Monthly Archives: January 2016

New Zealand's Quiet War in Malaya & Borneo 1964 -1966

Did the British and Americans start Confrontation?

Book Review: “The Genesis of Konfrontasi, Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia 1945-1965
By Greg Poulgrain, published by the Strategic Research & Development Centre (SIRD), Malaysia, 2014.

In this essay I try to cover the main points of Dr Poulgrain’s thesis with some reference to other sources. It is a book packed with detail and the essay is therefore detailed and quite long.

Konfrontasi or Confrontation was the war that New Zealand’s armed forces were committed to from 1964 to 1966 as part of Commonwealth military assistance to the Federation of Malaya and the British Borneo states. At the time Malaya was enmeshed in the process of federating with Singapore, and with the Borneo states of North Borneo (Sabah), Brunei and Sarawak, to form the Federation of Malaysia. Indonesia was opposed to that and engaged in political and military Konfrontasi.

The main NZ units in Konfrontasi were 1st Battalion Royal NZ Infantry Regiment (1 RNZIR), detachments of NZ Special Air Service Squadron (NZSAS), 41 Squadron RNZAF (troop and supply carrying), 14 Squadron RNZAF (Canberra bombers), HMNZS Otago, HMNZS Taranaki and HMNZS Royalist. 1 RNZIR was at the time permanently stationed in Malaya as part of the 28th Commonwealth Brigade. Parts of the British response to Konfrontasi especially its “Claret” cross border operations in Borneo were very secret. It was also a war that was mostly beneath the radar of public awareness in New Zealand.

The reviewer served in 1 RNZIR for part of that period from November 1965 to December 1967 and deployed with the battalion to Sarawak on operations in 1966.

Retired NZ Army officer and military historian Christopher Pugsley states in his book “From Emergency to Confrontation, the New Zealand Armed Forces in Malaya and Borneo 1949 – 1966”:

    “The principal trigger for the Confrontation between the Republic of Indonesia and the United Kingdom and the Federation of Malaya was the outbreak of a rebellion in Brunei.”

      2003, Oxford University Press, Ch 7 Confronting Intruders.

To this day that has been the orthodox official and historical line from the time of the rebellion (also called the Brunei Revolt) on 8th December 1962 and it is true to an extent. However Dr Poulgrain, an Australian political historian specialising in South East Asia, has unearthed compelling new evidence to suggest that the Brunei Revolt was started by British Intelligence and that the CIA was also complicit in fomenting unrest in Sarawak, condoned by British Intelligence. It that was so then it could be said that Konfrontasi was started by British Intelligence and not, as history records, by Indonesian President Sukarno.

This new evidence contradicts the orthodox historical version stated by Pugsley:

    “… it was the attempted coup d’etat in Brunei by Inche A.A.Azahari Mahmud [sic] and his Patai Ra’ayat on 8 December 1962 which prompted the Indonesian action against Malaysia’s formation that was known as Konfrontasi (Confrontation)”.

That contradiction is explored in detail later in this essay.

The Genesis of Konfrontasi” traces the relationship of Indonesia and British Colonialism in South East Asia from the end of World War II through to the events leading up to the outbreak of Konfrontasi. To gain a fuller appreciation one should also read Dr Pougrain’s companion book “The Incubus of Intervention, conflicting Indonesia strategies of John F Kennedy and Allen Dulles” (SIRD, Malaysia, 2015).

Post war decolonisation in Indochina (Vietnam, Laos & Cambodia), Philippines, Indonesia. Malaya, North Borneo, Brunei and Sarawak provides the broad background in which Britain and the USA generally cooperated but also had conflicting interests and goals.

The USA was also internally conflicted in that the CIA under Allen Dulles was conducting a covert programme in Indonesia at odds with President Kennedy’s own policy. The CIA programme aimed at regime change by unseating President Sukarno and replacing him with a USA-friendly military led government. President Kennedy on the other hand befriended President Sukarno and wanted to provide economic assistance to bring Indonesia into the USA’s sphere of influence. Kennedy was assassinated in November 1963 and the CIA prevailed. To implement their own programme the CIA had first to unify Indonesia’s various military commands into a single powerful national force and also to ensure it was trained and equipped to assume its new role. As part of that programme the CIA fomented rebellion in various outer islands in Indonesia, covertly supplied the rebels with arms, and also provided Intelligence to Indonesia’s armed forces to ensure they put down the rebellions, thus building themselves into a legitimate national force.

That CIA programme is documented in “Incubus of Intervention” and it provides information vital to understanding the CIAs role in Konfrontasi.

Whereas the USA aimed to decolonise South East Asia as soon as possible after WW2 Britain was less enthusiastic. Undoubtedly the USA wanted to establish its own military and economic hegemony over the region, in its own interests and also as a Cold War strategy to restrict the influence of China and the USSR. Britain was reluctant to give up the last vestiges of empire and its access to strategic assets notably Brunei’s oilfields.

The Philippines gained its independence from the USA in 1945. Indonesia declared independence in 1945, fought the Dutch and gained UN recognition in 1949. Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia fought the French and gained their independence in 1954. Britain granted independence to the Federation of Malaya in 1957 but continued to maintain its military and economic influence. The territories of Singapore, North Borneo and Sarawak remained British until the formation of Malaysia in 1963. Singapore left the Federation of Malaysia to become an independent nation in 1965.

Malaya was an important producer of tin, rubber and palm oil. Brunei was a major source of oil. Singapore was a centre of regional power and control with its port and trade facilities. Those facilities were also used in the export and import trade with the resource rich Indonesian archipelago. British companies controlled most of that economic activity. To ensure that the cash continued to flow from those assets Britain had to ensure that Indonesian influence in the British sphere of economic interest was eliminated or that the leadership in Jakarta was not anti-British. To this end Britain engaged in a series of covert provocations towards Indonesia. President Sukarno’s firm stance of anti-colonialism, anti-imperialism, anti-capitalism and non-alignment meant that he had to be removed and replaced. In this respect, and from an Indonesian viewpoint, Konfrontasi is seen not as a premeditated act or as a policy by design but partly as a response to British provocation.

Dr Poulgrain writes extensively about the post-WW2 relationship difficulties between Britain and Indonesia leading to Britain’s determination to oust President Sukarno.

Konfrontasi may also have been a ploy in the presidential ambitions of Indonesia’s foreign minister Dr Subandrio who might have been Britain’s preference as president.

British Intelligence

Singapore was important not just as a transit port for South East Asian imports and exports but as the centre of British control and power over the region.

Much of that control and power was exerted through its Intelligence operations commanded and coordinated from Singapore. Hong Kong and Singapore were major spy bases in the region. During the Malayan Emergency High Commissioner Sir Gerald Templer who had served in Military Intelligence overhauled British Intelligence in Malaya and from that time it became a potent coordinated force. His innovations were repeated in the other British territories. The Police Special Branches were primarily responsible for Intelligence operations in the British colonies and former colonies. They were supported and virtually controlled by MI5 officers who were often appointed to senior positions in Special Branch.

MI5 was the lead agency for Intelligence within the colonies and former colonies, although in Malaya, Singapore, and the British Borneo states Special Branch was the lead agency for internal security and Intelligence. The Joint Intelligence Committee Far East (JICFE) was located in Singapore as was Security Intelligence Far East (SIFE) which was a joint Intelligence assessment agency (MI5, MI6, Military and Police Special Branch). MI6 had had a station in Singapore since the 1920s and eventually took over the lead role in Singapore from MI5 after British withdrawal from the region. The CIA had had a station in Singapore since the 1930s and was represented at JICFE and SIFE.

In 1954 MI6 and the CIA concluded the “Four Square Agreement” in which the CIA retained intelligence responsibility for the Phillipines and British intelligence services looked after Malaya, Singapore and Burma. Both the CIA and MI6 agreed to cooperate in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Indonesia.

Intelligence operations throughout the region included covert MI6 operations in Indonesia aiming to undermine President Sukarno.

GCHQ, the British signals intelligence agency now known to be part of the Five Eyes network, had a major listening post in Singapore until well into the 1970s (and one in Hong Kong). It was of crucial importance in the Malayan Emergency and leading up to and during Konfrontasi. In the mid-1970s it was revealed in the Australian media that it had operated as a joint British/Australian intercept station for some time. The Australian signals intercept station in Darwin was also an important source of Intelligence.

    See Calder Waldron, “Empire of Secrets, British Intelligence, the Cold War, and the twilight of Empire”, William Collins Publishers, London, 2013.

    For details of the Intelligence structure and responsibilities see also Leon Comber, “Malaya’s Secret Police, The Role of the Special Branch in the Malayan Emergency“, Monash University Press Melbourne and Institute of SE Asian Studies Singapore, 2008.

This coordinated Intelligence network was to play a major role in the genesis of Konfrontasi.

By 1960 the Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) under the leadership of Ralph Harry had created independent stations in Jakarta, Tokyo and Dili and had several officers working with allies in Hong Kong and Singapore. The ASIS officer in Singapore worked on the staff of the Head of MI6.

In the early 1960’s ASIS had mounted six covert operations in Indonesia including propaganda campaigns, medical assistance to President Sukarno’s opponents, and ‘more direct’ attempts to engineer President Sukarno’s political demise. These would have been in conjunction with Britain’s MI6 and probably the CIA.

    See Robert Macklin, “Warrior Elite”, Hachette, Sydney, 2015.

In the book Dr Poulgrain refers simply to SIFE as the main agency involved in the genesis of Konfrontasi but the Intelligence apparatus was much greater than SIFE which was a coordinating agency.

Indonesia’s Anti-Colonial Campaigns

Following its successful fight to gain independence from the Dutch from 1945, Indonesia engaged in two anti-colonial campaigns in the 1960s. The first was against Dutch control of Netherlands New Guinea (now Papua and West Papua). Indonesia invaded in 1962 and gained control in 1963. It was a simple matter of ejecting a colonial power and gaining territory and control of its economic potential. The second campaign against the formation of Malaysia erupted about three months before the May 1963 assumption of sovereignty in New Guinea.

Dr Subandrio was prominent in both campaigns and it was he who declared Konfrontasi.
Although many British government and other commentators have declared that the simple aim was territorial expansion the actual aims of Konfrontasi were never clearly delineated, remained unclear throughout the three years it lasted, and remain unclear to this day unless Dr Poulgrain’s thesis is correct.

The Research

His research has been painstaking. In the extensive bibliography he lists over 120 Colonial Office records, and records from the Foreign Office, War Office and India Office. He lists 62 interviews across all sides of the conflict. Some of the main interviews were A.M.Azahari who it was widely claimed started the Brunei Revolt, Oei Tju Tat a Chinese lawyer appointed by President Sukarno as the leading civilian coordinator for Konfrontasi, General Soehario former head of the Indonesian Army in Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo) and General Nasution former Indonesian Chief of Staff. On the other side he interviewed Sir Alexander Waddell former Governor of Sarawak, Roy Henry former head of Special Branch in Sarawak and Brunei and a number of former oil company employees of British Malayan Petroleum (BMP, later Brunei Shell).

The late Roy Henry provided crucial new verbal evidence for this book concerning his time as Head of Sarawak Special Branch, which made him the head of British Intelligence in Sarawak and Brunei before and during Konfrontasi. He was a very credible witness for after Special Branch he was appointed Commissioner of Sarawak Police, Commissioner of Police Fiji, then Commissioner of Police Hong Kong.

BMP had been exploring for oil in the region since the 1950s and operated the known very lucrative oilfields. In 1963 BMP discovered, or announced the discovery of the giant offshore oilfield known as South West Ampa just off the coast of Brunei. BMP built its own Intelligence capability and was covertly active in combating threats to its vested economic interest. So close was BMP’s relationship with British Intelligence that Chinese speaking members of the BMP intelligence network were made available to Special Branch. BMP also had close relations and influence with the Colonial Office in London.

The history of Konfrontasi would not be complete without an examination of the role of BMP.

The Colonial Office Agenda

Public Office records reveal that the Colonial Office had two aims in the decolonisation programme. Firstly to ensure that the new political leaders were those amenable to continued British investment and secondly to ensure that the political environment of the region did not include Sukarno as President of Indonesia.

The Colonial Office drew up the format for decolonisation and the formation of Malaysia as early as 1953 but had a number of political and security hurdles to overcome before it could be implemented. Foremost among those was the large number of Chinese resident in Malaya, Singapore and the Borneo states. All Chinese were thought to be potential communists. The solution in Malaya was a constitution that gave most political power to the Malays and diminished the political influence of significant Chinese and Indian populations, and a military and Intelligence campaign (Malayan Emergency) against Chinese communists. By about 1960 many Chinese communist leaders had been eliminated or driven north into Southern Thailand. Malaysia would continue to combat that threat until about 1989.

