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Labour’s Ardern and Democrats’ Biden: Learnings

Written By: - Date published: 7:47 am, August 28th, 2022 - 47 comments
Categories: covid-19, health, jacinda ardern, Joe Biden, us politics - Tags:

For those fishing around for a progressive playbook in this fractious world, Biden and Ardern are pretty similar. But Biden appears to be turning the fortunes of the Democrats around but Ardern is currently unrewarded. Is there anything to learn?

Let’s check a few common fields, as succinctly as one can.

COVID 19 Action

Both Biden and Ardern administrations successfully mobilised the largest free vaccination programme in the history of either New Zealand or the United States of America. Arguably the recalcitrance of Republican-controlled states and conservative media cost far more lives in the USA than any resistance in New Zealand. The Biden administration effort got over 75% of U.S. citizens fully vaccinated, and the New Zealand response and population-wide effect was even better.


At the level of gun saturation and gun violence between the United States and New Zealand there is no useful national comparison. But turn to the legislation. The United States passed the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act that broke a 30-year streak of Federal inaction on gun violence legislation, including everyone under 21 to undergo enhanced background checks. Biden also signed dozens of executive orders to build on this most significant gun violence reduction legislation to pass Congress since the 1980s.

The Ardern government built upon a very strong legislative regime, with the Arms Act 2020, Arms Regulations Amendment 2021, and the big weapons buyback coming just in time to give stronger powers to the Police to combat a massive influx of Australian-domiciled gangsters. The first tranche of changes had overwhelming if not unanimous Parliamentary support while the second were more closely contested. It’s the biggest arms policy shift since the Aramoana massacre 32 years ago.

International Leadership

Under previous administrations, New Zealand influence such as it was in the South Pacific weakened, and confidence in U.S. leadership around the world plummeted to historic lows. Since taking office both President Biden and Prime Minister Ardern have worked to revitalise alliances and restore their respective positions on the global stage (nothing that New Zealand’s advances from ‘undetectable’ to ‘now we know you exist’). Arguably the Russian invasion of Ukraine has provided renewed energy to defensive alliances and sharpened common values between the U.S., Europe, the United Kingdom, and smaller players such as New Zealand.

And now a couple of big divergences.

Student Loans

In the last week of August President Biden signed orders wiping US$10,000 off student loans and US$20,000 from student loans through Pell Grants – under a specific salary income. This is an incredibly popular policy move.

The last time Labour did something big with student loans was in the final weeks of the 2006 election, in which Labour promised to wipe out interest on student loans. There’s political opportunity in students and their parents to harvest if Labour are up for it. Right now Labour’s tertiary training reforms are in chaos. Loans is a great hip-pocket place to improve this perception.

The CHIPS and Science Act

President Biden signed this into law to accelerate semiconductor manufacturing in the United States. The policy focus is on bringing back manufacturing jobs from China to the United States and advance U.S.-led technological leadership. An equivalent for New Zealand would be to target key offshored manufacturing eg requiring Icebreaker, Fisher&Paykel Healthcare, Fonterra and Fletcher Building to bring all their key ingredients and product lines and R&D back into New Zealand rather than being beholden to more fragile Chinese manufacturing and supply lines. One could only imagine the effect if they were required to as Biden has.

Ardern has been remarkably doctrinaire when it comes to industry protection and in-sourcing, and there’s plenty to learn as a very small and very narrow economy to vulnerability to China.

Bipartisan Infrastructure Law

President Biden’s once-in-a-generation transformational investment in repairing bridges and roads, removing all lead piping, upgrading ports and airports, and expanding broadband to all is remarkable in the state system of the United States. It also included the largest federal investment in public transport and the biggest investment in Amtrak since its creation.

Ardern’s government too invested on top of the Provincial Growth Fund with a $NZ60 billion further investment, and nearly a billion further to assist Councils with water network upgrades.

