Monday 8 March 2021

Get In The People Who Get Things Done.

Those Who Can Do: Rob Campbell, Chair of Tourism Holdings, the Summerset Group, Sky City Entertainment, Chancellor of Auckland University of Technology - and former trade union leader. Whether it be defeating the fascist disease, or eliminating the Coronavirus; History teaches us that not all capitalists are bad.

IN 1940, the deadly threat confronting Great Britain was not a biological virus, but the deadly political disease of fascism. To defeat this disease, Britain needed aircraft: most particularly the Supermarine Spitfire; arguably the best fighter aircraft then in operation.

Knowing this, the newly appointed prime minister, Winston Churchill, did not turn to the men of Whitehall, whose bureaucratic inertia had already very nearly cost Britain the war, but to business leaders with a proven record of getting the job done.

Accordingly, the newly created position of Minister of Aircraft Production went to Max Aitken, Lord Beaverbrook. Proprietor of the right-leaning Daily Express, the Canadian-born Beaverbrook had a fearsome reputation as a string-pulling go-getter, par excellence. It was this ability to make things happen that recommended him most strongly to Churchill.

Beaverbrook did not disappoint. During the Battle of Britain, when the fate of the British Empire hung in the balance, Beaverbrook’s success in increasing aircraft production was crucial. Lord Dowding, the leader of Fighter Command during the battle, later wrote:

“We had the organization, we had the men, we had the spirit which could bring us victory in the air but we had not the supply of machines necessary to withstand the drain of continuous battle. Lord Beaverbrook gave us those machines, and I do not believe that I exaggerate when I say that no other man in England could have done so.”

The great virtue of a working historical memory is its capacity to draw out of the past situations and identities capable of inspiring those grappling with the challenges of the present. It certainly explains why, when a group of New Zealand’s leading businesspersons last Tuesday (2/3/21) asked the Government to allow the business community to do more to help it defeat Covid-19, Churchill’s appointment of Beaverbrook instantly sprang to mind.

The historical parallel is very far from being exact. Had Jacinda Ardern been channelling the spirit of Britain’s “finest hour”, then she would, like Churchill, have drawn the New Zealand business community more directly into the fight much sooner. Certainly, Rob Fyfe was invited – and responded instantly – when asked to facilitate the utmost co-operation between government and business during the crisis. From a PR perspective, the “optics” of Fyfe’s appointment were excellent. Unfortunately, the level of co-operation was much less than he and the business community were expecting.

The instinct of the Ministry of Health (as well as the DHBs it relied upon to deliver on the ground) was to hold onto power at all costs. Certainly, it seemed extraordinarily reluctant to allow any outside players into the game.

Nowhere was this dog-in-the-manger attitude more evident than in the Ministry’s refusal to allow the roll-out of the “smart” Covid Card developed by Trade Me founder, Sam Morgan, and the talented team of digital wizards he had assembled. Obstacle after bureaucratic obstacle was placed in front of these experts from the private sector until Morgan, his patience exhausted, simply threw up his hands in frustration and walked away.

One of the reasons for the Ministry’s bureaucratic obstruction was its acute sensitivity to the “privacy issues” raised by the Card’s capacity to track-and-trace the movements of the people carrying it in real time. No need for voluntary QR scanning with the Covid Card. The authorities would be able to track the cardholder’s every move.

The Ministry’s sensitivity wasn’t just a question of whether or not the proposed Covid Card breached the Privacy Act, it was also a vexing political problem. There was a strong feeling among the bureaucrats’ that their political masters would never permit such an invasive piece of technology to be imposed upon the general population.

In this they were, almost certainly, correct. In the early days of Covid, Jacinda Ardern and her colleagues were acutely wary of “losing” the co-operation of the general public. The Prime Minister’s success in, by turns, inspiring, cajoling and convincing the “Team of Five Million” to be “kind” and “Unite Against Covid-19” persuaded her closest colleagues – and the health bureaucrats surrounding them – that Sam Morgan’s Taiwanese-style tracker-card was just too risky a proposition.

