NZ Labour and budget surpluses

Philip Ferguson plf13 at student.canterbury.ac.nz
Fri Sep 27 19:22:28 MDT 2002


Jurriaan wrote:
> If you screw workers and beneficiaries by cutting their incomes,
> putting them out of jobs, and selling off state assets, you may of
> course generate some extra cash in the account, but this is not a
> material basis of a social democracy. It is a material basis for a
> self-serving political elite and its hangers-on, who have some spare
> cash to pay consultants to come up with some ideas about how to keep
> the society together.


In my reply to Paul Harris' letter in 'Weekly Worker' I restricted
myself to dealing with the nature of the NZ Labour Party as evidenced in
its class composition, political programme, funding and role in government.

Unfortunately, this meant missing out some of Harris' other bizarre
ideas, like the one that Jurriaan has ably tackled and demolished re
budget surpluses.  I had argued that there is no longer a material basis
for social democracy, certainly in NZ and Harris argued that the budget
surpluses were the material basis!  What can one say when confronted
with this level of idiocy from the head of a university department
(Harris teaches 'labour studies' and other aspects of sociology at
Waikato University in Hamilton, NZ).  The more times goes on, the more I
coming to sympathise with Mao's idea that the university academics
should be sent out to the countryside (or, in NZ, the factories) to get
a grip on reality.

Even David Lange (NZ's Labour prime minister through most of the
new-right period of the 1984-90 Labour government) has noted several
times in recent years that the very policies which generate the 'budget
surpluses' are *widening* the gap between rich and poor.  Not
surprisingly this gap continues to grow.  In the 1970s, the wealthiest
three percent in NZ owned around 20 percent of the wealth - by the time
the last Labour government had finished its 'redistributive' term in
office, these 3 percent owned 37 percent of the wealth.  This is one of
the reasons why I find people like Bob Gould like a blast from the (long
buried) past.  Recent official statistics in NZ shed some interesting
light on the further growth of inequality, which has proceed apace under
the current Labour government which Harris in his letter to the 'Weekly
Worker' ludicrously described as 'pro-union'.  I won't go into these new
figures, coz they are in a feature article in the new issue of
'revolution' due out in a few days time and I haven't read the article
yet.  But John Edmundson who has them, and is the author of the article,
can post some info about them.

I don't know whether Harris and the cabal of 'left' academics in his
department at Waikato read 'revolution - we always sell a few copies in
the university bookshop there - but we have argued virtually since the
mag began that the protracted nature of the economic malaise that began
in the 1970s with the end of the postwar boom has rendered 'traditional'
social democracy outdated.  If you are administering capitalism *now*
you cannot even engage in the minimal 'redistributive' policies of
traditional social democracy.  In fact, modern-day social democracy
still pursues *one* kind of 'redistributive' policy - but it is taking
from the working class and poor and giving to the rich (and, to a
degree, the middle class).

The split in the Alliance and the electoral annihilation of the most
social-democratic wing of it, around Laila Harre and Matt McCarten,
indicates that neither the material basis nor the political space exists
any longer - certainly in NZ - for what we might call traditional social
democracy.  The Labour Party in NZ is now the party of capitalist
modernisation.  This is why it pursues a fairly neo-liberal economic
lie, combined with political correctness and 'respect for difference' as
its ideology.  It 'modernises' NZ by incorporating it more in the world
economy, arguing for free trade and so on, while removing old,
non-market barriers to discrimination in NZ (eg liberalising laws on
homosexuality, being very politically correct in relation to race and so
on) and thus tying into it a layer of career-women feminists and Maori,
while working class women and working class Maori continue to languish
at the bottom, oppressed not by formal discrimination but by the free
play of the market.

Thus when Harris talks of Labour being a coalition of unionists,
feminists, Maori and progressive capitalists, this is one thing he is
largely correct on.  (He's mistaken when he throws in the poor and also
not to mention that the Maori he is talking about are middle class).
But what is significant about this coalition, is that it is
overwhelmingly middle and upper class.  The Labour feminists are all
people like former governor-general Cath Tizard, current
attorney-general Margaret Wilson, academics like Helen Clark, lawyers
like Lianne Dalziel, etc etc etc.  The Labour Maori big names are
business managers.  The Labour gay and transgender MPs are all solidly
middle class as well.

Indeed, it's interesting to see where someone like Helen Clark hangs
out.  Last week she was on the catwalk at the Wearable Art Awards,
dressed up in some silly creation.  Some other week, she is hanging out
with the film industry set.  Another week she is off mountain-climbing
in Japan.  Another week, she's making a wildlife doco in Canada.  People
like her are part of the artsy fartsy 'creative industry' set, and
that's where they hang out.  They have no organic connection at all to
the working class.

The largely parasitic artsy fartsy brigade (and the eejits who teach
labour studies in universities) love Helen because she is the liberal
middle class personified.  She is them.  There is not the faintest whiff
of anything proletarian off her and her coterie atop the Labour Party.

Philip Ferguson

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