But the key is in the politics. With consistent infrastructure benefit evaluation, and network benefits, whoever is in New Zealand parliament and both sides agreeing on the need for investment in resilient state highways, huge public transport systems, and climate emergency impacts, there is ample room for Ardern to sit down with National and take all-transport-network infrastructure off the political table for good. Indeed it is only internal Labour politics that is preventing cross-party agreement on water and wastewater reform that all agree is necessary.


New Zealand’s socialised – often free and otherwise massively subsidised – healthcare again doesn’t compare well to the United States. But there are key policy moves that are remarkable to both. President Biden’s win has been in the Inflation Reduction Act which goes straight for the U.S. citizen’s hip pocket by allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices for the first time. It’s like a baby step towards Pharmac. There are specific caps to pay for annual prescriptions like insulin. 13 million US Citizens will have their premiums reduced by US$800, and the uninsured in the United States is now at a record low 8.8 million.

What Biden has done that the Ardern government hasn’t been able to do yet – and desperately needs to – is demonstrate how greater national power over the health system will result in lower costs to the public and faster and better treatment to get them well. At some point the NZ targets may well be published, but at this point in the cycle what people need is a dollar-and-cent improvement to what they have now which is chaotic.

Rescue Plan

All citizens like to think their government has a plan, and the first big one to come out of the Biden administration was simply the American Rescue Plan. This US$1.9 trillion rescue plan paid for the full vaccination programme, family debt relief with mailed cheques to most people, and a new child tax credit that led to the largest-ever one-year decrease in recorded U.S. child poverty.

The Ardern government has been renowned less for its plan for recovery per se than for Ardern’s own daily media briefings. It is s substitute of perpetual visibility for a durable plan. New Zealand’s government expenditure was as a proportion of GDP even greater than that of the United States, but the economic effects have been uneven with unemployment remaining low yet economic growth stagnating.

What hasn’t remained is a sense that the Ardern government is continuing to be guided by a plan, a plan with a visible public shape and direction.

The key differences with Biden’s broad and very bold plans are the focus on costed benefits to citizens, the focus on strong guidance of the whole economy, and translating the legislative and policy wins into fresh political momentum.

Progressives have similarities, but Biden has a performance edge Ardern can learn from.

47 comments on “Labour’s Ardern and Democrats’ Biden: Learnings ”

  1. Kiwijoker 1

    “Learnings”. Proof that Advantage is John Key in drag!

    [You attack an Author without adding anything to the discussion. Less than a week ago you were warned for the same thing (https://thestandard.org.nz/open-mike-22-08-2022/#comment-1907179). Take a month off – Incognito]

  2. Blazer 2

    Ardern is articulate….Biden is a bumbling fool ,that struggles to remember what day…it is.

    The Democrats initiatives you mention do not seem to be translating into support for Biden.

    • Favorability of President Joe Biden 2022 | Statista

    • LibertyBelle 2.1

      It is a source of much curiosity (for me anyway) how a country with the size and power of the US can elect people of the obvious inadequacies of Biden.

    • Corey Humm 2.2

      Jacinda has not been articulate at all this year and has seemed stuck in first gear all year.

      Out of the two of them Biden has done more to overturn forty years of neoliberalism by bringing back manufacturing jobs and that semiconductor chip bill is massive and should be praised by the left.

      This not only makes his country less reliant on china it also brings some jobs to an underclass who has been so screwed by offshoring that they have become liable to propaganda by extremists.

      The closest thing Ardern has to reversing neoliberalism is putting benefits up for the first time since Ruth Richards.

      Bidens gone from being the most unpopular president in history to being a president whose party now has a chance in midterms cos he turned the ship around with big bold policy wins.

      The way he's turned his ship around could teach Ardern and labour a lesson.

      People like it when you're bold and visionary. Ardern has been stuck in management mode for 18 months ruling more policies out than passing policy wins.

      Biden can teach Ardern a thing or two.

      If Ardern wants a shot at a third term she's gonna need to get out of management and status quo mode and get into bold visionary mode and rack up some big huge policy wins that the public wants not bugger around on inner governmental reforms.

  3. joe90 3

    Joe's been busy.



