Neoliberalism Kills Strategic Thought – and that is Killing our Future

Tactic one for changing our political environment. Hmmmmm….. How about, as the first one, we refocus on strategy, not technocratic analysis?  Strategy requires thinking qualitatively – long and broad through connections.  Where are we wanting to go?  What are the factors, issues, etc. impacting

Rockwell Kent Landscape.jpg

Rockwell Kent

positively and negatively on that idea of ‘good’?  What is a society?  What is an environment?  What is an economy?  How do they relate?  Know that each place and time is different, so build flexibility.

What knowledge systems do we need to be wise in this particular place, with these particular issues, where the people desire these particular goals.   Look to our place – the biophysical world with all its permutations and patterns.  Look to our people, with all their cultures and perspectives.

Know that the world is inherently uncertain and uncontrollable – not a machine – so what capacities do we need to build in order to cope with uncertainty and uncontrollability.

Know that you cannot separate community from land, or economy from community, that there is interdependence, and the ‘economy’ is the most dependent thing of all.

peterson-political-positioningKnow that there are root things (ideas especially) that make the proximate things – the symptoms – happen.  Know that any solutions must dig deep into those roots, and that the worst thing to do is blindly fiddle with the symptoms – the surface things (more crime? Build prisons! More poverty? Benefit cuts to create ‘incentive’ and tax cuts for the rich (to encourage speculation?)! , etc.), and add ad hoc epicycles to your pet theories to try and justify a suite of false ideas.

And look deep at ourselves – look deep into our past and our present and our future and give time to think about our place in the world, and the assumptions we hold so dear – as all cultures have held their assumptions dear.

…….. the nature of power and colonialism; the mechanical assumptions of Modernity – all prediction and control – the nature of uncertainty – the importance of cultural values and the spirit of people to how things function – how they trust, the culture of cooperation and caring, how they participate, how they see these lands and rivers and forests and fields and beaches and mountains and lakes to which they belong.  What meanings define them.


I have not mentioned a measured thing.  Not one.  That is because you cannot justifiably delve into numbers until you create a framework of principles and goals.

And yet that is exactly what we have done for the last 32 years, since 1984 and the rise in position of a neoliberal cult that defines our world as resources, and price, and exchange within a framework that conflicts with thought and experience.

An example.  Many of us have argued for particular strategic positions for New Zealand based on dialogue about all these defining issues above.  There are once again no numbers.  They are qualitative positions, arising from that dialogue, to ensure that we have a better New Zealand for our grandchildren, whoever they may be; yours, mine, a neighbours’.  This is what the dialogue comes up with ….

  1. We need to accept uncertainty and the nature of complexity, so build the capacities to take and hit and adapt within our people and the natural systems on which we depend.
  2. We need to build decentralised and integrated social and knowledge systems that can face the truth and foresee and dialogue and learn and engage and be wise – not a hierarchy, a transdisciplinary system of knowledge integrating practice, local, policy and research.
  3. We need to accept as Adam Smith (and Marx) argued so coherently, commercial power can be short-term, exploitative, and ultimately destructive – and so policies must focus on working for people and local enterprise more than for colonising mega-corporates, and especially their access to central and local policy making.  Don’t sell your commonwealth.
  4. We need to go for diverse and high value, not monocultural commodity volume.  Look to the trends of the dominant and powerful buyers dropping real prices.
  5. We need to rebuild our communities, because that is the essential function of democracy, and it happens to be good for environmental stewardship and the economy as well.
  6. We need to rebuild our natural systems because that is the basis of life and meaning – yes, including the economy though neoliberals cannot seem to grasp this principle.
  7. We need to look to the magic that can be created by rejecting the single-focus factory model of our lands, our towns, our designs and our infrastructure – replace it with multifunctional systems thinking; the win-wins, the synergies, the joys that create belonging, hope and spirit, and from them enterprise.
  8. We need to never be a colony – so retain our ownership of diverse enterprise, build creative and never extractive economies, multiply value down long and local value chains that thinks more about ‘creating beauty’ than ‘processing a resource’.
  9. We need to distribute the commonwealth so that our money flows around our people and between our firms – meaningful employment
  10. We need to create an attractive place – our landscapes and townscapes and communities – so that we attract the creative souls that value the quality of people and land, those that would build the Shire rather than a Mordor of cheap Orcs and slag heaps.

