Month: August 2013

NZ’s attachment to the State

I have written, rewritten, changed the angle on this post multiple times over the past week and have just today reduced this particular post from the 4,200-word monster it was to something more digestible.

Recent political events indicate how attached to the apparatus of State we are here in NZ. When I began writing this blog just over a year ago, many people accused me of being a ‘statist’. They were right. I genuinely believed that we required the State to regulate both the economy and our social systems because I considered the only alternative was a corporate/multinational controlled society. My initial concerns derived from my strong opposition to neoliberalism (NL) and my limited understanding of how economies work.[1]

I imagine that the ingrained fear of the ‘free market’ is responsible for the general attachment to the State. The fear is probably well founded, given the concept of the free market we have differs significantly from the free market advocated by classical liberalism (CL). Under NL, the ruling elite have an advantage over the masses because they control the policy making of the State (I explain one angle of this later in this post). NL diverges from CL at this point, because the free market was supposed to be free from State intervention. As Michael Hudson points out, ‘Today’s neo-liberals say a free market is free for predators. It’s free for monopolists, free for land speculators, free for bankers to extract as much income from wages and industry as possible’.[2] I’m not here defending CL, merely pointing out that the NL conception has created this State attachment, that perhaps a free market under CL conditions wouldn’t have. Noam Chomsky argues that Adam Smith advocated [free] markets only on the grounds that under perfect liberty [free markets] would lead to perfect equality’.[3] But my concern is that a great disservice has been done to the concept of the ‘market’ itself, as if markets are inherently evil and designed to privilege the few.

The dominant theory is that the State is necessary for regulating the market to ensure that the least advantaged members of our society are not made worse off by the privileged few under the NL framework. Parties on the Left most often espouse this view, but it sits awkwardly with the Labour Party given that they implemented this system during the Fourth Labour Government. Additionally, as highlighted by Giovanni Tiso in his latest post, The leader vanishes, the Labour Party still considers that [Labour] ‘took difficult and long overdue decisions necessary for the modernisation of the New Zealand Economy’.[4] Clearly, an endorsement of the neoliberal project, yet in his bid for leadership, David Cunliffe asserts that he will increase taxes for the rich, and even touted the ‘socialist’ card.[5] So I am somewhat confused as to Labour’s true position.

As I mentioned above, I believed that we needed the welfare state[6] to overcome the existing structural inequalities in NZ. However, exposure to further information highlighted the flaws of the welfare state, specifically, that if the State are the arbiter of human rights and freedoms, then we are vulnerable to the same authoritarianism that we are currently experiencing under this National led government.

Sebastian AB writes on C4SS blog that what the state is capable of giving, it is also capable of taking away – by force.[7] The GCSB Act is the most current or at least, the most publicly discussed example of the seizure of human rights and freedoms (i.e. privacy) from individuals.

In my view, NZ’s political framework appears to be an amalgamation of the welfare state (WS) and NL. and the tension between these two ideologies has (arguably) created the worst possible outcomes for everyone. NL underpins all the policy decisions made in NZ, and policies targeted at improving outcomes for individuals and families (welfarism) are developed and implemented within this framework. Despite any perceived improvements under Labour or National, the changes have had no substantive impact on social or economic equality.

I was disturbed about the aggressive pronouncement (by Cunliffe, but also advocated by other left wing parties) of increasing income taxes for the rich, because it reaffirmed that our left is devoid of new ideas and are rehashing stale policies from the state socialist handbook.

Labour, Greens and Mana (LGM) argue that increasing taxes on high-income earners means that such earners will contribute their fair share to society. I appreciate and endorse the sentiment – we don’t want to leave our least advantaged members struggling to survive.

But what are the consequences of increasing income taxes for high-earners?

Those who pay proportionately more in taxes receive benefits from the State in the form of policy privileging their interests, otherwise the government risk being ousted by those with the most capital. The effect is the same as crony capitalism. This interventionism causes the deprivation that LGM insists their policies protect against.

Taxation is a huge reason that income inequality exists, and income tax is actually a relatively modern concept. Some critics even question the constitutional legality of taxing personal income, given its denouncement in the Magna Carta.[8]

In NZ, we use a progressive taxation scheme, i.e. a tax system that takes a larger percentage from high-income earners than it does from low-income earners.[9] LGM simply want to increase the percentage further for higher income earners, and some parties have even called for reducing the percentage to low income earners.