Singapore was mainly Chinese and in the mid-1950s there were large scale riots blamed on communist led unions. But British Public Office Records reveal that the largest of those riots in October 1956 was deliberately provoked by British Intelligence to enable the arrest of prominent anti-British activists. British Intelligence was also active in supporting the political rise of Britain-friendly Lee Kuan Yew who later became Prime Minister of Singapore and who probably had close links to British Intelligence.

In Sarawak the Chinese dominated commercial and political activity and comprised one third of the population. The Sarawak United Peoples Party (SUPP) was the most prominent political party and was Chinese dominated with some underground communist support. The political direction in Sarawak was changed by Konfrontasi by reducing the influence of the Chinese and causing Sarawak to seek greater security in the Federation rather than statehood in its own right. British interests were furthered by Konfrontasi in that it made the British decolonisation plan possible.

On 15th August 1991 Dr Poulgrain interviewed Roy Henry the former head of Special Branch in Sarawak and Brunei and he admitted that he had a direct hand in starting the Brunei Revolt. At the time Henry was the overall head of British Intelligence in Sarawak and Brunei. He also admitted that the CIA had a hand in supplying arms and fomenting rebellion in Sarawak prior to Konfrontasi thus allowing the British to reduce Chinese influence through Special Branch operations whilst blaming it on Indonesia. British Intelligence was well aware of what the CIA was doing.

The Brunei Revolt

Brunei and its oil was vital to British (and BMP) interests and Britain tried to include it in the Federation of Malaysia, with the Sultan of Brunei given a governance role much as the ruling sultans in the Malayan states had been given roles in the Federation of Malaya.

However political leader Sheikh Azahari bin Sheikh Mahmud better known as A.M.Azahari was opposed to the British plan and proposed a Kalimantan Utara (North Kalimantan) federation of Brunei, British North Borneo and Sarawak with the Sultan of Brunei as titular head. He and his Partai Rakyat Brunei (PRB – Brunei Peoples Party) favoured joining the Federation of Malaysia but as a unified North Kalimantan grouping. They thought that would shield them from the dominating influence of Malay administrators and Chinese merchants.

In fact Azahari had promoted his version of federation as early as 1955 before he formed the PRB. By 1962 he had gained support for Kalimantan Utara across all three Borneo states and had become the most likely politician to lead the proposed new state. Azahari was then and is still depicted as being opposed to the Federation of Malaysia but in fact he supported it, just not in the form proposed by Britain. Just as he was not anti-Malaysia he was not anti-British and not anti-Sultan although that was the British propaganda of the time and the most common historical version to date.

Azahari was actually close to the Sultan and trusted by him. The sultan supported Azahari’s Kalimantan Utara alternative. That was anathema to the British who had to get rid of Azahari in order to defeat it. In fact British Intelligence working hand in glove with the oil company’s (BMP) managing director had been trying to destroy Azahari’s influence since at least 1957.

Legislative Council elections were held in Brunei in August 1962 and Azahari’s PRB won a sweeping victory with 54 of the 55 seats. The independent 55th member promptly joined the PRB. The PRB then announced that a motion would be tabled requesting the British Government to return sovereignty of Sarawak and North Borneo to the Sultan of Brunei, and to federate the three British Borneo Territories. Azahari was determined to avoid violence and maintained a commitment by PRB to achieve power by constitutional means.

While he was in the Philippines in December 1962 one of his PRB executives, H.M.Salleh, instigated armed rebellion. He did it in response to a predicament engineered by Roy Henry and Special Branch. Henry created the situation by arresting several PRB members in Sarawak and then “leaking” information that he had threatened similar arrests in Brunei. He led them to believe they had only limited time to act. His message was relayed to the PRB by a magistrate (Jaya Latif) whose uncle became one of the eight executive members who panicked and started the Brunei Revolt.

While in the Philippines Azahari had obtained a document proclaiming the official agreement of the Philippines Government to forego all claims to North Borneo and recognising the claim of the Sultan of Brunei. It was the first international recognition of Azahari’s Kalimantan Utara concept with the Sultan of Brunei as constitutional monarch. It was an important document and Azahari had intended to produce it at the United Nations. On the morning of the revolt the PRB officials bearing the document were physically prevented from reaching the Sultan’s palace.

    “Shaken by the tumult and commotion, and believing the explanation given him by British intelligence the he would have been kidnapped, the Sultan turned against the PRB rebels, and against Azahari”.
    “British Intelligence succeeded in turning the Sultan away from the concept of Kalimantan Utara, and Brunei subsequently became an isolated oil enclave under British protection”.

That isolation also robbed the new Federation of Malaysia of much needed oil revenues and preserved them in British hands. Had Azahari’s plan been successful Malaysia would have shared in the benefits.

In his interview Roy Henry stated that all of the political organisations in Brunei and Sarawak including Azahari’s PRB were well penetrated by Special Branch, the PRB at executive level. That being so his manipulation of events would have been relatively easy.

After the Brunei Revolt

The aftermath across all of the proposed Malaysian states was diabolical. In Singapore Lee Kuan Yew accused Lim Chin Siong of being complicit in the Brunei revolt because Siong had met Azahari (on another matter entirely). Nevertheless in Operation Cold Store on the night of 2nd February 1963 Lee Kuan Yew arrested Siong and 112 political activists. It was almost his entire left wing opposition. Evidence in the British Archives and provided to Dr Poulgrain in interviews with British government and security service officials clearly show that this was a political contrivance.

In Malaya a dozen of the top left wing opponents of Federation were arrested on 13th February 1963. As a result of the Brunei Revolt the leading figures in the left wing political parties in Malaya, Singapore and Sarawak were detained prior to the formation of Malaysia. Azahari and Siong were probably the two most influential opponents of the British plan and both were removed.


So far in this review I have dealt (at great length) with the first Colonial Office objective in decolonisation: to ensure that the new political leaders were those amenable to continued British investment. Intelligence operations towards achieving that objective included the Brunei Revolt which helped lead to the achievement of the second objective, to ensure that the political environment of the region did not include Sukarno as President of Indonesia. In other words to Konfrontasi, although it should always be remembered that the CIA was primarily responsible for the removal of Sukarno and that the British Commonwealth response to Konfrontasi was a sideshow in that programme. It is probable that Britain’s MI6 (SIS) and perhaps its branch office (Australia’s ASIS) were involved with the CIA in Indonesia.

Just how the Brunei revolt led to Konfrontasi, or even if it did, is still shrouded in mystery.
The British immediately sent troops to quell the revolt. That reaction may or may not have been pre-planned. The Intelligence hierarchy in Singapore would certainly have known about Roy Henry’s manipulation of events in Brunei. Historians have written that the Sultan himself asked for military assistance “yet, according to The Straits Times, the request came from W.J.Parks, the aide-de-camp of the High Commissioner Sir Dennis White, who was then on sick leave in London”. The Brunei constitution at the time allowed the Colonial Office to bypass the wish of the Sultan.

    “Soon after the rebellion started British troops from Singapore went straight to Sarawak, causing the exodus of many Chinese youths into neighbouring Indonesian territory. Whilst these youths were regarded by Indonesia as part of a clandestine communist organisation engaged in a righteous anti-colonial struggle, what Indonesia did not realise is that they were armed with weapons only because they had been supplied by William Andreas Brown and Frank C. Starr, both linked to the CIA”.

The involvement of those two Americans was revealed by Roy Henry during his interview.

    “The absence of any real communist threat in Sarawak in the days before Konfrontasi was precisely what necessitated the CIA supply of weapons, in order to boost the political profile which previously the ‘underground group’ in Sarawak did not have”.
    “This exodus caught the attention of Indonesia and, after some bitter recrimination between Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta (with some crucial addition by Subandrio) the argument expanded into Konfrontasi. The threat of Indonesian incursion into Sarawak now ensured that the previous reluctance to join Malaysia suddenly evaporated”.

After the Brunei Revolt and the exodus of Chinese from Sarawak hostilities in Sarawak between Indonesia and Britain and Malaysia gradually escalated. The rhetoric on both sides became so offensive that armed Konfrontasi became inevitable. It began on 12 April 1963, when about 30 armed raiders from Indonesian Kalimantan overran a police border post in Sarawak.

Dr Poulgrain explains in detail how those hostilities were started by British and American Intelligence. He also details the role of Indonesian foreign minister Dr Subandrio in increasing the tension between Indonesia and Malaysia/Britain, thus providing fertile ground for Konfrontasi.

The three rival power factions in Jakarta were all involved in Konfrontasi; the political elite led by Dr Subandrio, the military, and the PKI (Communist Party). President Sukarno did not initiate it but moved to try to take control after it started in 1963. Whilst Konfrontasi suited the agenda of the CIA President Kennedy wanted it to stop. In 1963 he arranged to visit Indonesia early in 1964 to join with President Sukarno to bring it to an end using their considerable combined personal charisma to achieve it through popular support of the Indonesian people.

According to the USA ambassador in Jakarta at the time President Sukarno was in accord with President Kennedy. However Kennedy was assassinated on 22nd November 1963. Konfrontasi continued.

On 17th August 1964 Indonesia landed a small military force on the west coast of Peninsula Malaysia. On 2nd September 1964 Indonesian paratroopers dropped into the same general area. That incursion drew into Konfrontasi the Australian and New Zealand battalions based in Terendak Camp near Malacca. The Indonesians were quickly killed or captured.

Attention then focused entirely on operations in Borneo rising to a peak in 1965 and gradually decreasing through the early part of 1966. Konfrontasi formally ended on 11th August 1966.

Konfrontasi was largely a political action rather than a concerted military one. It was started by Indonesia’s foreign minister. The Indonesian military initially welcomed it for it enabled them to gain more manpower and resources to build their own power base compared to the other two powers, the political elite (and President Sukarno) and the PKI (Communist Party). The military did not however commit to Konfrontasi with any enthusiasm for the PKI was its main concern. Its best and most loyal units were retained in Java where they were held in preparation to put down any communist uprising.

General Suharto (later President Suharto) who at the time was commander of the army’s strategic command (KOSTRAD) was deputed by his pro-American anti-communist superiors to effectively sabotage Konfrontasi. He initiated secret negotiations with British officials in 1964 even before the landings in Peninsula Malaysia. The landings themselves, being extremely limited in manpower and especially in logistic support, cannot be construed as a serious military invasion but as an act of political provocation (i.e. Konfrontasi).

In 1965 (before 1 RNZIR’s first deployment to Borneo) Suharto had his envoys in Singapore assure the British that the Indonesian Armed Forces did not intend to invade Malaysia. He was also responsible for the operational aspects on Konfrontasi in Borneo and elsewhere. He deliberately starved Indonesia’s units deployed along its border with Sarawak of manpower and resources. Units in Sumatra were denied the naval assets they needed to invade across the Malacca Straits to West Malaysia. However British Intelligence and military action in Borneo, including its cross border “Claret” operations ensured a high level of operational activity throughout most of 1965.

Given that Britain’s primary concern was to drive the Sultan of Brunei into the British camp, and to drive Sarawak into federation with Malaya, and given that Indonesia’s military didn’t actually intend to invade Malaysia, Konfrontasi was to all intents and purposes a phoney war. It was a phoney war on both sides.

After the tumultuous Gerakan-30 September Movement (G-30-S) in 1965, in which six pro-American anti-communist generals were killed by a joint PKI-military action and after which General Suharto assumed command of the armed forces and effective control of President Sukarno, formal negotiations with Britain and Malaysia began, ending in the agreement in August 1966 that recognised the nation of Malaysia.

The Genesis of Konfrontasi” describes the events leading up to Konfrontasi and does not cover any of the subsequent hostilities and operations described above.

The Role of Dr Subandrio

“So important was the role of Subandrio in Konfrontasi, in the preparation and instigation, that the acrimony between Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta would not have reached combustion point without his collaboration”.

