Turn to nasty.

From its first actions as government, it seems that the National-ACT-NZ First (NACT1st) coalition is basing its approach to policy-making on utu (they would prefer to say revenge), racism and repaying their donors and supporters with aggressive repeals of legislation passed under the previous Labour government. The approach is brutish, brazen and nasty, but unsurprisingly was not something that they campaigned on during the general election. It seems that they knew how unpopular their retribution would be so they just winked and nodded to their silent partners (like the tobacco and fossil fuel lobbies) while yammering about crime, housing costs, foreign home buyers and tax cuts. They successfully used a compliant clickbait-obsessed corporate media to platform them and highlight personal peccadillos in the Labour caucus in order to undermine faith in the Labou-led government while avoiding answering hard questions about their real agenda.

Now in office, they demonstrate a complete disregard for democratic procedures and processes. For all the talk from the Right about the “Stalinist” bent of the Ardern government during the pandemic, the fact is that Labour spent much (often fruitless) time in public consultations and parliamentary committee hearings hashing out the pros and cons of a number of important policy issues. The actually listened to the public and to the Opposition on important matters even if not ultimately agreeing with them. The NACT1st approach, in contrast, has been to pass under urgency, without any public consultation, repeals of major pieces of legislation like the Smokefree Act, Fair Pay Agreements, Ute Fuel Tax and Clean Energy Rebates. They seek to abolish the use of Te Reo in official communications and review the Treaty of Waitangi (how they propose to do is a matter of conjecture at this point).They cancelled major infrastructure projects already underway. They want to reduce the number of ministries, specifically those having to do with Pacifika and Maori affairs. They propose to deregulate a host of commercial activities, open Conservation lands to mining and renew oil and natural gas leases.They want to privatise parts of the public health service, permit Charter schools and military-style boot camps for adolescents, and in general adhere to long since discredited neoliberal prescriptions for economic management.

In other words, they have adopted a retrograde scorched earth approach to Labour policy measures that appears to be taken out of a book written by Argentine president and “anarcho-capitalist” Javier Milei, the self-denominated tantric sex guru who consults his cloned Mastiffs for policy advice (I am not making this up). Milei has reduced the size of his cabinet from 18 to 9 ministers and has threatened to remove 100,000 public servants from the federal payroll (Argentina is a federal republic with a presidential-dominant democratic system, unlike NZ’s parliamentary democracy). The ministries of education, labor, employment, social development and social security have been absorbed into a new uber Ministry of Human Capital, and the ministries of transportation, women and gender, environment, and culture were eliminated outright.

Milei wants to close the Central Bank and “dollarize” the economy, although his more centrist advisors convinced him to hold off on that while other measures are implemented. Instead they have devalued the Argentine peso by 54 percent overnight last week, basically halving the income of anyone who did not have significant dollar reserves in personal accounts or who is paid in US dollars (one can imagine who the lucky ones might be). The fact is that most Argentines do not get paid in dollars and do not have bank accounts holding them in any significant quantity.

To top things off, Milei, who has a penchant for hurling misogynistic insults at female critics, has publicly stated that “blue eyed” people are intellectually superior (he himself is blue-eyed in a country of brown-eyed people), and proposes to repeal abortion rights and legal protections for non-binary individuals. Truth be told, Milei is a freak both personally and ideologically, a merkin elected out of desperation by just over half of the voting population tired of the corrupt politics as usual but who ignored the fact that he is not the lesser of the many evils that they are saddled with. He is no panacea for what ails the country.

Given the tone of NACT1st statements in recent days, could this be a path that it will chose to follow? Members of its coalition have voiced support for Milei and his project, so it is not a reach to think that they might want to emulate at least some of his policy ‘reforms.” Certainly the attacks on Maori seem to come from a “blue eyed” perspective.

There is something profoundly ugly about this, yet it is an approach to governing that is celebrated by rightwing groups like the Tax Payers and Free Speech “Unions,” assorted rightwing bloggers and, now that Elon Mush has opened the lid on the septic tank, a bunch of reactionary, racist, misogynistic and gay- and trans-phobic social media trolls, to say nothing of the reactionaries on platforms like Counterspin, The Platform and Reality Check Radio. It as if NACT1st has ripped a scab off the NZ body politic and out has oozed the pustulence of rightwing authoritarian-minded intolerance, greed and bigotry.

