In black and white, green and red seem the same

In The Independent out this morning, Chris Trotter writes:

What is it about the Greens that drives the entire political establishment to demonise them?

The most obvious response is that the Greens are the only electorally viable political party in New Zealand that doesn’t subscribe, in one form or another, to the free-market paradigm.

All the other parties, including the once socialist Labour Party, look to the market place for social and economic inspiration.

Even in the heart of the social welfare bureaucracy, where statist thinking is presumably strongest, the talk is about devolving power to civil society and utilising the creative instincts of “social entrepreneurs” to revitalise organised caring.

The Greens do not fetishise the market in this fashion. Market relationships, viewed from an ecological perspective, are among the most superficial of anthropological phenomena.

Once again Chris is placing us clearly within the ‘left’ camp, which is fine as a generalisation within a black and white description of the political spectrum, but open to being slightly picked apart when seen in rainbow colours.

The Green Party does believe, in general, that the state is the appropriate mechanism for taking measures that have to be *imposed* because it is, through the democratic process, the political entity that has the greatest legitimacy.

No corporation can claim such legitimacy because it is at least theoretically beholden to its shareholders, not the the wider civil society. (In practice the ‘bottom line’ is more and more an abstract deity that is served by the priesthood of the management class and even the shareholding parishioners are ignored.)

The point at which the Greens and old school socialists differ is in WHAT should be imposed by the legitimate state.

Yes, Greens do generally believe that managing resource use, both in terms of avoiding wastage and ensuring everybody benefits, is where state mediation is necessary.

But beyond that is still a much exercised discussion. The main debate is around how to achieve goals when it requires the modification of personal behaviour. There are big differences of opinion within the Green Party and the wider movement around where the line lies between personal sovreignty and social and environmental responsibility.

I would assert that Green thinking broadly prefers that state power should be used to ‘make the right choice the easy choice’, that is people usually take the easiest path and since the paths available are set by the exercise of power in society, policy should make the sustainable choice the easiest to take.

In other words Government policy should set the parameters within which the market operates, a scenario which the right may describe as ‘state control’ but which any self-respecting old school socialist would describe as ‘state capitalism’.

Likewise our political opponents can claim we are watermelons – green on the outside but red on the inside – but then seeing the world in black and white is a form of colour blindness and the colour blind find red and green the hardest colours to distinguish :).

So while Chris is right that “the Greens are the only electorally viable political party in New Zealand that doesn’t subscribe, in one form or another, to the free-market paradigm”, I would argue that the Greens are not opposed to the market per se, just that we see the ‘free market’ as an oxymoron.

And therefore Rod can honestly and accurately say that ‘good’ business has nothing to fear from Green policy.

27 Comments Posted

  1. Logix,

    Normally I’d agree, and that’s been the case in the great wars of the last couple of hundred years.

    But I think the wars of the Peak Oil Age will owe more to those of the Dark Ages, with a lot more genocide going on. Young men will still bear the brunt of the casualties, but deliberate targeting of populations (useless mouths?) will be more of a factor. I think of Rwanda as becoming quite commonplace in many parts of the world, and Somalia in others.

    Also, in our country, women will serve alongside the men. Even if they aren’t used in a combat role, signallers, drivers and cooks get killed too. I think a fair number of our deaths in any war to come will be female.

  2. Eredwen

    Don’t apologize. Being a New Yorker I need to be slapped around a bit in order to feel comfortable 😉 … and I am quite capable of arrogance… respectfully BJ

  3. Tane

    > Sadly, war has always been one way to control the population, and it’s going to remain so into the future.

    Interestingly wars that only kill young men have very little impact on population overall. It is the number of women of reproductive age that was historically the prime determinant, although in recent decades an entirely new factor, the pill, combined with many other changes has reduced population growth to well below replacement in many western countries, which in the short-term may relieve the pressures of excess population, but in the longer-term must give pause for thought.

  4. frog wrote;
    Thus I like the idea that, over the top of the small communties, the principle political structure would be bio-regional (water tables) cantons that would provide most of the social functions now provided by the nation state, and that they would be held together by a federal constitution that provides for a smaller (small n) national government that oversees the national economy and interactes with the outside world.

    I respectfully suggest that you are now outed as a closet Swiss! Switzerland is a model for bilingual, multicultural and very profitable society, based on many environmentally friendly core policies, a pristine collection of mountains and lakes, and huge amount of tax-haven money.

