- Jeremy Agar

Hidden Agendas
What We Need To Know About The TPPA
by Jane Kelsey, a BWB Text, Bridget Williams Books

For years now Jane Kelsey, a Professor of Law at Auckland University, has been a relentless campaigner against New Zealand’s trade policies. Or, to put it another way, Kelsey has been our most thorough analyst of trade policy. Because the two roles are the same. It would be nice to be “balanced”, in the manner approved by polite society, and avoid subjectivity by pretending there’s always a nice, safe middle-of-the–road, some good points and some not so good points in the TPPPA. That’s not for Kelsey. She’d rather look at the facts, and let them speak for themselves. That’s why her adversaries, the political, financial and academic elites, never take her on. 

The full name of the TPPA is the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement, which suggests why Kelsey has so few fellow critics. It’s hard to imagine a more tedious-sounding title. This is deliberate. Governments get wordy and vague when they don’t want citizens to pay attention, but in so far as the four words do have a meaning, that meaning is false. The TPPA is not about the Pacific or the countries in and around the Pacific. There is no partnership involved and the Agreement being sought doesn’t involve the region’s peoples.

The actual two purposes of the TPPA, says Kelsey, are “to create international norms that reflect US commercial interests and would help restore its strategic and economic dominance, which it perceives to be under threat from China…. The second pivot is the relocation of US military resources from Iraq and Afghanistan to the Asia Pacific region”.  As we all know only too well, the talks are routinely said to be about trade, but as there is virtually an unimpeded flow of goods and services already in existence, the average citizen might conclude that there’s nothing to get excited about. That’s another reason so few are paying attention. We assume that the TPPA is just tidying up a few loose ends. NZ’s main interest is said to be - and should be - winning access to the US for dairy products, but those who know the history of these deals don’t expect a protectionist US to allow it.

TPPA, GCSB & Waihopai Are Linked

The talks won’t result in more NZ exports. We’re a very small player in this game of Big Business and it’s silly to imagine that the US would be pushing the TPPA to help out our local businesses gain an advantage that is not at present possible. If the TPPA were about us all being good mates, why would it be so secret? We all want to buy and sell stuff. Since we’ve heard about the secret Prism spying operation in the US and all the illegal snooping here, there and everywhere, Kelsey’s linking of the interests of US business to the interests of US military policy should - at last - gain a wider hearing. The Waihopai spy base, the GCSB (NZ Government Communications Security Bureau) and the TPPA are linked. So we come to the main reason for the secrets and lies. TPPA is about tying us into the interest of global Big Business, which wants the right to know everything about us. That’s not an aim which would get public support, which explains why we’re always being told to be “transparent”, while the State wants to be opaque. Or, perhaps it’s closer to reality to say that it wants to be both ubiquitous and invisible.

It’s not as though those clever Yankees are pulling the wool over the eyes of innocent Kiwis. NZ’s negotiators aren’t fools. They know exactly what’s involved. For a sense of this, Kelsey quotes a representative figure, Phil O'Reilly, from Business NZ: “It is true that TPP is more than just a trade negotiation. That's because TPP has the capacity to reach further into domestic economies and domestic policy settings than a conventional trade agreement - as it must if the essential requirements of business are to be addressed and a real difference made, for growth, jobs and commercial success”.  O’Reilly said this in December 2012, in the current stages of the talks.

In John Key’s NZ a business leader knows that public policy should be made in secret by the United States, and so it is not a surprise that O’Reilly thinks the Government’s role is to ignore Parliamentary democracy and all that old-fashioned malarkey so that the “essential requirements of business are to be addressed”. What is surprising is that he thinks that there are any NZ-owned businesses that are likely to benefit in more than marginal ways. Much more likely is that any residual market reach from NZ business will be wiped away by the much stronger US corporate sector. If it’s profitable, it’ll go. That’s why they’re doing it, Phil.

It’s really all about enabling US access, especially for the 21st Century corporations involved with new technologies, the reason there’s so much talk about services and “intellectual property”. In the words of then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, a central figure, it’s about “America's Pacific Century”. Clinton was alluding to a remark by Theodore Roosevelt, back in the 19th Century, that the 20th Century would “belong” to America. Teddy used to do it by sending in the troops but these days they don’t need gunboat diplomacy. Hopeful that they’ll be rewarded with crumbs from the table, local quislings are ready and willing to welcome the invasion.

The traditional way for some token locals to insert themselves was to become the agent of the imperial power, but the TPPA will deny participating countries the ability to demand that overseas firms have a local presence. Big Brother doesn’t want a place where protestors can rally against oil spills or polluting mines or slave labour on ships, and he doesn’t want unreliable local representatives. If it’s about the economy, it doesn’t matter if it’s private or public business. The Americans are pressing to deny the right of local governments to prefer “Made In NZ” policies.

