Ardern’s New Zealand to be a social laboratory?

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has stated some lofty aims for improving standards of living for the less well off. Time will tell how successful she and her Government are.

Stuff (Sydney Morning Herald): Jacinda Ardern’s New Zealand a social laboratory for the world

Jacinda Ardern has a list of promises for improving the lives of lower-income people.

This is pretty standard stuff for a fresh centre-left government. But one of her approaches for achieving it is not.  The new Prime Minister of New Zealand is planning a world first that could once more make New Zealand a social laboratory for the world.

“We are establishing a living standard framework. We are looking beyond economic markers.”

Her government is not junking the traditional economic measures – debt and budget targets, for instance, will remain.  But, Ardern says:

“If we are increasing GDP and increasingly seeing environmental degradation and social suffering, it’s hard to say we’ve succeeded”, referring to gross domestic product, the conventional measure of the monetary value of an economy’s output.

“We have given Treasury to fiscal 2019 to have a framework ready” for measuring national progress on all three fronts – raising income, yes, but also improving environmental and social goods.

This approach has been hugely fashionable among progressive economists in the last decade. Fathered by the Indian economic philosopher Amartya Sen and mothered by governments in Britain and France, their progeny have so far been stillborn. Because no government has implemented “wellbeing economics” in any meaningful way.

Done properly, a wellbeing framework could “transform the way government works”.

So how would a real one work?

The NZ Prime Minister volunteers this example: “The best indication of the way we want to work is that we’ve put in place child poverty levels” that she wants to achieve. “Our budgets will measure progress against that. So that gives some idea of the sort of accountability framework that we want to put in place.” It’s a proposition that reminds me of the adage that I’ve seen fitness coaches quoting: “What we measure, we improve.”

But it has to go further than mere measurement. Ardern has promised to make NZ “the best place in the world to be a child”. She has set the goal of approximately halving child poverty in 10 years. She has given herself the new portfolio title of Minister for Child Poverty Reduction.

She has set clear targets; her mechanisms for achieving them are vague. Her government’s proposals were accurately criticised last month by the then-opposition leader, Bill English as being “so high level and general that they refer to no one in particular, and no one will be held responsible for any lack of progress”.

This vagueness is a real problem for Ardern to overcome – she has been vague in a number of lofty ambitions.

Much of the solution will have to come from her government’s larger social programme – promises to raise the minimum wage, cut doctors’ fees, build new “affordable” housing, increase many types of welfare payments and family tax credits. How all this comes together remains to be seen.

We will get an idea of this when we see Labour’s first budget. The economy is going well, the country’s books are improving, so there is no better time than now to make some significant improvements – so long as future spending commitments allow for an inevitable economic downturn.

Ardern is being careful to try to occupy so much of the middle ground of NZ politics that she offers no easy avenues of attack from the right. For instance, she is making dramatic cuts to NZ’s immigration intake.

Is she? Her and Labour’s pre-election talk on cutting immigration seems to have softened somewhat now they are in government.

And she’s being “fiscally careful” in the words of leading NZ journalist and economic policy analyst Colin James.

“She’s taking a slightly slower track” than the previous government to reach the same target of net national debt of 20 per cent of GDP.  “They say there are holes in social services, especially health, and I think that’s right.”

The talk has been talked, but we are yet to see the actual walk on this.

Ardern was once president of the International Union of Socialist Youth, but how much of her thinking today is socialist? “Not much,” says James.

The problem with Ardern is that she seems to be saying what she thinks people want to hear. There is no real sign of any radical policy implementation – yet.

If Ardern can sensibly pioneer a way to transform modern economies from GDP-centric systems to ones that put human wellbeing at the centre in a systematic way, she might do a lot more than improve living standards in NZ. She just might revitalise the vision and purpose of social democracy everywhere.

There are two mights in that paragraph. She just might start a revolution in modern social policy and practice.

It is too soon to tell whether Ardern can make a tangible difference on anything other than sounding and looking good for the media.

Country scale social laboratories could make big progress, but might also be a big risk.

37 Comments

  1. David

     /  March 8, 2018

    I love her words, her rhetoric, the gushing lovliness of her I hope she becomes PM for life.
    I adore the way she puts so much of her precious time into fostering an image that NZers can take such pride in, she is out Trudeauing Trudeau which just shows her dedication. I hope Kiwis dont get too churlish and allow her and bubs a good year together before she turns her radiance back to us the people.

