The Dim-Post

October 5, 2013

The dubious strategic value of the corporate group hug

Filed under: Politics — danylmc @ 8:54 am

Hamlisch Rutherford has a column up on Stuff examining the Green Party’s adversarial relationship with multi-national corporations and the energy sector ending:

If the Green Party ever wants to be taken seriously in the corporate sector as part of a government now might be the time to reassure people that cooler heads will prevail.

This is a good time to throw in the disclaimer that my wife now works for the Green Party but I have the same problem here as I’ve always had with Fran O’Sullivan’s columns begging politicians from all parties to be nicer to corporate executives and shareholders. I’ve never understood why left-wing parties need to be nice to the corporate sector and these columnists never explain it. It’s just a given. Another odd feature of New Zealand mainstream political discourse in which corporate executives are simultaneously god-like wealth creators who just need government to get out of the way of their genius and fragile neurotics who constantly need to be ‘reassured’ by everyone so they can have ‘confidence’. (And who repeatedly need government owned companies to be privitised so they can invest in them because they can’t grow their own.)

But political parties do things out of self-interest. Basically they want people to vote for them. In electoral terms the corporate sector accounts for a few thousand voters, most of whom are high-net worth older white men with right or far-right voting preferences. They will never vote for the Green Party and even if they did, somehow, it wouldn’t boost the Green vote by much. Executives and shareholders have great power outside the electoral system, obviously. They can (and do) donate vast sums of money to political parties, and they can convince journalists to write columns advocating for their interests. But to capture that power the Greens would have to be nothing like the Green Party (currently polling about 15%) and more like the ACT Party (0%).

The final point I’d make here is that we never, ever see columns from from pundits and political journalists pleading for, say, National to reassure unionised workers, or ACT to reach out to Pacific Island voters, even though in electoral terms these groups are hundreds of times larger than the corporate sector. Just this repeated insistence that every one needs to be really, really nice to banks and multinational corporations, even if it makes no sense for them to do so.

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56 Comments »

  1. Pasifika voters don’t donate to political parties because it all goes to their local church minister.

    Comment by petronious — October 5, 2013 @ 9:05 am

  2. what you said.

    there’s little reason why the greens need to pander to corporate interests, when the interests of corporations are almost by definition non-green…

    further, how much wealth in NZL is actually created by corporations? you’re gonna think next to none. for example – our biggest export is actually provided by a cooperative

    Comment by Che Tibby — October 5, 2013 @ 9:10 am

  3. “constantly need to be ‘reassured’ by everyone so they can have ‘confidence”

    Not by everyone, just by those who can use the power of the state to threaten violence.

    Comment by Swan — October 5, 2013 @ 9:29 am

  4. Gee Danyl, didn’t you once write a post about how the Greens needed to have more candidates who were former corporate consultants like your mate what’s his name, and less hoary old fashioned Marxists?

    Comment by Hugh — October 5, 2013 @ 9:34 am

  5. Che

    Pretty sure Fonterra is a corporation?

    On the tooic, I guess what people want is a bit of certainty. When the Greens say they don’t like intensive ag what is their policy? Are they just saying what they don’t like or are they wanting to ban nitrogen runoff? Legislate stocking rates?

    Do they want to ban fracking (yes) shut down the Taranaki o and g operations?

    Ban all new dam construction? Order removal of existing dams?

    What are their intentions around food regulation?

    Comment by Swan — October 5, 2013 @ 9:44 am

  6. Word. However, remember the hissy fit “business” threw in 1999/2000 and the “winter of discontent”? The dollar fell to below 40 US cents as a result of the scaremongering. I’d like to think the world had changed post GFC but I wouldn’t want to count on it. Expect the fear factor to be ramped up as the election approaches. In that context promoting an aura of “reasonableness” is perhaps worth considering.

    Comment by TerryB — October 5, 2013 @ 9:45 am

  7. @Swan Why don’t you just go Bd look at the Green’s policy on their web site, rhe answers are there.

    Comment by Andrew R — October 5, 2013 @ 9:50 am

  8. Ive looked Andrew, they arent there actually.

    We get things like:

    “Develop and implement a transitional strategy for industries and occupations using substances that need to be phased out.” ooooook.

    “Increase New Zealand’s self-sufficiency in basic foodstuffs, especially grain” rigtho.

