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Who was the better economic manager – Helen Clark or John Key?

Written By: - Date published: 6:59 pm, January 20th, 2015 - 150 comments
Categories: Economy, helen clark, john key, labour, national, same old national - Tags:

NZ debt CLark Key comparison

Sometimes a simple graph is much more eloquent and powerful than a whole lot of words …

150 comments on “Who was the better economic manager – Helen Clark or John Key? ”

  1. I agree that Labour are better economic managers than National, but to be fair, that graph was going up from 2008 whoever was in charge.

    PS: I assume it wasn’t you who put “Helen Clarke” in there!

    • b waghorn 1.1

      The glaring problem is while NZ has gained all this debt the rich have been going ahead in leaps and bounds and the poor at best stayed the same .

    • mickysavage 1.2

      Oops for once a typo belongs to someone else!

      And yes the graph was going to go up from there but Key and co kept talking about a decade of deficits and how it was Clark’s and Labour’s fault. The reality was that the unrestricted greed of a bunch of merchant wankers and their ilk caused the problems.

      • disturbed 1.2.1

        1000% micky,
        See how Shipley had the same Debt to GDP ratio as Key has now?

      • Psycho Milt 1.2.2

        …Key and co kept talking about a decade of deficits and how it was Clark’s and Labour’s fault.

        That’s one of my pet hates. If Labour had maintained during a recession the programme they were running during a period of massive surplus, we’d have had a decade of deficits – really? No shit, Sherlock Key? Gosh, if only Labour included people of the level of economic genius found in the National Party, they’d have the smarts to determine that a recession isn’t the same as a boom. That anyone falls for this schtick is a depressing commentary on human nature.

      • “And yes the graph was going to go up from there but Key and co kept talking about a decade of deficits and how it was Clark’s and Labour’s fault.”

        Helen was blamed unfairly (I totally agree by the way) for things out of control so now I’m going to blame John Key unfairly for things out of his control.


        This seems sensible.

        Nothing stupid about that.


        Nothing at all.

        Oh wait, it’s totally fucking stupid because it means we buy into the right-wing bullshit. It means we imply that government debt going up is always a bad thing. It means we imply that doing everything possible to restore a surplus is a good thing. We shouldn’t attack Key for running a deficit because that’s exactly what a government should do during a recession.

        We should attack him for cutting tax for the rich instead of maintaining decent level of governmental spending. Which is too nuanced for your revenge fantasy graph.

        • Murray Rawshark

          I completely agree. The emphasis on deficit plays into the hands of the right and ends up with social democrats justifying austerity.

          • Draco T Bastard


            The link I posted the other day argued that deficits are actually impossible to get rid of. The government running a deficit is growing the economy while a government running a surplus is decreasing the economy.

            I have a slightly different take in that I figure deficits are private sector profits but that’s to be expected 😈

        • Frank Macskasy

          Indeed, the term “decade of deficits” has often been attributed to Treasury – but is patently false. Despite the claims by several right wingers, Treasury never made any reference to “a decade of deficits” – the phrase emanated from John Key, Bill English, et al, in the National government;

          “After nine years of a Labour government we are now presented with a decade of deficits and quite frankly New Zealand can not afford Michael Cullen’s high spending low growth programme.” – John Key, October, 2008

          Source: http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/vote-08/news/661189/Nats-blame-Labour-for-decade-of-deficits

          Yet, at the same time, Key used Labour’s fiscal record at paying down debt to validate the 2009 and 2010 tax cuts – both of which were implemented after the GFC kicked in and our economy was tanking.

          (In effect, we had to borrow money – other peoples’ savings – from offshore to fund the tax cuts. Pure Muldoonism.)

          In 2008, before the general election, Key said,

          “Firstly let me start by saying that New Zealand does not face the balance sheet crisis of 1984, or even of the early 1990s. Far from having dangerously high debt levels, gross debt to GDP is around a modest 25 percent and net debt may well be zero by 2008.

          In other words, there is no longer any balance sheet reason to justify an aggressive privatisation programme of the kind associated with the 1980s Labour Government.” – John Key, March 2005

          Source: http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/PA0503/S00102.htm


          “The level of public debt in New Zealand was $8 billion when National came into office in 2008. It’s now $53 billion, and it’s forecast to rise to $72 billion in 2016. Without selling minority shares in five companies, it would rise to $78 billion. Our total investment liabilities, which cover both public and private liabilities, are $150 billion – one of the worst in the world because of the high levels of private debt in New Zealand.” – John Key

          Source: http://www.national.org.nz/mixed-ownership.aspx (Dead link. Many of National’s policy statements and speeches are no longer searchable.)

