Sunday, 13 May 2012

More on Muldoon

It is my understanding that it was a deliberate strategy.   Muldoon came from hard times, he understood scarcity.  Muldoon also had a strong social conscience, he was obsessed by full employment.  When the financial crisis of the early eighties arrived he set up the PEP work program which again while it had its flaws it did wonders ( I ran a large one as a part of some other things I was doing) - these schemes got ruined by the unions in the end - but for a while it soaked up unemployment and crime disappeared in our area as everyone turned up for work- not always the most meaningful work - but it occupied people when times were tough.

The real fallout from Muldoon is the opening he gave Roger Douglas to destroy so much that was good about out public service and our society.  Again there was no doubt that much needed reformed about the public service but  Roger didn't reform he destroyed.  Muldoon saw the need for social justice Roger just saw that as economic inefficiency.  Our society since Roger destroyed the old moral order has since resulted in one after another of our leading economic institutions acting in ways that were nothing short of blatantly dishonest.

It is to the point where now we trust none of them.  That is why all the "capital markets"want to buy public infrastructures, they are guaranteed secure returns on assets that can't evaporate.  There is nothing else that can be trusted, the share-market is just an unregulated casino, the property market has flared and died,  investment banking has tanked taking $Billions with it.  Entrepreneurship has been severely eroded by the blatant untrustworthiness of the instruments of the marketplace. Those within society who have less power and advantage see their institutions acting with impunity and with a complete lack of morality and think well why should I be any better.

But I digress, the main intent of my commentary on Muldoon was the need for a strategic plan and for leadership from those who we elect to represent us.  For the past three decades we have been coasting pretty much on what was done in those days while our leadership has succumbed to pettiness and dog-whistling.  Nothing much has been built in Auckland in the way of major infrastructure that wasn't started by the old Ministry of Works Town Planning group.  Even Transmission Gully was drawn up in the 1980's.  The point I was making was that we haven't had a leader (for all his warts) since Muldoon.

Governments have a key role as strategic planners, markets can't plan. While much negative stuff is said about China the reality is that China has a plan that is working and we don't.  John Key's three big ideas so far are to build $50 Million of cycle trails to nowhere, the rugby world cup and asset sales.  This is the agenda of someone with no idea and not the vaguest concept of a plan - other than to sell everything.

When Muldoon was in power China was in the throes of the cultural revolution.  Then we used to look at China with disdain or at least mild bemusement.  Thirty years later China is on the way to owning us as we are in the process of becoming serfs in our own country with John enthusiastically selling us into serfdom.

Meanwhile we live in the most well endowed country on the globe in terms of natural capital per capita, much of that we don't value, lots we don't care about and the rest we don't use very efficiently.  People who don't value and care for their resource base, or who don't understand its true value, are on on the pathway to extinction.  The Maori experience is a classic example of that circumstance.  When the European arrived they saw a vast unexploited resource while the Maori were living at the upper limit of what their technologies allowed.  Quite a number of early Maori were rapid adopters of European Technology but many just used it to settle old scores and sold their assets to acquire guns to deal to old adversaries.  Infighting takes much less vision and leadership than adapting.   They to also had the problem of their leaders taking the guns and blankets and leaving the broader populace to their fate just when times were changing.  We are at a similar epochal horizon and we are stuck with leaders with no vision and no courage.

Even with their rapid adoption of the new way of doing things the Maori didn't adapt fast enough and they were divided while confronted with a common threat. They didn't see what was coming until it had arrived and was overwhelming.  They were confronted with a new moral and philosophical order they did not understand.  We are at a similar point in our history.  We are confronted by the challenges of demographics, energy scarcity, global power shifts and the radical changes that advances in computing are presently and increasingly will unleash upon society and the economy.  Much of what we do now we will not be doing in twenty years time or even ten.

Last week I finished uploading my entire CD collection, today I put them into a large trunk to put under the house.  I will never need to play them again.  It is unlikely that I will ever buy another one, it is far easier to do it on iTunes.  That is a metaphor for what is ahead of - as both threat and opportunity.  It didn't seem so long ago that CD's were a wonder that would be with us for a very long time, and now they are very nearly unnecessary.

In ten years time what will our universities look like, in twenty our hospitals.  One good academic can already teach to millions.  Surgery will be performed by robotics, diagnosis will take place on a microchip.  These technologies are here already but they aren't yet ubiquitous, they very soon will be.  manufacturing wil rapidly change as well.  The logic of vast industrial enterprise and of equally vast cities is likely to be turned on its head.

Meanwhile we have vast billions of people wanting to live the way we do but we do not live on a planet that will allow that. We have a labour force of billions just when it suddenly seems that they may be unnecessary.  How will that pan out?

Last time something like this happened, old Mother England put them all on ships and unleashed their labour surplus on an unsuspecting primitive world.

We the descendants of those who were unleashed have arrived at the end of that epoch and we have no leaders and we have no plan.


  1. Well that's cheered me up no end, darkhorse.
    Think I'll pop outside and plant another couple of rows of spuds. Small-scale trading might be the only way forward for me and mine.

