Neoliberalism needs to end – Part 3: Why Fukuyama is wrong


In the previous article I examined how the resistance against neoliberalism began and what were the causes of the push back. Now I attempt to show that push back at work, both in terms of nations starting to realize that neoliberalism has failed, and also how just a few companies on the face of the planet are helping to undermine the very economic model that made them possible.

Facebook, Google, Apple, Amazon. Billions of people use their products daily. These are four companies whose very power and reach potentially influences national elections; where privacy rights is a dirty phrase, despite cosmetic efforts to paper over substantial abuses. All four present their own challenges, but I will focus on Google. When Google wants your medical data so it can develop more applications and software, and – most likely – distribute it to third obscure third party users who have no care for your privacy rights, there is a problem. When one company completely dominates the search engine landscape so completely that other substantial companies are mere bit players, there is a problem. When it has an e-mail platform that despite you deleting all of your e-mails, every single one of them is still being held in data storage somewhere, there is a problem.

Although the United States is starting to realise – to its credit – the monsters these companies have turned into, to some extent their law makers are caught in a bind as without doubt all four of them most probably donate substantially to their election campaigns. If they turn on these companies, Google could refuse to publish their ads, stop corporate donations. But they must try for the sake of America, for the sake of the free world. Google needs to be broken up.

But it is much more than just nations beginning to push back against neoliberalism. There are several factors at work to undermine the whole idea, which I will briefly mention:

  • Fukuyama’s idea that the end of history had come was also undermined in part by its monstrous arrogance – a snotty holier than thou belief in western superiority: that if your nation is not a western one it is somehow of irrelevance
  • A sort of expectation that countries would start favouring American ideas about democracy and freedom completely ignored their histories and prior foreign interference
  • It ignored China whose economy and military spending was just beginning a 25 consecutive year period of near double digit growth in both – the result being China is now an order of magnitude more powerful nation than it was in 1989
  • Having seen off the Soviet Union, no one thought to help post-U.S.S.R. Russia establish a democratic system of governance, thus leaving them to witness the rise of Vladimir Putin
  • The geopolitical vacuum left by the collapse of the U.S.S.R. was going to have to be filled by something and – wrong as the terrorist attacks on 11 September 2001 were – no one should be surprised that a non-conventional, ideological opponent would be that something
  • Russia and China are using their influence to stymie the western geopolitical agenda – good or bad – way of the United Nations veto; propping up despots with poor human rights records such as Iran and North Korea

So, as you enjoy the Christmas presents you got on Wednesday, spare a thought for who made that cellphone you got. Spare a thought for those working in retail over the coming days in New Zealand when the Boxing Day sales will be on.

In the simplistic world of Fukuyama it might have been the right thing, the good thing. But Fukuyama is one human being alone, albeit one whose theorem influenced the likes of President George H.W. Bush. When the global order gets altered in such a way as to have a super power trying to impose in an almost hegemonic manner, its will, one should not only imagine a counter movement, they should expect it. That history and all the problems that came with it, far from finished, is staging a second renaissance. Whether we western people are smart enough to realise Fukuyama’s “End of history” is dead is another point altogether.

Neoliberalism needs to end – Part 2: How the resistance began


In the previous article I mentioned how neoliberalism came about following the End of History paper written by an American political scientist named Francis Fukuyama in 1989. I described how it was encouraged through free trade agreements in New Zealand and elsewhere. Towards the end, I showed how it made the Global Financial Crisis possible and how the world leaders largely ignored the warnings. In this article I show how and why resistance is starting to push back on neoliberalism and why it would not be a bad thing if it succeeded.

Have you ever thought about the factory where your cellphone was made and the conditions that the factory workers worked in – do the female staff have maternity leave; are they paid regular wages; do they get regular rest breaks and a meal break for full time staff? It might not necessarily be so. The economic footprint of the west has been great for countries like China, India, Brazil and others with weak labour laws, where companies trying to avoid having to show legal and moral decency to their staff have set up shop to take advantage of the cheaper labour.

Or what about the mines from which the rare earth elements needed to make the components in the phone? Have you heard about the children working in cobalt mines? A few days ago Google and Apple were named in an American lawsuit brought about after deaths of Congolese children in mines where they were made to work for not even $1 a day.

As human rights N.G.O.’s become aware of such abuses, they are supporting lawsuits  being brought about by families and representatives of the victims. Others include Amnesty International supporting people of the Niger delta in their fight against oil companies who have crippled the environment, causing major health issues, loss of income from the fisheries.

