Monthly Archives: July 2011

Chur Chur now for sale!

Churchur is now for sale!  Only $NZ10 plus postage.

Click here: Freerange Shop.

All proceeds to Architecture for Humanity project in Christchurch.

On the 22nd February 2011 the people of Christchurch experienced  the most destructive earthquake in New Zealand’s young recorded  history. It was the third large earthquake to hit the region in the past six months, the first being a 7.1 earthquake on the 4th September 2010. 182 people have died, thousands are homeless, scores of buildings have been destroyed, and the central city is still closed to the public. This special issue of Freerange is a window into the experiences of some who are affected.

“Many people are still homeless and jobless, and some have lost loved ones. I can get my head around the physical damage that Christchurch has sustained, but the emotional I find hard to understand.  I wish I could assure my friends that it will be over soon… but it won’t. I can’t relate to their trauma and shock, to the stress they are living in, and I can’t share their burden of a life so changed by one event. But I can listen to their stories and I hope that helps. That is what this special edition of Freerange is about. Let’s listen, it’s the least we can do.”

Gina Moss

“It’s helpful to tell our stories and that’s mine. I have life and limb and all my loved ones but the emptiness reminds me  that I’m human and I need love and support. I know I have  that in big measure. Whether we’ve lost a little or a lot the  reality is that for each one of us in Christchurch that day,  life has changed forever. I will never be the same again.  I don’t say that in an airy fairy way, I just know that my heart has been broken in a way I can’t explain and it has affected me at a very basic level.”

Madeleine Peacock.

 

 

 

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A Capitalist Disaster: The Disaster Capitalism complex at work in Christchurch

American writer and activist Naomi Klein coined the phrase “disaster capitalism” in the wake of the Bush Administration’s response to the 2005 Hurricane Katrina disaster in New Orleans. This term became mainstream when her book ‘The Shock Doctrine’ was published in 2007 and went on to become a No.1 best seller and later a feature length documentary. However, far from the accepted media view of an incompetent Government response, Klein’s theory is that this was merely an example of a growing worldwide trend involving the highly competent and undemocratic transfer of Public wealth and resources to private hands in post-disaster situations. It is hard to read this book without immediately drawing parallels with the current situation in Christchurch where a lack of real democracy and public debate around the reconstruction effort is apparent. However, as Klein thankfully points out in the final chapter of her worrying book there are alternatives to this top-down Neo-liberal economics approach to reconstruction which involve democracy through community level initiatives and participation in the process.

Disaster Capitalism

The theory of the rise of disaster capitalism is essentially that the neo-liberal global economic system seizes on disasters as prime opportunities to circumvent democracy and demand wholesale privatization of public assets without government interference so that even disaster responses are now conducted by and for the benefit of private contractors and industry.

In New Orleans post Katrina rather than help local people rebuild their lives the Government marginalized them and forced them to move, often out of the state entirely.  Poor African American neighborhoods and solidly built housing projects undamaged by the waters were demolished and replaced with condominiums and replicas of white suburbia. Public Schools were replaced with private ones to which local communities could not afford to send their children. New malls were built where houses had stood on profitable real estate and leased to multi-nationals. In the places where there were no real estate opportunities, properties were simply left to fester like ghost towns.

The chapter of the Shock Doctrine on the post Katrina nightmare states:

“The images from New Orleans showed that this was the general belief – that disasters are a kind of time out from cut-throat capitalism, when we all pull together and the state switches into higher gear – had already been abandoned, and with no public debate.”[i]

The main elements of this new approach to post disaster re-construction are that it involves a large scale transfer of Public Wealth to private hands and a lack of democracy or public involvement in decision making.  This was seen drastically in Sri Lanka after the Boxing Day Tsunami of 2004 where the Government effectively grabbed all land within 100 metres of the coastline from local subsistence fishing communities in the name of safety only to promptly sell it off to multi-national tourism developers to build resorts.  In addition, billions of dollars of aid money from the largest fundraising effort the world has ever seen was siphoned into these tourist developments and corrupt politicians coffers so that little of it actually assisted the affected people for whom it was raised.  For more on this, see the Documentary “From Dust” by Dhruy Dhawan [ii]

Relevance to Christchurch?