  2. Communalism is what it is called RG and you have been a wonderful examplar.

    And the future needn't be bleak, indeed it could be amazing but bleak happens without help, it is the default setting, amazing requires vision, courage, a plan and leadership.

    The extra row of spuds is probably a wise strategy when our current leadership options are contemplated. Especially when our current leader has a crash and burn philosophy as his only strategy.

  3. I read Future Shock in the early 1990s and thought it was a load of old tosh. I've not read it since, but I wonder whether what Mr Toffler was trying to describe is what assails me today.
    That's an interesting post, though. I'm not sure if it is filled with the hope of massive technological change making our world a much better place or the horror of unemployed and starving billions. Or is it both?
    Your suggestion around planning is a radical departure from the current mindset, though to fit in with the future you describe it may be insufficiently radical. In the sense that, in my experience, the secret to successful planning is to define the limits of the plan, in essence a set of assumptions, then work within them. A wider set of assumptions, perhaps? Then you run the risk of a Muldoon-like timing issue, or the basic risk of getting it out and out wrong.
    I'm not Muldoon's biggest fan; he did plenty of stuff I disagreed with. The planning side, and his humanity, I can admire. His leadership always seemed too autocratic for my liking. Maori culture and tradition has plenty of lessons that I think we will need to co-opt in the next twenty or so years, to retain a civilised society.

    1. I have read and thought more about your comment AC - it is good stuff and thought provoking and thoughts need provoked - the blogosphere is generally too full of static and lacking in signal. I also was guilty of thinking and not listening when I read your comment so my reply was another statement rather than a reply.

      Assumptions in any process must be explicit at all times and open to review as soon as they appear to be incorrect - that is a key failing of economics - no one illuminates the paradoxical assumptions at its base. But the examination of assumptions must extend to include our belief systems as well. Assumptions are our judgements or expectations of the future while our beliefs are more fundamental they are assumptions that have become socialised to be accepted as fact. In our current circumstance it is our beliefs that are the key problem but we also do not as a nation seem to be even attempting to make assumptions let alone regularly testing them.

      Planning is essential because there are higher priorities that need achieved particularly around the future supply of energy and resources generally but also round technology induced change. We can not head into this new world with a "random walk" approach as much needs coordinated at the national l level. Many of the things we need to do are clearly identifiable and not even probably particularly contentious, the key is how do we do them - at present we are waiting patiently for the market to deliver but the market is presently only delivering chaos - check out Greece and Europe.

      Could I recommend you read this (and to you to Shunda)

      It is the most recent statement of the US Military's view of the next thirty years - it is perhaps the most sound analysis and surprisingly humble and I think insightful in its observations and conclusions given its parentage. It is a lot different than the one painted by our political leadership.

      Occasionally autocratic is efficient but the autocrat must be an exceptional person and Muldoon was and he wasn't. Helen C was an autocrat too and she also did much damage along with the good - more I would argue than Muldoon as she left vast debt (admittedly privately held) but very few assets in return.

      And you are right this is probably an insufficiently radical departure from the status quo but first get people to engage and then take them on that journey. Even someone such as yourself who obviously is a good thinker is being challenged by this but it only takes a small nudge to move you in this direction. The great mass are far more entrenched in the status quo.

    2. Thanks DarkHorse
      Can I commend to you a blogger called Puddleglum, and his blog The Political Scientist.

    3. Late last night I wrote a longer reply. It seemed pretty good at the time, though maybe I was just really tired.
      On thoughts needing provocation:
      I try to say what I mean, and to mean what I say.
      Thanks for your kind words.
      On assumptions and the failings of economics:
      I watched your discussion at The Standard with Paul Walker a few weeks ago. What struck me was Dr Walker's refusal to examine the assumptions that underlie the field he studied for his PhD in. You were arguing at cross-purposes; as long as he never checks the assumptions he cannot be debated with as he is, in essence, saying 'I assume I am correct, therefore I must be correct'.
      It's even there in the title of his blog "Anti-Dismal", as a counter to the quip that economics is the dismal science. But it's not the "dismal" part of the quip that needs to be challenged, it's the "science" part.
      Proper science relies on some fundamental assumptions that have not been absolutely proven, and rely on the lack of evidence to the contrary. Economics, on the other hand, wallows in assumptions.
      I think I went to school with Paul Walker. It's a common enough name, but the Paul Walker I knew was very similar in character to the one you were debating with. Next time I'm at UCan I'll have a look.
      On planning and markets:
      Markets are not designed to plan. Could I stretch this to "markets are designed to not plan"?
      The market updates provided via various media treat markets as if they are sentient. I hear that "markets were spooked..." and "markets were encouraged by positive data from the..."
      Markets deliver market driven outcomes, which can be anything from fantastic to chaotic, and sometimes both at the same time. They are neither good nor bad, which comes back to the sentience thing. We are presented with the idea that rising lines on graphs are good and falling lines are bad, and that's not the case at all. Maybe they just are, in the "I am" sense.
      On Military Reviews:
      It downloaded OK, but a lot of the text was garbled. I might need to install the correct font. I've heard about the review and how thorough and honest it is, I've no reason to doubt your assessment of it.
      On radical departures:
      It interests me that Robert, Shunda and I have all "retreated to our gardens". I see my garden and land as my main source of richness, not my ability to earn an income through employment. I've noted that a number of colleagues, from across the political spectrum, have also retreated to their gardens. It seems to me that a people with a wide range of perspectives across the right-left dichotomy have identified that the dichotomy has failed to provide the answers, so they are preparing as best they know how, and waiting.

