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What works?

Written By: - Date published: 11:29 am, December 2nd, 2009 - 49 comments
Categories: economy, monetary policy - Tags:

As the dust settles on the cynical theatre that was the 2025 Taskforce, one fact is becoming abundantly clear. The political Right haven’t a clue what to do about the economy. Key and English don’t have a clue, or they’d be doing it. Brash and his Taskforce don’t have a clue and they said so:

Dr Brash said unless tax and spending were slashed the Government’s “ambitious” goal could not be achieved. “There may be some other cunning plan, but I am not aware of it,” Dr Brash said.

National knows the Taskforce plan is electoral suicide, and if they have any sense they know that it won’t work either. Lacking any viable plan they’ve given up. The election promise of closing the gap with Australia has been put out to pasture, and is now an “aspirational” goal. Bryan Gould sums up:

… The first thing we must recognise is that – as both economies look to emerge out of recession – the Australians have had a flyer. They have already moved smartly into growth mode, while we bump along on the bottom, still not sure whether recovery is really around the corner. The gap, in other words, is already widening as we speak. The Australian recovery is a function, of course, of the greater economic stimulus provided by their government by comparison with ours – and that reflects not only the stronger starting point they enjoyed but also a different approach to economic management.

We, on the other hand, have been largely content to let events take their course and to wait for the recovery of others to restore export markets to us. Even more depressing is the fact that – even when recovery arrives – we seem determined to return doggedly to the self-same policies (and policy mistakes) which have seen us fall so sadly behind over the past 25 years. … What is needed is a fundamental rethink of macro-economic policy. Everything we do should be focused on improving the competitiveness and profitability of our productive economy. …

The good news is that the political Left do have new ideas. Before the election Labour had a comprehensive stimulus plan ready, which should have brought us out of the recession (like Australia) quickly and in good shape. Labour is now clearly starting work on a macro-economic rethink, as signalled by Phil Goff’s recent comments. The Greens, as ever, are well prepared with their Green New Deal (pdf) and updated here, a sensible plan for the new carbon critical future that we are going to find ourselves in.

Sadly, we’re locked in to two more years of aimless bumbling before the electorate is able to choose again. The only upside is that Labour and the Greens can use this time to make sure that they are well prepared. Work now, work hard! Look around the world not at the ideology, but at the evidence. The crucial question is “What works?”. What ideas can we adapt and use here? Make sure that we have a comprehensive, plausible and (above all) sustainable economic plan to take to the electorate in 2011. The cunning plan that will forever elude Don Brash and John Key.

Updated: More recent green new deal page pointed out by frog (lprent).

49 comments on “What works? ”

  1. frog 1

    The Greens have just released a second Green New Deal package r0b – you might want to update the link in your post to http://www.greens.org.nz/greennewdeal.

  2. Pat 2

    The Green New Deal – Forestry, Pest Control and Wilding Conifers

    In other words, planting trees we like, pulling out trees we don’t like, and trapping possums. A sort of Grizzly Adams New Zealand.

    Once those rich prick farmers are suitably de-stocked and carbon taxed to nothingness, our export industry will comprise logs (transported by sailing ships), carbon credits and possum fur. To fill the worldwide shortage of possum fur.

    And the Greens are all in favour of planting trees on crown land. But don’t anyone dare mention digging a hole any deeper than enough to plant a seedling, you rich prick mining bastards.

    • prism 2.1

      capcha = importances
      Pat You don’t seem to have an interest in NZ future policies or your own ideas showing joined-up thinking on your part. An announcement that some body has been thinking and come up with an alteration to what you know, brings on a tourettes reaction that makes you spit and stamp. But that activity while personally invigorating for you, does not help to find our way intelligently and positively to the future.

      I put forward an idea that all this competitive political focus gets in the way of actually thinking about the country’s needs. I suggested an annual symbolic fight by the leaders of the parties wearing antlers. I was trying humour to make a point. Your remarks don’t even try to be funny, ironic or useful. You’re not a stand-up comedian or interested in NZ, so why are you here?

