Sunday, December 10

The absence of public ownership and planning is holding back our country

New Zealand is caught in the gyre of many crises, all of which reflect the inability of “free” markets to provide for the needs of either individuals or society as a whole. This malaise hangs over not just New Zealand, but the wider Western world. Meanwhile the oft quoted adage “it is easier to imagine an end to the world than an end to capitalism” has become a bromide for sections of the left caught in a feedback loop of defeatism, economic illiteracy, and post-materialism.

Contrary to this is our own history: New Zealand’s record of being the most radically interventionist social democracy in the postwar period. By rediscovering our own past, we can reclaim the future; what a society not captured by market logic looked like, how the state can manage the economy as a whole for the benefit of many, and what measures can develop the basis of a socialist alternative—the way out.

Using (now) heterodox political economy, this piece will examine the economic history of New Zealand, current trends in economic thinking, and the vital role public ownership and planning has to play in addressing our country’s structural problems.

The failure of “free markets” 

To those who believe the purpose of economic policy should be the achievement of positive social outcomes (as opposed to a focus on economics that emphasises the maximum profitability of firms), collective democratic planning of production—what could also be known as indicative planning or national economic planning—is the means by which the state coordinates economic activity in “the national interest.” 

The national interest could be considered the interests of the collective as a whole; the principles, practices, and greater purposes that benefit us all and supersede the wants of any particular element. 

I do not think it is in any use talking about national wealth unless we can use it for national purposes.

Michael Joseph Savage

Since wealth and resources are generated by the collaborative labour of all in society, the use of this wealth must be within rational collectivist parameters; i.e., ‘national purposes.’ Some of these included—

  • social welfare: the ability for all individuals and families to meet their immediate and qualitative needs (such as nutrition, clothing, leisure, recreation etc.); 
  • public investment and Government-directed economic development to ensure—
    • economic security for all workers;
    • greater self-sufficiency on a national economic level (especially as to protect against external shocks); 
    • an economy with a material base in domestic production and essential services, as opposed to rentier or speculative economic activity that yields ‘profit’ without contributing to the total provision of goods;
    • real income increases and rising living standards, brought about by aggregate demand being absorbed by domestically produced goods.
  • social security: the minimising of out-of-pocket costs incurred by disability, illness or injury through a universal, free at the point of use health and care system;
  • promotion, conservation, and expansion of the commons so as to remove the economic bar on educational attainment, social mobility, and participation in public life. 

In opposition to national purposes lies capital. In the age of shareholder capitalism, private enterprise has neither the inclination nor the social conscience to address the structural rot that has steadily eroded any social good. A quote from Bruce Jesson’s Only Their Purpose is Mad (1999) illustrates this point:

A void has opened up in New Zealand, as a consequence of the [free] market transformation of the last fourteen years, in which things that the market cannot provide simply do not occur. Nowhere is this more evident than in Auckland. The theory underlying the local government reforms was that regulation and policy was the role of public bodies; whereas the provision of services was the role of the private sector [public-private partnerships]. This division of labour doesn’t work in practice, however, because the initiative and drive for a project have to come from the providers not the regulators. There are all sorts of projects which might be of great public benefit, but in which the private sector providers have no great interest or incentive.

Public transport is one of the most disagreeable features of life in Auckland … There are various reasons for this … it is virtually impossible to bring a region-wide view to [these] regional problems [because] … these days … New Zealand has a privatised rail company, Tranz Rail, and Auckland now has a privatised bus service owned by Stagecoach. Neither has any reason to work with each other or anyone else on an overall solution for Auckland’s public transport problems.

A “hands-off” economic approach by governments since the 1980s, has failed to address this ‘void’; the chronic underinvestment and underdevelopment in our country brought about free market and monetarist policy. 

Public policy in the neoliberal political economy favours regulatory measures—preventing harm or hazard—over state interventionism. There is an inherent “negativity” to this type of policy-making. The role of Government diminishes. Material conditions, and the social relations that ensue, are not subject to democratic forces; only market ones. The Government does not build the society the public wants. It simply exists to blunt the worst excesses of market behaviour, while administering an ever-burgeoning bureaucracy of “bullshit jobs.”

A social democratic reformist government would need to expand the instruments it has at its disposal. The most direct vehicle for planning is public ownership. “The commanding heights of the economy” in Marxian and left-wing economics refers to those sections of the economy that have to be brought under democratic, collective control in order to begin any kind of significant transformation of the economy: critical infrastructure; a large firm in a consolidated market; natural resources; an industry of strategic importance, for instance.

