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It’s bad, what to do?

Written By: - Date published: 1:27 pm, December 18th, 2008 - 48 comments
Categories: economy - Tags:

The latest Treasury economic forecasts are out and, in a continuing pattern, they not only make worse reading than the previous updates but they are already out of date. We are now looking at gross government debt rising from less to 20% to 30% or as much as 40% by 2013. Unemployment could rise above 7% from its current level below 4%.

We are one small country caught in a global storm. Although we went into recession earlier than most other countries, we have entered the storm in better shape than just about any other country with a balanced budget, a decade of strong growth behind us, record low unemployment, and a government with net financial assets for the first time. (ironically, the high inflation and higher interest rates we had also come in handy – other countries are facing the far worse condition of deflation and have already reduced their official interest rates as low as they can go, they have pushed the monetary policy level to maximum without success).

The causes of this crisis are not domestic, our domestic situation is better than most, which makes attempts to blame the last government for the crisis all the more pathetic. However, the way we react domestically will have some bearing on how badly the crisis hurts ordinary New Zealanders.

Right now the National/ACT government is ramming through under urgency a series of hastily written laws (most only a page or two long) dealing with minutiae that National themselves claim won’t change anything but are merely symbolic. How much better it would have been if National/ACT would have shown the same sense of urgency towards developing an economic stimulus program combining sustainable infrastructure spending, skills training, and job creation as they have shown in relaxing energy efficiency standards for lightbulbs.

From Bill English’s comments on these latest updates, it seems he is most concerned about the size of the deficit the government is projected to run. That is the wrong focus. During the growth period we ran large surpluses and used them to pay down our debt, now is the time to run deficits. If we attempt to reduce the deficit significantly (and tax cuts for the rich don’t help) we will have to cut government spending on health, education, benefits, and superannuation, as English did when he was Finance Minister during our last recession. As it did then, that course of action would only make things worse by further reducing employment and cutting people’s incomes. What’s worse we would feel the long-term effects in worse education and heath outcomes.

I’m hoping that English’s instinct to slash public services and hope the economy will fix itself will be over-ruled by Key who, if he really is a pragmatist, will see that we need a proactive government willing to spend and lead the economy out of recession. But I fear my hope is in vain.

48 comments on “It’s bad, what to do? ”

  1. Zorr 1

    Well, the people voted for change. They wanted those who were in power back in the 90s to be leading us in to the 2010s… a change back to the status quo away from the change provided by Labour… ^_^

  2. Gareth 2

    After years of certain people launching attack after attack on unnecessary surpluses, keeping debt too low and not providing tax cuts – they now lay the blame for the “awful spectre” of expected deficits, ballooning debt and a shortfall in tax revenue on those same people and policies.
    Yet it doesn’t seem to strike them that their previous prescriptions were to take us much further in that direction???

    The one area that I think may be a fair cop against the previous Government is that spending reached a level that now cannot be prudently increased for expansionary means. That’s not necessarily a bad thing – a constant level of high spending could be seen to provide a consistent stimulus to the economy that dampens some of the impact of the highs and lows – but it does limit the ability of a Government to respond to external stimulus.

  3. insider 3

    I am so releived the former government left us with the books in such good condition

  4. So am I. Remember those endless calls for tax cuts when we were using surpluses to pay down debt and Key et al were saying debt should be 25% or more? Imagine if we had listened to them and then the crisis has hit.

  5. justthefacts 5

    What a appalling legacy Labour have left the people of NZ, ten years of wasted opportunity, ridiculous social spending for no return and nine years of over taxation.

    History will not be kind to Dr Cullen or Ms Clark, those of us who lived through the Muldoon years hoped we would never again see such idiotic fiscal policy however it seems that Cullen has even outdone Muldoon for incompetence.

  6. infused 6

    The crisis hasn’t even hit yet SP. Give it 6-12months.

  7. Janet 7

    Insider and SP- I agree. Just imagine the mess if Cullen hadn’t been so prudent.

  8. justthefacts. I can’t help noting that all you do is run lines. I’ve discussed various economic indicators, and what the effects would have been had we slashed taxes and spending earlier. All you can respond with is slogans off the back of a National Party flyer.