    “Limit urban sprawl” yep (no word on property rights)

    “Control pollution of lakes and rivers from urban stormwater and agricultural runoff through a National Policy Statement and National Environmental Standards under the RMA” Not really telling us are they.

    “resource rentals on minerals, oil and gas extraction” how much?

    “It makes no sense to destroy valuable farmland to dig up coal”

    “It is environmentally reckless to start a deep water oil drilling program”

    “The National Party-created Electricity Authority has failed to control the unjustifiable rise in electricity prices”

    Stuff like that.

    Comment by swan — October 5, 2013 @ 10:27 am

  9. “… In electoral terms the corporate sector accounts for a few thousand voters, most of whom are high-net worth older white men with right or far-right voting preferences…”

    I find this a remarkably naive statement. A few thousand individual voters. perhaps. But they own everything. Just four foreign owned companies run almost all of our media, so at best a dozen people control our media. Upset them, or their class, and you are at class war with those who control the communication.

    80% of New Zealand’s trucking firms belong to the militant Road Transport Forum, which has a board of directors of nine people (all white, male, tubby and at the fag end of middle age). Nine men who were able, in 2008, to put 4,500 trucks on the streets as a blockade – supposedly against road user charges, but really to destablise the Labour government ahead of the election four months later (can you really imagine them doing such a thing against John Key four months out from an election?).

    This elite, moreover, is inter-connected by a web of class and social ties – Millionaires Joyce and Key don’t need the excuse of a yacht race to hob-nob with the son of multi-millionaire Ray Barker, they almost certainly know him from their social circles anyway.

    The capitalist “winter of discontent” of 2000 saw the dollar collapse to $0.39 cents, and the government threatened with an “investment strike” over nothing more than a proposed employer-funded paid parental leave scheme, and some mild changes to the employment relations act.

    Remember, that last time it was possible to change capitalism it was against the background of the Great War completly discrediteding and splintering the ruling class, the great depression and the USSR threatening the very existence of capitalism and the rule of law provided deomcracy which capitalism needs to really fourish under threat from communism and fascism. Capitalism bent a little because the only other option was annihilation.

    What Hamlisch Rutherford is really saying is that real change will require another real confrontation with capitalism. Imagine a Labour/Green coalition in 2015. Imagine it decides not to engage with the corporate sector but to take it on. Re-nationalise the energy companies. Pass powerful anti-monopoly/duopoly laws and direct the breaking up of Progressive foods and SkyTV. Reintroduce strong Labour laws. Spend more time talking to bearded cyclists than to trucking men. Demand an proper public service TV station. Now imagine the capitalist reaction, bearing in mind it’s reaction to much, much less in 2000. The barking dogs of the media would go hysterical. Imagine Slater and Farrar tacitly endorsing calls for armed insurrection in their comments sections, or the NBR would calling for foreign military intervention. Imagine the NZ Dollar collapsing to US 0.25c, inflation surging, unemployment rising and an investment strike, and massive capital outflow leading to a balance of payments crisis. What does a government do? Does it blink, and backdown? Or does it declare a state of emergency, order the arrest of half of the countries business elite, introduce censorship, and call out the army (and hope the army follows orders, rather than stage a coup)?

    If you’ve got the guts to want to see how far down that rabbit hole goes, good luck to you.

    Comment by Sanctuary — October 5, 2013 @ 10:27 am

  10. I’ve never understood why left-wing parties need to be nice to the corporate sector and these columnists never explain it. It’s just a given.

    As others have mentioned, the answer is “Winter of Discontent, 2000.” For all that various fuckwits quack on about the supposedly terrible, destructive “power” of the unions, it’s the left-wing political parties who have to play nice or else.

    Comment by Psycho Milt — October 5, 2013 @ 11:03 am

  11. The whole ‘investment strike’/ fall of NZ dollar in 2000 thing is one of those horror stories left wingers like to tell each other over the campfire or whatever and it has about as much truth as re-runs of Dr Phibes.

    The dollar fell, yes, but mostly because of strength in the US currency. It’s a weirdly narrow and provincial attitude which assumes that any rise or fall in the NZ currency is due to events here – while they have an impact, what has a larger effect is events offshore.