    4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. It is what assails you. There are certain things on this planet that can not help but self destruct. You only need to look at the demographic structure of india to see that even if it brought in a one child policy like China's today its population must treble before it reached a stable state. It is most unlikely that the indian subcontinent can handle three and a half billion people. Even with a most successful one child policy China's population will still grow by as much as the entire population of Japan before it starts to decline.

    It is the Moriori culture that we need not the maori culture the moriori lived in balance with their environment through birth control and infanticide while Maori achieved balance through chronic warfare (as did Europe at least through to mediaeval times).

    We do need a radical departure from the current dogma, it is one that is compelled to fail and is in the process of doing so. The parable of the cricket and the ant is pertinent. We are governed by crickets who having partied all summer are now feeling the cold winds of winter upon them and they are unprepared.

    Technology offers some amazing potentials, to live a more sustainable future but we aren't adapting nor even acknowledging we need to - our government still sees building highways in Auckland and stadiums in Christchurch as far more immediately necessary than building a core IT infrastructure, energy self-sufficiency and efficiency, and a robust and diverse economy that has a substantial degree of self sufficiency, not to mention economic balance, to it.

    Having had a longish life where organising and motivating a diverse and not necessarily willing mob of people to a common cause has been my lot, I find that the biggest challenge is getting everyone to see there is a problem. Having a plan is not the same as planning. Planning is an iterative and living process, plans are not. The way ahead requires adaptability, creativity, learning when something is going wrong early is the most valuable information. But most off all it needs a clear understanding of the problem. The right answer is never evident but the realisation that we can't stay doing this is the key step. Some will make the right decision and some will not but if no one does anything then all fail.

    Most of all it requires an open and inquiring mind.

    There hasn't been one of them in Parliament for a while.

  5. That's a bit harsh, DH! Winston was forever calling for an inquiry.
    Crickets and ants, eh! The Presbyterians will be enjoying your blog - well, not enjoying it too much, as will us Communists - we're all for sowing, harvesting and storing for those cold winter months. I'm building a grain silo, btw, from adobe, once my lurkim is finished. Spring project that. The weather collapsed a little today. Hugh hasn't laid-down his cudgel, you'll be pleased to hear, and is poking the feds in the ribs over the differential, which unsurprisingly, they seek to destroy. User-pays is fine, so long as they aren't the aforementioned.

  6. I am going to be reading here frequently.

    This is fascinating stuff, I am trying to think about what I should do, and especially what not to do in the years ahead.

    Potatoes, however, are certain to be planted, I have a bit more space now and the soil is good!

    Thank you for your insights, this is some of the most refreshing stuff I have read in a good while, so much could be expanded off this and I hope you do.

    1. Thank you Shunda your readership motivates me to be more productive (as do goadings - in the best possible sense - from RobertG) A dialogue is much more stimulating than a monologue.

      As for the years ahead - these depend more on how we act than on the actiual change that is going to occur - as with all things we can be active or passive, the passive invariably get taken where ever fate determines while the active can choose.

      The key problem with NZ is that we despise our politicians but few get involved in democracy to address that problem. Democracy is a superficial thing at best and that needs to change.

      We are heading into substantially uncertain times and hard to say right now what is the best - the easy one is to suggest that you buy a gun and a hut in the hills but that approach only guarantees the most fearful outcome.

      Some creative anarchy is probably the best approach at present as the status quo needs kicked out of its rut. I was suggesting to RobertG a while back that one of the best ways for the Greens to really induce change is for them all to become active National Party members - now that seems wildly counterintuitive until you go to a national party branch meeting and see that it is a collection of a few sincere old folk who are mostly Muldoonist in outlook and too polite to make a difference and a small collection of the rabidly reactionary. I would suggest that you could take over the national party from the inside with a few hundred well placed infiltrators. It is that sort of "lets take a different angle" approach that will work. The party branch system has the potential to be a powerful influence over both Labour and National but each of the political groupings like to keep them docile and ineffectual. Branches are tolerated because they lend an air of legitimacy without creating any accountability to the community the politician serves. If our politicians were really serious about democracy they would be out there campaigning for party membership at every turn.

      Revolution is best done from the inside - use the power of the machine against itself!

  7. White ants are fascinating creatures.
    I've studied them.

  8. yes though they reduce things to dust where as my metaphor was not of the termitoid rather the more constructive formican model. White ants are so australian.

  9. I really enjoyed what i have read thus far;tools at hand.