Category Archives: Politics

Should Maori Policy be Targeted or Universal? From Whanau Ora to a Universal Basic Income.

Looking back, five years ago on Boxing Day 2013 I wrote:

For poor and struggling Maori Christmases come and go with monotonous regularity marking neither change nor advancement in their lives but just the passing of another 365 days of struggle and the prospect of another 365 days exactly the same. For most of them the past is the present and the present is the future.

“They are the ones described in “Duino Elegies” by the Bohemian-Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke as the “disinherited ones to whom neither the past nor the future belongs”.

Nothing much has changed.

In previous essays on Maori policy I have decried the narrow focus of Maori policy of the last few decades, specifically its focus on cultural and language revival, and on settlements and business development through neo-tribal organisation, at the expense of policy designed to lift all Maori out of the quagmire of poverty and inequality that still entraps large numbers of Maori at the bottom of the socio-economic heap.

I have advocated that the makers of Maori policy focus instead on the much wider national macro- and micro-economic policy settings that actually determine the place of our people in society, and that have worked against the narrow Maori policy settings of the last thirty-plus years. And in focusing on the political economy I have made a case for a moral underpinning of economic policy, and for mana tangata to be enshrined as the pou tokomanawa of all national economic policy. People first. He tangata, he tangata, he tangata.

I have been ambivalent about the Whanau Ora programme currently under review, having in my lived experience seen some 60 years of targeted Maori policy and programmes come and go without much long lasting and overall effect for all Maori. I commented that I expected Whanau Ora to go the way of all such programmes, to Programme Heaven.

From the website of Te Puni Kokiri we learn that:

“Whānau Ora is an approach that supports whānau and families to achieve their aspirations in life. It places whānau at the centre of decision making and supports them to build a more prosperous future.

“Whānau Ora is about increasing the wellbeing of individuals in the context of their whānau, it is whānau-centred. It differs from traditional social and health approaches that focus solely on the needs of individuals.

“Whānau ora recognises the strengths and abilities that exist within whānau and aims to support and develop opportunities that fulfill potential.

“The whānau-centred approach:

  • starts by asking whānau and families what they want to achieve for themselves, and then responding to those aspirations in order to realise whānau potential
  • provides flexible support for whānau and families to move beyond crisis into identifying and achieving medium and long-term goals for sustained change
  • focuses on relationships, self-determination and capability building for whānau to achieve positive long-term outcomes
  • uses a joined up approach that focuses on all factors relevant to whānau wellness, including economic, cultural, environmental factors, as well as social factors
  • recognise that each whānau has a different set of circumstances, and what works well for one whānau does not work well for other whānau
  • recognises that whānau and families have skills, knowledge and experiences that contribute to their own resilience, and can provide a platform for whānau and families to become more self-managing and independent.”

That is pretty much a cut-down version of classic community development principles aimed not at community but instead at just one of the building blocks of community; whanau. It misses the point of community development, in that the whole community needs to be developed. The institutions of community are equally important in the development process, as those institutions need themselves to adapt and develop their policies and practices in response to the self-identified aspirations and goals of whanau. And to the aspirations and goals of the whole of the community they serve. Those institutions are both non-governmental organisations, and the institutions of central and local government. And thus we are led inevitably and inexorably back to the policies within which those institutions function, primarily to economic policy.

Whanau Ora is not a policy. It is a programme. What Whanau Ora is doing is enabling some whanau to make some headway in the existing policy environment. It seems that it has also generated an economic dividend for some who don’t need it. It is not about designing and implementing policy settings that will change and improve the total living environment for all Maori.

For that is a challenge more universal in its vision, aims and objectives.

The challenge is to acknowledge, actively promote, and celebrate the mana of all New Zealanders; a social justice challenge. To create policy for the greater good of the greatest number, including the greatest number of Maori.

The challenge is to eradicate poverty, especially child poverty. The challenge is to significantly reduce the extremes of inequality, both income inequality and wealth inequality; to create a more egalitarian society for all, Maori and non-Maori.

And in so doing to promote equal access to quality housing, health and education. With subsidiary aims of reducing crime and imprisonment.

The first step is to eradicate poverty.

We were promised, over thirty years ago, that the now discredited neoliberal policy agenda of the radical Labour and National governments (1984-1999) would create wealth that would trickle down to all, and that the rising tide would lift all boats. Instead it lifted about 10% of the boats, some much higher than others, and at least 50% of waka Maori were left bottomed on the mudflats. It was a rising tide of inequality.

Is there a universal policy tide that will lift all boats?

Well, we already have one. We need look no further than New Zealand Superannuation which is paid to all New Zealanders over the age of 65 regardless of status, income and wealth. There is a slight anomaly that needs fixing, regarding marital status and gender equality. However, since the concept was introduced in 1938 it has largely solved the problem of poverty of the aged. That 80-year trial of a Universal Basic Income (UBI) for old folk seems to have been quite successful.

We used to have a UBI for children – the Family Benefit that was paid from 1946 to 1985, paid to the mother, for all children up to the age of 16, or 18 for those still in education. That worked too. Then it was replaced with targeted benefits as part of the benefit slashing and beneficiary bashing of the neoliberal ideologues.

We now have a plethora of targeted benefits that don’t work. The increased incidence of poverty and homelessness, and all other indicators of an uncaring society bear testament to that assertion. It can be traced directly back to the benefit slashing and beneficiary bashing brought on by Minister of Finance Ruth Richardson’s 1991 “Mother of all Budgets” and by her “Ruthanasia” economic reforms. The targeted benefit system stigmatises beneficiaries instead of recognising their mana, and the inherent dignity of every person. It criminalises those who cheat the system in order to live. And it creates an administrative and compliance regime that is huge, unwieldy, costly, and that robs beneficiaries of their dignity. It has done nothing to eradicate poverty, and to reduce inequality. It has instead embedded poverty and inequality.

It panders to the bigotry of those who look down upon the less fortunate, and who blame them for their own misfortune. It functions alongside a tax system that taxes the income of all (except those who are already wealthy and able to evade taxation), that regressively taxes the consumption of all (GST), the burden falling most heavily upon those who can least afford it, and tax-exempts the wealth and rent seeking of the fortunate. Together the targeted benefit system and the targeted tax system prop up the structural inequality that maintains the privileged position of the fortunate few.

The proponents of the system of targeted benefits piously pretend that it builds a caring safety net. It is uncaring and robs people of their dignity. Takahi mana.

The reinstatement of a Universal Basic Income for children (previously the Family Benefit), and the introduction of a Universal Basic Income for all adults aged 16 to 64 would change all that. It would in one step raise all waka on a rising tide, begin to deal to poverty, begin to deal to inequality, and have significant downstream effect. It would remove the stigma of the beneficiary label and begin to restore the mana of present day beneficiaries.

And it would mostly disestablish the costly and much loathed administration and compliance apparatus.

How to pay for it? Apart from wiping out most of the costs of administration and compliance, that’s where the tax system comes into play. Perce Harpham has proposed a 33% flat tax regime that tax exempts those most in need, and progressively recoups the UBI payout from those who don’t need it. Additionally he and The Opportunities Party have both proposed forms of Asset Tax that aim to reduce wealth inequality and to help pay for a Universal Basic Income.

The targeted benefit and taxation regimes currently embed poverty, income inequality and wealth inequality into New Zealand society. A Universal Basic Income system and a new taxation regime can begin to reverse that situation.

Is it sustainable? It has to be. Faced with the uncertainty of paid employment in the digital age and gig economy, and in the developing age of automation and robotics, alongside the looming climate crisis, we have to move towards a political economy that aims to equitably share the national income and wealth, regardless of employment status. The alternative is widespread unrest, disruption and chaos. We will also need innovative new ideas about how to create a national income and national wealth that will sustain the whole nation. New ideas have always been the basis of progress. Old ideas that don’t work are for discarding. Ka pu te ruha.

Aiming far beyond the limiting confines of targeted Maori policy this is universal policy that will lift all waka. And begin to restore the mana of our people. Particularly those who can only gaze through the windows at the Boxing Day sales.

Boxing Day 2018.

See also “Economic Review of the Status of Beneficiaries in NZ” by Gail E. Duncan

On Ignorance

“One kind of ignorance is willful stupidity; worse than simple stupidity, it is a callow indifference to facts or logic. It shows itself as a stubborn devotion to uninformed opinions, ignoring (same root) contrary ideas, opinions, or data. The ignorant are unaware, unenlightened, uninformed, and surprisingly often occupy elected offices. We can all agree that none of this is good”.

Firestein, Stuart. Ignorance: How It Drives Science (Kindle Locations 119-121). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.

The US Election: Looking Back, Looking Forward in New Zealand

“Keep me from the man who says, ‘I am a candle to light the people on their way’; but to the one who seeks to make his way through the light of the people, bring me nearer.  – Kahlil Gibran

The reactionary authoritarian movement culminating in the election of Donald Trump as the next President of the United States, preceded by the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom, and the rise of authoritarian right wing political parties across Europe and elsewhere, had its genesis in the 1980’s.

It was then that the business and political elites of the Western world overturned the post-WW2 social, political and economic consensus, seized for themselves (again) the reins of power from the people, their organisations and their representatives, and set out to erode the democratic process itself. Neoliberal economic ideology provided the rationale and the vehicle for them to trickle up the wealth of nations from the people into their own hands, all the while extolling the benefits of their ideology through their trickle down propaganda.