    So, is Cullen up for a bit of “Sound of Music” backing, and an invitation to the wealthy of the world to sink funds in our lovely countryside? No, wait, we’ve already got the Hills Alive to the sound of Shania Twain in Wanaka, looks like that one’s a done deal then…next, anyone? 😀

  5. BJchip (and interested observers)

    Thank you for your answer to my post. (I agonised about its tone as my motive was not to give offence, but some counsel.)

    However, my wise old father’s favourite expression: “There is no point in farting against thunder” seems to apply here …

    Kia ora!
    eredwen

  6. Even libertarianz and ACT believe that the market should be regulated with laws that enforce contract, punish theft, protect “intellectual property” and entrench the power of monopoly central bankers.

    The state for them is a crucial part of how a country operates. They simply believe that the state’s primary objective should be as a defense agency for them and their “property rights”, rather than an institution for implementing the results of collective decision making.

  7. BJ,

    You said “Tane DOES have a fair to middling good idea of how to run things, but growth is a life function. Stop something from growing and chances are excellent that you’ve killed it.?

    Thank you for the first part. As for the second, I don’t think we should ever stop growing socially and culturally. Nor should we fail to alter the course of our economy if necessary. I simply think that an infinitely growing economy, even one at only 3% a year, is impossible and doomed to failure. I think you agree with this, and that we might be violently agreeing with each other. When I say growth, I mean it in the context of modern economic thought, which is that the economy should and must grow, or it is doomed. We know that this is not a good thing in the long term

    You also said “Static culture as described by Tane would stave off that fate for centuries I think, but it depends on a social revolution?

    You’re right it does depend on a social revolution, but we have the startings of one already. If immigration is curtailed, either voluntarily or simply as a result of Peak Oil (very few have the energy to come here), then our population becomes static. The birth rate amongst native New Zealanders is already below replacement level, and while it might rise again, I’m not sure if we’ll ever go back to the days of 5-6 births per woman. A static population is the basis for a static economy. Japan managed this in the 16th and 17th centuries according to Diamond, as have a lot of Pacific Islands. It will rely heavily on having a welfare framework available to look after people, as well as a fairly high standard of living (relative to the rest of the world).

    And if I’m right about Peak Oil, a lot of our young people are going to be killed fighting to defend our nation, be it here or in Australia and the Pacific. Sadly, war has always been one way to control the population, and it’s going to remain so into the future.

    Oh, and I don’t think you’re arrogant. But then, that’s probably because we agree on many things……..

    Alistar,

    You said “Governments should (MUST) intervene where markets aren’t producing the best outcomes.?

    I agree, but there is a difference between intervention and running. The government is like the referee, touch judges, video ref and judiciary. It controls the game and punishes infringements. It does not tell Player A to move 5 metres to the left and kick, then tell Player B to run 36 metres back at a 48 degree angle, and catch the ball on the run. The former is what I mean by small-scale, regulated capitalism, the latter to my mind is what the communists tried to do and failed.

    I believe that the market is only a tool, and the outcomes produced from it are what’s important. If the market is not producing desirable outcomes (ie poverty increasing) then it is right and proper for the government to intervene. I think we agree on that.

    Cheers.

  8. alistair wrote:
    “…capitalism in NZ has been so weak at actually accumulating and investing capital productively, that the government has generally had to take a lead in areas that might have been left to the market in other, bigger or less isolated economies.”

    good point. i was reading several months ago about how skewed NZ banks’ lending is towards residential housing finance. it absolutely dwarfs all business capex-related lending. and i suspect if you removed the farm-related lending it would be microscopic. the herald writer did a comparison with Ireland, Aus and the UK (from memory). it really drove home what a bunch of delboy get-rich-quick artists our NZ capitalists generally are. all short-term speculation and bugger all long-term real investment in productive capital.

    so in conclusion, in NZ it is highly unlikely we would get far without significant govt. participation in capital-intensive services and industries.

  9. Tane : I take issue specifically with the way you frame the question (to paraphrase : markets are necessary because governments are imperfect). I put it the other way round : Governments should (MUST) intervene where markets aren’t producing the best outcomes.

    Other than that, I subscribe entirely to your vision!

    In my youth, I was rather taken with Lenin’s idea of “the withering away of the State” — yet the state he created did exactly the opposite (I don’t think the crumbling of the USSR in the 90s was what he had in mind!)

    I am resigned to the idea that a pretty big government sector is necessary, particularly in NZ — I suspect it’s currently too small. Historically, capitalism in NZ has been so weak at actually accumulating and investing capital productively, that the government has generally had to take a lead in areas that might have been left to the market in other, bigger or less isolated economies.