          And in 2013,

          “If you go back to 2005, when the previous government were in office, they had a number, you know, a little bit less than ours, but not a lot less, there was a 180,000 children in poverty, I think this shows 240,000 on that measure.

          Back then, New Zealand recorded the biggest surplus in New Zealand’s history…” – John Key, December, 2013

          Source: http://tvnz.co.nz/breakfast-news/mind-gap-key-tackles-child-poverty-video-5766147

          The Nats will mis-represent (lie) Labour’s track record on fiscal management when it suits them – and use it to their advantage other times.

          If ever New Zealanders actually realised how hopeless the Nats are, they’d be in opposition for a very long time. Muldoonism was not an aberration, that much is clear.

          • Colonial Rawshark

            “Labour’s track record on fiscal management”

            NB Labour doesn’t deserve to govern if that is what it is taking to the electorate in 2017.

          • Draco T Bastard

            If ever New Zealanders actually realised how hopeless the Nats are, they’d be in opposition for a very long time.

            If the people of NZ ever realised that National would never be in power again. National rules for the rich and that’s it. It is this ruling style that will destroy NZ.

      • Clemgeopin 1.2.4

        The right wing governments are pseudo economists, poor social managers, pro wealthy agents and pure bull-shitters.

    • Pete George 1.3

      THis line graph gives a better indication of when the debt started to rise:

      It had bottomed out in the second half of 2006, then took off in the second quarter of 2008.

      By the end of 2008 it was higher than at any time during the Clark Government tenure, and much higher than 1999 and climbing steeply.

      National are widely regarded as having managed very difficult financial times (inherited and inflicted) fairly well.

      • One Anonymous Bloke 1.3.1

        Which is why, you lying little creep, both Blinglish and Dirty John praised Cullen’s legacy in 2008.

        Fuck you’re dishonest.

        • Pete George

          Abuse versus facts doesn’t look great OAB.

          Cullen deserves some praise, there are a number of things he did well. But he left a bit of an economic time bomb that coincided with the GFC.

          • One Anonymous Bloke

            Says nobody but the innumerate.

            Little cluelet: Cullen wouldn’t have responded to the GFC by cutting taxes and wages at the same time.

            • Pete George

              He scheduled tax cuts just as economy started to tank..

              Once the GFC struck wage increases were suppressed, Labour wouldn’t have avoided that if they’d won again, unless perhaps they stoked the deficit and debt much higher.

              • One Anonymous Bloke

                Of course the ‘schedule’ wouldn’t have been interrupted by any of this, which is where your weasel tired debunked years ago zombie narrative falls over and crushes you like a sponge.

                Are you really so lame you think you have something to add to the mantra that even your leader contradicted years ago? What a shitheel.

              • Tracey

                who did he schedule them for Pete? A group that would spend them straight back intot he economy as a stimulus or the top end, which most credible economists say is anti stimulus cos they tend to use their new surplus to pay down their debt.

                apples and oranges Pete. English’s quote that Cullen left the country in good shape is not hard to find.

                The GFC began in december 2007.

              • ghostwhowalksnz

                The scheduled tax cuts from Cullen were a deliberate strategy to soften the hard landing of the GFC. In fact English and Key promised even more generous tax cuts – for similar reasons- which they lied about being affordable -which is why they had to abolished after the votes had been counted

              • boyonlaptop

                Which any economist will tell you is a good thing. If there’s anything we’ve learnt from the GFC it’s that Keynesian policy works. The countries that have initiated stimulus are the ones that have weathered the recession best.

                Or to quote your mate Bill English at the start of the GFC, “New Zealand doesn’t have a public debt problem, it has a growth problem” which was conveniently forgotten when they decided to flog off the family silver with asset sales.

          • dv

            Yep tax cuts were a really smart idea at that time


          • tricledrown

            Pathetic grovelar.You mean the $30 billion Cullen fund that’s made blinglish look only half as bad!

          • Frank Macskasy

            But he left a bit of an economic time bomb that coincided with the GFC.

            I keep hearing that. But precious little evidence to support that assertion. What “time bomb” are you referring to, Pete?

          • Clemgeopin

            @Pete George:
            If Helen Clark appointed you instead of Michel Cullen as the Finance Minister, what would you have done?

      • mickysavage 1.3.2

        Can you provide context PG? How about factoring in the 2007 drought and the effect on farming income. And tell me, when do you believe the GFC started?

