It always struck me as peculiar, too, when the Spice Girls briefly championed Thatcher as an early example of Girl Power. I don’t see that. She is an anomaly, a product of the freak-conomy of her time. Barack Obama interestingly said in his statement that she had “broken the glass ceiling for other women.” Only in the sense that all the women beneath her were blinded by falling shards. She is an icon of individualism, not of feminism.
April 10, 2013
January 6, 2012
Trevor Mallard excerpts this announcement about the UK Labour Party rethinking their approach to welfare:
Labour is calling for a radical rethink of the welfare state, arguing that the benefits system has betrayed its founding principles and “skewed social behaviour”.In a significant redrawing of Labour’s position on welfare, the shadow work and pensions secretary, Liam Byrne, on Tuesday argues that the ballooning of the
systemhas provided support that is unearned, and mislaid the original ideal of providing help to those that contribute.
Heralding a series of speeches over the next few months designed to mark out new territory for Labour, Byrne claims the party must recast the welfare state to meet the original intentions of its founder, William Beveridge.
I read a few chapters about Beveridge in a history of modern Europe a few years back, so I consider myself something of an expert on the subject. And yes, we have moved away from the original intention of Beveridge’s approach to social welfare – which was a full employment policy. His vision of the welfare state was that everybody got a job, there would be minimum unemployment while people transitioned between jobs, so you could afford a generous welfare system to support that tiny number of people.
The way governments did this – both in the UK and here in New Zealand – was that the state owned various labour intensive industries and hired people that weren’t employed in the private sector. Both countries stuck with that model until the 1980s when Thatcher came to power in the UK and Douglas and Lange corporatised and/or sold the NZ government owned forestries and the rail-roads, and all the surplus workers were sacked, which destroyed many of the country’s provincial economies overnight.
Part of the justification for these actions were the economic arguments that full employment policies aren’t a good thing. They lead to market distortions, they can be inflationary, they decrease labour market motility. A healthy economy has a fluctuating employment rate responding to economic conditions.
And these might all be true – but the reality is that scrapping the ‘full employment’ half of Beveridge’s welfare platform led to massive unemployment, both here and in the UK – that’s when the welfare system first came under criticism for being unaffordable. The party that reneged on the social contract around employment and welfare was the state, not the workers.
Anyway, for a while the new consensus was that we need a certain degree of unemployment so we need an unemployment benefit, because it isn’t fair to run an economy which benefits from unemployment but consigns the actual unemployed to lives of starvation and abject misery.
There are two problems with this arrangement. The first is that the unemployment created by Douglas/Thatcher wasn’t temporary or transitional – it was structural. The unemployed people in the regions most effected by their policies didn’t retrain or move – because there weren’t any jobs to move for, and this unemployment became inter-generational, with associated social problems – and the economy didn’t get the benefits of having a pool of unemployed workers, it just got the cost.
That’s the second problem. How do you pay for the welfare state? Most centre-left parties – including the New Zealand Labour Party under Clark and Cullen – adopted ‘the Third Way’, a term popularised by Tony Blair. The idea here is that the wealth creation from a deregulated free market economy provides enough tax revenue to fund a generous welfare state.
The problem with that is that unregulated free market economies are prone to catastrophic collapse (or, if you prefer, ‘creative destruction’): when this happens the state needs to step in and prevent the destruction of key industries like banking and finance, its revenues decline dramatically, and at the same time the cost of the welfare system rises sharply. The government can’t borrow to stimulate its way out of a recession because it’s already borrowing to prop up the financial system and meet its current welfare spending commitments.
Realistically I doubt UK Labour’s concern about welfare is driven by any of these considerations – their problem with the welfare system is that the Conservative Party ‘owns’ the issue of welfare, and that the UK public is just as excited by beneficiary bashing as the New Zealand public, so they want to inoculate themselves against being perceived as ‘soft on welfare’.
Personally I think the full employment policy might be worth a re-think. It upsets economists so it would probably be good for the economy – but it is hard to think of a nation-wide, mostly rural industry the government could run that would provide a good return to the taxpayers.
April 28, 2011
The whole Brash/race argument comes down to this:
Brash: We shouldn’t have race based electoral seats or laws because everyone should be equal.
The left: That’s racist.
Brash: Ah, but how can it be racist for me to insist that all races be treated equally?
Brash is right, of course. If we started a new society tomorrow, a blank slate, there would be no race based laws or Maori electorates. The thing is, we’re not a blank slate – we’re New Zealand and we have about 700 years of history preceding Don Brash. The Maori arrived, then Europeans, and they signed the Treaty of Waitangi, and citing the provisions of the treaty Maori were granted seats in Parliament and then the treaty was not honoured, there were land grabs and a civil war with an ambiguous outcome, and over a period of roughly a hundred years Maori became the most disadvantaged members of our society, and then for decades successive governments all agreed that they had been mistreated and introduced various mechanisms to address their grievances.
Then Brash shows up demanding to know why Maori are getting such special treatment: ‘Why can’t we all just be equals?’
