Solving New Zealand’s Problems of “Underachievement”

Ran out of coffee this morning.  I know.  Disaster.  Heading for a café – Hawthorne’s – the best.  Pondering our PM Jacinda’s desire to help solve problems of incarceration and educational non-achievement.  Admirable intentions.  But ……

Why because - root_cause.gifSigh.  I can just see the dullards (not Jacinda, her policy advisors) charging at the symptoms.  Change nothing deep and react.  Add a drug to the next effect of a system in trouble.  Ponder not the underlying dysfunction.

You’ll have to get to the root Jacinda, not throw pennies at the symptoms of a frankly stupid economic & social order.  There are monsters in the deep.  Change the current order.  Shift us from treating people like cheap & obedient slave-cogs to help some rentier one percenter produce undifferentiated cheap commodities.


What lies beneath?

Bring back hope.  Build social capital.  Purpose.  Community.  Trust.  Justice.  Freedom as integral to personal, social and economic development.  Participation.  Networks.  Optimism.  Cohesion.  No fear.  Cooperation and coordination.  Let ideas and conversations flourish and watch things happen.  Enterprise.  Realisation.  A virtuous circle toward something that doesn’t look like the insides of a grey and autocratic machine that grinds people to dust.  Incarceration ain’t the start of what you get.

Social networks have value.  None of these fundamentals of a better functioning society will you find in an economic policy analyst’s model.  None.  Nada.  Zilch.  And yet social networks are the vital blood that flows between and within the organs of our society and the economy that is a subset of that society.  The Neoliberals went into conniptions of denial and Vogon-like statements masquerading as deep thought when faced with Robert Putnam’s evidence that a strong society is what leads to a strong economy, and the realisation of individual potential.  For the neoliberal, what society?  There is *only* the economy.  All else, people and planet, are merely resources in the machine of commerce.

Would you accept advice from someone who thinks in such a tiny wee box.

Social Capital2.jpg

Money mindThat social capital research made their extreme mutterings of asocial Homo economicus wading around inside a machine (literally – a model – who needs to look out of the window and wander the streets when it’s right there at your desk) making ‘rational choices’ in an infinite world of ‘producers’, ‘resources’ and ‘consumers’ with ‘perfect information’ and ‘equal powerlessness’ where merit rises, seem a little …

.. Baseless?  Simplistic?  Unthinking?  Unobservant?  Prosaic in the extreme?  Rationalised insanity?  I mean, no sense of society and sociology?  Seriously?  No sense of a functioning planet?  Of what makes it whole?  Reduced to supply and demand?  *That* logical fallacy?  What, like a child reduced to calories in and out?  Can you seriously be serious?  This is serious!  Because it’s delusional.

If you want to work on our incarceration rates and educational underachievement, rebuild our society Jacinda, please.  The one the Neoliberals and the mega-corporates have tried so hard to destroy since 1984.  Rebuild social networks in our towns and streets.  Rebuild the Parihaka spirit.  The cohesion, the belonging, the dedication, the focus on purpose, the moral strength, that joyous rage you get in the best of teams.

Look to the community initiatives that happen even though the Treasury models cannot predict them.  Look to the SMEs as models where the owners muck in beside the ‘staff’, and where they argue about the work with a shared sense of purpose.  Rebuild our social networks in our public sector organisations.  You’ll be rebuilding democracy as well.  Something else that isn’t in a Treasury model.  Who needs democracy when “the market will provide.


For heaven’s sake, Jacinda, get rid of hierarchical thinkers who walk the wannabe corporate halls like Little Lord Fauntleroys.  Repeal the State Sector Act and the Local Government Act.  Authorities in peacetime always end up filled with the self-interested and mediocre types.  Spread the networks to the regions.  Bring back Directors General who build engaged, thinking, discussing, listening, connected organisations, and kick the sycophantic CEO types to touch.  Rebuild dialogue and long discussions in the smoko rooms.  The board table intellect is often dull by comparison.

The work emphasising the importance of social networks and social institutions by Robert Putnam and Amartya Sen came out in the 1990s, 20 years ago.  Twenty years after the nonsense root cause of our poverty, asset gifting, rise of the immoral mega-corporates, incarcerations and non-achievement began.

And my, haven’t the neolibs tried to bury that work since.