    • outofbed 2.2

      Yes and mining in the Mount Aspiring National park is such a fantastic idea
      I wonder why no one else has thought about it

  3. Gosman 3

    This “comprehensive stimulus plan” you claim that Labour had ready to go was just tired old Keynesian pump priming. Unfortunately Cullen had already stuffed the options on that front in the previous three years where he decided to spend the large Government surplus rather than reduce the size of Government and give the money back to the people he took it from.

    This is the problem that the left seems to ignore. Keynesian economics requires fiscal restraint and cost cutting in times of economic growth yet Politicians can’t stop themselves trying to buy votes with spending money that they won’t always have.

    If you are going to bemoan the changes to ETS for shovelling a lot of debt onto future generations of NZ Taxpayers then you should be equally berating Labour for their fiscal polices in their last term.

    • Tim Ellis 3.1

      You’re asking the wrong person for that kind of criticism of Labour’s policies Gosman.

    • IrishBill 3.2

      That would be the “tired old Keynesian pump priming” that has meant Australia has recovered so quickly?

      I’d also point out that the last government used the boom to pay down debt, create the super fund and introduce Kiwisaver. As NZ was in recession from 2007 the largess at the end of the last government’s term could well be considered the beginning of a stimulus package with plenty of debt headroom to do more.

      If you were going to fault Cullen’s Keynesian credentials you’d be better off looking at his failure to take measures to curtail private debt such as his failure to implement currency controls or reform the reserve bank act. You’d also need to note that the (then) opposition’s economically insane calls for tax cuts during the boom would have been an inflationary nightmare.

      • Gosman 3.2.1


        Tax cuts are entirely consistent with Keynesian economic policy especially if they are associated with controls of Government spending during the period of economic growth.

        The fact of the matter is Labour increased the size of the Government as a proportion of GDP during the time where it should have been looking at reducing it. It instead decided to delay this decision till a time which proved far too late.

        I love the calls for a change to Exchange rate regime and the Reserve Bank act. That would have been a recipe for economic disaster as a run on the Dollar would have been the likely outcome and any exchange reserves would have been wasted on trying to stem the flow of funds leaving the country. If you want to see the result of such policies just take a look at Zimbabwe.

        • IrishBill

          Tax cuts during an economic boom in which productive capacity has topped out are entirely inconsistent with Keynesian economic policy.

          Labour grew government from a baseline that was so low it was failing to function across a whole lot of sectors.

          You have no idea what kind of exchange rate controls or changes to the RBA I’m talking about. Are you a monetary fundamentalist?

          • Gosman

            Highly debatable point about Government spending being increased from a low baseline. Historically Government spending as a proportion of GDP has been much lower than it is currently in a number of countries, including N.Z. It is only in the last thirty odd years that the size of Government has increased to the level it now holds.

            The problem with Cullen is that he failed to tackle any of the real issues in the Private sector side of the economy beyond attempting to solve them by increasing the role of Government. This is a recipe for long term disaster and restricts a Government’s options when a real need for Government intervention is necessary.

            • IrishBill

              Thirty years only takes you back to 1979. I’ve not seen any stats but I would struggle to believe that any post-war government was smaller in real terms than the government was in 1999. I can tell you from experience it certainly wasn’t small in 1979 or for quite some time before that.

              In fact when I think about the role of the crown in the conception of New Zealand as a nation state and in pretty much all of its subsequent trading and development between then and the late 1980’s I’d seriously start to wonder if it’s role was ever as small in real terms as it was in 1999.

              I’d also be interested to see what countries with comparative sized economies to New Zealand’s have smaller levels of government as the only first world nations I can think of that would have smaller government to gdp ratios than we do also have much greater populations and economies.