      • disturbed 1.3.3

        PG is wrong here,
        “It had bottomed out in the second half of 2006, then took off in the second quarter of 2008.
        By the end of 2008 it was higher than at any time during the Clark Government tenure, and much higher than 1999 and climbing steeply.”

        Not true PG.

        Shipley had the same levels at the 1998 period as Key has in the latest figures on the graph, as I read it, and I have new glasses.

      • Draco T Bastard 1.3.4

        You mean when the GFC hit which was the result of the big global banks fucking with the economy.

    • Pete George 1.4

      Between 2000 and 2007, the New Zealand economy expanded by an average of 3.5% a year driven primarily by private consumption and the buoyant housing market.

      During this period, inflation averaged only 2.6% a year, within the Reserve Bank’s target range of 1% to 3%.

      However in early 2008 the economy entered recession, before the effects of the global financial crisis (GFC) set in later that year. A drought over the 2007/08 summer led to lower production of dairy products in the first half of 2008.

      Domestic activity slowed sharply over 2008 as high fuel and food prices dampened domestic consumption, while high interest rates and falling house prices drove a rapid decline in residential investment.


      Despite a buoyant economy for most of the Clark tenure the debt level only went down briefly and ended up rising sharply.

      • mickysavage 1.4.1

        Despite a buoyant economy for most of the Clark tenure the debt level only went down briefly and ended up rising sharply.

        Have words lost their meaning? Reconcile this with the graph. And factor in the new spending on schools, universities, transport …

        • Pete George

          Ah, the graph you’ve shown is Government debt to GDP.

          This one is more meaningful, for what you’re talking about isn’t it? Government Overseas Debt:

          • mickysavage

            No it is not. Explain why Pete.

          • One Anonymous Bloke

            I know, let’s ignore everything that’s happened since 2008 and pretend Pete George has a special insight.

            • Pete George

              Let’s pretend that OAB can have an adult discussion…

              • One Anonymous Bloke

                In adult land we’re allowed to question someone’s credibility. And point and laugh at the Emperor’s new dupe’s new clothes.

              • mickysavage

                How about you respond to my comment Pete.

                • Pete George

                  I can’t be bothered. I know you’re trying to have a decent discussion and I’ve genuinely contributed but it’s pointless continuing while someone keeps shouting abuse over your shoulder, disrupting the thread and making it look like all Labour can do is resort to dirty politics.

                  OAB has contributed nothing but stalked and abused repeatedly, which is apparently seen as acceptable.

                  That gives this blog a bad reputation and it reflects poorly on Labour by association. Your loss.

                  • “I can’t be bothered. Your loss.”

                    I love that loss

                  • fender

                    “….and making it look like all Labour can do is resort to dirty politics.”

                    Yeah ‘cos OAB is the Labour party 🙄

                    I see you still haven’t bothered to learn what the term dirty politics applies to. Hint: it’s not a commenter giving you shit on a Labour MOVEMENT blog (haven’t you been banned before for insisting this is a Labour Party run blog?)

                    • Pete George

                      Playing dirty in politics is dirty politics. You’re confusing that with ‘Dirty Politics’.

                      This post is specifically about Helen Clark and John Key, which many people will see as Labour versus National.

                      I haven’t said this is a Labour Party run blog. I don’t think it is. Just like I don’t think KB or WO are National party run blogs.

                      I know this is self described as a “a labour movement blog” (you capitalised labour which implies the party).

                      Casual readers in particular won’t necessarily see it like that. It’s far more common in wider social media to link TS with Labour as opposed to the labour movement (my guess is that most ordinary voters won’t be aware of any ‘labour movement’.

                      I often see boorish and abusive behaviour on Kiwiblog and Whale Oil linked to National. The same applies here with Labour. No matter how much you claim ‘labour movement’ most people outside here (and many readers) see this as a fairly Labour associated blog.

                      OAB isn’t ‘the Labour party’. But the fact is that his behaviour (and others here) reflects poorly on Labour by association. That’s a reality with the perception of blogs.

                  • …making it look like all Labour can do is resort to dirty politics.

                    Are you surprised people abuse you? First, you keep using the phrase “dirty politics” to mean “being rude”, which means you are either a complete fucking moron or a totally duplicitous weasel propagandist for the current government, and second, you continually equate some anonymous blog commenter with the Labour Party. On what basis do you expect people to respond politely?

