Back Room Player: Craig Renney, the person behind the person controlling New Zealand’s purse-strings:
VERY FEW NEW ZEALANDERS would have the slightest idea who Doug Andrew was or is. And yet, in his role as an economic advisor to the then Leader of the Opposition, David Lange, Andrew was one of the people who helped prepare the way for “Rogernomics” – the introduction of neoliberalism to New Zealand. Seconded in the early 1980s from Treasury – then a hotbed of “Chicago School” free market economics – Andrew was one of the principal conduits through which the economic ideas animating the governments of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan found their way into the policy-making forums of the New Zealand Labour Party.
Thirty-four years later, another economist, also with a Treasury (and Reserve Bank!) background, is proffering policy advice to another Labour Finance Minister. Craig Renney, identified by Stuff’s Vernon Small as one of the key “back room players” in Jacinda Ardern’s new Labour-NZ First-Green Government, has become Grant Robertson’s “economics adviser”; “the man who did the grunt-work on the Alternative Budget – and disproved National’s claim of a ‘fiscal hole’.”
And, that’s it. To find out any more about the person behind the person controlling New Zealand’s purse-strings, it is necessary to go hunting in the forests of the Internet.
Fortunately, Mr Renney is a pretty easy quarry to track down.
He appears to be a citizen of the United Kingdom, aged in his late 30s, who embarked on his professional career by enrolling in the University of Stirling as a student of Economics and Politics in 1997. After an intriguing stint in Prague (2000-2001) Renney undertook post-graduate study at the University of Northumbria in Newcastle, from which he received a Masters in Urban Policy and Sustainable Regeneration, and another, in Public Administration.
Upon leaving university, Renney worked, variously, in local government, the UK Audit Commission, and as a public-sector consultant. In 2012 he emigrated to New Zealand to take up an analyst’s position in the NZ Treasury. Between 2014 and 2016 he was a Senior Policy Adviser in Steven Joyce’s Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment – from whence he was seconded to the Reserve Bank. In January of last year, he took on the job of Senior Economic Advisor in the Office of the Leader of the Opposition.
It’s an impressive CV. But, it tells us virtually nothing about the political leanings of its subject. The north-east of England, where Renney spent his university years, is generally regarded as the British Labour Party’s heartland. So, it is tempting to paint the advisor to our new Minister of Finance as a Geordie with traditional Labour sympathies. Certainly, the work he undertook for local governments in the north-east has the whiff of progressivism about it. On the other hand, Renney’s student years coincide with those of Tony Blair’s “New Labour” Government. So, it’s just as easy to see him as an eager follower of Anthony Gidden’s “Third Way” economic and social project.
The point is, we don’t know anything like enough about Craig Renney, let alone the direction in which he is steering our new Minister of Finance. And, dammit, we should know! Thirty-four years ago, advice was being tended to Roger Douglas that led directly to the radical restructuring of the entire economy and society of New Zealand – and we knew nothing about it!
This is what the New Zealand historian, Hugh Oliver, had to say about what was happening to Roger Douglas all those years ago:
Clearly an enormous shift had taken place in Douglas’s positions on economic policy and it appears that most of this shift occurred in the latter half of 1983. It is also apparent that the shift was towards the kind of free market economics that were espoused by the Treasury. It cannot be proved that the shift in ideas resulted from the influence of Treasury officials; however, it can be shown that it coincided in time with the presence in the Opposition Leader’s Office of Doug Andrew, a Treasury adviser with whom Douglas developed close links … During his time with the Labour Opposition Andrew produced papers on a range of economic policy topics and debated with existing opinions in the Caucus Economic Committee. Andrew argued for lower levels of trade protection as the key economic policy instrument. He argued for floating the currency as a matter of course.
Similarly, it is possible to show that Labour’s adoption of its radically self-limiting “Budget Responsibility Rules” coincided in time with the presence in the Leader of the Opposition’s Office of an economic adviser from the UK called Craig Renney. The same Craig Renney identified by Vernon Small as the person who did the “grunt work” on Labour’s Alternative Budget.
But what, exactly, does that mean? Is Craig merely putting flesh on the bones of Grant’s, and the Labour Policy Council’s, ideas? Or, are Grant and Labour merely repeating ideas and policy positions fed to them by Craig? And, if it’s the latter, then what are the ideas and policies our new government is being asked to swallow?
It is a question that has always intrigued me: “Who is more powerful? The person with a loaded rifle? Or the person who supplies the ammunition, places the rifle in another’s hands – and tells them who to shoot?”
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Tuesday, 31 October 2017.
I am worried about the future of New Zealand particularly with Grant Robertson on the tiller of our economic future.
After reading your piece, I worry further.
Eggheads and experimentation are not needed, they could cause chaos to a sound and stable economy.
We can spend to create growth.
We can also spend to create waste-full drag to growth.
I am afraid that Grant Robertson will fumble his way to a New Zealand with a waste-full, hence negative economy in the future.
I hope I am wrong, your article should be on the front page of every newspaper in the country.