Problem – when those who earn high incomes become subject to a heavier tax burden, they seek increases in their net income to counter the loss through taxation. The obvious result is that low income earners lose out so that businesses can retain those high earners – these are typically academically qualified professionals who have the ability to negotiate their wages in their favour. This creates job losses/reductions in the lower echelons of business. When jobs become scarce in the lower echelons of the business, the workers compete for the available jobs and workers tend to accept less than the true value of their labour. In addition, they are often forced into beneficiary queues, state housing, state education and state healthcare systems and must conform to the criteria of those State schemes to even receive or become entitled to assistance thereby limiting their individual autonomy. Moreover, low income earners become the subjects of government data collection, further infringing their rights to privacy.

We will continue to play cat and mouse with income taxes as the rich are pitted against the poor. History tells us who wins. Our taxes effectively pay the ruling elite to tell us what we can and cannot do.  In fact, this is neoliberalism 101. The statocracy have convinced us that without the State, the market will plunge us into the deepest pits of inequality we have ever known.

As a nation, we have been indoctrinated to view State intervention as an indicator of a compassionate government, resulting in an unhealthy attachment to the State apparatus through propaganda used to obtain support to implement unpopular policy – usually policy that intends to limit human rights and freedoms for the economic advantages of the ruling elite.

I consider myself left because I still believe that socialism is preferable to capitalism, because in my view, profit over people is never justifiable and hierarchies are inextricably linked to capitalism where bosses control and exploit rather than emancipate workers. But I am not a socialist who thinks the State can resolve structural inequalities and is necessary towards that end. I can appreciate the pragmatic arguments for the State, but I doubt that we would be thrust into an Arab Spring like revolution in rejecting the State in an attempt to minimise its control over our lives.


[1] I admit that I am still a novice when it comes to economics and do not even pretend to hold any kind of expertise on the topic.

[3] Noam Chomsky on Libertarian Socialism via YouTube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yxbeyn2xMQE at (1:07)

[4] Giovanni Tiso, “The leader vanishes” on Bat Bean Beam available online at: http://bat-bean-beam.blogspot.co.nz/2013/08/the-leader-vanishes.html

[5] See Colin Espiners article David Cunliffe is Labours top dog available online at: http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/blogs/bull-dust/9092256/David-Cunliffe-is-Labours-top-dog

[6] “A welfare state is a concept of government in which the state plays a key role in the protection and promotion of the economic and social well-being of its citizens. It is based on the principles of equality of opportunity, equitable distribution of wealth, and public responsibility for those unable to avail themselves of the minimal provisions for a good life… The welfare state is funded through redistributionist taxation and is often referred to as a type of “mixed economy”. Such taxation usually includes a larger income tax for people with higher incomes, called a progressive tax. This helps to reduce the income gap between the rich and poor” Wikipedia available online at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Welfare_state

[7] Sebastian AB on C4SS “Taking power with or without Chris Hedges” available online at: http://c4ss.org/content/20440

[8] H/t Mark Hubbard’s blog (dedicated to tax issues) Life behind the Iron Drape available online at: http://lifebehindtheirondrape.blogspot.co.nz/  see also Ian Wisharts Income Tax: 1297 law holds key to challenge in Investigate (June 2000) available online at: http://www.investigatemagazine.com/june00tax.htm

[9] Progressive Tax, Investopedia available online at:

http://www.investopedia.com/terms/p/progressivetax.asp

What kind of socialist are you?

This week I received a copy of the book ‘Markets not Capitalism: Individualist anarchism against bosses, inequality, corporate power and structural poverty’ a work that includes multiple contributors and is edited by Gary Chartier and Charles W. Johnson.

And with all the rubbish about socialism flying around these days, it was timely to post on why socialism is not necessarily the statist position postulated by the right by referring directly to the work of Benjamin Tucker in Chapter 2 State Socialsim and Anarchism – How far they agree, and wherein they differ:[1]

There are two Socialisms.

One is communistic, the other solidaritarian.

One is dictatorial, the other libertarian.

One is metaphysical, the other positive.