              There were certainly private sector issues that needed to be sorted by the last government. Stronger regulation of the finance sector would have been a good start and an award system would have been a good idea too (and probably would have negated the need for WFF). However I think your conclusion that this government’s options are limited because it is already too big are based on the fallacious idea that the government is too big.

            • Gosman

              I think you will find I stated 30 odd years which takes you past 1979.

              As for your struggle to believe that any post-war government being smaller in real terms than the government was in 1999 I include the following link for you


              If you have a gander at that you will see that the size of Government as a percentage of GDP in 1973-74 (Under a Labour Government it must be stated) was 28 percent.

              I’m not great on maths but I believe 28 percent is less than 34.5 percent wouldn’t you agree..

            • RedLogix

              Long term data series here.

              Unfortunately at 2001 the accounting rules changed around that date the so numbers before and after cannot be compared directly.

            • Gosman

              Thanks for a whole bunch of raw data Redlogix. Very useful.

      • TightyRighty 3.2.2

        it would worthwhile noting that the keynsian pump priming really only worked in australia. it is debatable as to it’s effect in America, and can rightly be seen as a flop in britain.

        • IrishBill

          In Britain and the US spending was targeted to the finance industry rather than the productive sector. That’s not really how you’re supposed to do it, in fact it was more about propping up the banking system than priming the pump.

        • Pascal's bookie


          Everything is debatable of course. Some still debate natural selection as a driver of speciation.

          But anyways, there is a fair amount of debate around the US stimpac. The GOP and Fox News reckons it failed, but their track record on honesty and not being wrong a hell of a lot, isn’t too good. So I’ll not be tacking their word for much.

          Others reckon it wasn’t big enough, and poorly targeted.

          Here’s a few private sector economists:

          “It was worth doing — it’s made a difference,’ said Nigel Gault, chief economist at IHS Global Insight, a financial forecasting and analysis group based in Lexington, Mass.

          Mr. Gault added: “I don’t think it’s right to look at it by saying, ‘Well, the economy is still doing extremely badly, therefore the stimulus didn’t work.’ I’m afraid the answer is, yes, we did badly but we would have done even worse without the stimulus.’…

          …While some conservatives remain as skeptical as ever that big increases in government spending give the economy a jolt that is worth the cost, Martin Feldstein, a conservative Harvard economist who served in the Reagan administration, said the problem with the package was that some of its tax cuts and spending programs were of a variety that did little to spur the economy.

          …”There should have been more direct federal spending that would have added to aggregate demand,’ he said. “Temporary tax cuts and one-time transfers to seniors were largely saved and didn’t stimulate spending.’…
          Among Democrats in the White House and Congress, “there was a considerable amount of hand-wringing that it was too small, and I sympathized with that argument,’ said Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody’s Economy.com and an occasional adviser to lawmakers.

          Even so, “the stimulus is doing what it was supposed to do — it is contributing to ending the recession,’ he added, citing the economy’s third-quarter expansion by a 3.5 percent seasonally adjusted annual rate. “In my view, without the stimulus, G.D.P. would still be negative and unemployment would be firmly over 11 percent. And there are a little over 1.1 million more jobs out there as of October than would have been out there without the stimulus.’

          And here’s the Congressional Budget Office, and the house committee on education and labour.

    • r0b 3.3

      This “comprehensive stimulus plan’ you claim that Labour had ready to go was just tired old Keynesian pump priming

      The same tired old Keynesian pump priming that seems to have worked so well in Australia?

      [IB ninja’d me!]

      • gitmo 3.3.1

        I’ll think you’ll find that mining investment in Australia has had a wee bit to do with helping them avoid going into recession like the rest of the world.

        It helps when you’ve got a reasonably large chunk of land that can be dug up and shipped away to earn export dollars.

        • IrishBill

          Yeah the old “mineral rich” argument. The funny thing about that is we had no significant gap before 1987 but the Aussies were digging stuff out of the ground back then too.