The Government can then use its publicly owned and controlled enterprises to achieve “public-spirited ideals” that transcend the conservative motives of the business community; namely, the short-termist obsession with maximising margins. 

A case example: the banking industry and the housing market

The banking sector is one such industry of strategic importance. Since the mid-to-late 1990s the Australian-owned “Big Four” (ANZ, ASB, BNZ, and Westpac) have pursued lending practices that have hurt not helped the national interest. Brian Gaynor provides an account of this (Jesson, 1999):

The sharemarket crash [of 1987] has had an enduring impact on a number of important areas: New Zealand companies were in no position to buy Government assets in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Consequently a large number of these assets were bought by offshore interests … Private investors have lost interest in the sharemarket and have switched to residential housing … The banks have become particularly conservative and now prefer to fund the housing and department markets. This has led to a residential boom which may haunt the banks in the years ahead; and ‘the business and investment community’ has become cautious and conservative. Company directors and executives are now more adept at downsizing – cutting costs and reducing debt – than expanding.

Independent economist Cameron Bagrie has commented on ‘the market fixation with making money in a six-to-twelve month window’ that is ‘actually holding the economy back’ due to a failure to take on risk, including by not investing in productive sectors of the economy. 

A quarter century later and the market has not changed its behaviour, leading to a tremendous misallocation of capital that could have been utilised to develop infrastructure and secondary industries. Meanwhile, a major housing crisis has developed as a result of steep asset price inflation—the housing market boom the Big Four decided to cultivate thirty or so years ago. In 2022, over 60% of all bank lending went towards housing. Only 9% of all bank lending came from New Zealand-owned banks, with KiwiBank being the predominant lender. Significantly more democratic and governmental pressure can be applied on firms that are locally owned, whereas international capital can only be said to be invested in (and accountable to) the situation in a given country to the degree that the market of that country remains profitable to them.

The Council of Trade Unions (CTU) has proposed the government create a national investment bank with the aim to invest in projects, particularly along national development lines, that privately owned banks are too conservative and short-termist to consider; the Scottish National Investment Bank being the inspiration. Unfortunately, the experiment of Kiwibank has shown that a supplementary state-owned enterprise to the market is not enough to achieve fundamental or significant change. The problem with a supplementary solution is that it accepts the state of market behaviour, and the consequences of neoliberalism, then tries to accomplish something different  atop broken foundations. The CTU proposal is an amelioration, not an undoing, of economic liberalism. To truly shape the direction of output and capital allocation in a given sector, the government must own and control a major player. 

Of course, the public sector once owned four commercial banks: Bank of New Zealand, the Post Office Savings Bank, Development Finance Corporation, and Rural Banking. These institutions were not merely backstops, but interventionist instruments; a means to translate public policy into market activity through steering the flow of capital and resources towards projects and development commensurate with what the public wanted, and what the country needed. 

…legislative measures [were needed] to handle the economy as a whole, whereas formerly the Government had confined itself to altering wages, taxation, and the level of public works … a central bank which might give the Government freedom from control by bankers and also direct the hitherto uncontrolled private banking system …

The setting up of the Reserve Bank [in 1934] was necessary for any further social and economic development. Seddon [in the 1890s] had refused to make the Bank of New Zealand an instrument of public policy and by this refusal New Zealand, for nearly 40 years, had endured some needless stagnation and, through the working of the commercial banking system, had suffered more heavily than it need have …

The Labour Government’s philosophy that every New Zealander had a right to decent housing … could not have been done if the Reserve Bank had not existed to carry out government policy … From 1936 onwards the provision of houses by the state, usually on some sort of planned development, has been part of New Zealand’s social welfare. Only the Government, with the Reserve Bank, could have provided what the people clearly wanted.  

(Sutch, 1969)

The forty years of stagnation prior to the sweeping economic interventions introduced in the 1930s has an unmistakable parallel to the three decades of stagnation, missed opportunities and managed decline that has once again characterised New Zealand since the conclusion of the Rogernomics-Ruthanasia reforms of the 1980s and ‘90s. 

Just as the old economic liberalism of the 19th and early 20th century, known as laissez-faire, failed to meet the collective and individual needs of ordinary peoples, today’s neoliberalism (new economic liberalism; new laissez-faire) has resulted in a litany of avoidable catastrophes brought on by the moral hazard of unfettered capitalism. 

