Friday 7 June 2024

Nobody Move: Ageing Boomers, Laurie & Les, Talk Politics.

So long as we live in a democracy, economic policy can never be anything other than social-democratic.

“HEH!”, snorted Laurie, as he waved his debit card over the EFTPOS machine. “Same price as last week. I guess budgets aren’t what they used to be.”

“I wouldn’t know,” replied the young barman, wearily, “my memories don’t go back that far.”

“Heh!”, Laurie snorted again. “I keep forgetting that half the world’s younger than I am.”

Depositing the two brimming glasses of ale on the table in the corner, Laurie seats himself, smiles wanly at his drinking companion, Les, and sighs.

“Remember when Budgets were announced at 7:30 at night, after all the shops had shut, so that people couldn’t rush out as stock up on booze and cigarettes before Parliament raised the excise taxes?”

“I certainly do,” Les replied, “and in those days nobody pretended to be doing it for the nation’s health. The nation’s soul, perhaps, since drinking and smoking were still regarded as sinful by a goodly chunk of the population. But the nation’s health? Nah! Finance ministers just needed the revenue.”

“Anyway, the price of this ale hasn’t changed since last week. So Nicola Willis’s budget can’t be all bad.”

“Even if the excise tax has gone up, Laurie, I doubt if this place can afford to pass it on to its customers. You must have noticed that this old pub ain’t exactly bursting at the seams anymore, not the way it was before Covid. Time was, patrons were three deep at the bar. Now the bar staff are all standing idle, face down, fiddling with their phones.”

“So, what did you make of Nicola’s budget? What would you give it out of ten?”

“I’d give it a flat five, Laurie. Not because it was mediocre, but because, when push comes to shove, finance ministers don’t have a lot of choices about what they include in a budget. Truth is, mate, I’d give the same mark out of ten to every budget since Ruth Richardson’s “Mother of All Budgets” in 1991.”

“Crikey! That’s not the answer I was expecting – not at all. What would you have given Richardson’s effort, then?”

“Ten out of ten.”

“Aww, come on, Les, an old socialist like you? You’re pulling my leg.”

“Not at all. I’ve given that mark to Richardson because at least she tried to break the mould. She made a genuine attempt to reset the New Zealand government’s spending priorities. Was it a harsh budget? Yes, it was. Was it a cruel budget? Indisputably – to a degree not seen since the 1930s. But, she was determined to change the game, and, for a little while, she did.”

“As I recall, Les, all hell broke loose after the Mother of All Budgets. Voter trust in the two main parties plummeted. Jim Anderton and Winston Peters powered ahead in the polls.”

“That wasn’t the half of it, Laurie. National won the 1993 election by the skin of its teeth with just 35 percent of the vote. Jim Bolger’s government clung-on thanks to the vagaries of first-past-the-post – which was, of course, voted out of existence in favour of MMP. Bolger had no choice except to sack Richardson – a blood sacrifice to appease an incandescent electorate. Not surprisingly, no finance minister since has dared to reprioritise the state’s obligations.”

“So it would seem. Nicola’s spending and borrowing more than Grant Robertson – hardly the best of starts for a right-wing coalition government.”

“And that’s the whole story in a nutshell, Laurie. So long as we live in a democracy, economic policy can never be anything other than social-democratic. Oh, sure, it may be a penny-pinching social democracy when the Right is in power, and a free-spending social-democracy when the Left’s seated on the Treasury Benches. But, the party, or coalition of parties, that attempts to starve the poor, or make us pay for health care, or our kid’s education, will be voted out of office before you can chant “What’s the story filthy Tory? – Out! Out! Out!”

“And the really big problems? Like New Zealand’s lousy productivity, its huge infrastructure deficit, its economy that’s far too dependent on what comes out of cows’ udders? Are they untouchable, too?”

“Did you ever see that old ‘Counting Crows’ video? The one with the woman carrying the sign that read: ‘Nobody move and nobody gets hurt.’? That’s us, Laurie. Nobody’s moving.”

“And everybody’s getting hurt.”

This short story was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 7 June 2024.


Archduke Piccolo said...

H'mmm... I dunno.

Les might have given Arnold Nordmeyer the full denary for his Black Budget of 1958. Guess what the genesis of that was. Give you a clue: 1958 was the first year of Labour's first return to office. Could be he had it in mind to change something concerning Government spending...

If Ruth Richardson wanted to change the paradigm (which I thought had been established by her predecessor and fellow Milton Friedmanite, Roger Douglas), she would have been well advised to enquire into the real-world applications (nil) of her Economic regimen.

As a confirmed unfan of Rob Muldoon from well before 1975, I am gobsmacked at the manner in which the Neo-Classical economics nonsense that has, since his party left office, informed what we might laughingly call 'policy', has successfully made his 'Think Big' programme look wise and far-sighted. In principle, it probably was, but rather wanting in execution and ensemble. On the other hand, his dismantling of Labour's Super Scheme was bloody-minded silliness.

In my view, Ruth Richardson and Roger Douglas, and their acolytes, were and remain nothing better than ignorant economic vandals.
Ion A. Dowman

greywarbler said...

Thanks Archdook we can usually gain a number of salient points from you. If you can find the right compass points it will be a big help.

greywarbler said...

The attempt you make Chris to exercise our minds has encouraged me to do
press-ups. I've been thinking of Jeff Buckley's wail in his song So Real. It seems relevant and Genius give the words and let you hear the song too, a useful practice.

And perhaps you would consider starting a dialogue with a uni lecturer who was interviewed on RadioNZ the other day. I feel he has got the key to the thinking that will help us out of our gated mentality to beyond where we can establish something human-centred and communal with co-operative ways and rules. Sort of as I think we were aiming for in the 1960s when we were partly successful with a vision we were working towards. It seems a good period to keep in mind - when there seemed a willingness for a workable civilisation if we kept at it.

This is what took my attention and I feel that I would like to see some input from him here, discussing things with you and the earnest mindsets of commenters who feel they understand all; his subject 'philosophical logic', seems to epitomise what we need to adopt while we still have the opportunity.
Patrick Giraud is a senior lecturer at the University of Auckland specialising in philosophical logic..."Very often people think they agree on the facts but they don't realise that what they actually agree on is how the facts should be interpreted."

To start living a more logical life, we need to first learn to slow down and take more time to think things through before responding, Giraud says.
"If you're not rushing, you do things right … and the value of slowing down just makes you do better. And actually you gain a lot of time and value [more] what you're doing."

Strengthening your own relationship with logic involves having the humility and courage to be wrong, revise our thinking and learn from other people, he says, including those we may not agree with....

new view said...

I guess what Les is sort of saying is the likes of Richardson, Douglas and to a certain extent Willis had the balls to table their budgets not because they were arse holes but because they believed what they did (are doing) is what is needed to make NZ a better place in their opinion. They know they will be unpopular to many which to me makes their decisions even more courageous. If you compare the latest budget to the previous governments last budget there is a huge contrast. I'm not referring to the items in the budget but the ability to get bang for our buck, accountability, efficiency, progress of policy, support for business which in turn leads to economic growth. Many lefties will say that that sort of budget doesn't help them but of course indirectly it does. The trouble with our three year cycle, economic ideas or any ideas, have this short time limit to initiate and see a benefit. A four or five year term would give ideas a chance and if all goes bad a snap election is always an option if pushed for by an unhappy public.