Foreign Minister Dr Subandrio was the leader of Jakarta’s political elite and regarded himself as the president-in-waiting. He had some influence in Britain having been ambassador in London from 1950 to 1954. After the “G-30-S” 1965 bloodbath in Indonesia when several generals were killed he was accused of complicity and sentenced to death. He refused to ask General Suharto for clemency and it was the British Foreign Office that arranged a plea for clemency in the names of Queen Elizabeth II and US President Lyndon B. Johnson. He then spent 20 years in prison and lived for another nine years. Dr Subandrio was the main agitator for Konfrontasi against Malaysia and therefore against Britain and he was the man who declared it. That was an extraordinary plea on behalf of a former enemy unless there was a deeper connection, perhaps an Intelligence connection.

    “Subandrio was instrumental in creating conditions that led to the Brunei rebellion and the start of Konfrontasi, and that his motivation and also SIFE’s [British Intelligence] motivation was that, as the acknowledged deputy, he would soon replace President Sukarno whose health was deteriorating”.

Dr Subandrio used his leading involvement in the first anti-colonial campaign against the Netherlands and his lead role in the second campaign against Malaysia to promote his own credentials as the replacement for President Sukarno. And Sukarno’s replacement was the second item on the Colonial Office agenda. The CIA had other ideas and their preference for a military government came to pass.

In the last chapter of the book Dr Poulgrain explores the evidence for collusion between Subandrio and British Intelligence to start Konfrontasi and to promote Dr Subandrio’s cause. He presents considerable circumstantial evidence.

The Review

In reviewing this book “The Genesis of Konfrontasi” I have drawn on other sources including Dr Poulgrain’s companion book “The Incubus of Intervention” about CIA involvement in Indonesia. Christopher Pugsley’s “From Emergency to Confrontation” was valuable in sourcing information about New Zealand’s involvement in Konfrontasi. “Empire of Secrets, British Intelligence, the Cold War, and the twilight of Empire” by Calder Waldron has been used specifically to fill out information about British Intelligence in the region at the time.

Intelligence is the missing dimension in most geopolitical and military history and it is not until archives are opened 30 or 50 years after the events that the true history is revealed. A case in point is ULTRA, the breaking of the German Enigma codes during WW2, a coup that significantly aided allied victories. That secret was not revealed until 1974 just over 30 years later. In 2012 some Intelligence archives in London were declassified. They covered the period up to the early 1960s but not, it would seem, the machinations behind Konfrontasi.

Hopefully this investigation into the secret history of Konfrontasi some 50 years after the event is just the first. Dr Poulgrain presents an extremely well researched history of the genesis of Konfrontasi not at all consistent with the official history. It is a compelling and very believable version. It will however need to be corroborated by other historians in the years ahead. I hope it is.

For those of us in the military who were involved and who have lived with what may well have been official lies for the last 50 years we need to know the truth. It is somewhat disconcerting to find out that perhaps we were not simply fighting to protect Malaysia from Indonesia, but mainly to ensure that British economic interests in the region were preserved under the control of their preferred political leaders, in the form of nationhood preferred by Britain, regardless of what the people of the region might have wanted for themselves, such as a Kalimantan Utara federation in Borneo under the rule of the Sultan of Brunei.

Much of the evidence of British Intelligence involvement in the genesis of Konfrontasi is conclusive, based on historical archives and first hand accounts. Some is circumstantial, especially the relationship between Dr Subandrio and British Intelligence. It is that aspect that will need further research, and hopefully more Intelligence archives will eventually be declassified. What is certain is that the genesis is murky and nothing like the official version.

The book is so at odds with the official version that I am sure that many in the Establishment, if they ever come across a book published in Malaysia, will label it a crank theory. It deserves more serious consideration than that.

In this review I have related the highlights but there is much more in the detail. The book is packed with the detail of decades of research and is not a quick read. It is however rewarding for those with an interest in the events of that time.

The book is not in ready stock, not even at Amazon, and takes time to be sourced. I heard about it from Dr Poulgrain himself (on Skype) during a presentation on his later (2015) book “The Incubus of Intervention” about the involvement of the CIA in Indonesia. I bought the last copy of “The Genesis of Konfrontasi” online from Amazon and it is currently unavailable.

It is also advertised by a Singapore bookseller, $US17.51 plus postage.
Select Books, Singapore

He Tangata – Maori Policy, Economics & Moral Philosophy

The Moral Challenge to the Status Quo and to Neo-liberal Theology

The slogan “It’s the economy, stupid” coined during President Bill Clinton’s successful 1992 election campaign perfectly describes Maori policy that would deliver for all Maori people.

By “economy” I don’t mean the grandiose idea of the “Maori economy” or the mythical “iwi economy”. I mean the real economy.

I have been writing that the national economy ought to be the primary concern of Maori policy makers, because of its crucial impact on the wellbeing and livelihoods of all Maori especially the poor and the unemployed, the disenfranchised and the disinherited. I’ve approached that economic theme from different angles in these four essays.

The Maori Worldview & Maori Policy
Perspectives of time, small prophecy and Maori policy
Draining the Swamp – Some Fundamentals for Maori Policy Makers
Challenging the Status Quo. A Call to Reengage in the Struggle.

Twelve months ago in full flight writing this series I was like all of the activists and the Maori policy establishment; economically under-endowed. Understanding the need to focus on the national economy in Maori policy was one thing. Understanding just how national economic policy might better serve the needs of all Maori was something else again. Thus began a long hard journey into economic theory.

For it is hard work. This essay is a start and it will be hard work too. I promise.

Too much of our activism focuses on issues which are symptoms not causes. TPPA is a case in point; a serious symptom but a symptom nonetheless. We need to focus on the underlying cause, the current political and economic paradigm, and that is going to be hard work. Focusing on the symptoms is the easy way forward, and in the long run the least effective. We’ve been doing that for the last thirty years while macroeconomic policy and practice has totally undermined all of the supposed gains in Maori policy. In theory and in practice we have to make the connection between economics and Maori policy.

So I’m still reading political economy with a lot more knowledge but I’m probably not much wiser. It’s a truism that the more you know the more you realise how much you don’t know. Which can be frustrating. But the political economy is too important in our lives to be left to politicians, bureaucrats, businessmen, economists and the media. An early realisation was that politicians, bureaucrats, businessmen, economists and the media don’t know much about economics either.

Which is not to say that economists don’t know about economics. The trouble is that there are widely differing economic theories and even the economists can’t agree on what theories to apply in what economic circumstances, or even what causes the different economic conditions in which they might apply the economic remedies they can’t agree on. Let alone predict those economic conditions. And there are economists who can’t agree with themselves (on the one hand this, on the other hand that). “Give me a one-handed economist”, famously said US President Harry S. Truman.

Sometimes the political and economic debate can get quite heated and it is almost always decided by vested interest and ideology. What usually happens is that between the economist and the politician they get it arse about face and apply the wrong remedies at the wrong time, or the right remedies at the wrong time, or the wrong remedies at the right time. You know what I mean; we rarely get the right remedy at the right time.

The question is “How does one grasp the essentials of economic theory and practice and apply that knowledge to Maori policy?”

It’s a tough one. Enlightenment is not easy to come by. I was early on reminded of the long standoff between science and religion. In economics the two come together. Economics seems to me to be a pursuit sometimes but not always intellectual and conceived as science, and in its application almost always religious and practised as dogma. Additionally economists seem determined to avoid incorporating human nature into economic theory preferring instead the easy path of assuming that all humans will act rationally and according to the concept of Homo Economicus. It is a study of human behaviour without the encumbrance of human nature.

Now I’ve read economists who “prove” that all economic decisions are rational decisions even if the makers of those decisions don’t realise it or understand the rationale behind their decisions. The proofs can be quite convincing. But I’m inclined to think that these are ex post facto rationalisations; rationalising the irrational after the event. Humankind is extraordinarily gifted in that regard; even economists.

These are important lessons for the maker of Maori policy, even before we begin to grapple with economic theory. We are not alone in our ignorance and we should never bow to those who claim expertise, especially not to the politician who is usually the least expert among us.

Enlightenment burst upon me from out of left field in a recent book by James Lovelock, independent scientist and inventor, and the originator with the late Lyn Margolis, of the concept of Gaia describing Earth as a living ecosystem. In one of his latest books “A Rough Ride to the Future” he wrote about climate change. He caused me to realise that none of us has the answers, certainly not the politicians, bureaucrats, businessmen and media, and not even the economists.

Lovelock wrote that twenty years ago climate scientists had after much research uncovered so much about atmospheric climate that they thought their mathematical computer models were quite reliable. Then about ten years ago they realised that they needed to know a lot more about oceanic climate and the huge effects that oceans have on climate. Today the computer models incorporate all they now know about the oceans but still they are deficient. Now they have to research and incorporate into their models as much data as they can about the huge influence of the biosphere on climate, the influence of all living things including the bacteria.

Climate scientists are still at the point where they don’t know it all. They know a lot more than everyone else including all those political, religious and corporate climate change deniers but they still don’t know it all, or even enough to guarantee that their models and predictions are reliable. That’s science.

Human activity has some influence on climate and some of it is undoubtedly negative and causing some degree of worrying climate change. But nevertheless the main influences are the Sun and the Moon, the solar system, the greater Universe, the land mass, the atmosphere, the oceans and the sum total of the biosphere. These main influences are relatively stable over enormous periods of time with disturbances in the Force from time to time, measured in thousands and millions of years.

By comparison the global economy and our national economy are entirely human constructs, enormously unstable and unpredictable and affected daily by the economic decisions of seven billion humans, and the self-interested decisions of hundreds of governments and hundreds of thousands of corporations, not to mention the modern economic plague – an electronic herd daily placing billions of bets in the gigantic casinos that are the global capital and commodities marketplaces. Once bastions of financial conservatism the banks are now active participants in the global casino. Trust and morality have evaporated.

I suspect that as the technological revolution exponentially increases the pace of change in all human affairs the economic theorists are being left further and further behind, applying theories that applied to past events against a barely understandable present and a totally unpredictable future. The growth of the new BRIC super-economies of China, India, Russia and Brazil is adding little-understood and daily unfolding complexity to the global economy. When China sniffs we all sneeze. So how can anyone possibly understand it all or build a computer model of the economy that is even 50% reliable. They can’t and they don’t.

I am of course being terribly unkind to economists. We know that the future is increasingly unknowable and unpredictable and that the future now comes upon us at a pace unimaginable just fifty years ago. Yet we expect economists to act as a modern caste of oracle or soothsayer and to predict it for us. We may as well consult the horoscope. Except in hindsight no one anticipates mystical disturbances in the Force like the 2008 global financial crisis and other greater and lesser crises, like for instance depressions, recessions, bubbles and the raising and lowering of oil prices by OPEC, or the increase or decrease of supply by Saudi Arabia. Unfortunately many economists (and too many politicians) try to live up to our irrational expectations of them and try, whether from hubris or ignorance, to don the mantle of oracle, soothsayer or prophet.

Treasury produces forecasts based on enormously complex but ultimately unreliable computer modelling attempting to predict the outcome of different policy choices, and governments act on the forecasts. These are mathematical models lacking animation by human nature, and ethical or moral moderation; lacking also the randomness and chance of the events that shape our lives, including economic events. And in truth all macroeconomic forecasts venture into the realm of prophecy. In producing his (and maybe her) annual budgets the Treasurer is acting as fortune teller, or more commonly as the fortune teller’s stage assistant. The prophecies are typically about the next four or five years but we focus only on the current year and don’t actually notice that the longer term prophetic forecasts are usually just a mathematical wish list of hogwash.

It’s an annual exercise in pulling the wool over the eyes of the electorate; buying the votes that matter and for the rest of us creating a semblance of economic mastery, for we are inclined to vote for those who are able to subliminally convince us of their economic credentials where none exist. In reality we just muddle through from year to year and scramble to deal with disturbances in the Force. A bit like life in general.

Meanwhile economists keep searching on their quest for the holy grail of economics; a rational explanation for economic and business cycles and a theory that will allow them to be predicted, and hopefully make budgets a scientific pursuit. Mystical disturbances in the Force might be a more useful thesis. The mystical has served us well ever since the dawn of civilisation and there are still identifiable traces of mysticism in much economic theorising. The “invisible hand of the market” is the most well-known mystical belief, much revered in neo-liberal metaphysics. “Homo Economicus” is a mystical construct. Money itself is not about the value of the paper it is printed on or the metal in the coin, but is a matter of trust, of belief and faith in the value of exchange that it represents.

With such widespread faith in metaphysical belief little wonder that “money” has achieved the status of a god, and in this day and age “market” is not far behind.

