Tag Archives: New Zealand

The Kiwi who split the atom. 1917: Sir Ernest Rutherford, our greatest scientist’s biggest breakthrough.

Ernest Rutherford and Hans Geiger in the physics laboratory at Manchester University.

“I have broken the machine and touched the ghost of matter.”

So proclaimed Sir Ernest Rutherford a century ago, in the same year he became the first person to split the atom.

By that point, the Nelson-born godfather of modern atomic physics had already received a Nobel Prize in Chemistry (in 1908) and a star scientist at Cambridge, McGill and Manchester universities.

His greatest triumphs came in three landmark discoveries, which forever changed modern science and created the field of nuclear physics.

In the first, for which he received his Nobel Prize, he conducted a clever experiment using an air-tight glass tube and radioactive radium emanation to prove that alpha particles are helium ions.

In doing so, Rutherford effectively had, said James Campbell in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biographies, “unravelled the mysteries of radioactivity, showing that some heavy atoms spontaneously decay into slightly lighter, and chemically different, atoms”.

“This discovery of the natural transmutation of elements first brought him to world attention.”

Later, Rutherford and his young student, Ernest Marsden – who would become a world-renowned physicist in his own right – conducted an experiment that allowed Rutherford to deduce that nearly all of the mass of an atom was concentrated in a nucleus a thousand times smaller than the atom itself.

This gave birth to the nuclear model of the atom – and later formed the basis for revealing the stable orbit of the atom.

In his third and most famous discovery, in 1917, Rutherford succeeded in splitting the atom itself, becoming the first human to create a nuclear reaction.

Albert Einstein called Rutherford a “second Newton” – but the famed scientist wasn’t so different from other ingenious Kiwi innovators.

Of his knack for unorthodox solutions to experiments, Rutherford noted his early years in New Zealand: “We don’t have the money, so we have to think.”

Jamie Morton, NZ Herald

New Zealand – Labour and the Greens commit political HariKari, nail their flags to the Neoliberal flagpole. 

Middle and Lower income NZ betrayed and abandoned. Labour and Greens are no longer relevant in 2017 election.

My pick is there will be a massive swing to the Maori Party and NZ First. My votes will be going to The Opportunities Party, they are the only party making economic sense. 

Does New Zealand still have political parties on the left in parliamentary politics? No

Do the poor and working classes have anyone to vote for this year? No

These are some of the key questions being asked in the wake of the Labour-Green announcement that they will restrain themselves in government from any significant deviation from the economic status quo.

“The Greens have completely sold out on where they started from in my generation of MPs in 1999.

The new rules adopted by the left parties is a ‘totally business-friendly’ policy and will constrain them in being able to depart from the National Government’s main economic settings.

So what you see here is the Green Party deciding to go after votes on the centre and the right of the New Zealand political spectrum. It wants business in its corner. It wants your National blue-green voters in its corner. And completely abandoning the huge number of people who are in desperate need in the areas of housing, welfare, jobs, and education”.

It’s about political opportunism by the Greens, in order to get into government.

At what price power, if you sell out everything that your party was originally set out to achieve?

I mean, this Green Party here is following the same trail as green parties all over the world, some of who have ended up in coalitions and alliance with really rightwing governments.

Some Green Party supporters are going to end up like some of us already, who have no one to vote for this year. The Greens was perhaps the last hope. This is the death knell for the Greens as a left party in any way, shape or form. They are a party of capitalism. They’re a party that Business New Zealand now loves.” Sue Bradford

“We support higher levels of Government activity and investment than these rules permit. There is an urgent need. Many countries who are more successful than us socially and economically have much greater government activity. If an incoming Labour/Green Government is serious about fixing the problems we have in our education, health, housing and other public services, if it’s going to correct the imbalances we have in terms of pay equity, if we are going to really tackle income inequality and our environmental challenges together as a nation, then it will need to be prepared to invest significantly. That will test these rules as they stand.” Richard Wagstaff, CTU

“Who says voters won’t buy into tax increases on high incomes? I’m sad that our redeemers are capitulating to that rather than making the case for it. Elections are an opportunity to win support for ideas. Not just frame ideas around putative support.” Laila Harre

NZ Herald

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

 

Rich? Scared about the Trumpocalypse? Try New Zealand – Daily Mail. 