Perhaps, despite the enormous potential danger of a Trump presidency, their hubris has finally bitten them on the arse, and perhaps out of the ashes of this catastrophe, the people might regain their place in the democracy. But not of course under Donald Trump. The next few presidencies perhaps. It took over thirty years to get into this mess. It will take quite a few years to climb out of it. And they will be years of turmoil.

The danger is that the political hijackers will take us in an entirely different direction. Into something resembling fascism, in which the business elites will prosper even more at the expense of the people, and democracy will die a faster death than it has been doing under the neoliberal social, political and economic paradigm.

I’ve been waiting for over thirty years for something like this to happen. And yet I haven’t a clue what is happening. I can only watch and document it as it happens.

In the 1980’s and 1990’s I chronicled some of it as it affected Maori. It has been an interesting few hours looking back over what I wrote at the time. It might be worth reflecting on how we got to this point. In a book review on 10 October 1988 we see how the authoritarian right was always there, sheltering behind the libertarian right, poised to take over the reins of power if and when the opportunity arose.

In the United States and United Kingdom, as it is in New Zealand. Perhaps in New Zealand we will be sheltered from the worst of it by our MMP electoral system. Perhaps not.

One thing is certain. Change is upon us, once again.

Looking back.

19 September 1988

Pakeha Networks

The networks of Maoridom are well understood by Maori people, and are totally impervious to the eyes of most Pakeha.

The networks of the Pakeha centre and left (including unions, Labour Party, peace movement, women’s movements) are also well known. Indeed many Maori people are involved in these Pakeha networks. Maoridom is also well acquainted with sporting networks (at the players’ level rather than the power level).

The networks of the Pakeha Right are not so well known these days.

As a boy I grew up under the benign influence of the old Right. In Ngati Kahungunu we were colonised by such families as Williams and Ormond. They bought the land, converted it into the very image of rural England, populated it with their subjects (white and woolly, but four-legged), and set themselves up as a colonial version of the English aristocracy.

They became the Sheepocracy.

Ngati Kahungunu was the labour force which kept the sheepocracy in the manner they aspired to. Which was not all bad. Maori contractors cleared the land, built the fences, and stripped the wool from the sheep. Good times for the sheepocracy meant good times for Ngati Kahungunu.

The Hawkes Bay/Wairarapa sheepocracy, and others like them all over the country, spread their networks deep into the business world. They dominated the boards of the meat and wool industry, and the rest of the business sector, which existed primarily to serve their interests.

Through the National Party they controlled the political life of the country for most of the last fifty years.

With the destruction of the meat industry, and the decline of the wool sector, they have finally lost the almost total grip they had on New Zealand.

I used to dream of the day it would happen; of the day when their power would be broken.

But they have been replaced by a powerful city-based elite, the libertarian Right.

The sheepocracy never ever considered sharing power with Maoridom, but they acknowledged our existence, and until recent years depended on our labour for their own lifestyle.

The libertarian Right has no use for us whatsoever. We are no longer needed to fuel the farms and the factories of the sheepocracy. The new elite don’t need us in their kingdom at all; in the finance sector.

What is the libertarian Right?

They are the very people who have been idolised in the Pakeha media for the last five years. They are the swashbucklers of the money markets, the corporate raiders, the property spectaculators, the take-over buccaneers, the Americas Cup admirals.

Their organisations are the Business Roundtable, and the NZ Centre for Independent Studies (a think-tank). An Australian think tank, the Centre of Policy Studies at Monash University, does work for both Treasury and the Business Roundtable. These think tanks are tools of the libertarian Right.

They read the National Business Review. They no longer owe allegiance to the National Party. They will support whomsoever will support them – like Roger Douglas.

Much of their impetus comes from the Chicago School of economists, from Milton Freidman and others of the “monetarist” persuasion. They are advocates of the free market. They are dedicated to the cult of individualism, and to the belief that what is good for them is good for the country.

Their central belief is totally opposed to the value system and cultural community that is Maoridom.

For instance the NZ Centre for Independent Studies, in conjunction with the National Business Review, has brought to New Zealand a Dr Thomas Sowell for a series of seminars. Dr Tom is an American Black who has a PhD in economics from the University of Chicago.

He is a strong opponent of positive discrimination and affirmative action in favour of racial minorities. He has been brought to New Zealand to speak [against] positive discrimination in favour of racial minorities in employment, and the economy as a whole.

To my knowledge this is the first overt foray into racial issues by the libertarian Right. It brings into the open their stance on these issues, cloaked in economic terms.

The theories of the libertarian Right have penetrated the very bastions of the State, to Treasury and the Reserve Bank. They are being adopted by the whole of the State Sector as practitioners of the libertarian Right spread their networks into powerful and influential places.

Who are they?

The libertarian Right is a network of likeminded people. In listing the following people “Te Putatara” does not wish to convey the impression of a conspiracy. The aim is simply to show the extent of the network.

They are listed in no particular order.

(Sir?) Alan Gibbs of Gibbs Securities, friend of Roger Douglas, chairman of the Forestry Corporation, author of the Gibbs Report on the health services, member of the Business Roundtable, and responsible for bringing the Centre for Independent Studies from Australia to New Zealand.

Professor Richard Manning of Canterbury University where many Treasury staffers have been educated, and who is involved in the Centre for Independent Studies.

Professor David Emanuel of Auckland University and the Centre for Independent Studies.

Max Bradford, formerly of Treasury, then the Bankers Association, and currently secretary-general of the National Party. Involved with the Centre for Independent Studies.

Rob Cameron, formerly a senior member of Treasury (co-authored briefing papers to the incoming Labour Government in 1984), and now an executive of the Centre for Independent Studies.

Ian Douglas of Renoufs and formerly a chairman of the NZ Planning Council.

Roger Kerr, ex-Treasury (another author of the 1984 briefing papers), now executive director of the Business Roundtable. An important link between the business sector and the mandarins of the new public sector.

Sir Ron Trotter, chairman of the Business Roundtable etc.

Allan Hawkins (Equiticorp), David Richwhite (Fay Richwhite), Peter Francis (Chase Corporation), Doug Meyers (Lion), and Robson (Independent Newspapers) are all involved with the Business Roundtable.

Rod Deane formerly deputy governor of the Reserve Bank, then Chairman of the State Services Commission and now Chief Executive of the Electricity Corporation. Also a trustee of the Centre for Independent Studies.

Graham Scott, another co-author of the 1984 Treasury briefing papers, and now Secretary of Treasury.

Sir Ron Brierly, chairman of the Bank of New Zealand, etc.

Jaz McKenzie, Secretary for Labour.

John Fernyhough of the Lion Foundation, colleague of Douglas Meyers, chairman of the Electricity Corporation, deputy chairman of the Forestry Corporation, and long time associate of Alan Gibbs. Reported to have participated in the Centre for Independent Studies. Studied at Chicago University.

Professor Bruce Ross of the Economic Development Commission.

Bryce Wilkinson who co-authored with Graham Scott, Rob Cameron and Roger Kerr the 1984 Treasury briefing papers.

Patrick Duignan who with Rob Cameron wrote another Treasury paper on state-owned enterprises. Doug Andrews who was Roger Douglas’ link with Treasury when Labour was in opposition.

Dr Don Brash, former National Party candidate, and recently appointed as Governor of the Reserve Bank. Prominent as an advocate of the free market and monetarism.

(Sir?) Brian Picot, director of Progressive Enterprises, chairman of Phillips NZ, chairman of Pacific Venture, director of NZI, and author of the Picot Report on education.

Derek Quigley, an early National Party member of the libertarian Right network. Ousted from Cabinet by Sir Robert Muldoon.

Ruth Richardson, Opposition spokesperson on finance.

Simon Upton, National MP for Raglan. One of the few who can argue his position from an intellectual and philosophical base rather than from economic prejudice.

Roger Douglas who has given his name and his political clout, along with that of Richard Prebble, to the work of the libertarian Right network.


Te Putatara wishes to acknowledge its debt to Bruce Jesson, political columnist with “Metro”, author of “Behind the Mirror Glass”, and editor of “The Republican” magazine, for his research on the libertarian Right.

Readers wishing to study the subject in more detail should read “Behind the Mirror Glass”, Bruce Jesson, Penguin, 1987. “The Republican” is available on subscription ($15 for six issues) from P.O.Box 22-263, Otahuhu, Auckland 6.


Much of what has been done to restructure the economy and the state in the last five years certainly needed to be done. Few would deny that.

However, the paucity of social experience and social conscience in Treasury, coupled with extreme right wing zeal, has turned the process into an absolute nightmare.

The restructuring of the rest of the state sector has been justified by Treasury on the grounds of efficiency and effectiveness. There is an even more compelling reason to restructure the treasury system – Democracy.

10 October 1988

BOOK REVIEW: A Study in Right Wing Politics – A Must for Maoridom

“Revival of the Right. New Zealand Politics in the 1980s”, A new book by Bruce Jesson, Allanah Ryan and Paul Spoonley. Heinemann Reed, Auckland, 1988. $19.95.

The September issue of Te Putatara drew heavily on the work of Bruce Jesson and his analysis of the libertarian right. Coincidentally a new book by Jesson and two members of Massey University’s Department of Sociology has just been published.