With the benefit of hindsight, it is possible to argue that both the Ministry’s and the Government’s fears on this matter were unjustified. If the Year of Covid has taught us anything, it is that New Zealanders are prepared to surrender all manner of “freedoms” to keep themselves and their loved-ones safe. Ever-practical Kiwis would probably have welcomed the convenience of a device that freed them from the irksome responsibility of holding their cellphones up to shop windows and/or signing a register.

The Ministry of Health and the Government had another, even more compelling, reason for declining to involve the business community too closely in the fight against Covid-19. Almost from the very beginning, some business elements took very strong exception to the Labour-led Government’s “Elimination Strategy”.

The notorious “Plan-B” group was widely perceived as a “front” for those industries most likely to be damaged by the Government putting the country into “Lockdown”. The quest for the chimera of “Herd Immunity” – exemplified most powerfully by the Swedish Government’s ultimately calamitous response to the pandemic – was regarded by many as proof of neoliberal capitalism’s callous (not to mention “ageist”) disregard for human life. Trump’s America confirmed these perceptions with decisions as bizarre as they were terrifying.

The problem confronting Rob Campbell, Joan Withers, Patrick Strange, Prue Flacks, Scott St John, and other business leaders, is that the Ministry of Health’s refusal to share power was not validated by its growing operational effectiveness as the nation’s principal defender. Multiple Ministry and DHB failures, from the unavailability of PPE, to failings at the border, and serious deficiencies in communicating clear and accurate information to the public, have all contributed to the feeling that New Zealand’s indisputable success at beating the virus has, all-too-often, been more a matter of good luck than good management.

But, if we have already passed through our equivalent of the Battle of Britain – without the assistance of a Beaverbrook – the war against Covid-19 is very far from being won. The quiet, but forceful, advocacy of Rob Campbell – so impressively on display in his Q+A interview with Jack Tame – makes it clear that there is a very large reservoir of expertise and good-will among the overwhelming majority of business leaders who were never persuaded by the arguments of the Plan-B special-pleaders.

As the big German corporations are already demonstrating, and our own are ready to confirm, the private sector can, at the very least, offer decisive logistical assistance to the huge task of vaccinating the whole population.

The “group of business leaders” argument: that the more experience and expertise which can be gathered around the national decision-making table, the safer and swifter our path out of Covid will be, and the more secure and prosperous New Zealand’s post-Covid future; is very hard to gainsay. New Zealand’s leading businesspersons are not claiming a monopoly on wisdom, merely that getting things done is what they’re good at – and they’re all keen to get started.

This essay was originally posted on the website of Monday, 8 March 2021.


Guerilla Surgeon said...

" getting things done is what they’re good at – and they’re all keen to get started."

You mean like Rio Tinto and their poisonous byproducts? They've been really on the ball about those haven't they?

AB said...

Before getting things done you need to decide what those things are. It's clear that business wants to be the dominant influence in those decisions, not mere executors of them. The government's caution is therefore 100% justified.

Nick J said...

The recognition of what different people are good at is the key point, people in the private sector have very different outlook and drivers than their public sector equivalents. In general, private sector leaders want to create a result, public sector leaders want to control a result. In short it is the difference between a builder and a building inspector. Both are necessary.

To get the best people from each recognises another factor that experience demonstrated in my private sector life. Loosely its the Pareto principle. In sales 35 years experience showed me that 10 percent of the team did 50 plus percent of the deals. The common factor with the top performers was both superior IQ and EQ, both required. The same applied in every specialist field.

My suspicion in this benighted era of political correctness on steroids (aka woke) is that any recognition of inequality of personal output is too hot a potato for Labour. Yet there is Labour with Jacinda providing proof of that principle, she primus inter pares. She needs to act or others will.

greywarbler said...

