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Across the generational divide in politics

26 October 2017 4:36 AM
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Across the generational divide in politics

For most of the current political class whose ideas were formed in the last decades of the 20th century, the superiority of markets over governments is an assumption so deeply ingrained that it is not even recognised as an assumption. Rather, it is part of the “common sense” that “everyone knows”. Whatever the problem, their answer is the same: lower taxes, privatisation and market-oriented “reform”.

Young voters favoured Labour, with 60% of those aged 18-24 voting for Jeremy Corbyn's party, while 61% of over-64s voted Conservative.

Meaning: the Ardern government can survive the media-amplified wailing of the ‘more market’ true believers, provided it retains support on other fronts. Primarily, by being a government that’s responsive to social needs, and that delivers on education, accommodation costs, tenancy right, jobs and wages. Right now, the centre left has a golden opportunity to cement in support among a new generation of voters, for decades to come.

Over the past week, reading the press releases from the Act Party has been an amusing diversion. Evidently, these are troubling times for the tin hat crowd down at Seymour Central. In quick succession, Act has fired out missives with headlines like “New Zealand Now Threatened by Mad Man On The Loose” and “Paranoid Peters Braces For Waka Jumpers” followed by this masterpiece of compressed anguish: “Bauble Scramble Begins Three Years Of Big Government”. If nothing else, you’ve got to admire the packing of so many resentments into eight words.

Electorally, there could scarcely have been a better chance for a propertarian candidate, yet Johnson pulled in just 3 per cent of the vote. Since the election, propertarians have either embraced Trump (notably Rand Paul) or maintained their standard position as mildly dissident members of the Republican base.

Not much a future in that. As Quiggin says, nothing substantial remains of market liberalism - “either as an important political force or as an set of ideas that deserve attention and engagement.” In the age of Ardern, this is one ’80s revival we can do without.

During the Clark era, Labour’s economic policy was in the hands of local believers in Tony Blair’s Third Way version of neo-liberalism – which retained market imperatives, while leavening them with lashings of social liberalism and a sprinkling of social spending. One insider from that era (Grant Robertson) is the new Finance Minister in the Ardern government. Another veteran (David Parker) holds the trio of economic development, environment and trade portfolios. Any substantial change initiatives will need to pass to and fro, through their hands.

Next week, Parker faces an interesting early test of his intentions/negotiating skills at the next TPP 11 round of talks in Chiba, Tokyo. The Ardern government wants to amend the previous text to enable a sovereign NZ government to ban foreigners from buying up existing houses and infrastructure. The New Zealand mainstream media has been depicting this as a radical, unrealistic demand that could – goodness gracious! – upset the entire trade applecart.

"We basically want to reach a broad agreement at the leaders' summit in November...we hope (next week's meeting) will develop the discussion toward that point," economic revitalization minister Toshimitsu Motegi, who is in charge of the TPP trade negotiations for Japan, said at a press conference…. The negotiators will be tasked with narrowing down about 50 requests for freezes to parts of the original agreement, centering on clauses introduced at the request of the United States.

Given there are these 50 changes – either freezes or amendments – that are under re-negotiation, the Ardern government’s request will be just another card on an already crowded table. Especially since Australia already has that same housing/land limitation in place, in its version of the text – which should mean that this agreed concession could readily be extended to New Zealand.

Ultimately, Japan will decide the outcome. From its inception as a major pact under Barack Obama, the TPP has been a diplomatic/security pact devised in order to isolate China, rather than a trade pact per se. During 2017, Japan has championed the TPP 11 in order to assert its diplomatic clout in the region. Now that Japanese PM Shinzo Abe has just won an election where his foreign policy (with respect to China and North Korea) was far more popular than his domestic policy, it will be interesting to see just how much domestic political capital Abe is willing to spend in opening up Japanese farm markets any further to foreign competition. So… if the TPP 11 fizzles out in the coming months, it won't be because New Zealand has pulled the plug.

Footnote: Apparently David Parker will not be at the Chiba talks next week; only MFaT officials will. Parker will be making his international trade debut later, at APEC.

Apparently, the inclusion of the “mofo” epithet in St Vincent’s beautiful “New York” track means it can’t be played on National Radio. Well, here’s a lovely acoustic rendition of the same track, in which Annie Clark changes the offending term, to “suckers.”


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