  9. justthefacts 9

    Sorry about that “Steve”, all I have done is copy you.

    Even you cannot be serious about defending Cullen, the man could have insulated NZ against almost all of the effects of the global meltdown yet he and Clark chose to waste the best economic conditions in living memory.

  10. jagilby 10

    So when we have 9 years of growth it’s all put down to Cullen’s prodigious financial management but as soon as things turn pear shaped it’s becasue “we are one small country caught in a global storm”. Hmmm.

    Fact is that the 9 years of growth were nothing to do with Cullen, that growth has been a worldwide phenomenon – we just didn’t embed as much of it as we should have and the ever predictable result was that we slipped down the OECD rankings. All those surpluses he set aside didn’t stop us from becoming the first developed country to go into recession (that’s discounting the fact that infused mentioned that we are yet to experience the full brunt of this economic “storm”) and all those funds set aside for, what we were led to believe, would be the inevitable “rainy day” are now somehow non existent.

    So we didn’t get as much of the benefit as we should have during the good times and now, because of that, we are more exposed than our international counterparts to the downside of this crisis.

    I can totally see how you like-minded individuals have come the conclusion that the good doctor was a fantastic economic manager – it really is the only rational thing to conclude from all this isn’t it?

  11. Chris S 11

    justthefacts, please explain how, with diagrams if necessary, paying down national debt by billions of dollars during the financial good times wasn’t prudent fiscal management that helped insulate us from the credit crunch and ensuing economic turmoil.

    Even when given multiple chances to explain your position you still just spurt campaign lines. D -, Please try harder

  12. Westminster 12

    This is what Treasury/Bill English say in the opening words of this update:

    “The world economy has changed rapidly. It is vastly different from that of recent years and much weaker than the outlook incorporated in the Budget Update forecasts seven months ago.
    The financial market upheaval this year represents one of the largest shocks to the world economy since World War II and the full impacts are still to work through. ”

    I see over at DPF’s Bigot Creche, the Kiwiblog Right are fully worked up and frothing about “Labour’s legacy” without, I guess, reading the DEFU. The DEFU clearly shows things are in flux because of the changing international context. The only thing Labour did was not recklessly cut government services (with all the attendant flow on effects). It’s always silly to play “what if” but I am guessing had National been in power over the last three to nine years we would at least be in no better off position and possibly in a lot worse position. It’s difficult to know how National could have managed to prepare this country and economy for an unforeseeable global economic shock of this magnitude.

  13. John BT 13

    Mr Key has only been on his throne for a month and already he has stuffed the economy. What a bad naughty man.
    We have been in a recession for some time now; old folks have had their life savings wiped out because of finance companies, ACC is in the crapper, State houses are in need of some attention, the unemployment rate is going to skyrocket, along with inflation (not necessarily a bad thing ), we are facing deficits for maybe 10 years of 10s of billions of dollars and the list gets worse by the day.
    All in a month. Gosh, that Mr Key is bad.

  14. sweeetdisorder 14


    It might help if Cullen hadn’t bought a train set and then promised $1Bil to spend on it. At the same time, spend more on buying it that it was even worth!!!!! It also might help he he hadn’t legislated the warm homes bill, then didn’t leave any money for it. These are just 2 examples in the last year of the last labour government, when Cullen knew of the worlds and NZ’s economic position and yet he still proceeded on his course to spend all the money till the last cent. Key, quoted in the house at the time of the kiwi rail purchase,(the trains) “are coloured red because that will be the colour of the ink running through the government’s books”.

    Yes, Cullen did good getting crown debt down.

  15. burt 15

    Thanks Labour. Well done. You have managed to repeat the mistakes of the past and give us 1990 all over again. You winners!

  16. Dean 16


    “justthefacts. I can’t help noting that all you do is run lines.”

    Oh dear. The irony of what you typed here isn’t dawning on you, is it?
    You’ve never ever stooped so low as to run lines, have you SP?