Here lies the contrast.  In every one of these strategic positions, our current neoliberal priesthood – who for whatever reason gained the ascendancy in 1984 to the point that government policy has as its core – have ensured the very opposite of these strategic Lack of systems thinking.jpgpositions.  They haven’t even thought of them, because their lens is the model, not history.  Their lens is a suite of false assumptions about the nature of our natural systems, and our communities, and of the difference between meritocracy and power.  Their lens is completely oblivious to the short-term and narrow nature of unwise commerce.

For neoliberal zealots, people and natural ‘systems’ are ‘resources’, and the market will work it all out because it is all knowing, so no need to think – and consequently we’ll build hierarchies of obedience and non-thought, and treat any building of capacity as government interference, and therefore ‘bad’.

And so, we have allowed this to happen, and continue to happen.

  1. We reduce the capacities within our people and our landscapes to take a hit and adapt to an uncertain world.
  2. We build centralised social and knowledge systems that do not face the truth, nor foresee, nor dialogue, nor learn, nor engage and are increasingly wise.  Silos and competition replace integrated thinking and cooperation.
  3. We have let loose the powerful and unscrupulous Hyenas of Commerce to the detriment of democracy and economy because neoliberals assume power is not a factor in concentrating wealth, power being ‘merit’.
  4. We focus on the industrial production of ever more cheap commodities, because that is the nature of corporate continuous-process thinking over smaller scale batch-processed local enterprise thinking.
  5. We degrade communities, because under neoliberalism communities don’t exist – never mind the work of Ostrom, Putnam and Sen who showed how vital community is to the economy.
  6. We degrade our natural systems because – apparently – the Lord Market will ensure the correction of everything from Cyclone Bola (yes, Treasury did not accept Bola represented “a market failure” – which was beyond bizarre, because no one was suggesting a market anything) to climate change.
  7. We simplify landscapes to monocultures of presumed industrial scale ‘efficiency’ and so destroy the synergies and potential for value creation, and replace it with potentially terminal degradation.  In other words, gross INefficiency.
  8. We are much more a colony than in the past by the gifting of our commonwealth assets to in most cases external and extractive owners, whose scale and industrial thinking accords with the best colonial tradition of Cecil Rhodes – cheap resources and cheap labour, with the most valuable part of any value chain located to suit them, not us.
  9. We concentrate the commonwealth, and by so doing make the lives of our local firms and local people more and more in peril.
  10. We create a more and more unattractive place where community and environmental concerns are less of an issue – which means we attractive extractive Saurons looking for cheap labour and low community and environmental standards.  A recipe for a vicious decline into third world status.


Since 1984, that ascendancy of what is patently a priesthood who leave their catechisms of belief unchallenged, have taken us away from thinking strategically about a country called New Zealand, in all its complexity, history and meaning.  It has replaced strategic with technocracy – as patently ridiculous as a quartermaster of all his measured stores dictating the strategy of a war.  As ridiculous as raising a child by measuring calorie intake within a spreadsheet.  As mad as calculating the net present value of marriage or having children before you “invest.”

In the meantime, since the madness is so entrenched, we sell more, degrade more, and
encourage the vices of greed and exploitation and power as virtues.

It seriously is time for us to stop fiddling with minor policies around the edges of the beast, and deal to the beast that lies within.  Perhaps in 2017.

Chris Perley

Chris Perley is an affiliated researcher at Otago University’s Centre for Sustainability with a governance, research, management and policy background in provincial economies, rural sociology and land use strategy. 

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Creative vs Extractive Economies

Expedient ‘Government’: Build the Slag Heaps of Tomorrow for New Zealand

Trust … in our Economy

Looking After Local Enterprise and Life (Part I)

Looking After Local Enterprise and Life (Part II)

Reforming our Regional Economy I: Value over Volume

Reforming our Regional Economy II – Making Magic in the Landscape

Reforming our Regional Economy – III: Never be a Colony

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