Island Life by David Slack

40

Go hard or go home

Has anyone been counting? What number are we up to in this 100 days of action from our new government? Where is that Pork-o-meter when you need it?

Perhaps it's day 97, I don't really care; I'm just pleased to read that something's about to happen. A rolling maul, no less! Good on you, John. We were looking for a bit of an effort and you've picked up the ball and run with it. To be fair, you were looking a bit average for a wee while, but full credit to you and the team. It's a game of two halves. Half a billion on infrastructure spending! Jobs for blokes who can swing a hammer! That's more like it. You're doing the hard yards at the business end. Now it's time to put a few between the sticks. What we need obviously is someone with imagination obviously.

Is 500 million enough? And what should you spend it on?

I got weak at the knees with revolutionary fervour the other night watching a Ken Burns documentary. It was all about about the war effort in America. The Ford motor company was rolling a new B24 bomber off the production line every 54 minutes. The nation's factories were making ships and planes faster than the enemy could sink them or shoot them down. By the end of the war, the US was turning out something like half the world's industrial production. There was scarcely a person left idle in all of the USA, and women in overalls were suddenly doing men's work with skill, care and steely determination.

What a transformation it was, from dust-bowl and soup lines, to powerhouse economy. The vast and dreadful pity of it was that it took a war to make it happen.

We don't have a war; we just a have a battlefield, cratered by exploding investment bankers. Now what? We could pick our way tentatively through the wreckage or to return to the tortured rugby metaphor, we could stick with this 'rolling maul' idea, the import of which would appear to be: do what seems sufficient to keep everyone employed, borrow plenty of money - but no more than we have to - and let's see if we can come out the other side with everything still intact.

But is that how we want this to play out? Do we want to come out the other side with all the furniture in the same place?

I have been chatting with my fellow lefty Finlay Macdonald for months now about the fiscal havoc, and we have come through the stages of grief anger denial etc to a point where we believe we have an answer to the problems. It may not surprise readers, once they have seen the following proposals, to know that we were drinking at the time.

Nonetheless we have a few ideas that we think are worth tossing about. They are not carefully honed. They are broad brush strokes. We are saying: what the hell. If we're going to spend some money on infrastructure, let's do this thing properly.

You may think them fanciful, wholly unrealistic. But don't be rushing to judgement. Like a horse-drawn carriage, like a machine that can fly, like a giant series of tubes that might permit you to send a message to a fellow pornographer in Sweden, all the most marvellous facets of life were once dopey ill-formed sketchy suggestions.

Our thesis rests on this foundation: the place is becoming a dump. It needs changing. We drive around in clapped-out cast-off cars, live in houses that are disintegrating from the inside out, are contenting ourselves with second rate crap from the Warehouse, and are working long long hours for a quality of living that seems less than it was a decade ago and the one before that. The jobs are going to thin out now, and when that happens, it will all get ugly. So yes, let's spend billions of dollars of money borrowed in the name of the taxpayers, but let's really use our imagination.

Here comes the high ball, son.


1. Move the capital from Wellington to Blenheim
Think of the vast sums of capital involved, the thousands of houses and buildings to be constructed! What a jobs engine! Germany moved their capital from Bonn to Berlin. No sweat. Consider all the advantages: a happy climate for the citizens. They can go outdoors more. Wellington, don't give us any flannel. Every night we see your weather camera getting blown about on the 6 o'clock news. You might pick grapes for a living instead of holding seminars on strategy and generally being a dead-weight bureaucrat. Not to mention the earthquake. The rest of the country fears for you all, Wellington. You saw that TV drama last year didn't you? Scary, eh? Come to Blenheim.


2. Tip over all the Leaky Homes and build them again
We know this is where it will end up. 80,000 of the houses built since the mid 1990s are poked, according to John Gray, and he ought to know. It's a colossal scandal, and no bastard wants to put their hand up for it. Meanwhile all the poor owners are spending fully as much as as they paid to build their houses to get them patched up. A friend of mine does repairs on these houses. The poor owners usually ask to have things reinstated the way they were. He says he warns them: you'll just get the same problem again. Still they press on. It's all too dismal.

Here's the capital-intensive solution I propose: the government tips all these houses over and builds their owners new homes in a style which uses none of the crap cladding from the likes of the those Hardies people, and uses eaves and all the other features of building design one usually finds in a pluvial country. You and I will pay for this largesse at - let's say - $250,000 a home. This $250,000 will get you $350,000 of value, because we will re-establish the Ministry of Works and/or the railway workshops and we will have thousands of tradesmen on the payroll, and we will squeeze the arms of the materials suppliers until their eyes water. We will do this partly because we want to get a better price and partly because we want to see the pain on their faces after all these years of price gouging.

3. No more cheap cars
We will ban second hand imports. Car owners will be compelled to spend money on cars the way they used to: on maintenance. Running good cars for longer will provide work for more tradespeople, and as if that's not reason enough, consider also that this could bring the curtain down on the boy racer sideshow.

4. Clean milk
There will be a massive dairy cleanup project to make our agri-business genuinely clean and green. Jobs. Exports. Rivers you can swim in.

5. Green zones
Down here at the bottom of the world, we love our Bob Marley. So let's honour his memory with some specially approved zones where it will be legal to smoke controlled marijuana. You would - yes - roll this into a "green tourism" deal that blends the ganja with eco-lodge backpacker accommodation. The message would be plain: come here, get wasted, commune with nature. This is just so full of benefits, it's hard to believe the MP for Maui hasn't already proposed it: vast revenue to help the government pay down its debts, massive employment possibilities, and an end to a prohibition-based criminal enterprise.

6. Sunday Paper edict
For every story they run about the value of your house, the Sunday Papers will be obliged to run one other about some other form of investment, and at least half of those must be export-related.

7. The Dunedin Line
We put all our exports on sailing ships and cargo ships which are propelled by Sky Sails. New Zealand avoids the carbon mile problem by going green and gets itself an outstanding branding opportunity. Regular listeners to Nine To Noon will know of what I speak. After I spoke of it last week, Neale Dickson emailed to let me know that these Sky Sails which can haul a conventional container ship all across the ocean are actually made right here on Auckland's North Shore. Which figures. Let us work to our strengths, as they say.

8. Also
Bill Ralston will be obliged to write his columns in the presence of a witness who will ensure that he spends at least fifteen uninterrupted minutes at the task. This may not make much difference to the economy but I suspect it would cheer up readers of Public Address.

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