          • gitmo

            So there’s been not much growth in the Ausi mining exports and income since 1987 ?

            • Bright Red

              we’re not mineral rich. the report that says we’re rich in natural resources includes all natural resources, including the tourism value of our land, our supply of water, our fisheries etc etc.

              Don’t conflate ‘rich in natural resources’ with ‘we’ve got lots of valuable stuff buried under the ground’. that’s what Brownlee wants you to do.

            • gitmo

              Que ?

              I was making a point to Bill that Australia’s mineral resources have been helpful in relation to their economy .. nothing more.

              I don’t give a fig for what Bunter Brownlee wants me to do.

        • vto

          We are in fact mineral rich. On a relative measure we are at least equal to Australia believe it or not. We have shitloads of useful stuff in the ground.

          • lprent

            Nope. You’re ignoring the geology of these islands.

            Yes – we have a lot of stuff in the ground. However almost all of it is in relatively small pockets for anything that is hard rock. A moments thought on the fractured nature of NZ’s geology would have told you that. The place is fractured with fault lines compared to aussie.

            Similarly sedimentary accretion barely starts to happen when the basin gets thrown up below sealevel or into the mountains.

            Unlike aussie we are not a continential mass with moderately stable geology. We are not a seafloor overthrust like PNG with the consequent high density deposits. We are a flotsam at the active end of two major seafloor plates acting like a corkscrew and producing mountians and dropping below sea level every few million years.

            I don’t know what you’ve been reading (probably Brownlee). But we tend to have quite uneconomic to extract mineral resources. Because of its geological history aussie or PNG have far more accessible and economic resources.

            • vto

              Well true some of that. Haven;’t been reading Brownlee, have a degree in geo like you, and worked (long ago) in Coro, Taupo, Oz, etc. Would be interesting to analyse in detail the point you raise, namely access and economy of deposits.

              I had however always understood (and have experience) that the deposits are there. Coro for example is loaded and not that difficult to get to (enviro issues aside for a mo). Example being the favona lode found in last few years within 500m (yes 500 metres) of the current Waihi mining company’s processing area. A massive, previously mostly unknown deposit, in about the most perfect location right when there happenned to be a processing plant in operation right above it. Quite a story! And there plenty more.

              I will be very interested, from a mining perspective, to see what Brownlee’s ‘stocktake’ comes up with.

              • lprent

                Yeah but as you are probably aware, most of the rock around is metamorphic or volcanic. There are very few bits of igneous intrusion rock that you’d get that type of differential cooling in. Offhand I don’t know of many around NZ apart from the coromandel that are large enough to have produced big pockets. The clevel.oromandel isn’t national park and bugger all is actually protected apart from RMA.

                Most of the places that Brownlee wants to open up are either recent metamorphic and heavily faulted or recent volcanic. The probability of finding even remotely viable pockets is bloody low. It is hard enough to even find coal seams large enough to work with machines. Frankly the best bet is offshore in the basins. But even most of those are too unstable for substantive deposits to have formed. Shows up in these mini gas fields and empty oil domes.

                We’d be better off working on the tourism. Better chance of a long-term return.

                • Bored

                  Maybe the Nats are a sedimentary fluvial deposit worn down by increasingly non linear “hundred year” weather events. Or perhaps in the case of Carter (and a few others) they are the deeply buried base of an anti syncline…….or perhaps just coprophilas.

    • Draco T Bastard 3.4

      Geez Gosman, you talk crap don’t you.

      I would do a point by point criticism but there isn’t any point as you won’t learn. You’re to stuck on your delusional ideology.

  4. Bored 4

    What works? Depends on who you are, what you want and your power to get it. What our bloggers from left and right are missing on most economic threads I read is any objective viewpoint on reality, as it is now and as it will be. For example TS and Tim express themselves in a dialectic tongue that assumes that all of their preconceptions are correct and accepted, they endeavour to frame the debate in market terms. This limits the inputs and outcomes, great if you are in agreement but a waste of time if you live in the real world where people disagree and see things from any number of viewpoints.