In this book the three authors combine to describe the right wing in New Zealand, both the libertarian right and the authoritarian (moral) right. These two strands are loosely linked as the new right. The authors collectively describe the philosophical and political origins of right wing belief in the western world, then in a chapter each they provide more detail.

Jesson gives a history of the libertarian right in New Zealand, outlines its rise to pre-eminence in the intellectual, political and economic life of the country, and updates its progress to the present. I believe that it is important for Maori leaders at local, regional, and national levels to understand the libertarian right and its ideology. This chapter is a must.

The chapters by Ryan and Spoonley which cover areas we are probably more aware of, are equally informative.

Ryan gives an overall view of the authoritarian right and its preoccupation with feminism, abortion, sex education, pornography, and homosexuality. She also discusses the politics of the authoritarian right, its new found enthusiasm for the economics of the libertarian right, and its links with fundamentalist and evangelical Christianity.

Spoonley, who has previously written on racism and ethnicity, looks closely at four other issues of the authoritarian right; anti-communism, pro-contact with South Africa, anti-peace movements, and anti-biculturalism. The most significant issue raised by Spoonley is the growing racism of Pakehas.

In New Zealand overt racism has in the past been largely confined to the authoritarian right, and to extremist groups such as the League of Rights. [Incidentally Bob Martin, Welsh activist, retired fisherperson, and grandfather of two lovely part-Pakeha children, is the patron of one such group called the One New Zealand Foundation.]

However there is now a newer and more publicly acceptable form of racism. It includes the belief that when different races and cultures come into contact there is competition for resources. This is seen to generate suspicions which are entirely “natural”, and just part of human nature [see the Treasury definition of discrimination in Issue No.9/88].

With these and other justifications being developed by the libertarian right, “racial prejudice” can therefore be denied. The sophisticated racism of the libertarian right also provides a subtle vehicle for the extremists of the authoritarian right.

Spoonley states: “…the arguments will focus on the need to encourage a national will as a basis for economic growth and prosperity.”

“Biculturalism will be defined as subverting free-market capitalism, as undermining the competitive and academic elements of education, and as dividing New Zealand by emphasizing minority, rather than majority interests.”

“Already, libertarian right activists such as Bob Jones and Winston Peters, along with publications such as Metro and More, have expressed these arguments.”

“A new racism has emerged.”

On this issue the two strands of the right have a common cause. Pakeha racism is therefore becoming more entrenched and is settling in for the long term.

[For Maori people this development has long term implications. Governments come and go, but the libertatrian right has installed itself in the highest levels of the public service, and will be there for two generations at least. It is already generating justifications such as “mainstreaming” for the new face of racism, and it has a long way to go. Never mind what the politicians meant in “He Tirohanga Rangapu”; watch how the Mandarins of the libertarian right implement it in the years ahead].

The final chapter, “Reclaiming the Debate”, contains the “separate reflections” of the three authors. They suggest “new ways to recast current debates about the form and future of New Zealand society.”

The reflections are informative but contain no suggestions for Maoridom to reclaim the heights. We shall have to develop those strategies for ourselves.

A good book to have.

To those more attuned to the cut and thrust of intellectual debate on the marae it may at first seem too Pakeha to be bothered with. I suppose those educated only in the Pakeha university tradition have the same problem within the Maori intellectual framework.

However the book is worth getting into. The advantage in being Maori is in understanding both intellectual traditions.

 22 January 1989

Look in the bed, not under it!

This article is written by a retired NZ Army officer who served Queen and Country diligently and honourably for twenty years at peace and at war; an officer and a gentleman (mostly), a pillar of the establishment (Still, I tell you! Still!).

For all of those twenty years the official “enemies” of the state were the communists, and other less than loyal fellow travellers of the left. We were as a nation urged to beware of the red menace (Reds under the Bed) and the yellow peril. At various times these took the form of Russians, Chinese, and Vietnamese. At home we were warned of the evil Ken Douglas and arch-commo Bill Anderson of the Socialist Unity Party, and of the Communist Party of New Zealand.

The preoccupation with the “enemies of the left” reached its heights in the prosecution/persecution of Dr William Sutch by the government of the day for his alleged collaboration with the Russians. A former senior public servant, Sutch was presumed to have left his protégés buried deep in the public service, and after his public denunciation the Government went to great lengths to root out his influence.

Sir Robert Muldoon made an art form of commie-bashing (along with academic bashing, economist bashing, journalist bashing, union bashing, anti-tour activist bashing, and Maori activist bashing). Unionist turned capitalist Rob Campbell was consigned by public condemnation to surreptitious membership of the Socialist Unity Party for daring to stand up to Muldoon.

Well? After all those years of vigilance did New Zealand survive the holocaust?

After three decades of disastrous economic management, by both National and Labour, the social cohesion of the country is close to destruction.

Ironically the coup de grace was delivered not by our traditional enemies on the extreme left, but by our “friends” in the extreme centre and on the extreme right.

Close to 200,000 will soon be unemployed, the farming sector all but collapsed, the manufacturing sector is reeling, the share market has crashed, untold thousands of small investors have lost their life’s savings, some of the largest companies in the country have collapsed or lost millions of other people’s money, and there is more to come. [As the final edit is being done Equitycorp crashes]. The nation’s capital assets have been stripped. Muldoon’s “ordinary blokes” and their families are hurting – deeply.

Maoridom again bears the brunt of it, and the Pakeha politician drags up his trustworthy “race relations” drum to beat. It takes people’s minds off the real issues.

Dr Bill Sutch was robbed of his reputation, and eventually his will to live. His followers were hounded from the public service. Even if he was guilty as Muldoon has avowed, history will record that he did little real long term harm to the nation.

Senior public servant Dr Graham Scott and senior quasi-public servant Dr Rodney Deane of the libertarian right are still at large, both hugely rewarded for their contributions to the state of the nation today. The grapevine reports that with salary and perquisites they are both close to $250,000 per annum. No wonder they keep their salaries secret!

Sir Robert Muldoon, Roger Douglas, Richard Prebble and Trevor de Cleene have all fallen from grace, but their many supporters on both sides of the House remain in power.

Let those who would find a new enemy in the guise of Maoridom beware. Beware, for the real enemy is closer to home. Look in the bed as well as under it. That is the lesson of the last thirty years for Pakeha New Zealand#

20 February 1989

Prime Minister Pokes Treasury

Predictably, the Treasury opposed a proposal for women to get equal pay for work of equal value on the grounds that it would not be good for the economy.

The Right Honourable Mr David R. Lange stated that Treasury would have been opposed to the abolition of slavery. He’s right. Treasury IS opposed to the full recognition of the Treaty.

20 May 1989

Parliament – What a Hard Case!

Just in case you don’t know what’s going on down here. There are something like six, or maybe sixteen, or even 97 parties in Parliament.

There’s the Government which is the Tired Old Labour Party, the Jim Anderton Leadership Crusade which is the New Old Labour Party, and Roger Douglas’ Funnybone Club which is the Funny New Labour Party. Some people belong to all three parties.

On the other side there’s Jim Bolger’s Sad Old National Party, the Peters & Muldoon Charade which is the Sad & Lame Old National Party, and Ruth Richardson’s Radicals who are the Funny Old New National Party. Some people belong to none of them.

On our side of the House there’s the Cyclone Koro Party which is sometimes a tuturu Maori party, sometimes a Tired Old Labour Party, sometimes a New Old Labour Party, and sometimes a Funny New Labour Party. Good strategy Koro. Keep yourself guessing.

There’s also the Ratana Party with Whetu Tirikatene-Sullivan which is certainly tuturu Maori. At the moment I think the Ratana Party will be having difficulty working out which Labour Party it had a deal with. E Whetu, I think that was Te Old Old Labour Party.

The Bruce Gregory Labour Party which is also tuturu Maori (and definitely Labour) gets upset with all the Labour Parties from time to time because they don’t take any notice of him, so it must be counted as a Labour party on its own.

Finally we have the Peter Tapsell Party which tends to be a bit to the right so it could be part of the Funny New Labour Party, but then again it could be part of the Funny New National Party. On the other hand it’s pretty conservative so it could be part of the Tired Old Labour Party, or the New Old Labour Party, the Sad Old National Party, or the Sad & Lame Old National Party. Or perhaps the Old Old Labour Party too.

Outside the House we have the Mana Motuhake Party which is a tuturu Maori party but wants to do a deal with the New Old Labour Party. You should have learned your lesson by now Matiu; they only want your votes, not your kaupapa.

Then we have the Socialist Unity Party which is telling everyone to stay in the Tired Old Labour Party, and the NZ Democrats Party which is telling everyone to join the Gary Knapp Self-Admiration Party. Bruce Beetham, who was the one who changed the Social Credit Political League into the NZ Democrats Party, is now back in the Social Credit Party: or is it the Bruce Beetham Nostalgia Party?

E hoa ma, you can’t blame all these MPs for voting for themselves to be leader. There’s so many parties they can all be leader if they want to! I wouldn’t be surprised if we end up with more Pakeha political parties than Maori tribes. That would be a real rabble wouldn’t it? They do a lot more fighting than the iwi eh.

All the sensible people I know have joined the Don’t Know Don’t Care Party. All the porangi ones are joining me in the Mad Hatters Tea Party.