This lack of democracy and public debate has been a hallmark of every level of the New Zealand Government’s Reconstruction efforts in Christchurch after the recent seismic disasters. The Canterbury Earthquake Response and Recovery Act 2010 was rushed through parliament in a whirlwind three days without proper scrutiny and effectively gave the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (CERA) led by Minister Gerry Brownlee the authority to effectively do anything they like and requires no public consultation, environmental safeguards or other features of legislation respectful of democratic process.[iii] As the herald reported this Law “gives CERA specific powers to get information from any source, to requisition and build on land and to carry out demolitions. It can also take over local authorities if they are not working effectively on recovery work.”[iv]

A concern about the CERA approach is that there has been little discussion or public debate about what will be done with the valuable land in the uninhabitable residential Red Zone after it has been purchased. The Government has announced a buyout package for such affected residential land which is essentially a take it or leave it offer for residents who are prohibited from rebuilding on that land.[v] It seems there is overwhelming public support for turning the land around the badly liquefied Avon river and the Iconic Cathedral into public parks and wetlands for the benefit of the city.[vi] However CERA appears evasive on this issue and a growing suspicion is that the land may well end up as prime waterfront private property built on expensively remediated land.

A local community group ‘Action for Christchurch East’ have commented on the need for a cohesive response in an interesting blog post:

“The mistake we made since September was to assume that business and suited politicians are the best equipped people to deal with natural disasters. The government and decision makers have deliberately segmented the communities’ response. We are encouraged to deal with issues individually and are left hoping that our phone messages are responded to – think back to the community briefings where we were told to line up and deal with our issues “separately”, what a missed opportunity for the community to get organised! Groups that have created a collective response and have shown real promise are now being gagged and trodden on.”[vii]

This lack of democratic process or community involvement in Christchurch is allowing for the situation where private contractors are making huge public gains while taxpayers and private individuals all over the country are paying.  Stories are emerging of overbilling, unsatisfactory work and contractors effectively manipulating the system for their personal gain.  Fletchers Construction, a large Auckland based nationwide construction firm with powerful ties to many of the largest New Zealand companies and strong political connections was awarded a Multimillion dollar contract to rebuild the city amid allegations of conflict of interest in the tender process.  The now familiar approach seen in Iraq and New Orleans of companies sub contracting and sub–sub contracting out this work means that the local people actually doing the work get paid little and have little resources to do an effective and quick job while CEOs and shareholders make a tidy profit.  This approach does not create jobs for the worst affected local people and makes them reliant on insubstantial Government handouts.

The Government if elected for a second term will attempt to use the cost of rebuilding to justify speeding up the already planned privatisation of state assets and services further directing public reconstruction money into the private sector. On top of this Taxpayers are now funding $1 billion bailout of AMI Insurance who cannot pay out to insured people.  Increasingly it seems that a select few in the corporate sector will benefit from or have any say in the rebuilding of Christchurch while the working and middle classes will suffer big losses in the areas of living standards, employment, labour standards, public education, and social welfare.

The alternatives

The positive message to come from the awareness of the disaster capitalism complex is to stand up for your community, take power and exercise democracy by being involved in the process and in public debate.   We should not simply sit idly by and watch as our wealth and resources are handed over to corporate interests for individual gain. After Hurricane Katrina a number of communities simply defied the bulldozers and the laws and organized themselves to reoccupy and rebuild their own houses or public schools with little or no outside assistance. Similarly, in Thailand despite attempts by the Government to impose a law similar to the Sri Lankan one, many communities simply stepped over the barriers and started rebuilding their houses without waiting for permission or assistance. The resilience of these communities has led to them surviving as living entities whilst many others around them have not.

 

Worker self-management is a form of direct economics or democratic workplace decision-making in which workers manage their factories or farms as co-operatives.  Salaries are usually more equal and production, division of labour and other decisions are made democratically.   After the Mid 1990s financial collapse in Argentina this approach was used effectively by many local workers who occupied their defunct and bankrupt factories previously owned by wealthy elites and recommenced production with the support of and for the benefit of the community. This story is the subject of a documentary “La Toma” (The Take)[viii] also made by Naomi Klein and her husband Avi lewis.  Interestingly, the Spanish verb ‘recuperar’ used to describe these occupations means not only “to take back” but also “to put back into good condition”. When Police attempted to evict some of these locked in workers the local communities formed a human shield around the factories to prevent it until they eventually won the right to continue.

