I’ve been watching Revolution, the four part documentary about the neoliberal reforms of the 80s (hat tip DPF). It is excellent. A couple of thoughts came to mind while watching it:
- The anti-MMP, pro-FTP crusaders seem to have the late 80’s in mind when they argue that we should change electoral systems, presumably because they liked it when the public had a choice between a Labour Party dominated by Douglas, Prebble and Bassett, or a National Party dominated by Birch and Richardson. But if you iterate back a few elections you find yourself in the mid-1970s when the public only had a choice between a socialist National Party and a socialist Labour Party. Neo-liberalism is in its death throes so I think we’re unlikely to see either party influenced by it, let alone both – but it’s not impossible to imagine the rise of a conservative, nationalist, isolationist politician in the mold of Winston Peters dominating the Nats, mirrored by a resurgence of authoritarian unionism in Labour.
- It is weirdly ironic that during the early 80s we were close allies with the US and Great Britain – governed by Thatcher and Reagan – but we were an Eastern European style socialist economy. After we became the most deregulated free market economy in the world the relationship deteriorated so badly our former allies refused to condemn the Rainbow Warrior bombing.
- The more I learn about Lange the less impressed I am. Sure, he had wit and charm but it’s hard to watch the footage of him declaring that economic change under his government will be ‘socially just’ or boast that he’s not an economist but that he ‘knows how to use economists’ without the gorge rising in your throat. I think he was a man of straw, out of the country or playing with racing cars for most of his tenure with Roger Douglas running his government.
- In 1987 Judith Tizard almost won Remuera!
- In many ways the documentary is a case study in the dangers of unhinged ideology. During the financial crisis of the early 80s Muldoon’s answer to every problem is to borrow more money and increase regulation of the economy. After the market crash in 1987 Roger Douglas decided that the country needed furthur deregulation of the financial sector. Hard to say which of them caused more damage to the economy.
- I wonder to what extent Douglas was the architect of Rogernomics. Before the 1980s he was a standard Labour style socialist, in the 90s and beyond he’s a crackpot. It’s only during his tenure as Finance Minister there is an intellectual framework and ideological coherence to his policies. But during the documentary in both the interviews and archival footage he only speaks about economic issues in very broad terms – the need for change, the need for it to be ‘bold and radical’ and the need for extraordinary speed. I suspect the real architects were his advisors from Treasury and the Reserve Bank (many of whom began the 80s as civil servants and ended the decade as multi-millionaires running the companies they helped Douglas privitise).