Scoop Election 08: edited by Gordon Campbell

Gordon Campbell on the government’s latest bout of hippie punching

May 27th, 2013

On the weekend at one of those gatherings of the National party faithful that seem to occur every other week – as a party the Nats sure do know how to party – Prime Minister John Key unmasked the arch fiend who threatens the New Zealand that we know and love: namely, Russel Norman, Co-Leader of the Greens by day, sleeper agent of the Soviet Internationale by night. Here’s Key’s version of the threat that Dr. Norman poses to the nation:

Normally elections are fought between the centre left and the centre right. That is not what’s going to take place next year. David Shearer has cut his cloth and it is wrapped around Russel Norman. “But that now becomes an election between the centre right and the far left.”

And the telling evidence that the far left has taken over the role of Her Majesty’s Opposition?

[Key] cited the Green Party’s policy proposal to increase the money supply and the two parties’ plan to regulate wholesale power prices as examples of their shared “far left” policies.

Wow. Increasing the money supply aka one form of quantitative easing policies (QE). In other words, the QE policies advocated by the International Monetary Fund in 2009 as a way of re-igniting demand in a stricken and stalled global economy, and pursued subsequently by US Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke in two major installments. For the last two years there has been lively debate as to whether QE has, or hasn’t been responsible for the US economic recovery. Back in 2011, this guy thought that the second round of QE looked likely to be beneficial – and he happens to be a Harvard Professor of Economics and a former chairman of President Ronald Reagan’s Council of Economic Advisers:

At the annual Fed conference at Jackson Hole, Wyoming in August, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke explained that he was considering a new round of quantitative easing (dubbed QE2), in which the Fed would buy a substantial volume of long-term Treasury bonds, thereby inducing bondholders to shift their wealth into equities. The resulting rise in equity prices would increase household wealth, providing a boost to consumer spending.

To be sure, there is no proof that QE2 led to the stock-market rise, or that the stock-market rise caused the increase in consumer spending. But the timing of the stock-market rise, and the lack of any other reason for a sharp rise in consumer spending, makes that chain of events look very plausible.

I’m not going to argue the pros and cons of quantitative easing in this column – that’s something for another day – beyond noting that it is hardly a “far left” proposition if Ben Bernanke and the IMF were all for it, and particularly so at the time when Norman first raised the issue for debate. QE is not to be regarded as a magic bullet – but the dogged pursuit of austerity and fiscal tightening (whatever the cost in jobs and public services) is arguably a bigger threat to society and to economic progress than the small increase in inflation that can be attributable to QE. In a recent interview, even a staunch neo-Keynesian like Paul Krugman says that QE cannot overcome a government that is hellbent for its own ideological reasons, upon policies of fiscal austerity. Krugman’s argument though is that a judicious amount of easing need not result in excessive inflation – not when there is plenty of slack in the labour market and when investment needs to increase. In which case, he believes, there is room to increase spending without increasing inflation unduly – and the payoff will be in increased economic activity and the growth in jobs.

“I wouldn’t say that quantitative easing [QE] has been decisive [in the US recovery.] It is a fragile and fairly weak tool, so to ask it to override fiscal austerity is asking too much.” But he wants more QE and is relaxed about inflation at 4% or 5%.

Key, who spent an important part of his career prior to politics working in the Federal Reserve, knows this stuff. He knows QE is not communism, and his readiness to depict it as such is entirely strategic. In years past, the Greens could be written off as Morris dancing fruit cakes. Now, by demonizing Russel Norman as the scare figure of the 2014 election, Key is indulging in a practice that is politely called hippie punching. Hippie punching is the political equivalent of paintball, and here are a couple of useful definitions from the Urban Dictionary as amended for a New Zealand context:

Hippie punching: 1. the fantasy common among disaffected right-wingers of assaulting people they imagine as being the embodiment of treasonous forces afflicting the nation. Rarely if ever put into practice, since in the real world the hippies either went back to real life after 1980, or turned into Silicon Valley libertarians.

