Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: It was 30 years ago today

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  • BenWilson, in reply to Lilith __,

    Yes, it was a surreal moment, quite outside of anything I'd experienced before, to have an economic policy decision announced with the immediacy of a disaster or war newsflash. It couldn't wait for the news hour? It was, after all, news, and would have been the number one item, and would of course have had Muldoons leer for us to cringe at one more time.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10653 posts Report Reply

  • Dave Patrick, in reply to Lilith __,

    the Wage and Price Freeze of 1982-4

    Which was very much just a wage freeze. I was 22 in 1984, working for one of the Think Big companies (New Zealand Steel). I voted for the Labour candidate in Franklin (Bill Birch's electorate) which was about as useful as voting for a tsunami on the moon.

    I did not like Muldoon and his cronies at all, most of whom seemed to be in senior positions because they'd been there a long time and they would do what Rob wanted (it's taken the current National government to give us a worse Minister of Education than Merv Wellington for instance).

    We really were an insular, closed, cut off little country in those days - I'm glad to see the end of those times, but the Douglas and Richardson years we could have done without....

    Rangiora, Te Wai Pounamu • Since Nov 2006 • 261 posts Report Reply

  • Josh Petyt, in reply to Dave Patrick,

    Lockwood Smith doesn't count?

    Japan • Since Apr 2014 • 45 posts Report Reply

  • Euan Mason,

    Muldoon has a lot to answer for, but when you see it from his perspective it is understandable, albeit disastrous. New Zealand’s way had always been government intervention. When something big was needed the government created a department and invested in it. This included railways, mail, telecoms, forestry, power, education, health, shipping, roading, research, and even farming was a quango given the support for research and subsidies the department provided. NZ was economically part of Britain, the rich agricultural rump of an industrialised nation, until Britain joined the EEC. We hit a loss of our export market and the oil shocks simultaneously and became a rich country with a third world economy. Muldoon’s answer, whether he voiced it as I have or not, was to have the state industrialise by intervention because that was the New Zealand way.

    However, there was a difference between state interventions of the 1970s and previous ones. Intervention to create a domestic wood supply and ultimately a burgeoning export industry, for instance, could be done one small piece at a time, with adjustments as problems became apparent. The risk was low. Think big projects, however, involved massive initial investments with taxpayers bearing all the risks of massive loans. Muldoon failed to appreciate the difference, and we went from being one of the richest peoples per capita in 1968 to the most indebted per capita in 1979 with very little successful industry to show for it. Many third world countries followed this same pattern, but usually with corruption added in.

    This is how “state intervention” became dirty words in NZ.

    Enter Thatcher, Reagan, Douglas and the new panoply of right wing neoliberals, and NZ was ripe for slaughter. We lost our assets, our jobs and our innocence. You could argue that Muldoon mortgaged them, paving the way for Douglas and Richardson to finally dispose of them.

    I welcomed the Labour government of 1984 without realising that, as one of my right wing friends puts it, “It was one of the best National governments we ever had”. Lange realised only belatedly what his Pandora box contained and by then he couldn’t close it.

    Canterbury • Since Jul 2008 • 259 posts Report Reply

  • william blake,

    Ahhhhhh. NOStalgia, the gas that makes the universe smell faintly of rubber.

    Remember that piece of graffiti on Symonds St. C1984.

    MAD DOG PREBBLE

    well on to it.

    Since Mar 2010 • 380 posts Report Reply

  • steven crawford,

    Remember that piece of graffiti on Symonds St. C1984.

    No, but I do remember: " unemployment is not working"

    Atlantis • Since Nov 2006 • 4414 posts Report Reply

  • Joe Wylie,

    The pumping station that later became Kelly Tarlton's had a nice highly visible tag: NZ: DISCO DUMP.

    flat earth • Since Jan 2007 • 4593 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to Euan Mason,

    It was one of the best National governments we ever had

    It was the first Act government, economically. And they would never have got away with it if National had been their parasitic host. How union boss Ken Douglas slept at night I don't know.

    Even the DomPost editorial regrets the impact of 80s neoliberalism (though conveniently ignoring its ongoing presence).

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19719 posts Report Reply

  • Hebe, in reply to Euan Mason,

    I welcomed the Labour government of 1984 without realising that, as one of my right wing friends puts it, “It was one of the best National governments we ever had”. Lange realised only belatedly what his Pandora box contained and by then he couldn’t close it.

    On the contrary: Roger Douglas was open and clear about his agenda. I was working at The Dom as a sub-editor in 84/85, and spent a lot of the year before the election doing the op-ed and leader pages then news subbing. There was keen awareness of Douglas’ views on the direction in which to take the New Zealand economy. Repeated and lengthy analysis and counter-argument was published in the Dom at least.

    This Wiki entry puts the sequence reasonably clearly:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rogernomics#Douglas_and_the_Development_of_Economic_Policy.2C_1969.E2.80.931983

    At the end of 1983 there was a marked change in Douglas’s thinking. He prepared a caucus paper called the “Economic Policy Package” which called for a market-led restructuring of the economy. The key proposal was a 20 per cent devaluation of the dollar, to be followed by the removal of subsidies to industry, border protection and export incentives. The paper doubted the value of “picking winners” and saw only a limited place for government funding of economic development

    Labour scrapped viciously about that paper. It beggars belief for Lange to claim he was unaware of Douglas’ “Pandora’s box”. Many believe that Lange was allowed to take NZ nuclear-free in return for Rogernomics.

