Sunday, May 03, 2020

A time for transformational Change

The 'New Normal' - Post COVID 19

Where have come from? where are we now?
and where are we going?

This is the title of a painting by Paul Gauguin when he was feeling depressed and suicidal. Which when he completed it he felt better illustrating the power of creativity in moments of despair?
In the midst of the pandemic Covid 19 it seems relevant.

We cannot go back to the ‘old normal’!

The question is where are we going in the futures because it seems we cannot go back to ‘normal’ because the normal it no answer to challenges that lie ahead, most of all Global Warming, which requires a real change in values, behaviors and creative action.

We can learn from the past, where we have come from, because there are obviously lessons to be learnt. Mark Twain was said to have said that ‘history doesn’t repeat itself but it sure rhymes’.

The Black Death

If we go back to the Black Plague, which killed a third of Europe’s population, this plague created a change of attitude towards authority and led to new ideas, and with the invention of printing now called the Reformation.

Covid 19 provides such an opportunity for new ideas.

I am aware that Twain also said that ‘prediction if difficult particularly when it involves the future',   Even if we have no real idea of what will unfold; if direction is articulated for a better world –means will be found

The world goes to big epochs of change each one requiring different behaviors, values and most important of actions

 First we were hunters and gatherers, then humans developed a more settled Agricultural Age, followed by an Industrial Age marked by mass production – now, it seems, we are moving into an Information Age (based on the disruptive power of modern information technology) or even a Creative Age - a Second Renaissance.

Cycles of change in recent history

Franklin Delano Roosevelt
The above are rather big changes but recent times political thinking seems to go in smaller cycles lasting three or four decades.

The ‘Roaring Twenties’ – ‘free market’ capitalism

In the 1920s, often called the ‘roaring twenties’, free market politics were the thing until in 1929 when it came to a sudden end – the Great Depression A depression leading to unheard of unemployment and extreme poverty. Maybe this is the’ rhyming’ Twain talked about.

The rise of the New Deal

The world struggled along until new thinking evolved (not really new but up until then largely ignored) resulting in the election in America of Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Roosevelt developed an unheard of programme of government assistance called the New Deal. Sounds familiar?

The Welfare State of Michael Joseph Savage

In New Zealand the Great Depression equally caused great dislocation and as a result voters elected the First Labour Government led by Michael Joseph Savage. Savage introduced extensive life saving welfare provisions.  In the UK Clement Atlee was elected to replace war leader Winston Churchill and introduced similar reforms.

The importance of the State to protect all citizens

The importance of the state, or central government, worldwide was made more pertinent by World War Two by returning troops who, along with their families, felt the need to develop a better fairer world.

Years of rebuilding and prosperity

The years following the War lead to decades of prosperity, led by the state, that provided social security for all.

Up until the 1970s all went well but with the expensive oils shocks, and with an economy felt by many to be dictated by union power, and added to this, the increasing costs of the welfare state, new ideas were in the air (ideas not seen since the twenties).

The rise of Neo Liberal politics

Reagan and Thatcher
There were those who believed ‘big’ government was limiting enterprise and creativity. This was best expressed by Republican President Ronald Reagan whose stated ‘the government is no longer the solution, it is the problem’. Social welfare politics worldwide were demonized as being a ‘nanny state’ and worse still ‘socialism’ - one step, for many, away from communism.

