It’s Getting a Little Children of the Corn Down There!*

Sorry no budget commentary (what would I write about anyway) but something a little different.

I have been thinking about Labours great betrayal in 1984 and trying to figure out what actually happened, or more to the point why they did what they did?

This post is for all those who have been burnt by that betrayal, all those who got screwed over by it, who lost their jobs, who had their farms or land taken away, who went into the 90’s unprepared for the savagery of nine years of National government continuing to twist the knife and cut one bloody piece off after another and for those who are now part of the that great kiwi diaspora still euphemistically called “the big OE”. This is for those people. The rest of you might as well stop reading now.

What follows is not a discussion of history, nor is it a well-researched jaunt through a serious of loosely assembled facts. None of this will offer any comfort, solace or even cathartic release for what this country has become; because if you are like me, nothing can heal those wounds short of the various people responsible hanging from the lamp posts along Lambton Quay (of course in effigy only). None the less I feel compelled to describe it as it now appears, as unbelievable as it seems even to me.

And what I am getting at and where I am going is because by living through those times I was deeply affected by them and due to these experiences I have been shaped by them. If the 80s and 90s did’nt politicise you then you left NZ (I was also one of those) for better jobs and better lives overseas or you simply decided (in true Kiwi fashion) to say nothing, do nothing and (with great apathy) give up the ghost to become the middle class voter mass which has helped perpetuate this sorry state of affairs.

And the burning question is how did a party which was effectively Socialist and Keynesian in focus and Roger Douglas, a man trained as an accountant, with no radical bones in his body and with an impeccable left wing pedigree, embark on such a radically Laissez faire fare course of action that in the end has done far more damage to this country than good.

The answers may surprise you.

NZ spent a lot of the 70s under National after a brief flirtation with Labour between 1972 and 1975**. Before 1972 it had been 12 years of National government, Vietnam, the 60s, counter culture and the scent of revolution in the air. Governments across the world were freaked out at the prospect of their quiet little Hobbesian playground being disturbed by the massive social shifts taking place.

National in the 1970s and early 1980s was Rob Muldoon and Think Big with Muldoon often acting more like a left winger than a right with his highly socialised/big government/authoritarian approach to running New Zealand.

It was’nt quite Smiths Dream but there was no reason not to believe that such a dystopia was not just around the corner and this was view shared by both those in the public and in government (although with very different outlooks and expectations).

At this time two events stand out as amazing examples of what Kiwis can do when motivated to do so, when not afraid or apathetic and when the still but deep running idealist streak in this country combines with issues which are perceived as worth the effort. They were the Maori Land Marches/Bastion Point and the 1981 Springbok Tour.

Both of these events changed the face of NZ, both of these were the first major upheavals since the land wars where a mass of people were fighting back and the established powers had no real response. The 1951 Waterfront Strikes also stand out but they were eventually crushed.

To those used to ruling NZ (and I will not name names as I can’t afford the legal fees to fight of defamation charges) these changes portended the end of their hold on this country, the ruin of their plans for Godzone and termination of the colonial status quo.

To these people, just reparation for land stolen or upholding ethical principles over business practice was just not on and like so many scared elites they began to formulate plans for the inevitable counter revolution.

But what to do and how to do it? It was clear that the National Government was on the out and that an energized Labour Party was going to take power come the next election and possibly sweep away all their privilege.

National, the traditional party of the status quo, was now ruled by Muldoon and suffering from the economic fallout of Think Big which had drained the country of funds and left it economically crippled while Labour still had some of the Magic or Norman Kirk about them, despite being driven from government in 1975 with the same vigor that had seen them enter in 1972 (this sudden reversal was in part to the sudden death of the highly popular Kirk and his replacement by the less charismatic Bill Rowling but also due to the internecine power struggle that immediately erupted in the Labour Party after Kirks passing).

So with National not able to fulfill its traditional role as the vehicle for vested interests a plan was hatched to enact a social and economic blitzkrieg on the nation which would not only stifle dissent but use the damage inflicted by Think Big to drive though sweeping deregulation by the soon to be government, the Labour party.

