Thursday 14 May 2020

Go Hard, Jacinda. More Importantly, Go Early!

Jacinda's "Simple Proposition": No prime minister in the past 65 years has placed such an opportunity before the New Zealand people. We cannot afford to let it slip through our fingers. Jacinda’s offer must be taken up: by every union, every charity, every NGO, every church, and every citizen with a reason to want the New Zealand which emerges from this crisis to be better than the New Zealand that went into it.

JACINDA ARDERN’S Covid-19 formula: “Go hard, go early” has proved a resounding success – at least in public health terms. Success on the economic front will not be so easy. The number of foes arrayed against her is formidable – all of them doing everything they can to erode the admiration she has won both at home and abroad for her handling of the crisis. That being the case, might it not be time for the Prime Minister to consider whether the slogan “Go hard, go early” has more than one application?

Waiting until 19 September to go to the polls, while constitutionally admirable, invites political disaster. Certainly, the National Opposition is convinced that electoral victory has become a simple waiting game. Waiting for the unemployment numbers to swell beyond anything experienced by any New Zealander under the age of 90. Waiting for upwards of a third of New Zealand’s small businesses to fail. Waiting for the levels of fear, anguish, resentment and despair to rise beyond the ability of even the most empathic of prime ministers to assuage.

And, while National is waiting, the mainstream news media will be doing everything it can to magnify the voters’ sorrow and incite their rage. The business community, still eager for every bit of assistance the Ardern-led government can be bullied into offering, will nevertheless damn it with faint praise: strongly suggesting that a considerably more competent alternative government is ready and waiting to put things (or should that be move things) right.

In a powerful pre-Budget speech from the Beehive Theatrette, Jacinda told her compatriots: “New Zealand is about to enter a very tough winter.” The challenge she faces, politically as well as economically, is how to navigate the next four months so that they do not become “the winter of our discontent.”

The Prime Minister’s plan, as set out in her speech, is to pivot from health to economics without losing her “team of 5 million”.

First and foremost her government’s intention is to keep New Zealanders working. That, says Jacinda, cannot and will not mean embracing the grim doctrines of austerity: “[T]he notion that at this time of need we would make cuts to the essential services so many New Zealanders need more than ever is not only immoral, it is economically wrong.” These words offer not only reassurance to New Zealand’s most vulnerable citizens, but they also deliver a stinging slap to the faces of National and Act.

In her own words:

“Now more than ever we need our schools and hospitals, our public houses and roads and railways. We need our police and our nurses, and we need our welfare safety net. We will not let our team of 5 million fall when the times get tough, instead we will strengthen the blanket of support the Government can provide. We are rebuilding together, not apart.”

Stirring sentiments! But, as they say in the Ginsu ads: “Wait, there’s more!” The Prime Minister was not content to leave the electorate with nothing more than the standard government promises to single-handedly rescue the nation from its woes.

“In the coming month the Government will launch a comprehensive engagement programme that will pose a simple proposition – look what our team of 5 million achieved together in beating the virus, now what can we do together to get our economy moving again, to look after our people, and rebuild in a way that make things better than they were before. That will of course include the business community, but it will be broader too.

“If anything,” Jacinda continued, “the last few months have shown that united we are a formidable force. When we channel our energies into a goal collectively we are stronger for it. Prior to the virus we faced serious long term challenges – persistent inequality and poverty, the threat of climate change, the need to diversify the economy, low productivity, limited domestic manufacturing and an abundance of low paid jobs. Do we return to those settings or is now the time to find a better way?”

It is difficult to overstate the radicalism of the Prime Minister’s “simple proposition”. In effect, what she is saying is that the way out of the Covid-19-induced economic crisis must be determined by more that the usual business suspects. She is inviting everyone: from the corporate CEO to the hero on the supermarket check-out; from the bank economist to the welfare beneficiary; to have their say about the shape and purpose of their country’s “new normal”.

No prime minister in my lifetime has ever placed such an opportunity before the New Zealand people. We cannot afford to let it slip through our fingers. Jacinda’s offer must be taken up: by every union, every charity, every NGO, every church, and every citizen with a reason to want the New Zealand which emerges from this crisis to be better than the New Zealand that went into it. The Beehive needs to be bombarded with the submissions of the “democratic public” – that great choir of New Zealand’s better angels to which the nascent Labour Party first appealed for support more than a century ago.

