Nine years, and it’s still not ﬁxed
Election year. So, where are we?
When Helen Clark was elected in 1999, she noted that we had a dismal R&D spending, and ‘a faster growth in inequality than most other countries in the developed world.’
Miss Clark is perceptive, and she was right. And in the last nine years, has Labour done much to reverse this widening gap between rich and poor?
What I see out there is more foreign ownership of New Zealand enterprises—TradeMe comes to mind as a biggie—which means more and more money that this country could have gained in taxes to fund education and healthcare goes offshore.
I see more food banks out there and statistics show that during this Labour administration, the number of parcels handed out has shown an increase.
The idea of raising taxes in 1999 to 21·5 per cent has done little to slow the decline in our productivity and narrow that gap. This has led to increasing social problems, from violence to state-sanctioned gambling, on which our own government spends millions to promote (such as Lotto).
I do not doubt that Helen Clark has the right heart. Of the leaders I have met, she is likeable, comes across as sincere and is very respectful of others. I believe she has a true sense of compassion.
Yet in her third term, we have seen a Parliament that has passed ridiculous laws such as the ban on parliamentary satire and ex post facto legislation over campaign ﬁnance that would be considered highly illegal and questionable in a democracy such as the United States. Screw the rule of law if Parliament is supreme. We have seen kowtowing to Red China over a free-trade deal where more jobs, especially in textiles, have left this country. We have even seen the Reds throw their weight around, such as when journalist Nick Wang was barred from covering a diplomatic function by our own police force.
Through all this, National has been silent in its agreement. It’s too busy pirating music for vanity videos for John Key.
Much of the inability for Labour to move has been due to its buy-in to the global technocratic movement. Charles Erwin Wilson, Secretary of Defense under Eisenhower, is frequently misquoted as having said that what is good for General Motors is good for America. Labour, and National for the nine years preceding it, has been practising the idea that what is good for America is good for New Zealand. Minister of Finance Michael Cullen is a student of this thinking, just as Roger Douglas and Ruth Richardson were.
A smoothly functioning libertarian free market system is an ideal and I personally have few qualms about participating in a global economy. Libertarianism is the closest western equivalent to Confucianism, after all. But this is a conditional position. Protection should not be lifted when a country is unsure of whether it has sufﬁcient national skill in replacing jobs that might be lost. A country then has to pay these folks with the dole.
If we were certain that we had created national champions that could take on the world—Peter Jackson’s movie-making or Sam Morgan’s internet ventures—then we should be free to become the acquirers of foreign companies and be leaders in that global economy. I had always said that if the economy was going so well, why was TradeMe eaten up by Fairfax? Surely, Fairfax should have been eaten up by TradeMe.
Of course this argument is totally selﬁsh. Why should I not safeguard our national interests?
By following the post-1984 technocratic movement that has seen to that widening gap between rich and poor, the growth in food banks (there were 16 in Auckland in 1990—how many hundreds exist today?) and the government shifting its tax take emphasis from locally owned corporations to citizens in the lower and middle classes, we are not in a good state today.
A bunch of foreign ﬁrms—such as the French who own Just Juice and Eta, the Americans who own Wattie’s and Keri, or the Irish who own the Listener and The New Zealand Herald—can shift their proﬁts offshore and pay as little tax here as possible. And if we were to ask them to pay more, they might just bugger off altogether. The fact is we have lost potential taxes that we could have used if these ﬁrms were Kiwi-owned. This, rather than any short-term nationalism, is what the late Rod Donald was going on about when he pushed the Greens’ Kiwi-made campaign.
The belief in our economic system runs so deep that I am not sure whether National or Labour can see that the Emperor has no clothes any more. After all, they have lived like this through a period longer than four world wars and they’re counting on the fact that we are too stupid to remember any more than a ﬁve-year period. Our nation is looking more bare by the year and the big parties want to continue ignoring some very obvious signs that we, as a country, are unhealthy. Our tendency to go, ‘She’ll be right,’ may work with a lot of things, but not when our values and our children’s potential way of life are in jeopardy.
If they think we can remember only ﬁve years, then that is still ﬁne by me: do we have less crime or more crime? Among our friends, have we heard of more new jobs or more lay-offs? Is the rich–poor gap narrower or wider? Are we more proud or less proud?
Not all is lost, but we have to be smart enough to see what works and what doesn’t.
New Zealand, with its natural middle-class tendencies, feels uncomfortable creating a society that has a class difference. This might feel perfectly ﬁne in the US, which since white colonization has gone from hiring slaves to hiring illegals (I am being facetious for the sake of the argument), but historically the model is foreign to Kiwis.
The Keynesian system that existed prior had, apart from a period inﬂuenced heavily by the oil shocks of the 1970s, led to a period of growth, social responsibility and even strong employment.
What it did not give us, through protectionism, were globally competitive ﬁrms.
In 2008, we are all tied globally so the chances of slipping back to redundant, overstaffed ﬁrms is about as likely as Winston Peters actually listening to a journalist’s questions. It is time to look at a government that is not so conned by the whole technocratic movement and to acknowledge, for once, that we need to narrow the rich–poor gap and to grow our middle class again.
We need to acknowledge that the creation of national champions to compete on the global sphere is important, whether it is through industry clusters or laws that will encourage domestic ownership of global corporations.
Fonterra may be a good example of what can be done, but it rests in a single sector. I want to see secondary and service sector companies beat foreign competitors at their own game, too.
I want to see food banks disappear because we just don’t need them any more. We should not be measured by how many we have, as we are today.
To get there, Keynesian policies that shore up our own beach-heads and take the best elements of globalization might just work. These ideas are not mutually exclusive. Singapore stands as an excellent example of what can be done, and Lee Kuan Yew was quite an admirer of what New Zealand was accomplishing prior to 1984.
I want to see a government which supports private enterprise that creates jobs and uses taxes wisely for the good of the nation.
I want to see a government which puts people ﬁrst, rather than spoil MPs with BMW limousines when decent, economic cars a third of the price will do.
I want to see a government which is simply responsible and which understands basic tenets about our freedom and how we are a nation of laws, not of lawlessness.
Voting Labour won’t get us there, if we truly believe in a social democracy. Voting National—a.k.a. Bill and Silent J.—won’t, either.
In 2008, there could be a third way. There has to be. Posted by Jack Yan, 04:22
Fantastic post Jack, have posted a response to it on my own blog here:
# posted by Oliver Woods: 1/05/2008 04:22:00 AM
Thank you, Oliver—and I am very happy to note I have added your blog to my blog roll at the right.Post a Comment
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