Get to the roots


If we rebuild society Jacinda, we can bring the Picasso out of their crushed spirit world some moron in Treasury calls “meritocracy” … “equal opportunity.”  It’d be hilarious if such claims came out of some lunatic cell in a monastery.  Only mad fundamentalist seminary schools can put such nonsense in people’s heads.  You know, Commerce Departments worshipping Friedman.

Recognise poverty as a symptom of bad economics.  It is a far better indicator than GDP of how well our economy is doing – you know, an economy that serves the people and all that.

Shift our economy to long local locally-owned differentiated, batch-processed value chains whose market-position caters to the mega-trends of safe food, quality, produce with a narrative, a whakapapa to cherish.  A creative economy, not an extractive one.  Realise and emphasise human creativity and the joy of work that doesn’t feel like work because you love it, not stultifying MPI compliance bullshit that puts Biddy and her wonderful cheese out of business and makes Fonterra executives smile.  Realise the potential scope within a landscape, a cluster, a raw material that ranges from pure to puss.  Please don’t mix it all together undifferentiated and make Colby cheddar out of it anymore.

Quizzical Brown Cow

You did *what* with my milk?

Yes, I know you pasteurise it to kill all the bacteria, but you can do that to sewage as well, and I’d rather have Biddy’s quality and cheese story thanks all the same.  Differentiate the pure to make something premium, and make the puss-laden stuff into some bland cheddar a Fonterra executive might appreciate.

Realise the potential of our people.  Recognise they have a purpose in life, and life is so much better when you do what you love.  Stop thinking in bits and units and cheapness and scale and measured things that do not feel.  For heaven’s sake, avoid spreadsheets unless you very very clearly state that they are a tiny part of policy making, and can rationalise the insane.

In fact, put a sign on all policy analysts’ computers, “THIS MACHINE SOMETIMES RATIONALISES THE INSANE.”

Think the very opposite of our undifferentiated, centralised, increasingly corporate-owned, extractive, short or non-existent continuous-processed undifferentiated mediocre cost-focused zero-positioned (so real market prices only go down) commodity volume.  All with the right to pollute, extract and reduce wages and conditions because cost-plus is the only way they can think.

Only corporate and colonial minds (blind to their own re-colonisation by corporates) think like that. Which one are we?

Ball in a bowl shifting thresholdLearn to integrate the natural, social & economic as a system.  Never focus on some mindless economic model of transactional nouns.  Understand uncertainty, resilience, the social, natural and economic *capacities* we need, feedbacks, thresholds, what moral principles and qualitative contingent functions are core to the integrity of a social or environmental – or socio-ecological!! – system.  Understand the history of environmental, social & economic collapse.  Tip our social and environmental systems beyond the thresholds and predictability is lost.  And so might be reversibility.  Another thing neoliberals know nothing about.

For heaven’s sake, stop treating our land, our communities, our towns & cities as factories – grey grey grey monochromatic scale scale scale boring moronicville Mordors.  Emphasise the Arts and Humanities.  Without it, the STEM subjects are rudderless.  Worse, they tend to RATIONALISE INSANITIES!

Learn about the indirect approach to strategy, not more mindless charging at the machine guns with the same old thinking of last time.  There’s more crime.  Charge at it with more prisons.  There’s more poverty.  Charge at them with a lecture about how bad they are (in our exemplary meritorious world of perfect information, powerlessness and equal opportunity) and look at the wonderful ‘job creators’ that like to have lots of innocent gins with the ministers.

KingGeorgeV Passhendale.jpg

How did this happen?

If anyone suggests such a ‘charge the machine guns’ approach, give them the General Douglas Haig award for unforgivable stupidity, and force them to watch Blackadder goes Forth over and over until they realise that Baldrick’s poem is a parody. Boom boom boom boom. Boom boom boom.

Change the current system of bad economics and corporate power.

Then you might be able to solve the problems of incarceration and educational underachievement.

Oh, and get rid of Treasury advice and the State Sector Act.  I wouldn’t let them advise me on anything strategic or policy.  Just turn to them and ask about the beans when you need to budget or report.

Chris Perley

Chris Perley has experience in the field, management, policy, consulting and research with a background in land use, rural economies, environments and communities.  Chris is an affiliated researcher at Otago University’s Centre for Sustainability.  If you want to be added to an email link for this blog – or if the email link above isn’t working –  you can contact Chris direct.

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