But Governments have been slow to recognize the growing discontent among people in many countries. And indeed some have tried to deflect both the growing body of evidence neoliberalism has failed, but also the many and growing numbers of critics. Why? $$$ Many of the politicians who advocate for corporate socialism – which is what neoliberalism basically is – are bankrolled by wealthy donors who will pull their funding if their demands are not upheld, and scared of the backlash they meekly do as these people want. I am talking about the Koch brothers in America; media mogul Rupert Murdoch in Britain; mining billionaire heiress Gina Rinehart in Australia, but also Chinese billionaires such as Lin Lang.

But in recent months there have been signs of a coming push back in countries that had embraced it. In Chile after years of being held up as the poster child for market economics as a result of the reforms enacted by dictator Augusto Pinochet, impromptu protests erupted on a massive scale across Chilean cities – 800,000 people took to the streets in Santiago; tens of thousands elsewhere, simply tired of watching a very few select people get disproportionate gains in their wealth whilst the average Chilean was made to make do with much less. 16 people were killed by security forces who were taken by surprise at the intensity and the anger being expressed. President Sebastian Pinera has promised reforms, but these are largely cosmetic and do not address the underlying social inequality driving the protests.

But these problems are not restricted to up and coming nations. Even G7 nations are not exempt from the back lash. Similar underlying problems may have fuelled the Gillet Jaunes (Yellow Vests) protest movement in France that appeared with little warning after a plan to increase the tax on petrol was announced. Within a matter of days, several hundred thousand people were demonstrating on the streets of Paris day in/day out. Whilst President Emmanuel Macron has announced policy changes in an attempt to woo the protesters and get the violence to stop his centrist government and the conservative wing of French politicians will be looking nervously abroad and hoping that no contagious protest movement springs up any time soon.

In Part 3 I return to explore how Fukuyama’s idea was flawed from the start, and why what  I like to think of as the “Second coming of history” is perhaps more appropriate.

 

Break up Google and Facebook


One started off life as a search engine. The other was a project started by a bunch of university students in 2004. At their time of launch probably neither Google or Facebook’s initial management probably had any idea in the slightest about what their brain child’s would morph into. But 14 and 15 years later respectively, with billions of dollars in assets, world wide influence best denoted by their dominance of the social media and search engine markets, Google and Facebook are now facing a monster of their own making: a growing movement around the world to rein them in.

It is not only contrary to the spirit of a competitive market place to have such large companies in existence, but also it threatens to control society in a way most people in the West have not realized. For years we used to think Google, Amazon, Apple and Facebook were a good thing and so there was little thought given to the fact that there is no regulatory body capable of monitoring and keeping them in line.

Such is Google’s dominance that it is now starting to ask users for data relating to their health. Why you might ask? To create products that can run on it and further diversify its portfolio. The idea, which may seem innocent enough is not actually all that innocent. I said it wants data about your medical issues – in other words it wants to intrude into your private life and some of your most personal affairs.

When it starts doing that, one has to put their foot down and say “enough is enough”. It is clearly obvious that Google’s insatiable appetite is now becoming a problem, that its regard for privacy is completely insincere. Despite hefty E.U. penalties being handed down to the two companies, Google appears not to be able and/or willing to accept that it is causing major harm . Nor can it accept that to dominate a market in the way it does is not competitive at all. The 90% + control of the entire internet search poses no problems if you believe Google executives.

Another company with a problem is Facebook. The company’s disorganization has been well marked by mistakes in their regular features, such as the removal of the calendar feature that enabled one to track back through posts they put up themselves. A Facebook employee named Roger McNamee decided to expose the crooked interior of his employer. He wanted to show how the activities on Facebook of Russian agents hijacked the U.S. Federal election.

Facebook in August was told it might be subject to as much as E1.6 billion in fines for a massive data breach that may have affected as many as 50 million users.It was a breach that enabled misuse of Spotify, Tinder and other applications. But a bigger question remains for a company too big for its own good and that is whether the Government will have the courage to act.

Do not get me wrong. Both Facebook and Google have their uses and have clearly done very well out of all of the users that post on their pages. But if one is not profoundly disturbed and/or disgusted at the possibility of faceless tech having access to your most intimate medical records, then it is questionable whether you were paying attention. We rely heavily on both to do much, myself included. Both can also be accused of having a non-responsive attitude to regular every day issues – almost like “Facebook Help” is just there to enable the user to do the bare minimum and nothing more.

Are Facebook and Google fit to be run as mega businesses that threaten both societal gains and civic security? I think not and believe that the time is now for breaking them up.

The monumental District Health Board data hack


As many as 913,000 patients may have had their records accessed in a massive data breach of New Zealand District Health Boards. The hack, which is thought to have also affected Public Health Organizations, was concentrated on the Tu Ora Compass’s computer system. As officials try to contain the damage, it raises – yet again – some damaging questions about the cyber security of Government agencies in New Zealand.