And we need to do it fast – as fast as we possibly can – so that Labour can compile the “people’s manifesto” with maximum speed. We must make sure that Jacinda and her colleagues can not only “go hard” for the progressive electorate’s support, but also, and much more importantly, “go early”.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Thursday, 14 May 2020.


Wayne Mapp said...

You seem to have forgotten that National did not make cuts to essential services during the GFC. That was one of the reasons why they were comfortably re-elected in 2011 and 2014, with increased numbers of MP's.

Now, I wonder what the 5 million New Zealanders (or that proportion who would actually influence Labour) would ask for in the People's Manifesto?

A return to the 1970's? I think not. The current generation of Labour politicians have zero experience of that. They all grew up post 1980's. While they might not agree with all of the "neo-liberal experiment", most of them won't want to entirely dismantle it for a new economic experiment. The era 1935 to 1984 was approximately 50 years long, and it had self evidently failed by 1984. The current era (post 1984) is 35 years long. Right at the moment, most people wish they just could have the prosperity of 2019, albeit with some modest adjustments. So there is no groundswell for an economic and social revolution that would sweep away the last 35 years. In particular, the last 20 years has been good to New Zealand, which I predict will soon be seen as something of a golden era.

But of course the world has changed. There will be no significant international travel for a good two years, with the exception of Australia, and maybe China. We will have to have more economic resilience, and to some extent a greater level of self sufficiency, at least at the Trans-Tasman level. That must mean more local industry, but in a way that does not trash the various FTA's that we have, particularly the one with China. At least the govt (both central and local) could buy NZ made to the maximum extent possible. Would that boost local industry? It must do so to some extent. After all, the government (central and local) makes up 35% of GDP. I personally think there should also be more incentives for onshore processing of our primary products, especially forestry.

Kat said...

Are we not lucky here in NZ to be in the enviable position of having a hard winter govt budget to be concerned about. Compared to most other countries in the world, with possible exception our friends across the ditch we have escaped the misery of rocketing infections and death rates.

That we have a relatively healthy population and workforce this country has the ability to work through the coming hard winter and come out strong on the other side. As the PM has said it's all going to be about jobs, jobs and jobs. There is the clue I guess, but should I be holding my breath for the reinstatement of a 21st century styled Ministry of ...........

Guerilla Surgeon said...

I think now is probably the best time to do something about the tax system, given that most New Zealanders realise that we all have to sacrifice at least a little in this emergency. We need to get rid of the regressive GST for a start. That hits poor people who have no alternative but to spend much of their money on necessities. At the very least it should come off food as it has in Britain I think. And we need a much more progressive income tax. Funny, in the six months it took my son to get a job he received absolutely no government help – presumably because the idea is that he should have saved up enough money from his student days to cope until he could be paid a benefit. And yet business people in the middle classes in general are always the first to hold out their hand for government assistance. Why haven't they saved enough money to cope with an emergency? Why haven't they taken out insurance against this sort of thing? It is available and I know one or two people who have done it.
To be fair, I have heard a number of business people praise the government's actions and not necessarily faintly either. And so they damn well should considering some of the concessions they've had. It won't mean that they vote labour of course but at least they've cut down on the manufactured outrage.

David Stone said...

I'm not sure that a detailed plan is needed. The neoliberal/ laissez faire era has again run it's course as in the 20's. It's now time to have the government run the country and the country's finance facility in the interests of the majority of New Zealanders instead of by the international financiers and international corporations on behalf of their shareholders. I think that change of focus makes all the contributing actions obvious.
It looks like Wayne Mapp is on the right track with govt. targeting NZ made greater self sufficiency and incentivising more processing of exports.
Cheers Wayne I like it .I will go strait away and carry on with my milling. A late start due to commenting on Chris's blogs.


greywarbler said...

Ministry of....People? Or MOP to allow for some jocular comments, and a simple expression of this Ministry that we can warm to, and which deals with warm bodies and doesn't think like cold hyper-capitalists and their lackeys, cold grey machines, or robot people, robot half-people, 100% robots that look like people, or dogs, or you name it.