The good news is that the combination of narcissistic egos and incompetence that is the hallmark of the new government may well be their undoing.They are simply too stupid, too myopic, too crass, craven and venal to understand the subtitles and nuances involved in crafting lasting policy for the betterment of the commonweal. Or perhaps that has never been their intention.

To put it in a vulgar way more in line with the thrust of NACT1st’s approach, if Milei is a merkin, then Luxon is the bell-end on an onanist policy-making caucus.

It will be interesting to see what the public reaction to the razor gang approach will be. In Argentina Milei has already used Executive Powers to repress public demonstrations against his edicts. But Argentine civil society is often raucous and its union movement is staunch and not averse to street violence to make its case. Most of the Argentine public service is unionised, so the move to mass redundancies is going to encounter fierce resistance. Since the security forces are working class people whose families will be negatively impacted by Milei’s cutbacks on welfare, health and education services, it remains to be seen if they will stay loyal to him and follow his orders if people hit the streets in protest. Whatever happens, the next few months will be tumultuous at best.

In NZ the political culture is not as violent as that of Argentina but it does have limits of toleration. The Prime Minister in a parliamentary democracy like NZ does not have the Executive discretion available to Milei. But the NZ union movement is nowhere as staunch or as important to the productive apparatus as is its Argentine counterparts, being more of the compromise- rather than confrontation-oriented persuasion (some might call it the lapdog approach to employment relations where getting along with employers and surviving as a collective agent is more important than defending the interests of the rank and file, but I will leave it for others to decide if the characterisation fits). Whatever the case, the moment of truth has arrived for Kiwi society when it comes to responding to these assaults on hard-won social gains. Will Kiwis bend a knee in submission or stand up and fight? If they fight (even if just symbolically with acts of political theatre and perhaps episodic property damage), will the police stand against or with them? Will the NACT1st government try to resort to Emergency Powers in the face of civil unrest?

The larger issue is how NACT1st sees democracy. As readers might remember from previous posts on the subject, one can perceive democracy in two different ways. On the one hand, it can be seen as having intrinsic worth or being an intrinsic good in that it is the best possible (albeit flawed) method of giving voice to the people and substantively protecting the interests of all via a system of contingent compromises on major social, political and economic issues. It has its problems but is universally better than its alternatives when considering the heterogenous diversity of the social fabric and the need for achieving some sort of balance or equilibrium in the face of multiple competing demands in the political, social and economic marketplaces.

On the other hand democracy can be seen instrumentally, that is, as a means to an end or a tool to achieve power or partisan, sectoral or personal gain. Javier Milei has this perspective and it appears that NACT1st does as well. There is nothing intrinsically good about democracy in this view. For those who see democracy instrumentally, authoritarianism would be a better choice but it is too obvious in its bias. Instead, democracy’s worth is that it gives a veneer of representation and voice to the self-serving actions of winners of electoral contests, who then proceed to award themselves, their supporters and patrons with the spoils of governance. As Lenin put it, democracy is capitalism’s “best possible political shell.” There still may be checks and balances on the government, but those come from formal institutions like the judiciary rather than civil society itself. The latter must seek recourse in the street as well as if not more than formal channels and processes because the deck of officialdom is stacked against them when democratic instrumentalists hold the reins.

All of which is to say that the next six months should be interesting for both Argentina and NZ. Under their version of the social contract the new rightwing governments are hellbent on rolling back the clock when it comes to rights and obligations. They want to downsize the State when it comes to the provision of public goods and services, and they want to return to a social hierarchy more akin to the 1950s than the present era. Unfortunately for them, those days are long gone and both Argentine and Kiwi society cannot be remade in that nostalgic image.

In the end the fate of their regressive projects rests on whether civil society will go along with or organise against them. Because the bottom line of democratic governance is mass contingent consent to the political authorities and projects of the day, and on that score it remains to be seen if the Milei or NACT1st governments will enjoy that bottom line for any significant amount of time.

My reckon is that they will not, but that Argentines will be far less complacent than Kiwis when defending their interests.

14 thoughts on “Turn to nasty.