Apocalyptic anxieties have been heightened after the symbolic “Doomsday Clock” was moved 30 seconds closer to midnight on the strength of Trump’s comments about nuclear weapons and climate change.

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists set it at two-and-a-half minutes to midnight, the closest it has been since the height of the Cold War in 1953.

The elevation of an unpredictable billionaire to the helm of nuclear-armed America has given fresh impetus to the idea of remote New Zealand as a bulwark for civilisation in the event of a global catastrophe.

The idea has pedigree — British science fiction writer John Wyndham’s 1955 novel “The Chrysalids” describes a post-apocalyptic landscape where Zealand (or Sealand) is the only place that has not sunk into barbarity.

The fictional Zealand escaped the holocaust because it was “somewhat secluded” and it seems that, in uncertain times, the real New Zealand is attracting interest for the same reason.

“The world is heading into a major crisis,” German-born internet mogul and alleged online piracy kingpin Kim Dotcom tweeted late last year.
“I saw it coming and that’s why we moved to New Zealand. Far away & not on any nuclear target list.”

After Trump’s election in November, about 17,000 Americans registered interest online in moving to New Zealand, a 13-fold increase on regular levels.

Immigration New Zealand also reported a spike in inquiries from Britain after the Brexit vote.

Just last week it emerged that tech titan Peter Thiel, one of Trump’s strongest supporters, quietly obtained New Zealand citizenship in 2011 and owns several properties in the South Pacific nation.

Other rich-listers who have either moved to New Zealand or bought land include Hollywood director James Cameron, Russian steel magnate Alexander Abramov and US financial services guru William Foley.

One of China’s wealthiest executives, Jack Ma, said last year that at least 20 former colleagues from his Alibaba empire had retired to New Zealand and he was considering purchasing a property himself.

The nation of 4.5 million people is nestled deep in the South Pacific Ocean, some 2,000 kilometres (1,250 miles) from Australia.

It is prosperous, has spectacular landscapes and Transparency International rates it the least corrupt country in the world, alongside Denmark.

The New Yorker magazine this month reported it had become the refuge of choice for ultra-rich Americans looking for a bolthole if Trump’s presidency goes disastrously wrong.

Peter Campbell of high-end construction firm Triple Star Management said wealthy Americans wanted helipads in their luxury escapes, but not necessarily underground shelters.

“It’s not like you need to build a bunker under your front lawn, because you’re several thousand miles away from the White House,” he told the magazine.

Daily Mail

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Waitingi Day, Now tell me why we are cringing – Lizzie Marvelly. 

This is the story of a good Kiwi farmer. Let’s call him Joseph Smith.

Joseph’s family had been toiling the land for generations. That all changed, however, the day Joseph signed the Agreement.

The Agreement seemed like a great idea at the time. Signed by most of the farmers around the country, it formalised the Government’s promises of partnership and protection. It guaranteed the farmers ownership of their land. It seemed like a way to control the lawless foreign city-dwellers as they flooded into country towns. A way to work together towards a brighter future.

A few of Smith’s mates refused to sign. They were wary of the Government, and felt it couldn’t be trusted. They suspected that the Government – run, as it was, by city-dwellers – was bound to prioritise urban interests.

Smith dismissed their concerns, a decision he bitterly regretted when the Government stole his farm. This annexation of his family land was, of course, in breach of the Agreement, but the Government didn’t seem to care.

Some of Smith’s friends had their farms stolen too, while his northern cousins sold theirs to the Government, receiving £341 in return for 3000 acres of land, 44 acres of which sold for £24,275 just nine months later.

They had no access to valuation or legal services, and by the time they realised they’d been duped, it was too late.

Some of Smith’s friends resisted the Government, but after seeing their wives raped, their children killed and their homes burnt in retaliation, Smith decided to comply with the foreigners.

With the farm gone, however, Smith found he could no longer care for his family. His kids, once happy and well-fed, became anxious and withdrawn.