    There are some massive realities that the language of Brash’s Taskforce and its report do not and cannot face. Included are:

    •the reality that our planet is a finite physical entity with only so many resources. This is incompatible with the language and concept of constant growth.

    •inconvenient realities such as an impending energy crisis (related to the above) that is either ignored or given an ethereal solution delivered by the market ( another lingual construct / concept) that somehow breaks the laws of thermodynamics (a reality).

    •a lingual disconnect between symptoms and solutions. Climate change prominent here, it is ascribed the language of dollar costs, removing debate from what physically has to be done to an argument over who pays.

    •a belief in the solidity of conceptual constructs such as money and debt, allowing these things a lingual primacy that sets their form in concrete excluding debate or alternative descriptions. For example I could describe money as debt.

    In short from an economic lingual viewpoint the inmates are running the nut house, or at least imagining they are. Any attempt to understand them and adapt to their language will give predictable result. Some of us fortunately can see the elephants in the room.

    • Draco T Bastard 4.1

      Well said.

      • Gosman 4.1.1

        “•a belief in the solidity of conceptual constructs such as money and debt, allowing these things a lingual primacy that sets their form in concrete excluding debate or alternative descriptions. For example I could describe money as debt.”

        Yes very well said. Incomprehensible to most people, but very well said.

        • Bored

          Thamks Goss, I might be prickly and dont quite understand things myself at times, but its good that we can come to grips without difficult stuff we might not agree on but cant avoid. Nothing better than robust debate on reality.

    • Quoth the Raven 4.2

      Bored – I’m not delving too deeply into this, but on the part about constant growth – what some commentors above might not realise is that Lord Fuckaduck, I mean Lord Keynes thought with his policies that a post-scarcity society would be possible within a single generation (hopelessly utopian) and is it even physically possible? It’s not right or left (plenty right wing Keynesians like Nixon) but it is just that that thinking applies more broadly.

  5. randal 5

    it is very exercising to think that grown men like brash and co can bumble along and yet expect to be taken seriously.
    the NZLP gets MP’s who want to be in the forefront of legislative change for the better but it seems the national party is being stuck with idiots while the business round table and its pawns like wodney get on with the real buisness which for them is robbing people of social capital by stealth.
    more and more I think that the eb e-mails was not the real cause of brash’s downfall but the fact that it became obvious even to the BRT that he could not last 3 years without a major psychological meltdown and keys aint looking to hot either.
    furhtermore why should new zealanders take any notice of some university professor who they have neve heard of before?
    and I might add that even bob jones hit the nail on the head when he opined that the leader of the tax group is a tax avoidance expert.
    what is going on here?

    • Draco T Bastard 5.1

      it is very exercising to think that grown men like brash and co can bumble along and yet expect to be taken seriously and get paid vast sums of money to do so.


      what is going on here?

      Capitalists ruling society for their own benefit no matter how much damage it does to everyone else.

    • Bored 5.2

      Could not have put my fingers around this better Randall, spot on, love the Bob Jones bit pointing out the clash of interest.

  6. Jim McDonald 6

    HEY! What happened to Fresh Key?

    I watched the leaders debate a year ago and our Honourable Prime Minister, our fresh first among peers, fresh first among equals, at that time repeatedly proclaimed a fresh approach, fresh ideas and a fresh start for NZ.

    The freshest thing he has now is the 2025 Productivity Taskforce – costing taxpayers and unproductively attracting little attention from his fresh Government.

    Looking for nuggets? Hardly a bounty of golden ideas. Better luck at MacDonald’s!