  1. Thank you for this, and ‘hear hear!’. And I was waiting to hear you elucidate too about the situation in Argentina, which from an ill-informed distance looks peculiar to say the least.
    With NZ, I predict the govt won’t last. Winston can barely open his mouth without putting his foot in it; his obvious belief and adherence to conspiracy theories will lessen his ‘mana’ (can I use that lol) on the international stage … and anyway, he looks continuously grumpy in his old age. Luxflakes will not be able to carry through with any real effect any of his far-reaching ‘policies’ as a govt of change – he is already looking silly as he announces (today), a ‘mini, mini, mini’ budget. That’s not even a Clayton’s budget – I mean, if its so small and therefore insignificant, why bother. They are looking increasingly like a bunch of sycophants – saying but not doing (Collins on the Armed Forces today, van Velden on FENZ).
    The people will rise up to any challenge – I have never protested, but would, and will, with the Maoris, as will a lot of ppl I know … There has been no honeymoon period for this govt. And I, like many other concerned citizens I am sure, am only waiting for their demise and downfall. One term, thats it – if they’re lucky! I mean it.

    With Seasons Greetings to one and all, and I hope your son is so much better.
    Blessings always :-)

  2. Thanks Barbara,

    I share your hope that this terrible excuse for a government is forced to back down on many of its narrow-minded proposals. They really seem like mean-spirited people. As for Collins being Minister for Defense AND Intelligence and Security–do people remember Orvida and her role?

    I am not as optimistic as you about Kiwi’s resisting NACT1st’s policies. They will likely focus on their meagre tax cuts and go back to watching the footie on TV. Or that is what the NACT1sts hope. Argentines are going to raise the costs of Milei’s proposals by hitting the streets in spite of his Executive Decrees, and because the public service is so heavily unionised his government may find itself facing rolling general strikes in the public sector that cannot be simply quashed by force.

    What I find interesting is that the NZ Right still holds to so-called neoliberal principles log after they have been discarded elsewhere because they either did not work or had outlived their usefulness. In fact, the NZ Right is not even a faithful practitioner of the monetarist policies of Friedman et.al, but have instead a grossly simplistic spending cut-based downsizing and deregulatory policy.

    What I find scary is that ACT and NZ First have fully embraced the racist and conspiracy weirdo fringe. they have discovered that under MMP catering to the cooker crowd can lift them over the 5 percent electoral threshold, and from there they can become th tails that wag the National dog. That is exactly what is happening at the moment. Sigh.

    PS. Thanks for the holiday greeting and best wishes for my son. He is recovering well even if he has a ways to go before back to full normality. But the trend is positive. All the best to you and yours for the festive season and New Year. 2024 should be interesting.

  3. I agree about the NZ right holding to the old and outdated neo-liberal policies. I have wondered about that myself. And Luxflakes I think has spent too long in America. His style/approach of unwinding and repealing the previous govt’s policies and advances on all fronts is relatively new here; I know they do it all the time in the USA, they seem to campaign on it. His naivety is a concern; I am sure he will be beholding to these 2 cowboys who just do not deserve to be there at the table at all. In terms of intelligence, and goodwill, good intentions.
    Oh well, sighs all round! But I do not think they will last, at least not in the current form. Politics and running a country is not the same as running a business, thats accepted but it seems no-one has told Luxon that. He’s been criticised for that already, albeit in a very mild way (Peter Dunne, a Nat sympathiser, writing in newsroom). But others are already questioning why they voted for the Nats. I have always wondered why those I know did, and can only assume they were ill-read as well as ill-informed. (Or acting from personal interest of course.) In this day and age! Inexcusable. But such commentaries as have appeared already all point to a distinct uncertainty for this ‘new’ govt. Personally I refuse to acknowledge Luxflakes as my PM. I have little respect for him, for his lack of experience and overall weakness. He is not my kind of PM at all, and I have never felt so strongly as I do about this.

    With kindest regards.

  4. Thank-you Pablo and Barbara for your searing accounts of the new government. It is comforting for those of us who are watching developments with ever increasing horror. You have articulated all my concerns plus much more.

    It crossed my mind Pablo (albeit briefly) that sending a copy of your latest post to Luxon and Willis might be useful, then reality set in. Neither of them would be capable of comprehending much of it. The same goes for the rest of their disparate band of philistines.

    Talking of Argentina, our very own Ruth Richardson introduced the new neoliberal ideology to them in the 1990s and 2000s. I recall being at a speech she made where she waxed lyrical about the country and the efforts she was making to help them set up the neoliberal apparatus. It looks like she did a very good job and now they are reaping the consequences.