One is dogmatic, the other scientific.

One is emotional, the other reflective.

One is destructive, the other constructive.

Both are in pursuit of the greatest possible welfare for all.

One aims to establish happiness for all, the other to enable each to be happy in his own way.

The first regards the State as a society sui generis, of an especial essence, the product of a sort of divine right outside of and above all society, with special rights and able to exact special obediences; the second considers the State as an association like any other, generally managed worse than others.

The first proclaims the sovereignty of the State, the second recognizes no sort of sovereign.

One wishes all monopolies to be held by the State; the other wishes the abolition of all monopolies.

One wishes the governed class to become the governing class; the other wishes the disappearance of classes.

Both declare that the existing state of things cannot last.

The first considers revolutions as the indispensable agent evolutions; the second teaches that repression alone turns evolutions into revolution.

The first has faith in a cataclysm.

The second knows that social progress will result from the free play of individual efforts.

Both understand that we are entering upon a new historic phase.

One wishes that there should be none but proletaires.

The other wishes that there should be no more proletaires.

The first wishes to take everything away from everybody.

The second wishes to leave each in possession of its own.

The one wishes to expropriate everybody.

The other wishes everybody to be a proprietor.

The first says: ‘Do as the government wishes.’

The second says: ‘Do as you wish yourself.’

The former threatens with despotism.

The latter promises liberty.

The former makes the citizen the subject of the State.

The latter makes the State the employee of the citizen.

One proclaims that labor pains will be necessary to the birth of a new world.

The other declares that real progress will not cause suffering to any one.

The first has confidence in social war.

The other believes only in the works of peace.

One aspires to command, to regulate, to legislate.

The other wishes to attain the minimum of command, of regulation, of legislation.

One would be followed by the most atrocious of reactions.

The other opens unlimited horizons to progress.

The first will fail; the other will succeed.

Both desire equality.

One by lowering heads that are too high.

The other by raising heads that are too low.

One sees equality under a common yoke.

The other will secure equality in complete liberty.

One is intolerant, the other tolerant.

One frightens, the other reassures.

The first wishes to instruct everybody.

The second wishes to enable everybody to instruct himself.

The first wishes to support everybody.

The second wishes to enable everybody to support himself.

One says:

The land to the State

The mine to the State

The tool to the State

The product to the State

The other says:

The land to the cultivator.

The mine to the miner.

The tool to the laborer

The product to the producer.

There are only these two Socialisms.

One is the infancy of Socialism; the other is its manhood.

One is already the past; the other is the future.

One will give place to the other.

Today each of us must choose for the one or the other of these two Socialisms, or else confess that he is not a Socialist.

 

(NB: emphasis added)

The above basically distinguishes the communist theories which developed into State Socialism  from libertarian socialism which developed into anarchism. Note, Pierre Joseph Proudhon is considered the earliest person to prounouce himself an anarchist (despite there being earlier thinkers whose work was equally anarchist).

Anyone interested in this book can purchase online at Centre for a Stateless Society: A Left Market Anarchist Think Tank and Media Centre.

[1] Benjamin Tucker “Instead of a book by a man too busy to write one: a fragmentary exposition of philosophical anarchism” (1897, New York) at [1]-[18] in Markets Not Capitalism: Individualist anarchism against bosses, inequality, corporate power and structural poverty eds by Gary Chartier and Charles W. Johnson at [33]-[25].

Get out of the beehive and back in the waka

Before proceeding with this post, I want you the reader to consider a few assumptions you may have already made about this post. If your initial reaction was ‘wtf is this racist piece of rubbish?’ then you need to ask yourself why you perceived it as a negative headline and what makes the idea of the beehive more respectable to you than the waka or perhaps alternatively, why did you perceive the waka to represent something primitive?

With the title of this post, I wanted to highlight the assumptions we have about politics, and in particular, Maori politics. What we call Maori politics, is really just candidates or representatives with Maori ancestry. Maori politics is surely something more than that. My view is that the use of the term Maori politics is meaningless when construed in terms that reflect the majoritarian view of politics. And this is not helped by what appears to be an establishment of Maori political elite.

Obviously a blog post is not the best medium for a full and thorough investigation of Maori politics, my point is to raise awareness and consider your options.

