My submission to the CCC.

I think the advice does not go far enough in reducing emissions and does far too little in the first five years, not treating ecology and climate change with the seriousness it deserves.


One bad justification given for this stance in the report is that:


“The transition needs to be both accelerated and predictable. Acting too hastily will result in abrupt and disruptive changes akin to the changes many New Zealanders experienced from the economic reforms in the 1980s.”


This is not the appropriate analogy, what happened in the 1980s was a sledgehammer approach to privatizing the economy with the intention of increasing wealth inequality, resulting in a man-made depression. But there are examples of rapid economic transformation in the 20th century that lead to popular disruptions, such as the new deal in the 1930s; most industrial economies implemented some sort of welfare state, and they did it rapidly. What most progressive politicians today are proposing is something similar, in the name of a “Green New Deal”, in which roughly 2% of gdp will be spent per year until 2050 to decarbonize the economy.


Consider the highly embarrassing fact that over 50% of Republican voters in America support such a transformative Green New Deal when asked, (according to Yale climate communications, look it up). In other words, Trump voters are willing to do more to combat climate change than what is recommended in this report, at least when they are asked under more idealized circumstances.


In my view what this shows is that the fanatical ideology of “incrementalism” is not just confined to the rhetoric of politicians, but is a larger part of the rotten cancer in our cultural institutions. It does not surprise me in the least that this is basically what the CCC report is pushing.


I do not expect the CCC to listen to this, which is why I have made this public with my name attached, so the important people in the world may read it. Also, it may serve the interests of some future historians as evidence that not everyone during our time-period was a zealot.

Doomism and challenges for the environmental movement:

Climate scientist Michael Mann’s recent book ‘The new Climate Wars’ argues that the battle to convince people that climate change is not caused by human’s has now largely been lost by the fossil fuel sector, and that several new strategies are now being used to prevent action on climate change.

One of the new wars is the ideology of doomism, which is the doctrine that is based on the claim that “it is completely hopeless, and nothing can be done about climate change”, and other similar claims and responses to the climate crisis. This doctrine is not solely pushed by the fossil business sector, it clearly benefits from it as it leads to the outcome of inaction, which is what they want. As pointed out in Mann’s book, it has come often from very intelligent, decent people, and Mann himself says he has been suspectible to doomism. Anyone that’s part of the environmentalist movement would have come across doomism a lot, and helplessness as an emotional response now ranks quite highly according to opinion polls such as this one as one of the main barriers to climate action, though it is still behind hopeful. There are also softer forms of doomism, like focusing on worse case scenarios and exxagerting the claims of methane bombs trapped under the arctic. This in large part is what Michael Mann focuses on in his book. Doomism is not to be confused with cynacism.

There are two questions that I will address; one is the question of whether there is any evidence to support doomism, and the answer is pretty clear that there isn’t. And the other is what exactly is the cause of doomism, and this is much more interesting. I’d like to give my own partial and speculative answer, as Mann’s focus in the book is quite narrow, in my view.

There are very clearly a lot of things that can be done about climate change, and those who claim that nothing can be done are completely untrue. To list some idea’s, you can look at the website drawdown.org, which lists one hundred climate solutions, all argued to be very feasible. In Robert Pollin and Noam Chomsky’s recent book, Pollin puts forth a Green New Deal plan that would meet IPCC recommendation targets, and cost a maximum of 2.5% of gdp from each government per year, until 2050. Paying for it according to Pollins plan really doesn’t look like it require’s changes that were as substational as the original New Deal policies that were adopted by countries in the 1930’s, and it would bring a lot of economic benefits outside of climate change.

Secondly, there happens to be a very large historical record of acheiving political gains through struggle, and we can look back and see that for example it was possible for women to get the vote, or that slavery could be abolished. And part of that was overcoming the belief that those acheivements could not be done. We happen to live in a society with a very high degree of freedom, where it is actually much easier to struggle now than it was further back in history, or in more oppressive countries. If you look at say Nigeria, or Hondorus, environmentalists there have been murdered. And so the claim that nothing or very little can be done, may well have some weight in those countries, but not ours or any of the others in the west.

Now, why is there a semi popular beleif in doomism when there is very clear evidence that contradicts it? It is not just a result of the fossil fuel business’s, and doomsayers. One reason Mann gives, is that climate scientists like himself have focused narrowly on their on expertise, and very little on solutions:

It is important to communicate both the threat and the opportunity in the climate challenge. I learned this the hard way. For years my standard public lecture on climate change focused only on the science and the impacts, because I am a scientist. I would then pay lip service to “climate solutions,” with the obligatory final slide depicting a montage of recycling efforts, wind turbines, solar panels, and the like. I was fortunate that my audiences were made up of thoughtful and sharing folks. And when they would linger afterward to talk with me, I heard the same thing over and over: “That was a great presentation. But it left me so depressed!”

We could also put a lot of blame on those who are in a position to provide solutions; but give very underwhelming ones. (Like the climate change commission). In my view the economics profession are to a large extent to blame for this as well. A lot of them have provided solutions like a carbon tax, or trading scheme. This is a fine idea, Australia reduced emissions by a pretty reasonable amount with even a small carbon pricing scheme for the time they had one. But to offer this as a solution to climate change, and stop there, is basically like saying lets ruin the eco-system. It is clear that whatever the solution is to decarbonize the economy in time, it’s going to involve many policies, that actually have to go much, much further than a carbon tax, (as Robert Pollin does). So yes it’s fine to say you support a carbon tax, but only if you say this is a necessary and insufficient policy for dealing with the climate crisis.

As for the media coverage; over the last decade or so it has covered climate change much more, but the coverage has focused far more on the science, with little coverage on either who is behind the crisis and what the solutions are, at least according to this study. With the New York Times offering opinion pieces that Bernie Sanders Green New Deal is “technically impractical, politically unfeasible and possibly ineffective.”, even though most American’s actually support a Green New Deal. And this would be a real GND, not say the watered down one that Biden has. Notably, most people have not even heard of it.

These two examples represent the mainstream picture that is fed to society over the last decade by the media: Climate change is no longer something that is debatable, but we won’t inform you about how to deal with it. That must be one of the causes of doomism and apathy, and in order to resist it people have to realize that this picture is not true and the doctrine of doomism doesn’t have any evidence to back it up. There have always been feasible solutions provided to the environmental crisis, and to go further, there have always been people providing solutions to capitalism and it’s evils, the consequences of inaction have never been more serious and it’s never been easier to act.

Book Review: Less is More

Jason Hickel is one of my favourite scholars at the moment. For those unaware of his work, he has previously written a lot about how the global economic system works, and how the global south is exploited, and robbed to this day, a lot of it-some 597$billion of the theft per year is damages from climate change inflicted by the rich nations. Really significant topics, which devotes a lot time to explaining them to the public. Which is why i like him. If you don’t like reading, you can YouTube his talks.

He has some interesting articles on his blog, this one in particular is a scathing critique of Bill Gates and Steven Pinker’s optimistic view on poverty and progress.

https://www.jasonhickel.org/blog/2019/2/3/pinker-and-global-poverty

Less is More is his most recent book, it is easy to read, and is on what is in my view the most important challenge of our time; solving the ecological and environmental crisis. The book has some interesting discussions on the philosophy of animism, which attributes personal identities to animals and plants, as part of a web of life which people receive gifts from. It’s a popular world-view among many indigenous societies. Then there is the view of our own industrial capitalist society, which has objectified nature and gone on to plunder it to the point of our own demise (given several more decades). Interestingly, Hickel speculates that the acceptance of objectification of nature as something that is normal, largely originates from Francis Bacon and Descarte’s philosophy of dualism. I will not deal with this part of the book, as it’s beyond my knowledge.

The other part’s of the book argue heavily against an economic growth based society, and also proposes some solutions to fix global capitalism, some of which I am in full agreement with and other’s i think need to be thought through very carefully. In any case, a green new deal is not something that is a utopian dream, how good we can make it all depends on entirely on how much society gets involved in activism, i.e forcing politicians to enact it.

The economic growth debate on the left has been going on for a while now, should we implement a green new deal that is pro growth or anti growth? Can carbon emissions be decoupled from growth?

It appears to be assumed by almost everyone that we live in a pro-growth capitalist economy, but I do not think this is even true. So here i argue that the pro growth and anti growth debate is not actually an interesting debate or an interesting question, it is actually irrelevant because no one has shown any good evidence, at least that i know of, that our society is motivated by growth.

Firstly, there is a technical definition of growth, and a vague definition which the public uses. The technical definition is the one used by economists that GDP is simply the sum total of goods and services in the economy, and it can be measured in a few different ways.

The public definition can be the technical definition, but can also mean entirely different things, like ‘lets reduce the amount of consumerism in our society’, is one example. Or lets ‘reduce resource extraction’. This is the kind’ve thing you’ll find that many in the public actually mean when they say they are anti-growth. And it’s something i’m almost always going to agree with, but this is not what economists mean when they use the word GDP. So I will engage with the technical definition here.

Now, what actually drives our society? Is it economic growth or something else? That’s an impossibly difficult question to answer, because society is made up of classes, groups, and individuals each pulling it in a certain direction. But here are a few facts:

1) Inequality reduces equality of opportunity, which an IMF study has argued harms economic growth, yet policy over the past 40 years has been carefully crafted to enrich the richest.

2) Profits from finance, last time i read, make up some 30-40% of corporate profit in the US. In New Zealand, Jane Kelsey has written her own study on finance, insurance, and real estate in NZ. (FIRE). We’ve undergone a pretty similar transformation here. Shifting to a finance based economy, with increasing monopoly on top of that, reduces economic growth.

3) Very little to nothing has been done to stop the ever increasingly common and sizeable financial crisis’ that have been happening since banks decided to govern themselves, and this obviously harms economic growth. Preventing them is quite easy to do, and the recovery plans are always intentionally too small to stem the loss of potential GDP.

4) Neoliberalism, which is the modern form of capitalism since the 1970’s, when implemented around the world, led to a decade of lost economic growth, particularly in Latin America, and Africa. While the nations in East Asia that decided not to do what the rich nations force poor countries to do, had significant gains in GDP.

So there is very little motive to boost growth under current existing capitalism, and it’s quite obvious in my opinion, once you think about what the most powerful people in our society are doing. They do not care about ‘growing’ the economy, they care about personal profit.

Nor do i see the point in having one single statistic to guide societies policy. There are many alternatives to GDP, like one that measure’s happiness, or one that takes energy output into account. These all makes no sense to me as well; the values that society has are on the whole complex. We can look at say thousands of different metrics, like life expectancy, education, ect, and make informed decisions on them. Ideally in a democratic society any failure in those metric’s would be bought to attention, rather than just saying ‘lets all value gdp because it correlates with increased life expectancy most of the time’, one could simply say ‘lets value life expectancy’.

Even though both the media, and our supposedly centre left government are seriously opposed to any sort of change to capitalism, it doesn’t take a special kind of genius to come up with idea’s that would make our society more humane. Any intelligent teenager could point out that say the $2 trillion spent on upgrading America’s nuclear weapons programme, the fact that their military is a huge carbon emitter, and the idea that this money could be spent elsewhere, is not a difficult policy idea to come up with. So fixing global capitalism is not rocket science. Any kid can come up with imperfect but good policy solutions.

