Category: work

Democracy is so 20th century

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john key postmodernistJohn Key: New Zealand’s pre-eminent post-modernist

The endless popularity of the Key government represents everything that’s wrong with post-modernism.

John Key is completely unphased by passé modern phenomena like expert opinions and statistics.

Statistics say he’s not fulfilling pledges to catch up to Australia, let alone those 170,000 jobs he promised … but Key is more interested in his own personal subjective experience of “many Australians” wanting him to “go over and be their Prime Minister”. Well shucks, when you put it that way, why are we wasting so much time and money on the drab modern rationality of statistics and research?

Experts highlight the racist undertones of Key’s constituency … but Key, ever the post-modern relativist, chimes in with the inexorable subjectivity of all truths that impact badly on his government: “Racism is subjective.”  (Just like poverty is ‘merely relative‘).

Those pesky experts have been at it again this week… Current New Zealander of the Year Dame Anne Salmond joins the Law Society and the Human Rights Commission in raising alarm about the “assault upon the democratic rights of New Zealanders” that is the GCSB bill currently being rushed through Parliament.

Salmond says “When a body as authoritative and dispassionate as the Law Society feels forced to report to the United Nations that the Government in New Zealand is acting in conflict with the rule of law, all New Zealanders should be very worried.”

Don’t they realise that we enlightened post-moderns are skeptical of so-called experts, authority and dispassionateness?

John Key dismissed the Law Society like flies with a simple “I don’t agree.” His personal opinion is worth just as much as theirs!

And, like Paula Bennett before him, he’s given the Human Rights Commission the same treatment. Never mind that they’re worried enough to use their rarely used right to report directly to the Prime Minister. He doesn’t even care enough to note the difference between this report and a select committee submission!

In these post-modern times, the Human Rights Commission are just another bunch of irrelevant experts that can be safely ignored and even de-funded because Key and Co. know NZers won’t get off our couches about it.

I’ve said the popularity of this government represents what’s wrong with post-modernism. But Key’s cynical manipulation of post-modern subjectivity is only part of the problem.

The other side is the apathetic population who swallow this hollow ‘post-political’ ideology because we like his smile, or wish we too could go from Hollyford Ave to multi-millionairehood, or submit to the lazy self-fulfilling prophecy that we can’t change anything … or simply don’t care about anything beyond our personal experience as individual consumers.

As John Key himself said in 2007, “A quiet, obedient, and docile population; a culture of passivity and apathy; a meek acceptance of what politicians say and do – these things are not consistent with democracy.”

Sleepy Kiwis’ casual surrender of democracy is the chilling confirmation of this truism. We are turning Key’s words from a prophetic warning to a Machiavellian political strategy. And we will reap what we sow.

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Pathetic justifications for pathetic wages

slavery minimum wageWell, they’ve passed the youth rate bill… Certain workers aged under 20 can now be paid at 80% of the minimum wage; a pathetic $10.80 per hour before tax. This comes a month and a half after a living wage was calculated to be about $18.40 per hour.

One thing I’ve noticed from the Facebook arguments I get myself embroiled in… Every time a debate comes up about the minimum wage, somebody makes the same tired point: if you raise the minimum wage too high, employers won’t be able to afford to provide jobs any more, or people with no skills will be priced out of the market, or workers will be costing employers more than they’re earning them, etc.

That’s of course true, but all it shows is that that the minimum wage CAN be too high, it doesn’t show that (or when) it IS too high.

You can’t just point out that sometimes a minimum wage can be too high and conclude that NZ’s minimum wage in March 2013 is too high (or as high as possible).  That’s not an argument, that’s just pure ideology without anything linking the theory to the present real life situation, therefore it can have no bearing on the present real life situation.  An argument would need to demonstrate that this theoretical danger is likely to happen at current wage levels, here and now… using research and evidence from here and now.

In fact, the evidence shows quite the opposite.  In the terse words of Treasury: the fear about minimum wage increasing unemployment “has not been true in the past. The balance of probabilities is that a higher minimum wage does not cost jobs”.  Increases in the minimum wage have not increased unemployment in recent history (if anything the relationship is the opposite, though it’s not a causal one: minimum wage has been kept low and unemployment pushed up by poor economic conditions and neo-liberal economic policy).

If we accept that it is desirable to have a minimum wage, we accept that it should be high enough to provide a decent living, without being so high that it reduces jobs.  The only matter for debate is where the balance is.  The Living Wage research indicates that our minimum wage is currently failing to achieve that balance, but the problem is not that it’s too high for employers to pay, it’s that it’s too low for workers to live on (and, by the way, John Key agrees).

The ideology of middle class struggle

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I thought this Sunday Star-Times article was quite interesting.

Three economists (from Infometrics, the NZ Institute of Economic Research and the University of Auckland) all agree that although the middle classes in the United States have been hit hard since the global financial crisis, it’s not accurate to say that the same is true here.

