Friday 1 May 2020

The List Candidate: Winston Peters and the Looming Covid-19 Depression.

Economic Nationalist: The NZ First leader, Winston Peters, has lived long enough to know that what New Zealanders did once they can do again. That economic change is the product not simply of improved technology but of political will.

WHY IS IT, that of all the party leaders only Winston Peters fully understands the economic ramifications of the Covid-19 Pandemic? Perhaps it’s his age. That might sound snarky, but it isn’t. None of the other party leaders are old enough to possess a solid mental picture of what New Zealand was like before the Neoliberal Revolution of 1984-1993.

Just do the maths. Jacinda was born in 1980 – which makes her 4-years-old in 1984. Simon Bridges, born in 1976, was 8. James Shaw and Marama Davidson, both born in 1973, were 11. The Act leader, David Seymour, born in 1983, was hardly out of nappies!

Now, consider Winston Peters. He was born in 1945, just as the Second World War was drawing to a close. He grew to adulthood in the “golden years” of the post-war boom, nurtured by the political, economic and social infrastructure of Mickey Savage’s cradle-to-grave welfare state. In 1984, as Labour set about dismantling this crowning political achievement of the New Zealand working-class, Peters was already 39-years-old.

The eldest of the other party leaders, Shaw and Davidson, will possess only the haziest memories of pre-Rogernomics New Zealand. What I remember of New Zealand in 1967, when I was 11-years-old, is made up mostly of family events, popular songs, movies and television programmes. As far as political memories go, I struggle to recall any names beyond Keith Holyoake, Harold Wilson and President Johnson. I had only the vaguest notion of what capitalism was, but I was pretty sure that “communism” was a very bad thing. Now, it’s entirely possible that the Green Party co-leaders were much more politically aware than I was at the age of 11, but it’s much more likely that they, like me, were far too busy being children.

Five years on, however, in 1972, my political memories are much more vivid. I shall certainly never forget that Saturday evening in November when for the first time in 12 years there was change of government. There had been a Labour government in my lifetime, but I was no older in 1957 than David Seymour was in 1984. For me, “Big Norm” was a political phenomenon: a breaker of moulds; a man who made it possible to believe in a better world; my hero.

What would Shaw’s and Davidson’s memories of 1989 have been? Of a riven Labour Party tearing itself to pieces over “Rogernomics”? Of a National Party, circling like a flock of vultures over the bloody entrails of a discredited government? Of the unsettling sense of a world they’d never really known being dismantled before their eyes? Of its replacement being full of sharp edges and dangerous spikes: a world that promised winners everything and losers nothing? Did they celebrate their sixteenth birthdays dreaming about building a better world, or wondering how to navigate their way through such a shitty one? A world where walls came down; students were shot down; heroes fell down; and history itself was said to be winding down.

Winston Peters, meanwhile, possessed a very clear picture of what his country looked like before Rogernomics and after “Ruthanasia”. He and the National Party had been elected on a “no ifs, no buts, no maybes” promise to restore “the decent society”. What was that? For Peters it was a society that allowed a dirt-poor cow-cockey’s son from Northland to become a pin-striped lawyer in a double-breasted suit. It was a society that offered work to all who wanted it – and felt only disdain for those who didn’t. It was a society that knew better than to leave the rich in charge of an economy. A society smart enough to know that in such a small country only the state was big enough to guarantee both prosperity and fairness.

Most importantly, Peters had lived long enough to know that what New Zealanders had done once they could do again. That economic change is the product not simply of improved technology but of political will.

A whole generation before Columbus set foot on the islands of the Caribbean, the Chinese were sailing 600-foot ocean-going junks all the way to East Africa. They had the technology to become the masters of the planet, but not the political will. The great sailing junks ended up rotting at their moorings. Voyages beyond the horizon were forbidden. Europeans conquered the world.

Peters loves these historical counterfactuals. He revels in knowing who Friedrich List (1789-1846) was and how his “national system” of economics transformed Germany into an industrial behemoth second only to the United States. He would write articles lamenting the fact that while the university book stores of South Korea were full of List’s economic nationalist ideas, most Kiwi students have never heard of him – let alone been taught about his kind of economics.

Friedrich List (1789-1846) Economic Nationalist.

Certainly, it’s a pretty safe bet that Jacinda, Simon, James, Marama and David could not tell you very much at all about List and the state-led capitalism which he championed and which has, historically, always outperformed the laissez-faire variety so beloved of the English-speaking capitalist countries. Not that their ignorance of economic nationalism worries them unduly. Having no clear memory of the world that existed before the triumph of Neoliberalism, they find it difficult to imagine that countries and economies could possibly be run successfully according to principles not sanctioned by their Treasury advisors.

