“Just what is The Economy?” one of my shrewder friends, renown for her blunt common sense in most matters, asked out loud this week, about the same time I was reading yet another mainstream editorial comment pitched at those voters who like to be soothed with reassurances that they can leave it all in the hands of those who know.
‘Strong and stable’ took a credibility beating when invoked in despairing circumstances by Britain’s Tory prime minister Theresa May after Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn burst through to within a whisker of winning the Westminster election.
It’s been back on the table this election and again with little evidence of any compelling truth.
What does ‘strong and stable’ look like, if you set out to measure and manage it? Gross domestic product, GDP, represents the total dollar value of all goods and services produced in a country over a specific time period – the size of the economy.
However, the International Monetary Fund’s economic outlook for national GDP ranking at April 2017 appears to have forgotten New Zealand’s existence altogether until you get down to 50th ranking. And there we are, behind Spain at 14, Mexico (16th), Turkey on 17, Nigeria (28th), Peru (46) and, Portugal, which just beats us, at 49th.
Of course, like much of the western world, we’ve offshored our manufacturing in recent years. The sector that delivered 26 percent of our GDP in 1977 is now down to 13 percent.
Ouch. All those factory closures and offshore ‘investments’ in our most iconic businesses and rural enterprises and their generations of intellectual property, have made for an economy that is now far more dependent on the finance, insurance and business services side of the ledger.
Through this election run up, the third-term National Government has put a constant emphasis on the country’s inability to pay for a long list of long-overdue investments in the productivity and wellbeing of its citizens, a dire percentage of whom live out of the back of their car in someone else’s driveway.
Unfortunately, the neo-lib ideology of ‘light government’ is also rubbish at looking after other people’s stuff and worse still when willful neglect turns into catastrophic consequences. Witness (this week) a pipeline vital to our largest remaining industry, the visitor sector.
As friends watch their careful bookings for flights to family events in Europe come unravelled, we watch navy ships steaming south from Marsden Point full of fuel so airliners can dash down to South Island airports to fill up.
Labour leader Jacinda Ardern was able to slam the government’s historic ‘mishmash’ of minor, no-cost initiatives – including an oil contingency handbook – to safeguard the vital pipline, instead of spending an estimated $57 million (in 2012) to improve the resilience of Auckland’s fuel supply chain at the Wiri terminal. There have been five years of government budgets since, and even then growth was signalling concern.
Even the most basic oversight of the pipeline itself was left to the sort of ideological purity of divested responsibility that showed so obviously in the Pike River mine disaster, the Rena stranding and the still-fenced-off-after-seven-years Cathedral Square sites in Christchurch.
On the Scoop news site, columnist Gordon Campbell points out it would be more helpful if the constant damning of Opposition parties’ costs were being turned around the other way.
“Namely, what are the problems that Labour is seeking to address – and do we think we can solve such problems without sending some kind of price signal?
“If we regard income inequality, housing affordability, climate change and the declining quality of our rivers as being serious problems, do we truly expect the solutions to be pain free for everyone involved – including the property speculators, and the polluters?”
In the aftermath of the 2014 election, it was commentator Chris Trotter who most notably pointed out that the effect of the voter choices under MMP frequently saw party votes split with the minor parties, particularly on the traditional left.
He had crunched the numbers to show that if the number of actual votes for known and trusted Labour electorate candidates around the country had been matched with voters’ ticks for the Labour Party as a whole, there would have been a change of government in 2014.
This time, the Labour leadership is anything but in disarray and, constructively, it’s turned into a two-horse race with policy and vision firmly on the table.
The choice is ours. • Liz Waters