Yet, in order to protect the rights of their 50 states to continue businesses as usual, the US is seeking exemptions for federal systems. This measure will coincidentally help other federal jurisdictions like Australia and Malaysia, who won’t feel a need to back little NZ, which has the most centralised governance of them all. The whole of NZ is about the same size as an average American state - and a lot smaller than the powerful ones - so the imbalance is vast. Some might say the Americans are being hypocritical, but it’s not as though NZ’s negotiators don’t know what they’re doing. They want to sign up to allowing local American governments a freedom which no NZ public authority will have. The US, that is, wants to force a rule on small countries that it will not accept for itself. In Washington the 50 states are a lobby to be assuaged. Sovereign New Zealand isn’t.

Protecting Foreign Investors

The TPPA would allow foreign investors protections that are not available to domestic counterparts, so some of the larger NZ companies, like Trade Me and The Warehouse, have expressed doubt about the talks. All concerned would be aware of Australia’s experience. It failed to get the US to budge from its protectionist stand to allow greater access for its primary produce, and now that Japan, with its sacrosanct farmers, wants in, the chance of the big rich markets opening up to NZ dairy products is even more remote. But there’s an even more basic question: Do the Americans want our dairy anyway? In his analysis of American fast food, Michael Moss (“Salt, Sugar, Fat”, see my review below) says that back in the Reagan era, Big Dairy was worried about over-production and asked for 339,000 cows to be culled. Big Dairy routinely moans about low prices and won’t want to see foreign milk products.

Kelsey’s suspicion that the TPPA is an expression of a US drive to counter Chinese influence is one that’s widely shared, yet the fashionable talk from the Beehive is about the importance of China to NZ. In Beijing they might be wondering why NZ is gratuitously positioning itself as part of a hostile bloc. The other discussion point amid the policy wonks as we go to press was how to foster an economy that can at last move beyond shipping out milk, logs and coal and shipping in tourists. 40,000 manufacturing jobs have gone in just the last four years. Key says nothing can be done, yet the TPPA will only accelerate the decline. The Labour Party is almost ready to say it wants preferment for NZ suppliers, something that the TPPA - which Labour backs - will deny.

When Australia signed up to its Free Trade Agreement with the US it agreed to raise the threshold at which the vetting of foreign investment is allowed from $A50M to $A800M. With its history of welcoming all and sundry, NZ will certainly get even laxer - if that’s possible. Kelsey says that the US has noted that in NZ “Ministerial discretion” is entrenched. They’ll be thinking of the bowing and scraping to the likes of Warner Brothers and Sky City. Where’s that American-style separation of powers when we need it?

Anything that’s not bolted down by being listed as an exception is covered by the TPPA, so the negotiations are about what the various countries want to exempt. We know that for NZ one such hope is to retain Pharmac. Those who followed the wrangling in the US over Obama’s health care reforms will know that Big Pharma is nothing if not powerful and ruthless. They’ll be intransigent. Kelsey suggests that “the industry is less concerned with the loss of profits in NZ than it is with Pharmac's reputation as a world leader in public procurement of affordable medicines. Its effectiveness stems from a strict cap on the total public medicines budget; by law, Pharmac cannot overspend. This gives it leverage in negotiations with drug companies”. We’re a tiny market to sell into. Big Pharma will be worried not about that. It’ll be thinking about how to spread the idea of the sort of profligate, expensive and privatised health system that’s made them unhealthily rich back home in the USA.

We can expect to see Big Pharma’s stooges arguing for a longer patent protection while talks continue over pharmaceuticals (and dairy). Presented as a compromise, this would allow Big Pharma to carry on business as usual during the careers of existing politicians while enabling Key to say that (our) Pharma(c) remains. That could be too hopeful a hunch. Trade Minister Tim Groser has publicly run up the white flag. In saying that commercial interests like Big Pharma are “economically and politically important for the US” he wants us to know that we shouldn’t expect him to win concessions that are not “within the parameters of political possibility”.

Sinking Lid For Public Democracy

All the impetus is towards freeing up Big Business and any concessions will be whittled away over the decades. This tendency is explicit. Any future item which did not exist at the time the TPPA is ratified, and thus could not have been listed, will be subjected to the full force of TPPA “liberalisations”. Neo-liberalism is being inserted as a constitution at the core of public policy. Future generations will not have the opportunity to debate. In time they won’t think to. Much as the British Empire was assumed by Victorians, or slavery was assumed by plantation owners in Mississippi, a world run by Big Business will be part of the furniture. That at least, will be the hope of the zealots behind the TPPA.