    I suspect supporting being so free and easy with taxpayer’s money over that glorious trainset isn’t tasting too good right now, but for you to ignore Labour’s utterly dangerous last few years in power is nothing more than running a line. I’m just crossing my fingers you’ll dredge out the loving to see wages drop line again – heaven knows you didn’t overuse it in the past.

  17. rave 17

    Steve: It is a vain hope expecting Key to rein in English.

    English may be the ex-Treasury ‘dry’ but Key is no ‘wet’. Key is a Keysian not a Keynesian. He won’t want any bigger deficit than English because it means more debt that has to be paid out of taxes in the future, and its better to cut spending now than leave the question of who will pay the taxbill in the future.

    Key represents the international finance sector like the US pension funds and Private Equity funds that bought into NZ companies over the last 20 years for quick profits. They demand confidence and certainty now. All Key is interested in is growth of profits that can be expatriated not invested in value added. That is because NZ is an ‘underdeveloping’ not a ‘developing’ country. Its role in the global economy is to supply cheap commodities and cheap labour.

    The problem of comparing NZ to the OECD is that NZ should not be compared with Spain, Portugal or Turkey, but with other commodity exporting dependent countries like Argentina and Brazil. If you look at their record you can see how neo-liberal regimes destroyed their national protectionism which dated back to WW2, leaving populist/social democratic regimes with no base on which to protect the economies from further underdevelopment.

    “Change” for Key is to remove what remains of national regulation that limit the rights of foreign investment for all out underdevelopment. This was basically the argument of Kerry McDonald yesterday when he attacked Kiwibank for daring to go against the floodtide of foreign control of the NZ economy. The fact that he said it so blatantly shows that his class is confident about Key’s real agenda, and he and others like him will now create a chorus to soften us up for the rest of Rogernomics 2. Time for our class to blow back.

  18. RedLogix 18

    What brain damage is this that all of DPF’s pack of dog whistlees suffer from in unison?

    DPF writes a breathtakingly dishonest post about the lastest grim Treasury DEFU projections, blames this ALL on Dr Cullen, and without once mentioning or so much as hinting at the dramatic global fiscal meltdown that has fallen upon us all. For some years now Farrar has lead the charge berating Dr Cullen for running surpluses and using them to reduce crown debt. For years he has disdained the Keynesian notions of putting something aside for a rainy day, and now when that day has most unquestionably arrived and Bill English himself acknowledges that our position would be far worse if not for Labour’s prudence …. Farrar attacks Dr Cullen (a most orthodox and conservative Minister of Finance) for having ‘overtaxed’ and ‘overspent’. This Farrar person is a hypocritical, vile spinmeister who clearly cares nothing for even the most elementary forms of honesty or integrity.

    And in unison his howling at the moon chorus all yip and yelp about Labour’s ‘overspending’ and policy settings being the cause of the suddenly far worsened outlook, while at the same time completely ignoring the sudden world events that are the prime driver of the downturn.

    I skim read the thread in amazement, and came to the conclusion that right wingers are either willing dupes, congential liars, brain damaged or some dismal combination of all three.

    More importantly I conclude that Farrar, who is the National Party propaganda/dirty tricks tool, is setting up the lines to prepare for a massive swing to the right by this govt. Given the choices before them, the path most enticing for them will be to exploit their safe Parliamentary majority to dramatically slash and burn the public sector, using the global fiscal crisis as the excuse. I predict that early in the new year Key will abandon all pretense at moderation. Three years is a long time, time enough for them to dismantle the public sector beyond all hope of reconstruction.

  19. burt 19


    I think there is going to be wailing and gnashing of teeth about the failed policies of early 2000’s for about 18 years now. You know how it works.

    Although there will be some miniature brained people who will blame National for drastic measures and ignore the fact that when the global economy was rocking it was all because of Labour’s prudent management, as soon as it turned NZ decided to lead the world and jump into recession before most countries had even started to slow down. These same dim-bulbs will call this prudent management probably because they haven’t been told what else to call it yet.

  20. RedLogix 20

    These same dim-bulbs will call this prudent probably because they haven’t been told what else to call it yet.

    The word ‘prudent’ does appear to cover it.