Escaping from the abstract back to the material, in this globalising and technology driven economic environment transnational corporations have usurped and continue to usurp the economic functions of nation states and to evade any obligation to the nation state; notably taxation. Totally motivated by profit they care nothing for the health of national economies or the wellbeing of the people. Neither do they yet have any regard for the health of the soil, the water, the air, or the planet. They are ungovernable by national governments, democratic and otherwise. Thus is global business and the global economy ungovernable, and becoming increasingly so, by anyone. Most nation states are already in the position where they can only manoeuvre in response to forces beyond their control.

In New Zealand’s case perhaps it was always so despite the aura of expertise and control our politicians like to project.

The secret Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) is disguised as a free trade agreement but is more likely a strategic plank in America’s attempts to shore up its global dominance in the face of an increasingly powerful Chinese economy, accompanied by increasing Chinese economic, diplomatic and military reach. A large part of the US economic strategy seems to be based on gaining for US corporations much more legal, political and economic power within the TPPA and similar agreements. The US seems to be trying to counter centralised Chinese economic power with globally distributed US corporate power and by handing economic governance to the corporates. As a plank in the projection of global economic power the TPPA and many similar US initiated agreements sit alongside America’s continuing global projection of military power to control the oceans, space and cyberspace, and the now infamous “Five Eyes” projection of global surveillance.

Concealing these imperial geopolitical aims from us our New Zealand negotiators promise economic benefits but as always the US will attend to its own interests first and foremost regardless of what is promised in any agreement. It can be 100% guaranteed that none of our negotiators really knows the consequences of TPPA. The benefits are about hope rather than certainty. Much like economic theory itself. The proclaimed economic benefits of the TPPA are based on economic modelling that has been shown to be deeply flawed but if a model “proves” what its proponents want it to prove then it becomes infallible. The unintended economic and other consequences of TPPA await us.

“The road to hell is paved with good intentions”

So. Does anyone really understand the economy, and does anyone really know how to control what happens in our national economy?

    The politician and economist is like a person at the oars of a raft in white water – there is no control, only expert or inexpert attempts to steer, mostly inexpert. The river is in control”. (Richard Manning, “Against the Grain”).

Tossed about on this wild river we must try to steer our way into policy that benefits all New Zealanders and in our case, all Maori. To extend the metaphor we are reminded of the navigators of old setting sail across vast oceans. Those intrepid wayfinders found certainty in the stars they steered by. We too should have clear and certain stars to guide us. A good place to start is with Adam Smith, the “grandfather” of modern economics and one of its original steersmen.

Before I started this odyssey into the theory and practice of political economy I already knew that almost everyone who quoted Adam Smith had never read let alone studied Adam Smith. That is especially so of politicians, bureaucrats, businessmen and the media but also surprisingly or not, of economists. He is most quoted these days in support of neo-liberal ideology. His almost throwaway remark about the “invisible hand” is much quoted to validate theories about the free market or market liberalism. His “Wealth of Nations” is his only work ever quoted in an economic context. If we are to challenge the orthodoxy of these times we need to get to know Adam Smith.

Adam Smith and the Enlightenment

Adam Smith (1723 – 1790) was first and foremost one of the intellectual leaders of the 18th Century British Enlightenment which unlike the French and the American Enlightenments emphasised the sociology of virtue rather than the ideology of reason (France) or the politics of liberty (USA). There was however considerable crossover of ideas between the three of them and other centres of Enlightenment thought including Germany.

The Enlightenment has been many things to many philosophers but it might be described as a project to achieve a condition in which human beings think for themselves rather than in accordance with the dictates of authority such as tradition and religion, or princes and priests. It championed the use of reason in the moral and practical affairs of humankind. It displaced the ruling and property owning classes of the 17th & 18th Centuries and brought forth a number of institutions including:

    • Representative democracy;
    • Legal systems protecting the rights of individuals;
    • Free market economy; and
    • Public education.

Enlightenment thinkers applied reason to the study of moral philosophy, seeking the nature and content of moral rules in reason rather than in the authority of tradition and religion. Among them were Locke, Hume, Diderot, Bentham, Robespierre, Jefferson and Kant.

Adam Smith was one of them; a moral philosopher. His earlier work is his “Theory of Moral Sentiments” which he himself regarded as his major work and which he continued to revise long after the publication of “Wealth of Nations“, his much misquoted treatise on political economy.

Adam Smith clearly believed that the practice of economic management had both intellectual and moral dimensions. The economic Master of the 20th Century, John Maynard Keynes, was also absolutely firm in that belief.

In our own time it is clear that the global economic downturn following the near collapse of the global economy in 2008-2009 is fundamentally due to both intellectual and moral failure; that is to the failure of the economic theories of the times themselves devoid of moral context.

The Morality of Power

In this essay we shall explore the moral dimension as it relates to the political economy. The broader study of moral philosophy is highly intellectual and highly technical and could give us a headache trying to get to grips with it; so we won’t try. Well I won’t anyway.

The intellectual dimension of the political economy will be the subject of the next essays in this series.

In my previous essay “Challenging the Power Elite and Challenging the Status Quo” I called for us “to commit again to the struggle to challenge the status quo and to break the political, social and economic paradigm that consigns so many of our people to the serried ranks of the disenfranchised and disinherited”.

The first challenge is to the legitimacy of the power that maintains that paradigm. The power elite must be challenged to justify their power and their use of it. Does it serve the interests of the disenfranchised and disinherited. Does it serve the interests of society, of the future or the environment. But the most fundamental challenge is this – what is the moral justification for the possession of that power and the policies it spurns.

What follows is a (fairly) long exploration of moral philosophy in relation to the political economy. Its primary focus is on one of the absolutes of modern economics; the theory of the invisible hand of self-interest guiding market perfection and in determining all economic behaviour.

The Sociology of Virtue

The core thinking in the British Enlightenment was variously described as the promotion of moral sense, moral sentiments, social affections or social virtues. Those virtues included benevolence, pity, sympathy, compassion and “fellow-feeling”. That period has been described as “The Age of Benevolence” and “New Humanitarianism”. Those attitudes that were not considered virtuous included self-affection, self-love, self-interest and self-good. This was the thinking of the “grandfather” of economics, Adam Smith.

It espoused the concept of the greatest good for the greatest number and contained within it the seeds of egalitarianism that later came to be thought a quintessential part of the New Zealand character.

The Enlightenment and Enlightenment thinking led to the abolition of slavery, to many social reforms, and to an age of philanthropy. Economics was itself one of the pinnacles of Enlightenment thought.

It also gave rise to an era of world-wide evangelism. Enlightenment theologians refashioned beliefs as a solution to the religious dogmatism and intolerance of previous centuries. They espoused rational theology, moderation and reason. The Church Missionary Society (CMS) which evangelised in early New Zealand was a product of the Enlightenment. Apart from its evangelical mission the CMS was dedicated to giving practical form to both the religious and secular moral philosophy of the British Enlightenment.

Education for the poor became part of the Enlightenment mission. This too found its way to New Zealand expressed in a different context in the early establishment of schools for Maori by the churches and state. That of course included Te Aute College in 1854, established on Enlightenment principles, both religious and secular.

Captain James Cook, Joseph Banks, Samuel Marsden, Thomas Kendall, William Colenso, Octavious Hadfield, Henry Williams, William Williams, Edward Gibbon Wakefield and many other settlers, colonisers and missionaries were all influenced by the Enlightenment and Enlightenment thinking.

Adam Smith’s “Moral Sentiments” was one of the main influences of his own time and into the New Zealand colonial period. In the last year of his life, some years after his text “Wealth of Nations” on the political economy was published, he revised “Moral Sentiments”. He added a final chapter entitled “Of the Corruption of Our Moral Sentiments, Which is Occasioned by This Disposition to Admire the Rich and Great, and to Despise or Neglect Persons of Poor and Mean Condition“.

He wrote:

    “Hence it is that to feel much for others and little for ourselves, that to restrain our selfish and to indulge our benevolent affections, constitutes the perfection of human nature“.

He also wrote:

    “The rich and the great are too often preferred to the wise and the virtuous”.

He seems to be describing our own times.

This Adam Smith was no neo-liberal economist but his writings are often quoted totally out of context to add lustre to neo-liberal theology. He was a promoter of the free market but not totally unrestrained markets. His markets were those constrained by moral sentiments.

In Adam Smith’s time the economy and business was subject to the sort of moral constraint that the moral philosophers advocated. Today all of those restraints have gone and with them the true import of the type of economy that Adam Smith described in “Wealth of Nations“. His economic analysis and his key economic assumptions remain at the core of microeconomic theory today but the context has changed totally.

The important first principle of Adam Smith’s thinking on the political economy is that he understood economics to be a subset of moral philosophy. Adam Smith understood economics to be a subset of moral philosophy.

So the challenge and the message to the power elite is that if you choose to privilege self-interest over the common good you won’t find your justification in Adam Smith no matter how hard you try.

And try they do. Would you believe that when the University of Chicago published a bicentennial edition of “The Wealth of Nations” they distorted the original text because Adam Smith was actually strongly opposed to all of the stuff the neoliberals spout in his name. The introduction to that “scholarly” text is opposed to Smith’s original text on many points. A whole passage of the original text on the division of labour was simply deleted. The University of Chicago is the birthplace of modern supply side and neo-liberal economics.

The moral philosophy underlying any economic policy, theory and practice is something we can all readily understand. It’s not rocket science. It is a debate in which we can all equally participate. It should therefore be at the centre of all public debate and public policy formation. All of the rest of it is technical mumbo jumbo most often deployed to confuse the public and to give the appearance of expertise. The mumbo jumbo is deployed also to conceal the real moral philosophy in economic practice, or indeed the lack of moral philosophy.

In public policy first we define (or neglect to define) our moral principles and goals (or lack thereof) then we reach for the requisite social, political and economic tools to achieve our moral (or other) purpose.

The start point then in economic and Maori policy is to clearly define a moral philosophy on which policy is built. We need to shift the debate from the techniques of economic management to what it is supposed to achieve.

The moral philosophy of Adam Smith and other thinkers of the British Enlightenment had a profound effect on New Zealand society in general and on Maori society as well. As we have seen the Church Missionary Society and its clerical and lay missions to the colonies including New Zealand were heavily influenced by British Enlightenment thinking. So too were many of the earlier government officials. That thinking led to a gentler colonisation of New Zealand than had occurred in earlier colonisations. Like all sets of principles, values, morals and ethics it was often breached in practice but nevertheless that thinking did to a significant extent moderate colonial practice. It would have been much worse in an earlier time. One has only to look across the ditch to Australia to appreciate that.

The Williams family of clergymen and Enlightenment thinkers included Archdeacon Samuel Williams who founded Te Aute College in 1854. John Thornton who was its headmaster for about 24 years (1878 – 1912) and who was similarly influenced by the Enlightenment had an enormous influence on the thinking of a whole generation of Maori leadership (Apirana Ngata, Te Rangi Hiroa, Reweti Kohere, Tutere Wi Repa, Maui Pomare, Edward Ellison and others) while they were at school and afterwards. Their “Association for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Maori Race” was a classic Enlightenment project. It later morphed into “Te Aute College Students Association” and then into the “Young Maori Party”.

Thus it was that Adam Smith and other Enlightenment thinkers indirectly influenced a whole generation of ground breaking Maori leadership. And you thought they were influenced entirely by tikanga Maori?

John Maynard Keynes (1883 – 1946)

Keynes was the economic master of the first half of the 20th Century at about the time when the Maori protégés of Williams and Thornton were making their mark on New Zealand and Maori society. His “Keynesian” legacy lasted for some twenty years after his death until displaced by the present neo-classical or neo-liberal orthodoxy. We will leave an exploration of his economic theories and impact until the next essay(s). However he is an important figure in our present study of the moral dimension of political economy.

John Keynes studied political economy under Alfred Marshall at Cambridge University. Marshall (1822 – 1924) was a classical economist and his “Principles of Economics” set the stage for 20th Century economics until the theories of Keynes. Marshall was also grounded in philosophy and ethics and wrote:

    Ethical forces are among those the economist has to take account”.

Keynes did not think of himself as an economist but rather as a moral philosopher with a practical bent and a mission to forge economic practices that promoted the common good. He was not as many think a socialist but was a capitalist and investor with a moral conscience. He was one of the most brilliant minds of his time, admired even by the immensely clever philosopher Lord Bertrand Russell.

He was enormously influenced by the philosophy of G.E.Moore, a contemporary of Bertrand Russell and with Russell one of the leading 20th Century analytic philosophers. Moore wrote and taught at Cambridge University, where Keynes was educated and where he lived and taught for the rest of his life when he wasn’t in London, Versailles or Washington advising governments on economic policy.