  10. I don’t want to spoil the party but…

    Market relationships, viewed from an ecological perspective, are among the most superficial of anthropological phenomena.

    The market is a tool.

    experience has shown that governments cannot run the economy themselves, either because the economy is too vast and complex for any sort of detailed planning, or because the opportunity for corruption and negligence is too great.

    I disagree with all of the above. The market is the place where you take what you produce, and you get what you need in exchange. It is fundamental to humanity.

    Many of us are isolated from it to a great extent : we are paid a salary, we think of it as a right; we buy our stuff in a supermarket, instead of buying what we need from people; or we are taken care of, outside the market place, by some external agency.

    But the Green ideal of individual freedom and autonomy, actually implies functioning markets. The real thing (where you go with your basket, and bargain for your vegies), not the super- sort.

  11. BJC : My “one person mission? isn’t what you described… it is actually to leave NZ to my children in the best condition I possibly can.

    Oh… so you’re thinking of buying it? 😉

  12. Tom – it was just a question 🙂 … and you’re right Tochigi has done a hell of a good job on that post. respectfully
    BJ

  13. eredwen – of course, and I have heard that subtext in your posts… but it isn’t reflected in other’s. I am not going to be someone else, I always try to make wherever I am better, and I don’t think that most of the other participants on this blog take much if any offense at my efforts. My “one person mission” isn’t what you described… it is actually to leave NZ to my children in the best condition I possibly can. The Green party is important to that future, and I want it to be as strong and effective as it possibly can be.

    The history of the party… I will learn it in time isn’t as relevant to the future of the party as policies and principles. Clinging to the past is not a particularly “Green” sentiment. Holding on to the values that make the party what it is is important… but I rather doubt that I have challenged any of those. Have I?

    Frog – Tane DOES have a fair to middling good idea of how to run things, but growth is a life function. Stop something from growing and chances are excellent that you’ve killed it.

    …and the world is a closed system. It is no better than a petri dish culture for a bacillus. Unless we do SOMETHING to open the lid or get out of the dish we and our children are doomed.

    Static culture as described by Tane would stave off that fate for centuries I think, but it depends on a social revolution that puts a premium on individuals and a price on population growth. I do not know any way to create that situation. We value individuals well, and this helps but we are entering a battle with our own fundamental nature to slow the growth of our numbers.

    That same pressure makes the control of the Cantons you envision somewhat difficult. I’d be willing to give it a try, but I foresee difficulties and inefficiencies that would certainly make ME blink. The flow of people between Cantons will be dependent on local policies and if there is not some binding uniformity the result will be, at best, problematical. The lessons of the school districting problems are instructive. Resources HAVE to be redistributed to some degree, to ensure equality of opportunity and education.

    Since I do not foresee Tane’s needed revolution I have to also conclude that we are headed into nasty and difficult times and that there is a place in our party for a defence policy. This is much as Tane observes, a time of preparation. The wind generators we build are every bit as important as training a potent reserve or building ships suitable for our waters…

    Pakeha and Maori together own NZ, and we have to make sure that no other bastards steal it from us. That’s one of the things that binds us together… particularly in this party. We value the country, we value the land and the lakes and the rivers, we value the future and we want to preserve our civilization.

    Which isn’t going to be possible if we surrender to the first boatload of bad news that shows up on the horizon, and isn’t going to be possible if we let National and the Business Council and the EB win and they dismantle the protections we’ve worked so hard to create.

    We have a responsibility to be rather more than a refuge for radicals. The fact that most of the ideas and ideals of the Green party are NOT particularly “radical” would shock most Kiwis but all that stands in the way of their understanding are a few stray words and our own reluctance to take ourselves seriously.

    Eredwen… if I were to magically change the Green party to match my vision perfectly, but didn’t advertise the changes or talk about them I rather doubt anyone would notice at all… even you. I would hazard that you think me arrogant… but as with every human I have a responsibility that is measured by my abilities and resources. Others have greater abilities and squander them, or greater resources and refuse the responsibilities that go with them. Here in the Greens I see people living up to their abilities AND their responsibilities and I feel admiration for them and I am encouraged to participate.

    I don’t have time to do as much as I would wish.

    respectfully
    BJ

  14. There’s a big point people seem to be not mentioning.

    Traditional political thought in this country assumes that economic growth is THE greatest good that govts should strive for.

    That is, that “Standard of Living” = GDP / population.

    (give or take some left vs right ideological debate about making sure the GDP is being divided more or less evenly amongst the population)

    The Greens/Values party has consistently challenged that vast oversimplification about what Standard of Living is.

