The answer to panic is a rediscovery of the common good. To do that we must reject not only the self interest of neoliberalism but also those who seek to reimpose a status quo that is well past its 'use by' date. 

THE SUPERMARKET CHAINS has been forced to restrict purchases in an effort to curtail the panic buying that has erupted throughout the country over the past week or so. My local Countdown supermarket is telling customers they can only buy two of any grocery item after it was repeatedly cleaned out of, among other things, dry foods such as rice and pasta, canned food, long life milk and toilet paper. What is it with toilet paper?

While Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, adopting her most beatific pose, has called for 'calm' and 'kindness' these calls went unheeded down on the supermarket floor. It has been every man and woman for themselves.

It has not been a particularly glorious moment in New Zealand's history but an understandable one. In these strange and anxious times and when the future looks increasingly uncertain, hoarding gives some people a resemblance of control over their lives and provides them with a sense of security. Capitalism might well be falling down but, hey, I've got enough loo paper to last me for the next two years!

My fellow socialist Laurie Penny has observed that there has always been a tension between individualism and collective behaviour. She writes:

 'As a species, we have spent several centuries nurturing a collective mindset that rejects collective endeavour, and most of us are living in nations that seem perilously convinced that the human race is a thing you can actually win.

That, as they say on the twitter-dot-com, is a real heckin' problem. The collective psychology of neoliberalism encourages self-interest and short-term thinking. It both creates and requires human lives that are organized around the kind of constant insecurity and stress that actively prevent us from thinking beyond the next fiscal quarter. The diseases that are most successful in the coming century will, as always, be the diseases that exploit our major failure modes and popular delusions.'

Laurie Penny: Neoliberalism encourages self-interest and short-term thinking.
Laurie is right in her observations about the tension between individual and collective behaviour. Here in New Zealand we threw away any notion of collective egalitarianism when the fourth Labour Government introduced 'Rogernomics'. For the past three decades the political establishment and its apologists have instructed the populace that its all about individual 'self interest', individual 'choice' and individual 'aspirations'. Down at the supermarket folk have been putting that philosophy into practice with enthusiasm. They have chosen to hoard because its in their self interest and having enough groceries to last them for the next decade is what they aspire to.

Friedrich von Hayek. who won the 1974 Nobel Prize winner in economics, argued that human freedoms are maximised when governments prioritise private property rights, individual liberty, free trade, unencumbered markets and a minimalist role for the state. It was this philosophy that, of course, became the basis for neoliberalism.

In New Zealand even a devastating worldwide financial crash in 2008 did nothing to derail the continued government commitment to the neoliberal creed. Instead the heavy cost for the crash was forcibly hoisted on to the shoulders of the working class. Enter austerity. 

In 2017, Jacinda Arden's talk of 'change' and 'transformation' encouraged some who always wanted to believe her,  that the neoliberal nightmare would soon be drawing to a close. Instead her Labour-led government has chosen to defend the economic and political status quo.

But the coronavirus pandemic has demonstrated that the market is incapable of dealing with such a crisis. Instead its asked to be bailed out by the State that it has always attacked. It underlines that, in the end, we must depend on our collective organisation to protect ourselves and our communities from the impact of both coronavirus and an ever-deepening recession.

As Laurie Penny writes ' People who aren’t used to the concept of common good don’t know what to do in the face of a common threat—except panic'. The answer to panic is the common good. We need, as a people, to reject the unbridled individualism and self-interest of the past three decades and rediscover the strength that lies in our own collective organisation. To do that, we must reject and resist any attempt by this Labour-led government to defend and rebuild an economic and political status quo that remains an implacable enemy of the common good.


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