2. The practice common among Establishment centrists of ritualistically denigrating progressives in order to win over imaginary swing voters…. Sometimes misinterpreted as a boneheaded political mistake, it’s actually a sign of deep and unselfish commitment to pleasing business owners and professionals even at the cost of losing elections. Some common useages of the term:

a. “After a pleasant afternoon of drinking antifreeze, Vaughan and Christian decided to go down to the Fair Trade shop for some hippie punching.”

b. “After a pleasant afternoon of tongue-kissing insurance lobbyists, John Key had a good night’s sleep, before going into Breakfast TV the next morning for a round of hippie punching.”

You get the picture. The scare tactics will go down a treat among the more credulous members of the National Party. (If you think you’re born to rule, any alternative will always look like treason.) Will it convince anyone else? Can red-fanged Russel Norman really be a bigger worry to most voters than a government busily flogging off shares in publicly-owned assets to the wealthy few?

In any rational world, Norman would seem an unlikely casting choice as a Hugo Chavez figure within the Opposition ranks. What Key is actually promoting is a simpler message from a simpler time – that if you’re not with him on asset sales and austerity for its own sake, you’re with the terrorists. That line of thinking got the US into all sorts of trouble, and it isn’t good for New Zealand, either.


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    1. 15 Responses to “Gordon Campbell on the government’s latest bout of hippie punching”

    2. By David on May 27, 2013 | Reply

      That is awesome Gordon, +1, gold star, principals award and so on.

      This next election is shaping up to be a dinger, its basically pro democracy versus a kleptocracy in drag.

    3. By Ben on May 27, 2013 | Reply

      To be fair, I Think neo-liberal economists consider QE under conditions of near-zero interest rates (such as in USA) to be quite different from QE under conditions of an interest rates like the current OCR in NZ of 2.50.

    4. By Morrissey on May 27, 2013 | Reply

      That was Rosemary McLeod’s schtick in the 1970s: pouring scorn on any progressive thinkers, deriding them as “middle class”, “trendy”, “sandal-wearing”, “pretentious”, “tree-huggling” and whatever else she could hunt down in her Roget’s to put into her intermittently amusing, mostly dismal columns.

      Prominent hippie-punchers in today’s media include….

      1.) Deborah Hill Cone, who just last week on Jim Mora’s dire radio chat show sniffily denounced “hipsters sipping their Trade Aid coffee on the nice side of town”;

      2.) Karl du Fresne, who evidently imagines he can lighten the ugly views expressed in his columns by continually insisting he is a “curmudgeon”;

      3.) Graham Bell, an intolerant bully who sneers at anything progressive or left wing;

      4.) Stephen Franks, the most egregious of all the sworn enemies of progressive, liberal thought in this country.

      There are many more like this—I haven’t even mentioned the goons on commercial talk radio, but y’all know who they are…

    5. By Whio on May 27, 2013 | Reply

      Ah, hippie punching, is that what it’s called. I read that article this morning & that was my first thought – if Russell Norman is far left, they have forgotten so quickly was the Greens were like 10 years ago. The Greens have never seemed so viable (& I’ve been voting for them for 20 yrs) as a government – Key must be running scared to stoop to calling us all commies and pinkos
      Great article – cheers

    6. By Dan on May 27, 2013 | Reply

      Unfortunately I’m worried it’s going to work. The TV media seems to be totally on board with this “Russell will kill us all” meme. And my gut feeling is that the National base still thinks the TV is the “official, trusted” news, talk radio is the “real NZ”, and the Internets is the place for Plushy porn, hackers and kids.

    7. By Centreman on May 27, 2013 | Reply

      Right, I’ve been waiting for SOMEone in the media to make this point – how can the Greens possibly be far left? Might as well say JK and the frontbenchers rank alongside the most well known Nazis if we’re going to use that level of hyperbole. But of course that’s “not on”.