20 July 1989

The War of the Blowfly

Paul Holmes ran a show about gun-running and landing craft in Tai Tokerau. E hoa ma, I think there really ARE things like that going on up there. But it’s not Ngati Whatua, Ngapuhi, or even those shady Aupouri. It’s the Pakeha himself.

True, e hoa ma, the kumara vine has secret intelligence that the South Island has declared war on the North Island!

Long, long ago during the reign of Sir Robert the Great (Muldoon silly, not Jones), those South Islanders started to get real hoha because the North Island was pinching all their electricity and not giving anything in return. Their economy got so bad all the people were leaving for Queensland, and they were in grave danger of being overrun by sheep and blowflies.

Those wily Ngai Tahu strategists saw this happening and began to organise a takeover. The situation was dangerous. So the South Island devised a strategy to conquer the North, using the North’s own weaknesses to destroy itself.

This strategy is known as the War of the Blowfly, so called because it is the tiny blowfly that would defeat the mighty sheep.

First, they trained heaps of economic saboteurs at the University of Canterbury, and then they started to infiltrate the Treasury and Reserve Bank. Their plan was to use the Freemarket to seduce the greedy business and financial sectors of the North (particularly Auckland), and to induce them to destroy themselves. Some of them got alongside Roger Douglas when he was in opposition and convinced him that he was the Messiah. Then they filled his head with their subversive ideas.

As luck would have it, on a worse than usual night in June 1984, Sir Robert the Great handed the whole country over to them. It caught them unawares but they immediately launched a small invasion on NZ Railways landing craft. E hoa ma, some of you call them ferries. In a single night in June they brought in all their economic shock troops and captured many vital installations in the economy.

I heard their chilling war-cry: “To market, to market, to buy a fat pig!”

After that, their agents in the Labour Caucus got down to some serious brainwashing, and before the month was over they had converted a mildly socialist government into an extreme capitalist enclave. Such was the power of their principal weapon; Treasury-Speak. This was their crowning victory. The takeover was complete.

Those South Islanders didn’t bargain on the resilience of the iwi though. It was Maoridom that used their own “Rule of Law” against them and blunted their attack in the courts.

So they had their propagandists launch rumours and misinformation in the North Island about Maori revolutionaries and about gun-running. This strategy used another of the great weaknesses of Pakeha North Island; their fear of the tangata whenua. Commercial fishermen and dopey farmers have fallen for it and are now armed to the gums.

Every now and then the South sends a real landing craft up to Tai Tokerau. Just to keep the pot boiling. See.

15 July 2000

Our own coup d’etat in Aotearoa New Zealand.

“What I have described ….. is a civilization — our civilization — locked in the grip of an ideology — corporatism. An ideology that denies and undermines the legitimacy of the individual as the citizen in a democracy.” – John Ralston Saul, The Unconscious Civilization, Penguin, 1997.

While the government has been pontificating on the coup d’etat in Fiji, and promoting the cause of democracy, that same government has been quietly brought to its knees by the anti-democratic forces at work in this country. There are no hostages, except that the whole country has been held hostage. The government has surrendered without a fight, and without negotiation.

This quiet coup in which democracy has been denied for at least another three years has been conducted by the business elites. The “business confidence” propaganda carried by the media controlled by those business elites has been the visible weapon they have used to defeat this government. Behind the scenes they have conducted a guerrilla war of muted threats and coercion to force the government to change almost any policy that will bring to an end the 16 year anti-democratic revolution that has taken power from the citizen and delivered it to the corporates, and their political allies.

Since the minority Labour / Alliance government came to power late last year it has spun the fable that it is the mandated government of the people, and that it is intent on closing gaps, promoting regional recovery, and building capacity. But it has all been political dissembling, cloaking reality in propaganda and rhetoric. What has actually happened is that they have given in to the business elites after six months of skirmishing, in the interests of holding on to the illusion of power. Power comes first, and democracy a poor last.

They have proclaimed themselves a policy driven government, and proclaimed their policy making prowess. When put to the test to prove their commitment to their own policy, they failed, and the policy became mere propaganda and rhetoric.


General Elections 2017

Anybody’s guess.

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

Operation 8: Commissioner Marshall at the Maori Affairs Select Committee

Read the complete analysis of alleged Maori terrorism in the Urewera

On 4 December 2013 Police Commissioner Peter Marshall appeared before the Maori Affairs select committee to answer questions relating to Operation 8 surveillance of several people who were not involved in the activities in the Urewera and about the ongoing surveillance activities for several years after the armed paramilitary operation on 15th October 2007. The questions were put by Maori Party co-leader Te Ururoa Flavell and related to a document he produced.

After the session as he spoke to reporters at Parliament Commissioner Marshall was his usual dismissive self and said he would take the document and look into the matter. He also continued the process of spinning his way out of any serious and in-depth investigation into police conduct during Operation 8 by talking about his relationship with Tamati Kruger and their ongoing discussions about repairing the relationship between Ngai Tuhoe and the NZ Police. He disclosed that he would be visiting Ngai Tuhoe before his present contract ends in April 2014.

A day later Shane Jones weighed into the issue by challenging Flavell to “put up or shut up”. The select committee hearing was closed to the media and the document in question has not been released to the media. Jones called for it to be tabled in Parliament. Flavell has declined.

Commissioner Marshall will come back and he will say that the document is not a police document. He will then spin another story about how it cannot be relied upon or somesuch. Jones will crow about how Flavell got it wrong or something like that.

Marshall will be right. Jones wrong. The document is not a police document. It is however a spreadsheet that was circulated among some of the original Operation 8 co-accused. It was compiled, as far as I can ascertain, by one or two of the co-accused from over 60,000 pages of police evidence that were dumped on all of the defence lawyers following the suppressed depositions hearing in the Auckland High Court in August and September 2008. The court had ordered the police to hand over that evidence. The co-accused and defence teams spent hundreds of hours reading it, cataloguing it, and in some cases building their own indexes.

The document that found its way to Te Ururoa Flavell’s office was one of those indexes. Although it is not a police document it is a very accurate and complete record of all of the Operation 8 evidence including references to several documents that were withheld from the defence.

The police and politicians might then use the fact that it is not a NZ Police document to rubbish the claims made by Te Ururoa based on the document.

However it is not the document itself that contains the evidence Te Ururoa Flavell is referring to. The document refers to the evidence. The evidence itself is real, it comprises over 60,000 pages of real police documents, and it is in the hands of all of the defence teams. If Commissioner Marshall is to honestly reply to the questions at the select committee he will need to put a team onto the job to delve into that huge evidence dump for themselves.

Spin will not suffice.

And I’ll give you a hint Commissioner as to why Operation 8 surveillance went wider and deeper than it should have. It was because your predecessor deliberately excluded Superintendent Wallace Haumaha and any Maori from the intelligence management and analysis process. Your Northern SIG team were therefore flying blind into Te Ao Maori and casting about and profiling whoever they could find to put into their network of suspects. You can spin the exclusion of the principal Maori advisor any way you want but it comes down to nothing more than a stupid unprofessional decision based in ignorance, racism and paranoia. We also know that no matter which way you spin it Superintendent Haumaha was deeply offended by that racist decision.

Links: The Operation 8 Series

Shane Jones and the Labour Leadership

I could be wrong, but …..

Politics is tribal. National is a tribe. Labour is a tribe. And they are not Maori tribes or anything remotely resembling Maori tribes, they are mainstream mostly Pakeha political tribes. And that distinction seems to be lost on all those Maori rooting for Shane Jones to become Labour leader. He hasn’t got a hope. Deputy leader perhaps if Labour thinks that might bring back all the Maori seats without losing Pakeha support in its electoral base.

You get to the top of Labour’s greasy pole firstly by building your own hapu within the hapu matua so that your hapu outnumbers all of the others. Some do it over whiskeys during late night male bonding sessions, some do it by trading favours and making promises they might or might not keep, some just by being nice guys, some by being bastards, some through their ability to attack and inflict damage on the opposing tribe, some through superior intelligence and competence, and a thousand other ways of manipulating the numbers. The ones who usually make it to the top of the pile use all or most of the above. Those who make it to the top without putting in the hard yards usually don’t stay there for long. Shane hasn’t put in enough of the hard yards.

Koro Wetere was a master. In his day Koro commanded the largest vote in the caucus when Cabinets were elected and was the first into Cabinet. But even with that huge support he was never a contender for leader or deputy leader. It took more than popularity. Parekura Horomia was a master, personable and hugely popular. Yet he was never a contender for leader or deputy leader. But popularity is a good place to start.

Shane Jones will never be as popular in a Labour caucus as those two. He starts behind the eight ball and like Cunliffe will have to get there despite his limited popularity. Which means he will have to work even harder and demonstrate superior political ability to get the numbers.

You don’t get to the top of Labour’s greasy pole because you’re Maori, and because heaps of Maori think it’s time a Maori did lead Labour after generations of loyal Maori support at the ballot box.. You get to the top of the pole because your caucus colleagues think you are the best electable potential prime minister they have, and if you lead them to victory you will keep them in power. You get to the top also because you promise to put your supporters on the front bench and that comes back to the numbers.

The traditional voting Labour support base was in the working class and their trade unions. That traditional base has eroded and much of it has gravitated to NZ First and National. It always had a large very conservative element. Much of it was and remains racist and anti-Maori. The modern support base now includes the educated liberal and progressive elites who vacillate between Labour and the Greens. To win elections Labour must somehow appeal to both sides of its constituency.