The rise of the self-interested individual

In the UK Conservative Margaret Thatcher was elected saying, ‘there is no such thing as community only self-interned individuals and their families’. Ironically, in New Zealand, it was a Labour Government, under Prime Minister David Lange and Finance Minister Roger Douglas, who introduced privatization politics known as ‘Rogernomics’

And so began the introduction in Western countries of ‘market knows best ‘politics and that brings us up to present day
  •        State assets were sold off, often at low prices, to private enterprise to be made more         efficient and profitable.
  •    The power of unions limited and the idea of personal contracted workers introduced.
  •    The cult of privatization was introduced and loosening up on regulations
  •     And the ‘big sell’, wealth created by privatization would ‘trickle down ‘and benefit all.
  •      All of this was based on a disdain for the public sector and a reduced role for the state

The promise of ‘trickle down ‘economics

The key phrase of ‘trickle down’ used by the supporters of ‘market forces' has  failed to materialise and ,’ has resulted today's troubling list of social problems along with housing problems and growth in personal debt

Beyond Covid 19 – Climate Change

The focus on economic growth at all costs has contributed to the biggest issue facing us today – beyond the challenge of Covid 19 - –  that of global warming and sustainability of the environment and human civilization as we know it.

Apposing politician views

The National Party is still wedded to Market Force ‘free market’ politics (sometimes called neo –liberal politics) if somewhat watered down over the years.

 As yet the Labour Coalition Government has not made a dramatic shift from neo liberal politics, no doubt because to voting public still support the previous conservative government. Up until now there has been no real anger about the inequality – it has become ‘normal’.

This brings up to ‘where we are now’ – and the challenge of the current pandemic or more to the point, ‘where to from here’.

Returning to the old ‘normal’ no longer seems an alternative except for hard line neo conservatives. Private enterprise word wide has had to be supported by central governments – this is a return to social welfare on a large scale. Some might call this state assisted  socialism!

Beyond Covid 19

The Covid 19 Crisis provides an opportunity to face up to the challenge of climate change and to develop push new ideas to encourage new ideas of responsible regenerative systems of production and consumption. Ideas that bring together the ‘well-being’ of people and our planet as we face a bigger challenge of climate warming.

Where to from here? What sort of country do we want to become?

To ensure transformation requires anger to be expressed at the inequality and environmental despoliation that has been created by the past three decades of growth at all costs - the basis of the market forces and privatization policies implemented, with the false promise of wealth ‘trickling down’ since the 1980s

There is now an alternative.

Those who implemented market policies convinced all that ‘there was no alternative (TINA) and demonized the ‘nanny state’, believing in less government, and to achieve privatization they demonized the union movement.

A reason for anger and need for change.

Up until this day all governments have implemented ‘market force’s policies including Helen Clark, Bill Clinton and Tony Blair. In New Zealand Helen Clark’s Labour Governments did their best ameliorate the worst aspects by introducing policies like ‘working for families’ to assist those most affected. Never the less inequality and despoliation of the environment has been the result; the rich have got richer and the poor poorer.

For thirty-five years the corporate world has ruled supreme. Particularly in the USA, but now ironically they are being rescued by the state that they have seen as ineffective.  Neo liberalism was all about individuals deciding for themselves, based on self-interest, and by competing with each other. Such an approach did not tap the power of community energy, communal collaboration and cooperation and this is where we now need to turn.

The need for change in a few dramatic weeks

Who would’ve thought in a few short weeks, as a result of Covid 19, the world would change so dramatically providing challenges well beyond  ability ofself-interested private enterprises to cope with – all a sudden only the state can assist in such dire situations. Greater social welfare and assistance is now essential.

So time to demonize and discredit the ‘trickle down’ market forces politics to change the consciousness of people to be able to envisage a better world. In times of crisis impossible ideas become possible. We cannot go back to the ‘normal’ destructive road of market forces politics.

The Challenge for the Coalition Government.

The challenge for the Labour Coalition Government, as we move out of the Covid 19 crisis and under the leadership of Jacinda Ardern, is develop a new vision or direction for our future based on the ideas of ‘well-being’ of all citizens and the sustainability of the environment.

Labour is well placed to articulate such a people centred community and environmentally sustainable vision. A government led by Jacinda Ardern could see New Zealand being a world leader, something we could all be proud of.

Need to rebalance state and private enterprise

What is required is to rebalance the influences of state direction and private enterprise; to focus and reward private enterprises who focus on developing a sustainable New Zealand.’ Let the market decide’ is now a failed dogma.

