Policies for 21st century New Zealand
An Island Bay World Service publication
So, remember when you're feeling very small and insecure,
How amazingly unlikely is your birth!
And pray that there's intelligent life somewhere up in space,
'Cause there's bugger-all down here on Earth.
Monty Python “The meaning of life”
This is a time of crisis, a sad time. The world is threatened and a series of catastrophes are certain in the coming decades.
Despite that reality this is a time of visions and hope. The challenges are met with denial and continuation of policies which are the cause of manifest problems. The urge for acceptance within a growth fetish society overrides any recognition of reality and groups formed to consider global issues are quick to assert their place in the mainstream, and to limit their discussions to conformity with a foolish conventional wisdom.
Many publications consider the dire situation before jumping to an unwarranted optimistic conclusion, separating a past full of from a glorious future where all problems have been magically solved.
The Past is the region of sobs, the Future is the realm of songs.
The one is dark with sorrow and disappointment, the other bright with prosperity and joy.
We refuse that dream-world path. These policies are intended to face the future, much of which is now upon us, and to consider social survival, moving from a system which is no longer sustainable. The future will continue the experiences of the past, and concrete action is long overdue.
This document builds on the Manifesto of the Island Bay World Service.
We will publicise the extent of the set of interlocking crises now evident on the world stage and call for adequate action from the public, other environmental groups and government (both local and national). In doing so we will speak where necessary outside the current conventional wisdom with its emphasis on growth and ‘business as usual’.
Our approach is introduced in that Manifesto, in another companion document, “Heroes for our time”, and on our website www.ibws.blogspot.com.
The state of the planet
A section of the IBWS Manifesto, “The world in trouble” outlines a number of major issues. The following provide guidance for policy derivation.
The 1972 report to the Club of Rome “The limits to growth” forecast a series of global crises, leading to possible mass starvation and population collapse around 2030-2050. My own research indicates that the world has been following the forecast path. This conclusion has been strengthened by a recent CSIRO (Australia) report which follows a more rigorous analysis and reaches the same conclusion.
* The world is severely overpopulated.
* Water shortages are growing.
* Food shortages will occur as the increased population cannot be fed.
* Population collapse will entail the deaths of billions.
* Shortages of many key resources will increase.
* Pollution and human impact on the environment will increase.
Those concerned forecasts were not overly pessimistic. They were realistic, and other serious problems have emerged. To that list based on the 1972 forecasts, the following global concerns may be added.
* Extinction of other species will continue, due mainly to the expansion of human habitats.
* Supplies of oil, a key energy source, will reduce as the oil peak has arrived. The price will remain unstable before settling at very high levels.
* Climate change will continue. Other fossil fuels should be limited if limiting action is intended.
* The economic system is inherently unstable and a large-scale collapse has been expected; this is probably now occurring.
* Inequalities continue and (as in New Zealand) have often increased, leading to the formation of a social underclass.
Many of the consequences can be observed already. These will intensify.
* There are resource and land wars.
* Overpopulation strains resources and leads to conflict.
* Such conflict follows a familiar historical pattern and includes multiple atrocities.
Meanwhile widespread denial and control by groups who profit from the rape of the planet results in inaction in the face of clearly demonstrated global crises. It is too late to stop these trends, and the point of widespread damage has been passed. Sustainable growth is an oxymoron. Indeed a move to sustainability is now impossible. The issue is now survival.
The focus is on survival of society, of all members of our society, of the natural world and of the earth’s environment. Let’s try to do that here in New Zealand.
The human population of the world, and of every nation and community, must decrease for some considerable time to come.
Economies must be predicated on stability and reduction of resource usage and reduction of damage to the planet and to other species.
The reduction of much economic activity must be accompanied with actions to increase equality and to assure basic services, well-being and gainful employment.
A mixed economy will assure a diversity of powerful groups and a balance of power. The stresses of the coming crises may otherwise be met with moves to strong central leadership, to hegemony of a privileged group, and to fascism.
This is a revolution in which the changes may develop within the system rather than through a violent upheaval. Thus it is of importance to consider where considerable change is demanded and where present organisation should be conserved or strengthened.
One issue at the heart of the present situation is the continuation of capitalism, which is based on growth, and which is then a major part of the problem. If capitalism is to go, then we must be clear about what economic system we want to replace it with. We propose here a mixed economy, with a strong public sector but not strong central control, with a measure of free enterprise but no capitalist free market.
