I don’t have to much to say about Roger Kerr now that he’s passed away. I never met him – apparently he was a nice guy, and various people admired his intellectual prowess. It’s worth pointing out that at the beginning of his career, his neo-liberal, extreme-free market views were a respectable and sensible response to the obvious failures of both authoritarian and democratic socialism.
And some of the ideas that came out of the movement Kerr championed were very valuable. You only have to look at the institutional problems we have with our police, military, intelligence and diplomatic corps to recognise the merits of public choice theory. And Kerr played a key role in moving us away from an indiscriminate business subsidy economy.
Of course, the model Kerr championed turned out to fail just as spectacularly as the democratic socialist economy it replaced. The supply-side hypothesis – that the very wealthy would grow the entire economy by investing their excess wealth in productive capital and this additional wealth would ‘trickle down’ – did not eventuate. Turns out the wealthy like to convert their excess wealth into financial products and gamble it in various speculative markets. Instead of economic growth you get destructive bubble-bust cycles. And during the busts, the rich use their political influence to bail themselves out with public money. The model also failed to find market solutions to the economic problems of externality – most famously, the impact of various industries on the environment and public health.
Maybe future intellectuals will find solutions to these problems, and one day we’ll all live in Kerr’s free market utopia. Right now the tendency is for thinkers in Kerr’s tradition to deny that these problems even exist.
National may plough back cash raised from the partial sale of assets into Kiwibank, Prime Minister John Key says.
Party leaders were addressing the Deloitte-Business NZ election conference in Wellington today.
Explaining plans to use funds raised from selling minority stakes in Meridian Energy, Genesis, Solid Energy, Mighty River Power and Air New Zealand, he told the audience the state-owned bank could benefit.
This isn’t a bad idea. Kiwibank needs a capital injection to grow its commercial business, and you can’t raise the money from the private sector. I don’t have a problem with minority sales of one type asset if it goes to fund the expansion of a second, more profitable asset. But . . .
At the party’s campaign launch in Auckland yesterday, Key announced National would spend $1 billion raised from the sale to transform schools over the next five years. The cash would be ring-fenced in a fund.
This is just the dumbest idea ever. There’s a hundred billion dollar hole in superannuation funding, Key and English have suspended contributions to the Cullen fund, and now they want to sell profitable assets and set up another fund to pay for core infrastructure spending – that they can borrow cheaply to pay for? Will any party – Mana included – propose a less credible policy than this?
But all this is beside the point. The funds from the asset sales are already in the bank. Treasury factored them into the budget and the PREFU – even though the assets haven’t even been sold yet. That’s how the government pays down the deficit so quickly. Now Key is spending that money a second time. So when he announces that he’s going to spend a billion dollars on a fund to transform schools, funded by the asset sales, what he’s actually saying is that he’s going to borrow an extra billion dollars to pay for his election promises. It’s the tax cuts scam – (‘we’re not borrowing for tax cuts, we’re borrowing for the spending from the shortfall from the tax cuts!’) all over again.
I haven’t been able to follow the election as closely as I normally would – but to me it feels like a game of Pac-Man, in which National are the ghosts, who dominated the agenda and before whom Labour could only flee in terror or die. Now, somehow, Labour’s performed the political equivalent of eating a power pellet and the situation is reversed.
More clumsy video-game analogies as they come to hand. (Don Brash = Paradroid?)
Film is not a new medium. Over the past century, film-makers have developed a solid understanding of how to portray subjects in a sympathetic and flattering light. Show them entering the frame and moving from left-to-right (the way our eyes move across a page). Film them from below to make them look large and authoritative, and from above to diminish them. When you cut, cut to a new angle instead of in-frame, or it confuses and agitates the viewer. Illuminate them with warm, soft lighting.
Some directors deliberately flout these conventions – like Jean-Luc Godard, with his famous ‘jump-cuts’, or whoever made the National Party’s opening address, which screened last night and contrived to make our most popular Prime Minister in modern history look sinister, elderly, weak and unwell. It took me back to National’s 2002 election campaign in which Bill English walked around a darkened, empty house warning about the dangers of crime while ominous, atonal music hummed in the background, the apparent subtext being that if you voted for the National Party, English would come into your home and harm your family.
The problems with Key’s opening address weren’t just technical. He’s a very popular politician, but National don’t seem to understand why he’s popular. The address showcased his powerful natural charisma and communications skills, but Key doesn’t actually have natural charisma or powerful communications skills. People like him because he’s like them, or, at least, presents to that effect. An address in which he gives scripted answers to patsy questions makes him look like an ordinary politician, and not a very accomplished one.
I haven’t seen the Green’s opening yet, and I caught about half of Labour’s – my impression was that it was exactly what it needed to be: an exercise in rebuilding the brand of the party, ie what they should have been doing for the last three years. I felt the high profile they gave to many of their new, high calibre at-risk, low list-MPs was a tacit admission that their party list was a huge strategic mistake. Everything else seemed pitch perfect.
Tempted to call the midwife and pretend baby’s swallowed drain-cleaner, broken glass and a live scorpion, just to test if her advice is still ‘Mum should keep breastfeeding’.
Blogging has been non-existent, because a couple of days ago my wife Maggie gave birth to our daughter Sadie, and due to a false positive result on a blood test Sadie spent a few days in the neonatal Intensive Care Unit, even though -as it turned out – she didn’t have anything wrong with her. She should be discharged tomorrow, and blogging should resume, gradually, although due to sleep deprivation it may be even less considered and coherent than usual.
And Labour’s billboard is here.
DimPost Exclusive – a sneak peak at National’s new election billboards.
(With thanks to Joe Wylie, who did the photo-shopping.)
Yesterday Bryce linked to and commented approvingly on Chris Trotter’s latest exposition of his ‘Waitakere Man’ thesis. We all know it now: to win back power, Labour needs to become a workers party so they can win back the vote of ‘Waitakere Man':
. . . the sort of bloke who spends Saturday afternoon knocking-back a few beers on the deck he’d built himself, and Saturday evening watching footy with his mates on the massive flat-screen plasma-TV he’s still paying-off.
National’s partner – let’s call him Waitakere Man – has a trade certificate that earns him much more than most university degrees. He’s nothing but contempt for “smart-arse intellectual bastards spouting politically-correct bullshit”. What he owns, he’s earned – and means to keep.
“The best thing we could do for this country, apart from ditching that bitch in Wellington and making John Key prime-minister,” he’d inform his drinking-buddies in the lead-up to the 2008 election “would be to police the liberals – and liberate the police.”
According to Trotter it’s easy. All Labour needs to do is win the votes of these socially conservative, authoritarian white males on high incomes! And the way to win the votes of people who supported National because they loved tax cuts and hated ‘the nanny state’? Why you simply make it compulsory for them to join unions and pay them a portion of their income!
All the polls show us that the majority of the public likes Labour’s values. They prefer their polices! They despise the leadership of the party, but that’s a sound and sensible character judgement, not a rejection of liberalism.
This chart shows the movements in the TVNZ and TV3 polls released this weekend. Roy Morgan also released another poll, but I think they’re too erratic – the previous poll had a massive decline for Labour, this one shows a dramatic reversal, and their poll numbers have leapt around wildly all year.
The conventional wisdom amongst the pundits is that the voters are ‘switched off’ to politics. Us dullards in the general public can only concentrate on one thing at once, and right now that thing is the Rugby World Cup. But these polls follow the same general trend of the last few months: Labour are losing support to National and the Green party. People are paying attention.