    I’m sure there was a small post-change-of-govt effect but its effect on the currency is pretty minimal. Folks who buy and sell currency don’t really care that much about ideological colourings – its more about seeking arbitrage.

    The ‘investment strike’ claim is often repeated and is so hilariously wrong it boggles the mind.

    Business investment – which is a much better indicator than the level of the currency in the kind of arguments being run here – was increasing throughout 2000 and went above 10% for the first time since the recovery of 1993-96.

    There was a lot of noise, and a few hotheads in the business community and govt made a few febrile comments, but that was all.

    Comment by Rob Hosking — October 5, 2013 @ 11:05 am

  12. Careful Danyl, Bateman might get his chainsaw out…

    Comment by B. E. Ellis — October 5, 2013 @ 11:20 am

  13. “The dollar fell, yes, but mostly because of strength in the US currency.”

    You’re actually a journalist who’s supposed to know this stuff aren’t you, Rob?

    It wasn’t the strength of the US dollar it was the weakness of the NZ dollar. Go look at the twi history on the RB website. In fact it’s here:

    http://www.rbnz.govt.nz/statistics/key_graphs/exchange_rate/

    Comment by Judge Holden — October 5, 2013 @ 1:46 pm

  14. “… In electoral terms the corporate sector accounts for a few thousand voters, most of whom are high-net worth older white men with right or far-right voting preferences…”

    I find this a remarkably naive statement. A few thousand individual voters. perhaps. But they own everything.

    You seem to have missed his point. He says later: “Executives and shareholders have great power outside the electoral system, obviously. They can (and do) donate vast sums of money to political parties, and they can convince journalists to write columns advocating for their interests. But to capture that power the Greens would have to be nothing like the Green Party (currently polling about 15%) and more like the ACT Party (0%).”

    So yeah, Danyl gets that they have influence etc outside just their own votes, but there’s nothing in it for the Greens to court that influence a la the ACT party. It won’t gain them significant votes, and will lose them some (supporters seeing them as selling out and trying to become ‘centrist’).

    Comment by Steve — October 5, 2013 @ 2:45 pm

  15. I said mostly, not solely. And the more important point is that business investment was growing strongly despite the so called ‘investment strike’. This is in fact even more significant than it looks because NZ imports so much of our plant and machinery, and at a time of a low dollar this was a more expensive thing to do.

    I do wish people would look at the evidence rather than repeating ideological canards.

    Comment by Rob Hosking — October 5, 2013 @ 3:39 pm

  16. …business investment was growing strongly despite the so called ‘investment strike’.

    From memory, the government claimed to have been facing a threatened investment strike, not actually experiencing one. It’s possible no such threat existed, but the continuity of business investment before and after the government caved isn’t evidence either way.

    Comment by Psycho Milt — October 5, 2013 @ 4:03 pm

  17. “I said mostly, not solely. ”

    Yes, but that wasn’t true, as a brief glance at the facts demonstrates. You know what the TWI is don’t you?

    Comment by Judge Holden — October 5, 2013 @ 4:09 pm

  18. “… In electoral terms the corporate sector accounts for a few thousand voters, most of whom are high-net worth older white men with right or far-right voting preferences…”

    Naive nonsense. 113,000 NZers bought shares in Mighty River Power alone. Hundreds of thousands more are shareholders in other NZ companies either directly or through managed funds/Kiwisaver. If the value of companies is destroyed those affected will be a wide and deep section of NZ society not just the elites.

    Comment by peg — October 5, 2013 @ 4:35 pm

  19. Its getting dickish here

    Comment by TransportationDevice A7-98.1 — October 5, 2013 @ 5:05 pm

  20. ” We never, ever see columns from from pundits and political journalists pleading for, say, National to reassure unionised workers, or ACT to reach out to Pacific Island voters,”

    I think if you pop over to the “Daily Blog” you will see plenty of pundits doing just this

    Comment by rayinnz — October 5, 2013 @ 5:12 pm

  21. >If you’ve got the guts to want to see how far down that rabbit hole goes, good luck to you.

    It wouldn’t come to all of that, necessarily. It’s also possible that the changes you suggest they’d make would improve things, the commentators would sound shrill and become isolated, and the government would just get on with stuff.