    Our economy slowed early this year because the Reserve Bank ‘prudently’ raised interest rates in order to prevent the kind of runaway overheating that inevitably results in a major crisis.

    Our banking sector has withstood the worst effects of the crisis because our major banks ran ‘prudent’ and mostly sound policies that have meant they have so far had little direct exposure.

    Our govt ‘prudently’ reduced it’s debt to the point where for the first time in generations it was a net creditor and is now in a position to fund a recovery if it had the political will.

    That is the question. When the pressure really comes on within the next few months, how will National react? I’m predicting that they will revert to type.

  21. Pascal's bookie 21

    “as soon as it turned NZ decided to lead the world and jump into recession before most countries had even started to slow down. ”




    And in any case, even if true, so what exactly?

  22. burt 22


    Perhaps you could explain “revert to type”?

    Is that another way of saying borrow to prop up the economy and reduce spending just like they needed to do after Labour stuffed the economy with high tax and spend policies in 1990?

  23. burt 23

    Pascal’s bookie

    And in any case, even if true, so what exactly?

    Sound economies being run by prudent managers don’t fall into recession with zero cash reserves at the first sign of economic trouble. Typically strong economies run by prudent managers are the last to be decimated by economic trouble.

    I think Dr. Cullen’s definition of prudent is centered around winning 3 terms rather than the outcome of the three terms.

  24. RedLogix 24


    Define reduce spending.

    The biggest spend is National Superannuation. Plan on cutting that?

    The next biggest spend is Health. Plan on cutting that?

    The next biggest spend is Education. Plan on cutting that?

    Toss in Infrastructure, Defense and core services like Customs, MAF, Biosecurity, Corrections and Police and so far I have accounted for about 70% of all Crown expenditure. The only other big one left is Social Welfare accounting for about another15% more. And with unemployment set to rise I wonder how you plan to reduce that.

    That leaves you with about 15% of Crown expenditure to slash. I suppose you could always close Parliament. That should save a buck or two, and it seems to be working for the Canadians.

  25. hey guys,

    something not right.? in the taken right to rule.. what’s the rub.. responsibility..?

    Face up, you wanted it, and now you’ve gotten it you can only keep on playing to your strengths—whining, wailing, woe-betiding!!

    The poster made a statement on how bad the economy (suddenly) looks, then asked a question..? No ideas, no answers, no anything but like I said. How is that living up to the supposed promise that a change of government in enzed led voters to believe would happen..? remember: better, brighter..?

    You look losers now.. and almost three years to keep on .. (playing to these loser strengths).. So.. shape up or ship out!

  26. burt 26

    Oh, the countries debt is low and this is good, it’s just a shame that it was achieved by holding tax thresholds at 1999 levels for almost 9 years and using fiscal drag to limit individuals ability to reduce personal debt.

    Now as a country we have low govt debt but no cash reserves and a nation of over mortgaged borrowers who have been limited in their ability to repay and also limited in their ability to save while the govt made the books look good for the election cycles.

  27. RedLogix 27

    Sound economies being run by prudent managers don’t fall into recession with zero cash reserves at the first sign of economic trouble.

    If I do a few minutes searching in the archives will I find you pontificating about Dr Cullen ‘sitting on a vast pile of surplus tax that he has stolen from the taxpayer’ … or some such?

    If perchance you were to proclaim that you had $10,000 in cash sitting in a bank account, would you expect me to be impressed if you also had $30,000 in debt on a vehicle HP and credit cards? Has it not occurred to you that reducing debt is effectively the same thing as building a cash reserve?

  28. gingercrush 28

    Bleh what a surprise. At kiwiblog the right attack the left. At The Standard the left attack the right. Hallelujah.

    Honestly, I find it all rather pathetic.

  29. burt 29


    An $8b surplus and no tax cuts – wots the cunnection – there is none right! I was just being a journalist with a personal agenda for a tax cut….

    You wouldn’t find me with $10K in the bank and $30K as a vehicle HP. My car is worth about the same as my mountain bike. Both are freehold. But hey that’s me being prudent and avoiding debt. There is however something I don’t plan to do and that is pay off my mortgage as fast as possible and borrow on my credit card for the power bill and grocery shopping. That would be foolish.