There are a number of ideas to consider, none original:

·         To introduce a ‘Green New Deal; for state agencies to implement and for private enterprises to be rewarded for positive actions. To encourage investment in productive areas of the economy and not just for individual reward This relates to the ideas introduced by Franklyn Delano Roosevelt following the Great Depression as well as the policies of the First Labour Government in New Zealand.

  t      To  build on the ‘well-being’ philosophy underpinning the Coalition Government and to move away from a narrow misleading emphasis on GDP. A focus on GDP emphasizes the idea of infinite growth serving, first and foremost, the richest 1% and says little about non material well-being such as mental health and capturing the fullness of human flourishing.

·         To upgrade infrastructure needs – the ‘shovel ready ‘projects. Consider the possibility of the government buying into firms currently struggling and to develop a Ministry of Works to coordinate projects.

·       To continue developing a range of state innovative low cost housing and accommodation including communal concepts.

·         To build on the regional development being led by Minister Shane Jones.

·          It might be time to consider rebalancing the central and local Government.  There is a need to provide greater finance and flexibility for local government making local government more attractive for voters to be involved.  This could also more power sharing with local organizations and identifying steps to be taken to build community and strengthen the local community.

·         As part of the Green New Deal to encourage and assist land owners to develop regenerative agricultural approaches.

·         To come to terms with the possibility that unemployment (and under employment) will become endemic with the continued application of automation and to introduce a Universal Basic
Income. Not only would this simplify the plethora of welfare benefits but it would remove any stigma that people currently feel as well as providing a much needed sense of security.  There are numerous article outlining benefits and problematic issues to be taken into consideration. I believe a UBI would encourage innovative creative activities for many creative individuals. An extra payment could be given to people working as teacher aides or similar worthwhile occupation such as working in rest homes or working with adults with special needs

·         Even with a UBI progressive tax required rising to a higher percentage of income earned over a generous certain amount.

·         A reconsideration of a Capital Gains Tax (needing cross party agreement) as a lack of a Capital Gains Tax is a factor in driving up house prices Wealth Tax is another option although I’m not sure what this involves. Plus, raising taxes on fossil fuel fertilizer to encourage regenerative agriculture.

·         Encouraging renewable clean energy projects   and to reduce extractive industries to move New Zealand to a post carbon economy. Further subsidizing house insulation and including solar panels.

·         A greater focus on protecting New Zealand’s natural environment - investment in preserving the environment would provide much needed jobs. A New Green Deal workforce. There is a need to encourage ‘degrowth’ - a deliberate downscaling of segments of the economy harmful to the ecosystem such as the fossil industry while at the same time valuing people such as those working in the care industry.

·         Providing greater Research and Development finance to encourage an environment of innovation and to share and upscale successful projects.

   Consider the circular regenerative economy outlined by economist Kate Raworth in her book The Doughnut Economy. The book sets out the minimum we need to lead a good life and sustain the environment. It highlights boundaries across which human kind should not go in contrast to current greed based economics.

With Covid 19 and the Climate Change challenge provides motivation for transformational change.

The free market promised to liberate the individual from the supposedly restrictions of the ‘nanny state’ but instead it has weakened safety nets, increased insecurity for far too many and put the entire planet at risk

Covid 19 and the Climate Warming crisis has given us an opportunity and the resolve to move away from self-interested capitalism to a kinder, fairer and more creative world – one we have a chance to hand on to future generations.

 It is possible to imagine a new world and a different type of society with new values and behaviours. – where human values of fairness, mutual aid and compassion are paramount.  It Hs happened before after the Great Depression and we can do it.

 It must have looked equally challenging in the days after WW2 when social democratic governments, including our own led by Michael Joseph Savage and Peter Fraser developed socially secure states leading to an era of unparalleled prosperity.