But for this to happen Labour would need to completely abandon its ideological base and core principles. Could the powers that be make this happen, could they turn water in wine? It seems they could.

Many of the details will remain obscured and like Philby and Blunt those involved will probably take the truth to their graves but the fact of the matter is that after the 1984 election things were never the same again.

If you don’t believe in counter revolutions then think again, history is full of political and social elites enacting all manner of schemes to protect their wealth, privilege and lifestyles when threatened and betrayers and double crossers also abound, playing more than one side for their own personal gain.

Since 1984 those elites have strengthened their hold on our nation and society and seen a would be technocrat-tyrant become PM to ensure their ongoing control (think of Key as less than Quadaffi in Libya and more like Salazar in Portugal).

Also keep in mind that less than five years ago many people scoffed at the idea of things that are known to be true today thanks to people like Wiki-leaks, Edward Snowden or the Panama papers.

Is it too far to believe that Rodger Douglas, and others, were moles infiltrating the Labour party so as to drive through a series of reforms that would create such shock and dislocation that, like all good counter revolutions, the opposition would be thrown off balance, fractured and unable to mount a coherent response? Is that such an unrealistic thing to believe? If it is I have one word for you: COINTELPRO.

And when you realize the damage that has been done to Labour since those times is it such a step to understanding that by infiltrating the opposition party and then compromising it at the highest levels that it would effectively taint the party for life and ensure that it would have little or no credibility for years to come, thus neutering it politically.

And can anyone who ever witnessed (or watched on TV) the land marches or the tour protests forget the feeling that the nation was on the brink, that decades of tension and repression were spilling forth in the act of pitting one Kiwi against another.

I believe that right now, today, we are on the cusp of similar changes, the de-regulated state and its grim servants cannot contain the effects or damage of their actions over the last 30 years. We now have at least two generations that have grown up under this and another, much poorer one, on its way.

This is not about Labour being the magic bullet to the depravity of National or having an ideal solution to the problems of the day. This is about us understanding our history, even if it is completely untrue, to enable us to get past it. This is about enacting the Utopian ideals that make Kiwis the world beating iconoclasts that we can be when we put our minds to it and when we are not servants of the power.

Just as then events today are politicizing us and the issues are once again rising up to demand a change the establishment is once again (this time with National in power) going to do everything it can to stop us.

This is why I believe the Greens will be the next to be co-opted if they allow it or that Labour lacks the heart to dismantle the dark satanic mills that John Key manages on behalf of the absentee owners who look down from their high towers and wonder fearfully at the crowds massing below.

*-Thanks to Robot Chicken Season 6 for the title

**- Labour lost in 1975 by almost the same margin it got in on in 72

23 thoughts on “It’s Getting a Little Children of the Corn Down There!*

  1. “Is it too far to believe that Rodger Douglas, and others, were moles infiltrating the Labour party so as to drive through a series of reforms that would create such shock and dislocation that, like all good counter revolutions, the opposition would be thrown off balance, fractured and unable to mount a coherent response?”.

    Perhaps a little too black and white Pablo? Yes, there were elements of a conspiracy but, as someone who was part of the inner Labour loop in the 70s and early 80s, I think some of it almost happened by accident. You need to go back to 1973/74 to find the early indicator of what was to come, although there was no way anyone could have known it at the time. I refer to the compulsory superannuation scheme introduced by Roger Douglas and others during the Kirk years. It was a bold and very popular move within Labour and had it not been axed by Muldoon (for political purposes) in 1976, then the background which made it possible for the Douglas faction to wield so much power might never have occurred. I was aware at the time – and had it confirmed in the early 2000s by a former senior minister in the Lange Labour government – that there were a significant number of members of that cabinet and caucus who were not swayed by the Douglas camp but they were powerless to do anything about it. I won’t name names except to say Helen Clark was one of them and no… she was not the senior minister I referred to earlier. The tactic adopted by the ruling Douglas faction was to set their policy planks in motion without referring them in advance to Cabinet for approval. By the time the bulk of that cabinet knew anything about them it was a ‘fait accompli’ and the rest is history.