The basic thrust of the deal is expressed in its denial of countries’ rights to “expropriate”. This includes “indirect expropriation”, a phrase made for corporate lawyers. Just how is an indirect expropriation established? Kelsey provides an example from Quebec, where a US mining company sued the Government over its moratorium on fracking. In Germany, the City of Hamburg wanted to reduce pollution from a coal fired plant drawing from the local river. Vattenfall sought €1.4 billion in damages, and settled out of court. The largest case so far came in 2012 when Occidental Petroleum was awarded $US1.7 billion against the government of Ecuador even though OP had breached its contract. In present day NZ, Kelsey writes, an example of “indirect expropriation” - anything that might be said to reduce potential profits - could be a measure to make charter schools employ qualified teachers. Or any messing with those mum and dad power companies.

Tobacco is a notorious case study, with Big Tobacco suing governments all over the place so that it has an unimpeded right to keep killing people. It’s instructive, if unsurprising, that British American Tobacco spent $4 million in NZ in 2011-12 fighting plain packaging. Its’ reported reason is odd. BAT’s complaint was not against the idea that tobacco is harmful. It agrees. But it says it doesn’t think that plain packaging will work. No problem then? (Sunday Star Times, 9/6/13). Almost 50% of Maori smoke, and Maori women have been identified as having the world’s highest smoking demographic, so the strong opposition to tobacco lobbies from Maori politicians has been helpful. That’s not something to engage a “free trader”. NZ negotiators have instead asked for Treaty exemptions. This has been denied. However, in the TPPA, as in other recent trade agreements, we can expect that the Crown will have the right to “accord more favourable treatment to Maori”. The Americans would have seen Treaty talk as a peculiar NZ obsession with its indigenous people which could safely be appeased. It must be that no-one has told Winston Peters of this curious detail or we would have heard.

Of course no-one’s heard anything much as the talks are being held in secret. What possible justification could there be for this? Kelsey reports that the Official Information Act explains that it’s OK to keep it all behind closed doors “if the making available of that information would be likely … to damage seriously the economy of NZ by disposing prematurely decisions to change or continue Government economic or financial policies relating to ... the entering into of overseas trade agreements”. That clears that up.

We Should Tell Them To Stuff It

Just which NZ entrepreneurs or which sections of the economy will actually benefit from the shenanigans? Don’t NZ’s business elites know which side of their bread is buttered? Surely the naïve optimism which so often characterises their public statements is not intended to be taken literally. Surely the promotion of TPPA is an ideological exercise to project neo-liberalism and discredit alternative visions. Perhaps not. Perhaps they really do see it as a good idea in itself. Perhaps the ideologues see what they want to see. What else can we make of the caution from Mark Sinclair, formerly NZ’s chief negotiator, as revealed by Wikileaks: “There is public perception that getting into the US will be an ‘El Dorado’ for NZ's commercial sector. However, the US is already quite open to NZ trade and investment. He underscored that NZ needs to manage expectations. (There are) many political sensitivities”.

Kelsey’s meticulous research has shown that there’s no good reason to like the TPPA and lots of reasons not to. Sinclair and Groser concur. Like Groser, Sinclair is saying that there’s nothing in it for NZ. They know all about those expectations and sensitivities and so they need to manage us. That’s the code they’re deploying. They have to. So far no-one promoting the TPPA has come up with a single specific argument to persuade us of its merits, offering instead bluster, insult and evasion. What’s going on? To make sense of this, we need to go back to Kelsey’s premise: that the TPPA is more than a financial and economic strategy. It’s a military and political strategy too. It’s about power in all its forms. The secrecy over the TPPA and the concurrent secrecy over the GCSB are evidence that the US government and its corporate sponsors, along with their junior partners, want to control every aspect of our lives. In the neo-liberal scheme, citizens become consumers and then consumers become commodities. Spying and trade talks are two pivots of a global impulse that has to be hidden. If we got to hear what was being traded away in our name we’d tell them to stuff it.

A New Zealand Crisis
edited by Max Rashbrooke, Bridget Williams Books, Wellington, 2013

Sometimes, just sometimes, the apologists for neo-liberalism need to sing a new tune. After her National Radio interview with Robert Wade, a contributor to this excellent analysis of economic inequality, Kim Hill read two angry rebuttals from listeners. The gist of both was that inequality was necessary for a vibrant and productive society. For equality, try North Korea. If you’ve been in any of the so-called Anglo-Saxon countries at any time over the last half-century, you’ll have heard variations of this whenever neo-liberal inequity and iniquity is challenged. You’ll have heard that we New Zealanders (or Americans or Scots) are not in Russia. Or Cambodia. Etcetera. Beyond the one obvious fact that NZ and Russia have entirely different circumstances, there are several reasons why this tedious refrain needs to be retired. In this context one will suffice. All the 31 contributors to “Inequality” would agree that there will always need to be incentives, rewards and punishments. In this they agree with the neo-liberals. The difference is that those who seek a more egalitarian society want the State to continue its role in legislating to allow it, whereas the neo-liberals think the State should abandon this role and act solely in the interests of private capital. Max Rashbrooke and Jonathan Boston introduce the concept of equality, looking at equality of opportunity, as opposed to equality of outcome - the spectre of robotic mass conformity that inspired Hill’s callers but not the likes of Rashbrooke and Boston or their colleagues. They, in fact, reverse this misunderstanding. A central theme from all the contributors is that equality of opportunity is a precondition for allowing diverse talents to be expressed.