Even the super rich have some good policy suggestions. Planting one trillion tree’s is one of suggestions at the world economic forum. Given the huge amount of wealth that’s floating around in their tax havens, it does not seem hard for them to generate the finance’s to carry out this program, which would go far in lowering unemployment, fixing the environment, and end wage-stagnation. But, there appears to be very little to no motivation to do so. In other words, the rich know how to fix the world, could very easily do so, they just don’t seem to want to do it.

So there are many, many good policy solutions out there. None of them are perfectly optimized solutions, none exist obviously, and the best Green New Deal would be one that is too complex for any one person to understand. Take this list for example,

https://drawdown.org/solutions/table-of-solutions

which compiles many solutions from experts researching in many different fields in order to fix the environment. Obviously some of these apply more to some countries than others, and each country can make judgements about that.

Hickel’s own policy suggestions are reducing advertising, wealth inequality, planned obsolescence, food waste, and implementing debt jubilee, among others. A lot of his idea’s are good common sense ideas. Other’s need to be thought out a little more, in my view. You can’t really reduce inequality, and cite studies that since rich people are big carbon emitters, that reducing inequality will be a great thing. If all other variables remain the same, It would increase growth, and Hickel is arguing against that.

One interesting figure Hickel cites is from a survey on advertising, which concluded that:

“A survey conducted in the 1990s revealed that 90% of American CEOs believed it would be impossible to sell a new product without an advertising campaign; 85% admitted that advertising ‘often’ persuaded people to buy things they did not need; and 51% said that advertising persuaded people to buy things they didn’t actually want.”

This would appear to put a dent into the economists idea that people have infinite wants. If they do, why do the capitalist overlords have to create a global surveillance system just to get us to buy their junk, which also contributes to so many environmental problems? Serious intelligence begins when you shed the dogma’s of modern capitalisms priests and start thinking like a child, to ask questions about this seriously insane economic system we have.

The environmental crisis is urgent, it needs all the Jason Hickel’s we can get. There have always been many good solutions to capitalism from the political left. If you value the future, you have put pressure on the capitalists.

A Discourse on Corporate Propaganda Part 3: The Mass Media on welfare and crime.

 

When it comes to disciplining the general population there aren’t too many different deceptions you can use to do it. You can lie about how noble and benevolent you are, either because you really believe it or because others will, and you can make people afraid of something. These same patterns keep recurring in history. The later phenomenon, which we could call ‘fear ideology’, was recognized as a useful instrument in social control by one of the early philosophers, Aristotle. Noting in his book Politics that:

“States are preserved when their destroyers are at a distance, and sometimes also because they are near, for fear of them makes the government keep in hand the state. Wherefore the ruler who has a care of the state should invent terrors, and bring distant dangers near, in order that the citizens may be on their guard, and, like sentinels in their night-watch, never relax their attention. He should endeavor too by help of the laws to control the contentions and quarrels of the notables, and to prevent those who have not hitherto taken part in them from being drawn in.”[1]

The main fear ideology since the end of world war two (and even prior to that) has been the international communist conspiracy, but it began to weaken in the 1980’s, so replacements had to be found. One was terrorism, another was crime. I will give my own short analysis on the role of the mass media in increasing the perception of crime and the racialization of welfare as two examples of propaganda for social control that are relevant today.

Let’s take the second example, the racialization of welfare. America is a good template for studying the way propaganda has been used on against black welfare mothers, since in New Zealand we also have racial minorities, it has been easy to replicate the way the media in America has made Americans hate the welfare system. Why Americans Hate Welfare, is a book written in 1999 by the political scientist Martin Gilens, which has some interesting insights which we can learn from.

In the American mass media, up until the mid-1960’s black people were hardly shown in stories about poverty. But that changed, with the media splitting focus of news stories where black people were negatively associated with poverty and white people were positively associated with poverty. Topics on welfare became disproportionately associated with poor blacks in the media (compared to how many were actually on welfare), while topics like hunger, medical care and education were associated more with poor whites.[2] Another study showed that when people think most welfare recipients are black, they attribute those who are on welfare to laziness. But when they think most welfare recipients are white, it’s because of circumstances beyond their control. This led to a division of ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving poor’ in public opinion.

Now when you look at public opinion polls on what kinds of policies the general population wants, you get some interesting results. When asked whether the government should increase or cut spending on various social programs, it is almost always over 50% support for increasing government spending on things like education, healthcare, unemployed, and the poor. But when you ask about welfare, its 63% cut spending, 14% increase spending.  Also, when Americans are asked whether the government has a responsibility to take care of the poor, 71% agree.[3] Spending on the poor and spending on welfare is pretty similar, but the response is vastly different because when you ask what people think of spending on ‘welfare’, they have the image of the welfare mother breeding like a rabbit to collect government checks that the mass media and politicians have played over and over.

In New Zealand there isn’t as much polling and statistics to get any strong conclusions about how much of an effect it’s had on people’s attitudes, but you can pretty easily see it from everyday experiences. The same stories that have been played by the American media and politicians have been played here. Like, Paula Bennet’s drug testing requirement to get your welfare benefit, which had the subtext that stoners are using the benefit to waste it on drugs. That was something that was tried in Florida and I think several other states a few years earlier.

I introduced this article by talking about fear ideology, and implied that perception management of crime is used deliberately as social control. But I have no proof that this is intentional. What I think is more likely is that the mass media makes a lot of profit from reporting sensationalist violent crime. This has an added side benefit of social control by atomizing the population, in turn having an effect of making people afraid of each other so they buy security alarms and that kind of thing. It has other side effects as well like the tough on crime rhetoric that politicians use to get elected. It’s also very useful for the private prisons that are making money out of this.

The basic statistics you get from an introductory criminology textbook are the following: It is a pattern among the industrial societies; America, Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand that the public overwhelmingly has the perception that crime is increasing, while crime has actually gone down over the past two decades. Reporting on crime in the media has gone way up, and focusing largely on violent crime which is actually in reality very rare. Incarceration rates have gone up, New Zealand having one of the highest rates in the industrial world at 194/100,000. Which is still nothing compared to America’s absurdly high prison rate. The overall effect is that it has made a lot of New Zealanders support punitive measures when it comes to policy on crime.[4]

Douglas Renwick is a student at Victoria University. He can be contacted atrenwicdoug@myvuw.ac.nz

 

[1] Aristotle, Politics, p209, Dover Publications

[2] Martin Gilens, Why Americans Hate Welfare, p128 table 5.2, p146 table 6.2

[3] Ibid, p28-39 tables 1.2, 2.1, 2.2, 2.3

[4] Arie Freiberg, Karen Gelb, Penal Populism, p32 Hawkins Press.

A Discourse on Corporate Propaganda Part 2: Moral and Political Economy

 

In Plato’s Republic, several political systems were critiqued with a rational analysis in order to decide what the ideal and just city state was. One of these political systems, democracy, was critiqued for its ability to give too much liberty and equality to the general population. Plato wrote that:

‘The utmost freedom for the majority is reached in such a city when bought slaves, both male and female, are no less free than those who bought them. And I almost forgot to mention the extent of the legal equality of men and women and of the freedom in the relations between them.’[1]

Since it was intuitively true to Plato that such a society where women, men, slaves and owners all had the same political rights was an unjust society, a solution was proposed. The solution was that this ideal city state would have a class of philosopher guardians that were trained in specialized knowledge, so that they would be able to make the right decisions on behalf of the rest of society.

This philosophical and moral justification for a technocratic elite-based society, what we might call guardianship, has been repeated in most political systems since Plato’s Republic from what I can tell. In the 20th century, it took multiple forms. One was Lenin’s justification for a vanguard of scientific Marxists, where these intellectuals would bring class consciousness to the rest of society as the working class was incapable of reaching anything beyond ‘trade union consciousness’, not enough to bring about a socialist society.

At about the same time, the progressive liberal intellectuals in America were developing their own form of guardianship that was combined with the development of corporate propaganda as discussed in part 1. The main founder of modern public relations, Edward Bernays, wrote that

‘clearly it is the intelligent minorities which need to make use of propaganda continuously and systematically. In the active proselytizing minorities in whom selfish interests and public interests coincide lie the progress and development of America. Only through the active energy of the intelligent few can the public at large become aware of and act upon new ideas’.[2]

This was a common view among elite intellectuals. One of the founders of modern political science Harold Lasswell wrote that the intelligent few must recognize the ‘ignorance and stupidity of the masses’, and not succumb to ‘democratic dogmatisms about men being the best judges of their own interest’.[3] This was the standard moral justification for the early public relations system, which was miniscule back then compared to what it has become in the present time.

I will now turn to the topic of how this public relations system has managed to develop over time, and it’s interconnectedness with the media and university institutions. I will start by looking at the common aim that elites have expressed in their use of propaganda. That is in maintaining the current political system of what might be called ‘really existing capitalism’. The purpose of maintaining the political system was expressed by American Justice Lewis Powell, back when he was a lobbyist for the tobacco industry, who wrote in a memorandum to the US chamber of commerce that:

‘The day is long past when the chief executive officer of a major corporation discharges his responsibility by maintaining a satisfactory growth of profits, with due regard to the corporation’s public and social responsibilities. If our system is to survive, top management must be equally concerned with protecting and preserving the system itself. This involves far more than an increased emphasis on “public relations” or “governmental affairs” — two areas in which corporations long have invested substantial sums.’[4]

The political purpose, which he later expanded on in the memo, included a massive overhaul of the media and educational system.

In 1977 a similar view was expressed by the president of the Institute of Directors in Australia, Sir Robert Crichton Brown (also another Tobacco executive), who addressed fellow directors on the future role of the institute. He proposed that the institute’s purpose was to ‘publicise and sell the benefits of the system it espouses.’ Sir Robert concluded that:

‘We cannot relax until… we have convinced society at large that our influence is indeed for its good. That … will take up some of your time and some corporate systems money. The expenditure of both will be well worthwhile if it succeeds in obtaining for the corporate system society’s seal of approval thus relieving our successors of the need to spend their resources of time and money on the further promotion of the system.’[5]

Thus it was understood that without the intensification of the public relations industry in its role of indoctrinating people with the values of capitalism, that this system wouldn’t be around for much longer.

It will be useful now to ask how this doctrinal system works, by analyzing the political economy of the media and the educational system. The media has a capitalist institutional structure which has evolved over time into a highly concentrated private oligopoly. The Inputs into this structure, or ‘filters’, were described in Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky’s Manufacturing Consent. They call it the propaganda model.

Over the 20th century in various industrial societies, a more radical and widely read working class media was wiped out by market forces. For example, in the 1960’s in Britain, there was a widely read social democratic media that was read by millions of people. Even though it was widely read, it went out of business, as advertisers were not willing to support the newspaper that had a readership with no money to buy the products that could be advertised to them.[6]

The capitalist media is also dependent on outside support. This includes support from the public relations industry which creates news for the media. It is much easier to get news from government, military or corporate PR releases who would love to shape the news in their interest, than for journalists to be researching news themselves. The political economist Robert McChesney notes that in America, in 1960 there was .75 PR agent for every working journalist. In 1990 there was two PR agents for every journalist, 2012 saw a ratio of 4 PR agents to every journalist.[7]

Another source of outside support is think tanks, which in themselves are funded by concentrated private capital. The head of the American Heritage Foundation, Dr Feulner, presented his basic thesis to an audience of elites in Australia that the role of think tanks was that while academics and intellectuals are necessary for the production of ideas, ‘it takes an institution to help popularise and propagandise an idea… This is the role of organisations like the Institute of Economic Affairs or the Adam Smith Institute in London, my own Heritage Foundation in the United States and the Centre for Policy Studies and the Centre for Independent Studies in Australia.’[8] Using the analogy of Procter & Gamble selling toothpaste, Feulner explained that ‘They sell it and resell it every day by keeping the product fresh in the consumer’s mind.’ By the sales effort, including the dissemination of the correct ideas to ‘thousands of newspapers,’ it is possible to keep debate ‘within its proper perspective.’[9]

On top of this academics are selected from the right departments in the university by the media, and they give the appropriate analysis. The educational system also has its own institutional constraints. These constraints filter out those who are too openly disobedient. At the university level it starts partitioning off into separate specialized disciplines. And if you don’t agree that say for example, economic history should play no or very little role in undergraduate economics education, then you aren’t going to continue learning economics. There are exceptions to this, of course.