    It is a common misunderstanding that all the Labour cabinet/caucus/party membership were in agreement with the actions of the Douglas faction. They were not. Indeed Lange ended up being placed in such an invidious position he walked from the prime Ministerial-ship and the cabinet.

    I suspect Douglas, in turn, was being manipulated by others which may have included people like Alan Gibbs, Craig Heatley, Michael Fay, David Richwhite and others…

  2. Anne, despite nearly all evidence to the contrary this is not Pablo’s personal blog site – he shares it with others like “E.A.” here.

    Nice extra insight though. I also don’t buy the deep conspiracy argument.

  3. Oh sorry E.A. Thank-you for pointing out my mistake James Green. I hope my little dissertation adds to the sum total of information about the 4th Lab. govt. and the trials and tribulations which marred the six years they were in power.

  4. Anne: Thanks for the in depth info, I always like to get some detail from those who were actually there.

    My post, as most of mine are, was somewhat tongue in cheek, as I had no direct experience of the situation inside the beltway as you yourself had, so it very interesting to hear such things.

    If you think that Douglas may have been manipulated by others rather than a mole, do you feel that the original agenda I proposed was in play or was it simply to get the market deregulated?

    It just amazed me how willing it all seems for him but yet there were those that opposed it, were they not able to stop Douglas?

    James: No neither do I buy the conspiracy argument, hence my comments at the start and near the end. its more a tool to rationalize the situation in the face of such aberrant behavior.

  5. Rogernomics was not out of character for the NZLP. If you look at the ideas permeating the Princes St branch of the NZLP in the nineteen sixties you will see the embryonic beginnings of neo-liberal ideology. Keith Sinclair, while not exactly a party grandee, was the godfather of neo-liberalism in the NZLP. He was followed by Bassett, Prebble and others from within and outside the Princes St branch, including Douglas.
    Rogernomics was no surprise to us, and because we saw it coming we had no sense of betrayal.
    I also believe that it was something we had to go through. The old order had exhausted itself, and sooner or later liberalism, already dominant in every other field of life, was bound to assert itself in the economic realm.

  6. @ E.A.

    “… do you feel that the original agenda I proposed was in play or was it simply to get the market deregulated?”

    Market deregulation was the ultimate prize and didn’t they do well! The rich got richer and the poor, poorer. 30 years of plunder… but I am hopeful time is running out for them both here and overseas. Look what is currently happening in France.

    “It just amazed me how willing it all seems for him but yet there were those that opposed it, were they not able to stop Douglas?”.

    Why didn’t they stop Douglas? With the benefit of hindsight it is easy for us to comprehend what was occurring but back in the 80s nobody really understood what was happening or where it would lead. Also, anyone in the cabinet/caucus who dared raise their head above the parapet had it knocked off – metaphorically speaking. There was a lot of bullying behaviour behind the scenes and the women MPs appear to have been the prime targets. Helen Clark in particular was on the receiving end of much abuse and vilification and at one point in the early to mid 1980s she apparently came close to resigning from parliament. It wasn’t long before some of the Douglas acolytes outside of parliament took their cue from their masters and started targeting Labour activists they perceived to be enemies. There must be plenty of stories to tell (including my own) but it’s unlikely now they will ever be told.

    All in all, a very nasty time.

  7. “Is it too far to believe that Rodger Douglas, and others, were moles infiltrating the Labour party so as to drive through a series of reforms that would create such shock and dislocation”
    Possibly the main impetus came from a Chicago-ised Treasury. I recollect a discussion of this on the series “Revolution” made I think by or for TVNZ. It was claimed that Douglas as shadow minister was given extensive briefings by Treasury well before the election victory. It was also claimed that Ruth Richardson in her turn was given the same preparation. Which isn’t to say that the intellectual ground wasn’t already well prepared as Geoff Fischer suggested.

  8. What you may fail to realize Ann is that the Labour’s superannuation scheme was a trial run for Rogernomics. It was in fact Rogernomics pure and simple. If you supported the superannuation scheme, then why not the rest of the Douglas programme?
    E.A, how can you say “in the 80s nobody really understood what was happening or where it would lead”??? Douglas and most of the Labour Party, the Treasury, Reserve Bank, Business Round Table and anyone who used their head understood exactly what was happening, in fact they knew what would happen long before it did actually happen. We had very clear signals from Douglas, the NZLP, Reserve Bank and Treasury from the mid-seventies onwards. Ten years warning. How much more do you need?