  30. Pascal's bookie 30

    Are you really blaming this crisis on Cullen burt? Are you that bitter at him for being proven right about paying back that debt and not just inflating the bubble even further with tax cuts?

    Now where’s is that cite?

  31. RedLogix 31

    it’s just a shame that it was achieved by holding tax thresholds at 1999 levels for almost 9 years and using fiscal drag to limit individuals ability to reduce personal debt.

    Nice idea in principle burt, but in reality New Zealanders overall have a terrible track record in using surplus cash to reduce debt. What we actually do in the good times is rush out and rack up as much new debt as possible.

    Dr Cullen did the saving that as a nation we were incapable of doing for ourselves. Of course it made him an soft easy target for political smears and lies… and now when his foresight and courage is paying off for us, and even Bill English is acknowledging that Cullen was right… you still want to demean the man.

  32. burt 32

    Pascal’s bookie

    If Cullen wants to be know as the prudent manager during the good global economic weather rather than “lucky to be in the seat at that time” then he can be called a twat for what we have now rather than being “lucky to be out of the seat now”.

    He called it as Labour’s prudent management over the last years of global economic stability, so….

  33. burt 33


    Dr Cullen did the saving that as a nation we were incapable of doing for ourselves.

    Yeah right – he just couldn’t trust us with our own money – fricken socialists just don’t get it do you – I know what is best for me – not Dr. Cullen. We will always be a country of “hopeless savers” while the govt do it for us.

    One day we will all look back and wonder how we ever managed to breath without Dr. Cullen calling the timing for us.

  34. RedLogix 34


    I’m pretty much in the same boat with regards to debt. I’m nominally worth several million in equity and my total monthly income is close to $10k, but I drive a 1994 model Peugeot 405 diesel that I forget when I last filled it and have zero, read zero, credit or HP debt. My mortgages are being paid down as fast as my cash flow permits. The house I am living in does not even have a hot water cylinder because I’ve put the cash into productive expenditure first.

    But you also know perfectly well that it is foolish to project from the specific case to the general one. In the last decade NZ went on an unprecendented credit expansion spree and now faces the bill. You cannot blame Dr Cullen for that.

  35. RedLogix 35

    We will always be a country of ?hopeless savers? while the govt do it for us.

    While the opposite is happening in China right now. With no social safety net to speak of the Chinese people have traditionally been fervent savers, knowing that if anything went wrong, or merely if they lived into old age, they could only depend on themselves and their family.

    So while China could aggressively attack export markets and grow dramatically while those markets were bouyant; now those markets have slowed, the Chinese govt has only a weak domestic economy to fall back on. Instead of spending the money they earn, the Chinese save virtually all their discretionary cash. The Chinese economy faces a very hard landing as a result.

    Excess debt and excessive saving both come at a price. Somewhere in between there must be a virtuous medium.

  36. burt,

    a response and a thank you..

    the first to:—he just couldn’t trust us with our own money – fricken socialists just don’t get it do you – being, your own money, huh, like you’re some legit treasury.. why not tell us about it!

    and the second being — -I know what is best for me for its perfect definition of a me-firster. For all here to see.

    the best thing to beat uncertainty is certainty..

  37. oops! apols.. the above comment de-emphasises from italics at the third dash line..

  38. burt 38


    I think I have a better grasp of what my families needs are than the govt with regard to quality of essential social services. Social services which I can also purchase privately. I appreciate this is not true of the entire population.

    I’m a compliant tax payer, that is a legal requirement. I’m not a contented tax payer and are you suggesting that is a moral requirement?

  39. Bill 39

    Em. Hows about this as an option for what to do? http://www.dollarsandsense.org/blog/2008/12/inside-account-of-activism-in-greece.html

    No? How about in 12 months then? 2 years?

    More here http://libcom.org/tags/greece-unrest

  40. RedLogix 40

    I’m not a contented tax payer and are you suggesting that is a moral requirement?


    And why not? New Zealand is a pretty civilised place to live. I’m happy here; care to name some place else where you might be a more contented taxpayer? What would you be contented with?