The other party leaders may snigger at Peters now, but when the unemployment rate is climbing steadily towards 15 percent, and a third of New Zealand’s small businesses have shut down, there will be much less to snigger at. When Neoliberalism’s failure can no longer be hidden – even from those politicians who have grown up knowing nothing else – the man who has lived long enough to know that his alternative economic model works will be the man to know. And, when all the votes have been counted, he will still be the man who decides which of all those young leaders, born in the 1970s and 80s, becomes New Zealand’s next prime minister.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 1 May 2020.


Kat said...

New Zealand is in a very unique position, on one hand we have the elder nationalist statesman in Winston paired with the youth adjacent democratic progressive Jacinda. And that old song with the wonderfully relevant chorus "no you don't know how lucky we are...." just keeps on running through my head.

And 29/55 are the new numbers........

Patricia said...

How I love this essay! I was born in 1939 and I remember it all. New Zealand was really created by the Labour Government of 1935 and the post war years until the 1980s were just amazing. Anybody who wanted a job could get one. The Governments aim was for there to be no unemployment and there wasn’t. Yes, there were lots of restrictions for example all men who worked for the government, and so many did, had to retire after 40 years service, women after 30 years. The reason was because of the new blood snapping at their heels. Everybody had to be given a chance. Those retirees were given a superannuation of, I think, the average of their last five years of their working life and when they died their wife got half of that. There was annual cost of living adjustments to wages. There was a family benefit for each child and which was paid to the mother. Universities were free. The top rate for taxation was 66%. There was an inheritance tax. There was a tax on gifts. These were designed to keep a more equal society. Then came the 1980s and all the above was abolished and we can see the results today with all the poverty, low wages and a government determined unemployment rate. I have often wondered how was it that the whole world changed in the 1980s and it did. Who organised that? Was it the Chicago School of economics following the mantra of the 1971 Powell doctrine and teaching all its overseas students that doctrine? How many of the worlds business people of the 1980s had been indoctrinated with that doctrine of monetarism and laissez faire capitalism.

oneblokesview said...

I would be interested in the source of your statement "" his “national system” of economics transformed Germany into an industrial behemoth second only to the United States.""

Or is this a personal opinion?

greywarbler said...

How real Chris - your comments are true. As I get around it seem that most NZs have little idea of the nation and themselves, and little imagination, and cannot be bothered to climb up the locked gate that keeps them enclosed. The last time they did such a thing was when they were venturesome toddlers, then they went to school and learned that sport was
more important than thinking, and exams were to test if you had learned all the accepted facts and certainties. And parents only talked banalities.

I liked reading books. I was not good at sport. I was always on the edge of whatever was happening. I was scared of trying things, but often had a go. And I find myself still in the same situation as an adult, while around me others follow others without much reflection. And I believe that people who think need to gather somehow, somewhere, and test their thoughts for effectiveness, for robustness, and to be polished into the best they can be against each other in a human-thought-tumbler. And then go through the transmogrification into the physical!

And not indulge in orgies of disdain against others as I hear and read so often. One mustn't listen to Mike Hosking and the other moving mouths; once you know they are rubbish, you lose part of your valuable time reacting to s..t. I have just talked to my relative who was a builder and he was railing against the people lining up at KFC for being somehow wrong, that they were probably having their hands out for a wage subsidy and then spending it all on buckets of chicken and chips.

Fault-finding seems our way of life, our favourite occupation, disliking others, no understanding or love of other humans doing reasonable things that make them happy. And this relation is a good bloke, kindly to family, and a great person, but it seems we have been inoculated with bits of poison that pools up and leaks out. We older people who liked that previous New Zealand with its state house loans and weekends off to get together and lay concrete, take the kids to sport, a Sunday available to see family, not to go to work and aid the spend-up consumerist retail sector. We needed to spend more time in think-work not physical work, but we were at a higher level to go upward and onward. Now the effort is to be kinder and fairer to people in prison, separate cells, life training and skills; assistance to parents to enable them to fulfil their roles not just throw them crusts and visits from castigating 'helpers and minders'.

Older people with a knowledge of better times and attitudes are needed to press forward into the dark myriad and remain in good heart and strong commitment. I can only keep going if I can draw in strength from others like me. It's otherwise likely to crush and depress such as reading the fickle stuff from today's generation with their "This is not us" after a shoot-up in a church. They have no real interest in their world around them, the truth, and just live in illusions, with symbolic rituals that melt away in a short time revealing a grubby under-story.

The Flying Tortoise said...