  9. @ Geoff Fischer

    We are talking about two different sets of people. I am referring to the ordinary membership and activists. To suggest most of them were aware of what was happening and “where it would lead” flies in the face of what I witnessed in the 70s and through to the mid 1980s. Further, your suggestion that they didn’t/couldn’t “use their heads” is insulting and smacks of the arrogance of elitism. Further still, your claim that the writing was on the wall from the mid-1970s (for everyone to see) is absurd. Were you there inside the Labour Party at that time? I think not.

    There may well have been discussions and strategy talks occurring between the Douglas-ites, Treasury, Reserve Bank and the Business Round Table from the mid 1970s onwards (certainly with the BRT as we subsequently discovered) but it is highly unlikely anyone else had any real idea what was happening. That is the impression I gained from a former senior cabinet minister whose knowledge and experience far outweighed most other political personnel of those times.

    Methinks you are attempting to re-write history a little bit – to fit a particular synopsis to which you subscribe.

  10. @ Geoff Fischer

    I’m a complete outsider here, but I totally agree with Anne. If you had such amazing insight into what was happening within the Labour Party and relevant Government departments between the late-60s and the late-80s (which I don’t believe for one second), why didn’t you alert us all to what was going on at the time?

    I look forward to a brief response here, then chapter and verse at your website.

  11. Anne: Yes they did do well, at least in the short term, the long term not so well as they seem to be on the verge of the losing the prize.

    Its also interesting to here Helen Clark getting bagged. Perhaps it was a career shaping event for her as when she was PM she seemed tough as nails, baptism by fire.

    But thank you for your comments and recollections. If anything can come of this its learning and remembering what happened so it cant happen again, which is part of the reason why i think ACT slowly faded away over time.

    Geoff: I was referring more to the general population in my comment there. Im sure there were greater inklings in the party but how could the verge Kiwi see it coming, and less so from a Labour government. Also I was not that old to be politically savvy at that time so I missed all the signals that may have been made.

    Ken: I think all the more reason to be wary of radical theories coming from people who want their hands on the levers of power.


    To go back and expand on my original point I think that the need for Labour to come clean about what happened and to exonerate itself for these times and what they lead to would go a long way towards the party healing what seems to be the ongoing split between those who got burnt and those who seemed to have supported it (if only by not saying anything).

    If such a mea culpa is actually possible I dont know. Thats a question for another day and one which I think I will post on when I have had some time to think about it.

  12. “Perhaps it was a career shaping event for her as when she was PM she seemed tough as nails, baptism by fire.”

    That is exactly what it was, and it left her with the strength and determination that has led her to becoming one of the world’s most powerful women. The rumours and innuendo which dogged Helen all through her political years were originally promulgated by some of her enemies inside Labour. I remember hearing of them when she was first selected for the seat of Mt Albert. She wasn’t even an MP at that point. An early version – courtesy of Nicky Hager – of what we now call “Dirty Politics”.

    All of them followed Roger Douglas to the ACT Party and may well still be there.

  13. “It’s easy with hindsight” is the refrain of politicians, economists, managers and pundits whenever a policy, a theory or a leader has failed to measure up. It signals that those responsible are ready to move on to the next policy, the next theory and the next leader without having to suffer criticism or even to properly acknowledge their error of judgement.

    In the real world, things are different. When we make a mistake, people can die. Their grieving whanau find little solace in hindsight. So we are constantly asking ourselves “What happens next?” and “What happens after that?” You will not hear the trite excuse “It’s easy with hindsight” coming from those who live and work in the bush or on the sea. They know that foresight, and only foresight, saves lives.

    Then we have talk of “amazing insight”. There is nothing magical about insight. It is about knowing and understanding what you are up against. You observe your opponent, listen to him, study him, and even try to think like him. From that you gain insight, and with insight you acquire in some measure the uncertain but very necessary faculty of foresight.