Polly parroting away "sound and stable economy". What a laugh. Especially funny seeing people preening themselves because we are not like Greece! Somehow National have established an hypnotic hold on people's minds.
'Now watch my lips, listen to me - We are world leaders, we are a rock star economy' (no mention of habitual addictions to private debt and excess).
Mention 'stable and secure', mention 'growth and positivity, No.8 wire'. Yes, they say with glazed eyes, yes take us now.
But wasn't Tony Blair's New Labor economic policy a progressive "Third Way", Social Democratic step, between the extremes of liberal mixed capitalism, and original State Monopoly capitalism ?
Ffs Polly. This article is about not spending enough.
Chris is talking about too much National Party ideology in the Labour Party.
You're talking about experimentation?
What sort of experimentation are you talking about, for crying out loud?
I've been reading your posts and you can't seem to settle on what you actually believe in, just a whole lot of incoherent dithering.
Grant is very cautious guy, far too cautious.
It's high time the super rich paid. Because their profiting off the rest of us and holding up our economic development. And I'm not talking about sitting around on the dole which you tories are fond if dragging out to scare the voters.
I'm talking about the rudiments of a modern and balanced economy.
Anyone who thinks National have delivered that is an effing idiot.
You seem to have some very distorted ideas on the influence of advisers. I first heard Roger Douglas in Manila c 1990 when he gave a presentation to colleagues at the Asian Development Bank during which he ran through the speech that he had given to the Mt Pelerin Society. I also sat next to him and chatted to him en route to Singapore when I later became a consultant to ADB and he was travelling to China to provide technical assistance in the late 1990s. He was absolutely and totally on top of his game - like it or not - and owed little or nothing to Doug Andrew - bad or good. Whether Robertson - again for good or ill - has the same level of intellect and nous, is of course another question.
Renney attended a couple of low ranked no-name universities.
Looks like a paper boy.
Hard to know how he's taken seriously.
I met Roger Douglas during the local body election campaign in Lower Hutt in 1983 and chatted to him. Didn't get any vibes from him. But Bill Rowling had already figured him out while Labour leader, when he (Douglas) wrote that booklet, "There has to be another way". Rowling sacked him as his Finance spokesman.
So what does Mr Renney espouse?
Jens. short answer no. Tony Blair's Third Way was simply neo liberalism with some playing around the edges. And if I wasn't restricted to a tablet, an had my dictation software I'd give you chapter and verse.
I am Labour.
I am Green. That's my statement. Then I thought - other interesting people must have said I am ...
“I am not what I ought to be, I am not what I want to be, I am not what I hope to be in another world; but still I am not what I once used to be,
and by the grace of God I am what I am”
― John Newton
(John Newton Anglican clergyman, founder of the evangelical Clapham Sect. Was English sailor, in the Royal Navy and later a captain of slave ships.)
“Sometime I think; and sometime I am.”
― Paul Valéry
(French poet, essayist, and philosopher. 1871-1945)
“When you are aware that you are thinking, that awareness is not part of thinking. It is a different dimension of consciousness. It is that awareness that says "I AM”
― Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose
(German-Canadian spiritual author)
“When you are saying "I", it is actually the billions of neurons in your brain collectively expressing their functional existence.”
― Abhijit Naskar, What is Mind?
(Leading neuroscientist and author)
And lastly, for NZ -
“I’m not everything I want to be, but I’m more than I was, and I’m still learning.”
― Charlotte Eriksson
(Swedish author and traveller)
I thought it good to take a break and see some different thought. Maybe that's a thought that is timely. I am hopeful.
What exactly do you have against responsible budgets...are you seriously suggesting budgets should be irresponsible..
Here are more inspirational quotes, nauseating sometimes but these, worth a chance thought, quite good. I like the Bob Dylan one, it should be our zeitgeist these days. (Just thought we might need some strengthening medicine to cope with the political sallies sometimes a bit bruising.)
From Jonathan Cainer's page. He died in 2016 but came up with some good quotes of his own; a celebrated astrologer.
"When we long for life without difficulties, remind us that the mighty oak grows strong in contrary winds, and diamonds are made from extreme pressure." Peter Marshall
"Never give in, never! Be it concerning large things or small things, never, never, never!" Winston Churchill
"I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now." Bob Dylan
Sorry Polly, I thought you were one of those tories posing as swinging centrists.
What I would like to say is that people criticising Labour for doing belatedly and cautiously what has been crying out to be done for over a decade are not reasonable and sensible but actually pretty firmly on the hard right.
Please excuse my hair trigger on that subject.
Don't judge yourself too harshly.
It can be hard keeping up with Polly's alliegences.
'It is a question that has always intrigued me: “Who is more powerful? The person with a loaded rifle? Or the person who supplies the ammunition, places the rifle in another’s hands – and tells them who to shoot?”'
I agree. It's an intriguing question and an important one. But I don't think that the answer is the same in all cases.