The complex modern society with its many members has grown far past a tribal system. The solution does not lie in a breakdown into separate communities. Like any ecological system, stability is best achieved through a balance of forces amongst the many players. The wider society includes business, trade unions and NGOs as well as government.
That principle was clearly understood by the founders of the United States of America who set up a separation of powers, separating judiciary, legislature and executive arms of government. Their system, which has proved viable, includes State legislatures, Presidential Office, Senate and Congress.
New Zealand has a unicameral parliament with no balancing force, and that limited system has been open to abuse. A solution has been found in MMP which allows minor parties to play a key role and thus to prevent (to some extent) the takeover by a small cabal as happened in the period 1984-1990. We support the current democratic political system including MMP. At the same time, we all – and, in particular, local body politicians – must be firm in asserting the principle of separation of power, and a degree of equality of power amongst the players. Some players in the power game such as trade unions need strengthening while some such as financial and business interests need bringing down to size.
We are republicans; we do not believe in inherited wealth or position. However the current constitutional monarchy should be kept in place, since there are more important matters to deal with. New Zealand should remain a constitutional monarchy for the coming decades since:
* The current system is working,
* Change would take attention from essential national tasks, and
* Development of a republic would create divisions among different groups in society.
There should be total equality before the law with no discrimination or differentiation in law on the grounds of ethnicity, religion, gender, wealth or inheritance. The people of New Zealand need to come together to face some tough decisions which will challenge many existing privileges. It is important to assert the secular state, which allows everyone to come together free of the religious conflicts which have been so bloody in our history. This is an assertion of a central cultural imperative. There must be no religious observations as part of any government activity.
In the future the economy will be subject to ever-tightening limits and many key resources will be less available over time. We face a future of regress, not progress in its growth form. [i] Growth capitalism is past its used-by date.
Division of power suggests a mixed economy.
· Complete state ownership and control has provided a base for dictatorial powers within a small elite.
· Comprehensive private big-business ownership and control has allowed an oligarchy with operating on a basis of greed, selfishness and inequality.
· A mixed economy, with both private enterprise and significant state activity has been a feature of much of New Zealand history, and provided the basis for the very successful period from 1945 to 1984.
We say no to complete central planning and no to privatisation of basic services.
Both public ownership and private enterprise here coexist, the form being that most suitable to each activity.
Many large-scale central services such as electricity generation and provision should be in state ownership. Many of the destructive actions of the Douglas era must be reversed, including re-nationalisation of many state assets, which were given away in the fire-sale of that time. The decision on public ownership must rest with the New Zealand people, with no limits imposed by the international economic system, which has espoused policies so harmful to developing and smaller countries. This country needs to take firm control of its own affairs and stop doing what it is told to do, for the benefit of the global oligarchy.
It is essential that there be no continuation of the current form of capitalism with its demand for growth and profit, and with the overwhelming power of the financial sector. It is foolish to recognise the need for substantial change and then to deny the growth ethic that is the very core of capitalism. It is foolish to provide one frequent response, which is to recognise the magnitude of the problem but to then sanctify the current system which is a cause of the crisis. [ii]
This does not involve the complete privatisation of business. However, the Reserve Bank must be in complete control of the nation’s finances, flows of funds must be controlled, and foreign ownership and control must be severely reduced. Business privately owned must accept that growth cannot continue. Investors must realise that profit cannot continue, as stability replaces growth. [iii] There must be tight controls over the New Zealand stock exchange.
An example of the dangers of deregulation is the history of the Bank of New Zealand and its subsequent bailout. Banks and financial institutions must stick to their core business – they are our servants and must not be allowed to continue as our masters. We must no longer allow the tail to wag the dog. The system must be under national control and no longer allowed to run riot in an unregulated international market.
Forms of high finance have existed for millennia in many different forms of political organisation. Similarly there has always been community and private enterprise of various forms, such as medieval trade guilds. The particular form for the future can be chosen to suit the circumstances of our age, which is post-industrial with a transition to a conserver society with less resource use and benign activities suited to the survival of our society.
The media are more powerful than ever before, and the public is swamped with ubiquitous brainwashing for growth. Consumption is demanded for the profit of the advertisers and the owners of media.
That ownership immense power and influence over public opinion. We live with that in Wellington where the last local body elections were crippled by the refusal of media to provide equal opportunity to all candidates
The solution is not easy. Nationalisation of media is not acceptable, since the aim is for the existence of a strong, independent third estate. A partway step would be for all media to provide equal opportunity, without cost, to calls for an end to consumerism. Here we openly report that we do not have an adequate policy.