They were punished at school for speaking their country dialect, and forced to speak like city-dwellers. They were taught that the farmers were better off now that the city-dwellers had taken charge. They learnt about the city-dwellers’ history rather than their own.

Smith and his family moved from place to place, as he sought work on the farms once owned by his friends and family

Smith’s sons, like their father before them, adjusted to simply living for the day: taking whatever menial jobs they could find to put food on the table, and spending whatever was left on the only escape still available to them – booze.

They watched their kids grow up, and saw their sons go off to fight a war for the city-dwellers against other city-dwellers in a faraway land. A war that would be forever remembered, while the wars the city-dwellers had fought against the farmers would be almost wilfully forgotten.

Only Smith’s youngest grandson, John, returned home from the war. Despite his service to the country, he was left out of the ballot for returning soldiers to be given a piece of land to farm by the Government.

The city-dweller soldiers received land set aside to be “resettled”, while Smith went with his father to the freezing works, where John Smith’s son Edward would eventually join him, and his son after him.

When John Smith finally retired, he was given a pension by the Government. As a descendant of the farmers, he received only half what retired city-dwellers collected.

He would often sit with his grandchildren and great-grandchildren and tell them stories of what life was like before the Agreement, stories that had been passed down the generations.

As they grew older, some of those great-grandchildren began to protest. They joined with the other descendants of the farmers, and took their concerns to Parliament. They were met with fierce resistance from the city-dwellers, but they had nothing left to lose. “Honour the Agreement!” the farmers would chant as they marched.

Eventually, they began to gain momentum. A panel was set up to right historical wrongs. The Agreement was finally recognised. A relationship began to develop between the city-dwellers and the farmers. It wasn’t always plain sailing, but progress was being made.

The city-dwellers began to adopt the customs of the farmers, performing their songs and chants on important occasions. The farmers’ dialect was formally recognised, and taught to children in schools. The anniversary of the signing of the Agreement was observed as a celebration of the nation.

The Anniversary Day was always fraught, as the signing of the Agreement and the manner in which it was subsequently ignored had forever changed the lives of the farmers.

While progress was celebrated widely around the country, pain would remain for generations.

Protest became a regular part of the proceedings, as was perhaps fitting, given that the farmers would never have been treated fairly by the Government had it not been for their peaceful resistance efforts.

And then, one Agreement Anniversary Day during an election year, the leader of the Government was invited to celebrate with the farmers at the place where the Agreement was signed.

The farmers, wise to the potential for heated politicking on the historic day, decided to separate the celebration of the occasion and the political discussions. The leader of the Government was invited to speak, “freely and uninhibited” immediately after the traditional proceedings had concluded.

He, the leader of the people, appointed to represent both the city-dwellers and the farmers, and the many people who had since moved to the land, refused the invitation, demanding instead that he determine when during the proceedings he should speak. He also refused to attend the sacred service on the morning of the Anniversary, sending his deputy, a descendent of farmers, instead.

He told the nation’s media that the proceedings and the celebrations of the day made people “cringe”. He decided instead to spend the day in the city.

The story of the farmers and the city-dwellers is, of course, an allegory. It is, however, based on a true story. Our story. The one we often try to forget.

Change the names Joseph to Hohepa, John to Hone, and Edward to Eruera. Replace “farmer” with “Māori” and “city-dweller” with “Pākehā”.

Now tell me why we are cringing.

NZ Herald

New Zealand’s greatest gifts: Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve – Siobhan Downes. 

New Zealand is known for its abundance of natural treasures on land – but to see one of its star attractions, you need to shift your eyes skyward.

While many people around the world have never seen a sky full of stars because of the damaging effects of light pollution, the skies above the heart of the South Island are blessed with thousands of glittering constellations, as far as the eye can see.

The Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve is the only one of its kind in the southern hemisphere, and one of only 11 in the world.

Stuff.co.nz

“Gutter Holes” and “Sewer Pipes”. A New Zealand environmental crisis second to none – Chris de Freitas. 

It is an uncontroversial fact that the state of the country’s freshwater resources has for decades been moving towards ecological collapse.

