The Dim-Post

July 15, 2016

Neoliberalism redux

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 8:31 am

Dame Anne Salmond writes:

The rise and spread of neo-liberalism since the 1980s has been a remarkable phenomenon. At its heart, it is based on a simple, utterly amoral idea ” that of the cost-benefit calculating individual. Life is understood as a competitive struggle among individuals. Each seeks to minimise their costs and maximise their benefits.

I have a more generous view of the neoliberal project: as something that genuinely must have seemed like a good idea at the time. By the 1980s the failure of socialist, centrally planned economies – both in the Soviet bloc, and in places like the UK and New Zealand – seemed very evident. Free market economies obviously generated more wealth and more prosperity than socialist ones and there seemed, as Keynes put it, to be a fundamental link between free markets and individual freedom. So why not do the opposite of the Soviet bloc: minimise the state and maximise the free market? Won’t that give you just heaps of prosperity and freedom?

I find Robert Reich’s answer to the failure of neoliberalism the most compelling. He points out that the state creates the free market. It creates money and regulates its supply, it creates the legal system through which contracts are enforced. It guarantees the solvency of the financial sector, it protects property rights and guards against catastrophic market failure (or, at least, is supposed to). You can’t take the state out of the free market because it creates the free market and regulates almost every aspect of its existence. So what you get under the deregulated, neoliberal model are the wealthy using the political system to set the parameters of the market to privilege the already privileged. Labour is taxed but capital is not; benefit fraud is investigated and punished but financial crimes (mostly) are not, profits are privitised but costs are socialised, and so on. And all of these things are defended as ‘what the market wants’.

The result is less growth and less prosperity because capital can maximise profits through gaming the political system rather than creating new products and businesses and jobs. The economy is based on rent-seeking rather than wealth creation; the hypertrophied, wildly profitable, politically powerful but completely unproductive finance sectors characteristic of neoliberal economies functioning as exhibit A. Neoliberalism hasn’t failed as awfully as no-holds-barred socialism, but it has failed, not because it was amoral, or evil or ruthless – the intentions were good – but just because it simply didn’t work.

Smart

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 7:12 am

Labour have figured out a way to leverage the housing crisis as a tool to grow their voter contact database.

lvc

July 14, 2016

Nah

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 1:47 pm

I don’t think we’re living in a ‘post truth’ age because technology (like, how many people believed The Protocols of the Elders of Zion?) but I do like that the Guardian column mooting the idea opened with a take-down of the David Cameron pig smear, because almost every left-wing activist I see on social media bemoaning the horrid lies of the right also seems to perpetuate the ‘Cameron fucked a pig’ lie every few hours.

Bleg

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 9:35 am

There is a very famous photo from, I think, Life magazine during the Luce period that showed a political victory parade of cars, with the winner (a US state governor, I think, or maybe a presidential nominee?) standing in the foreground in the back of a truck, looking flushed and ecstatic. It’s been described as the greatest political photo of all time. But I can’t remember the photographer, or google up the photo. Anyone?

Update: Thanks to Brad, in the comments who found it. Behold:

53e6a71592afa.image

July 13, 2016

Notes on the Hobbit and the first Famous Five book

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 8:58 am

I finished reading the Hobbit to my daughter a few weeks ago. It started out badly:

Me: I loved this book when I was a little boy, and I think you’re going to love it too. Now, (clears throat). In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit . . .

Sadie: Is there a girl in this book?

Me: Not . . . Maybe in Laketown? I don’t think so though. His subsequent works have girls. I mean, women. Eowyn kills a Nazgul!

Sadie: I want a book with a girl in it.

After some negotiation (I promised to read Pippi Longstocking afterwards: it was dreadful) we persevered and the book was mostly enjoyed. It is a very uneven work. It starts out as an episodic children’s book with various playful narrative asides, like the C S Lewis books, and ends with the extended sequence on the Lonely Mountain with a far more adult tone. My daughter’s favourite thing about it was the map, and every few pages we would stop and check where Bilbo was on it. I remember also being delighted with the map when I read this book as a child. But which book had the first ever fictional map in it? I’ve looked on the internet and I can’t find out. People seem to think it was a Victorian thing. Stephenson, maybe?