Employment and taxation
Incomes to ordinary people are spent for the most part on the necessities of life, which are provided locally by other citizens. Incomes to the wealthy are often spent on unnecessary luxuries and foreign travel. Greater equality is good economics as well as socially desirable.
A global recession is commencing. There are serious social and environmental issues calling for attention. That situation demands a national reaction, to provide the needed jobs while taking better care of people and the environment while adapting promptly to the post-oil era.
There will be no future of “recovery” growth. The whole nation must take on the task now, within its means, with a balanced budget – both for the Government and for the country, which has been running a massive balance-of-payments deficit for many years.
These requirements demand high personal taxes for those high incomes, starting with a reintroduction of the top rates in the post-war period of around 65%. This will start to reverse the extraordinary blowout in inequality in New Zealand since 1984.
The guiding principle here comes from John Kenneth Galbraith, “the best solution to unemployment is jobs” – properly paid jobs in social services and environmental protection. That is, within the public sector.
Globalisation versus Self-reliance
New Zealand has been sold a pup. Successive Governments have espoused policies of free trade, which have destroyed many industries and opened up the country for foreign ownership and control. The national debt has been privatised and the negative balance of payment has been running at around 9% of GDP.
There must be an assertion of national control through withdrawal from globalisation and application of import and currency controls.
Then New Zealand can begin efforts to cope with the current economic crisis, and to move towards a more stable economy – taking care to recognise that current material consumption is not sustainable.
Environment and resources
The world has entered into a period of massive man-made species extinction. This last-settled significant land has suffered extensive changes in vegetation and several extinctions in the short time of human settlement, with a number of species now under threat. New Zealand must significantly expend its environmental efforts and free remaining native forests of introduced predators, to recover much of the threatened natural world. We call for more marine reserves and an improved protection of fisheries. New Zealand expertise on saving species is a national treasure and deserves to be expanded.
Climate change is a serious problem. The point at which human use of fossil fuels will lead to global warming has passed. The massive bureaucracy involved in the money-go-round of Kyoto, which has been signed and then ignored by the New Zealand Government, should be set aside and, rather, moved taken to tackle the problem. Let’s put an end to displacement activity.
The major contributor is the use of fossil fuels, and that is the problem which must be tackled, and which has been ignored. At the same time, the analysis of the contribution from animals raised as human livestock must be strengthened. While it must not be forgotten that many animals are part of the natural world – which is in balance – the changes brought about by expanding human numbers may have upset that balance. Without a complete and clear analysis, we remain unconvinced.
In any case, let’s get started on the main problem. This brings us to a consideration of peak oil: the whole of modern society has been constructed on the ready availability of first coal and then oil, which contain the stored energy of millions of years of plant energy. As clearly forecast, the USA peak passed in 1970 and the world peak in 2007-2008. As then expected, the price of oil has become highly volatile throughout the several years of the peak process; having brought about the collapse of the highly unstable global economic system, demand has dropped and the price is low for a short period.
As global citizens with some responsibility to future generations, we all should have planned and acted collectively to make careful use of this remarkable resource. As the forecast peak approached we should have listened to the message of the 1970s and taken firm action to limit use. The following policies should have been in place over the past 30 years.
* The country must move to fewer, smaller, more efficient vehicles.
* Cars should be taxed on size, moving steadily to fuel efficiency.
* Direct taxes on fossil fuels should increase.
* Investment should be in public transport, and trains (in national hands) not roads. [iv]
* Everyone must be made to realise that the end of waste is here, and that frivolous use must cease.
* Air travel must be taxed and discouraged.
* New Zealand must shelve its efforts to be a major tourist destination.
* There must be an end to conspicuous consumption and wastage by motor sports.
* The natural environment must be regained, with bans on vehicles (motorised boats as well as land vehicles) in many open spaces, such as along the foreshore, beaches and rivers, and strictly controls on lakes and rivers, with licences required for users. [v]
The world is vastly overpopulated, and moving towards a complete collapse. New Zealand should act as a responsible global citizen and aim to reduce population. Once that is undertaken, New Zealand can suggest a similar policy to others, and in particular our South Pacific neighbours.
Past evidence suggests reductions in birth rates can be achieved by providing education and guaranteeing social support. All must join in, and in particular all ethnic groups should be asked to aim for a fertility rate of around 1.5.