Yet when he spoke to a packed hall at University of Canterbury in July 2013 – and presumably in his other talks around the country - Wade repeatedly trashed the concept. Wade had in mind the formulation of the neo-liberals. As he remarked, their outlook is virtually identical with that of political conservatives, both of whom like to say that the State’s job is to ensure that all are equal before the law. There’s no law that mandates that only the poor can sleep under the bridges of Paris, and there’s no law that denies individuals or groups the right to get rich. We all have a vote and we can all walk into a bank. So they make much of this theoretical, formal equality - the gift to the nation from Sir Geoffrey Palmer - an equality which can claim to provide opportunity by ignoring social and economic realities.

A real equality of opportunity is surely exactly what we seek. Whereas the “formalists” talk of legal rights, the goal of progressives is an equality of economic opportunity. This was Wade’s point. In the classic formulation of Karl Marx, an egalitarian society is not a place where everyone’s the same, but neither is it a place where billionaires and paupers have an equal right to legal redress. On the contrary, Marx’s vision was: “From each according to his abilities; to each, according to his needs” In modern NZ, where talents are being wasted and needs are not being met, that’s not happening.

Casino Economy

The sustaining myth of neo-liberalism is that by deregulating the economy, enterprise is rewarded and America has always tagged itself as the home of opportunity, of social mobility. Rashbrooke compares the US to Denmark, selected presumably as a typical example of the more moderate European style. In the US “a son born to a father from the lowest fifth of the population has only an 8% chance of moving into the richest fifth; 42% of sons who are born poor, stay poor. By contrast, in Denmark, only 25% of poor sons remain poor…. Countries with the lowest level of income inequality offer greater equality of opportunities; typically these are societies that invest more in children’s early years, spend more on public services, and use tax and benefits to reduce income inequality. Rather than generating complacency or conformity, this investment appears to act as a safety net that encourages greater self-expression, creativity and innovation”.

The casino economy despises any such investment in the common good, preferring instead to reward speculative finance capital. This supposedly puts money to work for the benefit of one and all, but in reality it erodes wealth. Rashbrooke cites a British study which estimated that for every pound of value the bankers create, they destroy seven pounds of wider social, economic and environmental value. That’s just for their business as usual. It didn’t reckon in the vast losses the wankers tossed away when they plunged us into the great financial crisis.  “In contrast, low-paid childcare centre staff … generate between seven and nine pounds in value for every one pound that they’re paid”. In the new finance-focused economy the rule of thumb has been that the more money you get hold of – from derivative gambling, currency speculating and the like – the more damage you do to society; and the less you’re paid – workers in the public service, and education and health, for instance - the more you’ve been undervalued.

NZ’s Wealth Transfer From Production To Speculation

NZ, too, has been generating a transfer of wealth from production to speculation at a fast clip, and, with it, an essential element of the new disorder, has been sharply increased inequality. We’ve been hearing about the 1% and the 99%. In NZ the top 1% own 16% of national wealth, while the bottom 50% of the country, that’s half of us, own just 5% of it. Every child knows that (even without the extra help that neo-liberalism doles out) the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. As consumers’ purchasing power falls, internal markets shrink, unemployment grows, and footloose capital looks for ever more speculative outlets, creating a downward spiral.   

Rashbrooke provides a historic context, tracing the top 1%’s take since 1921. During what’s been called the great compromise, roughly from the 1920s to the mid-1980s, decades when social democratic values were moderating the power of raw capital, the ultra-rich were induced to share a bit. Over 60 years the top 1%’s riches slipped from around 11% of total pre-tax income to about 5%. These years, not coincidentally, were years when NZ’s wealth increased at a rate matched neither before nor after. Most of the fall occurred during the first Labour government’s tenure after 1935. Once during those 60 years – from 1951 to 1953 - the top 1% grabbed back most of the share it had conceded over the preceding 30 years. Two more short, sharp increases came in the three years after 1986 and between 1996 and 1999, by which point the one per centers had captured a towering 14%, considerably more than they had been able to claim in the era of unabashedly bad old days.