Brash’s appeal for equality is based on the idea that we have no history. Nothing happened before now: we just have a bunch of laws that privilege Maori over others, for no apparent reason and so it’s only fair and just that we get rid of them.
And here’s why Brash is a racist – his appeal that we forget our history is restricted solely to our history of race relations. He gave a dozen interviews over ANZAC weekend and while he said plenty about Maori and race and equality he never whispered a word about ANZAC’s historic meaning. He doesn’t appear to have an opinion on why our head of state is a Queen living in a castle on the other side of the world. Those are huge anachronisms if you’re starting from an ahistoric context. But Brash doesn’t care about any of those other issues. He just wants us to ignore our history and then change our society in a highly specific way that disadvantages the members of a single race.
(Update: Reworded the section about the treaty to avoid confusion.)
April 26, 2011
Key, accompanied by wife Bronagh, laid a wreath at the tomb of the unknown soldier whose remains were exhumed almost a decade again and now lie in Wellington.
”It shows that you have to take the committing of New Zealand troops to war very very seriously indeed. They are not just names, they are sons of New Zealand families that never returned and that is the ultimate sacrifice that you pay for your country, freedom and democracy.
John Key seeks war grave name connection. Stuff, Monday 25th April, 2011.
These fought in any case,
and some believing,
pro domo, in any case . . .
Some quick to arm,
some for adventure,
some from fear of weakness,
some from fear of censure,
some for love of slaughter, in imagination,
learning later . . .
some in fear, learning love of slaughter;
Died some, pro patria,
non “dulce” non “et decor” . . .
walked eye-deep in hell
believing in old men’s lies, then unbelieving
came home, home to a lie
Ezra Pound. Hugh Selwyn Mauberly. 1920
March 30, 2011
The Telegraph reports that the man who lives in the House That Looks Like Hitler is bewildered by the sudden flurry of attention. The photo at the linked page reminds me that we only ever see a tiny handful of pictures of Hitler, all of which make him look spooky and evil, but in reality he looked much the same as any other European statesman in the early 20th century. The photo below was taken at the opera in Munich in 1937, and it was never reproduced in post-war Germany because it was seen to glamorise the Nazi regime.
I think it helps to grasp the source of his power and influence if you understand that he was one of the first modern media celebrities, instead of regarding him as some sort of incomprehensible evil.
March 11, 2011
Via DPF, there’s an interesting story in the Herald in which a member of the Welfare Working Group takes offence at Sue Bradford’s rhetoric attacking their proposed contraceptives policy as ‘Nazi-style’.
In general I think you should only compare people to the Nazis if they’re murdering millions of innocent people, but the comparison isn’t very accurate anyway. The Welfare Working Group does advocate a form of soft eugenics in which all female beneficiaries are very strongly incentivised to take long term contraceptives and terminate any pregnancies – but the closest the Nazis came to this sort of policy was their compulsory sterilisation of the mentally ill.
I think you’re on much safer territory if you compare the ideas of the WWG to that of the Soviet Union under Krushchev and China under Mao Zedong, and their compulsory work programs for the sick and solo-Mothers, whose new babies are left in the custody of state-run facilities.
The big difference is that under the Soviet and Maoist models people were used as slave-labour for the state, while under the WWG proposals the entire welfare system would be privatised so presumably the work schemes would be contracted out to private companies.
March 4, 2010
One more point about one of Garrett’s arguments for sterilisation:
the Indians did it 30 years ago (the reward was a transistor radio for every man who had a vasectomy) for population control reasons. I don’t recall why the programme was eventually abandoned.
Garrett refers to Sanjay Gandhi’s forced sterilisation campaigns against Muslim’s during The Emergency, when the Indian Congress Party led by Indira Gandhi essentially declared martial law for eighteen months. Poor muslim men and women living in slums in South Delhi were forcibly given vasectomies and hysterectomies. Officials had sterilisation quota to fill, people died due to botched operations, doctors who refused to perform the operations were jailed. The programme was abandoned when democracy and freedom of the press were restored.
