Our top 30, beginning at #1
Tags: Blog discussion
For some reason the comments section won’t open for some of the re-posted articles. So if you want to comment on the articles that have gone up in the past few days but which seem to be closed for comment, you can comment here.
The material below, including the introduction, first appeared on Redline in June 2011 – just as this blog was beginning – although it was written and appeared elsewhere in 2008 and 2009. Five-six years on, it is increasingly acknowledged on the left that the Key government are not hardened neo-liberals with a secret agenda to finish the job begun by Labour and National (‘Rogernomics’ and ‘Ruthanasia’) in the 1984-93 period. It’s a sad comment on the NZ left that no-one has had the good grace to say, “Hey, you folks were right” – especially those who attacked us for our analysis – but unfortunately chunks of the left here are rather mean-spirited and that’s the way it is until we have a new left. We’re highlighting these pieces again, however, primarily because of the discussion set off by the recent OECD report.
From before the 2008 election to today, confusion has reigned on the left about the nature of the National government. People involved in this blog have been to the forefront in trying to analyse the government and its actions in the context of the actual process of capital accumulation in New Zealand today – ie analyse the Key-English government from a Marxist point of view – rather than fall into the left’s tendency to simple-minded Nat-bashing. Nat-bashing may have a ‘feelgood’ factor for many but is useless in understanding what is going on and why – and why Labour is no better.
Below are pieces written during the course of the current government, two of which originally appeared in Party Notes, the internal bulletin of the Workers Party. Party Notes used to contain the minutes of the monthly WP steering group meetings and political pieces designed to guide the work of the organisation. The third was written in February 2009 and first appeared in the April 2009 issue of The Spark.
These pieces argued that the government was not about to launch a cut-throat attack to smash the working class, as claimed by much of the left. The reason for this is that the productivity gains to be made by making workers work harder, longer and faster had largely been made and had failed to inject new dynamism into the economy. The key problem for NZ capitalism is the low rate of productivity growth and this was what the ruling class would be trying to address. At the same time, we noted there would be attacks on the public sector because it is still largely financed out of surplus-value and therefore tends to be a partial drain on profits. If the economic situation worsened significantly, moreover, all bets were off.
Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll be putting up more pieces people involved in Redline wrote in the last couple of years on government policy in the context of the real problems faced by the New Zealand economy, and new material on the state of play at present. Read the rest of this entry »
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by Philip Ferguson
For twenty years inequality was off the mainstream radar as an issue of any importance. In the past few years, however, especially since the global financial crisis has undermined the supposedly mythic qualities of the market, public discussion of the issue of inequality has become more common. Among those raising the issue most forcefully at present are Max Rashbrooke and the people at inequality.org.nz.
Last Monday (March 17), the Canterbury Workers Educational Association hosted an early evening meeting for Max, as part of his tour promoting his 2013 book Inequality: a New Zealand crisis and the brand new The Inequality Debate, which is a shorter work drawn from last year’s book. The meeting attracted about 50 people, not bad for a tea-time meeting in a city centre that remains largely deserted at night three years on from the February 2011 quake.
Max began by emphasising the human side of inequality: that it is real and lived. And that it is also not something that just appears; it is created.
He looked at what has happened here since the fourth Labour government began slashing wages and conditions, with the following fourth National government doing the same. Focussing on incomes, and adjusting them all for inflation, he noted that since 1994 the disposable income of the bottom 10% of income earners has stayed about the same. The next 80% of income earners have seen their disposable incomes rise by only about $5,000 in the past 20 years – far, far below total inflation over that period. The top 10% of income earners, however, have seen their disposable incomes double, while the top group within that decile, the top 1% of total income earners, have seen their pre-tax incomes Read the rest of this entry »
This piece originally went up on the site back in September 2012. Since then there has been increasing discussion about poverty in New Zealand. A new OECD report has just confirmed the growth of poverty in this country over the past few decades. So we’re reprinting a few pieces that are highly relevant, beginning with the discussion between Max Rashbrooke, one of the people most responsible for highlighting poverty and inequality here, and veteran activist Don Franks.