A great commentary Chris. Thankyou. I look forward to the new and exciting opportunities we now have in front of us here in New Zealand...

Toa Greening said...

Well written Chris. The Muldoon era sticks out in my Childhood.

Hunter said...

The German Empire often practiced protectionism, which is why they became the largest economy in Europe before WWI.

Britain was always debate free trade versus protectionism but the constitutional settings in Wilhelmine Germany meant policy was always developed along nationalist lines rather than ideological ones. New Zealand did the same from 1935-1984 through democratic consensus, which enabled the development of domestic industry.

Then Reagan/Thatcher assumed office and "free trade" become fetishised, destroyed industries, hollowed out productive capacities of western economies, leaving us with poorly paid service jobs where unions struggle to organise and where whole working class communities whittled away.

Odysseus said...

I was born in the early 50s. My first political memory is of helping my father, Secretary of the local Labour Party, stick posters of Walter Nash on power poles around our small, rural town for the 57 election. I cast my first ever vote for Norm Kirk and like you Chris watched him elected with great hopes for the future. All that was dashed to pieces after 1975, and 1984 was the last time I voted Labour. An economic crisis was subsequently exploited to foist an alien and socially disastrous ideology on this country whose consequences of division and poverty are with us very much today. And they are going to get worse very quickly as we plunge into the COVID 19 Depression. We cannot turn the clock back to the golden years of the 50s, unless of course there is another long war in a cold climate like Korea that bolstered wool prices and our standard of living back then. Nor will statist approaches on their own work - we very much need the enterprise and creativity of the private sector. We must do what works. Kiwis were pragmatic people once upon a time, and we must no longer be driven by a myopic ideology that has caused so much damage to our economy and society as has the drivel of Ayn Rand and her acolytes.

greywarbler said...

Who's that List Candidate - Friedrich? Never heard of him - but I have only received a NZ education, functional not fancy.

Economics 101 has only occurred recently and possibly still teaches about that cute little circle where people are paid for working in a factory making things, and they pay tax on that, and then they spend and pay tax on that, and the government gets in tax and pays out for the services we need and the pensions, and then there is demand for more from the factory and the economic circle goes round, and we keep running like hamsters.

Sometimes it is presented pretty gaily, and sounds like everyone doing the HokeyTokey, 'You put your left foot in, or your right foot, and shake it all about' etc. I think this gig happens in May.

I would like to put a cute icon with a sort of rodent face to go with the cute theoretical explanation of the economy, but there is no icon here and actually no economy there, either.

rouppe said...

I cannot believe that you are comparing conditions now to those of two centuries ago. The conditions then and the conditions now are not comparable.

Let's not forget that List was trying to advance the German economy because the economy of Great Britain was so much further advanced, at the time. Not because the German economy of the time had suffered a collapse.

Our economy is devastated precisely because of the Jacinda Adern government. She and her ministers have devastated the nz economy. Deliberately, in that they consciously took the decisions that have resulted in the devastation.

She's decided that a centralised, authoritarian government is the answer. That has never been the answer.

We now have a nationalistic, authoritarian government rapidly eroding individual freedoms, using the present economic difficulty as the reason, and assuring the population that they know best.

There hasn't been a single time in history when that has ended well

sumsuch said...

Beautifully said as ever. But I wish he had the energy of a young Leftist, rather than his ego, if anyone can decipher it's forces and fears.

In the media I find him tiring as it gets apart from his occasional anti-rogernomics speeches, where , as you say, he is alone.

greywarbler said...

rouppe you give me croup. Or, oh hell, is it Covid-19 I have caught despite the best efforts of PM Ardern and a Labour Coalition that is fighting for our lives and trying to ensure a future for us?

Please God can we continue with Labour - while there is life, (and some hard-thinking fair-play future-planning all-nation practical activists), there's hope.

Slugger said...

We were once a country where neighbours would sit in a garage on a rainy Saturday morning talking & polishing off a few flagons. Content with out lot.

Jens Meder said...

While not familiar with the "economic nationalism" of Friedrich List, in the interest of "upward and onward" it might be worth while to take note of the following little economic policy item used by Ludwig Erhart to help or "fortify"(?) or "fuel" their post WW2 "economic miracle":
I believe to remember that he introduced a 10 year compulsory 10% personal "Vermögensbildung" (i.e. wealth, estate creation) savings rate on all private income, as the "Third Way", i.e. upwards - for all.
On Singapore, South Korea(?) and Japan it is also known that their "economic miracles" have been achieved and are sustained by their compulsory or voluntary higher personal savings rates than the averages in most western countries.
And are not our own economically most successful those who "plow back" most of their income into investment ?