It’s worth noting this pattern in some detail as it goes a long way to explaining our current predicament. The first rise followed the 1951 waterside lockout; the second followed the Lange-Douglas period, ushered in by a currency crisis, and the climatic third rise was during with the culminating late 1990s’ period of the previous National government, when Jenny Shipley ruled. Two messages suggest themselves: when neo-liberals talk crisis, they’re exploiting fear and confusion to reward their mates; and when they Act, they do so Ruthlessly.

Since the pivotal year of 1984, the top one per centers and the top ten per centers have increased their takings by around 75%, with 2011 numbers putting the one per centers’ annual income at an average of $297,100. Meanwhile – and this, at last, is the point – the other 90% of the country has seen only a marginal increase. And if increased costs, especially for housing, are factored in, the poor have less purchasing power, and the middle classes hold their own only through Working for Families tax credits. Those you might have imagined were (excuse the language) Closing The Gap, women and Maori, have lagged since 1984. Women’s incomes have stuck at 61% of men’s since their 1991 dose of Ruthanasia, and Maori incomes have actually fallen since they were Rogered.  Neo-liberalism is making us poorer.

Benefits Privatised, Costs Socialised

The resulting costs, in crime, sickness, all the pathologies that drain from the swamp of injustice, are not considered worthy of mention by the mandarins who decree measures of success such as Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Notoriously, they have rorted the system so that benefits are privatised, but the costs of exploitation are borne by the public. Paul Barber, a researcher with the New Zealand Council of Christian Social Services, cites a study that found that the economic cost of child poverty alone is up to $8 billion a year.

Robert Wade’s chapter, “Inequality And The West”, shows the close correlation between NZ’s path and the history of comparable countries. In the US, for instance, the top one percenters’ share of the wealth had peaked at around 23% in 1928 (think “The Great Gatsby”). Thence, in the decades of increasing general prosperity, it declined to 9%, beginning to climb back up after about 1978. By 2006, the take had returned to 23%. The first date of excess preceded the Great Depression of 1929; the second preceded the Global Financial Crisis of 2008. How much more evidence do the “free traders” need? Their prescription is toxic. And in view of the almost identical pattern of the maldistribution of wealth between NZ and the US (and the other Anglo-Saxons) how much longer can our local apologists, the followers of Roger and Ruth, continue to cry wolf by claiming that NZ was forced to attack living standards because of some unique crisis?

Several contributors look at outcomes for Maori and Pacific peoples. These sections are excellent in that they’re consistent both with each other and with the overall theme of the causes and results of economic inequality. We’re given an explanation of the historical context that has meant that brown people have generally been disproportionately ravaged by neo-liberalism. They do so without the customary diversions into symbolic gesture and identity politics so prevalent among opinion leaders. The essential division in NZ, it’s persuasively argued, is not based on the colour of people’s skins but on the colour of their money.

Looking at how policies have been “Building Inequality”, Philippa Howden-Chapman, Sarah Bierre and Chris Cunningham provide a useful analysis of the recent housing bubble. Where and how people are housed is basic to economic, health and social wellbeing. Similarly, Chris Harris, who provides one of the 14 articulate “Viewpoints” that buttress the book, examines how Auckland’s transport planners have helped exacerbate the effects of inequality. The balance and weight given to the myriad expressions of economic injustice is impressive. Meanwhile the Government forges on with its myopic and imbalanced pursuit of the quick buck, doing all it can to sharpen the current divisions. Its reliance on GST, its refusal to adopt a capital gains tax or a financial transactions tax, and its recent tilting of income tax rates to further favour the rich are the directly financial measures that indicate they haven’t finished yet with their wrecking ball.

In his interview with Kim Hill, Wade offered another approach. Rather than our pattern of fretting over the results of inequality, he suggested, we might look at how to ameliorate it, shifting the focus from “re-distribution” to “pre-distribution”. That makes sense. The hold of the maldistributors over the public imagination has been impressive. It wasn’t long ago that we’d associate inequality with corruption and waste. Inequality was the expression of tyranny, the enabler of slavery, the cause of violence. It still is, but it’s been rendered acceptable in societies like ours because it hasn’t yet eroded the ethos of collective responsibility and shared power that preceded it.

It’s said that death and taxes (on middle and lower incomes) are the two certainties. There’s a third. If an apologist for the excesses of late capitalism is presented with a rational alternative, policies that might make New Zealand a fairer, richer and more efficient place, he’ll go into default mode and mutter about North Korea. It saves looking at New Zealand in 2013. For the rest of us, for those thirsting for a pragmatic, evidence-based discussion around the issues facing the country, this book is as good as we’re likely to see. Read it yourself; then press it on your friends and family.