Keynes was many things other than an economist and capitalist with a social conscience. He was a member of the London based “Bloomsbury Set” which challenged the status quo, the traditions and standards of their times some forty years before the cultural revolution of the 1960s. He mixed with writers, poets and artists and brought a creativity and flexibility of mind to his work in economic theory and practice.

But underlying it all was his intellectual base in the moral philosophy of G.E.Moore. In that respect he was not unlike Adam Smith although his ideas broke away from Smith’s classical economics.

Virtue Ethics

There are a diverse range of approaches and equally diverse theoretical constructs within the broad study of moral philosophy. Both Adam Smith and John Maynard Keynes can in some ways be seen as part of the whakapapa of the modern branch of moral philosophy known as virtue ethics. It is this intellectual stream that we will tap into in our present exploration of the moral dimension of the political economy and Maori policy.

Stating it very simply virtue ethics is about “rightness” and about how one should lead one’s whole life including the economic life. It has deep historical roots in Western society especially in the thinking of Aristotle. In many ways it can be seen as compatible with the deep historical roots of the virtues in Maori society. Later in the essay we will explore a Maori moral dimension along the same lines.

Alisdair MacIntyre is a key figure in the field of virtue ethics.

In 1981 he wrote “After Virtue” widely considered to be one of the most important works of moral and political philosophy in the 20th Century. He thought that the Enlightenment project, in rejecting the old and espousing the new had led ultimately to the rejection of moral rationality altogether by many subsequent influential thinkers. His aim was to revive the idea of the virtues espoused by Aristotle, updated for the modern context, for he contends that all modern attempts to construct moral philosophy are in one way or another dependant on Aristotle.

According to MacIntyre moral disputes take place between rival traditions of thought that we have inherited from the distant past. Our moral ideas of today have an intellectual whakapapa and to understand why we think the way we do we need to understand that whakapapa.

MacIntyre begins with the question about what comprises a good human life, a question the ancient Greeks grappled with. Before Aristotle Homeric values emphasised competition whereas Athenian values prized cooperation, the one being the basis of an heroic individualistic society and the other a society based on the common good. Heir to those influences, Aristotle sought to define a society based on the virtues.

On another parallel whakapapa line the two strands of teaching of the scriptures and of Plato were integrated into the Augustinian view of Christianity. Later still Thomas Aquinas merged the Augustinian and Aristotelian into what became the theological and intellectual basis of modern Christianity. Still later Calvin and the Enlightenment thinkers such as Hume and Smith, according to MacIntyre, by breaking continuity with the ideas of the past opened the way for what eventually became today’s liberal individualism.

In that sense whilst Adam Smith did not himself espouse liberal individualism he may well have unwittingly helped pave the way for its eventual dominance.

Two hundred years ago that whakapapa of ideas collided and slowly merged with the Maori concept of society, morality and virtue. It was of course a society in which the collective was privileged above the individual and although it has rapidly evolved alongside and sometimes within the other the key concepts need not be subsumed.

Few people in the policy domain really understand where their ideas and ideology originated and for the maker of Maori policy, seeking to challenge the status quo, knowing why people think the way they do is an important intellectual weapon. For in challenging the status quo we are challenging ideas and ideology. In that respect the work of MacIntyre in moral and political philosophy is instructive. This brief explanation barely touches the sweep of his ideas but serves to introduce him in the context of moral philosophy and Maori policy and to bring Aristotle into our exploration of the moral dimension of the political economy.

We should know why we think the way we do. Most of this essay is an attempt to answer the question about why some of us privilege self-interest and some of us the commons.

A Scientific Dimension

In science there are developing new lines of thought on the moral dimension. In fact many scientific researchers are turning to the moral philosophy of Adam Smith in “Moral Sentiments” to provide a contextual understanding of their laboratory experiments.

    “Experimental economists have discovered that people often act from a variety of motives, including self-interest, benevolence and justice. Neuroscientists have also discovered a mirror neuron network in the brain that mimics fellow feeling, and the hormone oxytocin associated with emotional bonding. These discoveries provide evidence for Adam Smith’s moral sentiments theory.”(Jonathon Wright, 2015, “Ethics in Economics, An Introduction to Moral Frameworks“).

We should watch closely the evolution of this line of inquiry.

Socio-biology – The Evolution of the Social & Moral Dimension

As well as neuroscience there is another new stream of interesting scientific research. The writings of Edward O. Wilson in social biology or socio-biology are particularly interesting and relevant, specifically his “The Social Conquest of Earth“.

E.O.Wilson’s ideas are not universally accepted or popular and are vehemently opposed by evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, author of “The Selfish Gene”. This is essentially an intellectual duel between two Darwinists and evolutionists, the one (Dawkins) promoting genetic and individual evolution and the other (Wilson) proposing co-evolution, both genetic and social evolution, individual and group evolution, or multi-level evolution.

Nevertheless Wilson does provide us with some useful ideas on which we might base our moral philosophy. In his theory about the origin of morality in answer to the age old question about whether mankind is innately good but corruptible by the forces of evil, or innately wicked but redeemable by the forces of good, he proposes that we are both. This dilemma of good and evil was created by the process of multi-level evolution in which:

    “Individual selection and group selection act together on the one individual but largely in opposition to each other. Individual selection is the competition for survival and reproduction among members of the same group. It shapes instincts in each member that are fundamentally selfish with reference to other members. In contrast, group selection consists of competition between societies, both through direct conflict and in differential competence in exploiting the environment. Group selection shapes instincts that tend to make individuals altruistic toward one another (but not towards members of other groups). Individual selection is responsible for much of what we call sin, while group selection is responsible for the greater part of virtue. Together they have created the conflict between the poorer and better angels of our nature“.

In bringing together research in molecular genetics, neuroscience, evolutionary biology, archaeology, ecology, social psychology and history into a theory of social evolution. he proposes that Homo sapiens is a “eusocial” species, in which group members containing multiple generations are “prone to perform altruistic acts as part of their division of labour” and bonding within the group is based on cooperation. Nevertheless evolutionary selection at the group or social level is based on altruism, cooperation, competition, domination, reciprocity, defection and deceit. We are all of us both selfish and selfless, a balance of altruism and self-interest. We are as individuals prone to sin and as cooperating groups given to virtue; part saint and part sinner.

According to Wilson it was group selection that catapulted our species to its present advanced state of civilisation compared to all other species. We are therefore genetically inclined to seek membership of a group or groups whether they be tribal, religious, sporting, vocational and many other groupings, and to act in the best interests of the group. The only precept that appears in all organised religions is the altruistic Golden Rule; “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you“, or variations on the same theme.

He states that the iron rule in genetic and social evolution is that “selfish individuals will always beat altruistic individuals, but that groups of altruists will always beat groups of selfish individuals”.

In sociobiological terms we evolved selfishly and altruistically into tribal and hapu societies both in the Old World and in Aotearoa New Zealand. In those societies there was competition for status and reproductive rights but group cohesion and solidarity was paramount in the eternal struggle against other tribes or hapu for dominance and resources. In the Old World after the agricultural revolution and with more plentiful supplies of food larger societies evolved and about 5000 to 7000 years ago religion and government arose to impose social control and political harmony on those larger societies. Wilson saw organised religion as an expression of the earlier tribalism. That situation persists although the British Enlightenment and its ideas about the sociology of virtue loosened religious dominance and reformed political practice.

In Aotearoa New Zealand the hapu and its tikanga predominated until the arrival of the Old World, its religion, its government and its relatively recent Enlightenment ideas.

Morality as social cohesion and control can be traced through that evolutionary path to the present day. Except that over the last thirty years the trail has become less well signposted. But we need to be clear about our moral philosophy as the foundation of policy.

In forming a moral philosophy for today and for today’s policy we must decide whether we tend towards the poorer or better angels of our nature, towards the altruistic or selfish, towards cooperation or competition. Realistically of course we need to be clear about how we harness both sides of human nature in the service of society. We are forced to form a view of the human nature and of the moral philosophy at the centre of our economic, Maori and other policy.

Socio-economics – The Social & Moral Dimension in Economics

We move now from socio-biology to socio-economics to explore the same issues. Whereas E.O.Wilson sees our subject from a biological and social evolutionary perspective In “The Moral Dimension – Towards a New Economics” communitarian Amitai Etzioni explores the duality of our natures, altruism and self-interest from within research and evidence in the social sciences.

Throughout this essay and in this section I refer often to paradigms. Etzioni provides us with a useful definition:

    Paradigms provide an orderly way of thinking about a disorderly world”.

The paradigm is not the world, and often not even remotely like the world it seeks to simplify. Such is the case with the neo-liberal paradigm.

    “Assuming human beings see themselves as members of a community and as self-seeking individuals, how are the lines drawn between the commitments to the commons and to one’s self? At issue is the paradigm we use in trying to make sense out of the social world that surrounds us, and of which we are an integral part; the paradigm we apply in the quest to understand and improve ourselves, those dear to us, and those not so dear”.

He sees two dominant paradigms:

    • An entrenched utilitarian, rationalistic-individualistic, neoclassical paradigm in which neoclassical (neo-liberal) economics has a flagship role; and
    • A social-conservative paradigm that sees individuals as morally deficient and often irrational, hence requiring a strong authority to control their impulses, direct their endeavours, and maintain order.

The two are not mutually exclusive and can be held both at the same time by the same people, for instance in economic (neo-liberal) policy and in security (social conservative) policy. Paradigmatic schizophrenia if you will. Perhaps those so afflicted are simply lacking a defined and guiding moral philosophy.

The neoclassical paradigm does not recognise community or society as an entity in itself but only as a collection of self-interested individuals. The neoclassical paradigm holds that it is the sum total of the activities of self-interested individuals that creates prosperity for all and that there is no place for community in the economy, especially if community is represented by government.

In this book Etzioni is concerned about the first paradigm, the one that has governed economic activity for the last thirty years. He does not seek to extinguish that paradigm but to moderate it by including it within a new paradigm that serves the common good as well as harnessing individual self-interest. To achieve that he proposes that the assumptions underlying the neoclassical paradigm be modified:

    • That the neoclassical paradigm that maximises just one utility (pleasure, happiness or consumption) is extended to maximise two utilities (pleasure and morality);
    • That whereas economic decisions are held to be made rationally we also recognise that values and emotions also play a part in decision making in both the social and economic spheres;
    • That where the neoclassical paradigm holds that the individual is the decision making unit we recognise that social collectives (ethnic, racial, peer groups, work groups, neighbourhood groups) are also part of the decision making process and that even individual decisions often reflect group values;
    • That whereas the market economy is seen as a separate system, a self-containing, perfect competition model we should see the economy as a sub-system of society, polity and culture.

The social context in which there is a partial overlap of the values and priorities of the individual and the commons is the essential difference between the neoclassical paradigm and the new paradigm proposed by Etzioni.

In relation to morality he too goes back to and quotes from Adam Smith’s “Moral Sentiments”;

    “How selfish so ever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature, which interest him in the fortunes of others, and render their happiness necessary to him”.

He explores and cites the research and evidence concerning:

    • Morality, doing what is right rather than what is pleasurable;
    • Altruism, interest in the fortunes of others; and
    • Commitment to the commons, or to the common good.

The premises of this socio-economic position encompass moral duty, altruism and a commitment to the commons as well as individual pleasure.

    “Examination of behaviour shows that individuals who seek to live up to their moral commitments behave in a manner that is systematically different from those who act to enhance their pleasures”.

The balanced approach is to advance individual well-being and to act morally.

So if we accept that there is a moral dimension to our lives as individuals and as a society, and the evidence clearly suggests that there is, then we ought to decide just how that moral dimension should influence policy. That calls for a modification to the prevailing neo-classical or neo-liberal paradigm, for the logical extension to that paradigm is either that we no longer live according to the moral dimension or we that we exclude the moral dimension from public policy consideration.

The logical extension is that moral values be replaced by market values.

Political Philosophy

Michael J. Sandel is arguably one of the leading philosophers and public intellectuals of these times.

He is a political philosopher and a professor at Harvard University where he has taught his famous “Justice” course for over two decades to over 15,000 students. He has published the content of this course in “Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do?” (2010) and it is the basis of a free online extension course and radio and TV documentaries. He has also published on ethics and morality in politics. Specific to our subject of moral philosophy in economics is his “What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets” (2012).

