Tuesday, December 09, 2008

History is written by the victors

The tide has turned in almost every economy, NZ's perhaps more so because of its dependence on a narrow range of commodity exports and its small domestic economy. The reversal will not wipe away the gains of the last decade, but employment, trade and overall productivity are in decline as has been thoroughly commented on. Does this, however, justify the broad claims made in the Speech from the Throne? That the last decade was merely a wasted opportunity? Clearly not, the rhetoric is overblown, particularly for regally-endorsed speech. Nevertheless, Key's win gives him the right to script such events just like Clark's did in '99, 2002 and '05 (however I'd argue none of Clark's speeches included commentary comparable with Key's, not even the '99 speech).

It's a bit pointless to rate Key's speech. Save for the significant ommission of plans to urgently remove protections from an estimated 100,000 workers, it contains no real surprises. The focus is predictably on first stablising the economy then growing it. Laudable goals, almost apolitical absent the details. What specific plans the speech does contain are really no more detailed than the various pre-election announcements; for this reason alone I think it's a poor effort.

The policy prescription outlined is as othordox as it could be - perhaps too much so for ACT. Reducing personal tax rates, investing in infrastructure development, deregulation (particularly in Industrial Relations and resource management) and various vague trade goals. I note the absence of any mention of migration - what ever happened to John's ambitious plans to bring kiwis home? Silent.

Paul Keating famously observed (circa 1996) that when you change the government, you change the country. By the end of the year, this will at least be true for 100,000 workers. Merry Christmas.


Anonymous said...

"however I'd argue none of Clark's speeches included commentary comparable with Key's"

Bollocks. Clark's speeches were every bit as vacuous.

Anonymous said...

And why exactly was the last decade "clearly not" a wasted opportunity? Did we get back into the top half of the OECD, as promised? No. Did productivity increase, as various Govt programmes promised? No. Did the wage gap with Australia close? No. Did the Government spend vast sums of money on innumerable "economic development" strategies, to no obvious effect? Yes.

Giovanni said...

I bet every single historian named Victor has heard that joke at some point in their careers.

I wonder about the "NZ's [economy] perhaps more so", I really do. I have a feeling we're going to be somewhat insulated from the brunt, but I'm certainly no economist, it's just what I'm picking from the swirl of expert and quasi-expert commentary.

The "ten years of wasted opportunity" is an effective rhetorical framing, I think. Key could certainly not argue that things have gone badly over the Labour decade, all he can do is claim that we should have achieved more. How, it's not clear. I still maintain he plans to close the gap with Australia by finding lots of ore.

Jake said...

Really? I always thought history was written by . . . losers.

With apologies to Homer Simpson.

St Edward's Cathedral said...

These changes were underwhelming. National had a bit of capital it could have spent ramming shit through Parliament in sync with its election posturing about an energetic 100 days. But instead of spending this capital on something audacious National frittered it away. It's first act as a new Government was to plunge the House into a confused state of urgency with these trifles. For example, people expected National to do something radical on Bail. It made lots of big sounding promises. But in the end, it repealed three words and a clarifying paragraph - hardly what I would call daring. The rest was not much better. When it returns to Parliament in February, National won't find the public quite as willing to indulge fun and games in the House. The public will want to see real leadership during uncertain times. Not this kind of farcical nonsense involving smoke, mirrors and bungled procedures.

backin15 said...

Anon, I wasn't arguing their substance, I was arguing that Clark's were based in reality and not nearly so partisan.

Anon 2, productivity through the Clark years increased dramatically though wages less so. There's a lot written about why NZ wages are particularly 'sticky', I'll save it for another post.

Gio, I agree. Key's painted himself into a very difficult position. Feted by the media for his ambition, he's now got to deliver - perhaps he's free of the constraints that bedevilled his predecessors?

Jake, that seems a little harsh... am I in that group?

St Edward's Cathedral. I largely agree. I think Key's mis-steps suggest he's got lots of learn - something I've long thought. As with Gio's comment, I think you're spot on in your analysis of Key and National; I'm increasingly of the view that they're a one-term government.