I think that we have had old-style business influence for long enough. We have lost out by government giving up control and governance and leaving it to business decision, and not had the advantages of keen, crisp, thinking and overview from the private sector that would have been so useful. The most noticeable thing we have encountered is asset-stripping of government services for private take-up and run-down, and land-grabbing and profit-taking in an unsustainable and damaging way.

So let's get some people with nous and commitment to NZ's future and prosperity by all means. Out the rack-renters and the dodgy, in the sharp and wise who understand all the good bits of the business economics textbooks.

Patricia said...

I think that democracy has had its day. Every Tom, Dick and Harry, with absolutely no knowledge of the subject can disrupt anything and everything. A country becomes moribund when it tries to appease everybody. It is time for managed capitalism. With controls.

greywarbler said...

How would these business pundits deal with this problem of money being drained out of NZ.
We are getting flaccid. A Swedish outfit has just bought Medlifecare which caters for the retired and elderly market, which is largely funded by our government. Do people see the connection here?

oneblokesview said...

Oh dear Guerilla Surgeon...We can all find shit to throw.....
Perhaps a grownups comment would be know... be kind.
Like how about the Business Guys who got PEP to NZ quickly when the Civil Service were still scratching their heads about what to do!

Kat said...

I was at a business conference in Auckland back in 2003, Michael Barnett the Chief Executive of the Auckland Business Chamber was on the podium and made an announcement that "what is good for business is good for NZ"........need one say more.

Mike Grimshaw said...

The question is, as the great Italian philosopher Vattimo asked, is whether we want politics run by the economy or the economy run by politics? If the former, then we can give up representative government and democracy and institute a technocratic and business oligarchy; if the latter, then who we vote for- and how competent they are - becomes central.

So the issue is that of governmental and more so ministerial competence, coupled with the willingness of the public service to change the status quo.

Business can and will 'get things done' because they are not elected nor claim a mandate from the vote... yet the real 'things to get done' are housing, health and educational inequity and we never see calls from the left to bring in business to 'get things done' there.

So let's be consistent. If you want business to come in 'to fight' covid in a wartime scenario, then let's make use of them to fight the longer-standing failures of government- left and right- which are housing, health and educational inequity. The trick is how to do so while remaining a democracy...

Nick J said...

Grey, getting the best of both has happened before. The first State house still stands in Strathmore, names associated businessman Jim Fletcher, politician Peter Fraser among others. Collective will and need delivered by harnessing talented leadership and skills.

Nick J said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nick J said...

Business makes the economy work, government is there to make business deliver to more than itself.

GS pointed to Rio Tinto, a classic reason why business must have its limits regulated. Ditto the need to regulate monopolies and uncompetitive practices. The historic record shows unregulated capitalism as an antisocial economically destructive force. Exactly the same charge can be made against state control command economies.

A century ago pretty much all the unregulated practices in capitalism we see today resulted in the Great Depression. The same remedies as before will no doubt apply. When will we learn?

greywarbler said...

Nick J - When will we learn indeed? But who will teach us? The Left used to have a thriving WEA (Workers which still exists. But this is happening in our country: Central to our education should be the study of human culture, world and regional history and what it shows about human behaviour. Also the findings of economics and the need to have a central goal in our minds beyond acquiring money and material goods for ourselves. So intelligent business people with IQ and EQ are essential for our future, listening to prognostications from scientists and academics and holding regular discussions around the country to get people clued up as to the current ideas. I would like to see Raelene Castle included with the 'Think Group', and other sports leaders.