Then there are disciplinary measures. The neoliberal economic model has imposed disciplinary techniques on those work in the media and the educational system. The Auckland University of Technology has a report on the ownership of the media that comes out every year, and in New Zealand the media has basically become a duopoly for each medium, with most of the ownership of the media being controlled by foreign financial institutions, like private equity, which make money by cutting jobs.[10] This incidentally has a side benefit of imposing discipline on those who want to keep their jobs, since they will be more fearful of the job cuts. In the educational system student debt has a similar side effect. It forces people to focus on whatever will get them to pay off their debt sooner, rather than valuing their own independent but ill-paying research topics. So it has a disciplinary effect, but I should say that I don’t know whether this is intentional or not.

Research grants don’t come from the poor, so they are typically aligned towards those that don’t deviate too far from elite values. A good example of this is research grants for climate change. Kevin Anderson (University of Manchester) of Tyndall Center for Climate Change Research said on an interview to Democracy Now that “So far we simply have not been prepared to accept the revolutionary implications of our own findings, and even when we do we are reluctant to voice such thoughts openly… many are ultimately choosing to censor their own research… our science now asks fundamental questions about this idea of economic growth in the short term, but we’re very reluctant to say that. In fact, the funding bodies are reluctant to fund research that raises those questions.”[11]

The next several parts of this Discourse on Propaganda I will be drawing on examples from both the media and the university. In the last part I will suggest some alternatives to the current system. The example’s I use show very rarely that propaganda is about outright lying or censure, although that does sometimes happen. But a large part of it comes from the selection of topics and framing the boundaries of acceptable discussion. So long as people in the doctrinal institutions accept this framework, it is a highly effective system. And I do not by any means think that people are unaware that they are being subjected to it. Journalists and bloggers rate extremely untrustworthy in polls as professions go. So I think many are aware in some way that they are being subjected to propaganda.

[1] Plato’s Republic as cited in Jason Stanley, How Propaganda Works, p9

[2] Edward Bernays, Propaganda, p31

[3] Noam Chomsky, Profit over people, p55

[4] Powell Memorandum, Retrieved from http://law2.wlu.edu/deptimages/Powell%20Archives/PowellMemorandumTypescript.pdf

[5] Alex Carey, Taking the Risk Out of Democracy: Corporate Propaganda versus Freedom and Liberty, p118

[6] Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent, p15

[7] Robert McChesney, Digital Disconnect, p183

[8] Alex Carey, Taking the Risk Out of Democracy: Corporate Propaganda versus Freedom and Liberty, p111

[9] Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent, p23-24

[10] Auckland University of Technology Media Ownership Report, Retrieved from http://www.aut.ac.nz/__data/assets/pdf_file/0011/608366/JMAD-2015-Report.pdf

[11] Top Climate Expert: Crisis is Worse Than We Think & Scientists Are Self-Censoring to Downplay Risk, Democracy Now! Dec. 8, 2015. As cited in Counterpunch, does-methane-threaten-life March 15, 2016. Retrieved from http://www.counterpunch.org/2016/03/15/does-methane-threaten-life/

Douglas Renwick is a student at Victoria University. He can be contacted atrenwicdoug@myvuw.ac.nz

A Discourse on Corporate Propaganda. Part 1: What is Corporate Propaganda?

 

In order to answer the question of what corporate propaganda it is first necessary to disentangle some standard misleading perceptions about the role that propaganda has played in history. A common assumption about propaganda is that it is something that totalitarian states carry out to indoctrinate and control their own population. But the development of the modern technique of propaganda is something that began in democratic societies in the early 20th century in order to control a public that could no longer be controlled through force. I will draw from two well-known figures in the development of the modern corporate propaganda system to illustrate this. One was one of the founders of modern political science, Harold Lasswell, who wrote a book on the use of propaganda during world war one, the title being Propaganda Technique in the World War. The other was the founder of the modern public relations industry, Edward Bernays, who wrote extensively on how propaganda could and should be used to control the public mind.

Up until World War One the role that propaganda played in industrial societies was relatively small, and not particularly effective. There were singular PR men like a guy called Ivy Lee who was paid to make the Rockefeller’s look good. But there was no real PR industry. During World War One however, the American government carried out a nationwide propaganda campaign to turn a left-leaning and anti-war population into anti-German jingoists. The success of this propaganda campaign then convinced the business elites and progressive intellectuals such as Harold Lasswell and Edward Bernays that propaganda could be used continuously, for both advertising and pacification of an otherwise militant population struggling for rights. As Bernays put it ‘[business] realized the great public could now be harnessed to their cause as it had been harnessed during the war to the national cause, and the same methods could do the job.’[1] This would be a new method of breaking up labour strikes, other than using violence, corporate power realized that it could use propaganda to denounce labourers as trying to establish the red rule of anarchy and bolshevism, and un-American values.[2]

There was detailed analysis written about these new social changes. Harold Lasswell wrote in his short essay The Theory of Political Propaganda that ‘conventions have arisen which favour the ventilation of opinions and the taking of votes. Most of that which could formerly be done by violence and intimidation must be done by argument and persuasion.’[3] Similarly, in 1928 the main founder of the public relations practice, Edward Bernays, wrote in his book called Propaganda, which was a book that was the main manual of the public relations industry, pointed out in the first line that ‘the conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society.’ And that ‘we are dominated by a relatively small number of persons…who understand the mental processes and patterns of the masses. It is they who pull the wires who control the public mind.’[4] By this time propaganda was ‘universal and continuous, and in its sum total it is regimenting the public mind every bit as much as an army regiments its soldiers.’[5]

The first line of his essay he later wrote in 1947 called The Engineering of Consent that ‘Freedom of speech and its democratic corollary, a free press, have tacitly expanded our Bill of Rights to include the right of persuasion. This development was an inevitable result of the expansion of the media of free speech and persuasion…. All these media provide open doors to the public mind. Any one of us through these media may influence the attitudes and actions of our fellow citizens.’

In 1949 Edward Bernays was honored by the American Psychological Association for his contributions to science and society. In the same year, Fortune magazine observed that ‘it is impossible to imagine a genuine democracy without the science of persuasion as it is to think of a totalitarian state without coercion….The daily tonnage output of propaganda and publicity…has become an important force in American Life. Nearly half the contents of the best newspapers is derived from publicity releases; nearly all the contents of lesser papers… are directly or indirectly the work of PR departments.’[6] Around about this time the use of the word ‘propaganda’ got phased out of use, as the word had picked up too much negative connotation from the way Nazi’s had used it. We have accepted the word Public Relations instead as a sort of a euphemism.

It should be noted that the system that was developed in America played an important role in Nazi Germany. The corporate propaganda system was defined by political scientist Harold Lasswell as ‘the management of collective attitudes by the manipulation of significant symbols.’ This system of symbol manipulation was to be crudely replicated by the Nazi government. As Goebbels put it, ‘One of the most ridiculous aspects of democracy will always remain… the fact that it has offered to its mortal enemies the means by which to destroy it.’[7] This ‘symbol management’, which as I understand is the association of certain symbols with meaning, was used effectively by the Nazis. A German called Victor Klemperer documented its usage in his book called Language of the Third Reich. One of his examples was the association of the image of the stormtrooper with the concept of heroism though posters. Thus when people thought of stormtroopers they thought of heroism.

But totalitarian societies like Nazi Germany could not control the public solely through propaganda, and had to rely largely on violence. Their propaganda system was far more crude and smaller than one you would find in your average 21st century industrial democracy. In totalitarian societies orders come from the ruling party on what to say, but it is not as successful in getting people to believe it. In a country like America you have a large class of professionals devoted to upholding the lies and distortions, you have a huge public relations industry, think tanks, and academics, advertisers, and an intensive devotion to polling public opinion, which is useful for those in power who want to manipulate it. Controlling public opinion here makes up a large part of the economy and those that repeat the mantra are almost always completely sincere as opposed to larger degrees of insincerity under a totalitarian state.

For the rest of the parts of this series of writings on corporate propaganda I will discuss the basic functioning of the propaganda system, as well as give a number of examples of this ‘symbol manipulation’ that are relevant for today.

Douglas Renwick is a student at Victoria University. He can be contacted at renwicdoug@myvuw.ac.nz

[1] Alex Carey. Taking the Risk Out of Democracy – Corporate Propaganda Versus Freedom and Liberty, P 22

[2] Ibid, P 22

[3] The American Political Science Review Vol. 21, No. 3 (Aug., 1927), P 627-631

[4] Edward Bernays. Propaganda, P 1

[5] Ibid, P 25

[6] Alex Carey. Taking the risk out of democracy: corporate propaganda vs freedom and liberty, P 82

[7] Jason Stanley. Preface to How Propaganda Works

 

An explanation of the atrocities in West Papua with a broad context

 

  

West Papua has been under a brutal occupation by Indonesia for over fifty years. This article tries to explain why this is, and why so few people know about it. In order to understand why, we must understand the lies of the media, and of our educational system. I claim both of these institutions have actively justified the crimes of Indonesia in the following two ways: One, the media have downplayed our own crimes and the crimes of our ‘ally’ states, and do not consider them to be acts of terrorism, even though they are. Two, the educational system tells the lie that our foreign policy was guided by humanitarian values in East Timor, this is not true, and lies told about the past prevent people from understanding the present situation in West Papua. I start by trying to understand the true aims of the most powerful nations, those that are called the “West” that includes: America, Britain, a good part of Europe, Japan, Australia and New Zealand. A good place to begin would be with the world’s most powerful nation.

 

The goals of Western foreign policy

 

The goal of American foreign policy following the events of world war two was expressed by George Kennan, a policy adviser. He said that “We have 50 percent of the worlds wealth, but only 6.3 percent of the worlds population. In this situation, our real job in the coming period. . .is to maintain this position of disparity. To do so, we have to dispense with all sentimentality. . .we should cease thinking about human rights, the raising of living standards and democratisation.”[1] In order to “maintain this disparity”, it was recognized that the poor nations (that is, those in Latin America, Africa and Asia) would need to have “a political and economic climate conducive to private investment”, so that the US can have “access to vital raw materials”.[2]

 

The Council on Foreign Relations is the most powerful think tank in the world, it’s had an important role in planning America’s foreign policy and its membership has included Presidents, Secretaries of State, CIA directors, rich people, professors and media commentators. There are two good books written about the history of the council by Laurence Shoup and William Minter. The first one, called ‘Imperial Brain Trust’ shows how the Council shaped policy on South East Asia during world war two until the mid 1970’s. By as early as 1943 it was seen by the council that South East Asia, and in particular the Indonesian archipelago (which includes West Papua) was a “cheap source of vital materials”, such as tin and rubber, and that “placing the political and economic control in hands likely to be friendly to the United States” was essential.[3]

 

Indonesia was part of this group of poor nations who according to the US state department records, which in a report from an ambassador to president Johnson in the 1960’s said that “the avowed Indonesian objective is to stand on their own feet in developing their economy, free from foreign, especially Western, influence.”, while being unified under president Sukarno who characterized the West as “representative of neo-colonialism and imperialism” and will ensure that the economy is designed in a way so that “It is probable that foreign private ownership will disappear and may be succeeded by some form of production-profit-sharing contract arrangements to be applied to all foreign investment”.[4]

 

Well, there were some people that were opposed to organizing the world in the way that open up the poor nations to foreign investors. Those people happened to be the large majority of the world’s population. This was recognized by the US state department. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, in private conversation with his brother Alan, the director of the CIA, deplored the Communist “ability to get control of mass movements,”

“Something we have no capacity to duplicate.”