                    • Pete George

                      You’re just “being rude”. Your choice and some like that sort of thing but I don’t think it’s a good look for you. Not sure what you’re trying to prove apart from play to an audience. Clap clap.

                      If you stalked me around a thread lying and abusing me every time I commented in the way OAB has done I’d call that playing dirty in a political forum. AKA dirty politics.

                      I thought you would recognise the difference but maybe you haven’t woken up properly yet.

                    • Skinny

                      Pete your ‘matter of fact’ statement about the state of the economy left by the Clarke and Cullen just doesn’t stack up when last year Bill English publicly credited Cullen with leaving the Governments book in a good state.

                      From many working Kiwi’s point of view Labour didn’t reward them during the good times with a tax cut. Had they done this a year out from the election things would have been a lot different and more than likely the rich wouldn’t have got the tax cuts Key gave. I doubt National would have won the last election either.

                    • Crashcart

                      The problem Pete is that commenting on a blog about politics is very far from being actually involved in polotics. To claim that someone being abusive to you personnaly is dirty polotics seems particularly egocentric on your part.

                      To be honest it seems like you are now just using it as an excuse to ignore the substantive discussion that is actually happening. If you can’t simply choose not to read OAB’s posts then the problem is yours. Unlike your inacurate claim if someone were shouting at you true you would not be able to ignore it. However in this circumstance you could have decided after the first post that you weren’t interested in what he had to say, said as much and continued discussion with others and not bothered reading his posts.

                  • tc

                    Reflecting poorly on labour and TS at the same time…

                    your true colours and DP stylings are out in the open and you revert to that.

                    Petey I thought you were playing the reasonable/diffuse role have you been given a new role or is this a tactical switch because you have been outed.

                    • Pete George

                      Outed? I’ve always been open about what I do. I’m more out than most.

                      What role are you playing?

                      [Pete this post is not about you it is about economic performance of different governments. Stick to the subject. Others are attacking you because you are not sticking to the subject – MS]

                    • One Anonymous Bloke

                      Who to believe?

                      The Treasury Department.

                      Or a man who can’t tell the difference between the monkey on his back and the weasel in his mouth.

                      Decisions, decisions.

                    • Pete George

                      [Pete this post is not about you it is about economic performance of different governments. Stick to the subject. Others are attacking you because you are not sticking to the subject – MS]

                      Are you serious?

                      Do you endorse what has happened here (apart from me of course)?

                    • One Anonymous Bloke

                      There once was a mendacious tr*ll
                      Whose drivel bred little but gall
                      Querulous whining
                      Petty opining
                      And nothing of substance at all.

                    • Te Reo Putake

                      Hey, Pete, found time yet to write that post about how some of your best mates have maaari names? No? You pompous, mendacious, dog whistling racist tool.


                  • Wreckingball

                    OAB was doing to same thing yesterday. Never discusses anything of substance and just offers abuse. It negates the ability to have any meaningful dialogue.

                    • One Anonymous Bloke

                      It’s easy to test the truth of this comment, simply by scrolling up the page to 1.3.1,, and so-on.

                      There’s only so many ways you can point out the facts: Wreckingball pashes zombies.

                    • Crashcart

                      Why? Are you unable to not read his posts? I managed to read up to this point in about a minute. I could have chosen to do it faster if I were to filter posts that seem to have little value. Doing so would in no way hinder my ability to reply to those posts that I feel do.

          • boyonlaptop

            Yes, Government Overseas Debt is the more relevant graph for sure.

            That’s why a $100k mortgage on a $20k salary is so much more manageable than a $200k mortgage on a $100k salary. Honestly, is the right this desperate that they’ve given up on real terms now?

      • tricledrown 1.4.2

        Wikipedia is a popularity contested history!
        Looking at the NZ statistics dept factual figures.
        Debt grew at the same rate as the previous National govt.
        The difference was that Labour achieved 3x the economic growth and much lower unemployment.

        • Clemgeopin

          Hats off to Cullen and Helen.
          Key and English are pathetic! Sell off assets, give tax cuts to help the wealthy the most and increase GST to affect the poor the most!

      • Tracey 1.4.3

        are you saying the markets hadnt gone into decline before then Pete?


        • ghostwhowalksnz

          the NZ reserve bank had cranked up interest rates to fire off a mini slump ahead of the GFC.
          Then the GFC came along and it looked like free fall for a while.

  2. newsense 2

    More New Zealanders need to learn the economic management skills that come with training to be a hockey goalie!