In it he argues that:

    “We live at a time when almost everything can be bought and sold. Over the past three decades, markets – and market values – have come to govern our lives as never before. We did not arrive at this condition through any deliberate choice. It is almost as if it came upon us”.

    “As the Cold War ended, markets and market thinking enjoyed unrivalled prestige, understandably so. No other mechanism for organizing the production and distribution of goods had proved as successful at generating affluence and prosperity. And yet, as growing numbers of countries around the world embraced market mechanisms in the operation of their economies, something else was happening. Market values were coming to play a greater and greater role in social life. Economics was becoming an imperial domain. Today, the logic of buying and selling no longer applies to material goods alone but increasingly governs the whole of life. It is time to ask whether we want to live this way”.

The last thirty years has been a time of market faith and deregulation, the faith that markets are the primary means of achieving the public good, described by Sandel as an era of market triumphalism. It began with Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, and in New Zealand with Roger Douglas and Ruth Richardson (and the bureaucrats and corporates who did their thinking for them). In New Zealand we are now applying the market to social service provision.

The 2008 global financial crisis brought that market triumphalism to an end casting doubt on the ability of markets to allocate risk efficiently and fairly. It also caused widespread belief that markets have become detached from morality and that we need somehow to reconnect them. That detachment comprises the central thesis of “What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets”.

The major cause of this transition was not just greed. Greed played a role but the most fateful change was the expansion of markets and of market values into spheres of life where they don’t belong. We now need a public debate about the moral limits of markets. Sometimes market values crowd out non-market values worth caring about. We don’t all agree what values are worth caring about but in policy we ought to debate and decide what values should govern the various domains of social and civic life.

Drawing on research in behavioural economics and social psychology Sandel shows using many real life examples that commercialisation of an activity changes it and that:

    • money corrupts;
    • market relations crowd out non-market norms; and
    • market values crowd out moral values.

In that debate we need to consider what are and are not appropriately treated as commodities or consumer goods, and what individual and civic rights should not be governed by the market. How we value things such as health, education, family life, nature, art, civic duties and so on are moral and political questions, not merely economic ones. The debate needs to decide whether we want a market economy or a market society.

Some politicians and economists don’t see it that way.

Their argument goes that we should not rely too heavily on altruism, generosity, solidarity or civic duty because those moral sentiments are scarce resources depleted with use. Markets or self-interest spare us from using up the limited supply of virtue. It is a specious argument. For the virtues are not commodities that are depleted with use. They are like muscle, the more they are exercised the stronger they grow.

Principles, Values, Ethics & Morals

We began this enquiry into various aspects of moral philosophy in the 18th Century thought of the philosophers of the British Enlightenment and with Adam Smith in particular, as he was both a leading figure in the British Enlightenment and the “grandfather” of modern economics.

If we accept that we need to start by clearly defining a moral philosophy to guide policy, in this case national economic policy and Maori policy then we ought to embark via public debate on an exercise to reach a consensus. The problem with politics is that there is too little moral argument. Political debate is vacant, vacuous and empty of moral content. It fails to engage the big questions that people care about.

What do we care about? Poverty? Unemployment? Inequality? Affordable housing? Equal access to higher education? How do we want to share in a common life? How do we want to live together? Is everything up for sale? Or do we have certain moral and civic goods that markets do not honour and money cannot buy? These are just a few of the questions we need to debate.

By establishing principles we are able to simplify and clarify matters in a world of competing demands, information overload, and political, corporate and media spin and propaganda. They help us to identify and weed out the bullshit in political discourse. Directly in opposition to that is the promotion of ideological political paradigms that seek merely to simplify but through the suppression of informed debate and the imposition of ignorance.

Do we think that policy should be underpinned by moral philosophy? Should we strive for a balance between altruism and self-interest? Do we believe in survival of the fittest or in the survival of those who cooperate for the common good? Should we seek to balance competition with cooperative relationships? Our principles thus established inform our choice of values, morals and ethics. Values motivate, and ethics and morals constrain.

Values are what we think important and motivate our thinking and actions. There are many competing and sometimes diametrically opposed values. That is why it is important that political parties ought to be forced by the electorate to declare their principles and values so that we can be absolutely clear what we are voting for, and so that we can hold them accountable. In the absence of clear principles and values politics and elections are little more than contests of personality and lotteries of chance. The politically informed and politically engaged know well the true principles and values of their preferred party regardless of party propaganda broadcast to the electorate. The non-engaged comprising most of the electorate are left in the dark.

Values include in no particular order – material success, individualism, efficiency, thrift, freedom, liberty, courage, hard work, prudence, competition, cooperation, patriotism, compromise, punctuality, social justice, social cohesion, social harmony, fairness, personal wealth, health, wisdom, and many others.

Once we have clarified our principles and values then ethics and morals are what guide our judgement about what is right and wrong, and our choice of policy settings.

Christianity & Religion

Christianity has played a major role in the development of a sense of morality in New Zealand in the lives of both Maori and Pakeha; in establishing shared principles, values, ethics and morals. It remains a strong influence in Maori society, not so much in the wider society. In the New Testament Mathew 22:37-40 contains the essence of this:

    “Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul and with all thy mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it. Love thy neighbour as thyself. All the Law and all the Prophets hang on these two commandments“.

Whether or not we believe in a god the second can certainly be applied to our management of the political economy.

The problem with basing economic policy on Christian values is that Christianity has long been claimed by all political ideologies and has been used as justification for behaviour both virtuous and vile. Justification for almost anything can be found in the Bible, especially the Old Testament.

Of course there are long established moral precepts in Christianity and these were incorporated into Enlightenment thinking as the sociology of virtue. The Enlightenment secularised the morality previously the sole preserve of religion.

Novelist and essayist Mario Vargas Llosa in “Notes on the Death of Culture, Essays on Spectacle and Society”, Part VI “The Opium of the People”, whilst not necessarily subscribing to a belief in God, and who describes secularism as absolutely necessary for the promotion and maintenance of democracy, nevertheless sees a very necessary role for religion in society. He writes:

    “It is still an incontrovertible reality that, for the great majority, religion is the first and main source of the moral and civic principles that buttress democratic culture.” Also. “The evisceration of spiritual life is happening in all strata of social life but it is in the economy that the effects are most visible.”
    “All the great liberal thinkers, from John Stuart Mill to Karl Popper, including Adam Smith, Ludwig von Mises, Friedrich Hayek, Isaiah Berlin and Milton Friedman, argued that economic and political freedom achieved its full civilizing function, creating wealth and employment, defending individual sovereignty, the rule of law and human rights, only when the spiritual life of a society was intense and fostered a hierarchy of values respected and adhered to by that society”.
    “The great failure and the crisis that the capitalist system faces again and again – corruption, the spoils system, mercantilist manoeuvres to gain wealth by infringing the law, the frenetic greed and fraudulent activity of banks and finance houses – are not due to inherent faults in the institutions of capitalism themselves but rather to the collapse of moral and religious values, which act as a curb that keeps capitalism within certain norms of honesty, respect for one’s neighbour and respect for the law. When this invisible but influential ethical structure collapses and disappears in many areas of society, among all among those who have the most responsibility in economic life, then anarchy spreads, bringing about an increasing lack of confidence in a system that seems to function only for the benefit of the most powerful (or the biggest tricksters) and against the interests of ordinary citizens who lack wealth and privilege”.

Tikanga Maori

An underlying theme in this essay is that we have to take our argument outside of tikanga Maori, beyond the Treaty of Waitangi and into the intellectual domain of the other tikanga if we are to successfully challenge the status quo. Arguments based entirely in kaupapa Maori are self-limiting and self-marginalising.

So although it might seem that the proper place to start to define a moral philosophy for political and economic management in support of Maori policy ought to be in Tikanga Maori or Kaupapa Maori, this policy will serve all New Zealanders and ought to be based in both strands of tikanga. Which is why I have traced the influence of Tikanga Maramatanga (The Enlightenment) into New Zealand and into the thinking of Maori leadership in the first half of the 20th Century. Which is why I have discussed insights from the physical and social sciences and from moral and political philosophy. The principles, values, morals and ethics that will comprise the moral philosophy underlying economic policy and practice will need to be expressed in terms embraced by all New Zealanders.

A trap that we must avoid in Maori policy is to equate policies that privilege society, community and the common good with policies that privilege “iwi” or “corporate iwi”. For we need to know just what communities Maori do engage with on a daily and weekly basis. Do most Maori regularly engage with their iwi or is that engagement nominal only. The research has not yet been done. Iwi engagement as opposed to iwi affiliation is a matter of cultural faith rather than proven reality.

Given that most Maori are urban Maori and effectively detribalised how do they engage in the commons and in the economy? The reality is that the age old functions of tribal leadership in matters of law, security, health, education, housing, welfare and economics have all been taken by government. Maori, even the minority of Maori living in the old tribal homelands, engage with government for most of their personal and communal needs. WINZ is our primary provider. Local government provides our community services.

Which is not to say that Tikanga Maori values should not play a prominent part in the moral philosophy. These will include the principles of tika and pono and the values of whanaungatanga, manaakitanga, mana and tapu. They are of course not at odds with Aristotelian, Enlightenment and religious virtues, principles, values, morals and ethics. Mana, that which is the innate possession of all persons and that which ought to be respected in all policy might be the basis of a moral philosophy based on Tikanga Maori.

Tikanga values are the virtues in Maori culture much as Aristotelian values are the virtues in the other. “Tikanga Maori, Living by Maori Values” by Hirini Moko Mead and “Nga Pepeha a nga Tipuna” by Hirini Moko Mead and Neil Grove are probably the two primary texts to guide a moral philosophy based on Tikanga Maori.

If we base our moral philosophy on Tikanga Maori we should never assume that all Maori subscribe to the ancient communal values, for we are now a diverse people and many in the influential Maori development sector and in academia have already been converted to the ideology of liberal individualism. We need to preach to our own as well as the other.

Challenging the Status Quo

There are at least two dimensions to the study of economics, the moral and the intellectual. Indeed some of the greatest thinkers in the evolution of economics have considered that the study of the political economy is subordinate to the study of moral philosophy. This essay has been about the moral dimension.

In challenging the status quo in relation to Maori policy a challenge to the moral basis of the present economic orthodoxy that now reaches into all corners of policy and society is the first and most important challenge.

In policy in general, and in national economic policy and Maori policy in particular, the thesis of this essay is that policy should be based first and foremost on a moral philosophy, hopefully a widely shared moral philosophy. At the very least the moral basis of any policy should be clearly enunciated; transparent to all.

The corollary of this proposition is that if policy has little moral basis or no moral basis whatsoever that too should be transparent to all.

We should evaluate and judge all government policy, and hold governments to account, based on the principles, values, ethics and morals upon which policy is based (or not) rather than on the spin and propaganda deployed in the marketing of policy to the electorate; or worse still on bland assurances that the power elite knows what is best for us, or on blind or apathetic trust in our political leadership.

The assumption underlying this approach to policy is that principles, values, morals and ethics in private and in public life have not been entirely extinguished and ought to remain the bedrock of New Zealand society and culture. Or are we content to allow market values to spread into all aspects of our social and economic lives and to extinguish moral values. Do we for instance privilege market values over social justice, or the primacy of the market over the mana of the people.

These notions are drawn from the many strands of our exploration of moral philosophy. If we accept the view of morality and society extant from ancient times in tikanga and in religion, in the 18th Century sociology of virtue of Adam Smith and the British Enlightenment that informed thought in early colonial and post-colonial New Zealand, both Pakeha and Maori; and if we accept the same or similar views from the perspectives of socio-biology, socio-economics, the political philosophy of Michael Sandel and the moral philosophy of Alisdair MacIntyre, then in coming to a view of Maori policy, economics and moral philosophy we would incline towards a belief that policy ought to provide for the greater good of the greatest number including the greatest number of Maori, and that that ought to be the basis of both national economic policy and Maori policy.

For the greater good of the greatest number including the greatest number of Maori.

We might say it thus:

Unuhia te rito o te harakeke, kei hea te kōmako e kō?
Ui mai ki ahau, ‘He aha te mea nui o te Ao?’
Māku e kī atu,
‘He tangata, he tangata, he tangata.’

If you remove the central shoot of the flaxbush, where will the bellbird rest?
If you were to ask me, ‘What is the most important thing in the world?’
I would reply,
‘It is people, people, the people.’