“The poor people are the ones they appeal to and they have always wanted to plunder the rich.”[5] A few years earlier, John Foster Dulles stated in a cabinet meeting that “We are confronted by an unfortunate fact. Most of the countries of the world do not share our view that Communist control of any government anywhere is in itself a danger and a threat.”[6] So this presented two problems which a large effort was put into solving.  The first problem was the majority of the world not sharing the values that the rich should plunder the poor instead of the poor plundering the rich, and the second was the rational view from third world peasants that the Russian and Chinese threat only extended to people within their own domain instead of the whole world.

It’s of great interest to find out how these problems were solved, at least partially. In Indonesia it was solved with Nazi style bloodbaths against the left. In the rich nations these problems were understood and solved near the end of world war one, which I will now give some background on.

 

The Political Theory of Propaganda

 

The use of fear ideology to achieve political goals is as old as political theory itself. In Aristotle’s Politics, he came up with the view that “States are preserved when their destroyers are at a distance, and sometimes also because they are near, for fear of them makes the government keep in hand the state. Wherefore the ruler who has a care of the state should invent terrors, and bring distant dangers near, in order that the citizens may be on their guard, and, like sentinels in their night-watch, never relax their attention.”[7] That was the understanding of the usefulness of propaganda and in particular fear ideology in classical Greece and since then it’s become much more sophisticated.

 

The use of propaganda became an essential part of liberal democratic societies during the end of world war one. There were some intellectuals who studied this phenomenon of ‘propaganda’, as they called it, and came to some conclusions. One was Harold Lasswell, a leading political scientist. In a short essay he said that “conventions have arisen which favor the ventilation of opinions and the taking of votes. Most of that which formerly could be done by violence and intimidation must now be done by argument and persuasion.”[8] In other words, as the general population won rights against the use of state violence, the state could no longer resort to the use of violence to control the population. So it was seen as necessary to resort to the use of propaganda instead to control the minds of the population, as Lasswell put it.

 

The basic theory behind this, which Harold Lasswell wrote, was that “The public has not reigned with benignity and restraint. The good life is not in the mighty rushing wind of public sentiment. It is no organic secretion of the horde, but the tedious achievement of the few.” Thus, it was necessary once finding the “good life”, that the role of the propagandist, was to “make up the public mind to accept it.”[9] Similar theories were given by other propagandists during the time, including Edward Bernays and Walter Lippman. I should say that the word ‘propagandist’ is longer in use for propaganda reasons. According to Edward Bernays it was replaced by ‘public relations’ after world war two, because propaganda got negative connotations from the Nazi’s.

 

Following world war one there were two liberal intellectuals that made a common observation. One was the aforementioned Harold Lasswell, the other was Bertrand Russell. Both made the observation that within any country the educational system is going to present a favorable picture of the world towards its own state and the allies of that state simply because of the natural psychological predispositions of those living in the same society.[10] Bertrand Russell thought then that a solution to this would be for the educational system to “enable people to acquire knowledge and form sound judgments of themselves.” Harold Lasswell had the opposite solution. He said that the propagandist should exploit and increase these irrational biases and the self-deception of the educated class, as he put it, he could count on “a battalion of honest professors to rewrite history”, while the “propagandist is content to accept aid from his allies”, that he should busily “multiply the evidence of the responsibility of the enemy.”[11] Bertrand Russell’s ideas weren’t that popular having just come out of prison, but Harold Lasswell’s would become the essential element of democratic governance, now global in scale.

 

We can look back at history and see that from 1917 onwards, that a cold war ideology adopted by the West exaggerated the threat of communism towards the rest of the world, which was used as a pretext for every single post world war two intervention up until 1990. After 1990 the pretext has split up into another fear ideology, of “terrorism”, and an ideology of “humanitarian intervention”, as well as others like an increased reporting in crime.

 

My focus here will mainly be on how New Zealand international relations scholars remember East Timor, and exposing that particular lie. I should note that there has been some very good academic scholarship on it, and I don’t think the university is 100 percent subservient to state power. There are exceptions. I will also comment on how the New Zealand government financed state terrorism in West Papua, though I have read little on the scholarship of the topic of terrorism so I will limit to criticizing the media here. I do not claim these scholars are insincere, rather for the most part I agree with Harold Lasswell’s proposition that they are self-deceptive but “honest professors rewriting history”. I don’t know how to give evidence for this, but that’s what I think.

 

The Media’s subservient role in reporting crimes of Indonesia

 

The CIA had wanted president Sukarno removed from power ever since he held the Bandung conference in 1955, where third world nations got together to strategise on how to make their economies independent from either the Western powers or the Communist powers. Over time the West had built up ties with the right wing Indonesian military and finally got their chance in 1965. General Suharto came to power in a bloody coup, with the CIA giving him a list of roughly 5000 people to kill, but he went a lot further and killed at least half a million. The CIA described it as one of the worst mass murders of the 20th century, and compared it to the worst crimes of the Nazi’s, Stalin and Mao.[12]

 

After Suharto seized power the multinational corporations came in to divide up Indonesia. The Freeport- McMoRan company got their hands on the world’s most profitable copper and gold mines located in West Papua. One of the board of directors on the Freeport McMoRan company is the former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who along with President Gerald Ford, had given permission to Suharto for him to invade East Timor.[13]

 

The reaction to these mass slaughters from Western leaders and the capitalist media was one of great enthusiasm. Time magazine called it “The West’s Best News in Asia”. A headline in US News and World Report read: “Indonesia: Hope. . . where was once none”. A New York Times columnist James Reston celebrated ‘A gleam of light in Asia’. The Australian Prime Minister Harold Holt said approvingly that “With 500,000 to a million communist sympathizers knocked off, I think it’s safe to assume reorientation has taken place”.[14] The New Zealand media reaction has been studied recently. Before he was removed from power, President Sukarno had pursued a policy of aggression trying to unify the Indonesian Archipelago, annexing West Papua in 1962. He also pursued a ‘confrontation’ with Malaysia, which New Zealand sent troops to help defend the pro Western Malaysia and the foreign investors.

 

The reaction to this from the New Zealand media, according to a recent MA thesis written by Andrew Lim, was that “Sukarno was seen as another dictator like Hitler or Mussolini, whose fraternization with the Communists only damned him.”[15] But after Suharto removed Sukarno from power, media coverage of the Suharto coup was scant, with little discussion of the coup attempt, the mass killings, or the rise of the New Order. However the Otago Daily Times welcomed the Army’s takeover as the end of the “troublesome” President Sukarno’s political career.  With a subsequent editorial stating that Suharto’s political ascension as the beginning of a new era in New Zealand-Indonesian relations.[16]

 

If one compares the indignation expressed at the enemies crimes compared to the crimes of an ally, you will find the capitalist media have overwhelmingly, at any reasonable comparison, always expressed more indignation for the enemy’s crimes while either ignoring or glorifying the crimes of ally’s or themselves. But those that write history portray the exact opposite image, that the media are cantankerous in their opposition to power and that the universities are training left-wing radicals.  An Australian academic economist H. W Arndt wrote in 1979, during the peak of atrocities in East Timor, that the Australian media was blanketed with “virulent anti-Indonesian propaganda”, with “extreme left academics” in the universities who “even before 1975 [The invasion date of East Timor], were unsympathetic towards Indonesia under the present regime.”[17]

 

When Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky documented US media coverage of East Timor during the period in the late 1970’s, media press coverage dropped to zero in 1978 as atrocities increased and western arms were shipped to General Suharto. While in Cambodia, there were comparable killings happening at the same time by a regime opposed to western elite interests, the Khmer Rouge. This received a large press coverage, furious indignation from the western media with some denouncing Pol Pot as ‘another Hitler’, as well as fabrications exaggerating the numbers killed.[18] I won’t go into detail, but that’s a very short account of an otherwise voluminous study given in their various books about it.

 

During an important massacre in East Timor in 1991, where 270 people were killed including one New Zealander, it was witnessed and recorded by Western Journalists, so the event got reported around the world in the Western media. But one New Zealand journalist David Robie was offered a ‘kill fee’ for a story he wrote about it, which was suppressed from the Dominion post at the time.[19] I don’t want to exaggerate that this normally happens, it is an extremely rare form of censorship. According to a study of Australia media coverage of the 1991 Dili massacre by Geoffry C Gunn, Not one word from the capitalist media reported the fact that Australia had been supplying Indonesia with arms and training. [20]

 

NZ’s history with East Timor

 

East Timor was invaded by Indonesia in 1975. The invasion had been given the green light by former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and his president Gerald Ford, who asked Suharto not to carry out the invasion until they had flown back to America, so that they could be distanced from the crimes.

 

New Zealand, along with other major Western powers, supported the invasion of East Timor right up until a few days before the West intervened to stop atrocities. According to a CIA desk officer Philip Liechty in an interview with the journalist John Pilger, “we sent the Indonesian Generals everything that you need to fight a major war against somebody who doesn’t have any guns…they got it direct, straight to East Timor. Without US military support, the Indonesians might not have been able to pull it off.”[21] New Zealand itself, gave military support to Indonesia throughout the whole occupation, including training pilots for skyhawk’s (planes used for bombing and napalm).[22] We also gave  diplomatic support, going from abstaining from initiatives put forth at the UN by Algeria, Cuba, Guyana, Serria Leone and Trinidad Tobago which ‘strongly deplored’ the actions of Indonesia.[23] After a visit to East Timor from a New Zealand diplomat during the atrocities in 1976, our policy from then on until 1999 that the situation was ‘irreversible’.

 

Over this period, international activism grew against the occupation. The Western powers supported the atrocities right up until the last minute, when outrage from the Australian population put pressure on the government, and probably the social cost for western powers of supporting the occupation became too high. A US senior official responded by saying We have don’t have a dog running in the East Timor race, but we have a very big dog running down there called Australia and we have to support it.”[24] Thus an international peace keeping force was set up to intervene in Indonesia, with President Bill Clinton adding a small contingent to this force, just enough to let Indonesia know that these orders came from Washington. Indonesia backed off without a fight. That’s the very short history of East Timor during that period, now let’s look at how these international relations scholars handle it.

 

Propaganda terms in foreign policy doublespeak

 

In the political discourse of politicians, the media and academic scholarship, you have to decode various terminology before understanding what it actually means. Key terminology always has two different meanings. One of the meanings has a propaganda function, while the other meaning has a technical function.