My basic argument is this: Maori representative voting and enrolment on the Maori Electoral Roll (MER) is not about recognising Te Tiriti o Waitangi or co-governorship, it is about assimilating the Maori population into the Westminster system.

This year we have seen a large push for persons of Maori descent to enrol on the MER. The more persons enrolled on the Maori roll helps determine how many Maori seats are reserved in Parliament. Maori seats in Parliament are directly related to number of Maori electorates, which have the potential to increase proportionately to reflect the Maori population. Many will argue that this is one of the finer points of our democracy since it provides an avenue to give effect to the rights and guarantees provided in Te Tiriti o Waitangi, in particular, co-governorship.

It was recently suggested to me that my views on direct democracy were utopic, impliedly meaning completely unrealistic. My response is that anyone who thinks that the ruling class of the Westminster system will bestow all the rights and guarantees as provided in Te Tiriti on Maori are at least as utopic in vision as me. We are less likely to see established hierarchies divest power to a Maori minority, than we are to see a complete revolution.

To the surprise or probably contempt of many, I decided against enrolling on the MER.  In my view, the MER is a silencer on the decolonisation process. It does not attempt to do anything except provide limited opportunities for Maori to engage in Westminster style politics.

Like general electorate MP’s, Maori electorate MP’s represent ‘party’ policy. They do not represent the specific concerns of Maori in the regions within which they stand for election.[1] Additionally, the electorates are defined through the majoritarian process to reflect proportionality and not common or shared values. The presumption made is that Maori are an homogenous culture and do not have diverse needs, values or aspirations.

We only have to look at the parties to know that diversity or dissent is not a feature that is tolerated within a party. Parties with dissenting members are painted as unstable while those whose party members are forced to comply are considered stable. So lets look at the first breakdown in the Maori Party – the Hone Situation. The leadership decided it was better to assimilate (by using the ‘being at the table’ narrative) than to consider the fact that a group member was so distressed by a particular decision that he would rather leave the group than accept the outcome. One would have expected if solidarity were the key within the party or that Maori values were important, that legitimate consensus would have been reached. This only reinforces my view that certain Maori political elites lack the necessary levels of critique and respect for consensus and direct democracy to represent the diverse range of views of Maori.

But what ensues is equally as interesting and further reinforcement that Maori politics is simply Westminster politics by those with Maori ancestry. Hone Harawira starts his own party. He is then accused of diluting the Maori vote not just by his former party colleagues, but by some Maori voters, non-Maori voters, other parties, in particular, National and the media.

The rhetoric around ‘diluting’ the vote is farcical. Its an attempt to tarnish dissent in favour of majority preference despite the legitimate arguments made in favour of his dissent. Lets be clear, Hone didn’t dilute the vote by starting the Mana Party, the Maori Party diluted the vote by choosing assimilation for (perceived) power, rather than fighting the power structures that continue to oppress Maori. Interestingly, Hone is opening up dialogue with the Maori Party to invigorate Maori solidarity in Parliament. He appears to have reversed the narrative but if the differences were so important, that he left the party, how does he conceive of both parties representing a single independent voice for Maori in Parliament?

My view is that Mana and the Maori party are actually stronger as separate entities. Mana represent a growing underclass of both Maori (predominantly) and non-Maori. The Maori Party appear to represent the conservative iwi class.

By collectivising the views of Maori in the Westminster system, collectivism takes on the eurocentric meaning – where the individual is subordinate to the will of the majority, as well as reinforcing the myth of Maori as an homogeneous culture.

Maori are not collectivist in the eurocentric sense. Individuals are equally important to the collectivist whole because of the connections individuals have to their past, present and future. For instance, where an individuals mana is affected so is the mana of those connected to the individual such as their ancestors, their living whanau and  future generations. This why participatory processes are important for Maori.

I can conceive of one major issue on which solidarity is justifiable: where there has been an abuse of state power.