    I was buoyed by Muldoon’s exit – and it was one hell of a good ride working through it all – but I was somewhat less than starry-eyed about Labour and its potential for change. Lange and co were being talked up as ‘young’: my cohort saw them as old squares in suits, a bit less wrinkled than Muldoon’s rugby, racing and RSA men.

    The Dom was electric the night Muldoon called the snap election; it was one of those nights that journalism hooks you in and you never quite come back. The Dominion editor, Geoff Baylis, was at the Governor-General’s media dinner at Government House with journalism grandees from around the country. He noticed mid-meal Deputy PM Jim McLay being given a message. McLay paled, and excused himself.

    Baylis found the nearest phone and whispered commands to the sleepy Dom newsroom to get themselves up to the Beehive quick-smart with a snapper or two because big doings were afoot. And hold the front page. Thrilling all round.

    Christchurch • Since May 2011 • 2898 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    The Hydra meat works at the top of College Hill had "Pigs Disown Muldoon" scrawled on it for years.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10653 posts Report Reply

  • steven crawford,

    Attachment

    A bit of early 1980s graffiti here .

    Atlantis • Since Nov 2006 • 4414 posts Report Reply

  • Mr Mark, in reply to Hebe,

    Well, yeah, Hebe, but I'd suggest most of the 830,000 people who voted Labour were either unaware of Douglas's newly-formed agenda or assumed, as my 19 year-old self did at the time of the 1984 Election, that the Lange Cabinet would rein him in. (incidently, I'd at least partially question the idea that Douglas had a Road-to-Damascus conversion as late as "the end of 1983". His Alternative Budget of 1980 - for which he was, of course, demoted by Rowling - did have elements of what was to become Rogernomics, albeit in a more haphazard way, combined with elements of traditional Keynesianism. I think he'd been moving slowly but surely in that direction since the late 70s).

    Here's what 1984 Labour voters (and other voters) expected.

    1984 pre-Election Poll Question: In your opinion, has government intervention in the New Zealand economy under National in the 1980s been 'about right', 'excessive', 'misdirected' or 'too little' ?"

    1984 Poll..............All Voters...........Lab Voters

    Excessive................33.......................39
    About Right.............31.......................4
    Too Little.................1........................1
    Misdirected.............35.......................57

    As later analysis of the poll suggested "responses were notable in that despite the unpopularity of the Muldoon style of intervention (except among 1984 National voters), the principle of intervention was generally endorsed and the size of the "misdirected" category - particularly with respect to Labour and Social Credit voters - was unexpectedly high."

    Certainly, from the stats, it's clear that only a third of all voters in 1984 and less than 40% of Labour voters thought Muldoon's interventionist policies 'excessive'. Significant interventionism of one sort or another was endorsed by two-thirds of all voters and more than 60% of Labour voters at the time of the Election.

    When I think of my parents, on a relatively low income, putting all their spare change into these little white plastic Labour '78 and then Labour '81 Election campaign 'piggy-bank' boxes, with the aim of doing their little bit for the election of a social democratic government (and thousands around the Country doing the same thing despite barely being able to afford it).... the sheer arrogance and zealotry of Douglas, Prebble, (the particularly waspish) Bassett and their fellow-travellers defies belief !

    And yet, as derisive as I was of the Fourth Labour / First ACT Government, it also happened to coincide with my early / mid 20s. My cheekbones were high, my dark eyelashes were long and my hazel eyes were unusually pretty to the women-folk. It was a period in which I received an enormous amount of attention from the femme fatales and, so, strangely enough, I greatly miss it - despite the viciousness of the Friedmanite loons in power.

    Wellington • Since Dec 2009 • 128 posts Report Reply

  • Joe Wylie, in reply to Mr Mark,

    When I think of my parents, on a relatively low income, putting all their spare change into these little white plastic Labour ‘78 and then Labour ’81 Election campaign ’piggy-bank’ boxes, with the aim of doing their little bit for the election of a social democratic government (and thousands around the Country doing the same thing despite barely being able to afford it)…. the sheer arrogance and zealotry of Douglas, Prebble, (the particularly waspish) Bassett and their fellow-travellers defies belief !

    I remember the rueful late 80s reminiscences of an elderly guy from the Princes Street branch of the Labour Party, about the young Richard Prebble. Despite being a tad disconcerted by Prebble’s differently abled haircut and ghastly jumpers, the old party stalwarts agreed that he was the best thing that had happened to them in some time.

    flat earth • Since Jan 2007 • 4593 posts Report Reply

  • andin,

    we were freed to just do what we wanted.

