Tag Archives: Book reviews

Jane Kelsey —The FIRE Economy: New Zealand’s Reckoning #book

The name of Kelsey’s book refers to an acronym for economies primarily based around “finance, insurance and real estate”.

### ODT Online Thu, 10 Sep 2015
Foretelling end of neoliberalism
By Carla Green
Legal scholar Jane Kelsey has described the “morbid symptoms” of neoliberalism’s impending downfall. The University of Auckland law professor was speaking during the presentation of her new book, The Fire Economy, in Dunedin this week.
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Fire economy jkelsey [via Idealog.co.nz]Image via Idealog.co.nz

Bridget Williams Books (promotion + sales)

The FIRE Economy: New Zealand’s Reckoning
Jane Kelsey

The FIRE economy – built on finance, insurance and real estate – is now the world’s principal source of wealth creation. Its rise has transformed our political, economic and social landscapes, supported by a neoliberal regime that celebrates markets, profit and risk. From rising inequality and ballooning household debt to a global financial crisis and fiscal austerity, the neoliberal ‘orthodoxy’ has brought instability and empowered the few. Yet it remains remarkably resilient, even resurgent, in New Zealand and abroad.
In 1995 Jane Kelsey set out a groundbreaking account of the neoliberal revolution in The New Zealand Experiment. Now she marshals an exceptional range of evidence to show how this transfer of wealth and power has been systematically embedded over three decades.
Today organisations and commentators once at the vanguard of neoliberal reform, including the IMF and Financial Times journalist Martin Wolf, are warning the current model is unsustainable. A post-neoliberal era beckons. In The FIRE Economy Kelsey identifies the risks posed by FIRE and the barriers embedded neoliberalism presents to a progressive, post-neoliberal transformation – and urges us to act. This is a book New Zealand cannot afford to ignore.
BWB Link + Book Preview

Videos at YouTube (published by Scoop):

Jane Kelsey “The Fire Economy” Book Talk To The Fabians 5 August 2015 (pt 1)
Jane Kelsey “The Fire Economy” Book Talk To The Fabians 5 August 2015 (pt 2)
Jane Kelsey “The Fire Economy” Book Talk To The Fabians 5 August 2015 (pt 3)

[via Scoop.co.nz]

Fri, 17 Jul 2015, 4:30 pm
The FIRE Economy: New Zealand’s Reckoning – By Jane Kelsey
Opinion: Professor Jane Kelsey
Introduction – An Extract

fire_ad_460x120_v1 [via Scoop.co.nz]

The global economy imploded in 2008 and confirmed a stark reality. Entire nations and billions of people are captives of an unstable and amoral economic system powered by finance, insurance and real estate – FIRE. New Zealand included.
‘The FIRE economy’ is a metaphor for the fundamental shift in global capitalism since the 1970s. Finance has replaced industry as the driver of wealth creation in affluent countries – a transformation known as financialisation. Neoliberal ideology, rules and institutions acted first as the midwife and then as the guardian of this new economic order.
The Global Financial Crisis (GFC) showed the world’s richest countries, notably the US and the nations of Europe, that the globally integrated economy they had created, and from which they have prospered, could also bring them to their knees. Faith in the neoliberal ‘orthodoxy’ that shaped and sustained them seemed shattered. The fallout was fast and furious, and quickly spread to many other parts of the world.
A cursory look might suggest that little has really changed. Neoliberalism remains deeply embedded in most countries. The finance industry is resurgent and those who profit from it are unrepentant. Conservative parties with pro-market and pro-austerity mandates have been elected to govern some of the countries hardest hit.
Appearances are, however, deceptive. Confidence in the FIRE economy has faltered since the GFC and the hegemony of the neoliberal model is in decline. Core tenets of neoliberal ideology are being repudiated, even in institutions like the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Social inequality and poverty in and between countries are now recognised as symptoms of a sick system. Popular unrest in Europe has intensified, and new political parties from neo-Nazi fascists to the socialist left have gained ground. There are credible predictions of further crises.
The United Nations Conference for Trade and Development (UNCTAD) warned in its flagship Trade and Development report for 2014, six years after the GFC erupted, that the ‘world economy has not yet escaped the growth doldrums in which it has been marooned for the past four years, and there is a growing danger that this state of affairs is becoming accepted as the “new normal”’. That ‘new normal’ is not sustainable.
The world is entering a period of transformation equivalent to the epochal shift to Keynesian interventionism from the 1930s and the neoliberal revolution from the late 1970s. We are in the interregnum. The old orthodoxy is unstable and fragile; a new one has yet to be born. It remains to be seen how this plays out, how much resistance it will encounter, and whether alternative approaches can really break through the barriers designed to protect neoliberalism and the FIRE economy from just such a transformation.