Related Essays

Mai i Hawaiki ki Hawaiki: The Evolution of Maori Culture
The Evolution of Pakeha Culture
The Maori Worldview and Maori Policy
The Mythology of the Whanau-Hapu-Iwi Construct
The Origins of Corporate Iwi
The Maori Economy – A Fanciful Notion
The Myth of the Maori Entrepreneur
The Treaty of Waitangi Revisited
Te Ture Whenua Maori Review – Who Benefits? 
Perspectives of Time, Small Prophecy & Maori Policy
Draining the Swamp – Some Fundamentals for Maori Policy Makers
Maori Policy: Challenging the Status Quo – A Call to Reengage in the Struggle

Maori Policy: Challenging the Status Quo. A Call to Reengage in the Struggle.

And let’s take a good look at ourselves while we’re at it.

    “It behoves politicians, bureaucrats, academics, researchers and activists to become not just economically literate but economically expert if they are to challenge the status quo. This is no short term quest”.“Draining the Swamp” the previous essay in this series on Maori policy.

I wrote in that essay that becoming economically literate and building economic expertise was a necessary step towards gaining access to the levers of New Zealand’s economic policy settings. The policy settings that must be changed in order to design and implement economic policy that would benefit all Maori, not just the Pakeha elites and to a much lesser extent the Maori elites.

But that comes later I now realise.

Before that can happen the authority and control of the power elites must be challenged and broken for they control and manipulate those economic levers to suit themselves. The power elites are by definition in Aotearoa New Zealand overwhelmingly Pakeha, and male, and they will not take their hands off the levers without a struggle. In an earlier struggle it was the unions and the Labour Party that led the way. Alas, the unions are no more and the Labour Party has turned away from its founding principles and has forsaken the poor and the downtrodden.

Power elite” is a term borrowed from American author C. Wright Mills and his 1959 book “The Power Elite”. It was about the structure of power in the United States focusing on the military, corporate and political elites and their control over the supposedly democratic processes of government. The idea in contemporary times is often expressed as the “deep state”, the “permanent government” or the “shadow government” and although a topic of serious research and commentary it is often adopted by conspiracy theorists. As a concept of power relationships however “power elite” fits the New Zealand context, certainly since the neo-liberal revolution of the 1980’s and 1990’s.

Power is the root of the long struggle we now politely label “Maori development”. The relationship between Maori and Pakeha, between Maori and government, has always been a relationship of unequal power and our struggle to regain lost power. We call it rangatiratanga.

In the 1980’s and 1990’s the late Bruce Jesson chronicled the rise of a new power elite in New Zealand; a power elite he described as the “New Right” and the “Libertarian Right”. The actors in that power elite were drawn from politics, the economic bureaucracy, corporations and academia. See “Pakeha Networks” in the September 1988 edition of “Te Putatara”. That 1988 analysis was drawn from Bruce Jesson’s “Behind the Mirror Glass” (Penguin, 1987).

In his posthumously published “Only Their Purpose is Mad, The Money Men Take Over NZ” (Dunmore, 1999) he described how the power elite, particularly the finance sector, had taken over the country. See here for a review. His analysis was prescient as nine years later in 2008 the finance sector had taken over the global economy and brought it to its knees.

Nowadays no-one seems to be keeping tabs on the elites but in the sixteen years since that last Jesson book a new generation of actors has joined the power elite, and their neo-liberal agenda has been firmly embedded as political and economic orthodoxy; the new status quo. A key aim of that agenda is to entrench itself so deeply that no future government will be able to reverse it. It has worked so far.

The four wings of the power elite are:

  • political;
  • bureaucratic;
  • security, intelligence and law enforcement; and
  • corporate.

The political wing of the neo-liberal power elite is today is led by John Key, Bill English, Stephen Joyce, Gerry Brownlee and the fast rising Paula Bennett. Judith Collins is the cheerleader for the extreme right of the power elite. Prior to them the political wing was pretty much dominated by Helen Clark, Heather Simpson and Michael Cullen. The underlying neo-liberal agenda was the same in both cases. Although on the surface and according to its propaganda Labour policies might have seemed somewhat progressive at a microeconomic level, at the macroeconomic level nothing had changed from previous governments. Indeed the Labour Party of today sits on the neo-liberal right of Robert Muldoon’s National Party of the early 1980’s.

Since 1984 the different shades of politician have cycled and recycled through government but the macroeconomic agenda has remained constant. Little change can be expected if Labour manages to unseat National again.

The powerful bureaucrats in the control ministries and the economic ministries remain in place throughout, totally committed to defending their neo-liberal agenda. They are from Prime Minister and Cabinet, State Services Commission, Treasury, the Reserve Bank, Ministry of Business Innovation and Enterprise, Ministry of Primary Industry and others. A formidable force they are in a very real sense a permanent government and defenders of the status quo.

The security, intelligence and law enforcement agencies have gained more and more power from gullible and compliant parliaments since 2002 and are part of the power elite. Their agenda is not primarily economic although the intelligence agencies do gather economic intelligence. They do however serve to reinforce the dominance of the power elite through ever increasing controls over the population. The NZ Police in particular over recent years have demonstrated their disposition to silence democratic dissent; to indulge in political intelligence and surveillance, in heavy handed suppression of protest and demonstration, and unlawful investigation in the service of the power elite.

Corporations are deeply embedded in the power elite with ready access to political and bureaucratic policy makers. They and those they serve are perhaps the main beneficiaries of the present political and economic paradigm. The access of Time Warner (Peter Jackson), Sky City and MediaWorks to this government are publicly revealed examples.

The most glaring example of access to and exercise of power was in the negotiations towards the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). In those negotiations politicians, bureaucrats and influential corporates acted together in secret on behalf of the people of Aotearoa New Zealand who were, with most of their elected representatives, totally excluded. The TPP negotiations were a blatant exercise of power by the elected and unelected elites acting together for their mutual benefit. Corporates from across all TPP countries actually wrote much of the agreement.

In Aotearoa New Zealand corporate membership of the power elite now includes the finance sector, energy, media, transport, telecommunications, the primary industries and others. Prior to 1984 large parts of those industries were publicly owned and controlled. Privatisation has meant much more than passing of ownership from public to private hands. It has resulted in those private hands now being part of the power elite; the ones in control of our lives. The neo-liberal agenda of the 1980s and 1990s was not just about economics and business and the transfer of capital; it was about a massive transfer of power from the people and their elected representatives to the unelected.

The main corporate umbrella is The New Zealand Initiative formed in 2012 from a merger of The New Zealand Business Roundtable and the New Zealand Institute. It is a neo-liberal think tank and membership organisation with about forty corporate members listed in its website which states:

    “Our members come from various backgrounds and represent the New Zealand economy in all its diversity”.

Which can only be so if you believe that those New Zealand businesses represent the New Zealand economy, which also quite surprisingly comprises about 4.5 million individuals, their civil society organisations, thousands of small and medium size businesses, as well as the forty or so business members of the NZ Institute and however many individual members they have. They actually represent the big end of New Zealand business.

It further states:

    “Together the members of the NZ Institute form a network of high profile individuals and firms united by their passion for good public policy”.

Good public policy” meaning of course what is good for big business and what is good for the power elite. Unless of course you really believe that what is good for them is good for everyone, all 4.5 million of us. The statistics put the lie to that.

Max Rashbrooke’s recent book “Wealth in New Zealand” (Bridget Williams Books, 2015) contains statistics that show just who benefits from this concentration of power in the hands of the few:

  • The wealthiest 1% of New Zealanders own 18.1% of the nation’s wealth;
  • The wealthiest 5% own 39.4%;
  • The wealthiest 10% own 53.5%;
  • The wealthiest 50% own 96.1%; and
  • The next 50% own under 4% of the nation’s wealth. Among them are the disenfranchised and the “disinherited ones to whom neither the past nor the future belongs”.

Ethnic statistics show that:

  • Pakeha (71% of the population) own 85% of the nation’s wealth;
  • Asians (10%) own 7%;
  • Maori (12%) own 5%; and
  • Pasifika (5%) own 1% of the nation’s wealth.

Those figures combined with the statistics in a previous essay “The Maori Worldview and Maori Policy” graphically illustrate that inequality and poverty are now accepted and quietly promoted by the power elite as the new status quo. It is a status quo that must be challenged and broken if Maori policy is to have any chance of bringing hope and dignity to most if not all Maori people; and to all of those who are the disenfranchised and the disinherited. The discarded.

Policy that would matter to the disenfranchised and disinherited never makes it onto the policy agenda. Poverty and inequality are dirty words. Policy that would matter is rarely if ever seriously discussed and debated in the halls of power. Politics and policy formation in this day and age are about mindless rhetoric, about avoiding the challenge of ideas, dumbing down policy debate, about discouraging the disenfranchised and disinherited from any engagement in the political process, and pushing through the agenda of the power elite in the guise of economic policy. In neo-liberal LalaLand the disenfranchised and disinherited are blamed for their own plight.

Policy that would matter to the disenfranchised and disinherited would be about people not just property and profit, about the dignity that all citizens are entitled to in a democratic society, and about the representation of their interests in the democratic process. About the mana of the people. But we are moving away from democracy and towards plutocracy; rule for the wealthy by the wealthy and those who serve them. The statistics in this case do not lie. We are becoming a plutocracy disguised in democratic form.

How can that status quo be challenged and reversed? It will not be without struggle. Who is up for the struggle? I fear that we are not up for it.

Kohanga Reo, Kura Kaupapa, iwi radio, Maori television, Maori health provision, Maori fisheries, the return of lands, Treaty settlements, corporate iwi, and much more besides; all of that was gained through struggle. It was gained through the activism of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s and it did not come lightly. It was gained on the streets and in the courts. Many were arrested, some imprisoned for their activism. Many more put their own futures on the line. That activism built to such a crescendo that governments had to concede lest their imaginary “we are one people” pleasant and harmonious New Zealand society collapsed around them. Fear drove them to seek to co-opt us rather than to continue to ignore, suppress or even oppress.

They masked those political concessions as altruism and goodwill and bought us off. It was good politics. They bought our compliance and over time co-opted us to their neo-liberal agenda. They seem to have convinced us that the limited wealth they have transferred into a few Maori hands will eventually trickle down to the many. It hasn’t and it won’t.

It was the activists who made all of the gains possible and forced open the doors. Both Maori activists and conservative Maori walked through those doors and created the many initiatives, projects, programmes and organisations of the “Maori Renaissance”. Then in a short timeframe the activists were pushed aside and the conservatives took over governance and management of almost all of the new Maori development sector. But the original kaupapa of raising living conditions, reversing all of the negative social and economic indicators, and creating a measure of prosperity for all Maori had not been achieved. We were blinded by limited concessions and successes after decades of struggle.

And we gave up the struggle. We focused on the money, or fish, and how we would share it out, or not. The decade long battle over the capture and allocation of fishing assets illustrates just how we became totally diverted from the original kaupapa. We squabbled over the gold cast across our pathway. In fisheries and in other settlements we spent all our time and energy staking our claims at the Waitangi Tribunal, and afterwards turning ourselves into mandated recipients of the limited gains. It became the Grand Diversion. The government of the day even put a price on it – one billion dollars. But what of its value?

We have not achieved the aims of the long struggle but we seem to have convinced ourselves that we have. The present generation, the Maori elites who have taken over governance and management in the Maori development sector, are interested only in the benefits they accrue from the struggle of the previous generation. They seem to have convinced themselves that their management of those billions of dollars’ worth of communal Maori assets will do the job for all Maori; that the struggle is over. They have been co-opted to the neo-liberal agenda of the power elite. Some of them are delusional in their aspiration to become part of that power elite.

Not all of them of course. In my own many hapu from Heretaunga to Wairarapa and Te Tau Ihu dedicated people have laboured away for decades on behalf of all of us and we are now starting to gain mostly monetary settlements for past injustices. They are good people working on behalf of the hapu. It is no reflection on them or their mahi but the gains are really just a pittance.

The struggle is not over. Whilst a few benefit from those limited gains the people are still the disenfranchised and disinherited; the discarded of the neo-liberal agenda. Yet we have given up the struggle. And I don’t see a new generation of activists waiting in the wings. At this time the main political cause is the intent of the Maori elites to reframe Maori land legislation in the hope of creating more wealth in the Maori development sector. Whether or not it is justified, the fear of the many is that through new land legislation the Maori elites will disinherit their own; the already disenfranchised and disinherited.

We have lost our way.

In part however that was the result of faulty conceptualisation and design in the initiatives and programmes that theoretically aimed to reduce the social and economic disparities between Maori and Pakeha.

