used immigration/race as a tactic for winning power. We now know for sure, with both Brexit and Trump, how destructive and dangerous that tactic can be. As even the neoliberal fantasists who voted Leave are finding out, Brexit is a major setback for neoliberalism. Not only is it directly bad for business, it involves (for both trade and migration) a large increase in bureaucratic interference in market processes. To the extent she wants to take us back to the 1950s, Theresa May’s brand of conservatism may be very different from Margaret Thatcher’s neoliberal philosophy.

The Economy Has Been Rigged To Make The Rich Richer! – Video

Dean Baker
How Globalization and the Rules of the Modern Economy Were Structured to Make the Rich Richer.
YouTube

The reason is “a sense of hopelessness and helplessness of the young people. They believe the sun isn’t going to come up any more.”

Paul Little: What the Dickens is happening?

Dickens was a campaigner – he campaigned against, among other things, pollution, child poverty, poor public health, homelessness and the exploitation of women and children. He died nearly 150 years ago.

Great writer, but he doesn’t seem to have made much of a difference. NZ Herald