Thursday, 6 December 2007

Roger Douglas, 70 not out

The seventieth birthday of Dodger Rugless prompted many people to send him their regards, and to point out that the economic golden weather we've been enjoying in recent years is in many ways due to the reforms instituted by both Rugless and Ruth Richardson (reforms which have been left largely untouched by the Clark-Cullen Government). Cactus points out, for one, that "Without his reforms people like myself would be working overseas to send money back to our poor New Zealand families, Samoa, Philippines and Island style."

True enough -- but it's not quite enough. Reflecting on Douglas achievements from 1984-88, Douglas' former colleague Michael Bassett called the Lange/Douglas reforms "a revolution of sorts," but
even if a new generation of activists has apparently been sold the line that a revolution was what was had back then, 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 (which everyone now remembers) but also an accompanying welfare scheme called the 'Guaranteed Minimum Family Income,' which everyone now would like to forget -- paricularly Douglas supporters. It would have done for New Zealanders what Helen's 'Working for Familes' has only just done - made most New Zealanders into welfare moochers. If this was a revolution, it's no wonder it was one that today's Labour ministers were able to buy into.

Lindsay Perigo, who as the country's foremost interviewer at the time was front and centre for that whole era, rejects absolutely any idea that it was a "revolution," even "of sorts." Talking to an American audience ten years ago about the myth of revolution, Perigo explained 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: 'In the Revolution's Twilight.'

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.



    Mondays paper here on Guam.


  2. Sorry that didn't work, remove the previous post if you like.

    This was in Mondays paper here on Guam.

  3. That's the point, in the heads of most there is probably a grudging acceptance that something needed to be done in the 80s, but most will pick one reform they liked/didn't affect them negatively, but then spout on about what they hated (usually privatisation), all ignoring that the state's role in health and education grew and became more intrusive.

    The ease by which the public re-elects a Labour government that has renationalised several industries (Air NZ, rail, electricity retail, ACC competitors) speaks volumes


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