Enough Is Enough
by Rob Dietz and Dan O'Neill, Routledge, London and New York, 2013

Mired as we are in the middle of the John Key tenure as Prime Minister, it's easy to forget there was once a time when governments gave at least lip service to planning in the public interest. Key's casino economy, informed as it is by his gambling instinct that governing a country is a matter of stitching up deals, might well be the culmination of this neurotic age, when State policy is at the mercy of the next quarter's stock price. Let's hope so. Because, as Rob Dietz and Dan O'Neill make clear, we're going the wrong way fast. That's not to say their look at the state of the world is apocalyptic or sensationalist. Quite the opposite. “Enough Is Enough” is a quiet and sober reminder that the likely result of living in a constant present tense is that the future might surprise us - on the down side. 

Dietz and O'Neill have a sense of history, and as an antidote to the current style, they start by going back a while, for 2000 years. For 1800 of those years the world's economy was stable. A graph shows no change in wealth, as measured by Gross Domestic Product (GDP), or population. Resource use was another flat line. That changed with the Industrial Revolution. After about 1750, starting in Europe and North America, wealth and population soared, and at an ever increasing rate. If global wealth were deemed to be $1,000 per capita for those first 1800 years, it's now $7,000 - and climbing exponentially. Of course wealth itself is a good thing. Who wants to live with starvation and disease as constants?  But at the start, there's a warning: “When we discuss ‘economic growth’ in this book, what we're really concerned with is not GDP growth per se, but the increase in material and energy use that comes with GDP growth. Ultimately, the flow of materials and energy is what impacts ecosystems, not the exchange of dollars and cents (although the latter drives the process)”.

As material wealth has boomed, so has our exploitation of the planet: this much is familiar to anyone who is paying attention. The major economic and political choices we have to make - ultimately almost all of them - are to do with how we consume. All the buzz words to do with concepts like “sustainability”, “development”, “environment” and “resources” express this. But for Mr Key, as he makes plain virtually every day, those concepts are unwelcome. For him, it's all about “growing wealth” and growing wealth needn’t be more sophisticated than crude extraction. To the Nationalists this is so obvious a truth that they never tire of ridiculing any opposition, no matter how tepid, to the ethic of the fast buck.

Most (rich world) people have enough to satisfy needs of health and happiness and the often restless search for more to consume not only wastes the world's resources but does nothing to make life more satisfying. Such is the basic theme. It's well trodden ground, and this version serves as well as any as an introduction to the threats of conspicuous consumption, inequality and boom and bust economics. The authors argue for what they call a “steady state economy”, where meeting people's needs replaces the present division and uncertainty.

Millions Live In Poverty In “First World”

As far as it goes, their thesis is almost unarguably valid, at least for the sort of readers likely to be reading it. Educated middle class book buyers in the US, Canada and the UK, the countries of the academic authors, will nod in agreement with their sensible moderation. But there are many others, few of whom are likely readers, who wouldn't agree. In all the rich world countries there are lots of people who do not have enough. Millions live in poverty and deprivation in the so-called “First World” as well as, more obviously, in the “developing world”. The authors obviously know this, and they do equate increased inequality with poverty, but do so only in a perfunctory way.

It's also potentially misleading in that a cursory skim through the book could lead to the conclusion that how the world's resources are distributed and exploited is a matter of where you live. This is of course partially true, but any conclusion that we're doomed by the accidents of time and place would engender just the sort of passive fatalism that the authors implicitly detest. Yet without a clear analysis of the forces that have produced the deprivation and waste, it's hard to see what to do about them. Partly because it has two authors, but also because of its tone of moral exhortation, “Enough Is Enough” tends to be repetitive. And preachy. It's one thing for the individual to recycle and grow her veges, the sort of individual responses that the book is implying we might adopt, but that's a social and cultural reaction to the malaise rather than an economic challenge to it. Mitigation of extremes of wealth and poverty won't happen on an individual lifestyle basis.

There needs to be a clear distinction between what should happen and what, in our deeply compromised planet, is likely to happen. To some extent the authors are right to keep their sights fixed on the nearby ground, but in doing so, they pay little attention to transnationals, or why they behave the way they do. We need to know the chances that Big Business will act in the way the authors recommend, and, if they won't, why they won't. Corporates can't afford to moderate their excesses as they'd thereby lose out to their rivals. Capitalism exhibits cultural neuroses all right, but overcoming them will be possible only by changing the way the world's economy is organised. The global exploitation that is laying waste to our forests and oceans and converting our cities into battle zones can be arrested only through systemic change. That, in turn, means arresting neo-liberalism (see my review above of “Hidden Agendas” by Jane Kelsey).

In noting the self-evident point that it won't be easy to persuade the power elites to act responsibly, the authors conclude a chapter with a well-known quotation from a well-known economist: “Only a crisis - actual or perceived - produces real change. When this crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around. That, I believe, is our basic function: to develop alternatives to existing policies, to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes the politically inevitable”. No elaborating comment is offered, leaving the impression that the authors were about to flesh out the implications of this remark as they set out an alternative vision. But this never quite happens. There's nothing wrong with their suggestions as to how Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)-type countries could share resources more logically, but their prognosis never realises the manipulative tactical manoeuvring that the quote was proposing. Dietz and O'Neill hint that we need an abrupt shift in policy, a sort of coup d'etat, but they offer only marginal reforms.