Political parties mostly win elections because the electorate gets fed up or bored with the other lot but they still have to appeal to the voting constitutency by presenting a credible and electable leader.

Shane is up against it. The conservative Pakeha base will never vote for a Maori prime minister, not yet they won’t, and the liberal Pakeha (and female) base will never vote for someone who presents himself as blokey, and is rightly or wrongly thought to be just a bit sexist. And you have to ask why some of the Maori women in caucus aren’t supporting him.

Shane Jones is in the wrong Pakeha tribe if he wants to be prime minister. He would probably do better in National.

Terrorism: A Grownup Threat Analysis

This essay looks at the security and economic absurdities of the anti-terrorism crusade, a crusade that despite its high economic cost has had a negligible effect on mortality. If the policy objective is to save lives the money should be spent elsewhere.

The thing that strikes me about the focus of politicians and of  law enforcement, intelligence and security agencies on the threat of “terrorism”, and the need for a whole raft of new legislation designed to combat “terrorism”, is the total lack of a grownup public threat analysis. We are asked instead to trust those who lay claim to having the secret information necessary to quantify the threat, and to trust entirely in their secret threat analysis. That’s not good enough. And more to the point, it’s total humbug.

Security should be based entirely on threat or risk analysis, and the response to perceived and actual threat should be in relative proportion to the total level of threat to the safety and wellbeing of the society. The response to threat in a liberal democracy should also be balanced against the principles of democracy and against the level of threat or risk a liberal democracy should be able to accept without compromising or eroding the democracy itself.

It is a principle of democracy that governments, law enforcement agencies, and security and intelligence agencies should have their powers curtailed to the extent that those powers do not unnecessarily encroach upon the freedoms, liberties and rights of citizens. That’s supposedly why we have the New Zealand Bill of Rights. Unlawful police encroachment does occur, for instance in the Kim Dotcom case which has caused the present public outcry against the GCSB Bill. What is necessary or unnecessary encroachment should be determined by grownup public analysis of the threat or risk.

In threat analysis we should look at the balance between threat and security, and the level of threat that can be and is presently acceptable and accepted. Criminality in society is matched by a fairly large police presence enforcing the Crimes Act and other criminal legislation. The society accepts that level of encroachment as necessary except when the police exceed their lawful powers as they sometimes do. Even so the society accepts also that the police cannot prevent all crime and that we must all accept a level of criminality and risk to person and property. We must all also take primary responsibility for our own security, for the security of our families and for the security of our businesses. We live with a level of risk and threat without demanding that Government protect us from every possible risk and threat.

That approach forms the basis of the following outline threat analysis.

What is Terrorism?

Terror is not an enemy. Terror is a weapon. There can be no such thing as a “war on terrorism”.

Terror is a weapon used by the weak against the strong. By definition terror should not be able to prevail against the strong but in recent times it has. That is because less that 1% of terror represents a physical threat to the western liberal democracies and more than 99% of the threat is psychological. It has succeeded against the West because terror is primarily a psychological weapon and the western liberal democracies have succumbed to the psychological threat in trying to protect against a relatively minor physical threat. “Relativity” is the key word that will be expanded upon later.

The West has grossly over-estimated the relative threat to their own societies and they have introduced anti-terrorism and mass surveillance legislation and regulation that far outweighs the real relative threat to society. That was the strategy of Osama bin Laden in September 2001 and he succeeded beyond his own dreams, on a worldwide basis. His killing by Seal Team 6 has done nothing whatsoever to limit the success of his strategy.

The primary target of those who employ terror in the modern context is not the western liberal democracies at all. Their targets are their own people in their own countries. They aim to demonise secular and liberal Western society and to convince their own countrymen and women of the social and moral threat those societies and their systems of governance represent. They aim to corral the minds of their own people in order to impose their preferred version of religious governance, usually under Sharia Law, in their own countries.

They demonstrate their superior political power and morality to their own people by provoking the liberal democracies to go to war against them, to drag those democracies into unwinnable wars in foreign places, and in doing so to cause mass disruption, and civilian casualties. They are then able to convince their own people that the liberal and secular democracies are waging war against the civilians in the warzones and against Islam in general. They drag the armed forces of those liberal democracies into conflicts they cannot win and they demonstrate to their own people the vulnerability of those supposedly superior forces to the tactics of the weak, such as improvised explosive devices (IEDs), suicide bombers, and the hit and run tactics of the guerilla and insurgent.

They join their highly mobile legions of international fighters into the wars of others in order to hijack those wars to serve their own cause, such as in Libya, Egypt, Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria. To achieve their aims they sacrifice countless thousands of their own heavily indoctrinated and religiously brainwashed foot soldiers. They know they are not going to defeat the West. But they know with complete certainty that they are going to win the war for the hearts and minds of their own people. “Allahu akbar” they cry all over the world. And behind every chant lies another captive mind.

The proper and mature response to psychological warfare is to ignore it. To have trust and confidence that our own liberal democratic and secular societies are strong and robust and well able to withstand the minimal physical threat the wielders of terror actually pose. The immature response is to succumb to the psychological threat and to vastly inflate the physical threat.

Who are these so-called “terrorists”

Who are the people who wield the weapon of terror?

The Terrorism Suppression Act empowers the Prime Minister to declare persons and organisations as terrorist. That latest list of “terrorist designated entities” can be downloaded here.

They are overwhelmingly Taliban and Al-Qaeda entities throughout Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Middle East and Africa. They are also United Nations designated entities in Iran, Peru, Turkey, Bangladesh, Palestine, Columbia, Philippines, India, Pakistan, Lebanon, Ireland, Somalia, Spain and France (the Basques). They are all overseas, far from New Zealand’s shores.

What is obvious from the list of “terrorist designated entities” is that the real targets or enemies are Islamic extremists around the world, except that we cloak them in the mystique of “terrorism”. In doing so we magnify in the public mind the real threat that Islamic extremism poses to New Zealand, and broaden our security response far beyond what is necessary to combat the actual threat level of Islamic extremism. It is the immature response to psychological warfare.

Perhaps by focusing on “terrorism” we also seek to alleviate the concerns of the majority of peaceful Muslim people by not actually naming the threat as Islamic extremism. But in naming it as “terrorism” we achieve the opposite by creating in the public mind a belief that all Muslims are potential terrorists. We might all be better off calling a spade a spade. And by changing the language we would change the nature of the security debate as well.

How many Islamic extremists are there in New Zealand? Less than 1000? Less than 100? We don’t know because that’s a secret. Perhaps we can infer from Prime Minister John Key’s public statements that there are less than 10 a year. Whatever the number, real or imagined, in a population of 4 million plus it is a very low threat level.

We can safely assume that the SIS has infiltrated Muslim communities and has many Muslim informants. We can safely assume that the SIS has the names of real or potential Islamic extremists in New Zealand and has them under surveillance. Why therefore do we need to enact legislation that has the potential to bring the whole population under surveillance, whether intended or not. Why therefore do we impose security legislation and restrictions on the whole population? In the face of that level of threat why do we enact legislation that erodes democracy?

I know, they going to tell us that the level of threat is much much greater but they can’t tell us about it and publicly prove it. Humbug.

What are acts of terror?

“Terrorist Acts” are defined in the Suppression of Terrorism Act 2002.

(1) An act is a terrorist act for the purposes of this Act if—

(a) the act falls within subsection (2); or
(b) the act is an act against a specified terrorism convention (as defined in section 4(1)); or
(c) the act is a terrorist act in armed conflict (as defined in section 4(1)).

(2) An act falls within this subsection if it is intended to cause, in any 1 or more countries, 1 or more of the outcomes specified in subsection (3), and is carried out for the purpose of advancing an ideological, political, or religious cause, and with the following intention:

(a) to induce terror in a civilian population; or
(b) to unduly compel or to force a government or an international organisation to do or abstain from doing any act.

[Subsection (3) below contains the actual definition of terrorist acts].

(3) The outcomes referred to in subsection (2) are—

(a) the death of, or other serious bodily injury to, 1 or more persons (other than a person carrying out the act):
(b) a serious risk to the health or safety of a population:
(c) destruction of, or serious damage to, property of great value or importance, or major economic loss, or major environmental damage, if likely to result in 1 or more outcomes specified in paragraphs (a), (b), and (d):
(d) serious interference with, or serious disruption to, an infrastructure facility, if likely to endanger human life:
(e) introduction or release of a disease-bearing organism, if likely to devastate the national economy of a country.

(4) However, an act does not fall within subsection (2) if it occurs in a situation of armed conflict and is, at the time and in the place that it occurs, in accordance with rules of international law applicable to the conflict.

(5) To avoid doubt, the fact that a person engages in any protest, advocacy, or dissent, or engages in any strike, lockout, or other industrial action, is not, by itself, a sufficient basis for inferring that the person—

(a) is carrying out an act for a purpose, or with an intention, specified in subsection (2); or
(b) intends to cause an outcome specified in subsection (3).

The Act then goes on to detail a number of those offences including:

  • Bombing
  • Financing designated entities
  • Belonging to or dealing with designated entities
  • Recruiting
  • Participating
  • Harbouring or concealing
  • Plastic explosives and nuclear material
  • Radioactive material

That is a relatively small range of offences in relation to the criminal law in New Zealand. All of them are already contained in or could be added to the Crimes Act 1961 and other relevant legislation without the need for a separate terrorism act.