  7. vto 7

    r0b, I like what I read when you say this stuff;

    “The only upside is that Labour and the Greens can use this time to make sure that they are well prepared. Work now, work hard! Look around the world not at the ideology, but at the evidence. The crucial question is “What works?’. What ideas can we adapt and use here? Make sure that we have a comprehensive, plausible and (above all) sustainable economic plan to take to the electorate in 2011.”

    Especially the evidence bits, the “what works” bits, the “not at the ideology” bits. If you people can put together something comprehensive along the lines you suggest there then I would think you will grab a whole bunch of attentions. Go to it. Most NZers are leftish at heart and so would probably jump at the chance to put together the reasonable social and justice components of you fullas with some sensible and honest economic components. (tho it does sound nigh impossible due to politics getting in the way).

    Good shit.

  8. deemac 8

    “Australia has had a flyer” – yes, to the number one slot in the World’s Worst Polluter table (per capita). And we should copy them?

  9. ben 9

    r0b I’m quite sure the one thing National is not short of is ideas. Nothing in this country is laissez faire, nothing is truly free market, everything is regulated and the efficiency costs of that are plain for all to see. There can be no shortage of ideas on how to fix when absolutely everything is under six layers of legislation and half of it is public owned as well.

    The problem with National is not ideas but political courage, of which they have absolutely none. All the political capital they will ever have, a weak opposition, and still no willingness to spend any of it doing what they presumably believe is the right thing. Instead they focus group it all the way.

  10. Rex Widerstrom 10

    Quoting Bryan Gould:

    the Australians have had a flyer. They have already moved smartly into growth mode… The Australian recovery… reflects… a different approach to economic management.

    Does he make this stuff up or is he angling for a seat on Rudd’s front bench?

    The Australian economy is recovering on the back of stronger-than-expected demand from China and is in fact very patchy with, for instance, a sharp drop in unemployment in WA more than offsetting rises in the “basket case” states of Victoria and NSW. The danger for Australia is far from over.

    Yes, the Labour government went into “pump priming” mode but did so by handing out cheques to anyone on a benefit, who spent it on Christmas presents (mostly imported) for their kids this time last year, then another $900 to every taxpayer, who promptly went out and bought an (imported) flat screen TV or new (imported) mag wheels for their Holden.

    It provided a bit of a boost for the retail sector but the closures of Australian manufacturing plants have continued.

    And as for a “different approach”, the Australian government allows the Reserve Bank to focus solely on inflation at the expense of all other factors, so of course the RBA was the first central bank in the world to raise rates after the GFC and has been doing so every month, including just yesterday even though mortgage payers were begging for them to hold off till after Christmas.

    The Governor was talking as though the GFC was a thing of the past, blindly ignoring the state of the economy in the US, Britain and even China all of which will have long term negative impacts on Australia.

    Westpac has already announced it’s raising its rates by double the RBA’s rise, so we’re backt to usury-as-normal in the banking sector, except that the government panicked during the GFC and let Westpac buy St George and Commonwealth buy Bankwest, further reducing competition in the banking sector since non-bank lenders were crashing like flies round a barbecue zapper.

    This has made business finance almost impossible to obtain and I personally know of several deals, some involving millions, which have fallen over even after contracts have been signed because banks have pulled out, preferring to once again bloat their profits by facilitating property speculation over productive investment.

    If that’s doing things differently, I’d like to see Gould’s definition of a government timidly following failed orthodoxy.

  11. IrishBill 11

    Gosman, your maths is more passable than your punctuation but you do a nice line in cheap sarcasm.

    The ratio of state-spending to GDP is rather meaningless in terms of the overall influence of the government in the economy. As I pointed out with regard to the fact an award system would eliminate the need for the working for families scheme, a shift toward the command end of the mixed economy would be likely to reduce the size of government spending in relation to GDP. Is this what you are advocating?

    • Gosman 11.1

      “The ratio of state-spending to GDP is rather meaningless in terms of the overall influence of the government in the economy”

      You base this rather bizarre claim on what exactly?

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