Creating Crises To Subvert Democracy

That might, for a while, give us neo-liberalism with a human face, but it won't end neo-liberalism itself. So it's more than nitpicking to suggest that Dietz and O'Neill might have explained that Milton Friedman*, the economist they correctly identify as the source of the quotation, was not their kind of guy at all. He was in fact the inspiration for the very ill under discussion, the new dispensation originally enacted by the likes of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher – as directed by Friedman himself. When Friedman spoke of “our basic function” he was talking about neo-liberalism and how to get governments to install it. For Dietz and O'Neill, Friedman isn't one of us; he is them. And in this context, it is more than a tactless but trivial oversight to allow an opponent to sum up a chapter; it's a pointer as to why the neo-libs are winning. *Milton Friedman (1912-2006) is the father of neo-liberal economics. Ed.

In NZ the Friedmanite tactic of creating a crisis to subvert democracy was exactly the inspiration for the 1984-90 Labour government's extremist version of the ideology. In his autobiographies Roger Douglas was happy to expound on this precise detail. The Finance Minister of NZ was quite sanguine about telling the country that he was literally and explicitly the agent of a foreign conspiracy, a devotee of the Friedman cult. He knew he could get away with it because the Friedmanite tactic of subverting your own economy in order to permanently change it had been accepted by both major political parties and the bureaucratic and academic elites who hold their hands. That’s when the manipulation and secrecy - the process that is culminating in the TPPA (see my review above) - became the norm. In the 1980's “the politically impossible” did become the “politically inevitable”, and after a generation, its child, John Key, cannot imagine a return to a responsive social democracy. For him, with his career as a financial gambler, a sustainable, productive economy is a contemptible relic.

Well aware of the strategy, and as a precaution against the tiny possibility that a progressive consensus might dislodge neo-liberalism in the minds of the Kiwi “mums and dads” that he so frequently, condescendingly, misleadingly and insultingly evokes, Key strives to demonise the parties that could provide more than a marginal challenge to neo-liberal hegemony. Dietz and O'Neill put forward modest alternatives, advocating, for instance, a Tobin tax* on international financial transactions to discourage financial speculation, or the adoption of a shorter work week to allow more workers from what's been called the precariat (the precarious proletariat) into secure employment. Ideas such as these, admirable though they are, won't, on their own, change the world. A tactician as adroit as Key will adopt those which serve an immediate purpose to fend off critics - like allowing a school breakfast programme - but he does so not so that NZ might be healthy and educated. He sees such compromises as a sort of insurance premium, a small payment so that the wheeling and dealing, his real concern, might continue. *Named after its proponent, the economist James Tobin. Ed.

This is not to criticise Dietz and O'Neill: their suggestions float within the mainstream of what is immediately possible in the so-called Anglo-Saxon countries, where opposition parties offer only the most modest correctives to the “marketers”. There needs to be a bolder strategy or we'll be stuck for another generation with the notorious TINA, the Friedmanite conviction that There Is No Alternative to unfettered capitalism. The neo-liberals like to create crises, sabotaging their own societies for selfish gain, and the rest of us have neither the ability nor the desire to create them. Incremental change would be OK if it united progressives and disturbed the corporate elites, but so far the “Centre Left” has managed to build neither unity nor enthusiasm. We've seen nothing that would make Key or his mates worry because TINA can still persuade potential critics that it's ill-mannered to insist on too much democracy. At some stage an inadvertent crisis will challenge the status quo. Will democrats be ready? It didn't happen with the Global Financial Crisis.        

In pressing their case that GDP is an unsatisfactory measure, in that it counts any and all economic activity, no matter whether it's healthy and sustainable, the authors make an essential point. This appreciation needs to be put where they put it, at the core of any political reforms. And they provide a timely corrective to the all too frequent reaction to the neo-liberals, which has it that, because GDP is a gross measure, used by gross types, we should abandon all forms of economic growth and adopt a subsistence economy. The authors aren't sentimental about the evils of money. They know that the lack of a trading productive economy would lead to widespread misery.

We Shouldn’t Still Be Moaning About TINA

John Key would like voters to think that those who don't like his Government are such romantics. He's cocky because he knows that his critics' sometime habit of seeming to tell people they have too much doesn't wash with the growing number of poor people who don't have enough. Advice from the well-heeled and well-meaning that suggests any sort of moralising superiority - even if unintended - will keep his popularity high, for all the wrong reasons. Key tries to provoke so he can play to a red neck gallery. “Enough Is Enough” has shortcomings, but it establishes its basic thesis: in countries like ours, a bit more equality and socially responsive policy would benefit everyone. By now, after all these years, we shouldn't still be moaning about TINA.