    In the nineteen seventies, as a young forest worker, I managed to get to public meetings addressed by Reserve Bank and Treasury officials. I listened to what they were saying. I paid careful though critical attention to Rod Deane and all the others. I then wrote an article for Bruce Jesson’s Republican magazine explaining the Treasury’s proposed radical economic reforms and I predicted that Treasury would be successful because the left lacked the courage, commitment or vision to offer a viable alternative. That thesis was fully vindicated by subsequent events.

    Ok, not everyone read the Republican and not everyone attended lectures by Treasury and RBNZ economists. But anyone could have. You didn’t have to be a member of the inner circle to find out what was going to happen.

    Nothing much has changed in the intervening forty years. Except that we have lost Bruce Jesson and the left has gone into terminal decline.

    If the “ordinary membership and activists” of the NZLP did not understand what was happening it was because they allowed their tribal loyalty to Labour to overwhelm their critical faculties. They did not use their heads. We have now learned that we trust the intelligentsia to do our thinking for us at our peril.

    Things have come to a sad pass when it is deemed elitist to urge our people to think for themselves. Yet, despite that, on marae and on the logging skids our people are using their own heads. They no longer have much use for the Princes St intellectuals, the likes of Keith Sinclair, Michael Bassett, Richard Prebble, Roger Douglas, Ken Shirley and Helen Clark and all those who made the modern NZLP what it is today.

    If you really want to understand the meaning of elitism read the academic works of Keith Sinclair, or look at the political works of the fourth Labour government. And if you consider that those who live by the works of their hands are being arrogant when they criticise their intellectual betters, then so be it.

  14. Geoff Fischer: “…I predicted that Treasury would be successful because the left lacked the courage, commitment or vision to offer a viable alternative.”

    We still lack a viable alternative. Everything is lining up for a complete dominating victory by the left except for this viable alternative to neolibralism. I’ve seen lots of alternatives, ranging from naive fantasies to batshit insanity, none of them viable.

    A viable alternative really needs to written down and presented to the public so they can vote on it, which is exactly what Labour didn’t do in 1984 before it implemented neolibralism.

  15. “Things have come to a sad pass when it is deemed elitist to urge our people to think for themselves.”

    Just because some of us don’t agree with you we’re not thinking for ourselves? Yes, I do remember Keith Sinclair and I did read some of his works back in the day… and yes, I studied the actions of the fourth Labour government rigorously and noted where most of the protagonists stood at the time. As for Rod Deane… from my observations (right or wrong) about as arrogant as one can get – and a hardened neo-liberal to boot. We have the likes of him and others to thank for the mess we’re in now.

  16. There is no dispute that Rod Deane is a liberal, and one of the leading architects of the current economic regime in this country (which I personally believe is immoral, if that is implied by the phrase “a mess”).

    I am not so concerned with whether or not he is also “arrogant”. The logic of his arguments and the consequences of his policies are of greater concern than his personality traits as perceived by others.

    Thinking differently is the essence, and not the antithesis of “thinking for ourselves”. These days more of us are thinking for ourselves, and that is all to the good. We no longer give blind credence to the words of the politicians whether of the left, right or centre. The fact that we are thinking differently is not a problem.

    However, I still believe that those among “the ordinary membership and activists” of the NZLP who went along with the Douglas-Prebble reforms were either true believers in economic liberalism, or were not thinking for themselves.

    If you take a different view, then an evidence-based analysis of the role of the NZLP rank and file in the Douglas-Prebble era would certainly cause me to re-consider that opinion.

  17. “However, I still believe that those among “the ordinary membership and activists” of the NZLP who went along with the Douglas-Prebble reforms were either true believers in economic liberalism, or were not thinking for themselves.”

    We’re in agreement! I personally knew some of those ‘true believers’ among the membership and interestingly they never seemed able to cogently explain the reasons why they were believers apart from parroting the neo liberal doctrine of… the market place, trickle-down and private enterprise is best etc. I knew them well enough to suspect their views were governed more by their collective hatred of the so-called ‘Labour left’ (of which Helen Clark was a leader) than any real ideological epiphany. They were a significant group certainly, but by no means did they represent the majority view of the membership. Many of that majority, including me, quietly dropped out of sight without causing any fuss. Others transferred to the Alliance Party. Yet another group stayed loyal and struggled on despite their misgivings.