  15. I think Chomsky once roughly described anarchism as seeking out and identifying structures of authority, hierarchy, and domination, and to challenging them; unless a justification for them can be given, they are illegitimate, and should be dismantled, to increase the scope of human freedom. I think that’s roughly in line with the Greens Charter, which includes, “For the implementation of ecological wisdom and social responsibility, decisions will be made directly at the appropriate level by those affected.”

  16. We will certainly need some form of state, if only to protect ourselves from invaders. I know I keep banging on about this, but it is something us Greens need to consider. We have realistic energy and transport policies, a realistic defence policy is a must for a Peak Oil world.

    The Pacific wasn’t perfect protection for my Maori forebears, and it won’t be perfect protection for our descendants either. It’s pointless building a self-sustainable eco-paradise just to let some other bastard steal it from us.

    Ahem. Rant over. Maybe the Swiss political model is worth looking at; I think Frog is on the right track here.

  17. The model Tane puts up in his last comment describes well what I’d see as my, and most Greens’, ideal. Sans the state and you’re talking what is currently call anarchism, though I prefer communitarianism, that is community-ism.

    But I suspect that some sort of residual state is needed to hold such a structure together in a big bad world. Thus I like the idea that, over the top of the small communties, the principle political structure would be bio-regional (water tables) cantons that would provide most of the social functions now provided by the nation state, and that they would be held together by a federal constitution that provides for a smaller (small n) national government that oversees the national economy and interactes with the outside world.

    Decisions about resources use would then rest within the boundaries of a water table. In such a scenario, if Aucklanders want electricity, they are far more likely to try to conserve it before making it worth the South Island’s while to provide it.

  18. Government is the one body in this nation (or any nation) whose sole aim is the security, comfort and improvement of it’s citizens. Corporations, social groups, religous organisations and any other body cannot make this claim, as their focus is much narrower, concentrated usually on their immediate members and ignoring the bulk of society (apart from recruitment). As Frog said, a democracy aids this by giving us the opportunity on a regular basis to legitimise the government. A perceived loss of direction by the government is punished by a loss of mandate at election time. So while I’m not a Pangloss who thinks we have the best of all systems, I think what we do have is pretty good.

    However, experience has shown that governments cannot run the economy themselves, either because the economy is too vast and complex for any sort of detailed planning, or because the opportunity for corruption and negligence is too great. I believe us Greens realise this, and do not seek a rerun of Soviet or Muldoon era economics. After all, communism is just as flawed as capitalism, as both assume neverending resources, the superiority of humans over nature and the false premise that an economy can grow forever. Communism simply failed first, but capitalism may well do so in our lifetime. Left and right will become irrelevant in my opinion, and sooner rather than later.

    The issue then is what to replace these with. I have no real answers. The best I can come up with is a form of small-scale, regulated capitalism (sorry, I can’t think of anything else to call it), where people are free to operate their own businesses within a comprehensive framework of laws aimed at protecting the society and the environment. Businesses are encouraged to be small and local, rather than large and (trans)national. The economy is kept static, with no emphasis, or desire for it to grow. The society’s aim shifts from economic growth, to cultural and social growth instead. The state exists to regulate and to provide a safety net for those who slip through the cracks.

    That’s my idea anyway, I’m not too sure how many others envisage something along these lines (or even if it’s feasible). I freely admit that it’s rather hazy, I’m still thinking it through.

  19. Sorry BJ, I hadn’t actually bothered to read the previous comments, so I was not arguing with you. I was giving my thoughts on the main article.

    Hate to deflate you like that.

    By “mainstream” I meant both “middle” (in response to people who think Green’s policies should become closer to Labour’s, to pick up voters who would like something left of Labour and right of Green), and “typical” (alluding to parties whose policies are reactionary to their voters – “we’ll respect the electorate’s wishes” stuff – rather than constructed from a deeper vision or philosophy. I’m not sure if “realpolitik” is the right word but something like it…general lack of clearly defined principles, obvious power-seeking, appealing to base reactions rather than putting forward their best arguments, etc).

    I wasn’t arguing with having a complete party platform / policy set. But a valid policy set is “we think current policies are fine, with this, this, and this modification”. Which is essentially what the Greens provide.

    The last comment in the post (tochigi) sums up what I was trying to say before (2nd to 5th paragraphs).

    Cheers

  20. bjchip:

    I’m afraid I have to say this. (It has been brewing for some time!)

    I find your one-person mission to play “I discovered a quaint little political party in New Zealand and singlehandedly took on the role of changing it into my idea of what a political party should be without leaving my computer” astounding and (irritatingly) repetitive. You deserve high marks for persistence however.