Salt, Sugar, Fat
by Michael Moss, WH Allen, UK

Americans eat 22 teaspoons of sugar a day, a lot more than a healthy diet would allow. That’s if they’re an average person. The trouble is that a lot aren’t average. Some eat a lot more than the 22 teaspoons, which is much too much. It’s the same with salt and fat. Michael Moss, an American, says that his compatriots are the fattest people on Earth, closely followed by Mexicans. Not that long ago, you’d hear New Zealanders refer with some superiority to American eating habits. Not these days, not now that NZ’s obesity rates are challenging theirs. Fast and tasty food, like hamburgers, chips and pizzas – and whole aisles of salty, sugary, fatty child-tempting supermarket arrays - have gone global. Even in China, land of the trim, there are for the first time more people who weigh too much than those who weigh too little. When it comes to junk food, we’re all Americans.

The trend to obesity is literally the visible aspect of globalisation. This much is common knowledge and Moss gets straight to his point, as revealed in his subtitle, “How The Food Giants Hooked Us”. Big Food is the prototypical corporation, and Big Food’s brands are the most recognisable brands of them all. Big Food’s marketing success has been huge. Moss comes at his topic as a journalist telling a story with a strong narrative sense. Much of his account relates his conversations with industry insiders, interspersed with a wide array of facts. It’s unlikely that salt, sugar and fat have been subjected to a closer scrutiny, at least not in a format that’s approachable for the general reader.

Whether these basics of Big Food are addictive in a way comparable to tobacco is a question Moss briefly discusses, leaving the question open. He’s not claiming to be a scientist or a philosopher. Instead he explains why sugar, salt and fat are so important. They’re the basis of the appeal of the products, adding taste, texture and appearance, the focus of an extraordinary amount of research and experimentation. Big Food has spent many millions coming up with enticing recipes. Its’ other weapon has been advertising. Some of the logos and jingles are possibly familiar to everyone on Earth, and they don’t need to get a plug here.

Fast Food, Junk Food

The names point to the other obvious attractions of sugar, salt and fat: convenience and cheapness. Moss looks at why consumption is higher with the young and the poor and why the Big Food bosses don’t often eat or drink their own products. Yet “when I was a kid, my father took me to my first baseball game, and there was nothing more sacred to me than that moment with my father. And what did I have to drink? I had an ice cold Coke, which became part of that sacred moment”. That’s how a top Coca-Cola executive recalls childhood. On the other hand, at the same Coca-Cola, the better customers are known as “users”, and the company’s advertising aims principally to get its “users” to use more. “User” isn’t a sacred reference; it’s more commonly applied to drug addicts. This would have been an opportunity for Moss to revisit some historic connections that have been alleged between America’s most sacred corporation and cocaine, but we’re not taken there.

The United Nations has recently pointed out the vast influence Big Food has over public policy in America. It’s one of the most powerful lobbies, up there with the likes of Big Pharma*. Big Food and Big Pharma spend many millions in their shared responsibility to make Americans unhealthy by ensuring that politicians don’t dare slim down their influence. But apart from a chapter on the role of the Federal Government, Moss spends little time on the topic. We see something of how Washington connives fatly, but we don’t get a look behind the scenes to see how it happens. Perhaps that’s not a fault. At 449 pages, this is already a solid book. *See my review above of “Hidden Agendas”.

One significant detail from around 1977 that Moss discusses is still timely. In the era of the Marlboro Man, the cowboy who smoked his way through the Wild West to freedom (probably the most famous and successful cigarette ad ever), industry propagandists started to badmouth public health advocates by complaining about “over-regulation” by a “nanny State”. It’s a discourse that lingers today in Keyite New Zealand, a strategy to evade legislation by appealing to a faux frontier mentality. It shouldn’t work in 21st Century NZ.

Compliant Bureaucrats

At the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) there’s a Center for Nutrition Policy, tasked to encourage healthy eating. Some idea of the relative importance of health versus sickness in Washington can be seen from the fact that its annual budget makes up 0.0045% of the agency’s total funds. Moss’ interview with the Nutrition Center’s top bureaucrats must have been awkward. Isn’t too much cheese and red meat an issue? Moss asks. “The idea isn’t to eliminate any specific food”, replies the Deputy Director. In fact, in its guidelines, away from nosy journalists, USDA did mention specific foods. In a section called “Foods And Nutrients To Increase” for a healthy diet, cheese is included as something people needed more of, not less. According to the PR hacks at USDA neither milk products nor red meat have been specifically linked to obesity. “These foods are important sources of nutrients in healthy eating patterns”. You get the idea.


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