    Danyl’s point is sound. What is the point of courting people who will not ever prefer you over the opposition? At best it’s a token gesture aimed at the mass voter who wants some assurances that the Greens haven’t just totally forgotten about business. At that, it might be worth something.

    Comment by Ben Wilson — October 5, 2013 @ 6:33 pm

  22. “… In electoral terms the corporate sector accounts for a few thousand voters, most of whom are high-net worth older white men with right or far-right voting preferences…”

    Naive nonsense. 113,000 NZers bought shares in Mighty River Power alone. Hundreds of thousands more are shareholders in other NZ companies either directly or through managed funds/Kiwisaver.

    But, I thought those who would invest in Might River etc were mums and dads, not “the corporate sector”.

    I doubt ‘the corporate sector’ includes shareholders and everyone who’s in Kiwisaver. Shit, I’m in Kiwisaver, and I’m one of those horrible socialists.

    Comment by Steve — October 5, 2013 @ 7:16 pm

  23. Seems my comment has gone into moderation oblivion.

    I should also add that NZ Inc has destroyed more shareholder wealth on its own, than any Chavez-ist expropriation could hope to achieve.

    Comment by deepred — October 6, 2013 @ 1:28 am

  24. The aud crashed against the usd as well. Sanc old boy doubt if your 1919 style communism which lead to cannibalism and had to be rebranded as “war communism” for the sheeple in the West was a threat agasinst anyone.

    Yep corporates feed off the state as well. Remember ladies all that you regulation that you like so much a lot of it is writtien by corporates to help ring fence their industries from competition. It is only a matter of time when business people with cheque books will partner with the Greens. For eg the Green Jobs spectre looms. The problem is as always is the State itself.

    Comment by Simon — October 6, 2013 @ 10:17 am

  25. “ladies”?
    Is that meant to be an insult?

    Comment by MeToo — October 6, 2013 @ 1:16 pm

  26. Libertarians are so cute. They remind me of Linus van Pelt, with societal collapse followed by a rampant capitalist utopia being their equivalent of the Great Pumpkin.

    Comment by Judge Holden — October 6, 2013 @ 5:41 pm

  27. Must be the HTTP links putting it in the spam bin…

    18 & 22: Moral of the story: don’t play with matches if you don’t want to get burnt. The NZX is already overloaded with ex-state monopolies compared with other stock exchanges. The real issue is why Pacific Fibre and Punakaiki Capital – tech projects which would have built real long-term value for NZ – struggled to attract investor interest which instead goes toward politically volatile state monopolies. Maybe not much has been learned from 1987. And there’s nothing particularly ‘mum & dad’ about the vast majority of the top 20 private shareholders in MRP. I should also add that NZ Inc has destroyed more shareholder wealth on its own, than any Chavez-ist expropriation could hope to achieve.

    20: You’re right about the Daily Blog, but it’s started from next to nothing and still has catching up to do with KB & WO. As it stands, it’s still one dollar, one opinion.

    21: One of the worst things any political movement can do, particularly the Left, is to pander to an unnatural constituency with no guarantee of it returning the favour. Howard Dean tried and failed to pander to Joe Six-Pack and his Dixie Flagged pickup truck during the 2000 US presidential primaries. Bill English lost the bet in 2002 with Pacific Islanders and other groups regarded as downtrodden.

    In 1986 the then-Labour Govt scrapped farm subsidies, correctly betting that farmers receiving subsidies wouldn’t vote for it to begin with. And far from slumping into starvation, NZ is now producing more food than ever.

    Stagflating electricity and housing prices have been identified by Labour & the Greens as wedge issues, and it just needs to drive them in further.

    Comment by deepred — October 6, 2013 @ 5:47 pm

  28. The problem is as always is the State itself.

    (1) For all of recorded history, human societies have had problems;
    (2) For all of recorded history, human societies have taken the form of “a State”;
    (3) Ergo, the State is always the problem.

    Comment by Flashing Light — October 6, 2013 @ 6:15 pm

  29. “(2) For all of recorded history, human societies have taken the form of “a State”;”

    You think?