  3. Wayne 3

    Lets ignore the GFC and the Christchurch earthquakes. Europe has still has not got out of the GFC, so it is no small bump on the road.

    So no, your graph does not prove Helen Clark is a better economic manger; it shows she had a better international environment.

    Surely a better measure would be how well New Zealand has done relative to say the average of the OECD (or perhaps a subset of Asia Pacific developed economies) over the last 15 years. That would show the relative performance of each PM.

    • mickysavage 3.1

      So no, your graph does not prove Helen Clark is a better economic manger; it shows she had a better international environment.

      How is that Wayne? Serious question …

      I should also put up a graph concerning unemployment. And I agree that the GFC was a major event and had huge repercussions. So why was Helen blamed for its consequences?

      • The graph shows a huge gap in rhetoric vs. reality. People voted National because Key was a financial wiz and the natty boys were going to run the country more efficiently. What a sick joke.

      • Wreckingball 3.1.2

        MS – Wayne is completely correct and you know it.

        National was forced to increase debt to continue with its spending obligations. Labour would have had to do the same. National incomes (tax intake) decreased but the government still had the same expenditure = debt had to rise. There was no alternative.

        Offering a graph on unemployment won’t help your argument either.

        These events didn’t happen in a vacuum with identical economic conditions.

        Helen gets blamed because during the economic expansion of 1999-2007 her government made many spending promises that NZ wouldn’t be able to afford in leaner economic times.

        • One Anonymous Bloke

          Tax cuts lowered the tax take. The GFC lowered it further.

          The pathetic pretence that Helen gets blamed is in direct contradiction to public statements made by Bill English, John Key and Treasury.

          All this has been covered before on this very page. Stop humping the zombie.

        • Murray Rawshark

          The tax take decreased because they cut the top rate. NAct did that, not Labour. Then they sold assets that were contributing to public funds every year. Then they paid out fat too much to Tory investors in South Canterbury Finance. Everything they’ve done has been garbage and you know it.

    • Saarbo 3.2

      Understand that this graph must be painful for the National Party, but it needs to be publisiced…as it tells the story. Don’t forget Wayne, the earthquake created huge revenue in terms of insurance receipts plus the dairy boom after 2010/11/12/13…yet National’s side of the graph still heads in the wrong direction.

    • Macro 3.3

      The Christchurch earthquakes regrettably are about the ONLY reason NZ has increased its GDP (and a temporary and unprecedented high in Milk Powder – now gone) – so NO – just because there was a blip upwards in GDP growth doesn’t make English a good manager – it just proves that our economy under English is reacting to external influences, and not managed at all! (Which I understand is how he wants to play it anyway! – more fool him.)

    • tricledrown 3.4

      Wayne sorry to burst your chinese commodity bubble as you milk it for everything you can!
      The Canterbury earthquakes have allowed National to practice Keynsian policies while claiming to be Conservative.
      So National are really Labour lite.
      Or more Keynsian on one hand and Draconian with Education,Healthcare,R&D,Housing,
      Regional Development,Work Safety ACC,Employment right’s,taking away legal aid,miniscule wages!
      An bullying the poor and powerless and bribe the middle classes govt

    • tricledrown 3.5

      PG Cullen balanced the budget better than any finance minister before or since!
      the youngest person to get a Phd in economics in our country!
      A Phd in economic history!
      You meanwhile Pathetic Grovelar have never been bright enough to get invited to anything important ever and never will!

    • tricledrown 3.6

      Wayne the NZ economy grew at less than 1% by volume from 1975 till 2001 from 2001 till 2008 @ 3% +.
      Since 2008 we have had maybe 2 years of growth.
      More by accident as opposed to redistribution of wealth!
      These accidental times are rapidly running out!
      ie Chinese economic slow down.
      Austerity in Europe has damaged domestic consumption along with inflexable currency in the depressed European countries having Germany and England bullying indebted countries into continuous recession had damaged both economies!
      You can thank Goldman Sachs for the debts that the Southern European countries took on as GS defrauded the Northern banks to lend money to countries who didn’t have the income to Service.
      Now the whole of Europe is suffering becuase of the Goldman loan Sharks.
      As Southern Europe can’t afford to buy enough manufactured product because they are paying for Goldman Sachs massive Ponzi scheming corruption!

    • newsense 3.7

      So we have another Nat playing the no responsibility/ all credit example?

      Still better analysis would be the things considered dispensable for this surplus that may be.

    • Tracey 3.8

      so why do you stand by silent as people blame the Labour Government for the fallout for the GFC and why does national perpetuate that false meme?