  4. alwyn 4

    Why do you bring Fisher And Paykel Healthcare into the subject of fragile supply lines and the manufacture of product in China.

    F&P, to the best of my knowledge, carry out all their R&D and the majority of their manufacturing in New Zealand. The do have manufacturing plants in Mexico but that is to supply their major market in the USA and is to shorten the supply lines into that country. They do not have any manufacturing facilities in China.

    Any change in these arrangements would be more likely to harm rather than help their operations and their business prospects.

    • lprent 4.1

      I was thinkingvthe same thing. I thi k advantage is confusing Fisher and Paykel whiteware with Fisher and Paykel Healthcare.

      • lprent 4.1.1

        Damn the editor on a cell phone while trying to cook dinner…

        Imagine what I was saying.

        • alwyn

          The brain is a wonderful thing. I didn't see anything wrong with your first comment until I read the second one. Then, when I reread it I saw the typos that hadn't even registered at my first glance.

      • Gosman 4.1.2

        Even that is inaccurate as Fisher and Paykel whiteware has distributed manufacturing across Thailand, Italy and Mexico not just China. On top of that it is 90% owned by Haier which is a Chinese company so trying to force them to manufacture in NZ would be similar to trying to get BMW to manufacture cars here.

        • lprent

          That latter point was the one that I was making. But I was trying to type one-handed on a cell-phone while using a fish slice in the other.

          So I either the comment clear or got the scalding earlier than your comment. The imminent threat was quite a lot more on my mind than simple pedantry.

  5. bwaghorn 5

    If labour wants to do anything with student loans the only acceptable road is ,a reduction in debt for each year worked in nz , with the reduction increasing if you're actually employed in the feild you got in debt to learn ,

    • SPC 5.1

      Sure, and one would start in areas where there is a shortage of local workers – such as nursing and some areas of education (science/maths teaching etc).

  6. Bearded Git 6

    "Learnings". WTF? I expect better on TS.
    (written before I saw Kiwijoker’s comment above-no apologies for this grammar attack)

    • Ad 6.1

      'Lessons' had a didactic or patrician tone.

      • SPC 6.1.1

        Note to Ad – you were auto spell checked into use of the word nothing (line 5 international leadership).

        Interest free loans were policy for the 2005, not 2006, election.

        The US and European chips/science move was based on Taiwan being the major supplier and at risk of embargo action by China. The major Taiwanese producer is offshoring production to Texas/USA and Europe.

        Without a continuing child tax credit they are returning low income families to poverty. And have to return to campaigning on it.

        • SPC

          I doubt that there is any easy agreement between Labour and National on funding transport projects when one favours them and the other prioritises funding for roads.

          And one on water and waste reforms is also unlikely, because one is focused on centralisation and co-governance and the other is championing local (democratically elected council) ownership. And one on public ownership and the other into selling down the public stake to raise money.

          • Ad

            Your political laziness is profound. No political agreement cross-Parliament is easy. But:

            Labour and National agree on carbon and climate legislation, housing policy legislation, electricity markets, welfare policy, and most of the RMA reforms.

            National started CRL and most of the big cycleways, as well as RONS. Labour opened them

            The water reforms are only centering on governance because that's all there is left to debate.

            What is needed is higher-order political work.

            Seriously the next time you want to just moan about syntax, put your keyboard away.

            • SPC

              Classic projection and transference.

              I explained why agreement would be difficult and you accuse me of being lazy – it's the Labour government that is in office, not me.

              And while National and Labour have agreed on some legislation (and on some public transport projects) that is not the same as agreeing on the totality of policy and even the planning approach (in those portfolio areas).

              I'll note your lack of reply to the substance of my first post – and as to the claim I was only questioning the syntax of your post. Na. Much more than that.

              Just "governnance" … co-governance and the role of local government (as to assets and debt on its books) within any centralisation (its assets and debts) – has anyone proposed an accounting model for that that fits into existing practice?