Freshwater ecosystems are key features of New Zealand’s natural heritage. Plentiful precipitation feeds many hundreds of streams, more than 70 major rivers, about 770 lakes and numerous underground aquifers.

More than 700 lakes are classified as “shallow” and up to 40 per cent of these are nutrient-enriched and no longer capable of supporting fish life.

Until relatively recently, water has never been considered a scarce resource in New Zealand. Consequently, the economic and regulatory controls over its allocation and use have been neglected.

The greatest impacts, however, have not come from water use but from land use: Agriculture, Urban, Dams, Mining & Forestry. 

NZ Herald 

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. 

All we want for Christmas is to be safe in New Zealand. 

About 300 refugees have arrived here since the Government announced it would take 750 over 2.5 years from Syria in September last year. Yesterday the Government announced an extra $1 million in aid.

The Morad family languished in tough conditions in Lebanon for three years before recently moving to New Zealand, along with Mohamad’s mother Gazala Dib Fayon.

NZ Herald 

An utterly unacceptable and callously insignificant contribution by NZ to a massive international situation.

We are accepting 70,000 migrants annually yet we have no room for desperate people fleeing a situation that is entirely a consequence of western Middle East policy. 

We spend millions on bullshit. Flags nobody wants, dairy farms in the desert, etc etc, yet our government is proud to announce with a perfectly straight face an extra 1 million in aid.

New Zealand once had a caring population that was always at the ready to speak out and help in situations such as this. 

We have lost our hearts in the swamp of Neoliberal greed. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

Bowalley Road

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 

Will the Trump effect be felt Downunder too? – Bryce Edwards. 

As the election of Donald Trump continues to send shockwaves around the world, New Zealand badly needs a revolt against the current political system for the good of our democracy. 

Donald Trump is the latest political success to highlight the power of anti-establishment politics – but he’s not the best advert for it.

Instead, Trump is a reminder that revolts against the Establishment emerging around the world at the moment take many different forms. Some are left-wing, others right-wing, nationalist, populist, and so forth. So to be anti-establishment doesn’t necessarily mean being a supporter of reactionary politics.

What all these revolts have in common is their rebellion against the status quo and those in power.

Such a revolt could be beneficial in New Zealand – especially if it took a much more progressive orientation, compared to Trump and other more populist, reactionary and nationalist demagogues who sometimes surf the wave of public disenchantment with mainstream politics.

Anti-establishment politicians and movements are a necessary part of politics. They shake things up and open up possibilities with radical ideas. By asking difficult questions, putting forward unfashionable ideas and questioning authority, an anti-establishment force can highlight problems in the system and give voice to the powerless and forgotten.

Such a movement here is likely to be more left-wing. Earlier in the year when a UMR opinion poll on the US presidential candidates gave a choice between radicals, 77 per cent of New Zealanders chose Bernie Sanders, compared to 8 per cent for Trump.

Of course, radical politics is rarely idyllic. There will always be ugliness and problems and sometimes this involves the destruction of parts of the status quo.

However that can allow something better to be built.

Here’s my 10-point manifesto for change in New Zealand.

NZ Herald 


Is NZ a good place for business or workers?

Who’s winning the “class struggle” between business and workers? Bryce Edwards

New Zealand is the best place in the world to do business. This is declared today in the World Bank annual report, “Doing Business 2017” – see Simon Maude’s World Bank names NZ best country for business. There are many factors in New Zealand’s reputation for ease of doing business, and of course the flexibility of the labour market, with very limited employment regulation, is one of the well-known benefits for business here. But can “what is good for business” also be “good for workers”? Or does the success of business come at the expense of workers? Or is the “class struggle” dead, along with a union movement that is struggling for relevance? NZ Herald 

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 

Giant Weta at Auckland Zoo. Video

Giant weta are several species of weta in the genus Deinacrida of the family Anostostomatidae. Giant weta are endemic to New Zealand and are examples of island gigantism. Wikipedia

Scientific name: Deinacrida

Higher classification: Anostostomatidae

Rank: Genus

Watch: NZ Herald – video