    • High Flying Duck

       /  March 8, 2018

      We are truly blessed to be living under a Prime Minister who is so attractive.

      • Blazer

         /  March 8, 2018

        have you finally…come down..to earth.

    • What about she decamps permanently to the living room of her multi million dollar (modest – like her degree) home, enjoys the passive rental income from the other one and we make her our lifetime President. #smilewave #gushgoo #letmeholdyourbaby #isthataschoolletmein #iamjustawesome

      • Blazer

         /  March 8, 2018

        ‘Travellers cake is melting in the dark
        All the envious, green icing flowing down’

        • Ad hominem, ad nauseam. Stick to public figure derision if you don’t mind. NO idea what you’re still doing here the way you’re unable to stop personal attacks

          • PDB

             /  March 8, 2018

            Blazer is a reminder for visitors of what the left is all about, Robert even more so – I welcome their input.

            • robertguyton

               /  March 8, 2018

              Blazer’s comment “is a reminder for visitors of what the left is all about” – clever poetry as an elegant foil to the Right’s cattiness?
              Yes!

    • PDB

       /  March 8, 2018

      Ardern’s image is well protected – the fact she would only appear on ZB if they only discussed her pacific trip and nothing else shows she is running scared & is out of her depth.

      Labour for transparent govt? Nup.

      • robertguyton

         /  March 8, 2018

        It’s a joy to see Righties like PDB suffer the same outrage and frustration at media’s favourable handling of a PM – we Lefties winced our way through 9 years of media fawning and selected appearances by Key – feel the burn, I say.

        • Richard

           /  March 8, 2018

          Actually, you benefitted from a robust economy but were too dim to recognize the fact. Just another blind ideology driven leftie.

          • Kitty Catkin

             /  March 8, 2018

            It’s not a very good parody of MacArthur Park is melting in the rain/All that sweet green icing flowing down.’

            Ms Ardern is doing sweet FA about people on the very lowest income. Someone on less than $13,000 a year pays tax and is expected to live on $209 a week. Someone on about $50,000 pays no tax and is given extra money by the government, in somecases as much as the first person is living on. But they are not considered to need help as much as someone on $1000 a week. Tax the poor to help those whose income is 4x higher.

  2. Blazer

     /  March 8, 2018

    The same criticism could be made of Bill English, re his lofty ‘social investment’ grand plan.The neo liberal experiment from the 80’s onward has been a disaster….Ardern’s inspiration can only be a positve step in the…right direction.

    • Trevors_elbow

       /  March 8, 2018

      Geee… koolaid much? Ya drowning in it….

    • Trevors_elbow

       /  March 8, 2018

      Geee… koolaid much? Ya drowning in it….

    • robertguyton

       /  March 8, 2018

      Like a stuck record, trevor – and Blazer’s on the button. Key too, used us all as Guinea-pigs on behalf of his Neo-lib “pals” abroad.

      • Trevors_elbow

         /  March 8, 2018

        One stuck record around these parts Robert…. well 3…. you, parti and bol…. 3 sides of boredom inducing, ideological triangle

  3. Trevors_elbow

     /  March 8, 2018

    Hmmmm. Winston look out. Not sure his core voters are up for socialism if this type…. 2020 is close and NZ First better hope their privuncial vase is down with trendy leftie city policy or its goodbye to all of NZ Firsts caucus….

    • Prediction – NZ First will be OUT for good 2020

      • robertguyton

         /  March 8, 2018

        Did you also predict that Key would stay on, loyally and the English would see out the term, after winning the recent election and that Bridges as LotO would cane Jacinda in the first sitting of the House? Wrong, wrong, wrong, traveller. Winnie’s confounding you at every turn. He’ll be your Overlord for a long, long time.

    • PDB

       /  March 8, 2018

      He has some supporters left??

        • PDB

           /  March 8, 2018

          A few oldies who have lost most of their marbles, and horse racing/ fishing industry people.

          • robertguyton

             /  March 8, 2018

            He tipped National out of Government. Good work, old chap!

            • Kitty Catkin

               /  March 8, 2018

              Old chap is it. He’s a pensioner and so vague that he didn’t notice for years that he’d been telling WINZ that he was single. Perhaps he’d forgotten.