      • Bearded Git 6.1.2

        "There is no actual reason for the questionable usage of the count noun “learnings” instead of lessons. We know so far that it’s a buzzword in business-speak….Despite being more popular than “lessons” in the corporate setting, “learnings” is still incorrect. It’s an erroneous plural form of the colloquial term “learning."


        • SPC

          From learning lessons, learning is the singular, lessons is the plural.

          • Stephen D

            Not sure about that.

            I write and follow Lesson Plans, not learning plans.

            • SPC

              Lesson and plan can be singular or plural. Learning has been singular …

              • Stephen D

                Learnings is an abomination. End of story.

              • Ad

                Plants must die when you walk in the room.

                • Hanswurst

                  It's "into the room".

                  • Blazer

                    Wrong, you can lie in the room…sit in the room and walk in the room….etc.

                    • SPC

                      You'd have to ask Ad: if he think this happens when I walk into a room, or around the room (close enough to breathe on them, or step on them).

                    • Hanswurst

                      The only way that your statement can possibly apply would be if I didn’t want to know what Ad means by “come”.

                    • Hanswurst

                      Oops, bad use of the edit.

                      My statement was that it is 'walk into the room', meaning that that is what it must be in this case, not that the only possible preposition when describing the action of walking with respect to one's relationship to a room is 'into'.

                      Your statement is of the same ilk as if I were to point out to someone driving down the right-hand side of Dominion Road that the correct side to drive on was the left, and you were to suggest that I was wrong, because one is legally required to drive on the right in the USA, France, Guatemala, etc. (unless otherwise signposted). The fact that your additional information is accurate has no bearing on the fact that I am right, whereas you are simply engaging in incomplete parsing of the statements involved, and mistaking the result for pedantry.

                • SPC

                  Still labouring away with the lazy use of words, and the casual resort to putdowns of Green voters.

                  • In Vino

                    As a resident pedant, I would say that 'learnings' is a gerund, not a true noun, and is favoured only by the base nouveaux faux pretenders.

                    • Stuart Munro

                      I associate it with unsolicited powerpoints.

                    • Tiger Mountain

                      Heh, “learnings” for me evokes images of men with fringes, and beards, but with no moustache…call that stereotyping, but really… “learnings?”…I even heard a guy on V8 Supercars broadcasts use it!

                    • Mac1

                      Somehow, Tom Paxton may have the last word. The last thing on my mind.

                      "It's a lesson too late for the learning
                      Made of sand, made of sand………."

        • RosieLee

          Absolutely and that was my original point.

  7. Tiger Mountain 7

    Hard to compare the US and NZ really–apart from ruling class collusion with 5 Eyes, and NSA info supply that inextricably binds at top level. Free Trade? don’t think US farmers are in any hurry to admit NZ Dairy.

    The US runs a bent Electoral College system, and state level gerrymandering and voter suppression, while NZ has MMP and people are virtually begged to vote. In my lifetime and my extended family’s, we have had top quality medical care totally free–cancer, cardiology, injury repairs–that would have bankrupted several or more US families.

    Joe has not been able to sit on Manchin or Sinema in the Senate, or bypass the Filibuster to get more done. Jacinda has well tamed 95% of the Labour Caucus–it is ideology that holds her back from doing more in terms of retiring Rogernomics, the State Sector Act and all the rest.

  8. Stuart Munro 8

    Biden has an industrious team, and translating efforts into results that reach further down into the economy is not only more productive as economic stimulus, but also produces more votes. Housing here in NZ might be a reasonable example: 41000 houses that don't result in higher owner occupation or lower rents is at best a technical success – doctrinal preferences for large investors successfully misdirecting any potential benefits to citizens & voters.

  9. I have sstudent loan and $57,000 debt. They take $27 out of my super and I never did get a job. The word went out that I had studied freudian pshychoanalysis and though "they" dont believe in it it scares the crap out of them. I could have gone off to th eUSA and made a killing but out of some stupid misguided sense of loyalty I stayed in NZ butting my head against a brick wall watching the lunatics running the asylum.

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