My guess is that young Mr Renney wields very little power. But that might just be because he looks so preternaturally youthful. There again, most people look youthful to me these days.
The problem with the 'budget responsibility rules' is that we have a comparatively minuscule debt to GDP ratio - we can increase spending and borrowing more than Labour's timid plan involves.
There is a potent opportunity to tool up many aspects of our economy. We borrow more then pay it back when the economy grows as a result.
Even if we increased our government borrowing by another 5 or 10 percent and spent it on infrastructure and services that increase our common wealth, the benefits would be huge.
You don't have to be a socialist to see that. It's hard right conditioning that has deceived us into thinking we can't do it.
I suspect i am a decade or so less aged than yourself....and Craig Renney looks to me to be barely out of short pants.....definitely never experienced anything other than a neolib setting even if he is a baby face.
Craig Renney doesn’t have a lot publicly available but he has co-authored a publication with Dr Caroline Chapain who does. I’ve spent the last hour reading through some of her articles and am really impressed with her analytical focus on regional development and knowledge pooling using state and community frameworks.
Let’s not forget that when the Great Depression began FDR (in New York) originally tried free-market responses to the crisis. As his awareness of the failings of the market doctrine grew he was open to experimenting – to try something new.
If Craig has worked closely with Dr Chapain there is good cause to have hope for the new government.
'What exactly do you have against responsible budgets...are you seriously suggesting budgets should be irresponsible..'
Define 'responsible/irresponsible please. Otherwise it's just one of those slogans that conservatives beat up progressives with. Meaningless as usual.
You perhaps believe in witches and wizards Chris? People pulling strings behind the scenes, but plus magic, so they can control the minds of people like Douglas and now Robertson.
You defame these people, all four or them without evidence.
The trend of the day across the world was more liberal and market based economics so Douglas could have been advised by communists and it would not likely have changed his philosophy. More likely, like me he was reading Hayek & others and was thoroughly convinced as most intelligent people were. Only the minority let their deep prejudices get in the way of their reason. Their ideology get in the way of common sense. The changes the Lange government made were orthodox and have been overwhelmingly good for the country. Proof? Constant re-election of those putting them into practice for a generation and now they are and largely will remain, the norm. Mere adjustments are all that are needed to an engine that works. Such a contrast to socialism which always fails all except an elite. Only ever gets elected once or by fraud.
Secondly I think it is great if in fact Renney is sensibly centrist, and the minister he advises. NZ did not vote for radical change at all. Just a small but telling adjustment. If they deliver just that they could get a second term! Imagine that. If they listen to the likes of you and less qualified advisers, they may not even go three years.
The country has done well under 18 years of liberal yet 'moderatingly conservative' government, which only implements slow change, and the vast majority merely want change at the margins. Stead as she goes is the best type of government. Robertson knows this I hope.
It all depends on your perspective I guess. I remember a friend of my old man's when I was a kid, making the point in a discussion they were having about the construction of the Pyramids in Egypt, presumably built by massive slave labour under terrible conditions ( this may no have been the case apparently on latest theories, but assumed for this discussion), that it was a perfectly satisfactory and effective construction method. The plight of the slaves was immaterial to getting the job done. Just as good as a modern machinery from the perspective of the pharaoh. The slaves were totally expendable and infinitely replaceable. A perfectly satisfactory system I'm sure you would agree.
Neoliberalism isn't new any more; it wasn't actually new in 1984 either. But giving the global market a completely free hand has the natural result of big fish eating little fish and bigger fish eating big fish, and sharks eating bigger fish, till you are left with the ultimate theoretical end of one all powerful all controlling capitalist Pharaoh. And do you argue that this has not been the trend for the past 30 years?
Lots of people were taken by the concept of the invisible hand of Adam Smith working to even out the economy, and the free market directing effort and resources into the most efficient production. But mankind is seething with invention to gain the advantage and divert more into an individual's hands than is his share for his contribution , to reap where he did not sow, And the more advantage gained, the more that can be gained. The game needs a referee , and the "level playing field" needs constant work by the groundsman's staff between games to keep it level.
Just some thoughts
D J S
Precisely. We have room to manoeuvre over government debt and borrowing.
We can't, of course, totally ignore our private debt levels or those of the rest of the world, as these could precipitate another major meltdown.
Nor, however, should we be panicked into inaction and convince ourselves it's the only path of rectitude and virtue.
How it all can be paid for;
Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain....the great and Powerful Oz has spoken! Now GO!!!
But, this is nothing new insofar as Old Boy / Old Girl networking is concerned.
Just like the Modus Operandi of the Masonic Lodge.
Just read Stephen Knight's book 'The Secret Brotherhood'. The UK is infested with this corrupting conspiracy to the point that it barely functions for the mainstream citizen!
Renney is on the autism spectrum and his focus has always been economics. His family was not particularly affluent - North East working class from Blyth / Killingworth area - hence attending not so reputable universities. Any recommendations he makes will be made purely based on what he feels is logical with little consideration to political leanings, though for what it's worth whilst in the UK they were left leaning.
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