Kiwi complacency
While the GFC has plunged rich countries like the US and England and later Spain and Greece into turmoil, New Zealand seems to be basking in the belief that it has survived the crisis pretty much unscathed. The standard Kiwi narrative treats it as a northern hemisphere affair, triggered by greedy American bankers and profligate European governments. The story goes something like this.
In today’s globalised world there was bound to be some collateral damage from other countries’ post-crisis recessions, but our financial system was shown to be basically sound (mainly because the Australian banks that own ours are sound). Governments on both sides of the Tasman responded promptly and effectively. Temporary interventions provided fiscal stimulus and bank guarantees steadied the ship, staving off a more serious recession. Stability was restored. Each country then resumed business as usual, regardless of their governments’ political hue. Helped by exports to China, future prospects looked positive, even rosy. Exuberant commentators went so far as to hail New Zealand as the ‘rock star’ economy of 2014. The strong centre-right vote at the 2014 election suggested confidence in the status quo or, at least, that the belief in TINA – there is no alternative – still prevails.
Before the 2008 election, as the GFC began to erupt, business journalist Bob Edlin observed how the country’s leaders seemed ‘curiously phlegmatic about global financial upheaval and its economic implications’. Their offerings ‘amounted to little more than tweaks of programmes that have brought us to where we are – a standstill’. No one was ‘peddling a cyclone-shelter or rebuilding programme’. Nothing has changed since then.

Couldn’t happen here?
This complacency is deeply disturbing. Neoliberalism has not served most New Zealanders well. Nor, in other than a hedonistic sense, has financialisation. Structural poverty and deep inequalities of wealth and income have transformed the social landscape. We have a shallow economy that depends on FIRE, farming, post-earthquake reconstruction and immigration. Periods of sustained economic growth in the 2000s have been fuelled by cheap credit. As a consequence, households, farmers and the country sit on a growing mountain of debt. Trading in property has become the main source of easy wealth, creating repeated incipient property bubbles. We have most of the preconditions that have been identified as triggers for a crisis.
A former Reserve Bank of Australia governor, Ian Macfarlane, is under no illusion there will be further crises. In 2008 he pointed to at least eight financial crises that impacted on Australia – and hence New Zealand – in the three decades before the GFC. Five were banking crises, and three involved excessive and risky lending in the property sector. Some affected New Zealand much more severely than the GFC. However, it was the depth and contagion of the latest crisis that Macfarlane says made it the most significant internationally and invalidated the model of the deregulated financial system.
New Zealand is much more at risk than Australia because successive Labour and National governments have located this country at the pure end of the neoliberal spectrum. For years it was known as the Wild West of financial markets. Adjustments during the 2000s were still premised on light-handed risk-tolerant regulation. Even since the GFC, governments and their advisers have continued to position New Zealand as an outlier, ignoring doubts in other countries and international institutions over the wisdom of letting financial markets rule.
Without some fundamental changes, New Zealand risks sleepwalking into a social, economic and political catastrophe. No one knows how or when that might happen. The tipping point could be another massive offshore crisis. Or it could be self-generated, as it was in Iceland and Ireland, if we fail to heed the warning signs. There is much to learn from Iceland’s successful post-crisis strategy of intervention, redistribution and capital controls, and from the tragedy of austerity economics in Greece, Spain and Ireland.

Time to act
Waiting for Armageddon is hardly a progressive strategy. It makes much more sense for New Zealanders to confront the country’s challenges now and begin to shape a socially progressive alternative than to battle over models in the midst of a crisis. While it is true New Zealand’s fate will inevitably be caught up in the unfolding of international events, Kiwis can influence how those global dynamics shape our future.
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Posted by Elizabeth Kerr

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Filed under Business, Democracy, Economics, Events, Geography, Heritage, Inspiration, Media, Name, New Zealand, People, Politics, Project management, Property, What stadium

RNZ Sunday Morning —The Decline of Reason #mediapoliticsculture

Updated post Sunday, 25 Jan 2015 at 3:16 p.m.

Radio New Zealand National – Sunday Morning with Wallace Chapman
11:40 Helen Razer – The Decline of Reason

Cover, A short history of StupidHelen Razer and Bernard Keane were going mad over the deteriorating quality of public debate and the dwindling of common sense in media, politics and culture.
So they wrote a book about it: A Short History of Stupid – The decline of reason and why public debate makes us want to scream.
Helen joins Wallace to talk about why so much has gotten so dumb.

Audio | Download: OggMP3 (13′ 47″) Link

BOOK REVIEWS

A Short History of Stupid – The decline of reason and why public debate makes us want to scream
By Bernard Keane & Helen Razer
Published by Allen & Unwin
ISBN 9781760110543

I
Reviewer: Gordon Findlay
Posted on December 15, 2014

It would be great to make this compulsory reading for every journalist, blogger and aspiring politician, but I can’t imagine them persevering with it. It would ruin their life’s work.