    I wonder how much you know about the Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand, its history and its membership. It is made up of an idealistic, intelligent, inclusive and hard working group of people who have had a vision for decades, have achieved much of that vision, and have clear ideas about where they/we are heading. Surely you’d get much more from joining in and meeting some of these people (even if only occasionally when time permits) rather than trying to be the “expert in the wings”?

    As Kiwis we have had the experience of generations of Brits coming here and telling us what to do. They no longer do that, but now we have the Americans. (Immigrants from most other cultures are wise enough to realise that this is our country, that is a desirable place to live, and therefore we probably have some idea of what we are doing and why.)

    Kia ora!
    eredwen

  21. Trotter asks: “What is it about the Greens that drives the entire political establishment to demonise them?”

    the key phrase here is “political establishment”. not New Zealanders in general. this is an important distinction, IMO.

    i think “the establishment” vilifies the Greens because the latter are essentially principled. and the other parties (excluding the Maori party, to this point anyhow) are essentially cynical opportunists. the acquisition and maintenance of power trumps all else.

    Labour has shown this cynicism time and time again (F&S, Zaoui, Afghanistan, etc.), as has Anderton, Winston, Dunhill and ACT. National hardly needs commenting on.

    the Greens stick to their core principles, which leaves them open to ridicule from the rest of NZ’s cynical political class. One example: Peak Oil. the Greens tell the truth while the rest won’t even enter a debate and just throw ad hom insults instead.

  22. ‘In other words Government policy should set the parameters within which the market operates, a scenario which the right may describe as ’state control’ but which any self-respecting old school socialist would describe as ’state capitalism’.’

    Silly Frog – even during the ‘dim dark days of the 1990’s’ National kept the mininum wage, employment court, and reserve bank. All state interventions in the economy.

    ‘The market is a tool. It is not the ONLY tool, and that is where we differ from the Nats… ‘

    When did the Nat’s signal they would do away with nutritional labeling on food and beverages?
    What about subsidisies for children, elderly and high users?
    Its all a question of degree.

    Towards the end of the 1990’s National began to move away from using ‘purer’ market mechnisms in some instances to signalling more government involvment in the economy and society. So please stop wth the rather simplistic view of the national party and I will refrain from making simplistic judgements of the Green’s.

    There are as yet no workable alternatives to capitalism – only variations on a theme. And personally it seems to me the Greens are only one variation on that theme rather than some grand alternative to it. Or am I wrong?

  23. Tom

    I am not sure if you are arguing with me or not. Since I don’t want policy changes, but wording changes and policies where none exist at present it is not clear. What do YOU mean by “more mainstream”?

    What I want is a complete party platform/policy set, and the appearance that should the electorate choose to vote us in, we would be able to pick up the reins and guide the country without having to first create policies for the issues of government we currently ignore.

    The public wants to know what it is getting if it votes “Green” and right now, except for the issues we feel are important, it does not.

    respectfully
    BJ

  24. The most visible point of difference between the greens and the rest, to me, is that the greens have and can articulate a political philosophy which is consistent (the evidence is the post above, and many of the previous posts – they make for excellent reading). Other parties tend to have a bunch of policies which become their core values – instead of having core values which influence their policies.

    I don’t think its an accident that the greens most supportive constituencies are the most educated. Most people can smell crap if they are taught to use their nose.

    I hope the greens resist any internal pressure to change their policies to become more mainstream – the point of difference will be lost. The good news is that there are plenty of non-policy improvements that can be made to gain popularity without doing this.

  25. The market is a tool. It is not the ONLY tool, and that is where we differ from the Nats… I am not so sure that we completely differ with Labour in this respect, more a matter of degree.

    The point that you make is quite good Frog… If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

    This is what destroys both pure communism and pure capitalism in the end. Greens come with a full toolbox and generally try to choose the appropriate one.

    I don’t pay much attention to Trotter though in this instance he’s fairly on point.

    respectfully
    BJ

  26. Frog:

    I’m pleased you gave your “watermellon” paragraph a smiley face.
    I would have awarded it two more … for “memorable” and “succinct”.

  27. Hey frog,

    though you might want to comment on this.

    “One of the largest banking and financial services organisations in the world, the HBSC Group, has used a New Zealand “green” energy project to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions to zero.

    It has bought 170,000 tonnes of carbon credits at an average price of $US4.43 ($NZ6.42) each, as part of preparations to meet new emissions targets in 2006.”

    Being green can make us money too!

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