Contrast the current free market approach to the supply of housing — profligate lending by the Big Four, operating with no regard for anything other than the strength of their margins, which has produced negative externalities and widened the wealth gap — with the state interventionist approach shared by National and Labour in the post-war period (from Bryan Bruce):

There was a time when banking was heavily regulated in our country. Most people put their money in the government owned and controlled Post Office Savings Bank [POSB] and the profits were distributed back to the people through other government agencies such as the State Advances Corporation which dominated the mortgage market and thereby controlled house prices and housing development. It was all part of that welfare state post-war thinking about how to build a fairer more equitable nation.

[POSB] profits funded state institutions like the State Advances Corporation that lent mortgage money at 3% for 40 years to first home buyers. So we saved in our own bank to lend to our fellow Kiwis. And because of what was in effect a lease-to-buy scheme many thousands of ordinary New Zealanders were able to get a place to call home and achieve security of tenure.

The lamentable state of the housing market is an indictment of economic ideologies that reject or want to minimise the role of the state in planning and developing important areas of social and economic life. The proposition that planning doesn’t work and free markets better allocate resources is demonstrably false, and New Zealand’s historical and present experience is a testament to that. 

A second case example: the forestry industry

We can look beyond banking and housing to make the case that blind enthusiasm for the free market conflicts with the common good. The North Island floods have recently drawn attention to the practices of owners in the forestry industry. 

Forestry slash, the scrap timber, branches and offcuts left behind when pine plantations are harvested, has recently received press coverage for its role in the destruction wrought by Cyclone Gabrielle. According to reporting by Tony Wall of the Sunday-Star Times, the irresponsible and sometimes illegal practices regarding the management of slash by land owners (including local Iwi) contributed to ‘further flooding, damage to property and infrastructure, injury and death’ during the floods because the slash was swept away by heavy rain into swollen rivers, which in turn became larger and more dangerous. Slash that is swept into rivers also makes future flooding more likely as ‘more and more height is added to the riverbed [by slash turned into sediment], [so] it takes less and less water for it to come over its banks.’

major bridge in Tairawhiti was destroyed by slash:

Piles of dead wood had swept down from pine forests and combined with flood waters to choke the river and the bridge crumbled under the pressure.

Te Hau-Ward is the Civil Defence coordinator for Tokomaru Bay and says the bridge would still be intact if not for all the wood.

The damage is so severe the town is now completely isolated from the rest of the country and helicopters are still the only way to get people and supplies in or out.

“We are feeling isolated and afraid,” she says. “It’s going to take years to recover.” 

What’s of relevance here is that many of these forests used for logging were once part of the land owned by the New Zealand Forest Service (NZFS), which was sold off during the 1980s and 1990s despite widespread public opposition. In 1988, 52% of the forestry sector was state-owned, versus 7% in 1998. The NZFS, in its heyday, was ‘the largest and dominant player in the forestry sector, [it] provided leadership and vision for the sector and had great influence over the policies and strategies that determined the direction the development of the sector took.’

It also served both commercial and social functions—John Patterson, a former civil servant, recalls that ‘the Forest Service was taking people who couldn’t get a job. You’re better planting trees than sitting on the dole.’

The programme of Rogernomics hit rural New Zealand hard; restructuring of the public sector, and the removal of subsidies and rural services, had a major impact on the regions. In the 1980s, for ‘smaller [forestry] towns like Tuatapere [unemployment] was at around 80 per cent.’ The regions suffered greatly as a result of what were billed as “reforms” by the technocrats in Wellington. In the absence of public ownership, state intervention, and comprehensive rural services, these regions remain in steep economic and demographic decline. 

The now privately-owned forestry sector has been the subject of multiple controversies in addition to the slash scandal (now the subject of a government inquiry); it is one of the deadliest industries in New Zealand, and tensions are rising with local communities over the ecological impact of its business practices. 

To add insult to injury, the great majority of the harvest is sent offshore, even though there is strong (and necessary) domestic demand for those materials. Some of these forestry products are then re-imported as value-added goods or finished goods — an absolute absurdity; however, the exact numbers on this aren’t known because the Ministry of Primary Industries does not distinguish between imports and reimports in its records. The total value of solid timber imports has grown from NZ$88 million in 1993 to NZ $531 million in 2015. Reliance on imports means ‘New Zealand consumers have transferred their environmental footprint off-shore by purchasing forest products imported [or reimported] from overseas.’

