Wednesday, March 01, 2006

The Douglas-Richardson 'revolution': How revolutionary was it really?

When the various lists of Ten Worst New Zealanders were blogged around the traps last week, most of the lists as I said "predictably included the likes of Roger Douglas and Ruth Richardson... even though the economic golden weather we are presently enjoying is in many ways due to the reforms they both instituted (and which have been left largely untouched by the Clark-Cullen Government)."

Spirit of 76 felt so affronted by their inclusion that he posted a defence of Richardson and Douglas -- a defence consisting mostly, I feel bound to point out, of an article by Michael Bassett on the Douglas era and the "revolution of sorts" it brought about.

Now, one would think that as a historian himself Bassett would be careful with words like "revolution" to describe New Zealand's reforms of the Eighties and early Nineties -- even with the modifier "of sorts" -- but as a new generation of activists has aparently been sold the line that a revolution was what was had, it's time to be reminded that it wasn't one at all.

Recall for instance that when Lange called for his famous 'cup of tea and a lie down,' Douglas had just announced both a Flat Tax, and with it a welfare scheme called the 'Guaranteed Minimum Family Income' that would have done for New Zealanders what Helen's 'Working for Familes' has only just done - made most New Zealanders into welfare moochers. Douglas was no libertarian.

The best summary I can point you to of the Douglas-Richardson reforms is here, written by Lindsay Perigo to answer "some U.S. libertarians who believe these reforms represented a veritable revolution. Indeed, Perigo explains how the various reforms have ultimately failed — and describes the philosophical revolution it will take for liberty to succeed":
When I first spoke on a similar topic to an [American Objectivist] gathering in 1995, I said that New Zealand was a nation reformed by Hayekians, run by pragmatists & populated by socialists. The editor of Liberty magazine, Bill Bradford, quoted that line in his March 1997 Liberty article, Revolution in a Small Country, a glowing account of the nature, scope & future of New Zealand's economic reforms...

In a fit of ridiculous hyperbole, Mr Bradford implicitly likened New Zealand's revolution to the Industrial Revolution itself; he called it the "one occasion in the twentieth century when the Leviathan State has been successfully challenged," and described its architect, Sir Roger Douglas, as "the most effective libertarian politician of this century" who "slew the statist dragon." Well, I hate to be a party-pooper, but Bill Bradford was wrong on all counts. The Industrial Revolution analogy is self-evidently fatuous; the Leviathan State in New Zealand is as invasive and pervasive as ever — indeed, more so; and Sir Roger Douglas, effective politician though he undoubtedly was, was and is most assuredly no libertarian.

What the New Zealand experience affords, is — an intriguing object lesson in how far one can go, in a democracy, in making economic changes without a proper philosophy, without a popular mandate, and therefore, without accompanying attitudinal changes.

As the man says, I commend it to your attention. And as I've said myself before, if it's a revolution you really want, then the place in which to start is with that attitudinal change -- getting a revolution going on inside New Zealanders' heads.

LINKS: Stupid Kid - Spirit of 76
In the Revolution's Twilight - Lindsay Perigo
Ten Worst New Zealanders - Peter Cresswell
A Spoonful of Principle Makes the Revolution Fire - Peter Cresswell

TAGS: New Zealand, History-Modern, Libertarianism, Politics-NZ

4 Comments:

Blogger Rick said...

Let's get it done then!

3/01/2006 11:52:00 am  
Anonymous James said...

Reading Douglas's "Unfinished business" I just couldn't carry on. The swamp of State crap the man wanted to repackage and dump on the rest of us was sickening.ACT has had the contradictions expoused by this man ...and others as an anchor around its neck since the start.

3/01/2006 12:59:00 pm  
Blogger PC said...

"Reading Douglas's "Unfinished business" I just couldn't carry on. The swamp of State crap the man wanted to repackage and dump on the rest of us was sickening."

Too true. The Guaranteed Minimum Family Income (GMFI) for instance promised $380 per week of taxpayers' money to couples with one child, with an extra $25 per week for each extra child. That's in 1993 dollars!

And this is really "the most effective libertarian politician of this century"? Sheesh.

"ACT has had the contradictions expoused by this man... as an anchor around its neck since the start."

Too true again. As Douglas and Prebble both said in the early days of the reforms, they were pursuing "socialist ends through capitalist means." Third Way, anyone?

3/01/2006 02:14:00 pm  
Anonymous Sus said...

PC said: 'The GMFI for instance promised $380 per week of taxpayers' money to couples with one child, with an extra $25 per week for each extra child. That's in 1993 dollars!'

Sounds like current policy befitting the likes of Laila Harre and Sue Bradford.

I've long believed that there's only really one colour in NZ politics.

3/01/2006 04:21:00 pm  

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