Is that not a clear guideline for economic success for us personally and nationally?

Will Winston be prepared to take the political risk of standing for it in the knowledge, that both the libertarian political Right, and the "Give us more" political Left would not want to have anything to do with it ?

sumsuch said...

After hearing Mike Moore described as a working class hero with no blow-back I wondered if anyone anymore remembered our story according to the great NZ Idea of fairness and equality. Glad to see we do. Sorry, it's just us oldies.

By the way I'm 53 and remember it all, but then again I was interested in politics, even to the point of having a year and a half of libertarianism c.84 when Muldoon hung too heavily over us.

Rowan G said...

An interesting essay.

Punch said...

Why oh why do we still look back at pre-1984 New Zealand with rose coloured lenses? Do we not remember wage and price freezes, rampant inflation, transport services (especially the inter island ferries in the school holidays) being held to ransom by a trade union movement that revelled in the compulsory membership regulation that enabled its power? How about a government owning everything like the telephone company, the entire power system, the transport networks with the protection for the grossly inefficient NZ Railways, a couple of banks, an insurance office, a chain of hotels etc etc ? I for one certainly do NOT want that. Who says government knows best about running companies? Only the government. The proof it does not is rather obvious.

David George said...

We haven't been given much information or opinion on what is envisioned post coronavirus other than talk of fast tracking some infrastructure work. Despite your ideological reservations, Chris, it is important for Treasury to do proper evaluation and cost benefit analysis. This is public money not a lolly scramble.
I, as a registered curmudgeon, suspect it will be a case of whichever mad idea does the least overall harm that gets the nod from Treasury.
The difficulty is to facilitate and foster the innovative and entrepreneurial, the people we need, without leaving the door open for the speculators and rentiers.
I've a terrible sense of foreboding that it will be a complete cock up, Kiwibuild x 100, and we end up loosing a huge wave of our brightest and our best with the rest of us mired in poverty and stripped of our freedoms.
Serious question; are Jacinda, Winnie & Co up for this monumental challenge?

Andrew D Atkin said...

Can you explain how the "German economic miracle" happened, just after WW2?

Clue: It was all about free markets and minimum government interference in them.

greywarbler said...

Odysseus has said it well.
Nor will statist approaches on their own work - we very much need the enterprise and creativity of the private sector.

We must do what works.

Kiwis were pragmatic people once upon a time, and we must no longer be driven -
by a myopic ideology that has caused so much damage to our economy and society as has the drivel of Ayn Rand and her acolytes.

Poster - Graffiti: NAY RAND - first yarn and THEN CO-OPERATE TOGETHER NZ

Chris Trotter said...

To: Andrew D. Aitkin.

You should stop reading NZ Initiative propaganda, Andrew.

Try this instead.


Guerilla Surgeon said...

"Can you explain how the "German economic miracle" happened, just after WW2?

Clue: It was all about free markets and minimum government interference in them."

None of the postwar economic miracles – Germany's, Japan's, any of the Asian Tigers, or even the Chinese was solely to do with free markets and minimum government interference in them. In fact the governments of these countries all took a leading part in encouraging development, by subsidies of one sort or another, import restrictions/substitution, and government preference in contracts for local firms over international. Now they are all generalisations and you might find individual exceptions, but that's it in a nutshell.
And I resisted the temptation for a joke at your expense there.

Unknown said...

Do you really think that the current restrictions on liberty are intended to be a permanent? That sounds like one of the paranoid fantasies of the American right wing.

BlisteringAttack said...

@ Andrew D Atkin

Clue: Marshall Plan

greywarbler said...

Kiwibuild a cock-up? The only thing wrong with K/build is that it was a pie in the sky idea probably fed to a Minister who had mistaken confidence in a cohort of well-fed sharks. He ended up shark-bait, that was well deserved downgrading.

But I don't think that the houses that went up have fallen down, or developed Covid-19 or other nasties inside the walls. That's what I call a cock-up. How could a mature reasoned person not see through the figures, they were impossible and should have made the hair on the back of his neck stand up. He's not bald so lacks the necessary warning device of extreme sensitivity to facile BS. Or did he rely on Treasury; perhaps some house speculator put the figures on a sheet with a heading that was indistinct - it probably was Treasur% Exposition or even Expedition!

Sam said...

You mean the post WW2 German economy was an over-engineered piece of crap that broke down every 10 or so years, Chris Trotter?

So to answer my own question the German reputation for quality came about because they hand built everything after the war destroyed all their industry. This doesn't happen in an alternate scenario where nazis rule Europe.

