Tuesday, 12 September 2017

To Remain The Same, New Zealand Must Change.

It's Time! The cumulative effect of New Zealand politicians' twenty-year failure to keep strong a generalised faith in the possibility of a better future, has been to set up an election – this election – in which victory will be claimed by the political leader who convinces a majority of New Zealanders that if they want their country to remain the same, then everything will have to change.

NEW ZEALANDERS REQUIRE a lot of persuading to embrace change. It’s a bitter truth for radicals of every stripe to swallow, but New Zealand is an inherently conservative country. Understanding the reasons why Kiwis are so anxious for things to stay the same is, therefore, the essential first lesson for those seeking to change them.

The most important driver of conservative attitudes is having something to lose. That’s why the cliché, “there’s nothing more dangerous than a person with nothing left to lose”, is wrong. The most dangerous people in the world are not the dispossessed, but those who believe their possessions are about to be taken from them. The defining emotion of human-beings who have lost everything is despair. The emotions that define those who believe they are about to be dispossessed are fear and rage – very often murderous rage. It’s the reason why revolutions almost always descend into civil wars.

Herein lies the paradox for the change-makers. Their best chance of radically reforming society comes when those teetering on the edge of poverty – or even of becoming appreciably less affluent – convince themselves that they’re on the point of falling. It is among those most anxious about slipping down the social hierarchy that the promise of a particular kind of change resonates most strongly. The political movement and/or party that comes up with a programme of change which reassures the economically and socially vulnerable that their lives will stay the same is onto a winner.

One of the quirky aspects of New Zealand’s political culture is the degree to which its citizens factor-in the contribution their country’s eighty-year-old welfare state to the personal calculation of their overall well-being. Most Kiwis understand that without state-provided and (mostly) state-funded health care and education, their standard of living would plummet. The quantum of income required to fund a child’s private education, and pay the insurance premiums required to guarantee comprehensive private health coverage, is only available to a very fortunate minority of New Zealand households – and the rest of the country knows it.

It is this reliance on the welfare state that explains why New Zealand’s conservative party – National – always does best when it guarantees to look after the core components of the welfare state. Health, Education, and, more recently, Working for Families, constitute the foundations upon which the moderately affluent have constructed both a comfortable lifestyle and (which is probably more important politically-speaking) a comforting metric of their social status.

Also expected of National, as the designated driver of New Zealand’s economy, is a housing market capable of satisfying every New Zealander with a proven track record of hard work and thrift (both of which presuppose a buoyant labour market). Indeed, the National Party once fetishized home ownership as the key constituent of what it described, proudly, as New Zealand’s “property-owning democracy”. Nothing demonstrated more conclusively National’s understanding that the more people had to lose, the more likely they were to vote conservatively.

If proof is needed, it is there in the electoral record. Between 1950 and 1990, National was in office for 28 years: their Labour rivals, for twelve.

Notwithstanding its failure to occupy the Treasury Benches for even half of the 40 years between 1950 and 1990, Labour had every reason to feel proud of its achievements. The status quo that National felt bound to defend, on pain of losing office, was the work of its socialist opponents – not itself.

Electorally, the meaning of this arrangement was clear. If National, the conservative guarantor, failed to defend the economic and social institutions brought into being between 1935 and 1949, then their principal architect, the Labour Party, would act with radical dispatch to keep them functioning. Or, to put it more bluntly: only uncompromising reform has preserved the status quo.

The drama and confusion which has characterised the past 30 years of New Zealand’s political history are the product of the failure of both National and Labour to adequately defend the core generators of the New Zealand electorate’s economic, social and political security.

The neoliberal project, introduced by Labour’s Roger Douglas, ostensibly as a means of reconstituting the economic foundations of ordinary New Zealanders’ security, has, since 1984, only succeeded in producing a state of affairs very closely approximating the opposite. Neither Helen Clark’s Labour-led Government, nor the National-led Government of John Key and Bill English, have proved equal to the task of rebuilding a properly functioning welfare state.

The cumulative effect of this twenty-year failure to keep strong a generalised faith in the possibility of a better future, has been to set up an election – this election – in which victory will be claimed by the political leader who convinces a majority of New Zealanders that if they want their country to remain the same, then everything will have to change.


This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 12 September 2017.

4 comments:

David Stone said...

Hi Chris


"The cumulative effect of this twenty-year failure to keep strong a generalised faith in the possibility of a better future, has been to set up an election – this election – in which victory will be claimed by the political leader who convinces a majority of New Zealanders that if they want their country to remain the same, then everything will have to change."

I suggest that victory would be claimed by the political leader who convinces a majority of voters that they intend to effect change.

D J S

Guerilla Surgeon said...

One good thing about the Internet – you can talk to people from all over the world about topics that interest you. I was studying medical systems a while ago. And the only positive thing about the American system that anyone could think of, was that you can go straight to a specialist without having to go through some sort of gatekeeping process and spend money on a GP. Which I think is okay because I resent having to spend money on top of the specialist. But some of the horror stories about: how much you pay for private insurance, what happens if you lose it – because it often comes with work and if you lose your job there's your insurance gone – and what it's like to be without it. And these are stories which on occasion brought me close to tears. Which is why I'm sort of glad that in spite of the nibbling away at the system, national are too scared to get rid of it altogether. Will I hate to think what would have happened if Roger Douglas had been given 4 more years though.

peter petterson said...

We will discover on 23 September whether you are right or wrong.

greywarbler said...

I think we see ourselves like the three? cows and a calf standing on a little outcrop with slipped land around them. We want to know that we won't be left standing there and Labour ha proved willing to throw away its brand and encourage us to move to a supposedly safe position. We haven't got there, our GDP per capita rating is less than the 1980s. But we are desperate for change, those that think. So give Labour a go I say, what have we got to lose. Less than with National anyway, and Jacinda deserves a go. It's Labours turn too.

I got this from Rob Campbell's book on the postal service.
‘Politics of postal transformation: Modernising postal systems in….
by Robert M. Campbell from google E-book.


NZ fell from 5th to 22nd place in world GDP per capita in the post war era.
It's economy was marked by low growth, high inflation and increasing unemployment.
[Prior to the change to free markets and less government in 1980's and after the intoxication of rising high on the sheep's back during the Korean conflict?]

In comparison in 2016:
In world GDP per capita in 2016
NZ ranked 35 in the world.
And under Oceania heading we ranked 67.
http://statisticstimes.com/economy/projected-world-gdp-capita-ranking.php