    Comment by Hugh — October 6, 2013 @ 8:49 pm

  30. Fair point.

    “(2) For all of recorded history, human societies that didn’t take the form of “a State” got ruthlessly crushed by those that did, leading to “the State” becoming the near universal means of ordering social affairs (with the exception of various hold-out indigenous peoples and Somalia)”

    Comment by Flashing Light — October 6, 2013 @ 9:33 pm

  31. Still no

    Comment by Hugh — October 6, 2013 @ 10:27 pm

  32. >One of the worst things any political movement can do, particularly the Left, is to pander to an unnatural constituency with no guarantee of it returning the favour.

    I agree. I don’t think the Greens owe anyone that they have to go all corporate friendly.

    Comment by Ben Wilson — October 6, 2013 @ 10:42 pm

  33. I’ve seen a few studies that suggest the NZ corporate sector a vastly successful destroyers of wealth….which is why they press more and more for access to tax-funded and / or publicly-owned activities and businesses to “promote growth”. Having wrecked Feltex and hundred other companies like it….they now want our energy assets.

    Comment by Steve (@nza1) — October 6, 2013 @ 11:05 pm

  34. #33: It brings to mind an age-old joke:

    Q: How do you start a small business in NZ?
    A: Buy a big one and wait.

    Comment by deepred — October 7, 2013 @ 1:08 am

  35. “You know what the TWI is don’t you?”

    Reasonably well.

    And I’d never use it as a sole indicator or even main indicator for business investment. The main data I’d be looking at to see what was happening with business investment would, funnily enough, be the business investment data.

    Comment by Rob Hosking — October 7, 2013 @ 10:56 am

  36. Rutherford’s point is not that the Greens should court the corporate vote. It is that the Greens will not be taken seriously, and will be seen as a threat to investment certainty, until they think before they speak and generally show some financial literacy. Thinking a little more about how investment works, and building some credibility among the people whose decisions (like it or not) have the most direct bearing on services demanded by voters, would make their laudable aims much easier to achieve.

    Comment by Ben — October 7, 2013 @ 11:39 am

  37. Ben, do you think that the people who might vote for the Greens really care?

    I am fairly certain that most Green voters figure that if elements of the “business/investment community” can’t live within the social/environmental constraints that a Green influenced government would like to impose, then said members of the “business community” are quite welcome to fuck off.

    Comment by RJL — October 7, 2013 @ 4:41 pm

  38. The trouble is though RJL, when that happens, lots of jobs fuck off with them and unemployment is something the Greens apparently aren’t in favour of.
    Hence Fran O’Sullivan’s comments.

    Comment by Exclamation Mark — October 7, 2013 @ 5:42 pm

  39. Exclamation Mark, it is unproven that the withdrawal of a few John Galts will have any net negative impact on New Zealand at all.

    Comment by RJL — October 8, 2013 @ 8:10 am

  40. The Greens do not have to cosy up to big business or big unions ,I think that in most of these sorts of discussions that there is always one group that always neglected.
    That is small businesses (including most farmers) , these employ the most people ,but end up being shafted by big business (eg the Transfield nonpayment issue) ,local and national Govt (compliance costs) and bully boy tactics by the unions.
    The owners of these businesses just want a level playing field with minimal interference from Govt. and are basically unrepresented by any political party, this is the sector the Greens should target.
    I have never understood why Green parties around the world have tended to be full of left wingers with retrogressive policies .Let the extreme lefties go back to Labour ,move to the centre, and the Green Party could see themselves as the goto coalition partner for both main parties and a perpetual role in government.

    Comment by Matt Dunn — October 8, 2013 @ 8:46 am

  41. Unless, of course, you are employed by one of them, then there’s that unemployment thing to deal with.

    Comment by Exclamation Mark — October 8, 2013 @ 10:59 am

  42. Exclamation Mark, so you are saying that the vote of employees is held to ransom by their employers? And that the proper response to this is to cave into your employers?

    Comment by RJL — October 8, 2013 @ 11:44 am

  43. Unless, of course, you are employed by one of them, then there’s that unemployment thing to deal with.

    Sure. Assuming of course that this capital flight is a real phenomenon in the NZ context – that is, investors elect to fold companies that emply people rather than say, sell them, as a result of perceived commercial instability.

    Im not sure that it is though. I think what we would see is speculators exiting to find more rentier friendly climes, which IMO would be no bad thing.

    Comment by Gregor W — October 8, 2013 @ 12:04 pm

  44. No, I’m saying saying that telling the business community that if they don’t like the way the Greens do things then they can fuck off, is an obviously stupid idea with equally obvious consequences, particularly for the workers whose best interests the Greens claim to represent.