But also the humanities must be there, not pushing gender barriers, immigration advantages or other pet projects, but the balanced mind, the understanding of the basic Maslow's hierarchy and the need to learn both restraint on personal drives, self-understanding-management and how to use imagination, and self-satisfaction of simple goals, not lust for acquisition. And then how to take part in discussions and decision making works on jury principles, not consensus but allowing for some dissension which is noted, not dismissed. Better decision-making is needed which should match a template of requirements for establishing the goal and the values inherent in the future happening. A template of running citizen meetings to bet effect should also be drawn up so time isn't wasted for people who want to have input, and are being consulted, which at present often seems to be simply a tick-box exercise lacking outcome.

Actually the base of our needs is to be able to live together with respect for each other and our material acquisitions, to recognise the skills and work of each other, and encourage multi-skilling amongst the group. To encourage new learning which then is explained to the whole group, and to agree on the worth of trialling certain things and report back to the group. (For instance what will be the outcome and value of Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology having a program that results in pilotless planes? What about the NZ contracts to another country to fire rockets into the far sky?)

I wonder how German people were turned into puppets in the hands of psychopaths; they were literate, had great minds and thoughts at the top, but also a weakness of intellect and foresight and not enough wisdom trickled towards the bottom. Some papers on this topic: German Professoriate under Nazism: A Failure of Totalitarian Aspirations. Accountability and Ideology.

greywarbler said...

Some further thoughts. If NZ followed the practice of open learning for all, own choice of minimum of one short course, perhaps a weekend one, each year with constant discussion and sharing of progress, the result would be an expanding skill-set in a direction that was practical and useful no-one left out, people inspiring each other. There would be a spread of knowledge and expectations of proficiency, and better awareness of difficult situations with provisions for coping and recovering. In other words an informed and integrated community which we don't have at present.

At present the Hawkes Bay orchardists need workers but can't find enough. In an integrated community all able-bodied people would be willing to help out, as part of the thriving community. We are near moribund in our individualised thinking in NZ; we're based on community activity but not acknowledging it as a primary driver. Without deep acceptance of the need for change to working together by all including the rentiers, a significant part of our society is going to sink into despair, into anger, hate, derision and violence of the type you see when people decide they have had enough putting-up and have nothing to lose by taking matters into their own hands, or guns, or baseball bats, or whatever comes to hand. How do you feel about this in today's news:

I will take that break, and attend to some home and body repair; needing help from within my community, some public funded and some private cost. We do need to hang together for our mutual benefit, how can one disagree with that? Let's help each other towards the uncertain future; just do it.

Anonymous said...

Covid is an extraordinary event, in an extraordinary situation you use all resources available.
To park such a large portion of resources up because of ideological thinking is not recognizing the event for what it is.
Capitalists are just another group of our population, they range from decent people to others pretty hard to stomach.
But they have a skill base as important as any.
Looks like cutting ones nose off to spite your face, or maybe throwing the baby out the bath water.
Take your choice but extraordinary times need extraordinary actions.

Nick J said...

Wise words Grey. I heard stories about the cops photographing youth in my small town. The locals quite rightly took umbrage. Lots of small steps to repression constitute one big step. Resistance required by us all sticking together.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Well, a mature reply then. I'm not saying that businessmen can't individually do some good. Even Marx admitted that capitalism is good at producing stuff. In an emergency it might be an idea to see what some business people can do, but given their general propensity to oppose shutting down the country when the virus first hit – unlike those three – I wouldn't be putting the whole coronavirus response in their hands to be honest. And as you seen think we should, you obviously have a CHILDLIKE trust in their abilities and their consciences. I suspect there are more business people like Pharmabro than like Tindall & Co. In fact, worldwide there was a damn sight more price gouging on personal protective equipment than there was charity. Some people as they say, can't tell shit from clay.

Tom Hunter said...

More as a side note to this topic but worthy of being addressed:

The quest for the chimera of “Herd Immunity” – exemplified most powerfully by the Swedish Government’s ultimately calamitous response to the pandemic...

As I pointed out in this piece, Swedish Death 2020 – and Lockdowns, it is the MSM that has pushed the lie that Sweden was simply sitting back and letting the virus rip to establish herd immunity. Swedish epidemiologists refuted that claim early on.