              National had the integrity not to give the old coot the Deputy PM . Labour were less fussy and did.

            • robertguyton

               /  March 8, 2018

              National begged him, wanted him, needed him… he said, bye bye Billy!

            • robertguyton

               /  March 8, 2018

              Kitty, National were “fussy” and so gave away their chance to govern?
              Oh dear, oh dear, oh DEAR!

  4. sorethumb

     /  March 8, 2018

    That would be a good start

  5. NOEL

     /  March 8, 2018

    Aw NZ only now recognised as a lab. Always emphasized to my Aussie mates that they should look across the ditch for what to expect. They started to believe me when their Gummit introduced GST. Mate e mailed recently to say they had changed their benefit classifications in line with NZ. Probably getting in before my “told you so.”

    Isn’t it great to have a population size ideal for computer modelling.

  6. duperez

     /  March 8, 2018

    Politicians came and went and probably all stated lofty aims for improving standards of living for everyone let alone the less well off. Time has told how successful they and their Governments were.
    It’s all just part of the game and we move on and forget who said what, what it all meant and the kerfuffle that went with it. One thing for sure is that all that was said and done sees us as we are and what we are like.

    Reflecting on that I remember one big stink and wonder what became of that. It was one of those times when things were going to be put right and we were to be sorted out.
    It came in the form of our 37th Minister of Finance our first (and only) female in that role.
    How have the lofty aims of then affected who we have become and how the society is?

    No doubt the hope of some is that Amy Adams will be our second woman Minister of Finance after Ruth Richardson.

  7. sorethumb

     /  March 8, 2018

    This is relevant because Adern doesn’t operate in a vacuum. It is a discussion of Steven Pinkers latest book. Under Adern PC will continue, because you cannot turn an oil tanker quickly.

    First, there absolutely is a popular group of academics and intellectuals who disdain what they have termed “scientism” and who have repudiated the use of scientific methods and theories, especially if those include Darwinian insights, in many spheres of intellectual activity. These academics and intellectuals include both the premodernists and postmodernists that Helen Pluckrose and James A. Lindsay aptly warned about in their article “A Manifesto Against the Enemies of Modernity,” and we will call them romantics in this article to signify their skepticism of Enlightenment values and their embrace of sentiment in one way or another. And second, since the late 60s, the intelligentsia (academics, media pundits, public intellectuals) have established a quasi-religious narrative which contends, among other things, that most demographic groups (sexes, races, classes) have nearly identical capacities and that Western history is a brutal tale of exploitation, imperialism, and oppression that continues to unfold its dark and depressing plot, although punctuated by a few flashes of progress (perhaps, say, the end of slavery; the end of colonialism; the end of Jim Crow). They often derogate those who challenge this narrative, defending it not with reason or data, but with accusations of moral turpitude.

    https://areomagazine.com/2018/02/25/enlightenment-contested/

    • PartisanZ

       /  March 8, 2018

      Why wouldn’t you disdain “scientism” if it is used as the only touchstone of ‘reality’?

      I don’t mean entirely abandon it but instead recognise that however useful it is, scientific method also has limits to what it can viably investigate, along with limits as to what it can feasibly conclude …

      Our perception of reality – the world ‘in itself’ or ‘as it is’ – is only our perception, not the reality, and that perception includes inscrutable feelings, emotions, intuitions and presentiments …

      In many realms of life, an investigation or a conclusion made without the inscrutable is not really living at all …

  8. Alan Wilkinson

     /  March 8, 2018

    When Gush meets Reality, Reality always wins. All in good time.

    • PDB

       /  March 8, 2018

      https://globalnews.ca/news/4058984/justin-trudeau-india-trip-ipsos-poll/

      “A slim majority of 54 per cent now disapproves of the performance of the Liberal government under Trudeau while a minority of 46 per cent approves.

      Of that, only nine per cent of respondents said they strongly approve of the government, while 37 per cent said they somewhat approve.

      Twenty-eight per cent said they strongly disapprove and 26 per cent said they somewhat disapprove.”

    • PartisanZ

       /  March 8, 2018

      You’ve got a long wait if you think you know reality Alan …

      Reality never ‘wins’ because reality isn’t competing.

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