Now we’re on to Five on a Treasure Island. It is fashionable to sneer at Enid Blyton, and okay yes it has dated badly in some respects, and there is a character called ‘Dick’ which leads to many amusing sentences. But in narrative terms it is possibly the best children’s novel I have ever read. You could teach a course on novel-writing using this book. Also, George’s refusal to conform to gender norms reads as very progressive today; Blyton anticipates Judith Butler.

July 12, 2016

Damn! We’re in a tight spot!

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 10:56 am

Via the Herald:

Housing New Zealand will spend $2 billion to build and buy more than 4000 new state houses after an apparent Government backtrack.

At least 3200 of those properties will be in Auckland, the state housing corporation confirmed today.

It comes as the Government decides to forego its dividend from Housing New Zealand, which would have be worth $92 million over the next two years.

The dividends were included in the May Budget, but ministers revealed yesterday that they would no longer be paid.

Finance Minister Bill English told Radio New Zealand this morning that a dividend was less important than the corporation expanding its housing stock.

“That’s the bit that matters. If we are going to have over $1 billion in investment, the $50m dividend is neither here nor there.

“When they’ve got a big capital investment programme, you don’t take the dividend because they keep those earnings and use them, in this case, to build more houses.”

Great, if it happens and these guys don’t end up paying the money to a generous donor in exchange for a thousand pillow-forts in a muddy field (‘I haven’t actually looked into it Guyon, but I actually think most kiwis think pillow forts are actually really suitable accommodation’).

But assuming it goes through, privitising Housing New Zealand was supposed to be National’s big accomplishment this term, along with the ‘social investment model’, which the housing debacle completely blew out of the water. Now they got nothing. There’s an entry in Alan Clark’s diaries, during Thatcher’s third term when he realises that the government isn’t actually doing anything meaningful, anymore, and that they have nothing to show for all the work and stress and sacrifice but ‘the passing of time and intrusion of age’. It must feel a bit like that in the Beehive these days, which I suppose is why they’re announcing policy reversals on twitter.

July 11, 2016

Counter-revolutionary quote of the day

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 8:44 am

I am still reading the Deutscher biography of Trotsky. It is excellent. We’re up to the Red Terror. This passage:

The words ‘we have made a modest beginning’ had an ominous ring. Having accomplished a revolution, the Bolsheviks could not renounce revolutionary terror; and the terror has its own momentum. Every revolutionary party at first imagines that its task is simple: it has to suppress a ‘handful’ of tyrants or exploiters. It is true that usually the tyrants and exploiters form an insignificant minority. But the old ruling class has not lived in isolation from the rest of society. In the course of its long domination it has surrounded itself by a network of institutions embracing groups and individuals of many classes; and it has brought to life many attachments and loyalties which even a revolution does not destroy altogether. The anatomy of society is never so simple that it is possible surgically to separate one of the limbs from the rest of the body. Every social class is connected with its immediate neighbour by many almost imperceptible gradations. The aristocracy shades off into the upper middle class; the latter into the lower layers of the bourgeoisie; the lower middle class branches off into the working class; and the proletariat, especially in Russia, is bound by innumerable filiations to the peasantry. The political parties are similarly interconnected. The revolution cannot deal a blow at the party most hostile and dangerous to it without forcing not only that party but its immediate neighbour to answer with a counterblow. The revolution therefore treats its enemy’s immediate neighbour as its enemy. When it hits this secondary enemy, the latter’s neighbour, too, is aroused and drawn into the struggle. The process goes on like a chain reaction until the party of the revolution arouses against itself and suppresses all the parties which until recently crowded the political scene.

July 10, 2016

Policy development in New Zealand

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 12:26 pm
  1. Greens release policy. National dismisses it as ‘barking mad’.
  2. Labour releases identical policy. National insists that it won’t work, and also that they’re already doing it.
  3. Labour loses an election, blames the policy and rules it out.
  4. National introduces policy, praises selves for sensible prudence.

July 9, 2016

The sheer awful dumbness of what they have wrought

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 1:43 pm

So there’s this piece on the SpinOff about homelessness in Hamilton despite the availability of an empty Housing New Zealand estate called Jebson Block, which has been slated for demolition:

In May, a letter was sent out to the few remaining residents to say three buildings in the area would be demolished: “The buildings are old and no longer fit for purpose,” it said, “and it would be uneconomic to repurpose and reconfigure them to bring them into line with the current standards.” It said the houses would be removed and the plots of land turned to grass “until decisions are made on the possible future use of the land”.