Due to this reliance on imports, cash flow and commercial activity is taken out of regional economies because owners have prioritised exporting raw materials at the expense of manufacturing and value-added processes; which benefits no one other than the ‘forestry owners – many of whom are not New Zealanders but foreign corporations that have invested in land here.’ This problem is partly exacerbated by the lack of support for domestic producers from successive neoliberal New Zealand Governments that have failed to implement development-friendly policies such as procurement, protectionism, or export restrictions.

Here we see the difference between public ownership and private enterprise: a natural resource once used through its public ownership to achieve an ‘outstanding record’ in land management and development; now in the hands of foreign and private ownership, that same industry has become a hazard to its communities, a well of labour exploitation, and a regressive force on economic development. 

The absence of state intervention, public ownership, and public bodies to coordinate economic strategy has only led to outcomes that have made New Zealand a less developed, less productive, less secure, and less stable society. Free market economics has been an abject social failure. Even in the doldrums of Muldoonism there still retained some positive social outcomes such as full employment, a healthy manufacturing base, and universal social welfare. If the problems of the “hands-on” interventionist economic model from the 1930s to the 1970s were a problem of unbridled executive power, then the problems of the neoliberal political economy (1980s – present) are of unbridled market behaviour.

Profit to be the servant, not the master—public ownership and planning to be the directing force

Profit must become the servant of socially planned development, not the master.

Wolfgang Rosenberg

The challenge now for the left is to provide a schematic of an alternative economic model. New Zealand needs to recover the legal and economic architecture that equipped the Government with an array of instruments to address different macroeconomic problems simultaneously; ‘handle the economy as a whole’ as opposed to ad hoc incrementalism. 

Neoliberalism produced a fundamental paradigm shift in how resources and wealth should be allocated or distributed. Put simply, the spirit of neoliberalism is that “market forces”—once unshackled by stultifying government intervention—will determine what has value and what doesn’t; therefore, “naturally” achieving equilibrium and efficiency in the economy and in wider society, for what doesn’t have value according to “the markets”—and only they are “objective”—will be marginalised or done away with entirely. This is what’s meant when references are made to this, that, and the other being ‘neoliberalised’; university education, for instance.  

At bottom neoliberalism is the same economic ideology of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the time of the robber barons, as it believes in the unfettered or deregulated freedom of action of the propertied individuals and groups in society. 

By contrast, the post-war economy could be described as Dirigist. Dirigisme is the state exercising a protective, directive influence over the economy. ‘[T]hrough a process which is a mixture of market forces and Government direction and control,’ the New Zealand Planning Council states, the question was answered of: who should produce, what is to be produced, and how should they produce it. These three questions make up the fundamentals of structural reform. In this Dirigiste structuring of the economy, the balance of forces lay with administrative mechanisms over commercial ones. One such example was import licensing; the requirement that importers hold an import licence, which was used to limit the number of imports and so protect and promote domestic production. 

On universal import licensing, a report from a National Development Conference stated:

Because it does not rely on the market mechanism to achieve results, import licensing represents a most useful form of intervention where the authorities consider the market attaches insufficient significance to the relative social and political costs and benefits of a particular enterprise. 

(1969; Rosenberg, 1993)

What’s of note is that National Development Conferences were made up of prominent business interests, secondary industries predominantly. The advocacy of an administrative mechanism over market forces is remarkable considering today’s neoliberal attitudes that the unbridled market alone can provide for the wealth and welfare of the country. Rational economic policy does not stem from the self-serving economic conservatism of corporate New Zealand, but in the sober-minded consideration of how to channel the productive—and disruptive—forces of a market economy into broader social ends. 

A major innovation for social democratic parties would be to shift emphasis from the distribution of resources to their production. Until this happens, we are stuck in the era between Occupy and 2016. A period where the emphasis was on expropriating the 1%—it correctly presupposed the populist indignation at financial elites, but failed to congeal into anything that could have triggered a paradigm shift. Whereas the populist conservatism of America First, for instance, has become more reified in politico-economic thinking. Its emphasis on reshoring production has yielded more significant buy-in from policymakers and the “Joe Average public” alike; contributing to a shift in the overton window towards economic nationalism, as signified by the CHIPS Act signed into law by President Biden. 

Democratic oversight of production, restoring the economy’s productive base, and achieving full employment must be central objectives of the economic left.

