Saturday, June 29, 2013

The Growth Obsession


Economic growth is an obsession. Every political party seems to claim that they will be the bringers of growth. I have many problems with this obsession, and I will try to elucidate the main two here.

Firstly, growth is unsustainable. This should be plainly obvious to absolutely everyone. We live on a planet with limited resources, which we are rapidly consuming. We are accelerating towards environmental disaster, as we're currently living well above the carrying capacity of the earth. So not only is economic growth and its associated growing levels of consumption going to put the planet in a dire situation, but our population is still growing. As Chris Hedges aptly wrote: "A world where 8 billion to 10 billion people are competing for diminishing resources will not be peaceful. The industrialized nations will, as [America has] done in Iraq, turn to their militaries to ensure a steady supply of fossil fuels, minerals and other nonrenewable resources in the vain effort to sustain a lifestyle that will, in the end, be unsustainable. The collapse of industrial farming, which is made possible only with cheap oil, will lead to an increase in famine, disease and starvation."

Beyond the problem with growth environmentally, where is the growth going? The language of Occupy Wall Street gives us a simple insight into this question. The 99% and the 1%, or more accurately, the bourgeoisie and the proletariat have in the last 30+ years since the neo-liberal revolution began have received enormously inequitable portions of this so-called growth. This trend doesn't appear to be relenting, and with the increasingly liberalised paths of capital flow around the globe is almost guaranteed to snowball.

We need to seriously re-evaluate this obsession with growth. Systemic change will also be necessary, as this compound growth is not arbitrary, but is dictated to us by our economic system of capitalism. Cessations of constant growth are considered recessions, and the working class bears the brunt of this, primarily through job losses and government austerity measures, while the capitalist class laughs all the way to the bank.

Our global political establishment seem to fall into three categories broadly:
The first group seems to be either oblivious to the problems (not realising that they exist) or content with them. In this category I would lump our own Prime Minister John Key and his government, along with most of the global right wing. This group doesn't necessarily deny that climate change is a real problem, but generally see this disparity of growth as natural, or even desirable.
The second group openly admit there is a problem with growth on the environment, and acknowledge the massive inequality. This group however only offers platitudes. President Obama falls into this group, as he has acknowledged the problems in powerful speeches that inspire many, but does nothing. This group placates the masses by fooling them into thinking that progressive action is being taken.
The final group also acknowledges the problem, and often attempts to do something about it. This group, like the other two, still works entirely within the same framework. They still assume constant growth, say nothing about population levels and do not challenge the system of capitalism. This group is most amenable to change, as they truly believe in their causes, but haven't made the connection between them and their root cause, the capitalist system.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

3 Things about the TPP you need to know and share

Not gonna do a write up on this, I'll just let it speak for itself. Left wing American perspective, in video form.

Monday, June 10, 2013

A Corporate State - The TPPA

Two of my favourite contemporary political minds in the world are Chris Hedges and Sheldon Wolin. However, as Americans, much of their criticisms relate to things which are not really applicable here. For instance, the effect of money in politics is dramatically less here in Aotearoa, largely due to the fact that we're a much smaller country, so it is possible to run election campaigns with a relatively small amount of money. In fact the New Zealand First party ran their most successful election campaign in a long time in 2011 on the smell of an oily rag, which was quite impressive. On the other hand the Conservative Party, spending a comparatively huge amount of money didn't even make it past the 5% threshold to get seats.

Trying to relate the barrage of criticisms against corporate control of the American political system found in the writings of Hedges and Wolin (among others) to our system has been difficult. We have a representative democracy, we can participate in our political and legislative processes if we desire and have the potential to influence them. This situation is completely unlike what is observed in the U.S. where, largely due to the amount of money that politicians need to raise to even get elected, the political process has been taken out of public hands, and into corporate hands. This corrupt system, which Wolin calls Inverted Totalitarianism, couldn't be further from what we experience. We currently have MPs from seven different political parties in our parliament, while for all intents and purposes, the U.S. only has one, the Party of Wall Street.

It dawned on me only recently a way in which this abhorrent and alien system of political theatre could be related to the New Zealand system and that is through the TPPA, the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement. Though it is labelled a free trade agreement, this is largely inappropriate, as the agreement reaches far beyond trade, and into domestic political process. As Jane Kelsey points out in 'Hidden Agendas: What we need to know about the TPPA': "What is being proposed looks very different from a traditional free trade treaty, which in the past focussed on border taxes (tariffs), quotas that limit the quantity of an imported good, and import licences that said who could import goods, in what amount, from where and when. ... The TPPA aims to achieve a seamless regulatory environment for the cross-border movement of goods, capital, data and elite personnel and their related commercial activities based on US-centric interests and rules."

As you are probably aware, international agreements, as this is, are binding on future governments. If we sign on to this agreement, which has been formulated for the benefit of US corporations, future democratically elected governments will be legislatively bound by the profit margins of any foreign commercial or financial interests (from TPPA countries). Now it should be pretty clear from this picture that I'm painting that the dire political straits that American democracy is in are not completely unrealistically applicable here in the near future. While American politicians do the bidding of their corporate financiers in order to obtain money for re-election in the next cycle, ours will do the bidding of US corporations because they have no other choice. If they do not they will face Investor-State arbitration and may be found financially liable, forced to pay out to a corporation, if policy the government enacts negatively affects the corporate bottom line.

The TPPA is nothing but corporate colonialism. American economic imperialism you might say. It is a threat to our political autonomy, our national sovereignty and our democracy. We stand to gain extremely little (arguably nothing at all), while losing a lot. These so-called free trade agreements are being pursued for purely ideological reasons, and they are not for the benefit of most. They serve to further augment the profits of large foreign capital holders, at the expense of the majority.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Voting With Your Wallet - Against Sweatshops?

Before I begin first let me try and explain the nature of my relationship with shoes. In the last 6 years I have only bought 4 pairs of shoes, one of which were purpose-bought for running and going to the gym (both activities which I seldom do). The other 3 I only bought because my previous everyday shoes were wearing out. I am approaching the point once again where on a rainy day, my feet get a bit wet because water somehow finds its way up through  my soles if I stand in a shallow puddle. So I am in need once again of some new shoes.

I recently read 'No Logo' by Naomi Klein, which re-awakened my awareness of the working conditions and living conditions of the people who make the commodities we consume in the Western world. This was compounded with the factory collapse in Bangladesh in late April exposing the squalid conditions that our collective desire for cheap goods, combined with a "see-no-evil" mentality inevitably results in.

Through posting a status about my shoe situation, and my desire to purchase a new pair that were not produced in sweatshop, a friend linked me to an Australian website called Shop Ethical. On the site they have four categories for shoes, Skate shoes, Sports shoes, Men's Shoes and Women's shoes. Of the 83 shoe brands surveyed, only 6 obtained a tick for being 'ethical', and 4 of those were produced by the same company. Five out of the 6 were also women's shoes, so that won't do me. The one generic shoe brand that fits my general category for shoes from this search are all made in the style of 'Chucks', and can be purchased through the Fair Trade Shop. I was also directed towards Trash Footwear, situated in Raglan, New Zealand. These are triply ethical, not only are they not produced in a sweatshop, they are produced locally, and made from "Quality materials salvaged from landfill oblivion, re-incarnated in Raglan as unique footwear!". Although neither of these brands really has a style of shoe that I'm completely content with, I'll probably end up going with one of them to ease my conscience. I'll stop by my local Trade-Aid store some time just in case they know something that the omniscient Google doesn't.

In summary, it's not an easy task to find footwear if you're concerned with ethics, and in all likelihood, none of your local retailers will stock any ethical shoes.