What seems to be obvious is that the criminal acts that are defined as “terrorist acts” in the Suppression of Terrorism Act are not that much different from the normal everyday criminality that we live with. What is different is the response, and the much greater powers the Act confers upon the Prime Minister, the Parliament and the response agencies. And that seems to be the real purpose of the Act.

If a comparison is made between those “terrorist” threats to society and the real everyday threat from the transnational criminal bikie gangs, and other transnational gangs and crime syndicates in the illegal drugs, weapons and slave prostitution markets, the threat is small. They don’t tell us much about those real threats either, from behind the veil of secrecy, security and intelligence.

The relativity of threat

We look now at the crime statistics reported by the NZ Police for the year ending 31st December 2012. A copy can be downloaded here. I summarise the statistics below in broad outline. The detail is in the downloadable file.

  • Murder – 42
  • Manslaughter – 14
  • Assault etc – 40,851
  • Sexual assault etc – 3,512
  • Dangerous or negligent acts endangering persons – 1,022
  • Various offence against the person – 12,476
  • Robbery etc – 2,199
  • Unlawful entry etc – 52,031
  • Theft etc – 119,476
  • Fraud etc – 8.013
  • Drugs – 20,792
  • Weapons & explosives – 6,063
  • Property damage – 48,901
  • Public order – 42,522
  • Justice process, government security (5), government operations – 15,797
  • Miscellaneous – 1,384
  • Total – 376,013

I would add:

  • Acts of terror – NIL

What do we New Zealanders die of?

These are the major causes extracted from the Ministry of Health morbidity statistics for 2009.

  • Cancers – 8,437
  • Heart disease – 5,553
  • Strokes – 2,488
  • Diabetes – 869
  • Motor vehicle accidents – 420
  • Suicide – 510
  • Assault and murder – less than 100

To which I would add:

  • Acts of terror – NIL

So I conclude that:

From the crime and morbidity statistics it would seem that the chances of dying at the hands of Islamic extremists, or of being the victim of their criminality, are extremely remote. The likelihood of suffering at the hands of our own home grown criminals is much greater than at the hands of Islamic extremists yet it is still not so great that we cannot and do not accept and live with the threat of criminality on a daily basis.

At the age of 70 I am greatly assured that I will most likely die from one of the common medically defined conditions or simply of old age at some time within the next 30 years. I am greatly assured that I will probably not die at the hands of Islamic extremists. Although I stand a greater chance of being murdered or the victim of manslaughter at the hands of our own criminal class (or at the hands of my own family) I am assured that that too is only a remote possibility.

In fact if you were to analyse the detail of murder, manslaughter and assault in its various forms you would probably find that you are at much greater risk from members of your own family than you are from Islamic extremists. Just to put things into perspective.

I suspect that the Terrorism Suppression Act and the raft of other terrorism related and surveillance legislation does not and will not affect the level of risk and threat I face on a daily basis as a free citizen in a democratic society. For I suspect that the perception of threat from Islamic extremism in New Zealand is immature and inflated in response to psychological warfare launched from far away places, rather than in response to a real physical threat in New Zealand.

What New Zealand needs is a grownup risk and threat analysis conducted in public, and not conducted from within the secrecy confined, limited worldviews of gullible politicians and the law enforcement, security and intelligence establishment.

Jon Stephenson, Journalist’s Rights, NZ Defence Force

A disclosure:

  • I’m a former army officer who served in Borneo and Vietnam.
  • 30 years after retirement I remain loyal to the NZ Army and those who serve.
  • However I will absolutely condemn any serving officer or soldier who illegally conducted surveillance operations against Jon Stephenson.
  • But I will need proof, and I will need more than irrelevant moralising by the commentariat about journalists’ non-existent rights in a warzone.

There is so much rubbish being written and spoken about the allegations of NZ Defence Force interception of a journalist’s communications in Afghanistan. The allegations were first made in the Sunday Star Times. The allegations were denied by NZ Defence. Kiwipolitico offered a balanced view here. Commentary since then has repeated and inflated the allegations. Many commentators, including Maori politicians, have confused spying in Afghanistan with the multiple spying debacles at home in New Zealand.

I’m the first to decry the post 9/11 incarnation of the surveillance state and to proclaim the rights and freedoms of the democratic ideal. I’ve written essays on democracy here and here, and on the GCSB Bill here.


Afghanistan is a warzone. Human rights are completely or partially suspended in warzones. Beginning with the right to life. And at the lower end of the scale the right to privacy. No-one is exempt, not even journalists. You can argue about whether or not we should have been committed to Afghanistan. But Afghanistan is a warzone and all who venture into Afghanistan, whether soldier, spook, civilian, politician or journalist, ought to be aware that it is not a human rights zone; it is a warzone.

Let’s start with the right to life.

A soldier’s mission is to kill and not be killed. As stark as that. To take life. In some recognition of the right to life soldiers in our own forces are forbidden from killing non-combatants. However it is the ugly reality of war that some civilians do get killed. Always. Mass killing, which is what war is, is not a precise art always able to differentiate soldier from civilian and friend from foe despite the development of more precise weaponry. Mistakes happen. Soldiers also get killed by friendly fire, another ugly reality of war.

Much as we try to honour the right to life of non-combatants many of our opponents in war do not have the same respect for civilian lives and deliberately target civil leadership, families of opposing soldiers, and those they suspect of assisting their enemies. Lots of people die, forfeit their right to life.

Warfare is the conscious political act of unleashing the beast within and authorising it to kill deliberately and legally. It is the suspension of all that we hold to be essential in civilised society, including human rights. Even journalists forego their right to life in a warzone. And many have indeed died on the job.

Now to the right to privacy.

The suspension of the right to life has nothing to do with the Jon Stephenson case but it illustrates what many these days seem to conveniently forget; that in warfare human rights are completely or partially suspended. And that includes the rights of journalists who venture into warzones. There is no special journalist zone in a warzone. There is no privacy in a warzone. There is no such thing as privacy in a warzone. Get real.

The Geneva Convention and International Human Rights law provide protections for journalists in warzones. They cannot be deliberately killed just for doing their jobs or deliberately targeted for surveillance just for doing their jobs, But they do get caught up in the fog of war. They sometimes die, and they will be caught up in mass surveillance operations.

All communications in a warzone, both military and civil, are intercepted by both sides of the conflict. Use a military radio, or a mobile phone or send an email and it will be intercepted. For very good reasons.

On the one hand to find out where the enemy is, who he is, who he is talking to, what he is doing, and hopefully what he intends to do. On the other hand to ensure that our own side is not inadvertently or incompetently transmitting information in clear about our own identities, dispositions and intentions. And to make sure that no-one on our own side is communicating with the enemy but if they are, to know what they are saying. That includes journalists, some of whom do try and sometimes succeed in talking to both sides of a conflict. They will be monitored by both sides.

As soldiers we understand that we are being intercepted by both friend and foe. In Vietnam we were, and we sometimes received warnings from our own interception people to pay more attention to our communications security. They gave us verbatim examples of our transgressions. It was just part of war, being listened to. And it still is.

In Afghanistan one of the primary means of communication used by the Taliban is the mobile phone. All mobile communications in Afghanistan are intercepted in a massive technological operation. Not just the Taliban but everyone. What are the Taliban saying? Who are they saying it to? Who in government is talking to the Taliban? Who in the Afghan Army? Who in the Afghan Police? Which journalists are talking to the Taliban? What are they saying and being told? Are politicians, officials, journalists and others giving out information that might assist the Taliban in their operations, or might put friendly soldiers at risk? Inadvertently or otherwise.

If Jon Stephenson had made a phone call to a known Taliban or Taliban sympahiser his call would have been immediately flagged and he would have been investigated. Otherwise it would just disappear into the Intelligence Cloud. As John Stephenson was most probably not talking to Taliban or Taliban sympathisers that is most probably what happened to the records of his phone calls (or emails). They would have disappeared into the Intelligence Cloud.

In reply to the NZ Defence denial:

“Hager said that was not his understanding of how Stephenson’s phone records were accessed”.

“From what I had described to me, this was focused on Jon and particular Afghan Government people who were also on the chart of who’d been ringing whom, who he was in contact with.”

Which is network analysis and which usually analyses those networks to about the third node from the targeted individuals. That raises some questions.

  • Were any of Jon Stephenson’s Afghan contacts communicating with the Taliban, or were any of their contacts communicating with the Taliban? To the extent that they and their contacts would automatically be flagged? We don’t know. Jon Stephenson probably doesn’t know either.
  • If Stephenson’s communications did get flagged through network analysis would that be drawn to the attention of the New Zealand spooks? Probably.
  • Would that necessarily put him under suspicion of espionage or aiding the enemy or anything silly like that? Not unless he was up to something silly like that.

If I were an officer in Afghanistan I would want the spooks to be watching my back and the backs of my soldiers. I would want them to monitor all communications in the warzone to detect any possible risk to the precious lives of my soldiers. A serious problem in Vietnam was that some trusted South Vietnamese soldiers and officials were actually spies. Out of deference to the South Vietnamese allies they were not properly monitored and many allied soldiers died as a result. It takes only a few well placed spies to cause a lot of deaths. One must presume that that mistake has not been repeated in Afghanistan.

From all of that.