New Zealand is itself overpopulated and should aim to bring its population down to a size that can be self-sufficient, and which will assist the recovery of the damaged ecosystem.
The question of immigration will involve some very tough decisions. Within the coming two decades, a considerable number – many millions, perhaps tens or hundreds of millions - environmental refugees will want to flee collapsing homelands. New Zealand may welcome Pacific neighbours – provided that they share in population limitation by reducing family sizes – but CANNOT take in the numbers expected. The requirement to reduce our population, which must be shared with countries across the world, puts a limit on newcomers as well as on births. Consideration of this question is all the more urgent given the movement of wealthy people moving from their damaged environments to a better life here; that movement has been going on for some years and will intensify in the future.
An international push for population decrease everywhere has been noted above. New Zealand must be active both internally and on the international stage.
New Zealand does not produce the basic foodstuffs required to feed the many show are threatened with starvation. [vi] The country must debate the current focus on luxury goods (meats, wine as well as luxury yachts), whereby the country serves the conspicuous consumption of the wealthy. Is that a moral national direction?
Forecasts point to a very great number of environmental refugees, some poor and some wealthy. Conflict over limited resources, including seafood, will intensify. Defence forces must be strong to police sea predators and to block unwanted refugees. If the future takes the dire form suggested by many forecasts, New Zealand will require strong armed forces to repulse invaders from overcrowded neighbours.
New Zealand should be part of an international thrust to reassert international law, and to ban torture, state kidnapping, and attacks on other countries. We must state clearly the predominance of the UN and a rejection of a world policeman in a neo-colonial system. Threats by the powerful (principally the USA) against other countries must cease or be resisted, by a small voice in the South Pacific. The importance of conflict resolution and international law to control war is becoming ever greater as the potential for conflict grows.
New Zealand must move all personnel out of Iraq and Afghanistan. It will be possible to find allies and to build new partnerships.
In the Middle East respect each and every government. If the Palestinian people vote for Hamas, work with Hamas. If it is to be accepted that any people have the right to self-defence, as Israel claims in its current Gaza massacre, then Palestinians share that right. Such statements get nowhere, and peace depends on the USA ceasing its one-sided support for the abominations of Israel. Give all a secure and full land, with boundaries as set out in the UN accord of the 1950s. First build the conditions for peace and then, when the conditions are suitable, the United Nations must enforce the peace.
Freedom for institutions – good science
Science and research are constrained and controlled by a tight central establishment which is incapable of carrying out its task – of choosing winners and providing funds for university research, to Crown Research Institutes and other similar experts in a vast variety of subjects. The consequence is a ubiquitous requirement to stick with current conventional wisdom and to follow the party line. This kills genuine science and prevents the consideration of many key questions. The destruction of futures research, basic to an understanding of the global crises now upon us, is a case at point.
We come again to the need for a division of power. Major centres of knowledge such as universities and Government research establishments must have the ability to pass decision-making to the practitioners, to allow for challenging work and for the operation of cross-fertilisation and serendipity which are basic to the solution of problems and to the generation of new knowledge.
There was once a better system; we need to turn the clock back to the system which had evolved over the best part of a century until the destruction of the seamless Governments of the right from 1984 to 2000 set about their hatchet job. Universities must be returned to the control of Professorial Boards. The Department of Scientific Research (DSIR) must be reformed [vii] and research and departments and local bodies
Local bodies etc. restructured to place more direction in the hands of council rather than CEO.
That rebuilt structure will allow greater freedom in universities and research establishments by direct, guaranteed funding for each establishment, with each establishment under the control of its practitioners.
The loosening of the reins must across all Government departments. Staff must play a part of a public service with everyone serving the public with the best possible information and advice instead of serving a CEO who is beholden to his/her master, the Minister with party-line analyses. [viii]
The next step
Our efforts are focussed on a desire to get the key questions out in the open, and to put an end to the current atmosphere of denial. We want people to face the issues and to cease inadequate displacement activity.
With that aim, we have organised a series of debates, and these will continue. In particular, we will continue to challenge groups to debate major issues, despite a lack of success to date.
* The Royal Society has refused to debate “The limits to Growth”.
* Both the Wellington City Council and the Wellington Regional Council have failed to respond to our calls for a population debate.
* We have a challenge out now to the New Zealand branch of UNFPA (the United Nations Fund for Population Affairs) to debate the global population. [ix]
We have contacted political parties and have been very pleased to commence discussions with people in both the National and Labour Parties.