 

There are many stories of hope and resilience as groups in Christchurch are finding ways to navigate through the bureaucratic nightmare and get on with the task of rebuilding.Gap Filler’ is one initiative started in response to the Christchurch earthquakes which aims to temporarily activate vacant sites within Christchurch with creative projects, to make for a more interesting, dynamic and vibrant city.[ix] Veteran New Zealand Human Rights and Social Justice Activist John Minto stated in his article ‘Anarchy to the rescue in Chch’  “It’s useful for some to remember that anarchy doesn’t mean ‘chaos’ it means ‘without government’. The Christchurch anarchists are showing the will and organisation to help keep their communities going while the resources of the government appear focused elsewhere.”[x]

For more detailed accounts of this from people on the ground in Christchurch check out the upcoming special edition of Freerange: ‘Chur Chur: Stories from the Christchurch earthquake.’

I’m not attempting to incite a riot or suggesting people storm the ‘red zone’ as neither are entirely safe or productive, however if we are able to work together as a collective force then the recuperation of our economy for the benefit of our communities is entirely possible.  As Klein puts it we are rebuilding our cities and our economy “not from scratch but from scraps.”  By this she means that anything left behind by the successive waves of natural and capitalist destruction can be salvaged and recycled into use in this new form of community led economic development. Participating in decision making and ensuring accountability in matters affecting our communities is necessary for achieving this. Investing time, money and energy into local level industry and initiatives has the potential to replace what has been lost and to build a truly local economy and a more livable environment from the ground up.

 

 

 

 


[i] Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine Penguin Books 2007, p.408

[x] John Minto, Anarchy to the rescue in Chch, 27 February, 2011 http://thestandard.org.nz/anarchy-to-the-rescue-in-chch/

 

 

 

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The Nastiness of the Mainstream Right Politics

I’ve been meaning to write this post for sometime, but have put it off because it takes some small bits of research. Here goes.

While the political division between right and left is overly simplified, in New Zealand there is at least one fundamental difference in policy between the two which for me marks a clear distinction.  It also reveals the deep cynicism of right wing politics.

In recent New Zealand history the left  made it a political and economic goal to have full employment.  The labour government of 9 years from 1999-2008 was lucky enough to have strong local and international growth during this period which enabled them to get very close to the target, in 2007 unemployment fell to historically low levels in 3.4%.

A change of government in 2008 to a right-wing government coincided with the Grand Financial Crises and this of course led a surge in umemployment numbers.  The blame for increased unemployment, at least initially, can not be put on the right wing party.  However it is very interesting to note a change that occurred to the reserve bank soon after National took power.

There is a policy targets agreement between the governor of the reserve bank and the minister of finance.  The 2002 Michael Cullen version is first, and the 2008 Bill English version is second.

Left Version 2002

The objective of the Government’s economic policy is to promote sustainable and balanced economic development in order to create full employment, higher real incomes and a more equitable distribution of incomes. Price stability plays an important part in supporting the achievement of wider economic and social objectives.

Right Version 2008

The Government’s economic objective is to promote a growing, open and competitive economy as the best means of delivering permanently higher incomes and living standards for New Zealanders.  Price stability plays an important part in supporting this objective.

Read them carefully and a clear difference emerges between the left and the right, and how they use the instruments of government to affect the country.  This is one small passage that influences the way the reserve bank acts, which potentially effects thousands if not hundreds of thousands of lives.

From these passages we understand that the left is using the reserve bank to get as many people as employed as possible.  It does this knowing that this may well put pressure on inflation, because as it become harder to find workers they can charge more for their work which if this happens widely enough makes things more expensive which pushes up inflation.  Inflation is bad because it devalues peoples investments and savings.  But the left understands there are vast social, health, and economic gains to be had from having full employment. The least of which is that the states doesn’t have to support as many people.  The strange and misunderstood aspect of this is that there is likely to be less people on welfare under this approach than the right’s, which I will explain now.

The right uses the reserve bank to encourage a strong economy as a means to delivering higher incomes and living standards.  It prioritizes price stability so as to avoid the corrosive effects of inflation.  However the removal of the mention of employment gives us a sense of what this means. If price stability is the priority, then keeping wages down is also a priority, and one of the most effective ways to keep wages down is to keep a level of unemployment.  The employment pool acts as a reserve to put pressure on wages and salaries so that inflation is kept low, so that peoples and companies saving and investments are protected.

Now at this point, it is a largely healthy disagreement on how to deal with the economy.  We have different political parties so that we can have different views and discuss the merits of those views and have discussions and discourse around them.  All fine and good.