Economically left-wing positions need not alienate small-c conservatives either. As Dr Stephen Watkins of Lancashire wrote in a letter to the New Statesman:

In 1962 I was a conservative. I believed privilege could only be justified by service, high taxes on very high incomes were necessary to prevent an entrepreneurial economy becoming a rentier economy, and Keynesian growth would finance public service improvements and a welfare state that steadily reduced inequality. I was suspicious of ideologically driven, large-scale change. These were the mainstream policies of the Macmillan government at the time. In 60 years I have moved from centre right to hard left without changing my opinions.

The Great Inflation Debate raises the importance of the public sphere 

Public ownership has an important role to play in attaining and maintaining price stability. Devika Dutt, a fellow at the University of Southern California’s economics department, argues that the underlying import dependency in Western economies must be addressed. 

By developing economic self-sufficiency through investing in domestic supply chains—agricultural and energy output among other things—the long-term inflation risk will be reduced. 

Citing Dutt, Michael Roberts, a Marxist economist, writes that the alternative to monetarism lies in public investment (which is the process by which the state invests in particular assets, whether through central or local governments or through publicly owned industries or corporations):

There is an alternative to monetary or wage restraint, these policy proposals of the mainstream, acting in the interests of bankers and corporations to preserve profitability.  

It is to boost investment and production through public investment. That would solve the supply shock. But sufficient public investment to do that would require significant control of the major sectors of the economy, particularly energy and agriculture; and coordinated action … 

As countries like China move to decouple from the West in support of their own strategic objectives, the neoliberal political economy of churn—which requires an unrelenting stream of cheap commodities and finished goods from the Global South—looks increasingly unviable. Accordingly, the pivot to reindustrialisation has already begun in the West, underscoring the point that even if they publicly claim that inflation is a demand problem, the realities of structural inflation are not missed by some of our leaders.

Domestically, New Zealand faces similar challenges in price stability. As with other deindustrialised Western countries, these challenges fundamentally stem from underdevelopment of domestic supply chains. Despite a weakening in demand, construction costs were soaring at record levels last year, shortages of timber and plasterboard played a central role. Fletcher Building’s role in this fiasco has been covered in the media; and timber shortages are expected to last well into 2023. In 2021, Stuff reported on the impact of free trade on the sector’s ability to meet domestic consumption: 

It’s not just trees but also the capacity to turn the logs into structural timber. New Zealand has seen a number of processing plant closures and the sector has seen a decade of underinvestment. Tava Olsen ​says huge capital would be needed to build new plants and boost the sector. “It’s not impossible, but you need the will to do it,” she says.

David Turner​, executive director at Sequal Lumber NZ ​says his Kawerau-based business has been able to grow significantly over the last eight years and is still only satisfying half of the demand. But Chinese demand for raw logs is his number one impediment. “We don’t need to be subsidised, We don’t need help. We just need fairness,” he says. 

This was echoed by other manufacturers: 

The Wood Processors and Manufacturers Association’s Chief Executive, Jon Tanner says Chinese log buyers were going to what he called extraordinary lengths to buy up logs and he is blaming this for the short supply of sawn timber revealed this week when Carter Holt Harvey cut supply to some of its regular customers, ITM, Bunnings and Mitre 10.

In the absence of any active role by the state, New Zealand will remain more or less in a regressive 19th century economic structure: at the mercy of external shocks and depending on the goodwill of great powers—‘our colonial betters,’ as Sutch put it. Institutions like the Ministry of Works will have to play a central role in any national development undertaken by a reform-minded, economically nationalist government. Discussing the structural benefits of restoring the MoW, Max Harris points out that: 

A single entity [the MoW] can buy supplies in bulk and employ at scale quickly …
I think a more active role through the supply chain allows more opportunities for coordination: on material use (ensuring materials are sustainable), employment standards & training, accessibility, etc. Also allows closer scrutiny and monitoring and follow-through. We need an organisation that builds national operational capability and capacity to deliver projects.

Economic planning would not be a new phenomenon for New Zealand

Previous attempts at economic planning were consultative and had a mixed record. Organisational design and industry compliance posed the most significant hurdles. Learning from our previous record of planning can help avoid similar failures.

Harry Lake (National Party Finance Minister, 1960-67) provides a description of consultative economic planning:

In the more developed western countries, indicative economic planning is today assuming an increasingly important role … it is based on the proposition that everyone has a vital interest in seeing that the growth of the national economy … is … balanced to ensure that the material, educational, and employment needs of an expanding population are met and the living standards for future generations improved.