  • Do journalists have special dispensation in a warzone, any special rights to privacy? No. Like the right to life they forego the right to privacy the moment they step into a warzone.


  • Were Jon Stephenson’s communications intercepted? Probably.
  • Were they of interest to the Intelligence gatherers? Depends who he was talking to and what he was saying, who they were talking to and what they were saying.
  • How do you find out who he was talking to and what he was saying, who they were talking to and what they were saying? By listening in.
  • Was he singled out for special attention? Probably not. There are hundreds of thousands of mobile phones and computers in Afghanistan, probably millions.
  • Were records of his communications stored in the Intelligence Cloud available to those who had the authority and clearance to search the Intelligence Cloud? Probably but because of the vast amounts of intercepted data probably only for a limited time.
  • Did some NZ Defence personnel have the authority and clearance to search the Intelligence Cloud or specified parts of it? Probably.
  • Did any NZ Defence personnel search the Intelligence Cloud for information about Jon Stephenson? You’d have to ask them.


  • Were any NZ Defence personnel, or GCSB and SIS personnel, involved in the overall interception operations in Afghanistan? I hope so because we need to keep that capability current as part of our own military and intelligence offensive skillset, along with the actual killing stuff of course.
  • Were NZ Defence or intelligence personnel specifically involved in monitoring Jon Stephenson? Doubt it, unless he was up to no good in the warzone. They’ve got bigger fish to fry in that warzone.
  • Did any NZ Defence or intellgence personnel search the Intelligence Cloud for information about Jon Stephenson? You’d have to ask them.

And finally, almost.

  • Who are John Stephenson’s sources? And are they reliable? We don’t know. Not from the news article we don’t.

The final set of questions is about NZ Defence Force operational policy. To quote from Kiwipolitico:

“Mr. Hager also revealed the existence of an NZDF operations manual, apparently drafted in 2003 and revised in 2005, that included at least “certain investigative journalists” along with hackers, foreign spy agencies, ideological extremists, disloyal employees, interest groups, and criminal organizations in the category of “subversive” threats (although it remains unclear as to when that particular passage was added to the text and who authored and authorized it). The definition of subversion was stretched to include those whose activities could undermine public morale or confidence in the government and NZDF. This included “political” activities deemed inimical to the NZDF image or reputation”.

If that information is correct it is indeed clumsy to say the least, and paranoid at worst. Given that NZSIS is primarily responsible for security in New Zealand what is not clear is whether or not this manual applies only to operations in Afghanistan or to all NZ Defence Force activity including in New Zealand. That crucial context would significantly clarify the debate.

To add further context and clarity we would need to know:

  • Why were “certain investigative journalists” added to the list and what does NZ Defence know about their activities that is not being revealed?
  • Why were “disloyal employees” added to the list and does NZ Defence have specific names and evidence of subversive activity by those “disloyal employees”?
  • Were those “disloyal employees” passing information to “certain investigative journalists”? If so was it information that might have jeopardised NZ Defence Force operations in Afghanistan? Or was it information whether true or false designed to embarrass the NZ Defence Force?
  • Were those “disloyal employees” military or civilian? Why were they “disloyal”?
  • Does NZ Defence have specific information about Jon Stephenson’s activities in Afghanistan that it is not revealing? For reasons of source protection perhaps?

Afghanistan is one matter and we need a lot more information before we pass judgement on what happened there. Spying on our own citizens at home in New Zealand is a different matter entirely and shouldn’t be confused with Afghanistan or any other warzone.

In the wake of the Jon Stephenson allegations and the proven breach of democratic principle in the sordid case of spying on Andrea Vance the media are loud in their condemnation of attacks on the freedom of the media. Rightly so. But where were you from 2002 onwards when everyone else’s democratic freedoms and rights were being eroded in the name of counter terrorism and national security. You were mute, compliant. apathetic like the rest of the country, most of you.


The Surveillance State

The GCSB Bill, surveillance legislation and debacle

I have never worked for the GCSB. But I did work in Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) in the early 1970s, a few years before the GCSB was established in 1977. I was an officer in the NZ Army at the time.

In those days before New Zealand gained its own full service SIGINT organisation (GCSB) we were seconded to Australia where all of the processing of intercepted communications was done. New Zealand contributed some intercept and received whatever processed intelligence it needed. We were part of what was then called the UKUSA Agreement between the UK, the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. It is now called the “Five Eyes Agreement” in the media at least.

It was very secret at the time, The UKUSA Agreement was a secret agreement and the SIGINT organisations in the five partner nations did not officially exist. The first public expose of NSA and the UKUSA Agreement was in Ramparts magazine in August 1972 (“US Electronic Espionage: A Mermoir”). James Bamford wrote the first full expose in “Puzzle Palace” in 1982. Their existence and their collaboration is no longer a secret as it was then. Our participation by working in and with Australia is also no longer secret. In his book “Secret Power” Nicky Hager has documented all of that history.

My involvement was in the early 1970s. What was different then compared to now was the World War II generation. I was trained by them and worked for them.

In the NZ Army the WW2 generation was still in command. In the Parliament then, until about 1984, many of the members and some cabinet ministers were WW2 generation. In the SIGINT organisation we few New Zealanders worked for in Australia it was still headed by the WW2 generation.

That generation and their predecessors in the WW1 generation had fought alongside England, Canada, Australia and the USA against Germany, Italy and Japan to protect democracy against various forms of totalitarianism. They had fought to preserve representative democracy, the rule of law, and the hard fought freedoms and rights that had been gained through centuries of struggle to break the hegemony of kings and bishops. In two brutal world wars those men and women had watched tens of thousands of their comrades die on battlefields and in hospitals in Europe and in the Pacific. Many more of their comrades were injured, physically and mentally, some of them debilitated for life. Almost every New Zealand family had lost someone.

During the Cold War from the end of World War II until about 1991 New Zealand was a member of the allied bloc that opposed the totalitarianism of the USSR and China. That too was a struggle to preserve representative democracy, the rule of law, freedom and rights from the encroachment of undemocratic forms of government.

Regardless of what one now thinks in hindsight about those 20th century hot and cold wars and New Zealand’s part in them, they were a continuation on a global scale of a struggle for liberty that began in the 16th century in Europe during the Reformation. The Reformation was a struggle for religious liberty and was followed across the centuries by struggles for political liberty, freedoms and rights. The rights and freedoms now codified in United Nations conventions and in our own Bill of Rights resulted from the allied victory in WW2 and the determination to preserve on a global scale what countless thousands of men and women had fought and died for with huge sacrifice.

The men I worked for carried the remembrance of that sacrifice with them. They rarely spoke of it and then only to those they knew would understand how they thought and felt, such as a young army officer who was a veteran of another more recent war. But in their every action and decision they demonstrated their total dedication to the democracy and rights and freedoms they had fought to preserve. Those were the men who trained me in signals intelligence.

In the political sphere some like war veteran Sir Robert Muldoon went overboard in their pursuit of the imagined enemies of democracy. He often chose to see his political enemies as enemies of democracy but he was the exception rather than the rule. The officer who commanded him in WW2, Sir Jack Marshall, and other war veterans in his Cabinet were more measured in their defence of democracy. The men I worked for in signals intelligence were politically conservative like a great many of their generation and were staunch in their commitment to democracy.

In the signals intelligence organisations in my time we would never have contemplated conducting surveillance of our own citizens, regardless of the perceived or actual threat they posed to society. That was the work of other agencies and we never assisted them in that work. Never. It was strictly forbidden and that restriction was honoured absolutely. We certainly had the means but we never ever used them against our own.

With the passing of the WW2 generation the dedication to democracy, the rule of law, freedoms, rights and privacy is weakening. The remembrance of threats to the democracy fades with the passage of time since the last external threat. But it has always been the internal threat that has had the most potential to erode democracy. The price of freedom is eternal vigilance we were told by one of the founders of the modern liberal democracy. The external threats in the form of wars have served to remind us from time to time that democracy is indeed exceedingly fragile and is always vulnerable.

Perhaps the erosion of democracy from within is exemplified by the attitude of the Facebook generation to privacy. It doesn’t seem to understand that in undervaluing and relinquishing privacy in the pursuit of identity, recognition and sometimes fame and celebrity, that generation is opening up a crack in democracy. Waiting outside to exploit that vulnerability are anti-democratic forces.

Those anti-democratic forces are the law enforcement, security and intelligence agencies that have convinced politicians of the two major political blocs in New Zealand to enact a raft of anti-democratic legislation since 9/11. The Parliament itself whilst being the protector of democracy, a bulwark against attack, is at the same time the most serious threat to democracy. It and it alone has the power to erode democracy if it so chooses. And it has chosen to do so, most recently in the GCSB Bill.

The parliamentarians of today are the Facebook generation of politicians who have no personal memory of the heavy cost of democracy. In their psychological distance from World War II and from the World War II generation most of them have an increasingly cavalier attitude to democratic rights. They take democracy for granted. They navigate to the “Democracy” page, click on “Like”, then pass legislation allowing the spooks to trawl through everyone’s Facebook details.

The world of secrets and secrecy is cult-like. Only the initiated are admitted. The price of admission is recruitment and selection to the fold, positive vetting (PV) or clearance by the SIS and the “need to know”. The more you are allowed to know the more important you are in that exclusive club.