It’s bitterly well remembered in India, where there’s still massive opposition to family planning and contraception because of the campaign, but in the west it’s probably best remembered as the inspiration for the nightmare chapter in Salman Rushdie’s Midnights Children (Indira Gandhi is ‘the Widow’):
No colours except green and black the walls are green the sky is black (there is no roof) the stars are green the Widow is green but her hair is black as black. The Widow sits on a high high chair the chair is green the seat is black the Widow’s hair has a centreparting it is green on left and on the right black. High as the sky the chair is green the seat is black the Widow’s arm is long as death its skin is green the fingernails are long and sharp and black. Between the walls the children green the walls are green the Widow’s arm comes snaking down the snake is green the children scream the fingernails are black the scratch the Widow’s arm is hunting see the children run and scream the Widow’s hand curls round them green and black. Now one by one the children mmff are stifled quite the Widow’s hand is lifting one by one the children green their blood is black unloosed by cutting fingernails it splashes black on walls (of green) as one by one the curling hand lifts children high as the sky the sky is black there are no stars the Widow laughs her tongue is green but her teeth are black. And children torn in two in Widow hands which rolling rolling halves of children roll them into little balls are green the night is black. And little balls fly into teh night between the walls the children shriek as one by one the Widow’s hand. And in a corner the Monkey and I (the walls are green the shadows black) cowering crawling wide high walls green fading into black there is no roof and the Widow’s hand comes one by one the children scream and mmff and splashing stains of black. Now only she and I and no more screams the Widow’s hand comes hunting hunting the skin is green the nails are black towards the corner hunting hunting while we shrink closer into the corner our skin is green our fear is black and now the Hand comes reaching reaching and she my sister pushes ne out out of the corner while she stays cowering staring the hand the nails are curling scream and mmff and splash black and up into the high as sky and laughing Widow tearing I am rolling into little balls the balls are green and out into the night the night is black.
November 17, 2009
Except for the past 18 months, this has been the most successful decade in economic history.
Also worthy of note was this intro to Paul Holmes’ column on Hone Harawira:
If a European Member of Parliament had railed against Maori motherf*****s raping the country through the centuries, the reaction would have been volcanic, not only in the Maori community but across the Pakeha community as well.
Setting aside Harawira’s use of foul language, the fact remains that Europeans did spend several centuries exploiting Maori (although I struggle to see how that justifies Harawira’s junket to Paris); Holmes’ counterfactual would make sense if Maori had spent several centuries exploiting Pakeha, but that never actually happened. It’s a bit weird that one of the country’s top journalists doesn’t know this though.
November 10, 2009
Philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, is to change it.
Karl Marx, Thesis on Feuerbach.1845
I’ve been reading a lot of the blogging and MSM coverage of the fall of the Berlin Wall and collapse of Communism and most of the theories/tropes seem flawed, or at best simplistic. So here are a couple of thoughts:
- If you’re overthrowing a despotic regime then people power is important. But if the army and state security services are willing to use force against it’s own citizens it doesn’t count for much (see China in ’89, Iran this year). ‘People power’ was successful in East Germany because there was a lack of political will to suppress dissent. In some cases when shoot to kill orders were issued the Stasi refused to obey them. So, strange as it is to say, I think many of the main heroes in the reunification of Germany were Stasi agents and officials of the Honecker government – although obviously the ultimate hero was Gorbachev, who publically announced that he would not stand in the way of reform in Eastern Europe and privately advised leaders that the Red Army would not protect their regimes.
- Did the regimes fall because of the economic failure/moral bankruptcy of Communism? I don’t think so: if we look at states like Zimbabwe, Cuba, Burma and North Korea we see that totalitarian regimes that are morally and/or economically bankrupt can still endure. Geopolitical events like the collapse of energy prices in the late 1970s and the failed occupation in Afghanistan seem much more significant and they would have damaged the empire whether it was Communist or Capitalist or Tsarist.
- I do think there’s an economic case to be made for the disintegration of the Soviet Empire though; economic factors forced Gorbachev to charge market prices for USSR goods exported to Comecon countries – this crippled the regimes that had all relied on Soviet largesse. But there’s no reason they couldn’t have struggled on as bankrupt, quasi-independent satellites.
- Did western leaders play a significant role? People like to say that politicians they like – usually Thatcher, Reagan or Mitterrand – ‘won the Cold War’. I think this is nonsense; In the early 80s there was a struggle for power between different factions of the Soviet politburo: if some protege of Brezhnev had prevailed instead of Andropov’s man Gorbachev then the Cold War could have endured for decades. If the popular movements in Europe hadn’t been calling for change or had been resisted then there’s no reason Gorbachev wouldn’t have gone down in history as the Russian equivalent of Deng Xiopang, ushering in market reforms while maintaining the party’s stranglehold on power. I do think Pope John Paul II played a significant role in promoting the Polish democracy movement (and much of the funding came from private Catholic donors in the US and western Europe) and the formation of the common market and the European Union had an undeniable impact on intellectuals in Poland, Germany and Czechoslovakia, but the impact Western leaders was negligible; Gorbachev has noted that Reagan’s belligerence strengthened the hard-liners in the Kremlin and made his economic reforms more difficult, so if anything there was a negative impact by western leaders at the time.
- Things have worked out pretty well for West Germany, not so great for a lot of the other former communist states: Russia has exchanged socialism for a faux-democratic form of fascism; life expectancy, literacy and other quality of life standards have declined subsequent to adopting the free-market model. There is free speech in theory but the majority of broadcast media is owned by the state. Print journalists who criticise the regime are routinely murdered; the crimes are rarely investigated. The state of the democratic and civil institutions are increasingly farcical; the country is ruled by a small cadre of men who were senior operatives in the state security services of the former Communist regime. So the ‘good triumphed over evil’ message that’s implicit to a lot of the coverage seems pretty silly to me.