    I acknowledge my reflections here are purely based on my personal experiences but believe me, they proved to be very extensive. However that is another story.

  18. Anne: I think that’s a pretty accurate summary (at least from my far less personal position) of the fate of Labour on the wake of the 84 reforms. It also sounds like a position from which Labour will never recover being that those split factions have gone off and formed other parties.

    I wonder if National has moments like these?

  19. Anne’s account does ring true. I have family members who weren’t Rogernomes but who stuck with Labour through the nineteen-eighties and into the twenty first century. The whaea of the party may have thought that it was just going through a phase from which it would recover like any wayward child. Which it did to a degree but a big share of the Maori and working class vote may have been lost for good over those years.
    National also lost a good chunk of its conservative support base to Winston Peters and New Zealand First, and if I remember correctly a few of their centrists went to Peter Dunne’s United Party. The Peters/National split was more significant politically. If Peters had been nothing more than a maverick, his party would not have survived as long as it has. His problem is that he leads the only conservative party in the New Zealand parliament, and to be in government he must enter into a coalition with one of the two major liberal parties – neither of which really want anything to do with him.

  20. “It also sounds like a position from which Labour will never recover being that those split factions have gone off and formed other parties.”

    I’m not sure that is entirely correct E.A. I rejoined the Labour Party in 2002 and almost all of my colleagues in the local electorate where I live are former members who drifted back to the fold after the Clark govt. took office. All of them regard the Douglas years as an aberration from which Labour has long since moved away from. I have also noted in the past 12 months or so that Labour is once again attracting lots of young people to it’s ranks – a very good sign. The last time that happened was during the Kirk years and I was one of them.

  21. Anne: Well I think I will bow to your thoughts on the matter as you do seem a lot closer to the source than I.

    And it is encouraging to think that the party could rejuvenate itself.

    The comments on this thread have been very eye opening for me and I think that its an issue that I really want to go into at some time and explore in detail (why/how the party really did what it did).

    As I noted in my original post I was more than anything just creating a fiction to help me/us get past it but yours, and others, comments have been a window into history, if only through the eyes of each individual.

    So thanks to all who have contributed to the discussion.

  22. The notion that the NZLP’s embrace of liberal economics was some kind of aberration must be thrown into question by an almost identical process having taken place in the the United States Democratic Party, where the role of the Princes Street Branch was taken by the “Democratic Leadership Council” (self-styled in the same presumptuous manner as “the Backbone Club”). Thomas Frank attributes the metamorphosis of the Democratic Party to a complex of social factors, but in a nutshell to the massive rise of a professional class which was predisposed to meritocratic anti-egalitarian ideologies.

    It was not by coincidence that we saw persons with similar backgrounds and attitudes in this country (Keith Sinclair, Michael Bassett, Richard Prebble, Mike Moore, Roger Douglas and Helen Clark) assuming the leadership of the NZLP. Thomas Frank, who sees himself as a true liberal, leftist “New Deal” Democrat in the style of Franklin Delano Roosevelt (and fails to see the connection between his traditional liberalism and the neo-liberalism of the Clinton Democrats) is at least perceptive enough to see that Hillary Rodham Clinton represents the antithesis of the working class values of the old Democratic Party. Judging by the support for Bernie Sanders, a sizeable portion of the Democratic constituency would agree with him. However in the NZLP there is a persistent belief that Helen Clark, the darling of the Washington consensus and now best buddy of John Key also represents the best of the egalitarian, old school Labour Party of Michael Joseph Savage. The truth is that Clark’s main aim has been to get women and Maori into senior positions in the state and private sector enterprises, and thus ensure that the conspicuous social inequality present among male Europeans should be replicated among women and Maori. The benefits fall not to women and Maori as such, but to women and Maori of the class of educated professionals to which Clark herself belongs.