    I Am Free and I Want. Ah these two miscreants, just cause trouble for prepubescent minds. Which is what most people possessed for decades leading up to the 1980's. And Randians were the most gullible, and childish in the worst sense of the word.
    Will we ever grow up? ..... sigh.....

    raglan • Since Mar 2007 • 1890 posts Report Reply

  • Euan Mason, in reply to Sacha,

    "It was one of the best National governments we ever had"

    It was the first Act government, economically. And they would never have got away with it if National had been their parasitic host.

    It's very electorally convenient for National to have ACT as a coalition partner to take the blame for excesses such as stuffing our Emissions Trading Scheme, selling our assets, punitive union and employment legislation, punitive unemployment legislation, exploitive and pollution-friendly environmental legislation, attempting to privatise education, regressive taxation, and ultimately for the Trans-Pacific-Partnership Agreement that will sell us down the river. Roger Douglas loves this stuff, as does ACT. Make no mistake, though, these are National's policies and tendencies. ACT is where JK's head really lies, but in ACT he would lose middle ground voters. Historians will not look kindly upon this government.

    Canterbury • Since Jul 2008 • 259 posts Report Reply

  • Grant McDougall, in reply to Mr Mark,

    Well, yeah, Hebe, but I’d suggest most of the 830,000 people who voted Labour were either unaware of Douglas’s newly-formed agenda or assumed, as my 19 year-old self did at the time of the 1984 Election, that the Lange Cabinet would rein him in.

    Good call. A few years ago at uni I wrote an essay on the fourth Labour gov't and in one book (sorry, forgotten which one) a Labour MP was quoted as saying that the senior caucus was far too busy dealing with other policies and / or uninterested in economics that they just let Douglas have his way policy-wise, genuinely unaware of the implications until it was too late.

    Dunedin • Since Dec 2006 • 760 posts Report Reply

  • Luke Williamson, in reply to Kumara Republic,

    Thank you so much for that link Deep Red. One of the best bits of reading I've had for a while. Now if we could just find a way of managed retreat from the 'exponential growth' scenario, we might even rescue the planet.

    Warkworth • Since Oct 2007 • 297 posts Report Reply

  • Hebe, in reply to Grant McDougall,

    at uni I wrote an essay on the fourth Labour gov’t and in one book (sorry, forgotten which one) a Labour MP was quoted as saying that the senior caucus was far too busy dealing with other policies and / or uninterested in economics that they just let Douglas have his way policy-wise, genuinely unaware of the implications until it was too late.

    To quote Christine Keeler, he or she would say that, wouldn’t they?

    There was enough published on the front page, in political news, in features, and also in his 1980 book “There’s Got To Be A Better Way” for every voter to know Roger Douglas’ views. Most people appeared to vote Labour in the belief that Douglas would be muzzled by the party – that he wasn’t real Labour and would be outnumbered by the rest so his ideas would not be taken seriously.

    It was serendipitous for Douglas that the books were a dog’s breakfast when opened after Labour won: his 20 per cent devaluation was hustled through via TINA. That gave him the economic levers for the next few years.

    It’s interesting reading views about the time written by the children of Rogernomics, and what is accepted as fact.

    Christchurch • Since May 2011 • 2898 posts Report Reply

  • Hebe, in reply to Mr Mark,

    My cheekbones were high, my dark eyelashes were long and my hazel eyes were unusually pretty to the women-folk. It was a period in which I received an enormous amount of attention from the femme fatales and, so, strangely enough, I greatly miss it – despite the viciousness of the Friedmanite loons in power.

    Lol. We may well have met.

    Christchurch • Since May 2011 • 2898 posts Report Reply

  • Joe Wylie, in reply to Hebe,

    It’s interesting reading views about the time written by the children of Rogernomics, and what is accepted as fact.

    Glad to have had the opportunity to read Harvey McQueen's The Ninth Floor (thank you Ian Dalziel), a far from self-serving account by an insider of the tensions within the fracturing Lange administration. Yesterday's apparent ephemera becomes today's solid history.

    flat earth • Since Jan 2007 • 4593 posts Report Reply

  • DexterX,

    I don't think an elected government anywhere has bettered the betrayal of the electorate more than the Lange Douglas Government.

    I remember before the election people who could moved money offshore in anticipation of the dollar dropping.

    On the day I worked as a returning officer in Mangere - and that was a long day.

    Then the obscene obsession with the stock market that followed as people bewildered themselves with the thought NZ would become the Switzerland of the South Pacific, the stock market rallied every time KZ whatever won a boat race.

    On of the biggest election jokes was Richard Prebble - he saved us from having a rail network - then we had to buy it back.

    1984 the start of the onset of complete BS as a policy position and the deregulation of absolutely everything – a climate that allowed financial market conmen and the dark side to prosper – Arise Lord Key.

    Here we are today – Thanks but no thanks - as a significant % our GDP gets sent offshore and we struggle on.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 1224 posts Report Reply

  • Christopher Dempsey, in reply to Lilith __,

    I remember Muldoon appearing on TV, interrupting the regular programme, to announce the Wage and Price Freeze of 1982-4.

    Ah yes. The Wage/Price freeze that everyone got around, such as Cadbury Chocolate who simply reduced the size of their blocks and kept the same price.

    Parnell / Tamaki-Auckland… • Since Sep 2008 • 659 posts Report Reply

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