  5. I believe ego and the loss of any sense of humility has a lot to do with it. That is most evident in populist politicians with an authoritarian bent, but also all ‘tiers’ of society. The I I I me me me era probably has a lot to do with it, aided and abetted by social media.
    Although brought up C of E Anglican in a church school where nasty little nuns would wack you over the knuckles for writing with your left hand, I am irreligious but i feel sure the Head Girl Willis would be happy for a return to those times as would Luth Luxor. Both Winston AND that retail politician Shane have gone down the rabbit hole and decided to join the world’s worst populist politicians. Do we have to make allowances? just because he’s hit the piss and tobacco again – I think not. A bit of a shame He’s decided to demolish all the good He may have done over the years (remind me what that was – was it all in a cheap plonk wine box, or His stance on Voreqe?)

    As far as religion goes, (or at least a way of living), I find Sikhism more appealing, although the worst aspects of social media and the inexperience of yoof seem to encourage the importance of one’s status in the hierarchy. Thankfully, the importance of that status in the hierarchy seems to dissipate with age, and even yoof haven’t lost a weekly commitment to do their bit in providing for what they perceive as the less fortunate. (Sikh temples providing and delivering food during Covid lock down, and so on).

    Sikhs have/had the concept of the 5 Virtues and the 5 .Thieves (or Temptations).
    Much is made of the Virtues, unfortunately little of the Thieves or Temptations.
    The Thieves STEEL the virtues and it takes a while for many Sikhs to realise, just as the Catholic Miks used to sin all week, just so long as they turned up at confession once a week to say 3 Hail Mary’s. (Let’s not get into Brian and Hannah’s Destiny!!!!!! let alone “Man Up” where a number of adherents are not averse to a little man-on-man action)

    You’ll appreciate there isn’t a direct translation in any of the 5 Virtues, or of the 5 Thieves, but essentially the virtues are (NOT in any priority)
    – Truth
    – compassion
    – contentment
    – humility
    – love
    (I’m tempted to comment on one or two of them because they’re considered “woke” even though the meaning of the term has now been utterly corrupted)

    The Thieves (or Temptations that steel those Virtues are:
    – Pride (including an over-active ego, hugely over and above one’s ability to maintain a sense of self esteem)
    – Anger (leading to the destruction of anything and any good progressed in the past)
    – Lust (including the transactional and commodified nature of sex and relationships)
    – greed and avarice (think everything from Graeme Harts to your local supermarket franchisee to your mum and dad landlord vesta
    – attachment (to anything: people that are obviously destructive to one’s well-being; ideologies – especially those that clearly haven’t worked;addictions; etc.

    Seems to me this current gummint worship at the table of the 5 Thieves

  6. Anne,

    Thanks for the note.It would be like swimming upstream to send a copy of this post to anyone in the NACT1st coalition. They do not strike me as people who listen, much take criticism constructively.

    Also, the intellectual rot that permeates the NZ Right is, as you say, a legacy of the Richardson/Prebble years. In fact, you may recall that they also copied major parts of Pinochet’s labour laws into NZ Labour legislation via the 1987 Labour Relations Act and then, after National was elected into office, the 1991 Employment Contracts Act. Some of the text of the ECA seems to be taken and translated verbatim from Pinochet’s 1979 Labour Code.

    It is those ties that make me think that the NZ Right has more than a hint of authoritarianism in its ranks, to which now have been added the social media enhanced Rightwing extremism of the likes of Slater and Groundswell.

  7. As I said: a bunch of lowbrow, anti-intellectual, materialistic ignoramuses – that is, philistines. :)

  8. Thanks for summing up so succinctly how things are with the three-headed monster we got ourselves, Pablo. I’m with Barbara (and Anne) here and think there’s every chance this Govt. won’t last the distance if they carry on down the path they appear to be set on. Your comparison with Milei in Argentina took me by surprise, but it really shouldn’t have as you outlined the similarities in direction so clearly. It’s pretty shocking nonetheless.

    For the first time in decades I’ll be ready to put on my marching boots & stand in solidarity with our Māori population, depending on what direction the review into the Treaty of Waitangi takes. Whatever comes of that, I don’t see much that will be positive. But perhaps, in the end, a show of support for our indigenous people from many different sectors of Ao/NZ society might show this racist government is on the wrong side of history. I hope so, anyway.