Yknow most people have no fucken clue what the fuck they're talking about everytime someone opens their gobs about anything remotely related to economics.

peter sim said...

Winston always has to play the immigration card. He does this to appeal to his die hard dotard support base. OBTW I am older than Winston. I am also a part asian/european immigrant who arrived in NZ in 1950. I had already had a shotgun pointed into my stomach at age six. I had already had shrapnel wounds at age 6/7.
We settled in a city, Wellington. Back then brown skinned people were not commonly seen on streets in that city. It was not always friendly, I became reasonably adept at boxing ,and, later karate.
Yes I remember the good times like you and Winston.
Winston is a sharp card dealer, one of the cards in his pack is racism. Ask Shane Jones and Indian students.
OH well covid19 got rid of that "problem". What else can Winston attack?
His nascent/natural home is Northland and National. (Can anyone remember the John Banks and the "Hone" telephone conversations between John Banks and the National local MP?

That is a conundrum given the contempt that National has shown to Northland over decades. Winston or Shane do not respect either Labour or the Greens.

National is Winston's political turangawaewae. Northland is his home.

NZ first has a problem. So does National. Being a "Nigel No Name" is not a good place to be in MMP politics.

greywarbler said...

Economic miracles. I don't think post WW2 damaged countries could rely on agriculture as we do still, they didn't mechanise the milkmaid or stack cowpats for fuel and export them to make money. One story that caught my imagination was the one about the couple of Japanese men who went to live in West coast USA, which must have had quite a bit of residual prejudice against their nation. And they developed the market there and sold small Japanese motor bikes. They saw a niche for themselves, and they got into action and set to selling and manufacturing with Japanese government help.

Management Consulting: A Guide for Students › books
David Biggs - 2010 - ‎Business & Economics
He set up a new piston manufacturing facility which was destroyed during World War II. In 1946, after the war, Soichiro Honda started a new company in Hama- matsu, ... The company started manufacturing a range of lightweight scooters and ... was established and later Honda C100 Super Cub7 was launched in the US.
It’s hard to imagine, given the worldwide presence of Honda today, that the company-like all start-ups-had its fair share of servings of humble pie. It was in 1946, as Japan was recovering from the devastation that had been heaped on it in World War II, that a young man, visiting with a friend, stumbled upon a generator engine designed for a wireless radio from the former Imperial Army.

The young man, a former auto mechanic and inventor, immediately came up with the idea of attaching the 50cc motor to a bicycle. The country’s decimated infrastructure and struggling post-war economy had made bicycles the primary mode of transportation.

The concept of creating an add-on power source to ease the demands of peddling-thereby extending range and load capacity-was born. The young man was Soichiro Honda. A small building in Hamamatsu City was acquired and a sign was hung above the front door that boldly announced; Honda Technical Research Institute.

The first of their prototype engines was the legendary "chimney" engine. President Honda thought up a thoroughly unique concept for a new engine, and showed it to Kawashima by "drawing it on the shop floor." Crouching down and sketching out conceptual drawings on the floor was an unchanging habit throughout his life.

The Japanese worked hard at pulling themselves up from WW2 ruins and defeat, and they got help from the USA. But they didn't spend a lot of their time criticising each other like we do. The negativity expressed on blogs here in NZ is amazing, and shows lazy minds and lack of commitment to their own futures, our country and society; but luckily some people do stuff and don't just parade their superficial reactions.

Sam said...

Well warbler, I'd like to give you this opportunity to put a name to your gutless accusation? Because you odiously didn't read Chris Trotter's article.

There's two main questions to ask

1. How does Keynesian economics work in the real world
2. How can Keynesian economics work for everybody

The Pacific Theatre is completely different from the European Theatre but the main focus post WW2 is most likely Russia. Japan went under until China makes her declaration against the US, but also doesn't get to import the unlocked versions of Russian military/technology until much later. There's also likely to be a lot less focus on the defensive perimeter and the last stand mentality.

Puppet states, one assumes roughly similar to Manchuko rather than a weaker but independent allied nation like Japan is to America.

That might lead to a Japanese rebellion or a Japanese push to go Nuclear tipped if America really takes the foot off the dragon, similar to what Japan experienced with the Manchurian armies. Should China start to lose territory they've clawed back in the past 10 years, I wouldn't bet on many of the Chinese officers or troops assigned to oversee Japanese would make them comfortable, particularly if America weakens significantly that they can no longer field U.S Navy Carrier Fleets. Potentially, there may not even be any race relations in ASEAN at present thanks to the mishandling of post WW2 and post Cold War egos, depending on just how far China wants to puppet every ASEAN state and how resentful that makes Asians will depend on how well Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) operates for everyone.