A prime object of indicative planning is to provide guidelines and targets … The practicability and nature of these targets are determined by a process of consultation … The Government can help to provide the necessary climate and incentives and to secure the most effective use of available resources, but it is up to an industry itself to attain the desired goals … (1965; Rosenberg, 1993)

To carry out this purpose, National Development Conferences were held between the Government and industry. These planning exercises achieved the ‘creation of an extensive information base on the economy; the more systematic use of new techniques, notably economic modelling, for understanding the economy; and a broadening of the planning base to include social and environmental concerns as well as economic ones.’ A National Development Council (NDC), supported by a ‘network of individual sector councils,’ assisted this purpose. 

However, the NDC and its conferences encountered several issues. The most basic problem was the volume of information and reports produced by the multitude of sector councils made cohesive planning a less efficient task. Further problems arose from a lack of resolution action: ‘weak links’ between the outcomes of planning initiatives and Government decision making, contributing to ‘planning in a vacuum’; a failure to adequately monitor progress towards the targets that had been set and reappraise policies based on results; and vested interests that could inhibit free and frank discussion. 

The machinery needed to reflect the complexity of the economic and social affairs it was handling. Instead, the system of sector councils—overseen by the National Development Council—amounted to a patchwork quilt of self-directed activity sponsored by the Government. Since Ministers and officials lacked the resources and time to attend to planning regularly, collective planning was not harnessed by the state as effectively as it could have been. Nonetheless, conferences were valuable in promoting and contributing to a culture of “depth in development.” 

The NDC was disestablished by Rowling, and replaced by the New Zealand Planning Council (NZPC) once Muldoon was back in office (Muldoon had also established its predecessor). Based on the recommendations of the 1976 Taskforce of Economic and Social Planning, a national planning council was introduced in 1977 as a central organisation acting under its own power to research, assess, discuss and recommend proposals and approaches. 

Warren Freer, Minister of Trade and Industry (1972-75), spoke supportively of Muldoon establishing the NZPC while emphasising pluralism:  

The Labour party has always been a strong supporter of economic planning … If we are to have long-term planning, which I strongly subscribe to, it can best be achieved by bringing all the resources available within the economic, cultural, environmental and political sides of life into one group. (1981; Fischer, 1981)

The bipartisan consensus on economic planning that existed during the post-war period is a testament to the heights the political economy of New Zealand fell from. But it shows us that economic planning is not some exotic and impracticable endeavour. It is an useful, democratic mechanism to shape the development of our society and economy in the image of considerations greater than the narrow, short-termist goals of rentier capitalists.

Once more with feeling? And a bit more democracy

A reformist social democratic government could begin with reconstituting the New Zealand Planning Council, while aiming over time to build out the machinery of planning into the development network originally envisaged by Muldoon. 

By establishing the institutional framework to set, plan, and monitor progress towards economic and social objectives—national and regional—it would provide the platform and resourcing to, in contemporary terms, break the psycho-cultural control of capitalist realism. 

It would be both a binding influence and also a conduit for discussion and exploration of what the parameters of society ought to be, unmolested by market norms and values. And it would promote consciousness that the externalities of the markets must be accounted for, and promote more long-termist thought on economic and social development. In essence, the exact opposite of ‘the narrow financial perspective that currently dominates.’ It would also have a more central role in public sector leadership, as a counterbalance to the economic conservatism of Treasury. Furthermore, any future planning should move from a consultative to a coordinative model—the latter containing a degree of binding authority. 

It is an essential part of the process of nation-building … that we seriously begin to set goals for our nation and ourselves. Any goals of a national or social character have to come from other sources. These goals might be increased leisure, cultural enrichment, personal security, material possessions, education for its own sake, enhancement of the environment or whatever. 

It would also inevitably restore the economic importance of the state … An activist state has been the rule rather than the exception in New Zealand, even in the nineteenth century when the world was without borders and the New Zealand economy was more open than now. (Jesson, 1999) 

Yet, fundamentally, there was (and still remains) the problem of leaving development up to the private sector. Despite all this effort, which was voluntarist by nature, market forces—particularly from the finance sector, enabled by the gradual liberalisation of the 1970s—served to damage not enhance the national welfare and development of New Zealand. This culminated in the senseless, large-scale demolition of the productive base of the economy by Rogernomics, along with the widespread economic security it provided; and a redistribution of national wealth to unproductive sectors and a small proportion of the population. 

  • This piece was written for the physical publication of the Federation of Socialist Societies: ‘The Commonweal,’ Issue #3 – May 2023. It is reproduced here with permission.