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Max Rashbrooke and Don Franks discuss inequality in New Zealand in a series of emails reprinted here:
I’m writing to you because I think you share my concern over the growing income divides in New Zealand – which, as was revealed last week, are now the highest in recent history.
As you may know, I’m coordinating a major book on exactly this subject, to be published by Bridget Williams Books next year. As the first step in raising awareness of the issue and the book, I’ll be hosting two talks at Te Papa on inequality in coming months.
The first is a few weeks away, 6.30pm on Thursday, 13 September, and will be a thought-provoking introduction to and discussion of inequality in New Zealand, looking at why it poses such a great threat to our society, economy and collective well-being. More details here.
The second talk, on Thursday, 4 October, will look at ways that New Zealand could change course and create a fairer, stronger society that has smaller income gaps and makes greater use of everyone’s ability. More details to follow.
If you can’t make it on the 13th, but would like to submit a question to one of the speakers, or just show your support for the event, you can do so through the event’s Facebook page.
I’m also going to be writing regularly about inequality, and will be sending out a weekly email to keep people abreast of the debate and my progress on the book. Please encourage people to sign-up for these emails by directing them to www.maxrashbrooke.org.nz/inequality.
I think growing inequality is one of the greatest issues we face, and I hope you’ll support me in trying to do something about it. Come to the talks, get in touch – and please do forward this around your networks as well.
Thanks for the email.
But it’s not “our society” or “our economy”.
Low paid casualized workers, migrant workers and generationally unemployed working class people have no stake in New Zealand society. They have no more say in the operation of the economy than our family’s pet cat.
The growing masses of people trapped into a miserable life of poverty have nothing in common with those who have seized its surplus value.
I submit that any serious discussion of inequality in New Zealand needs to address the opposing class interests of its inhabitants. And then, take sides with the dispossessed.
This article first appeared on Redline back in May 2013; because of the importance of the increasing precarious workforce, we’re running it again
by O’Shay Muir
Five years on from the height of the global financial crises in 2008 there has been much talk in the media of what is being referred to as the jobless recovery (http://www.nbr.co.nz/article/business-mood-turns-upbeat-%E2%80%93-its-jobless-recovery-wb-134532). During the crises business learnt how to better manage and organise their labour force more effectively, learning how to do more with less. This improved organisation of labour combined with greater investment in technology has led to what many experts believe is a jobless recovery, greatly affecting middle class jobs (http://www.nzherald.co.nz/world/news/article.cfm?c_id=2&objectid=10861554). One of the main drivers behind this phenomenon has been vast improvements in computer technology, most especially computer software, with many experts noting that such technological advancements are replacing human labour at a pace never before witnessed in history (http://www.nzherald.co.nz/world/news/article.cfm?c_id=2&objectid=10861554).
Technology replacing human labour is nothing new, however, most especially under capitalism. One of the best ways to understand this phenomenon is to use Marx’s concept of relative surplus-value. In volume one of Capital, Marx notes that there are two ways in which capitalists can increase their rate of surplus-value. The first is absolute surplus-value, which involves a lengthening of the working day and the second is relative surplus-value, which involves improved organisation of the labour process and investment in new/better technologies to increase production, allowing one to produce at a lower cost than the competition. While both, especially relative surplus-value, give bosses a competitive advantage for an initial period of time, sooner or later the competition will catch on and what was once competitive advantage will become the new social average.
The other drawbacks are that the gains employers can make from absolute surplus-value are limited, as there are physical limits to how long workers can work, while the production of relative surplus-value leads to a fall in the rate of profit (see here).
While absolute surplus-value production has an obvious effect on workers’ well-being, Marx’s investigation into relative surplus-value indicated the impact that new technologies have on replacing Read the rest of this entry »