Game Changer: Labour's finance spokesperson, David Parker, has come up with a credible solution to the many problems associated with New Zealand's Reserve Bank Act mandated monetary policy. Labour now has a more convincing economic story to pitch to the voters than National. Game on!
KEYNESIANISM by other means. That’s what David Parker’s new monetary policy offers voters – and they should take it.
The measures announced by Parker on Tuesday morning constitute the long-awaited framework upon which the detail of Labour’s manifesto can now be hung. Indeed, without Parker’s proposed changes to the Reserve Bank Act and the Kiwisaver scheme, Labour’s promise to resuscitate the manufacturing export sector and create thousands of new jobs would’ve been empty. But now that Parker has provided the party with an economic skeleton to articulate its redistributive muscle, well: “Dem bones, dem bones gonna walk around!”
And it’s all Parker’s doing. Political observers have long dismissed the man behind Labour’s economic programme as an earnest, rather rumpled provincial lawyer and “policy wonk”. There’ll be a lot less of that now. For the first time in more than 40 years, Labour has developed a joined-up economic policy that is all its own.
Parker confirmed this himself when journalists demanded to know which other countries were running their monetary policy in the way he’s suggesting. “No one,” replied the Shadow Finance Minister with obvious pride, “this is new.”
That’s true – as far as it goes – but a close study of the way the Singaporean government has manipulated its superannuation and public housing schemes over recent decades might suggest that Parker is not alone in recognising the powerful monetary impact of raising and lowering the level of compulsory contributions to citizens’ savings funds. What really sets Parker’s plan apart is the way in which he has grafted what are, in effect, Keynesian demand management imperatives onto that most monetarist of institutions – the Reserve Bank of New Zealand.
“We propose an important new tool – varying the employee contribution rate for work based savings”, Parker informed his breakfasting business audience. “The variable savings rate mechanism – or VSR – would allow the raising or lowering of savings rates, rather than interest rates, to reduce or boost local consumption.”
Not only is Parker’s scheme sound economics (a judgement with which even the business community, however grudgingly, was forced to concur) but it is also spectacularly good politics.
A lower exchange rate bodes well for manufactured export and import substitution industries alike and that, in turn, points to job growth. Real job growth, that is: the sort that generates full-time, densely unionised, high-skill, high-wage employment.
And Parker’s story just gets better with the telling.
By utilising the VSR, rather than the Official Cash Rate (OCR) to take the heat out of the economy, the Reserve Bank Governor will be able to protect mortgage-holders from the sort of continuous income-squeeze they are currently undergoing. The VSR is unlikely to be wheeled out every six weeks in the manner of the OCR, and its wider application will almost certainly reduce each individual’s contribution. What’s more, the money being withdrawn from circulation will remain in New Zealand. The average Kiwi’s economic nationalist nerve cannot help but be stimulated by the knowledge that the big Aussie banks’ ability to turn New Zealand’s misery into Australia’s profit will be patriotically curtailed.
The question now for Parker and his boss, David Cunliffe, is how to bring the good news from Labour’s “war-room” to the party’s electoral base. Tuesday’s announcement has had the effect of binding Labour’s message into a single, coherent narrative – but it is not a story that can be told in a ten-second sound-bite. Social media can help in this respect, but Facebook and YouTube can only take this sort of story so far. Good news is best delivered in person.
The ideal vector for this type of message is the nationwide political tour. Cunliffe painting the picture of a kinder, gentler, more inclusive and economically productive New Zealand, while Parker details precisely how Labour proposes to take us from problem to solution.
Today He'd Use PowerPoint: In the election year of 1975 Rob Muldoon took his charts and graphs and tables on a nationwide tour to discredit Labour's economic policies - especially its NZ Superannuation scheme.
There would be an additional measure of delicious political irony in such a road-trip. Forty years ago Labour’s original superannuation scheme was systematically undermined by Rob Muldoon’s travelling roadshow. From town to town and on into the main centres the pint-sized “economic wizard” advanced with his charts and graphs and tables, and with every stop on his exhaustive itinerary the crowds grew larger and more convinced that Labour’s scheme (which today would be worth $260 billion!) was a bad idea.
How satisfying it would be to reverse the process.
This essay was originally published in The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 2 May 2014.