    On a lighter note, I’m so pleased to hear that your son is recovering. I hope he continues to make good progress to full health again.

    Wishing you & your loved ones a happy & peaceful Christmas.

    Di T.

  9. Thanks Di,

    Let’s hope that NZ society resists the more pernicious of this government’s initiatives. And much thanks for the good wishes for my son. There is still some more road to traverse before he is back to normal but we remain hopefully and put our faith in the team at Starship.

    All the best to you and yours for Happy Holidays and a healthy and productive New Year.

  10. Well written. My sole dissenting observation is that at least in the 1950s (I was there) we had a strong union movement and unsullied public health and education systems. There was a lot else wrong in the 50s but let’s not forget that some things had yet to be ruined. Meri Kirihimete ki tō whānau and especially your son.

  11. Alma,

    Thanks for the comment. I agree with you. I was referring to NACT1st’s nostalgic vision of the 50s–along the lines of how “Colonel” (a title bestowed by my former co-blogger Lew) Chris Trotter describes the period–as a time when burly white outdoorsmen in short shorts and gumboots ruled the roost, and women, children, Maori, non-heterosexuals and other “lesser” creatures knew their supposed place. If you read between the lines, and sometimes the lines themselves, of what Luxon, Seymour and Peters have said in recent times, that nostalgic vision is what they want to return to, minus the unions and public services.

    Thanks for joining the conversation here at KP and for the best wishes for my son.

  12. Hola Pablo

    Apologies for the late reply

    An interesting take on the NZL and ARG political scenes.

    Perhaps these leaders have turned nasty to hide their own insecurities and lack of vision

    Milei has already shown his true colors by withdrawing from BRICS . Argentina will now be considered a vassal state of US hegemony. The fall out with Brazil will be immense because Lula went into bat to get them accepted in the first place. .
    Melei is a typical Argentine politician however he is not a statesman

  13. Hola Eduardo,

    Y Feliz Ano Nuevo para ti y tu familia.

    Milei will be proven to be a charlatan who in order to govern needed to turn to the old school Rightist political elites that he claimed were part of the problem of Argentine politics. But he has already violated basic tenets of what passes for a social contract in Argentina, stripping people of basic public goods rather than streamlining an inefficient and bloated public sector and its social support systems. The devaluation of the peso (reduced in value one half overnight), the dollarization of things like rents and the lifting of price controls on basic staples has thrown millions of Argentines into financial duress, so the makings of large poplar protests are there. Milei’s response has been to use Executive Decrees to bypass Congressional opposition and impose by fiat the restructuring program. So much for a commitment to democratic principles. Add to that his historical revisionism (and that of his military-connected VP) about the Dirty War, and you get a good idea of what he really is about. No wonder he admires Trump, Bolsonaro, Orban and assorted other authoritarian reactionaries (several of whom were at his inauguration).

    Already major unions and civil society organizations have begun to organize large protests against the privatized “austerity market” regime (my phrase), and the majority Opposition in Congress is forming resistance blocs and proposing legislation to curb his powers (although he can veto any bill that comes across his desk, as per the prerogatives of the Executive branch in a presidential (as opposed to parliamentary) democracy).

    His attempt to increase the powers of domestic security agencies to control civil unrest will be a fundamental test. Democratic civil-military relations require the subordination of the repressive apparatus to the will of the elected government. But when the repressive apparatus is also a target and victim of government policy–since police, etc. are basically working class public servants with families suffering from Milei’s edicts–then the makings of insubordination and confrontation are there. It remains to be seen how the armed forces and intelligence services read the situation, and more importantly how they will respond if things escalate on the streets while social conditions deteriorate.

    Milei says that he warned voters that hard times were ahead but that short-term pain was needed for long-term gain. He says he is only keeping his campaign promises. It remains to be seen if he can stick to his course should things begin to hit the fan. In any event, the short-term beneficiaries of his rule are the rightwing economic and political elites who championed him and who have been the immediate beneficiaries of his policy agenda. Sort of like what has happened in NZ, but without the anti-Maori racism (Milei is an overt racist but his bigotry is more generalized rather than focused on one ethnic group).

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