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Give Us Some Choice

Entry 1772, on 2016-02-17 at 21:07:10 (Rating 3, Politics)

For the last 30 years voters in New Zealand have had two main choices: a center-right party which is primarily interested in a moderate neo-liberal policy agenda, and another party which is basically the same. Actually I should correct that because during the mid to late 1980s and 1990s we had the "choice" between two parties espousing the same extreme neo-liberal ideology (whether they would be described as being "right" in the traditional sense is debatable because they weren't genuinely conservative).

In recent years our center-left Labour party has had a lot of trouble gaining any support because it looked like an only slightly more moderate version of our center-right National party. National had moved more to the center where Labour used to be (who in turn had earlier occupied the place where National would normally be - are we confused yet?)

It was all a bit of a mess but there was an obvious solution: for Labour to admit that the great experiment it began in 1984 has failed and to go back to being a genuine party of the left. But because conventional wisdom is tha the winning party occupies the center I guess they were hesitant to do that.

But the center isn't just somewhere a party might move to. It's also something the individual parties help to define. If both parties huddle together just to the right of what was traditional the center then the voters will see the center as being towards the right. If Labour moves more to the left then the perceived center will move too, and that will create genuine choice.

The other factor is that people can see what these political parties are doing. They see that leaders are just doing what they think will win them votes instead of doing what they think is genuinely right (the current National government is brilliant at this). The public have got used to this and maybe just accept it as usual political behaviour, but that makes it even more remarkable when someone does do the right thing.

Let me give you a couple of examples of this "right thing" I speak of...

First, we don't sign up to a secretive trade deal which might get us a few economic gains but could easily result in a significant loss of our ability to control our own economy for the good of the majority.

It's not easy to reject the TPP because the National propaganda machine has been churning out promises of the great gains it will bring which have little basis in reality. And we have been hearing for 30 years that free trade is always good. That is perhaps the most basic mantra of neo-liberalism. Well sure, it can be, but we need to look at the gains and losses before we decide.

And the fact that Labour started the negotiations on this deal puts them in an awkward situation. But there are two easy ways to escape that trap: first, to admit that in the past they moved too far into the realm of laissez-faire economics but have now corrected that; or second, to say that the details of the deal we have are not what they envisioned when negotiations was initiated.

The second "right thing" we might consider is to give everyone a chance at tertiary education without ending up with a debt they can never repay.

Labour's new policy to give anyone three years of free tertiary education is a really interesting one. Like all policies it has good and bad points and the people pointing out the problems should realise this. But what is the total effect? Well, all politicians seem to think that greater training and more skills will make it easier for people to participate in the modern economy and reduce unemployment.

I'm not totally sure about this because I think jobs will disappear no matter how highly skilled workers are. But if politicians think workers need more skills then surely making advanced education easier is a good idea. Yet it has taken this long to start reversing the policies of the past (introduced by both parties) which have lead to the skills deficit we have now.

As I have pointed out in other recent posts here, there does seem to be a swing back to more moderate policies which are traditionally associated with the left. So maybe neo-liberalism is finally on the decline. It has been a long, hard time for those of us who have had to live through it. I started my working career just as it started here in New Zealand (1984) and have had to put up with nonsensical and counter-productive policies for years.

It will be along time before we fully rid ourselves of this blight on fair society but at least we can now see that it will happen. Maybe by the time I retire we will have more sensible policies in place and the workplace might be more fair and sensible.

Or at least when voting we might have a choice between parties with different ideas instead of two which are more or less identical.


Comment 1 (4475) by Shrey Srivastava on 2016-02-18 at 09:52:51:

Thanks for this blog post regarding New Zealandís political system; I really enjoyed it and am definitely recommending this blog to my friends and family. Iím a 15 year old with a blog on finance and economics at shreysfinanceblog.com, and would really appreciate it if you could read and comment on some of my articles, and perhaps follow, reblog and share some of my posts on social media. Thanks again for this fantastic post.


Comment 2 (4476) by OJB on 2016-02-18 at 09:53:17:

Sure. I have had a read and left a comment Ė I donít totally agree with your perspective!


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