    But then again: what do you care? It’s only “a few John Galts” whose absence won’t have any negative impact on New Zealand, right?

    Comment by Exclamation Mark — October 8, 2013 @ 12:08 pm

  45. Exclamation Mark, exactly; I don’t care, because there is no credible threat.

    And if the threat was credible, then that itself would mean that our democracy was dead.

    Comment by RJL — October 8, 2013 @ 12:36 pm

  46. “I don’t care, because there is no credible threat.”
    Sir Peter Jackson would beg to differ.

    Comment by Exclamation Mark — October 8, 2013 @ 12:56 pm

  47. Exclamation Mark, Jackson’s threat wasn’t credible. It was merely convenient for Key, et al, to act as if it was.

    Comment by RJL — October 8, 2013 @ 1:18 pm

  48. Sir Peter Jackson would beg to differ.

    He would beg to offer a propaganda narrative that aligns with your comments, yes. Still leaves the matter open.

    Comment by Psycho Milt — October 8, 2013 @ 1:21 pm

  49. >Ben, do you think that the people who might vote for the Greens really care?

    I’d say many don’t, but those who do simply differ about the underlying economics, a “science” distinguished from the other sciences by the way that if you ask 20 experts for an opinion, you get 20 completely different answers.

    Comment by Ben Wilson — October 8, 2013 @ 4:18 pm

  50. the 20 experts/20 opinions trope about economists arises from what “should” happen (i.e. the appropriate methods to achieve some commonly agreed objective like helping poor people or protecting the environment), not so much about what actually does happen (e.g. the difference between debt and equity).

    So whether actual Green voters care or not, it does make a difference for whether the Green’s laudable aims can be achieved – and how much people with equity – big or small – are prepared to entertain the likelihood that the Greens’ ideas could be successful. If they get scared, the country will stay conservative no matter which major party gets in.

    Comment by Ben — October 9, 2013 @ 9:54 am

  51. Totally agree with your points, Danyl. The Greens have gotten where they are, polling of 15%, because of their policies to do with social initiatives and protecting the environment and embarking on sustainable management systems of the environment (some are actually not this, bit at least they try). If they act like a different party, their voters will be confused and either vote Labour or National in all probability.

    Comment by Dan — October 9, 2013 @ 2:31 pm

  52. Che @ 2 “further, how much wealth in NZL is actually created by corporations? you’re gonna think next to none. for example – our biggest export is actually provided by a cooperative”
    Government spending is approximately 40% of GDP, so you’ve got to think that the other 60% comes from the private sector. If no wealth was created by the private sector, where do you suppose the money comes from to pay the wages and office rentals of the public sector?
    Google says Fonterra has 17,000 employees and McDonalds NZ employs another 9000. Sure, that’s probably small beer compared with the Ministry for the Environment and RightCar…

    Comment by Clunking Fist — October 9, 2013 @ 2:47 pm

  53. New Zealand is actually not some backwater country. I think the statistics, that Fonterra has 17,000 employees and McDonalds NZ 9,000 proves that. There’s also Telecom, its competitors, and many other companies. Hundreds of companies employ 500 people. Fulton Hogan has a reported staff of 5,000. There are 3,000 people directly linked to the Tiwai Point smelter. New Zealand is a good country to invest in and this is proven by the number of foreigners who invest in companies here. The Japanese, for example, came in in the nineties and have only increased in number since. The Chinese own more and more Kiwi businesses each year. The Americans want a chunk of us, too, now.

    Comment by Dan — October 10, 2013 @ 3:49 pm

  54. I know this is hard for a leftie to understand but good governments will govern for all New Zealand not just the 50% that support it. Because going by that logic a labour government could bring in. A tax rate of 80%. With a 70% rebate if you could prove membership of labour because in your world what’s wrong with that

    Comment by Graham — October 13, 2013 @ 7:12 am

  55. Graham – FWIW, what you typed there does not constitute logic.

    Comment by Gregor W — October 13, 2013 @ 12:50 pm

  56. #54: What you describe isn’t Labour, but more like the SUP or CPNZ, and they no longer exist.

    Comment by deepred — October 13, 2013 @ 2:03 pm


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