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Robert Mann: Ownership Matters

Ownership Matters

By Robert Mann

The spectacular twentieth century was convulsed repeatedly by wars over ownership. The first decade, known to us as the Edwardian period, was generally peaceful & prosperous in the British Empire and many other regions, but Communism got going in Russia and took advantage of WW1 to seize dictatorial power for fanatical atheists in that large industrial/peasant society. The fifth decade featured the most interesting war I know of, in which Communism expanded its boundaries. In the early 1950s the Korean war limited the further expansion of militant materialism, but the 'cold war' standoff between Capitalism and Communism proceeded to absorb colossal resources in deterrence. And the attack on Indochina by the USA + allies (including, disgracefully, our country) soured politics in many nations as well as killing a few million more and leaving awful toxic legacies.

Ownership was, in one sense or another, the issue in those wars. Dozens of millions died over the question whether 'the means of production, distribution and exchange' should be owned by the State, as advocated and partly implemented by the first (1935) NZ Labour Government and thoroughly imposed at one extreme of the L-R spectrum - in the USSR, the People's Republic of China, Albania, etc.

At the far-R end of that ownership spectrum still operate dictatorships, and pretend-democracies making the world safe for capitalist investment - Haiti, Colombia etc.

But the last couple decades of C20 saw these strenuous issues declared to be illusory. Today Maurice Williamson MP assures us it doesn't matter who owns the railways etc - you won't be able to tell the difference, he says, as long as they have suitable rules. How odd that Churchill, Stalin, and many other leaders - not to mention the theorists such as Marx and whoever you regard as an intellectual proponent of capitalism - were all deluded. Maurice can now say, without apparent dispute, that the issue of ownership which so preoccupied them as they presided over wars killing millions, was just a temporary confusion.

Mind you, the same politicians who suggest that ownership doesn't matter have generally been deeply involved in transferring ownership of main public assets to a small group of robber barons (mostly foreign). If you really believe it doesn't matter who owns these assets, why bother to privatize them? The answer is evidently Maurice's slogan (with several other NZ MPs e.g Prebble) "the govt cannot run any commercial enterprise competently".

New Zealand insisted from early on until around 1980 that the main utilities will be democratically controlled, through ownership: rail, road, airports, airlines, telephone system, electricity generation & transmission, TV, most radio, most hospitals schools and tertiary education, H.M mails, and many other services, were controlled through government departments reporting to Parliament. Electricity reticulation was by local consumers' cooperatives - elected directly as power boards, or indirectly as municipal electricity departments. At the same time, corporate enterprise was able to prosper in many productive & distributive activities.

This mixed economy served what my friend Andrew Macfarlane & I view as the finest modern civilisation.

Then Mulgoon set about alienating the railways and arranging for foreign corporations to exploit main resources such as natural gas and forests. The rush to privatisation accelerated hugely under the traitors Lange, Douglas, Scott, etc; and Williamson's party gleefully continued it with financial witch Ruth Richardson.

In 1992 the corporatised Electricorp - formerly the state NZ Electricity Dept - staged a "shortage" of electricity. At the time they had a huge surplus (ca. 1,000MW) of generating capacity, and their New Plymouth 600MW gas-fired station ran below capacity throughout the "shortage", but the media refused to report this. Approvals to build more power stations were thus procured by false pretences - a faked need. In 2001 a more diabolical stunt was staged. Notwithstanding extra gas-burning power stations commissioned in the intervening decade, images of southern hydro lakes at low levels were arranged (by spilling huge amounts of water in January & February) to imply that electricity might run short in late winter. Loyal, trusting old folk were again asked to skimp, denying themselves comfort which would, in the old dreaded State system, have been available.

And this 'threat of shortage' was used to rook consumers at prices many times the usual. Some major industrial electricity users had to decrease production and lay off workers.

The front-man for the "competitivity" charade, Max Bradford MP, who rammed through Parliament against all expert advice the irrationally fragmented casinofied electricity system we now suffer under, expressed himself satisfied with that winter's fiasco. The market is working, he intoned. As long as the ownership is as he wishes, meeting his economic ideals, he isn't concerned at the harm to people.

The experiment with "competition" was widely predicted to be doomed because it was stupid and could not succeed even on its own terms. It has now proven in practice to be a disaster, misallocating resources on a large and damaging scale - as well as failing drastically to deliver Bradford's "cheaper electricity".

The mixed economy I'm praising was essentially agreed between the two main political parties. Sir John Marshall's autobiography includes his main speeches at the start of his parliamentary career, which espouse no notable difference from Walter Nash's insistence that the main utilities should be publicly owned so as to be controlled by Parliament. It may be difficult, but it would pay the nation handsomely to reverse the wrongs done by Bradford and by his predecessors who "sold" the electricity system away from democratic control. The main recipient, the traitor Douglas's buddy Fernyhough who handed over on TV a fake "cheque" when given the NZED for corporatization as Electricorp, has passed away. His fellow wide-boy Gibbs lives largely overseas, as does another rakeoff artist M Fay. Many parties have raked off millions of unearned profits from the further fragmenting of ownership; the prices, and service, in the casinofied system are notoriously worse, and transition to renewable energy is scandalously neglected by the money-maniacs to whom the traitor Douglas gave it. Shouldn't we explore how to restore the mixed economy?

This question arises at a time when calls are rife for review of our Constitution, mainly from racist secessionists and other republicans. Among the many good reasons not to bother with such ideas is that, if we detour into them, we will tend to overlook the need to recover public assets for democratic control. Our system of government protects democracy by an excellent monarchy; within that proven framework, let us get on with restoring the mixed economy. Ownership does matter.


Dr Mann is a retired academic (biochemistry, environmental studies) active in renewable-energy inventions.

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