Jens Meder said...

And what other way to a more promising future can there be than to initiate a systematic effort towards achieving at least a minimally meaningful level(or more) of personal wealth ownership creation by all citizens eventually, with 100% of citizen participation FROM CRADLE TO GRAVE towards the visionary goal of an Ownership Society without "have-nots"?

This can be very effectively initiated without any actual economic hardships or problems to anyone, including govt. budgets - by unconditionally granting the $1000.- KiwiSaver kick-start to all who have not received it yet (from cradle to grave) - from our money in the NZ Super Fund as our KiwiSaver investment in that fund, with practically no management expenses associated with it.

I feel obliged to keep raising that proposition at least until there is some rational discussion on the pros and cons of it - or until a clearly superior proposition is on the table.

Anonymous said...

@ Wayne Mapp "You seem to have forgotten that National did not make cuts to essential services during the GFC. That was one of the reasons why they were comfortably re-elected in 2011 and 2014, with increased numbers of MP's."

I guess you choose to ignore the chronic underfunding over 9 years of Health, Education, Housing, EQC...while bailing out their farming mates who recklessly invested in SCF, funding Saudi billionaires sheep stations, Flag referendums & other personal vanities. Those election results reflect the large proportion of New Zealanders who are supremely selfish, entitled & only interested in protecting their own vested interests while ripping off the rest of NZdrs - National is the party that has always best represented them. RobbieWgtn.

Trev1 said...

Dear Chris, has it escaped your attention that since the passage of the Level 2 legislation last evening in Parliament, to the shame of New Zealand, we are now living in a Police State under a virtual dictator? "People's Manifesto", my arse.

Chris Poor said...

United we are a formidable force
New Zealand's economy suffered from world economic forces in the 1970s and saw indicators, such as Maori infant mortality, worsen for the first time since the 1940s. Neo-liberal talking points notwithstanding, the recession of the mid 1970s was the result of factors unrelated to the welfare state instituted after the depression of the 1930s. The first oil crisis of 1973, during which the price of oil quadrupled, resulted from Israel's invasion of Sinai and Syria. The recession was compounded by poor economic leadership from the Nixon regime in the US and, later by Healey and the treasury in the UK, leading to increasing austerity. Recession in the 1980s followed the second oil crisis stemming the Iranian revolution when panic led to the doubling of the price of oil, and then the Iran-Iraq war worsened the situation.
By this time the Chicago school had already begun to propagate its dogma of extreme austerity worldwide, beginning with the Pinochet coup in Chile. This neo-liberal experiment was visited upon New Zealand in secret by the Lange government's pursuit of Treasury's agenda, led by Roger Douglas and Richard Prebble. Of course, Ruth Richardson continued to dismantle government regulation and attack the trade unions, particularly with the Employment Contracts Act. The resulting fire-sale of government assets and financialisation of the New Zealand economy was documented and critiqued brilliantly by Bruce Jesson especially in his book Only Their Purpose is Mad, and by Jane Kelsey's The New Zealand Experiment.
The results are that New Zealand has gone from being one of the most egalitarian countries in the OECD to one of the most unequal, and, as Jonathan Boston has documented a "dramatic increase child poverty" has become endemic in New Zealand since the 1980s. That these results are largely due to the policies of successive New Zealand governments rather than world socio-economic conditions can be seen by comparison with far lower poverty and inequality in the Scandinavian countries and Canada, for example.
The Ardern government has set its course against the failed orthodoxy of the past which was making us into a nation of winners and losers. Chris Trotter's argument that we could all be winners as we come out of the present crisis should be treated seriously.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"Dear Chris, has it escaped your attention that since the passage of the Level 2 legislation last evening in Parliament, to the shame of New Zealand, we are now living in a Police State under a virtual dictator?"

Doesn't seem to be as bad as the one we lived in the 1950s under national. No ones made it a crime to give food to people who have been locked out yet.

David Stone said...

Why don't we hear more from Chris Poor?


sumsuch said...

I'm very much against going to the election early. I'd like to get back to November. It diminishes democracy deciding election dates as per Oz. Those coyotes who don't remember and make up 45% of us, aside.

Flaneuse said...

I totally agree, David Stone. That was a brilliant post.