There’s a huge amount to digest in the piece and I recommend you read the whole thing, but I wanted to note this:

Why are they not placed in social housing? “What people are saying is that their housing need is now,” she says. Even then, private housing is difficult to come by. One general manager of a private rental company who asked not to be named in order to speak freely, said “the unfortunate thing is that the greater the need that the tenant has, the less likely they are to get private accommodation. Unless you’ve got a real social conscience, if you had to choose between eight people living in a car and a family with jobs going for the same house, you are more likely to put the people with a job into it. That’s the harsh reality.”

The government believes that the private sector can do a better job of social housing than the state can, so they’ve decided to deliberately run down the state’s supply of social housing and let the market take over. But they’ve done so in the middle of a property bubble in which there’s a growing scarcity of housing.

They’ve decided not to try and deflate the bubble. Politically and personally they probably can’t. The capital value of New Zealand property is rapidly approaching the trillion dollar mark, which is obviously insane and unsustainable, but it’s wealth accumulated by National’s core constituents, and their donor class and party members and the National caucus themselves, many of whom are members of the wealthiest families in the country, with most of that wealth tied up in farmland and property, which will have increased in value by hundreds of millions, if not billions of dollars during the government’s tenure.

You can have a bubble in which the scarcity of housing causes hyperinflation and makes you and your fellow property investors rich, or rather richer, and you can have a policy of privitising the social housing stock and having the market house the displaced families but you can’t have both, which is why we have families living in cars while social housing estates stand empty. What a disaster.

 

July 8, 2016

A missing cats conspiracy and a surprisingly throught-provoking dream about Wham!

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 8:19 am

The Guardian reports:

When Ashleigh Hicks’s cat Moses went missing, she was concerned because it was unusual, but assumed he would soon return home.

However, it appears Moses is not the only one to have disappeared in odd circumstances. He is vanished cat No 50 this year alone in the city of Timaru, in New Zealand’s South Island.

“A common factor I have noticed in the majority of these stories is that the cats simply disappeared for no particular reason, cats that don’t tend to wander far,” Hicks said. “We all thought this is too much of a coincidence and suspected foul play.”

After Hicks set up a Facebook closed group called #freethefurbabies, she realised just how many of the animals had gone missing in similar circumstances. The group now has more than 100 members.

Members have begun pooling information; including times and dates of the disappearances, photographs of the missing pets and witness accounts.

One member said that last year all three of her cats disappeared in the space of three months

There are many missing cat posters in my neighborhood, which is near the Otari Wilton bush reserve. What if, I have recently wondered, someone working at the reserve – someone with strong environmental convictions – was trapping and killing these cats to stop them from killing native birds? It wouldn’t be difficult. A baited trap, hidden in some remote corner of the bush where no one but the killer and the cats would go. Or simple poison. A perfect crime.

This Guardian story makes me wonder if it is bigger than just one person? What if there was a covert nationwide network of cat killers? It wouldn’t be hard to organise such a thing, but the founder would need to be very well resourced, and obviously insane.

On a slightly unrelated note: I dreamed about Wham! again last night. Someone in the dream pointed out how my attitude towards Wham! had changed over the years. When Fantastic was released in July of 1983 I was nine years old, and I liked all of their songs, especially Bad Boys although they weren’t my favorite band. But by the time they broke up in mid-1986 they were regarded with contempt by everyone in my school, including me, and I genuinely hated them and felt rage when I heard their music. Years went by, and by the late 1990s it became acceptable to like Wham! but only on an ironic level, so I did this. Now I like some of their songs purely as songs, without any social influence.

Or do I? As the unknown person in my dream pointed out, I once thought that I genuinely hated, and then ironically appreciated Wham! But I was just doing what was culturally appropriate. Who knows the true factors governing my current attitude towards them? And what will I think about Wham! in twenty or even forty years time? I might have ideas about them, shaped by powerful but invisible social and historical factors that are literally incomprehensible to me now.

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