One of the main aims of the early activism was the revival of cultural identity and language. That resulted in successful Te Reo Maori educational and broadcasting initiatives but not a longer term widespread use of Te Reo and not, as many of its promoters thought, in the general lifting of Maori aspirations leading to a reversal of negative social and economic statistics. As a cultural identity initiative it has been moderately successful. It has not however led to overall social and economic success.

Hui Taumata 1984 (Maori Economic Summit) resulted in a primary focus in the Maori development sphere on economic development. However “economic development” then became narrowly defined as Maori business development rather than overall improvement of the economic status of all Maori. It shared with the neo-liberal agenda the belief and rhetoric of the now discredited “trickle down” theory. That narrow focus has resulted in a growing Maori business sector within a new Maori development sector of the New Zealand economy but not in any appreciable improvement in the social and economic status of Maori in general. It also resulted in the notion of the mythical “Maori Economy” and in the belief that the “Maori Economy” would trickle down and deliver for all Maori.

The Maori Party’s later “Whanau Ora” social development programme is aimed as its name suggests at working with individual whanau in need and not at dramatically changing the total social and economic environment in which those whanau struggle for survival. As I wrote in “Draining the Swamp” it aims to rescue a few whanau from the swamp rather than to drain the swamp. Within its narrow terms of reference “Whanau Ora” is not doomed to failure; neither will it be successful in achieving the aspirations of its programme designers.

Whether by design or happenstance or both we have lost our way.

Not entirely of course. The Mana Party tried to reengage in the struggle but a combination of tired old rhetoric from a collection of tired old minds, incredibly lousy strategy and poor leadership all but wiped them out at the last elections.

In a parallel domain, in academia, we have also lost much of the intellectual impetus behind Maori development policy and practice. Throughout the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s most Maori academics were actively involved in the struggle, some at the forefront of protest and demonstration. Indeed much of the activism was launched from within the universities with students and the newly graduated at the barricades. Almost all were politically engaged in challenging the status quo. Senior Maori scholars including Ranginui Walker, Patu Hohepa, Ngapare Hopa, Robert Mahuta, Tipene O’Regan, Hirini Mead, Api Mahuika, Katerina Mataira, Whatarangi Winiata and others provided intellectual frameworks and direction and were themselves actively involved.

The next generation of scholars were equally engaged and led by Graham and Linda Smith developed and entrenched a Maori specific domain within the universities across a number of disciplines, notably in education, perhaps the most important site of struggle within and beyond the university. Their “Kaupapa Maori” intellectual framework now informs most Maori specific scholarship. Wally Penetito also led the way in Maori education. Mason Durie developed intellectual frameworks across a number of areas notably in Maori health and Maori education. There are many others.

The next generation of Maori academics seems to be disengaged from the political process which is the only avenue to serious reduction of the poverty and inequality that afflict too many of our people. There are some who are active in the Maori Party but the Maori Party, despite its good intentions, serves only to legitimise the neoliberal agenda of the power elite in relation to Maori issues. The Maori Party is our only Maori party and it should lead the political struggle. But it expends its considerable Maori Development budget on standing still.

That $244 million serves mainly to buy its political support for another year. It maintains the status quo and doesn’t move us forward in any appreciable way.

The 2015 budget allocation for Vote Maori Development was about $244 million. $54 million of that was for the Whanau Ora programme, $82 million for the promotion of language and culture and $33 million to pay for the Maori development bureaucracy leaving about $75 million spread across a range of social and economic programmes. That and similar budget allocations throughout the seven years of the Maori Party’s alliance with the National Party has done little if anything to reduce Maori poverty and the unequal place of Maori in New Zealand society.

One would expect those academics involved in the Maori Party to develop new intellectual frameworks and strategies; to try something different. However it seems that the Maori Party is tied to the tired old policies and programmes that haven’t delivered and has no new ideas despite the evidence that new ideas are desperately needed. Not just new versions of old programmes.

“Ka pu te ruha, ka hao te rangatahi”

The Maori Party needs to seriously engage with academia and with the creatives. It needs to pull in some intellectual and creative heft and to reinvent itself.

There is also some evidence that Maori academics are increasingly disengaged not only from politics but also from their Maori communities. Some have become what Graham Smith has called “privatised academics”, engaged in scholarship for their own benefit rather than the benefit of Maori communities and Maori in general. Some co-opt the “struggle” to enhance their own mana. They talk about the wellbeing of the people but don’t walk the talk.

Has academia abdicated its Maori development leadership role? Perhaps the unintended consequence of success in creating a Maori specific space in the universities has been an increasingly inward focus by Maori academia.

There are of course many academics working in their own tribal communities. However most Maori are urbanised and detribalised. Who is advocating for them at a pan tribal and national level?

Perhaps a shift in the leadership of Maori development away from its intellectual platform in the universities and whare wananga towards the Maori business sector, corporate iwi and “iwi leaders”, towards bureaucracy and conservative governance and management, was causal in narrowing the intellectual capacity, the focus and direction of Maori development, and ultimately in sending us in the wrong direction.

It may be that the universities and whare wananga need to reset the compass and to reclaim Maori development leadership from “corporate iwi” and “iwi leaders” who are by definition motivated by a form of self-interest, albeit in the name of “iwi”. We are in need of a much broader and deeper perspective, a perspective that acknowledges modern realities rather than neo-tribal nostalgia.

Maori academia would begin by becoming deeply reengaged in the political process.

All of this is indicative of a failure of strategy, a failure to keep our gaze on the far horizon, becoming focused instead on near term gains. The great samurai strategist Miyamoto Musashi (1584-1645) in “The Book of Five Rings” put it this way:

    “The gaze should be large and broad. This is the twofold gaze “Perception and Sight”. Perception is strong and sight weak. In strategy it is important to see distant things as if they were close and to take a distanced view of close things”.

It is the role of the intellectual and the strategist to promote perception, to maintain our gaze on the far horizon, to keep the distant things close. We need a new generation of Maori public intellectuals, learned across a range of disciplines in both humanities and sciences, advocating for all Maori. But they need to bring new ideas into the public domain. The old ones have been around far too long.

In his 1967 essay “A Call to Celebration” (published in “Celebration of Awareness: A Call for Institutional Revolution”, Marion Boyars, London, 1971) the late Ivan Illich expressed this hope for the future of mankind:

    “I and many others, known and unknown to me, call upon you:

    • to celebrate our joint power to provide all human beings with the food, clothing, shelter they need to delight in living;
    • to discover, together with us what we must do to use mankind’s power to create the humanity, the dignity, and the joyfulness of each one of us”.

And this:

    “We are challenged to break the obsolete social and economic systems which divide our world between the overprivileged and the underprivileged. All of us whether government leader or protester, businessman or worker, professor or student share a common guilt. We have failed to discover how the necessary changes in our ideals and social structures can be made. Each of us therefore through our ineffectiveness and our lack of responsible awareness, causes the suffering around the world”.

    “The call is to live the future. Let us join together joyfully to celebrate our awareness that we can make our life today the shape of tomorrow’s future”.

Ivan Illich was one of the main intellectual influences in the work of Professor Ranginui Walker. Ranginui was and is the preeminent analyst of our own need for institutional revolution. His 1990 book “Ka Whawhai Tonu Matou” was subtitled “Struggle Without End“. In it Ranginui related the story of the long struggle from the very beginning up to 1990. He needs to be read again to remind ourselves of just what we were struggling for. In the Introduction he wrote:

    “As portended by the freedom fighters at Orakau that the struggle against an unjust social order would go on forever, the urban Maori have taken up where their forbears left off. This book is about the endless struggle of the Maori for social justice, equality and self-determination, whereby two people can live as coequals in the post-colonial era of the new nation state in the twenty-first century”.

Have we just taken a break or have we brought the struggle to a premature end?

Ka Whawhai Tonu Matou

The call then is for each of us personally, in our search for direction, policy and action that benefits all Maori, to admit our common guilt in wilfully falling short of the aims of the so called Maori Renaissance; in wilfully being distracted by the glint of gold. And to commit again to the struggle to challenge the status quo and to break the political, social and economic paradigm that consigns so many of our people to the serried ranks of the disenfranchised and disinherited.

Are we up for it?

Next Essay

He Tangata: Maori Policy, Economics and Moral Philosophy – The Moral Challenge to the Status Quo and to Neo-liberal Theology

Related Essays

Mai i Hawaiki ki Hawaiki: The Evolution of Maori Culture
The Evolution of Pakeha Culture
The Maori Worldview and Maori Policy
The Mythology of the Whanau-Hapu-Iwi Construct
The Origins of Corporate Iwi
The Maori Economy – A Fanciful Notion
The Myth of the Maori Entrepreneur
The Treaty of Waitangi Revisited
Te Ture Whenua Maori Review – Who Benefits? 
Perspectives of Time, Small Prophecy & Maori Policy
Draining the Swamp – Some Fundamentals for Maori Policy Makers

Whose side are we on in Iraq?

All you need to know about the chaos in the Middle East.

So. Whose side are we on in Iraq?

Well may you ask.

Let’s see. There’s Iraq (the Shi’a part) and we’re training the Iraqi army to fight ISIS which is sort of made up of other Iraqis (the Sunni part). Iran is also training and supplying the Iraqis (the Shi’a ones) so I suppose we’re on their side too. Except that Iran is supposed to be a rogue state and the declared enemy of two of America’s best friends, Israel and Saudi Arabia.

And President Obama has recently done a deal with Iran in spite of demands from the American Extreme Right for a war on Iran as well. So maybe Iran is now a friend.

We’re definitely on the side of the Shi’a part of Iraq and maybe some of their friends.

Syria, the bit still controlled by Bashar al Assad is the enemy too, except that our new friend Iran supports him because his part is the Shi’a part. There are other bits of Syria that we think are our friends but we don’t know who they are, and other bits that we think are our enemies but we don’t really know who they are either. ISIS is also in Syria and they’re definitely our enemy.

ISIS is really now a country of its own and is definitely our enemy until it isn’t, like when sometime in the future we need them to be our friends.

But they behead people!

Well so do our sheep eating Saudi friends. Maybe if we sold sheep to ISIS they’d be our friends too.

We wouldn’t do that would we?

Why not. Friendship has nothing to do with human rights. Trade trumps human rights every time.

Now in the north there’s Turkey and that’s a friend except that we don’t know which side Turkey is really on, except its own side. So we could be on Turkey’s side too.

And the Kurds. We’re on their side. But Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Syria and ISIS are all against them.

From Lebanon there is Hezbollah who are Shi’a supporting Bashar al Assad and are themselves supported by Iran. They’re sworn enemies of Israel so they are probably our enemies too.

The Saudis are on their own side, on our side, and probably on the side of some of the Sunnis involved in the chaos, including maybe ISIS. They’re definitely the sworn enemy of all the Shi’a. And they’re having their own little war with some Shi’a in Yemen. They just beheaded a Shi’a cleric and have set the place alight. Well their embassy in Tehran for starters.

Russia is in there too supporting Bashar al Assad so it might be an enemy except that none of us is game enough to say so except for Turkey when they shot down a Russian fighter plane.

Jordon is keeping its head down.

Israel is studiously keeping out of it (well maybe, and maybe not, you never can tell what they’re up to). For the moment they’re mainly just killing Palestinians and stealing their lands.

Egypt has kept out of it and has a peace treaty with Israel. The basis of that treaty might be a promise by Israel to nuke Egypt back into the dark ages if it tries to invade Israel again.

Libya fell apart after its own version of an Arab Spring and doesn’t look a threat to anyone for the moment.

So, whose side are we on?

That’s easy. America.

But, whose side is America on?


Let’s ask some different questions.

Why did America invade Iraq in 2003 and cause all of this chaos?

Good question. It definitely wasn’t for the reasons they gave at the time.

Well who benefits from all of this chaos, from the degradation and weakening of all of these countries?

Another good question.

Well then, who benefits from the fragmentation of all of Israel’s neighbours? Lebanon, Syria and Iraq?

Ah. I see where you’re going. Israel I suppose.

So who propelled America into Iraq in 2003 causing all of this fragmentation?

Well it wasn’t George W. Bush. It was Vice President Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and the neo conservatives who drove that policy agenda. The Neo-cons. They wanted to invade Iran next.

Neo-cons? Who are they?

Ah. Good question. They’re ardent and committed American Zionists, all of them.

So whose side are we on?


And whose side is America on?

Um. Israel?

And who is New Zealand’s leading politician of Jewish descent?

Um. Prime Minister John Key?