Tuesday 20 March 2012

History Lessons

Deja Vu All Over Again: Another David, another coterie of evil counsellors with a secret agenda. Please God - don't let the Labour Party drink the Kool-Aid of free-market fundamentalism and right-wing opportunism a second time!

STOP ME if you’ve heard this before. There’s this prime-minister, see, and he’s sorta losing his touch. Like, he used to be really good, and people expected a lot from him, but now he’s kinda letting them down. And the country’s not doing so good, either, and more and more things are in need of urgent government attention, but this prime minister’s not doing them. In fact, he makes jokes about how he knows there’s stuff that he should be doing, but he doesn’t do it because he wants to get re-elected – ho, ho, ho.

Except nobody’s laughing.

So the country turns to the Opposition, but their leader is hopeless. I mean he’s a nice guy an’ all, just not an election-winner. So the Opposition changes its leader. They pick this new guy with a wonderful back-story of caring for others. And he comes across as really sincere – not like a politician at all really. And some people are thinking: “Great! This is the guy we need to get the country moving.” But others aren’t so sure. Picking apart his speeches they’re getting this overwhelming sense of déjà vu and they’re saying:

“Stop me if you’ve heard this before …”

“His-tor-y never repeats”, sang Split Enz. But what if it does? What if David Shearer is just a pale imitation of David Lange? What if John Key is descending the same rickety staircase as Rob Muldoon? What if New Zealand, after a pause of twenty years, is about to undergo another round of what Colin James calls “Big Change”? Are we ready for that? Do we really want to go through another “Quiet Revolution”? And if we don’t, is there anything we can do to stop it?

That’s a tough question. Sometimes the global forces driving change are just too powerful for a small nation to resist. The best that can be hoped for in such cases is that the change will be managed in a way that allows the people of that nation to preserve their values, and that the inescapable burdens of change are fairly shared. By and large, that is what New Zealand succeeded in doing throughout World War II. Unquestionably, that’s what New Zealand failed to do during the free-market revolution of the 1980s and 90s.

If we want to pass through the next round of big change with our values intact, and its burdens equitably distributed, then we’re going to have to learn from past mistakes. In the language of the free-market, we’re going to have to undertake an exercise in “due diligence”.

Scoop journalist, Gordon Campbell, is showing us the way. Writing on his blog, Mr Campbell has presented us with an extraordinary passage from an article about Roger Douglas’s economic “reforms” published in The Listener of 23 February 1985:

Have the policies being tried here ever been tried elsewhere and shown to work? "I can give you the case of Finland," Douglas replies, "which actually has done better over recent years than New Zealand." Finland “bit the bullet” and “made the adjustment.” There was a small drop in living standards in 1979, he says, “but Finland has had increases in wages, real wages, ever since…”

Finland? Why does that country’s name ring a bell? Could it be because Finland and its former prime minister, Esko Aho, featured prominently in David Shearer’s “visionary” speech of last Thursday?

Crash On Through: The right-wing Finnish Prime Minister, Esko Aho, led Finland into the European Union over the objections of his own party, slashed public spending, and left his country poorer (as measured in per capita GDP) than when he came to office. Not surprisingly he was voted out after only a single term. This is David Shearer's role model?!

The former Finnish Prime Minister, Esko Aho, largely untested, came into office in 1991.He was almost immediately faced with a banking crisis. Jobs were disappearing. Its stock market was tanking. Its future was hugely doubtful. Aho’s message to the Finnish people was blunt and honest: They had big problems. No-one else was going to fix them. And most importantly: only their brains and talent were going to take them forward. Collectively, the people of Finland took that message on board. They moved forward. They transformed their economy through innovation and talent.

Yes, David, they did, but no thanks to Esko Aho. Yes, Nokia was astonishing the world with its cutting-edge mobile-phone technology. But that innovation was underway well before Mr Aho took office. And, yes, Finland led the OECD in the educational attainment of its citizens. But, again, that wasn’t the work of Mr Aho’s agrarian-based Centre Party, but of Finland’s social democrats.

What Mr Aho did do was slash social spending and increase unemployment. The year he was elected, 1991, Finland’s GDP per capita was US$19,981. When he left, in 1995, it had fallen to US$18,856.

Still, Mr Shearer insists:

Aho made bold decisions. He was, I need to say, voted out at the next election. He thought it was more important to make a difference than to get re-elected. Though our prescription might differ, we could all take a lesson from that.

Indeed we could.

This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 20 March 2012.


Anonymous said...

Yes, it's a worry. He seems to have forgotten that Hels waltzed in with trumpets on the promise of increasing the top tax rate and snuggling with Jim "dangerous commie" A, that Goffy only got off the mat in the final four weeks when he started chanelling Anderton and Knox, that Winnie got home on the back of three gutteral soundbites, and that the Reagan/Thatcher/Douglas/ACTzi prescription is now demonstrably, universally and irrevocably, considered poison.

On the other mitt, Matt has a point: the Left is only ants' tits away from power, and the requisite boobs aren't found on these blogs. They either went with Mr Nice or hid under the duvet. Policy schmolicy: they vote with talkback and the press.

But above all, they know what Labour stands for, and they hate strife.

Lots more snuggling please Dave. And step away from the enemy or die.


Michael Herman said...

Is David Shearer proving himself to be a leader with the mythical beast characteristics of a fantastic mole-jellyfish creation, endowed as he appears to be with the vision of an otherwise cute burrowing mammal in moments of deep crisis and when faced with moral choices, the spine of the gelatinous marine coelenterate?