    Whenever pressed the liberals argue that their policies benefit the working class and at certain critical times, such as when faced with the imminent prospect of a working class revolt, that becomes the main thrust of their argument. But in the end, they propose that meritocracy should take the place of social democracy, and they unashamedly demand an end to egalitarianism. In the new meritocratic order the university-educated professional lawyers, accountants and professional politicians would sweep away the amateurs of the traditional political establishment, in both the National Party and the old style union-based Labour Party.

    It is of course very difficult to argue against the principle of meritocracy. Except for two things.

    First, the definition of merit is a fairly narrow one which embraces anyone with a university education and excludes the great majority of the working class who, unsurprisingly, do not find the concept an agreeable one. The liberal slogan “Working smarter not harder” while “sensible” does not fit with their instinctive sense of the nature and value of work. Rather they see it as a tacit justification of easy money acquired through tricky dealing, with leading liberal politicians such as John Key being the best examples.

    Second, the idea that material rewards should be directed to those of greater merit is a novel one which was not present in older meritocratic schemes from Plato’s republic through the Calvinist nation-states of the Reformation era to the socialist movements of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This novelty had its genesis in the social liberalism of the nineteen sixties which was the precursor of the economic liberalism of the nineteen eighties. With God and moral obligation removed from the social fabric and materialism and hedonism triumphant, why would those who perceive themselves to be most meritorious not feel it right that they should receive the full untaxed, unrestricted and unregulated benefits of their talents? Therefore it was entirely natural that the most socially liberal political parties, in the United States, New Zealand, and elsewhere should become the most economically liberal, and that indeed was what happened. Yet where the liberals see intellectual or entrepreneurial merit, the working class see the arrogance of academia and capitalist greed.

    In this regard the liberal fury against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria has nothing to do with ISIS brutality towards those of different religious persuasion. Liberals do not rage against the secular state in Egypt which perpetrates worse atrocities on a much greater scale. The anger against ISIS is based on the fact that ISIS challenges the meritocratic paradigm of liberalism. The Islamic state denies that merit can be gained through higher education, is expressed in business, secular political or intellectual success, or should be recognised through financial rewards. ISIS would not be a problem if its ideology appealed only to a small group of Arab Sunni Muslim fanatics. But ISIS is a problem because its ideology strikes a chord with millions all over the world who still believe in morality, humility, righteousness and sacrifice. That is why there is a global liberal consensus that ISIS must be contained and destroyed.

    ISIS will be destroyed. That is a given, because it also is founded on a flawed concept of morality, humility and righteousness. But the destruction of ISIS will be insufficient to ensure the survival of the global meritocracy. And the weakness of the system, apparent even to we ordinary workers who have signally failed to adapt to changing times, is that while meritocracy initially has broad appeal (count the number in every high school class who believe that they have the makings of an All Black) in the end the meritocracy is a pyramid with a very broad base and a narrow apex. There are only 30 current All Blacks for every 3000 young players who genuinely and not unreasonably believe that they have the potential to become one. The same applies to politics, economics, the creative arts and almost every other field of life in the meritocratic order. At any one time there can only be one New Zealand Prime Minister, and one UN Secretary General. But on the other side, few credentials required to become a suicide bomber, and there is no limit upon the number who can assume that status.

    The meritocratic system will crumble not because it is immoral (which it is) but because over time the winners will be too few and the marginalized outsiders will become too many. The capitalist economy will transform into a tacit alliance between the most demanding capitalists at the top and the most yielding workers at the bottom (in whatever jurisdiction), which will squeeze all those in the middle. The end result will be that, just as many young educated Western Muslims streamed to ISIS in its heyday, so vast numbers of young educated liberal technocrats will return to the working class bitter, disappointed, angry and resentful, or inspired, enlightened and determined as the case may be. Only then will the Labour Party realize that from Keith Sinclair to Helen Clark and beyond it has been the perpetrator and victim of a massive delusion.

  23. Geoff: That’s a very insightful post Geoff and better articulated than I could have put.

    Also I have to say I agree, what drives terrorism is a combination of poverty and failed ideological factors and the combination is brewing here in the West.

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