The economic reforms of the 1980s and 1990s in New Zealand rescued the country from the extreme interventions of Robert Muldoon, which were misguided attempts to re-invent New Zealand’s economy after Britain dumped us as one of it’s primary producers and to deal with the oil shocks of the late 80s.
I don’t recall those reforms ever being described as the introduction of a new ideology, nor them being called neoliberalism. (But I didn’t follow politics closely in those days).
I’ve followed politics a lot more over the last decade and even then it seems to be increasingly in more recent years that people from the left have lamented the advent of neoliberalism and expressed a yearning to how things once were (while never saying how that was supposed to have been).
Certainly how we manage our economy and social services and public services has changed markedly over the last half century. Margaret Thatcher changed things in Britain, and Ronald changed things in the USA. But it was hardly a massive shift from capitalism to neo-liberalism as if it was as drastic as a move in the other direct to communism would have been.
Then this week Jim Bolger, New Zealand Prime Minister in much of the 1990s, seemed to denounce neoliberalism in an interview for RNZ: The Negotiator – Jim Bolger: Prime Minister 1990-97
Bolger says neo-liberal economic policies have absolutely failed. It’s not uncommon to hear that now; even the IMF says so. But to hear it from a former National Prime Minister who pursued privatisation, labour market deregulation, welfare cuts and tax reductions – well, that’s pretty interesting.
“They have failed to produce economic growth and what growth there has been has gone to the few at the top,” Bolger says, not of his own policies specifically but of neo-liberalism the world over. He laments the levels of inequality and concludes “that model needs to change.”
That’s kind of remarkable. Certainly there has some problems that have emerged from how the country is managed over the last three decades.
A discussion was sparked on Twitter today.
Jim Bolger recants neoliberalism, & now on
#nzqanda Michelle Boag graciously acknowledges Laila Harre’s good work in industrial relations!
Can you point to an instance of him explicitly praising “neoliberalism” at any point?
He’s widely accepted to have overseen the implementation of a version of a neoliberal programme, no? He was fairly praiseworthy of that.
Yeah – and he really expressed no regret for that in the podcast. He also didn’t suggest his reforms were neoliberal – that was Guyon’s word
All true. Yet David Farrar suggests that Bolger is now “to the left of Helen Clark”. I look forward to your column on this.
There’s a huge amount of oversimplification & revisionism going on about this (and related matters) at the moment. It’s very misleading.
I’d be interested to know if the word “neoliberalism” was used much in NZ in the 1990s. People talked about market forces or Rogernomics.
I’ve only heard “neoliberalism” being used over the last few years. It’s a retrospective label that most people have no understanding or even knowledge of.
I wrote about economics and politics in the 80’s and 90’s. Never heard “neoliberalism” bandied about in popular or private usage.
Whatever you call it, it was never promoted as an ideological agenda. It was sold as a necessary, if bitter, medicine.
(By prime ministers, I should add).
In the interview, Espiner asks Bolger about neoliberalism. Bolger is non-committal about the term. He then goes on to express some dissatisfaction about current economic circumstances. So what happens, “OMG Jim Bolger has denounced neoliberalism you guys!!!!”
Re revisionism: Guyon suggested Douglas’s economic plan happened under cover of “popular social reform” like homosexual law reform.
I mean, we all pretend on Twitter we’ve always been woke, but that’s a helluva way to misremember 1980s NZ (& the courage of the reformers)
Yeah, the BWB crowd’s window into the 1980s is via Kelsey’s books and Alistair Barry’s documentaries. It gives a skewed picture.
I was sorta relieved when Moore pointed out actually there weren’t thousands protesting in the streets each day, or complete social collapse.
I think generally people knew things had to change and quite drastically.
The craziest is the idea the “unpopular” economic reforms were possible because of the “popular” anti-nuke & homosexual law reform moves.
For many, anti-nukes was tolerated cos of economic reforms & the homosexual law reform bill was extremely controversial at the time.
How things were economically in the early to mid 80s was untenable, and we can’t undo what has happened.
- How the heck do you change the model from neo-liberalism?
- Why don’t we address the problems, deal with them and move forward?
From what I’ve seen most people who say “we must reverse neoliberalism” actually mean “we need to change to socialism”. We can’t go back.
Why don’t we just do what we can to fix the problems we have now and not worry about labels and revolutionary changes.