The bit that makes it nasty is when we follow the behavior of the right. If we accept the need for a certain level of necessary unemployment, (which I don’t) but seems like a logical economic policy in some regards, then we are in reality asking a certain amount of the population to sacrifice jobs they might otherwise have for the good of the country.   What I find disgusting is the same party that creates this condition then spends vast amounts of energy denigrating and attacking those very people that could otherwise be employed as been lazy and bludging of the state.

In New Zealand around 2008 long term unemployed (as a percentage of total unemployed) was 3.2%. This means for every 100 people on the dole only 3 or 4 of them had been on the dole for more than a year.  From a total of 72,000 unemployed people, 49,000 of them were on the dole for less than 26 weeks; the churn of people losing jobs and quickly gaining new ones. Of the total only 1300 people in the entire country had been on unemployment benefit for more than two years.  Read that again.  It clearly illustrates that the myth of dependency on the dole and preference to want to live off $200 a week rather than work an honest job is a fallacy.  If the jobs are there people take them.

The thing about full employment is that everyone starts to benefit and social, class, ethnic and gender divisions are lessoned by the participatory nature of the work force, and the increased social mobility that employment provides.

The dumb thing about requiring a certain level of unemployment is that inevitably its certain groups, for various geographic, historic, and soci0-economic reasons, that end up without work.  In New Zealand this is the young, some elderly, and Pacific Island and Maori people.  These people end up unemployed because of a way the government chooses to run the economy and then turns around and specifically stereotypes these populations and been deficient for some reason.  Its foul and immoral.

There is obviously some economic incentive to denigrating the unemployed because it makes people even more desperate to work in low-wage jobs, and keep inflation down, and a nice conveyor belt of cheap workers.  The crushing of the unemployed is also managed through giving them less than is needed to survive with any dignity in New Zealand.  A specific policy that was established in 1991 by Ruth Richardson.

I’ll leave the conclusion to the superb idiot/savant of norightturn, who I have sourced most of the links from in this article.

There is an underlying problem of benefit adequacy, dating back to the 1991 benefit cuts. As explained in Alister Barry’s In a Land of Plenty [part 5, from 10 mins, to part 6] experts worked out minimum food budgets for beneficiaries based on nutritional needs and different expectations of diet. Treasury took the lowest level – which was inadequate to meet basic nutritional needs – and cut it by 20% to provide an “incentive”. And while benefits have been inflation adjusted, that basic gap between benefit levels and minimum nutritional needs has remained ever since. And now we’re back in an era of mass unemployment and longer durations on benefits, it is again coming back to haunt us.

This is indecent. No-one should starve in our country, and a government system which guarantees starvation is simply immoral. But it is also stupid. Kids who grow up malnourished and starving have higher health costs and do not reach their full potential. In other words, the short-term “saving” of benefit cuts in fact produces long-term costs. But it won’t be the present government paying those costs – they’ll be well out of office when the bill finally comes due, and cleaning up the mess will be someone else’s problem.

http://norightturn.blogspot.com/2010/08/starvation-benefits.html

As a society, we have chosen to have a certain level of unemployment in exchange for low inflation. Therefore, as a society, we have an obligation to care for those whose lives and prospects we are sacrificing. Policywise, this means trying to ensure that unemployment is not too great a burden and easy to escape from (or at least, not a trap). This suggests both decent benefit levels, and policies centered around improving “churn”: training, education, active job finding, and an array of grants, loans, housing and transport assistance to help people move or travel to work.

http://norightturn.blogspot.com/2005/07/failed-policies.html

 

http://norightturn.blogspot.com/2009/11/eroding-neoliberalism.html

 

 

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Congress Book

This is the first attempt to document the amazing history of student architecture congress that has run from 1963 (ish) till today.  The event has moved around New Zealand, Australia, and PNG and amazing survived without any overarching parent organization while attracting some of the worlds most interesting speakers and architects.

This book is the hurried result of research gathered over the last few weeks (and in a way the last few years, and decades), which sets out to remind stu-dents who are attending Flux, in Adelaide in 2011, that student-led Congress has a long and marvel-lously incohesive (and sometimes incoherent) history in Australasia. It dates back – at least we think – to 1963, when some New Zealand students invited Aldo van Eyck to Auck-land to talk about the Social Aspects of New Housing. An organised mass gathering of architecture students has happened somewhere around New Zealand or Australia at least thirty times since.This modest & messy booklet is the start of a larger project to more coherently collect and productively re-flect on the residue of Congress in Australasia. We hope you enjoy it as much as we have.

Click here for free download

 

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