 

One is the concept of ‘stability’. The propaganda meaning of stability means something like ‘law-abiding society without any violent internal conflict’. The technical meaning of stability is more along the lines of the following: ‘Anything that New Zealand and the West in general does in foreign policy.’ There’s a corollary from this definition, which is that: ‘A poor country that obeys the western powers is also by definition contributing to stability.’ This follows since a third world country obeying the rich nation’s means it’s obeying a policy which contributes to stability.

 

For example, the establishment journal ‘The New Zealand International Review’ recently had an issue on New Zealand and the ASEAN region, in which a scholar Paul Sinclair claims that “New Zealand’s defense relationship with ASEAN has its genesis in the history of our commitment to the security and stability of South East Asia”.[25] He gives two examples, East Timor in which the New Zealand government supported a genocide of 200,000 people from 1975-1999, and Cambodia, in which New Zealand gave diplomatic support of the genocidal Khmer Rouge from 1978-1990.[26] But Paul Sinclair doesn’t focus on these phases of New Zealand history, instead choosing to ignore that part and focusing only on aid we gave to Cambodia in the 1990’s and the intervention in East Timor which stopped the atrocities.

 

An Auckland University political scientist Stephen Hoadley commentating on New Zealand’s stance it took on East Timor in a book called ‘South East Asia and New Zealand’, that “New Zealand idealism with regard to self-determination of colonized peoples was tempered by ‘realist’ concerns about regional instability, outside meddling, and incapacity for self-governance.”[27] Now, Indonesia carried out a policy of aggression towards East Timor, so this might seem like it contributes to instability of the region. But it doesn’t, since East Timor was another colony trying to creating a sort of nationalist social democracy it was opposed to stability, and since Suharto obeyed the interests of the west, he is by definition contributing to stability by invading the country. One may also comment on the use of the term “outside meddlers”. Suharto is not seen as an outside meddler in his aggression, again, by the principle that the Western powers own the world and he was their servant.

 

When Suharto invaded East Timor, the New Zealand Minister of Foreign Affairs said that “stability in the Indonesia archipelago would most likely be assured if Portuguese Timor was integrated into Indonesia”[28] An Australian position referred to in a Ministry of Foreign Affairs briefing paper was stated as “supporting self-determination while maintaining stability in the region,” then honestly adding “with an additional interest in maintaining an equitable share of the substantial oil deposits in the north-west shelf.”[29]

 

Another concept is that of the ‘national interest’. Its propaganda term is something like: “the interests of the general population”.  The technical use of the term ‘national interest’ is “whatever the elite interests of that country want.” So for example, in a poll 9% of New Zealander’s accepted their government’s contention that integration of East Timor was irreversible. But this was never considered to be the national interest.[30] What was considered to be the national interest was the near opposite, and was stated in a briefing paper by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “The crux of the problem of East Timor is to reconcile New Zealand’s opposition to the incorporation of East Timor by force, the subsequent human rights violations and repugnance at the sometimes brutal methods of the Indonesian army with the very considerable national interest in maintaining good relations with Indonesia…”[31]

 

Also in a poll, more than 75% of Australians supported the right of West Papuan’s to self-determination, even if it meant independence from Indonesia. Prime Minister John Howard replied by saying that it is in “Australia’s interests that we keep a unified Indonesia”.[32] It seems like a contradiction but it isn’t, since “Australia” means the elites within the country, and not the population.

 

How East Timor is remembered by International Relations Scholars.

 

According to Professor Hoadley, and Auckland University political scientist writing on the history of New Zealand’s foreign policy in East Timor “New Zealand can claim its policies are untainted by commercial interest. Its initiatives sprang from a desire to be a good international citizen and contribute to a UN effort; they were motivated also by humanitarianism and justice, and spurred by domestic public opinion. If there was self- interest amongst this idealism, it lay in an enlightened perception of common security…” Similarly, the textbooks that are prescribed in school portray it as a “humanitarian intervention” from the west. But the evidence shows that the Western powers. There is only one thing correct about Hoadley’s statement and that is that yes, it was spurred by domestic public opinion.

 

Let’s assume for the sake of argument, that a humanitarian intervention does not require noble intent. Then by this assumption the East Timor intervention was humanitarian, as it stopped the killings and was welcomed by the Timorese population. But if we were to ask whether the New Zealand government was in principle in favor of this kind of humanitarian intervention, then we could try to find out how they reacted to other cases of humanitarian interventions. Like for example, the Vietnam invasion of Cambodia in 1978, which stopped the Khmer Rouge atrocities, and was welcomed by the population.

 

The major western power, the US, allied with China and Thailand decided to go from denouncing the Khmer Rouge to supporting it as a punishment of Vietnam’s intervention, by the “my enemy of my enemy is my friend” principle. According to the former national security advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski “I encouraged the Chinese to support Pol Pot. I encouraged the Thai to help the D.K. [Khmer Rouge government-in-exile of Democratic Kampuchea]. The question was how to help the Cambodian people. Pol Pot was an abomination. We could never support him, but China could.” New Zealand was part of this alliance with the US, China, and Thailand, and gave key diplomatic support to Pol Pot. When asked by the media why New Zealand was supporting Pol Pot at the UN, the Foreign Minister Brian Talboys replied that “that the approval of the DK’s credentials was mainly an expression of disapproval by ASEAN, New Zealand and the others involved, of Vietnam’s actions.” According to the historian writing on the topic, this was “a fine point of diplomacy that was doubtless lost on those appalled by the genocidal nature of the Khmer Rouge while in power.”[33]

 

Later on when Pol Pot’s forces were repackaged with other ASEAN allies, Talboys commended the policies of the ASEAN grouping, which had showed itself to be ‘a constructive force and positive force for regional peace and stability’. The Khmer Rouge’s Vice President Khieu Samphan sent a telegram to the Minister of Foreign Affairs thanking us for our “unswerving support given by New Zealand to our struggle for national liberation, survival and independence is of vital importance.”[34] So, in my view this whole argument of “humanitarian intervention” by Stephen Hoadley and a good part of academic opinion has no evidence to back it up.

 

West Papua and the ideology of Terrorism

 

West Papua was annexed by Sukarno before he was thrown out of power by Suharto. Suharto set up an “Act of free choice” in 1969, but the West Papuan’s call it “An act of no choice”. 1025 Papuan’s were rounded up and told to vote for integration with Indonesia or be killed. Since then at least 100,000 Papuan’s have been killed, along with other various acts of violence that were similar to those in East Timor. After East Timor gained independence and everything was back to normal, the Western powers started to re-establish military support. In a visit to a university in Jakarta, Helen Clark somehow held a straight face while praising Indonesia as a “peaceful and tolerant nation”.[35] One could wonder what the reaction would be if she said the same about ISIS.

 

I haven’t read much literature on terrorism, so I’m going to stick to the principles given by the government, which I will accept. I’m going to talk a little bit about the Terrorism Suppression Act and how I think it relates to West Papua, since that’s the main fear ideology that’s been used since the end of the cold war.

Terrorism is defined in this act as “the purpose of advancing an ideological, political, or religious cause”, and with the several intentions, including “to induce terror in a civilian population”, where “terror” is has several outcomes, including “the death of, or other serious bodily injury to, 1 or more persons”. Between 2009-2014 New Zealand spent $6.3 million financing Indonesian ‘community policemen’, but they were really “killing teams” in West Papua, which beat up Papuan’s and threatened to bury them alive. We even educated a captain at one of our universities in ‘security studies’, that’s supposed to make them better at torturing people or something. To their credit, the capitalist media reported this.[36]

By the principles of the Terrorism Suppression Act and Clark and Key governments, this is a typical example of financing terrorism. But you won’t find anyone in the capitalist media saying this obvious truth, or even being able to think about this truth. The definition of terrorism is one that is only ever applied to the enemy. No one in the media seems to think that our ministers should be punished in accordance to the law for this. We have a powerful doctrinal system which prevents those working within the media from thinking such thoughts.

 

How can West Papua gain Independence?

 

One way would be for the media to focus on the crimes of our own leaders, instead of focusing on the crimes of other nations while ignoring our own crimes. Another way would be to tell the important and critical parts of history on East Timor and how our government supported the atrocities, and that they were only forced to intervene from public pressure, not on humanitarian values. Both the media and academia largely fail at these roles. If we are to prevent the crimes of terrorism in West Papua, and in other places from happening again we must also punish our leaders in accordance with the law, otherwise they will play the same game they did with East Timor and do it all over again.

 

 

 

[1]P101 The New Rulers of the World: John Pilger.

[2] NSC 5432/1, 1954

[3]P255 Imperial Brain Trust: Laurence H. Shoup and William Minter.

[4] Foreign Relations of the United States, 1964-1968 Volume XXVI, Indonesia; Malaysia-Singapore; Philippines, Document 121.

[5]Eisenhower to Harriman, quoted in Richard H. Immerman, Diplomatic History (Summer 1990). John Foster Dulles, Telephone Call to Allen Dulles, June 19, 1958, “Minutes of telephone conversations of John Foster Dulles and Christian Herter,” Eisenhower Library, Abilene KA.

[6]P124 Killing Hope: William Blum

[7]P209 Politics: Aristotle

[8]The Theory of Political Propaganda, The American Political Science Review, Vol. 21, No. 3 (Aug., 1927), pp. 627-631

[9]P4-5 Propaganda Technique in the World War: Harold Lasswell

[10]P53-54 Propaganda Technique in the World War: Harold Lasswell. For Bertrand Russells observation see P21 of Free Thought and Official Propaganda

[11]P54 Propaganda Technique in the World War: Harold Lasswell

[12]P71 Indonesia 1965 -The Coup that backfired

[13]P62 Negligent Neighbour; New Zealand’s Complicity in the invasion and occupation of East Timor: Marie Leadbeater

[14]P35 The New Rulers of the World: John Pilger

[15]P113 The Kiwi and the Garuda: New Zealand and Sukarno’s Indonesia, 1945-1966: Andrew Lim

[16]P114 Ibid

[17]December 1979 Timor: Vendetta against Indonesia, Quadrant

[18]The full record is documented in The Political Economy of Human Rights, volume 1 and volume 2.

[19] P229 Don’t Spoil My Beautiful Face: Media, Mayhem and Human Rights in the Pacific: David Robie

[20]P175 A Critical View of Western Journalism and Scholarship on East Timor: Geoffrey C. Gunn

[21]P63 Negligent Neighbour; New Zealand’s Complicity in the invasion and occupation of East Timor: Marie Leadbeater

[22]P127 ibid

[23]P64 ibid

[24]P195 The Independence of East Timor: Multi-Dimensional Perspectives-Occupation, Resistance, and International Political Activism: Clinton Fernandes

[25]2015 volume 4 New Zealand International Review New Zealand’s Defence Relationship with ASEAN: Paul Sinclair

[26]P265 Manufacturing Consent: Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky reference a study carried out by the Finnish government.

