Longest April Fool’s joke in history? Today marks the 30th birthday of “Rogernomics” – neoliberal economics in NZ. This is a really excellent piece by Philip Matthews on Stuff, well worth reading the whole thing, here are just a few extracts:
Towns full of weeping women: Rogernomics, 30 years later
It was 30 years ago today. Former Cabinet minister Michael Bassett would go on to describe the anticipation, the nervous excitement, in his book Working with David: Inside the Lange Cabinet: “During the last days of March 1987 ministers held on to their hats, hoping that the first day of the SOEs wouldn’t result in too many April Fool’s Day jokes.”
April 1 was a Wednesday. Did it turn out to be funny? Not really. As Bassett writes, within a week of the radical conversion of government departments into State Owned Enterprises (SOEs), 4732 people had taken voluntary redundancy and another 100 went for early retirement. That is close to 5000 redundancies in one week, largely in small town and rural New Zealand.
Then-deputy prime minister Geoffrey Palmer predicted it would be the biggest change in New Zealand public sector history. He was right. It came as a kind of blitzkrieg.
There was more to this than paper-shuffling or a rebranding of the public service in a brave new commercial environment. The image that has come down to us is of a grey, Gliding On-style world of cardigan-wearers on long tea breaks who must suddenly face a harsh but necessary reality. But the truth was more complicated.
“People think of state servants as being in an office,” Patterson says. “But they were coal miners and forest workers as well. You get a place like Tuatapere where the forest workers were laid off – it affects all the shops and pubs, the whole place.”
Patterson was one of the victims of the restructuring when Lands and Survey vanished into history. He finished on March 31 and started with the Social Impact Unit on April 1. The unit’s role was to monitor the effects of restructuring on communities and individuals, and to identify needs. “That was pretty unique, really.”He would knock on doors across Southland. First stop: the mining communities of Ohai and Nightcaps. State Coal Mines had turned into Coal Corp overnight – it was later renamed Solid Energy. “They started by closing two mines and sacking the men who worked there.”
He says that he hit Ohai just as the last union meeting was finishing and the miners were signing on to the unemployment benefit. All the men were together but where were the women? The district nurse told Patterson that they were at home crying.
People were rich overnight but, then again, they weren’t. Inflation was at nearly 20 per cent in 1987 and mortgage interest rates passed 20 per cent by the middle of the year. Unemployment was not high nationally but it smaller towns like Tuatapere it was at around 80 per cent, Patterson says. The 1987 stock market crash came just six months after the first wave of public service redundancies “and many people lost all their redundancy money and superannuation”.
They were volatile times. …
They certainly were. Reminds me of this assessment of thirty years of Thatcherism: Thatcher’s legacy is in ruins, but Britain is still in its thrall.
Further birthday reading for neolibs:
Even the IMF Now Admits Neoliberalism Has Failed
Neoliberalism – the ideology at the root of all our problems
The death of neoliberalism and the crisis in western politics
Authentic Hope in the Twilight of Failed Neoliberal Capitalism
A quote from that last piece:
While the large number of promising social initiatives that can be found across the globe is heartening, there is serious work ahead that requires major changes in the way political strategy is conceived and executed on the left. Creating a civic life strong and diverse enough to counter and supplant the current destructive ethos of globalized neoliberal capitalism requires full political engagement of a kind that is very different from simply voting.
As far as I can see the way forward has got to contain the following elements: universal basic income, sustainable “green” industry / renewable energy, increased education and democratic participation, high taxes on capital and “externalities”. Please add to the list!