Or is he simply a misunderstood political adolescent who's had glory thrust on him during an awkward developmental phase?

Either way, was he really the most convincing answer to the vexed leadership question?

I suspect there resides deep within the collective unconscious of Labour's caucus a self-sabotage instinct born out of the moral residue that collected there after the party betrayed its core principles, its legacy, and its members.

In deploying the Aho analogy, Labour's leader does us all a favour by rendering transparent - dags and all - his wooly doctrine.

Jeremy Bowen said...

As a country there is only one real way of moving forward independantly in the world and that is as a creditor nation. The unfortunate side of this is that politicians want to be elected and there is nothing quite like spending someone elses money to get there. If the national psychy is to consume and be damned, well, reap what you sow and all that. My idea for this nation is to build an internal credit in the form of indigenous forest, bit by bit, year by year, fencing off and creating on a 100yr plan a proud unity of spirit. That is how a psychy is changed. Sounds crazy but in one hundred years the credit will be enormous and every other nation will want to borrow some. When you think of how long it took to destroy the forests with cross-cuts and oxen, just imagine what 100yrs in the modern world could achieve. Forget politicians and their cheap salesmanship, push for something real for them to grasp as well, because sure as eggs if they don't then the world of unreal expectations for this small nation will continue.

thor42 said...

@anonymous said "...Reagan/Thatcher/Douglas/ACTzi prescription is now demonstrably, universally and irrevocably, considered poison."

Really? So the Right has "got it wrong"? Even Chris Trotter himself admits that the Right dominates the political landscape now. How can that be?
It certainly isn't because of the media (who are, and have always been, rabidly left-wing).

Can anyone really see the leftists (i.e. Mana) changing the political landscape back? No chance.
Leftism died in the days of the '51 waterfront strike.

Anonymous, you may want to have a look at this -

Quote - "A sea change is at work. In practically every area of British public life – state spending, the economy, education, welfare, the European Union (where Ed Miliband refused to condemn Cameron’s pre-Christmas veto), mass immigration, law and order – Conservatives are winning the argument and taking policy in their direction."

"Again and again the liberal Left, such a dominant force until very recently, is in retreat, abandoning long-held dogmas and very painfully admitting that Conservatives have been right on the greatest moral, social and political issues of our age."
- End quote

My favourite example of the Right winning the political battles is the area of education. The trialling of charter schools here is one of ACT's policies. However, they have been running in the U.K. for quite some time, and it was a *Labour* government that introduced them.

No, anonymous. It is rampant welfarism and the Left's continual refusal to recognise 21st century realities that is the real poison. That, and Labour's endless bribing of the poor with other people's money.

Chris Trotter said...

Thor42's rambling comment nicely encapsulates the intellectual weaknesses of the Right.

He claims that leftism died in 1951, but then goes on to describe the news media as something that has "always" been "rabidly left-wing".

It's hard to see how both statements can be true!

Thor42 displays similar intellectual confusion when he hits us with his killer quote but then fails to provide us with its source. Who is the author of this hymn of praise to the Tories - David Cameron?

The other factor Thor42 fails to address is the undoubted victory of the new social movements in the 1960s, 70s and 80s.

For many people the Civil Rights, Feminist, Gay Rights and Indigenous Rights movements ARE the Left - and they've already won.

What Thor42 fails to grasp is how anomolous the past 30 years of counter-revolutionary neoliberal success truly are, especially when set against the centuries of steady progress towards human equality and social justice that came before them.

He fails to see that the international neoliberal regime is already crumbling. Overtaken by the real-world consequences of the GFC, and out-performed by the state-capitalist regimes of the BRIC countries.

I believe that history will look back on the 40 years between 1980 and 2020 as neoliberalism's equivalent of Hitler's Ardennes Offensive: the last great push of a doomed system

guerilla surgeon said...

"rabidly left-wing".

Migod, someone should tell the editors of the Dompost,and North 'n South :-).
And of course it's poison. We wnt further along that track than anyone, only to see GDP fall and unemployment rise. Only the favoured few made owt out of it, but that's just the right wing way.

Anon Y. Mouse said...

The Neo-Lib bunch haven't finished yet Chris. The world is heading to the right not the left and will do so for a while yet.

It will take a revolution or a major war to change it. Which will it be?

Anonymous said...

elicu ervidectChris your socialist nirvana, where every true believer have in their living room a portrait of HC looking down on them providing for all, is a pipe dream. Socialism has mired the western world in mountains of debt that our future generations have to pay robbing our economy of greatly needed working capital. Working for families and interest free student loans are costing us four billion to service every year which we have to borrow (think of the social housing this could provide), ie borrowing to pay the overdraft – this is your looney tune socialist economics – middle class welfare capture! We need to reward those who are productive and not those who hold their hand out. If it wasn’t for the true blue national heartland dairy farmers we would be in the cow pat well and truly having to rely on junk bonds like the great Greek social experiment.

Anonymous said...

Who the hell is "advising" Shearer?

Aho is a role model?

A one term loser is Shearer's role model?

Key must be wetting himself.

Anonymous said...

So Thor 42 thinks media 'are, and have always been, rabidly left-wing'!

How would he explain the recent revelations that Newscorp have been the majority owners of NRL glamour franchises Brisbane Broncos & Melbourne Storm? Without these teams the NRL would be irrelevant in an Australian market.