[27]P127 South East Asia and New Zealand; A History of Regional and Bilateral Relations: Edited by Anthony Smith

[28]P65 Negligent Neighbour; New Zealand’s Complicity in the invasion and occupation of East Timor: Marie Leadbeater

[29]P28 ibid

[30]P130 South East Asia and New Zealand; A History of Regional and Bilateral Relations: Edited by Anthony Smith

[31]P127 ibid

[32]Reluctant Indonesians; Australia, Indonesia and the future of West Papua: Clinton Fernandes

[33]1999 volume 2, The Devil You Know The New Zealand Journal of History: Anthony Smith

[34]P111 South East Asia and New Zealand; A History of Regional and Bilateral Relations: Edited by Anthony Smith

[35]19 July 2007 PM Clark lauds RI’s move to democracy: The Jakarta Post

[36] Jan 25 Kiwis accused of providing ‘aid that kills’ New Zealand Herald

How global capitalism actually works

There is a standard view of how capitalism is supposed to work given by the media. It goes something like this; capitalism is a system where people come together to freely exchange goods and services, including labour. Businesses compete competitively to give the most efficient outcome, and the profit motive gives incentive for innovation. People who become rich do so because they work hard to offer the market what it wants while the poor do not, so this wealth inequality is to a large extent the natural workings of the market. This is an imperfect but the best possible system.

That is I think the standard view given in the media, and I think most of it can be debunked while the rest can be turned on its head. I’ll be critiquing this view, but also give my own view of how I think Global Capitalism works. I’ll give what I think are realistic and viable solutions to the faults of Global capitalism at the end.

Probably the best way to start off with an analysis of capitalism in the 21st century is to give a bit of background information on how the system transformed from a production based system to a finance based system. Capitalism is always seeking to make profit, and it was able to make profits in the period from 1945-1971 in the productive sector of the economy, and under this system there was high economic growth which was relatively egalitarian. However, when the productive sector reached a certain capacity in the 1970’s, increasing productivity became less profitable, and rather than investing in more production, profits went into the FIRE economy.[i] That is, finance, insurance, real estate. This set off a chain of events, which caused the FIRE sector to lobby to get rid of the regulations that stopped them from merging, making risky transactions and gambling. And with the rise of banks that never got regulated, (called shadow banking), the banking sector became wealthier and got turned into an institution that gambles rather than investing in productive things, and in turn was able to lobby for even more deregulation. The economy is now a system that is normally stagnant, and only grows when it is driven by speculative bubbles which eventually crash. Then the process is repeated. It is now the core of the economic system in much of the west, including New Zealand. Under this new system, real wages stagnate, as they have in New Zealand since 1984, while corporate profits go way up. And we can check who’s profited from looking at the increasingly dazzling wealth of the national business review rich list every year.

The banks now have a pretty good business model, at least for themselves. It is to make very profitable but risky transactions. When these risky transactions create speculative bubbles, as they did in the 2008 crisis, the cost is imposed on the population; and the taxpayer picks up the bill. [ii] These banks may know they are creating a speculative bubble that may destroy the global economy with hundreds of millions of people losing their jobs, but that’s the best way for them to make profits. The economics profession have called this ‘systemic risk’, which is the risk that the whole system comes crashing down, which imposes costs on all of us, which are called ‘externalities’ by the economics profession, and are one of the many inefficiencies in market systems.

In New Zealand the details of the FIRE economy are given in Jane Kelsey’s latest book, simply called the Fire economy, which draws much of its research from economists in the IMF, who have become marginally critical of their own policies since the global financial crisis. One research paper done by the IMF is a study into what the causes of the increasing number of financial crises since the 1970’s were. It gives a checklist of 8 different properties that an economy has which leads to a financial crises. New Zealand’s economy ticks most of the boxes on that checklist.[iii]

Studying economic history shows that the nations that are rich today became rich by pursuing the precise opposite of what the rich nations tell the poor countries to do today. The rich nations developed by protecting their industries with tariffs, while imposing free trade everywhere else, and when they become powerful empires, it was only then that the rich nations adopted free trade-because by that time the poor nations could no longer compete with their masters. In the 18th century Britain protected its textile industry from superior Indian production, and only dropped its protectionist barriers once it had become a dominant superpower and no one could compete with it. Once America became independent it pursued highly protectionist policy in the 19th century. Japan escaped the imperial reach of Britain, and was able to develop itself after World War 2 by kicking out foreign Ford and GM, then by developing their own car manufacturing industry through massive help from the state.

In the 1960’s and 1970’s, the poor nations were able to develop through protectionist policies with state intervention and had a substantial average growth rate of 3%.[iv] This all came to an end in the 1980’s when institutions like the international Monetary Fund, World Bank and GATT (now the World Trade Organization) started playing a bigger role in the governance of the poor nations. These institutions, are sometimes called ‘The unholy trinity’, were set up in 1944 as World War 2 was ending. John Maynard Keynes, one of the leading architects of these institutions expressed his contempt at the idea that those from the colonies and semi-colonies would have a role in these institutions, saying “they clearly have nothing to contribute and will merely encumber the ground.”[v] Thus, the World Bank and IMF were set up with a ‘one dollar-one vote’ governance structure, and since the rich nations had most of the capital, they got to decide which policies should be pursued in the poor nations. The Unholy Trinity pushed for austerity policies particularly hard in Africa, Latin America and parts of Asia. As well as advocating this theory taught to economics students called comparative advantage which tells countries to do export they are best at doing. Well it just so happens that the poor nations have a colonial history and have not yet developed, so pursuing what they are best at is exporting their raw materials to the rich nations. Maybe there is an exception, but every single country I’ve seen that adopted these policies ended with large masses of poor people and a small concentration of wealth in the hands of a minority, much like what’s happened in New Zealand except on a larger scale. There were some countries that escaped the austerity policies, namely the East Asian tiger economies; South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, and Hong Kong. While Singapore and Hong Kong did do well under free trade, Singapore used large state subsidies to attract foreign investment and direct state owned enterprises, and Hong Kong developed under the protection of the British until the 1990’s.[vi] So that’s the real history of free trade capitalism up to the present and it’s been largely ignored from most of the top economists, the ones that win Nobel prizes and write the textbooks for example.[vii]

Another idea put forth in the media is that you need a capitalist profit motive for there to be any incentive to innovate. The argument seems to ignore the obviousness that much of the innovation in the 20th century has been done under highly socialist institutions, namely universities. But there are good reasons why these arguments are put forth, the Silicon Valley companies, Hollywood, pharmaceuticals, and agribusiness have a lot to gain from it. The way it works is that most of the research and development is done in the state sector, then once something becomes profitable it gets turned over to private power, which then modifies the technology and claim it’s their property through protective government enforced monopolies called patent laws. This is then followed up by the private media shamelessly claiming that state-interference is ruining the innovative and productive private sector. Since 1945 one third of US research professors have been supported by national security agencies. The US air force developed the basis for a personal computer and mouse for example, with the whole history of Silicon Valley being tied up closely to the US military.[viii] Actually the idea of a decentralized internet was laughed at by the US telephone monopoly AT&T in the 1960’s, and dismissed. It was only until 1995 that the private sector realized its commercial potential and had it given to them. [ix] But the state sector doesn’t do all of the research. Seeds that farmers use in the poor nations were developed over thousands of years, and then multinational agribusiness came in and genetically modified these seeds slightly so they could patent and claim royalties on them. It is also easy to see that in Hollywood’s entertainment industry do not innovate new cultural tastes by their control over patents and profit motivated production. In reality the media businesses largely produce music and movies based on the market that already exists, which would be why there are so many sequels to movies and such. That’s the opposite of innovation. The people who created new breakthroughs in music were often marginalized communities.

The order of global capitalism relies on various social philosophies that make it seem fair and just, and prevent the masses from getting rid of it. One is the social philosophy of tough love, and this is a core component of the neoliberal policies of the unholy trinity. It was strongest among the old-classical economists in the early 19th century. Back then professors of moral philosophy like Jeremy Bentham somehow rationalized the dual philosophy of tough love and the utilitarian theory of maximizing happiness, when expressing his view on the four year olds that worked in coal mines he had the following to say:

“Infant man, a drug at present so much worse than worthless, may be endowed with an indubitable and universal value.”

Thomas Malthus, the political economist and theorist on overpopulation was much worse, and he thought human population would grow faster than the productivity of bread, and had a complex plot of how the world should be shaped for the poor expressed in this passage:

“Instead of recommending cleanliness to the poor, we should encourage contrary habits. In our towns we should make the streets narrower, crowd more people into the houses, and court the return of the plague. In the country, we should build our villages near stagnant pools, and particularly encourage settlements in all marshy and unwholesome situations. But above all, we should reprobate specific remedies for ravaging diseases … If by these and similar means the annual mortality were increased . . . we might probably every one of us marry at the age of puberty, and yet few be absolutely starved.”[x]

The social philosophy of tough love has become more dishonest with its re-emergence in the 1980’s. While the mass media and politicians don’t have the honesty that Thomas Malthus did, they express it in more euphemistic terms. However, the results of stagnant pools and reprobating specific remedies are all but accomplished in the third world by the pharmaceutical corporations and privatized water monopolies. So when 2 year olds in Latin America have to start drinking water out of diseased stagnant pools because the world bank recommended handing public water over to private monopolies, these children have to learn ‘tough love’, or market discipline, and make ‘rational wealth maximizing decisions’ over ‘scarce resources’.

In South Africa, in the 1990’s, instead of Indian manufacturers producing specific remedies for ravaging diseases like HIV/AIDS at $300 each, the Western pharmaceuticals use their highly protectionist policies enabled by the unholy trinity to charge medicine in the price range of tens of thousands of dollars.[xi] So that is what’s called ’tough love’, or ‘market discipline’ for the people that die of HIV/AIDS, but not market discipline for the pharmaceuticals. They need the government to do most of innovation for them, so they can take that innovation and claim it’s their property.

I would rather criticize the institutional stupidity of global capitalism than the individuals within it, as criticizing those individuals makes no sense, since a change in individuals hardly changes the institution. However, Bill Gates is more than just an individual, he’s part of the media mythology of creative capitalism and benevolent capitalists.

Bill Gates made his fortune as a government welfare parasite, but it’s ok because you can get a job at his philanthropic organization, so long as you never mention two words. One of them is ‘intellectual’, and the other one is ‘property’. The benevolence of Bill Gates can be seen in supporting projects in the developing world like ‘creative capitalism’, in which this hard working capitalist strives to pump money into Monsanto, which develops its own patented GM seeds that are more productive and weather resistant to the ones developed by the third world farmers. Unfortunately, supporting tyrannical corporations makes the third world farmer dependent on Monsanto, and the other TNC’s, where they are driven into poverty, and they commit suicide in the hundreds of thousands.[xii] One critic, Vandana Shiva, calls the Gates foundations organization (the alliance for a green revolution; or AGRA) ‘the greatest threat to farmers in the developing world’.[xiii] The Gates foundation itself has inquired into the reasons why people don’t believe charity is helpful for the developing world. According to their study, called the ‘Narrative Project’, “they are all a bit stupid.” And they’re “too calloused to care about social causes.”[xiv]

The texts on neoclassical economics say that markets are based on rational consumers making informed decisions, and the market is efficient when it’s perfectly competitive, that is when no firm has control over price, supply and there are many substitute products to choose from. In reality, there is massive intervention in the market by creating irrational and uninformed consumers, mainly through advertising. And advertising has increased in concentration through the neoliberal era. Furthermore, studies done by two political economists Robert McChesney and John Bellamy Foster give in my view a pretty argument that corporate power in the 21st century is more monopolistic than it ever has been in history. This is done through tacit collusion and price leadership in an oligarchical market structure. So by the definition of efficiency given by neoclassical economics, we currently live in a very inefficient system. And the reason that oligopolistic power is often ignored can be traced back to the Chicago school of economics. One economist from that school, the Nobel laureate George Stigler writes in his 1988 memoirs that

‘The central objective of the Chicago school of economics was destruction of monopoly power in all its aspects (including advertising).’[xv]

This was done through considerable rewriting of history, such as the denying of predatory prices that led to the rise and dominance of Rockefeller’s Standard Oil.[xvi]

The world is now largely governed by the mobility of investors and lenders, who can speculate against currencies and pull capital from countries whose populations try to resist public policy, as has happened in Greece recently. But their attack on democratic governance can be resisted. It has been successfully resisted in Bolivia for example, under the governance of Evo Morales, resources have been nationalized and since then there has been some reduction in inequality. The excess of the FIRE economy has also been resisted in richer nations like Iceland. [xvii]

What can be done?