What they did point out was that lockdowns are simply not how such pandemics have been dealt with in the past, especially as science has advanced. A quarantine is not the same thing, as it applied to specific people, groups, and perhaps even parts of a city - but not all of society.

Instead they recommended social distancing but allowed bars, cafes and businesses to remain open while obeying those rules.

And for all the talk of the result being "calamitous" - I know, "14,000 Swedish people have died of Covid" is merely the latest drumbeat of our MSM fear porn merchants - the fact is that by the end of 2020 the Swedish death toll form all causes was 0.94% of the population, all of 0.02% above the average of the previous decade (0.92%) and matched or exceeded by several years in that decade.

If you have never heard of Coivd-19 and looked at those death stats you'd never know there had been a pandemic in Sweden in 2020. The usual thousands of deaths of elderly people from flu and pneumonia are simply not there in addition to such deaths by Covid-19, but instead of them, which is hardly surprising given how similarly the diseases act.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Even so:
Sweden – 13,000+ deaths
Denmark – 2000+ deaths
Norway – 600+ deaths
Finland – 700+ deaths
I would expect the number of deaths from flu to go down given that people tended to be sanitising their hands a fair bit.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Dammit, forgot to add. The Swedish economy went down the toilet just like everyone else's.

greywarbler said...

I would rather us be careful with cautionary systems than gung-ho about Covid19 as Tom Hunter posits. Better caution than accept people dying from it in larger numbers when old - all left to chance. These deaths would have been over a year or two, and systems would be overwhelmed not managing all the death rituals honouring the deceased individuals that show respect.

I do think there is a discussion to be had on when people have to accept getting old and stop expecting the health system to feed them pills and services and revive them numbers of times
when they collapse and would die if left to go with a natural death.

Our society is presently unable to make reasoned decisions on matters of life, death and respect for the wishes of individuals. People cannot accept the need for new approaches, and work out an ethical basis that is fair, instead they listen to leaders of supposed holy groups and cults, who prefer the stumblebum variable routes around life's problems.

Wayne Mapp said...


It is not just the MSM who criticised the Swedish approach. So have the vast majority of public health experts, especially when it is very easy to make the comparison with the other three Scandinavian countries. While I won't go so far as to call you a covid denier, you certainly have minimised the effect of covid, and your post here is a good example of that.

New Zealanders would be rightly outraged if we had 7,000 dead from covid. I note Governor Noem, who you regularly praise, has presided over a death rate of more than 2,000 per million in South Dakota, a rate that is a lot higher than many of the neighbouring states.

greywarbler said...

I referred to a Think Group with people chosen who would be good. Chris refers to Rod Campbell, Rob Fyfe, and more.
The problem confronting Rob Campbell, Joan Withers, Patrick Strange, Prue Flacks, Scott St John, and other business leaders, is
that Labour is torn between wanting to look like a big boy, while it can't tie its own shoelaces, and determinedly persists in the exercise of trying. But everyone who wants Labour to find its feet, get moving and do what big boys in other jurisdictions (not English speaking) do, find it very trying.

I added Raelene Castle, fresh from Australian sporting fields with presumably sharpened sensibilities after dealing with the convulsions of politics and the malady that arises in the genies there after rubbing their male egos the wrong way. Sports leaders in the people's sports, rather than yachting etc., would add vim and success in planning to the Think Group.
Also Rod Oram who seems sane and canny, Bill Rosenberg, Economist close to Union endeavours for so long also. We need a different think tank than the others, able to look past the routine thoughts bedded in past profits, but not past useful practices that reflected NZ
ideals, such as they were.

And remembering Peter Conway Economist and Secretary of the CTU who put his heart and soul into advancing ordinary NZ aspirations and lost his hope. He would have wished to be right there in any intelligent, forward movement. He died 2015 but here are some of his songs about NZ heart.