The effort to open up the debate faces many problems.
* Most of the major players in the current economy are part of the problem, having an ideological commitment to the paradigm of growth.
* Many experts, and certainly the economics profession as a whole, espouse beliefs that protect their employment prospects, which are largely under the control of the above powerful players.
* Most activists call for unreal “visions” and argue for an imaginative and unreal concept of “community”, as if (a) local action can deal with the global problems and (b) community groups work together effectively. [x]
When faced with social problems, individuals have the choice of voice or exit. If there is only one health public system, any concerned person must work to bring about the needed improvements. When a private health system coexists, any person wealthy enough to do so can exit the public system and join the alternative.
So it is with the global problems. The choice is to give voice, to call for action at the appropriate national level, or to exit into either an alternative privileged lifestyle or to take the path of escapism. The prevalent pattern amongst the many of us who lack the necessary millions is either denial or selfish escapism to some chosen suburb, building on a call for individual actions in a dream-world community.
That leaves a small number of voices asking for a recognition of the magnitude of the global crisis, and for an appropriate collective response.
Despite the near certainty of failure, we will continue. This is set out in our companion piece, “Heroes For Our Time”.
We have chosen to take the lonely path of concern for all of mankind.
This at least gives us a feeling that at last we are our own men, no longer puppets on someone else’s string.
[i] Wording assisted by John Michael Greer, “The long descent”, page 68.
[ii] A typical example is from “Capitalism as if the world matters”, Jonathon Porritt (2005, page 19). He first sounds a worried note. “It is all but impossible any longer to deny the need for profound change in the face of today's gathering ecological crises.” This indicates the need for a searching analysis and considerable change to the economic system. But later he states the assumption on which the book is predicated, a statement that is never justified. “This means working with the grain of markets and free choice, not against it. It means embracing capitalism as the only overarching system capable of achieving any kind of reconciliation between ecological sustainability, on the one hand, and the pursuit of prosperity and personal well-being, on the other.” There is no analysis arguing how capitalism can lead to ecological sustainability – indeed it is that very point, of the demand within capitalism for eternal growth, which provides one of the greatest challenges of our time, a challenge which must not be finessed away.
[iii] The current economic crisis is NOT a consequence only of the greed and stupidity of finance managers, although that is undoubtedly one factor. Rather it is the requirement for profit, when the world is caught up in over-production, which drives the desire for pyramid schemes and the money-go-round, which produces earnings out of thin air until the whole structure comes tumbling down. That requirement is driven by the actions of investors who clamour for high profit, by the requirement that retirement funds and the like must grow. It that specific expectation which must be refuted.
[iv] Yet many politicians still argue for a massive new road through Transmission Gully to the north of Wellington. Auckland has long been a disaster zone.
[v] It will be a more pleasant world without vehicles everywhere. It will be possible to enjoy going with the family to a wide sandy beach without being killed by a racing vehicle, and the sand will not be laced with car tracks. It will be possible to swim in a river or lake without being killed by a passing boat or jet ski. (Both such deaths have been reported in the news this summer. It can happen anywhere; I recall being nearly run over by a jet boat in the Ruamahanga River near Martinborough; they ran aground as I yelled abuse which cheered me up a bit, but I had been in real danger there.) It will be possible to sit on the top of Mount Ruapehu without a load of tourists spilling off a tracked vehicle in the supposed wilderness (that happened to me). It will be possible to get into the southern wilderness without frequent buzzing helicopters. The real world will be recovered from the noisy disruption of machine-born, bum-sitting thrill seekers.
[vi] This was found in a 1981 study by the New Zealand Club of Rome, “The world food problem, can New Zealand contribute?”.
[vii] Australia has kept its equivalent, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO). Some good recent work on “The Limits to Growth” is simply not possible in New Zealand.
[viii] We are aware of many practical cases of the limitations on research, including the demand to build a case in Support of Maori demands in the Treaty industry to a blunt refusal of workers on the family to even consider the social engineering against family formation of some social benefits.
[ix] We recognise that population is THE major issue.
[x] We have travelled a long way down that road, and have found a remarkably constant picture of personal inadequacy and a desire for control by ‘guru’ figures who resist the efforts of perceived challengers to any existing pecking order. The story of conflict amongst tribes in the Bible and amongst Maori in 1820s New Zealand similarly suggests that breaking up into local groups may be disastrous in a world of limited resources.