In the poor nations neoliberalism has been imposed with fascism and violence. In the rich nations it has been imposed with propaganda in the media, doctrines from elite universities, and the atomization of social and political life. Therefore, it should follow that to get rid of neoliberalism in the richer nations we would require debunking of the propaganda and the organization of social and political life.

I do not agree with the assumptions made about human beings in economics that we are rational wealth maximizers. If that were true, our human nature would be in line with the behavior of the corporation. But the corporation’s behavior is pathological. It is a totalitarian institution, driven by short term profit above all things, even the survival of human civilization is worth less to corporate power than the mass enrichment of a few hundred people. It forces human beings to behave amorally, but also forces the wage slaves at the bottom of it’s hierarchy to be mere extensions of the machines they operate on in their sweatshops, with no creativity in their robotic work.

I do not believe human beings are amoral creatures, nor do I think they are robots. The hierarchy of the private power is thus both degrading and insane, according to my own value judgement. So in my opinion we should be aiming to get rid of this hierarchy, and replace it with one that is democratic, where workers have democratic governance over production, consumption, and distribution rather than being made to be tools for an executive’s salary. This idea came from the mass movements of workers in 19th century Europe, and then got turned into the political ideals of socialism, and eventually turned into syndicalism-that merged with the ideas of anarchism to make anarcho-syndicalism in the 20th century. It was put into practice in Spain in 1936 before being crushed by fascists, Stalinists, and capitalists. In my view anarcho-syndicalism is one of the best attempts at a humane political system in the 20th century. It’s been written about by prominent philosophers Bertrand Russell in his ‘Political Ideals ‘and’ Proposed Roads to Freedom’, and I think more eloquently in Noam Chomsky’s ‘The Future of Government’.

Some might say the above is too utopian, but I think that women’s rights and getting rid of slavery were once utopian ideas as well. The other criticism which I think is perfectly valid is that it’s out of reach. This is true; we should be focusing on urgent things first like building up a mass movement, but we should do it with an end goal in mind. Once we have enough people to put pressure on the government then we can start doing things like re-regulating banks and nationalizing the media so it’s no longer controlled by advertisers and financial institutions, and getting rid of student debt which I also think should be a pretty high priority, as students have become more obedient and passive to political activism from the burdens of debt and a high unemployment rate. Those are good mechanisms of controlling people, whether they were designed to or not.

But I would like to say that those who only want to a more humane version of capitalism miss the point entirely of how capitalism functions. It is in its very nature a system that forces widespread human suffering; we shouldn’t be aiming to make an oppressive political system more humane but to get rid of it. It’s kind of like saying we should be kinder to slaves. Sure, that makes sense to say that, but why stop there when you can just get rid of slavery?

So that’s how I think global capitalism works and now it’s your turn to criticize it, reflect on it, or try to do something about it if you think it’s correct.

[i] The Endless Crisis: How Monopoly-Finance Capital Produces Stagnation and Upheaval from The USA to China

[ii] P77 The FIRE Economy: Jane Kelsey

[iii] P34 The Fire Economy: Jane Kelsey

[iv] A more in-depth but very accessible study to a non-economist is given in Ha-Joon Chang’s Bad Samaritans.

[v] P24 The Poorer Nations: Vijay Prashad.

[vi] P29 Bad Samaritans :Ha-Joon Chang

[vii] If you want some evidence for this statement, see the history that was given by 300 economists in the New York Times in 1993 in argument for NAFTA, seen here http://www.nytimes.com/1993/09/17/us/a-primer-why-economists-favor-free-trade-agreement.html Furthermore check the standard textbook for first year economics called ‘principles of economics’, and read the chapter on development. Nowhere is this mentioned.

[viii] P100 Digital Disconnect: Robert McChesney

[ix]P99 Digital Disconnect Robert McChesney

[x] P43 Capitalism and its economics: Douglas Dowd

[xi] P123 Bad Samaritans: Ha-Joon Chang

[xii] At least 250,000 Indian Farmers have committed suicide for example since 1995 as is documented by Vandana Shiva http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2012/02/201224152439941847.html

[xiii] P74 Whose Crisis, Whose Future?: Susan George

[xiv] http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2014/11/death-international-developmen-2014111991426652285.html: Jason Hickel

[xv] P94 The Endless Crisis: How Monopoly-Finance Capital Produces Stagnation and Upheaval from The USA to China: John Bellamy Foster, Robert McChesney

[xvi] P95 ibid

[xvii] https://zcomm.org/znetarticle/how-rejecting-neoliberalism-rescued-bolivias-economy/ and P240 of the FIRE Economy: Jane Kelsey

 

What is our Political System?

In the standard textbooks in political science it’s asserted that the western nations live in ‘liberal democracies’.[i] If we look at how the term ‘liberal democracy’ is defined, I cannot see how this argument can be true.

Liberal Democracy is defined by political scientists as a society where people have an equal say in making decisions that affect them, and that people are the best judges of their own interest. Looking at the first of these principles, recent research refutes any claim that people have an equal say in the USA. Political scientists Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page show that overwhelmingly, the rich get what policies they want. They conclude that “Not only do ordinary citizens not have uniquely substantial power over policy decisions; they have little or no independent influence on policy at all.” And that “economic elites stand out as quite influential in the making of U.S. public policy.”[ii] The study looked at almost 2000 policies over a 21 year time period. I do not know of any similar studies done in New Zealand, but it would be interesting to see the results if there is one.

What about the claim that our society is one where we value people being the best judges of their own interest? Any look at our society will show that we live in one where the elite try extremely hard to dissuade people of the notion that they are best judges of their own interest. There is plenty of evidence for this, it can be seen through advertising, and new heights in rhetoric and public relations in political campaigns to convince people to vote, buy, or make decisions against their own interest.

This form of public relations, or propaganda as it was called in less euphemistic days, has always received great endorsement as a cultural value in our society throughout its history. One of the founders of western propaganda, Edward Bernays, defined democracy quite differently to those in academia, saying that ‘the conscious and intelligent manipulation of the opinions of the masses was an important element in democratic society.’[iii] With political scientist Harold Lasswell in the 1920’s endorsing it as a technique to control the public mind.[iv] In today’s time, it has become so engrained and normal, that politicians now win awards for their manipulation of the public. Namely in Obamas hope and change campaign in 2008, where he won an award for being the best marketer of the year. This was also true for Don Brash’s award winning billboard campaign in the 2005 campaign, which the NZ herald praised it as “elegant and humorous”.[v] In New Zealand, the politician Richard Prebble also expressed contempt for the idea that people are the best judges of their own interest, when there was 90% public opposition for the privatization of telecom during the 1990s, noting that “New Zealanders should be proud to have a government strong enough to resist a pressure group of such proportions.”[vi]

So I conclude here that our society does not meet the necessary and sufficient conditions that are considered ‘liberal democratic’ by the standards political science. But this is true not only by the standards of modern political science but by the standards of many philosophers through history. Aristotle, for example, defined democracy as when “the indigent, and not the men of property, are the rulers.”[vii] Thomas Jefferson also noted that a country is only democratic when people not only vote for representatives but when they are also a “participator in the affairs of government.” [viii]

As for Liberalism, the views of what is now called classical liberalism are mostly forgotten and misrepresented in contemporary political thought. A good example is one of the favorite philosophers of the NZ elite; F.A Hayek, who claimed to base his ideas on classical liberalism. But, from I’ve read of classical liberalism, the ideas presented were quite anti-capitalist by principle. If we take Kant’s political writings, he defines the difference between an artificer who is his own master, and does work that he is able to sell to someone else later on, which is different from what he calls a laborer, who allows others to make use of him, and therefore is not a citizen.[ix] One of Hayek’s favorite philosophers Wilhelm Von Humboldt expressed similar views in the Limits of State Action, saying that ‘the laborer who tends a garden is perhaps in a truer sense its owner, than the listless voluptuary who enjoys its fruits.’[x] Similar views were also put forth in Karl Marx’s theories of workers alienation, and have been kept alive by 20th century philosophers Bertrand Russell and Noam Chomsky, who revived these ideas in his essay called “Government in the Future”.

Coming back to what’s taught in schools, if the studies done by Gilens and Page are accepted, political scientists should not disregard their own research and should teach students that their society is a plutocracy, and if this research holds true for our own society, then we should also teach this elementary truth. That is, if they want to live up to the standards of rationality. I myself have not yet seen enough evidence to come to any conclusion on what NZ’s political system is, yet given we have undergone policy changes that have made the rich incredibly wealthy, while real wages have stagnated, it would not surprise me if research was conducted to give overwhelming evidence that we live in a plutocracy.

The method of hiding elementary truths is seen as a form of political indoctrination when it’s observed in ‘enemy’ countries, but it is never observed as a form of indoctrination in the country you live in. Principles don’t apply here. For example, everyone could see that the public in Leninist Russia overwhelmingly believed they lived a socialist society because of their doctrinal system. Before Lenin’s tyranny was established, socialism meant workers having control over the means of production. But everyone outside the country could see that it was a tyranny, and that control over the means of production was not worker controlled but centralized under the command of the vanguard. One could ask if Russians would have benefitted if their school system put forth some elementary truths, that their society was a tyranny.

In the same way that Lenin tried to exploit the term socialism in an effort to present his society as fair and just, we can trace back the roots of how this was done in western society with the term ‘democracy’. David Graeber makes a reference to this in his book called ‘The Democracy Project’. Noting that elites despised democracy in the early 19th century, but when the US president Andrew Jackson saw that this political ideal appealed to the masses, he exploited this as a form of modern day marketing strategy using it in his campaign, claiming to be a democrat, and winning his election, which made such an impression that the other elites quickly copied his strategy.[xi]

I think almost everyone nowadays would agree that teaching these elementary truths would have had a liberatory effect. But then again, our school system is not designed for the purpose of liberation. As the treasury put it clearly and explicitly in their 1987 document ‘Government Management’, “Historically universities may have acted as a key source of free information and discussion on political and other sensitive issues. In the information age this is no longer the case and the very multiplicity of information sources is itself a form of protection.”[xii]

——-

[i] p17 Politics in New Zealand: Richard Mulgan

[ii] p9 Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens: Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page http://scholar.princeton.edu/sites/default/files/mgilens/files/gilens_and_page_2014_-testing_theories_of_american_politics.doc.pdf

[iii] p1 Propaganda : Edward Bernays

[iv] p8 Hegemony or Survival: Noam Chomsky

[v] http://adage.com/article/moy-2008/obama-wins-ad-age-s-marketer-year/131810/

P275, Hollow Men, Nicky Hager

[vi] p319 No Left Turn: Chris Trotter

[vii] P53 Digital Disconnect: Robert McChesney

[viii] P62 ibid

[ix] p78 Kant’s Political Writings

[x] This quote I first saw in ‘Government in the Future’, by Noam Chomsky, but is in p19 The limits of State Action: Wilhelm Von Humboldt

[xi] p168 The Democracy Project: David Graeber

[xii] p13 Privatizing the Universities Jane Kelsey

The Political Economy of Thought Control

The Political Economy of Thought Control

There is a history behind thought control, it goes way back to classical Greece, where the ancient philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle were concerned about what an ideal state would be. Some of their developments carry on right through to the present and have had very significant success, especially in democratic nations. For example the modern development of fear ideology can be traced as far back as Aristotle (and maybe further) in his book ‘Politics’. He was interested in how a state could avoid revolution, there was a strategy which he gave that I will quote. “States are preserved when their destroyers are at a distance, and sometimes also because they are near, for fear of them makes the government keep in hand the state. Wherefore the ruler who has a care of the state should invent terrors, and bring distant dangers near, in order that the citizens may be on their guard, and, like sentinels in their night-watch, never relax their attention. He should endeavour too by help of the laws to control the contentions and quarrels of the notables, and to prevent those who have not hitherto taken part in them from being drawn in.”[i] In today’s time crime and the ISIS threat seem to be the main ‘invented terrors’ which are employed by the mass media. I will elaborate on this a bit more later on.