Despite the myth of the “middle class squeeze” and politicians’ attempts to appeal to the embattled middle classes, in New Zealand it’s the poor who have been hit hardest by the recession (and by government responses to it).  The middle classes, on the other hand, have “never had it so good”.  While the economists disagree about whether the rich are doing better or worse, all agree about “the growing level of inequality in New Zealand – it’s this chasm between our poorest and richest that’s probably the real issue“.

The article also provides eight stories from middle-class people about how they’ve been coping financially in recent years.  Karol at The Standard points out that this undercuts the above points somewhat, because they don’t give any stories of the people actually struggling.  Also, the stories are foreshadowed by this rather peculiar statement:

“Of course, this is about statistics – the average. This isn’t you, living from pay cheque to pay cheque, scraping together the school donation, the football subs, the car repayment, the Sky bill, the rent for the bach this Christmas.”

This might be an odd expression of post-modern skepticism about attempts at pure objectivity, and/or it might be ordinary garden-variety dumb reporting. It seems to be saying: never mind the facts, we know that you’re struggling, and an evocative description of your hypothetical woes can substitute for an argument. But maybe they just meant that you may be struggling even though on average the middle class aren’t.

Some of the stories do represent these exceptions… Those who have lost or quit jobs in manufacturing and the public service, or lost houses in the earthquakes, have indeed found things getting tougher, as you might expect.  However, they’re all pretty philosophical about it, and even their complaints are about first-world, nice-side-of-the-tracks problems:

“An expensive holiday is shelved and Mr Barton is holding onto his ageing television and car.”

“We were lucky to have steak at all. Sky was going to get the chuck. Any slight luxuries were gone.”

“they hid their financial struggles from their son and refused to withdraw him from private school”

So what’s behind the myth of the “middle class squeeze”?  Is it just lazy importing of American complaints, or is there more to it than that?

I think the best way to understand it is to see it as an ideology, in a critical or Marxist sense: it’s a worldview that functions to justify and support the present economic system and current unequal power distributions.

People from all levels almost always feel like they’re struggling to make ends meet, because their expectations rise with their incomes (usually staying just ahead).  That’s how market capitalism works; dissatisfaction and desire is what keeps the wheels turning.  If people were content with what they have, capitalism wouldn’t work, or at least not the way we know it (maybe it could work in a nicer, more sustainable way).

This malaise is always there; we’re born into it, and too often we let ourselves remain in it.  And I guess when we’re constantly hearing about tough financial times and how our class is supposedly suffering, it’s more socially acceptable for middle class people to express it openly.

The ‘Returning Kiwi’, Emily Swan, gives voice to this plight:

Does Swan appreciate that with that income and a house, many Kiwis would see her as well-off?

“Yes! The average household income is what, $30,000? Crazy. But then a lot of people are sending their kids to school without breakfast. We are grateful for what we’ve got.”

And yet . . . “I look at my age and think, I’m nearly 40 and I’m still living from pay-cheque to pay-cheque. What do I pass on to the next generation? Will I ever pay my mortgage off? I do feel like I’ve f—ed up somewhere along the way.

If she’s “f—ed up somewhere”, it’s not in not having enough money; she and her partner earn $130,000 between them, but people earning twice as much probably feel the same way (and some people earning half as much have learned not to feel that way).

Perhaps situations like this can serve as a reminder not only that perceptions don’t also match reality, but also of just how mouldable our perceptions, desires and expectations are.  Hopefully we can learn to mould them ourselves to what we think they should be, rather than letting them be moulded by advertising, conformity and the pressures of a consumer capitalist society.

Well, from the information WE’RE seeing…

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Have you noticed that every time someone confronts National with a statistic showing that things aren’t going well (it’s happening increasingly often), they have the same cryptic response?  They feign disbelief, and reveal that according to “The figures I’ve seen,” or “the numbers [Key] had seen,” or “The advice his government had received,” or “some of the other indicators,” exactly the opposite is true!

Whatever this alternative information source is, it has such a powerful effect on the government that they were “very surprised” that unemployment rose again last month.  According to the information available to the rest of us, of course, this is no surprise – it’s been rising all year.  But apparently when you have “the information WE’RE seeing”, the job market is “jumpy” or “bouncy” or “grumpy” or some other anthropomorphic euphemism to render statistics, truth and accountability completely meaningless.

So, I’m really curious to know: What is this mysterious “information WE’RE seeing” that the government are getting their ideas from?

Is it this?
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Or this?

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Or this?
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Or these – National Party Pills?

Or this?
BullShit

National thinks the minimum wage is too high… Submit (or submit?)

Photo pinched from Frank Macskasy’s blog

So, inequality is at its highest ever, 270,000 kids are living in poverty, unemployment is still rising and thousands are moving to Australia where you can earn about NZ$25 working at a supermarket… what’s the problem according to National? Under 20s on the minimum wage are earning too much!

They’re currently inviting submissions on their euphemistically titled “Starting-out Wage”, which proposes to reduce the minimum wage to $10.80 per hour for certain young people and new workers.

Instructions on how to make an online submission are on No Right Turn.  The deadline is this Tuesday.

My submission is here.