    You remind me of those types who always demand top service at the lowest cost, always knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing.

  41. justthefacts 41

    It must be bad, twelve Labour party staff members have been caught stealing.

    I guess they should be shown some leniency given the way Cullen and Clark have stolen from the tax payer for the last nine years.

    [lprent: Doing a 4 fold increase in the numbers from the reports I read yesterday? And a standard troll line. You obviously don’t want to be here – take a 4 week ban and contemplate why I detest trolls. BTW: with that pseudonym you picked up extra. It is like fairfacts media – you have to live up to the name. ]

    [lprent: Incidentally, while looking back in your comment history. I was vastly amused to see you say this to SP
    From what I can see you are very good at telling endless lies and half truths about the Nat’s yet you take exception (in a rather juvenile way it must be said) to the truth being told about Labour.
    bb: I think that you were projecting yourself on to SP]

  42. burt 42


    Em. Hows about this as an option for what to do? No? How about in 12 months then? 2 years?

    Well perhaps it would be viable in 12 months but in 2 years there could be issues. You see the problem will be that if National don’t repeal Labour’s EFA then I don’t imagine thousands of people will want to take to the streets with their full name and residential address on their protest material. Privatisation is undeniably govt policy and therefore to express an opinion on it during the full year election period (which will have started again in 2 years) will be problematic.

    Activism is a good thing, don’t get me wrong on that the problem is that when the govt seeks to shut it down and you support that because it’s “your party’ that are crushing dissent you then need to accept that when you are dissenting you will be shut down.

    Are you prepared to publish your full name and address to protest about privatisation or are you prepared to be fined and/or sent to jail for not doing so?

    Perhaps you personally don’t support the EFA but be careful because the authors of the standard think it’s a great thing well they did when it was working for Labour’s best interests, they might have changed their minds since the election.

  43. Bill 43

    WTF! What parliamentary party are the people in Greece endorsing? Given mirror expressions of democracy here, what parliamentary party would the people be endorsing? None. so the EFA becomes an irrelevancy.

  44. burt 44


    It’s possible (but I could be wrong) that such a protest here would be against the current govt. Dissent is not usually endorsing something. People seldom riot in support of something. But hey, what would I know.

  45. burt,

    folks very good, and simple, on the topic I thought I’d raised.

    Because of the intemperate and misplaced language about socialists didn’t get it when just one look at a kiwi banknote reading — This note is legal tender for — tells me it is you, burt, who does not get it. In refering to “my money” and exuding personal attitudes about it..

    Excluding cheques, credit/debit cards, money is legal tender. Needs authority. Legal authority. Do you have that authority, burt? And those notes confer no right to forced purchase. So the use they have enables people buy what makers/manufacturers/suppliers of goods and services willing and able to accept payment. Order in that transactional process is defining. Goods, services etc, then buy. Or extinguishment of debt

    In the production of goods and services much if not mostly social content: slamming that component is a long way from smart.

    Let’s put this down to the festive season when I allowed also for the other possibility of “my money” as stated by you. Like in the wiki’s B52s ‘Whammy’ album entry —

    Lyrically, Legal Tender is an adventure in the counterfeiting of American dollars. The lyrics describe kitting out a basement with “heavy equipment”, and learning to print bills because of rising prices.

    Suffice to say, burt, that your response hath convinced me of your innocence abroad in respect of such occupation 🙂

    Have a good holiday and festive season with many useful decisions for your family. To whom also I wish a happy New Year!

  46. burt 46


    Yes, well of course. It’s obvious really isn’t it. How did I miss that? Here was me talking about making spending decisions on behalf of my family and all the time it’s all about who actually owns the money. I feel so stupid, I was discussing politics on a political blog and all the time the legal issues associated with currency were eluding me.

    Sorry northpaw, I’ll try harder to keep up with next time.

  47. Anita 47


    Huh? Why so excited about notes being legal tender?

    According to the Reserve Bank “legal tender” only means it is

    a legally defined means of settling a debt. A creditor is not obliged to accept legal tender, but cannot further pursue the debt if the offer of legal tender is refused

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