I have long thought that New Zealand has been too slack with data security in Government agencies. It is a recurring problem that has at some point or another affected Inland Revenue Department, Accident Compensation Corporation, Department of Work and Income, to name just a few. All of these agencies have been breached in the last decade, with some of the breaches involving thousands of files being misused or misplaced.

But back to what I think might be one of the biggest data hacks in all New Zealand history. Whilst it is good that the Chief Executive has apologized, it is not enough and there are major failings. Glaring questions need to be rapidly answered by the Ministry, the Chief Executive and those responsible for the maintenance of the data. Very quickly the Chief Executive must find out what steps can be immediately taken to tighten up the security of M.o.H. systems and equally quickly the M.o.H. system administrators must action those recommendations.

The breach appears to affect the lower North Island, particularly people in Wellington, Kapiti Coast  and Wairarapa. 648,000 are thought to be affected, but given the data goes back over a decade and includes people who have deceased, the number of affected patients might be close to 1 million people.

Ministry of Health have to own this incident. If they cannot, Chief Executive Martin Hefford should hand his resignation in, for it was his responsibility to make sure M.o.H. had the correct procedures and personnel.

New Zealanders should be short on  patience with Government agencies treating cyber security so poorly as to let this happen. But I have the feeling that after a brief burst of indignation, people will merely shrug their shoulders and life will carry own as if it never happened. The agencies will heave a sigh of relief and say “we got through that one – I am sure we will be fine in the future”, instead of holding those who failed in their roles to account.

It is this kind of resigned behaviour, touched with a bit of “She’ll be right”, implying things will sort themselves out instead of New Zealanders ensuring that the situation before them improves that prevents this nation getting better. We can be a lot better at these issues, but until we start dragging officials over the coals for indiscretions there will not be any progress.

The awareness of climate change is here. Now who does the planning?


This is an acknowledgement of Greta Thunberg’s climate change protest movement. It is also an acknowledgement that simply willing her and her movement to shut up and go away is simply not going to happen and – despite my reservations about how New Zealand is/is not tackling climate change – it would be a bad thing for youth if it did.

Ms Thunberg and those helping make her campaign possible have done an A+ job of mobilizing the youth of the world along with a lot of adults. The young Pakistani lady Malala inspired human rights activists, but Malala did not succeed in a large scale mobilization of youth despite being only a similar age to Ms Thunberg when she was shot.

Ms Thunberg’s job is not finished. Not by a long shot. Now that the protesters are mobilized, the challenge will be to keep going and convince the politicians that this is an issue that we are running out of time to make a meaningful attempt at resolving.

But now that the activists are mobilized and demanding change, there is a major question looming on the horizon. It is one that I honestly do not think policy makers, analysts or the sectors that are going to be affected by the change being demanded have addressed. In fact I wonder how many of them have even thought about it?

Who is going to do the planning? Who is going to work out all of the areas that are going to be affected and establish meaningful contact with the leaders in those sectors?

Do they even know how to start? Maybe, maybe not. So here is a suggestion on what they do, except I expect it to be much more advanced planning than the brief S.W.O.T. analysis I have done below:

STRENGTH

  • More than just an environmental gain to be had
  • Social justice and better equality
  • Economic gains

WEAKNESS

  • Partisan politics
  • Divisive individual voices
  • Little thought currently been given to associated planning matters
  • Passing legislation and enacting it takes time
  • Lack of long term vision

OPPORTUNITY

  • Green tech
  • Not all solutions have to complex or costly
  • Opportunities for significant job creation
  • Biofuel industry?

THREAT

  • Conservative denialism
  • Anti-science and anti-technology agendas on the left
  • N.I.M.B.Y.’ism from some environmentalists for certain infrastructure
  • Political corruption
  • Lack of trust in data

A plethora of questions can arise out of this, such as (but definitely not limited to):

  1. How will we go about  establishing steering groups to manage different aspects of the planning – I see one for the social planning such as getting schools, hospitals and essential services off oil and gas, one for the broader economy, one for industry, one for law makers, a third for public input; who will oversee these individual groups.
  2. What time table are we going to working towards – the 2030 time frame by which it will be too late or the 2050 timetable for getting New Zealand off oil and gas?
  3. Who will work with individual sectors to identify their needs and help develop work around’s that are acceptable to government policy?

I wish Ms Thunberg and her campaign all the best, but I hope that the adults will talk to the protesters in good time about the need for a multi-partisan response. I hope that they talk about the compromises needing to be made. I hope that it is made known that the same science that is showing such alarming carbon readings can be the basis for some great social, environmental, economic and technological outcomes.

But to do that, we have to have a blue print of how to go forward.

And right now we have nothing.