Nick J mentioned Jim Fletcher. I think that the Fletcher name is like the grinning teeth of the Cheshire cat from Alice, fading into the fog. Now they have sold out to the hedge funds, and pension schemes overseas. Not NZ avid, to the fore.

Geoff Fischer said...

I don't know if the Sam Morgan's Covid card would have worked, but in principle it would seem to be a better contact tracing tool than the New Zealand government's Covid app for mobile phones.
Its use could not have been made compulsory. The public distrust of government in Aotearoa is just too great for everyone to accept a compulsory state tracking and surveillance device on their person. But I would have expected voluntary uptake to be between 60% and 80% of people over the age of 10, which would include a significant number who are alienated from the system but still capable of making rational judgements about when and how they can cooperate with the institutions of state. That 70%, say, would have been sufficient to make a difference to the effectiveness of contact tracing.
The Covid card didn't happen, and we are not told why it didn't happen. Of course, there are a lot of things we are not told about by government, which is one of the reasons why conspiracy theories are rife in this country.
Moving on to the general principle of cooperation between the state and capital. As others have noted, this would be nothing new. The First Labour government pioneered the close working partnership of state and capital years before Churchill enlisted the help of Lord Beaverbrook, and it worked reasonably well. But it is also a recipe for cronyism and corruption, which is why most successful political economies (whether predominantly socialist or predominantly capitalist) prefer to keep the boundaries between state and capital reasonably straight and clear.
However there is one thing that you seem to have overlooked. Whether under a capitalist or socialist system, ultimately it is the ordinary workers who "get things done". Where I am, they organised to protect themselves from Covid, while maintaining production on the land and at sea. They took charge of distribution and allocation of essential resources, and they did bloody well if you will excuse the expression. They got things done, and they are still getting things done. That is where our future lies. Not so much with the Rob Campbells and the Ashley Bloomfields, but with ordinary people taking control of their own lives.

greywarbler said...

Rod Oram shows his worth in recent posts.

Feb.28/21 NZ, this is your Volkswagen moment

We need to make radical strategy shifts in farming and food production, and we need to start now, says Rod Oram

Volkswagen is a cautionary tale for our farmers. Like them, it believed it had the best low emissions technology in the world. Even better, continuous incremental improvement in its petrol and diesel engines would keep it onside with regulators and sweet with its customers.

Feb.14/21 Nature must be at the centre of our climate response

The absence of nature from the Climate Change Commission’s draft policy recommendations to government is the most fundamental failure in its work to date, says Rod Oram

Nature-based solutions will likely contribute one-third of emission reductions worldwide, according to multiple studies such as one published by Cambridge University Press last May...

The World Wildlife Fund is one. As it explains on its website:
“Nature itself has a big role to play. Evidence increasingly suggests that nature-based solutions—natural systems or processes used to help achieve societal goals—could contribute mightily to minimising climate change and its effects. In fact, research shows that nature-based solutions and the broader land sector could contribute up to 30 percent of the climate mitigation needed by 2050 to meet the Paris Agreement’s objective of limiting global warming.”

Our Climate Commission’s blind spot is even more surprising given:
(Rod then lists the important advantages we have. He's done his homework, commenters would do well to read what he has to say.)

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"But it is also a recipe for cronyism and corruption, which is why most successful political economies (whether predominantly socialist or predominantly capitalist) prefer to keep the boundaries between state and capital reasonably straight and clear."
I'd love to hear some examples of those successful economies. Japan? Crony capitalists to the nth degree. USA? Pretty much the same. Britain? Not sure if we'd even regard it as successful, but it's crony capitalist. Germany? Certainly, the VW scandal is a prime example. The head of VW, Thomas Steg was a politician.. Hong Kong – one of the most successful economies of the last 50 years – number one on the list. I find that there is a list. Exclude the Nordic countries which may not be, I don't really know enough about them, and what have you got?