I think that the deterioration of public debate, and the absence of common sense and moderation in both media and politics, are pretty much givens now. But why? And where did this come from? These are the questions that this apparently light-hearted, yet fundamentally serious, book seeks to answer.
For these authors, stupid comes in many forms, and damages us in many ways. And yes, ‘stupid’ is a noun for these 329 pages. Many different types of stupid are identified, and an attempt is made to find their origins. Far too many ‘species’ of stupidly are identified to list them all here. But the rise of individualism over social responsibility, vaccination denialism, excessive partisanship in politics, the conflict between sentimentalism and reason, postmodernism, fallacious opinion polling and reality TV might be a representative sample. For me the most important forms of stupidity identified were three: the inability to understand numbers, the preference for emotion over facts, and the ignorance of historical contexts.
A real attempt is made to pin down the development of stupidity in its many forms. This takes us into an elementary, and often light-hearted, discussion of the development of some core ideas in western thought. The authors also make a determined effort to be seen to be in touch with popular culture, invoking as many memes from popular culture as can be squeezed in, from Dallas to the Bond movies. The authors are Australian commentators, and quite a lot of the stupidity is taken from Australian sources.
[…] A broad-gauge rant, which is based on gently concealed erudition. But a rant nonetheless. And that becomes the book’s weakness. The writing is always turned up to eleven. In places the F-bomb becomes a carpet bomb. This continuous bombast makes reading more than a little tiring. But it’s a great source of one-liners.
Cont./ Booksellers NZ blog

II
Reviewer: Frank O’Shea
Posted on December 12, 2014

The problem with a book like this is that it encourages the reader to become more alert to Stupid.

This book sets out to show how much of public discourse is guided, not by reason, but by Stupidity. It is the work of two writers for the online magazine Crikey, and even those not sympathetic towards that journal’s independent take on the news, will find much in the book to stimulate and delight.
[…] There are phrases that pull you up with glee: “… the cheap meth of personal development seminars”, “the Oprahfication of wisdom”, “the well of homeopathic opinion”, “a prostatariat of old white male journalists”, “holistic healing … rip-off bollocks with a whale-call soundtrack”. And you feel like cheering aloud when you read psychiatry described as an “iffy branch of medicine … a pseudo-science … an impotent practice”.
The level of Stupidity in public debate in Australia is probably no higher than in other Western countries. It is unlikely that politicians, for whom the luminous vest photo op is more important than any discussion of complex issues, will be changed by what they read here. But then again, their success is based on the well-founded belief that the rest of us are Stupid.
Cont./ Sydney Morning Herald

III
Reviewer: Martin Hirst
Posted [2014], undated

The writers have very different tones and registers in their prose; but the bigger issue is that the book doesn’t seem to really know whom its enemy is.

I am a big fan of both Crikey political editor Bernard Keane and freelance writer Helen Razer. They are intellectually sharp, write with good humour and come across as eminently rational in their thinking. […] Keane and Razer are friends and obviously share a dislike for stupidity in all its forms (and they are many); but they are not cut from the same cloth. Keane comes across as a socially-concerned individualist, verging on the libertarian, while Razer is more than willing to own up to her own proto-Marxist and critical feminist intellectual development. Razer is also a bit of a potty mouth, so if you are offended by the occasional use of c—t, f—k and s—t in your reading material, perhaps you should only read the chapters by the more (ahem) refined Mr Keane.
But I’m not fazed by Ms Razer’s crudities because I love her razor wit and sharp insights. Her chapter on reason and unreason is one of the best in the book and one paragraph in particular sums up her (and my) take on the psychological pressures of modern working life: “When we fail at life as it is so broadly and meticulously prescribed, we call it mental illness. We have failed life. We are not permitted to think it is the conventions of life that have failed us.” (p. 164)
[…] both authors, but particularly Bernard Keane, have a blind spot to the ultimate form of Stupid: the problem of the system itself. Razer calls it “liberal democracy” and Keane calls it “liberal capitalism” and they ultimately concede it is all we’ve got. However, this is an ahistorical approach that denies the evidence of the past that it is the economic system that breeds inequality and that ultimately needs a certain level of ideological Stupid among the general population in order to prevent mass (and organised) public opposition that would be capable of overthrowing it. Previously Stupid systems of political economy such as slavery and feudal aristocracy have been defeated and replaced, so why not stupid Capitalism? If Stupid is in the way, then it is serving some purpose of the ruling class. After all, as Marx once wrote in his critique of Hegel: “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.” Insert “Stupid” into that sentence instead of “Religion” and read it again—it makes perfect sense!
Cont./ Academia.edu

Posted by Elizabeth Kerr

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Filed under Hot air, Media, Name, People, Politics