Thought control has always been prevalent as a way to control populations, but it never really took off until the 1920’s. Until then, workers could be beaten up by the police, which was the main way to control populations. The philosopher Noam Chomsky summed it up well with this quote: ‘Propaganda is to democracy, as violence is to a dictatorship’. The propaganda in dictatorships is inferior and much less believable than the propaganda in democracies, but it doesn’t matter as much in dictatorships since they can use violence to control people anyway. However, in a democracy propaganda has to be much better, and it has to work on the people who are part of the political class: people who do more than just take orders, and have the spare time, under no threat from state violence, and would otherwise use their privilege to liberate people from the injustices of really existing capitalism.

There is an interesting book written by one of the main developers of what was then called ‘propaganda’ during the 1920’s by an intellectual called Edward Bernays, he had created very successful propaganda campaigns in order to convince women to smoke. In his book simply titled ‘propaganda’, he points out in the very first sentence that ‘the conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society.’[ii] In his book he outlines the different ways propaganda can be used in education, political leadership, business, ect. Going on, he points out that “The minority has discovered a powerful help in influencing majorities. It has been found possible so to mould the mind of the masses that they will throw their newly gained strength in the desired direction.”[iii] After world war two, Edward Bernays said that propaganda came to have negative connotations because of the Nazis, so they just stuck to calling it Public Relations instead.

A bit earlier than Edward Bernays book was one written by the famous philosopher Bertrand Russell, who I think developed the early ideas behind the political economy of free thought in his book “Free thought and Official Propaganda”. He noted that “Legal penalties are in the modern world, the least of the obstacles to freedom of thoughts. The two great obstacles are economic penalties and distortion of evidence.”[iv] He went on to say that thought is not free if the profession of certain opinions makes it impossible to earn a living. And that if all arguments on one side of a controversy are perpetually presented as attractively as possible, while the arguments on the other side can only be discovered by diligent search.[v] I think this is pretty much the way thought is controlled up until present day society in democracies. For example, when New Zealand underwent its neoliberal revolution in the 1980’s and 1990’s, economists who were critical of the economic theories that were given were dismissed, in some cases had their research grants cut or were driven from the media. This is been written about by the journalist Bruce Jesson and Professor Jane Kelsey[vi]. Although I do not know much more than this, since it does not seem to be studied. Some of what Bertrand Russell said is truer in our time than was in his. With the massive increase in public relations, arguments favourable to powerful institutions are easily presented to the media while the real stories have to be diligently searched for.

However, the idea that the modern news media would want people with views of their interests, and to prevent people in the news that had views that go against corporate interests was expressed quite eloquently by the American Justice Lewis Powell, back then he was a lobbyist for the tobacco industry, who wrote in a memorandum to the US chamber of commerce that “The day is long past when the chief executive officer of a major corporation discharges his responsibility by maintaining a satisfactory growth of profits, with due regard to the corporation’s public and social responsibilities. If our system is to survive, top management must be equally concerned with protecting and preserving the system itself. This involves far more than an increased emphasis on “public relations” or “governmental affairs” — two areas in which corporations long have invested substantial sums.”[vii] His point is exactly correct. Private power is intolerable to human beings, as constant resistance to it has shown throughout history, and this was recognized by Powell. For a corporation to maintain profits it must not just fulfil its economic purpose but a political purpose as well. The political purpose, later expanded on in the memo included a massive overhaul of the media and educational system.

The use of thought control is much celebrated by the elite in New Zealand, and has become a deeply engrained part of culture, used by all business, all the main political parties, and the media. For example, in the general election of 2005, Don Brash won an award for best advertisement campaign of the year.[viii] The New Zealand Herald made their own contribution to supporting the propaganda by calling nationals billboards ‘elegantly simple and humurous’.[ix]

THE INSTITUTION

A question that I think ought to be asked when examining any institution, is ‘how is this institution arranged, and how should we expect it to behave because of this arrangement?’ There is a standard institutional analysis that is given by market ideologues in favour of the commercial news media. The argument states that the commercial media is in a competitive market for a share of the audiences. That superior journalism will attract the larger audience size and put the news corporation with inferior journalism out of business, therefore the market gives the audiences what they want.

On close examination of the institutional structure of the media, this argument seems to be nearly the exact opposite of the truth. It’s actually the case that the media is in an oligopolistic market competing for a share of the advertisers, not audiences. The tendency towards oligarchy is the natural evolution of the media in a capitalist environment. Competition eliminates competition, since it gives way to an increasingly concentrated media after a long enough time period. In Britain and America during the nineteenth century, there was a radical press which unified the workers because it fostered an alternative value system and framework for looking at the world. However, over time because of the industrialisation of the press, costs for breakeven with a newspaper increased considerably. In New York City, in 1851 the start-up cost of a newspaper was $69,000, but by 1920 newspapers were selling for between $6million and $18million.[x] In New Zealand, the broadcast media was mostly handed over to a private power from the 1980’s labour government and early 1990’s national government.[xi] From there the media has become almost completely totalitarian, since corporations are by definition totalitarian institutions. In a corporation decisions are made in secret by a few at the top, then they get pushed downwards through the hierarchy, that’s the definition of totalitarianism. And the New Zealand media is now mostly owned by foreign financial institutions, and some wealthy people including a well-known climate change denier, Gina Rinehart.[xii]

Advertisers have also played a huge role in shaping the media, as before there were advertisers, a newspaper had to make sell their paper for more than the manufacturing cost to make a profit. However, advertisers can allow newspapers to profit even by selling the paper for less than its manufacturing cost. For television, advertising is where virtually all profits are made, since the audience is not paying for television, (unless it’s a subscription). To take an example of how huge a role advertisers have, during the 1960’s in Britain there were 4.7 million subscribers to a social democratic press, the Daily Herald. It had more readers than the Times, the Financial Times, and the Guardian combined.[xiii] However, it was still unable to compete and went out of business, since advertisers discriminated against the newspaper because the readers were poor. Advertising diamonds and cars to people in the slums tends not to be a profitable business. Advertising is a huge part of thought control, and makes up about 2percent of gdp.

Another feature of the media is that costs are reduced through Public Relations. So for example, it is much easier to get news from government, military or corporate PR releases who would love to shape the news in their interest, than for journalists to be researching news themselves. The political economist Robert McChesney notes that in America, in 1960 there was .75 PR agent for every working journalist. In 1990 there was two PR agents for every journalist, 2012 saw a ratio of 4 PR agents to every journalist.[xiv] There has been a similar trend in New Zealand and throughout so-called democracies in general.

These three institutional arrangements that I have given- ownership, advertising, and sourcing were called ‘filters’ for a propaganda model developed by two academics Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman in their book Manufacturing Consent. Their model allowed them to predict the behaviour of how the establishment liberal media would downplay the genocides, murders or elections that America supported, and be indignant of genocides, murders or elections that were not supported. The model will also act in horror of the crimes of enemies by describing them in gruesome detail, while the crimes supported by America, when reported at all were reported blandly, with no horrific details. This model has had extremely accurate predictability up until the present. My superficial impression of the New Zealand media is that they would fit this model pretty well, although not as well as the American mass media, since we are no imperial power.

The model goes far beyond just foreign policy, but would attempt to control thought on anything that allows for business interests to grow. It’s interesting to look at the mass media reporting on crime in this country. Reporting on crime has gone way up under the neoliberal period.[xv] While crime has actually gone down. This has had an effect on the general population, 83% of whom think that crime has been increasing.[xvi] For the media I think this has had a dual effect of both increasing profits through sensationalism, but also through atomizing the population, breaking down social bonds and creating an environment of the passive individual consumer. I can’t prove the latter is the case, but it seems obvious to me and would probably seem obvious to Aristotle, I think.

THE INTERNET

Some commentators have suggested the internet being a good medium to support journalism. There is an interesting book by Political Scientist Robert McChesney called ‘Digital Disconnect’ which traces the development of the internet, and the role it may have on journalism. The problem with the internet is much the same as the problem with print media. Journalists need advertisers or subscribers to survive. There’s a dichotomy, either you produce news in the advertisers interest and make money, or you produce news in your own interest but don’t get paid. It is very rare that someone on the internet would be able to spend time on doing real journalism for free. Because of this, real journalism on the internet has hardly even happened yet. There is a lot of good information on the internet that would not be found in the print media, however this information requires searching to find it. If people don’t know to search for this information then they cannot find it except by chance.

As for economic forces on the internet, the internet is extremely conducive for monopoly. For example when people use Googles search engine or Facebook, everyone gains by sharing the single service, so these companies tend towards monopoly at frightening speed. These internet companies then lock a hold onto their monopoly with cloud computing, which is a substantial capital investment in warehouses of computers which allow them to store vast amounts of material on the servers, allowing their product to run more efficiently. This creates a high barrier to entry.[xvii] McChesney thinks that If anyone is to make money doing online journalism, it will almost certainly be as a large centralized operation, a monopoly or close to it.[xviii]

[i] P209 Politics: Aristotle

[ii] P1 Propaganda: Edward Bernays

[iii] P11 ibid

[iv] P3 Free Thought and official Propaganda: Bertrand Russell

[v] P3 ibid

[vi] P71 Fragments of the Labour Government: Bruce Jesson. Chapter ‘The Social Deficit’, The New Zealand Experiment: Jane Kelsey

[vii] http://law2.wlu.edu/deptimages/Powell%20Archives/PowellMemorandumTypescript.pdf

[viii] P275 Hollow Men: Nicky Hager

[ix] P186 Ibid

[x] P4 Manufacturing Consent: Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky

[xi] For a more detailed description of this, read http://www.converge.org.nz/watchdog/37/05.html News before Profits: Bill Rosenberg

[xii] P14 JMAD Media Ownership Report. http://www.aut.ac.nz/__data/assets/pdf_file/0008/509723/JMAD-New-Zealand-Media-Ownership-Report-2014_2.pdf

[xiii] P15 Manufacturing Consent: Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky

[xiv] P183 Digital Disconnect: Robert McChesney

[xiv] P132-138 ibid

[xv] P218

[xvi] http://www.rethinking.org.nz/assets/Newsletter_PDF/Issue_94/Synod_Prison_Task_Group_Incarceration_in_NZ.pdf

[xviii] P190 Digital Disconnect: Robert McChesney