Consider Te Ururoa Flavell’s request for an inquiry into the effects of Operation 8 on the families affected.  Maori MP’s (in general or Maori electorate seats) should have shown solidarity because it is clear that the particular group affected required a particular process to take place to restore the mana of that community – they were seeking Maori redress for a breach of a right that no person should be subjected to – abuse of state power. The redress sought is the heart of Maori politics – the very process for restoring justice. This Maori process was  effectively blocked by the major parties (who had their own interests to protect in the issue) with the support of their Maori MP’s. It showed how dependent Maori MP’s are on their positions in their respective parties. [2] Te Ururoa Flavell even accepted defeat claiming that petitioning was just not worth it because it would take to long. A process at the heart of Tikanga Maori was not worth it. Says a lot about how Maori politicians view their roles in power.

To summarise –  I did not enrol on the MER because it does nothing to further the decolonisation process necessary for Maori and non-Maori to begin to prioritise their relationships to build democracy from the ground up. I see the MER as an assimilation tool to placate Maori and maintain the superior status of the ruling class by treating ‘Maori Politics’ as if it represents something more meaningful than it actually does.

In reference to the title of this post, I think its time Maori rejected the politics and the allure of the beehive and return to the waka (metaphorically speaking). The lessons of our ancestors provide the answers to improving outcomes for Maori – we just need to be innovative about how we apply those lessons to our modern conditions. Indigenous cultures  around the world are finding new ways based on old ideas to improve the outcomes of their people. [3] We need not rely on pervasive ideologies that favour authoritarianism and hierarchy, I mean where are we at now with that? In a manner of speaking, we’re up sh*t creek without a paddle or our waka.


[1] I appreciate that the parties for which the many Maori MP’s stand have particular concerns that are sensitive to Maori issues and that as MP’s they are accountable to the communities that elect them, since the punishment is potentially non-election next time round.

[2] Its important that I acknowledge that the Greens and Mana supported the inquiry.

[3] see: New Monetary Systems for a Sustainable Democracy and “The Great Turning” by Margaret Flowers and Kevin Zeese on Truthout available online at:  http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/17878-new-monetary-systems-for-a-sustainable-democracy-and-the-great-turning ; and also Capitalism in Crisis: Our opportunity for a new system  by Margaret Flowers and Kevin Zeese on Truthout available online at:  http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/17083-capitalism-in-crisis-our-opportunity-for-a-new-system

In defence of Anonymous

I find the tweet by Kim Dotcom urging Anonymous to stop their hacking quite contrived:

Dear Anonymous NZ, hacking National Party websites is just giving John Key a new excuse to pass the #GCSB Bill (cybercrime). Please stop it.

Afterall, doesn’t Dotcom stand for internet freedom? What a hypocrite, how can he be an advocate of internet freedom yet oppose the exercise of a legitimate form of online protest. Even Bill English accepts that its legitimate (see NZH article).

Additionally, John Key does not need a ‘new’ excuse to pass the GCSB bill. He has the numbers in Parliament and he wants to pass it. It will pass whether or not Anonymous protest. Sure, the DoS tactic is unlikely to succeed in convincing the National government otherwise, since we have a ‘rogue government’ (see Scoop article) , but it doesn’t make the effort pointless. Its a show of resistance in a new form – one reflective of the digital society that we live in.

For further commentary on the ‘hacking’ accusations see this excellent post by Ben Gracewood.

There was also an insinuation somewhere  that perhaps Anonymous have become a commercialised brand that any person can imitate. Well, the statement is half right – Anonymous encourage all people to take up the resistance to limitations on internet freedom – it is indiscriminate. But its wrong to suggest Anonymous is a ‘commercialised brand’. For starters, no-one buys the brand name. Sure, they buy the V for Vendetta masks that have come to represent the movement but its not a franchise.

I personally think the movement represents something unique in our struggle for liberty and I encourage those who are sceptical to watch the following documentaries:

Anonymous: We are Legion – The story of the hacktivists

TPB: AFK (The Pirate Bay: Away From Keyboard)

I know TPB are not an Anonymous group, but this documentary is interesting as it highlights the power corporate elites have over content on the internet and TPB struggle against this seemingly unbridled power.

Generation os13: the new culture of resistance

All these groups are resisting authority interfering with internet freedom. They should be applauded for their initiative – not vilified as counter to the struggle.

UPDATED: 

You can also visit many pages on Facebook regarding different anonymous movements, the one I have linked below is just one of many.

https://www.facebook.com/Anonymous.Legion.World/info