‘Neoliberalism’ debate continues

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.

Bryce Edwards:

Jim Bolger recants neoliberalism, & now on Michelle Boag graciously acknowledges Laila Harre’s good work in industrial relations!

Liam Hehir:

Can you point to an instance of him explicitly praising “neoliberalism” at any point?

Bryce Edwards:

He’s widely accepted to have overseen the implementation of a version of a neoliberal programme, no? He was fairly praiseworthy of that.

Liam Hehir:

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

Bryce Edwards:

All true. Yet David Farrar suggests that Bolger is now “to the left of Helen Clark”. I look forward to your column on this.

Rob Hosking:

There’s a huge amount of oversimplification & revisionism going on about this (and related matters) at the moment. It’s very misleading.

Phillip Matthews:

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.

Greg Jackson:

I wrote about economics and politics in the 80’s and 90’s. Never heard “neoliberalism” bandied about in popular or private usage.

Liam Hehir:

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!!!!”

Ben Thomas:

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.

Matthew Hooton:

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.

 

 

  1. How the heck do you change the model from neo-liberalism?
  2. 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.

 

Bolger on brash Orewa speech

This from Jim Bolger’s 9th Floor interview (a series featuring past Prime Ministers) – he obviously isn’t a fan of an ex-Leader of the Opposition, Don Brash.

Talking of Hobson’s Pledge, that doesn’t seem to be making much impact.

The 9th floor – Jim Bolger

In the third The 9th Floor interview Jim Bolger is headlined as ‘the negotiator’ but is stirring things up on ‘neo-liberalism’ and race relations.

RNZ: The Negotiator – Jim Bolger: Prime Minister 1990-97

I think Jim Bolger might be about to spark a debate. Two debates actually. One on our economic settings and the other on race relations.

On neo-liberalism:

He says neo-liberalism has failed and suggests unions should have a stronger voice.

“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 neoliberalism the world over. He laments the levels of inequality and concludes “that model needs to change.”

So should we scrap neoliberalism?

Or fix what’s wrong and leave what is generally working ok?

On race relations:

He says Treaty of Waitangi settlements may not be full and final and that Maori language tuition should be compulsory in primary schools.

Indeed Bolger is at his most passionate speaking about Maori issues. He has a visceral hatred of racism and explains the personal context for that.

We asked him whether future generations will open up Treaty settlements again – given Maori got a fraction of what was lost – or whether they are genuinely full and final. He says it is a “legitimate” question and “entirely up to us”.

If Maori are still at the bottom of the heap “then you can expect someone to ask the question again because it means that society has failed”.

He is also scathing of former National leader Don Brash’s Orewa speech on ‘Maori privilege’. “It wasn’t anywhere near as bad as Trump but it was in that frame.” Of course Don Brash never made it to PM, replaced by John Key in 2006. ‘Gone by lunchtime,’ was the political phrase popular at the time.

Bolger also says it’s time to give power back to unions.

Being a more recent Prime Minister makes the issues he raises more pertinent to today’s debates.

Blogview – UF#3 Rob Eaddy

Rob Eaddy
Party: UnitedFuture
List: 3
Electorate: Hutt South
Profile (part):

  • Served 8 years as Chief of Staff to the Prime Minister of New Zealand, the Rt Hon J B Bolger. In that role he was responsible for strategic policy advice, administration and management of the Private Office of the Prime Minister.
  • Between 1998 and 2003, Rob undertook several Senior Communications, Strategy and Consultancy roles in the Ministry of Health and Hutt Valley DHB.
  • From 2003 onwards, Rob has served as Chief of Staff to the Hon Peter Dunne MP, Leader of United Future New Zealand. He has been and remains, the principal political and strategic advisor on all aspects of current policy and legislative issues.
  • Rob has served as the UnitedFuture negotiator for the Confidence and Supply Agreements between Labour and UnitedFuture following the 2005 Election and between National and UnitedFuture following the 2008 Election.

So while UnitedFuture goes into this election with only one sitting MP the party has more depth of parliamentary and government experience.

Eaddy For Parliament

Wellington – If United Future lifts its popularity a familiar face around Parliament will be returning in an unfamiliar role.

Rob Eaddy is number three on the list behind Leader Peter Dunne and outdoors advocate Doug Stevens.

Eaddy has been Dunne’s chief of staff for some time and before that served similar roles for the National Party and was a senior Beehive official for much of Jim Bolger’s administration.The affable, yet sometimes gruff, Eaddy is a famed political manager and his running in the Hutt South seat could create some interesting tension with Labour’s Trevor Mallard and National’s Paul Quinn.

Petone Herald – ELECTION FOCUS: Your candidates:

Backroom boy moves into the public eye

In 2003 he was asked to return to the political realm, to become chief of staff to UnitedFuture leader Peter Dunne. “I had known Peter for a long time and his politics and mine were very similar.”

Eight years later Mr Eaddy has finally stepped out of the shadows, agreeing to become UnitedFuture’s candidate for Hutt South. It’s been the first time he has sought public office, rather than advised those who have achieved it. “It’s a change,” agrees Mr Eaddy. “I’ve always been a defender of those who have got the courage to get up on a soapbox and say what they stand for.”

Because he has been a parliamentary insider his online profile is sparse, but there are a few relevant references to him.

Hon JOHN CARTER Valedictory Statement

I want to say thanks to a number of people. There are so many people to thank. Thanks, everybody. Thanks, everybody in this complex. What a wonderful place to be. But I want to thank three guys in particular who have been special to me in my 24 years within this complex, and they are Rob Eaddy, Paul Plummer, and Wayne Eagleson. I thank the three of you so much for your support. There are many others who have been part of that team, but it has been great to have you guys—and the jokes will not stop, by the way, folks.

Some mentions by David Farrar on Kiwiblog over the years:

One degree of seperation

The United Future Chief of Staff, Rob Eaddy, was Jim Bolger’s Chief of Staff when I worked for Ministerial Services.

A Who’s Who of the Madeleine Setchell story

Staff in the leader’s office broadly are of two types. Those with a party background, and those without.

The other staff, while certainly comfortable with what a party stand for, are not party members or activists. Examples are …Rob Eaddy in United Future …

United Future List

Rob Eaddy, at No 3, is a former Chief of Staff to Jim Bolger, and one of the best political managers around. If United Future did manage to get him into Parliament, he would be an easy pick to become a very competent and successful Minister.

TTTC: DPF, couldn’t agree more with your comments about Rob Eaddy. I’d also add he is one of the most thoroughly decent people you’d ever meet.

[DPF: Yes, he is]

From the archives…

Former Nats chief of staff to head United Future

Mar 18, 2003

Former National Party chief of staff Rob Eaddy has been appointed to that role with United Future, leader Peter Dunne said today.

Mr Eaddy, who will manage the relationship between United Future and the Labour-led Government, left National in 1997 to be communications director of the Health Funding Authority.

He has since been general manager, communications, consultation and relationships for Hutt Valley Health.