      Russel Norman, left-leaning though he might be, is about profit, economic growth and productivity. He just recognises that we actually need the environment to have those things.

    8. By Alison on May 27, 2013 | Reply

      I was interested to read in the weekend Andrea Vance piece about alleged National/conservative political Svengali Simon Lusk that he ‘spends “two to three hours” a day reading political literature from the US “looking for knowledge that can be applied here’. I’m not saying this approach of painting anyone remotely centrist/leftish as a Marxist/hippie/etc. is original, or that it came from Mr. Lusk, but this re-branding is constantly on display in U.S. politics (where it seems to have worked to a scary degree), and oh how tediously everything from there ends up here — or is at least tried here. Luckily, U.S.-style politics doesn’t always work.

    9. By AJ on May 27, 2013 | Reply

      Seems like no one in the media is pointing out that National this term is more far right than ever. Asset sales in the face of overwhelming opposition and any credible economic justification, charter schools, mining public land, tax cuts that disproportionally favour the rich while at the same time blaming the GFC for a need to cut spending to name just a few policies.

    10. By clairbear on May 28, 2013 | Reply

      Interesting comments – what I missed was the equivalent to hippie punching when you apply the same tactics to people on the right, there must be a term – I guess with you balanced reporting Gordon you forgot to look it up.

      Actually I call it politics and it has been going on for 8 years with respect to John Key – in reality I expect it tends to only happen to people who have gained some credibility or influence.

      It is continually happening to a number in the National Party John Key et al, it has certainly happened to David Shearer, and now that Russell Norman has done enough to become a target. – certainly a good political sound bite.

      Yes it will be an interesting election and if the Labgreens win it will certainly be fun and games for a while after.

      I still think the general NZ public are more cleaver than some people think – those not in any particular camp who will actually call the election will consider their options and vote accordingly – and that is democracy.

    11. By Myles on May 28, 2013 | Reply

      The Herald article quoting John Key reads like a press release. Not a single word of analysis amidst the breathless quotes. Not even a balancing quote from Norman or Shearer in the last paragraph.

      Thank you for providing the analysis but for those who only read the Herald and Stuff, the hippie-punching could well work. The real danger for the election is imbalanced media.

    12. By AAMCommons on May 28, 2013 | Reply

      On the QE debate, which I note you intend to elaborate on later. I’m worried about the use of the term as it show itself as a purely Monetarist phenomenon in the rest of the world. I wish Labour & The Greens would be more careful to distance themselves from a term that is already coming unstuck as in creates Deflation in the real economy whilst inflating asset and equity bubbles.

      It’s ironic for the Left to be seen trumpeting a classic Friedmanesq response to the crisis. I appreciate the intention of The Greens is for QE as a Government injection into infrastructure and Christchurch, but increasingly when people hear the term they imagine trillions of dollars being pumped into US, UK, Euro and Japanese financial institutions who brought us here in the first place.

      Here’s Frances Coppola blogging on it.

    13. By Joe Blow on May 29, 2013 | Reply

      I think it’s more like National took a lurch to the right this term and the Greens seem further away than they were last term.

      This is really National trying to maintain the ‘centre’ in their rightness…

    14. By david on May 30, 2013 | Reply

      The hippy movement hasn’t died. It continues to evolve and Generation Zero will connect with it as a blueprint for a way forward to the future.

    15. By Deano on May 31, 2013 | Reply

      Part of the explaination of how National configures their spin and positioning is explained here:

      The game of smoke and mirrors with dodgy pr tactics and ‘third party independant’ think tanks. But we’ree all wise to this aye? Yeah, right.

    16. By Delia on Jun 10, 2013 | Reply

      I think older people deride the Greens at their peril (by the way I am 55). The kids of the last twenty years were bought up to respect the environment. Many are very Green, they may not buy everything the Green Party stands for, but they respect the Green Part. Johnny is showing his age.

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