Secrets and secrecy can be seductive, beguiling, even bewitching. When you are privy to highly secret information (or at least to information classified as highly secret) you begin to feel part of a powerful elite, one of the chosen few. The higher your security clearance the more beguiling it is. Unless you are a hard bitten down-to-earth war veteran like my mentors it could even give you a feeling of omnipotence, a wide-eyed all-knowing omnipotence.

That applies to politicians inducted into that exclusive world of secrets and secrecy by reason of political ambition and electoral chance. Politicians get themselves inducted and seduced.

Politicians may know some secret stuff but they don’t know what they don’t know. They don’t know about security.

Security is a trade off and there is no such thing as absolute security. Our politicians would serve the nation best by reading Bruce Schneier on security instead of mouthing meaningless inanities about national security. Schneier is a former NSA insider and acknowledged expert on security. The Parliament is forcing a whole nation to trade off elements of its democratic rights and freedoms to attain the unattainable without having any real say in the matter.

Politicians don’t know that our individual rights and freedoms are not theirs or the Parliament’s to trade off.

They don’t seem to know or understand that in a matter as fundamental as democratic rights and freedoms those rights and freedoms are not politicians’ or Parliament’s rights and freedoms to trade off in the pursuit of national security. Although Parliament is sovereign in our form of democracy the democratic rights and freedoms remain with the people. They are individual rights and freedoms. It says so in the United Nations conventions and in our own Bill of Rights.

Democracy is also a trade off. What we as individuals in a liberal democracy need to understand is that if we value democracy then we have to accept some trade offs. We cannot have absolute security if we are to have liberty. Democracy like life is a risky business and to have either we must accept the risk. In life for instance we accept that risk every time we drive on the roads, or eat a cream cake, or bungy jump. To live democracy we must do the same.

As a society we are being led to believe that risk can be averted by increasing the powers of the law enforcement, security and intelligence agencies. The risk of terrorism and organized crime has been vastly over-hyped and overrated. Whilst there is certainly some risk it is nowhere near as grave as we are being told, and much less than a liberal democracy can accept and sustain in order to preserve that democracy.

Politicians don’t know that we don’t need to trade off too many democratic rights and freedoms in order to sustain democracy.

We just need to accept the risk. Perhaps as I enter into my eighth decade of life I just have a better appreciation and understanding of risk and acceptance. Life is a risk.

In strategy as in life I have come to appreciate simplicity and elegance. They are two of the most important tools in life’s toolbox.

An elegant outcome is the one achieved with precision, cleanly and simply. It is the one achieved by focusing on what you really want to achieve, not just on what you can achieve with all the tools available to you. Even if you own a shipyard why would you build a ship when all you wanted to do was cross a river, and when a sleek and elegant canoe would do the job.

The elegant outcome seems to have been achieved easily with a minimum of fuss and effort. The elegant outcome is the one achieved by cutting through ambiguity and skillfully negotiating a way through a rapidly changing environment. It is not achieved by taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut.

There are simpler and more elegant ways to preserve national security without population wide surveillance. They can be found through the application of wisdom and intellect. Just because we can now use the tools of technology to know everything about everyone doesn’t mean that we should.

Politicians don’t know that there are many more tools in the box but that the agencies have handed them a sledgehammer and convinced them that there are only sledgehammers in the box.

They don’t know because they are naïve and gullible in matters of national security; babes in the woods in that world of secrets and secrecy and security. They are gullible because they have had their minds focused for them on national security by the purveyors of secrets. What we really want is democracy and all that entails. We need purveyors of democracy in our parliament. The preservation and protection of democracy is paramount. Any consideration of national security must come firstly from within the greater of the two competing ideas; from a consideration of democracy.

Being the Facebook generation the politicians are far removed from all memory of the struggle to protect democracy. They don’t know democracy. Not in their hearts they don’t. Just go to the Facebook page “Democracy”, click on “Like”, feel good and leave it at that.

I read in the overseas media that some of the old hands in NSA, the US surveillance agency, have been quitting in disgust at the lip service now being paid to democracy by their new masters in the world of spooks. Like me they were brought up to believe in democracy and to absolutely respect the privacy of our own citizens. They can only express their disgust by walking. Some of the old hands are speaking out.

That’s how I feel too. Viscerally disgusted.

NZ Parliament: Abolish the Pakeha Seats

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E hoa ma, I meant abolish the General seats but the sub-editor thought he’d grab your attention by calling them Pakeha seats. But you know what we mean don’t you. You know, maybe they should be called Pakeha seats. We have Maori people in the Maori electorates but very few Generals in the general electorates.

You may think this piece of light-hearted prophesy a bit far fetched; porangi even. Perhaps it is. But I have found that most people imagine a future pretty much like the present. Most people including politicians and policymakers seem blind to the influence of demography; population statistics and projections, and how demography will have a huge influence on the future.

I wrote about demography a few years ago here.

Four Maori seats were established by the Maori Representation Act of 1867 to “provide better protection for the native race”. They were made permanent in 1876. The Electoral Act 1993 brought in a new system to expand the Maori seats depending on numbers enrolled as Maori.

In 1867 there were probably less than 250,000 Pakeha people in Aotearoa New Zealand (115,462 at the 1858 census, and 344.984 at the 1874 census). There is still much conjecture about the size of the Maori population at that time but it was probably much less than 50% of the total population. Whatever it was there were probably enough Maori to significantly influence elections if they were to vote in general electorates. It probably suited Pakeha at that time to marginalize the Maori vote into just four electorates.

The Maori vote remained marginalized in those four seats until 1993, and at the moment in seven seats.

The constitutional advisory panel is considering among other matters the place of the Maori seats in the constitution of New Zealand. The questions that have arisen so far include:

  • Whether to retain or abolish the Māori seats.
  • Whether to entrench the Māori seats, making them more difficult to change in the future.
  • Whether there are ways of ensuring Māori views are represented in the business of Parliament, to replace or to complement Māori seats.

As usual I think we’re asking the wrong questions.

As long as I can remember we’ve had calls for the Maori seats to be abolished. The most strident in recent times was in 2004 when Don Brash promised that a National government would remove the Maori seats. However the two majority parties usually respond that the seats will remain until Maori people no longer want them.

I reckon that Labour and National have always been quite happy to retain them for different reasons. Until recent decades Labour had a guaranteed four seats in Parliament, expanding gradually to seven seats. National on the other hand would have been quite happy for mainly Labour voting Maori to be marginalized into a few seats rather than let loose into the general seats. At the moment of course National is the main beneficiary of the Maori seats and is not inclined to upset the status quo.

But like Don Brash I think its time to abolish some seats. I think it’s time to abolish the general seats. Here’s how we do it.

Step 1

Declare all Pacific Islanders to be Maori and urge them to join the Maori roll.  We should have done that decades ago when our Pasifika cousins started migrating to Aotearoa in numbers. That is our tikanga (ki te manaaki, ki te awhi) but we let other considerations guide our response. We ought to have absorbed them instead of pushing them away to eventually form their own numerous hapu in the cities and to establish their own separate presence in all manner of cultural, social, economic and political affairs. But it’s not too late to put things right.

According to Statistics NZ the nation’s population is expected to reach 5,55 million by 2026. Within that are the following ethnic projections:

  • Maori:       810,000;
  • Pasifika:  480,000; and
  • Asia:        790,000
  • Maori + Pasifika:                1.29 million or 23.3%
  • Maori + Pasifika + Asia:     2.08 million or 37.5%

What is obvious from the statistics but not obvious in public discourse is that people of Asia-Pacific origin are rapidly increasing as a percentage of the total population. Those are just 12 year projections. In a further 25 years, by 2050, I imagine the ethnic and cultural composition might be very scary for some people. Maori+Pasifika will most likely be 50% or over. The scary thing for some is that Maori+Pasifika+Asia will definitely be over 50%, probably well over.

So, if we join with our Pasifika cousins now, and get everyone onto the Maori roll, we could by about 2026 have up to 16 Maori seats out of the 70 electorate seats in the parliament. That will grow over time and might be over 35 seats by 2050, or getting close to it

Step 2

Then around 2050, or whenever it is that Maori+Pasifika+Asia becomes the absolute majority, we generously invite all of our Pakeha countrymen to enrol as Maori so then we have a Maori+Pasifika+Pakeha majority.

Those numbers might translate into something like 63 Maori electorate and 7 general electorates. Now there might be quite a few who wouldn’t enrol as Maori but perhaps the thought of being part of the minority might panic them to choose to join Maori and Pasifika rather than being dominated by a Maori+Pasifika+Asia majority.

This could ungenerously be called the Brash Memorial Strategy.

Step 3

Then we would abolish the General seats and keep just 70 Maori seats. Now I know that some of you might say we should keep the Asians marginalized in the General Seats but that’s not fair.

With 70 Maori seats Governor Hobson’s premature declaration, “He iwi tahi tatau” (we are all one people) would finally come to pass.

Fiendish isn’t it. And if you think I’m porangi take another look at the population projections. That’s the main point of this story.


PS – I don’t believe that Hobson actually said that, “We are all one people”. I reckon he said, “Te Kiwi kotahi ahau – I’m the Number 1 Kiwi”. And that began New Zealanders’ strange habit of calling themselves “Kiwis” – kiwi birds instead of tangata persons. Silly aren’t they – those “Kiwis”.

Previous essays on the NZ Constitutional Conversation:
Does a constitution protect and promote democracy.
Let’s talk Democracy