  4. Sacha 4

    Imagine what the Labour-Hairdo-Winnie govt could have done if they had used that money to invest in our future rather than repaying debt?

    Dealing with the deficit would have become the Nats’ problem rather than the other way around, for once. Even if the left win the next election, their hands are tied by the targeted profligacy of Blinglish, Joyce and their sockpuppet.

    • Pete George 4.1

      Do you realise that would mean the deficit would have been much higher when the GFC hit and would have gone up much more? And perhaps a heck of a lot more if more commitments to spend were in place?

      No amount of New Zealand ‘investing in the future’ would have affected the GFC.

      An increasing deficit was inevitable with the GFC but as it made worse by Labour commitments to spend more on Working For Families and removing interest from student loans.

      • mickysavage 4.1.1

        It always fascinates me the way the right bray for tax breaks but when we give tax breaks to working families and students they claim that it is out of control state expenditure …

      • Macro 4.1.2

        “An increasing deficit was inevitable with the GFC ”
        Which had been forecast as early as 1999. And still our governments have not got their heads around solving the fundamental problems of unregulated financial markets! So yes! Clark has to take some blame, but so does National. Both sides have allowed, and continue to allow, banksters to create money at will (our present PM being one of their ilk), with no regard for increased production, and undermining national economies, and further pain is inevitable.

        • mickysavage

          Yep and National was insisting on tax cuts all the way through Labour’s reign. Imagine if Labour had succumbed and given tax cuts to the wealthy. As if that would work …

          • Pete George

            Cullen was criticised more and more through his tenure for effectively increasing income taxes through not compensating for bracket creep. That was likely to be s significant reason for the voters getting fed up with Labour.

            And didn’t Cullen belatedly cut income tax rates? That would have benefited the wealthy wouldn’t it?

            • mickysavage

              But look at the freaking graph. Labour had the economy humming, had paid off the credit cards and was paying off the mortgage. We became a creditor nation for the first time in decades. Exactly what you do during a time when things are on the improve. The tax cuts benefitted everyone, not the wealthy like the last National tax cuts.

              And how about you answer my question at 1.4.1.

              • Rob

                Yes Labour had its Govt debt sorted, big deal. Unfortunately for the general population (ie the people that lived in the country at the time) debt soared. The other big issue of financial management that Labour did not address at all and has burnt this country & the baby boomer population significantly, was the unregulated manner that 3rd tier finance companies were able to operate they way they did and failed at the first hurdle, it really was a house of cards economy and it has shown to be.

                So alongside GFC, Christchurch earthquake, soaring personal debt and billions of dollars lost of predominantly retirement savings through a dodgy unregulated investment market, it did not make a very good economic platform for any new Govt to walk into. However we did buy Kiwirail and that has proved to be an even bigger nose around our neck.

                You just get the feeling that the population was fleeced so the Labour Govt and its supporters can put up vacuous graphs like this one, outlining Govt debt reduction. Its almost like big corporates showing great increases in profitability whilst stating there will be no salary increases for the workers.. CV’s graph on total foreign debt is on the point and that is one you need to be considering, look at the reduction in private debt recently , that is a good thing.

            • One Anonymous Bloke

              “Likely”, “significant”.

              We gaze in astonishment as Pete George pretends to understand the meaning of words. A weasel doesn’t change its spots, not even for a new year.

              • Wreckingball

                Pete George makes perfect sense. Unfortunately Savage has stopped responding to this thread now because he has realised that the graph is baseless and vacuous.

                There’s only so many ways I can point out the facts: OAB pashes zombies.

                • One Anonymous Bloke

                  Tax cuts lowered the tax take. The GFC lowered it further.

                  The pathetic pretence that Helen gets blamed is in direct contradiction to public statements made by Bill English, John Key and Treasury.

                  All this has been covered before on this very page. Stop humping the zombie.

                  Got anything substantive or original to say, airbag? Or are you just going to keep up this feeble Petty impersonation?

            • Macro

              You two can argue as much as you like about tinkering with the economy, but until the fundamental problem of the current regime is dealt with – namely the unrelated right of financial institutions to create money for themselves at will – we will simply regress further and further and the minority will accrue more and more wealth at the expense of the poor. (Micky this state of affairs occurred under Cullen almost as much as it did under Richardson et al and presently under English.)

              Bryan Gould alluded to it here in his most recent post

              The Light Dawns

              It is not just that neo-classical economics have failed to produce a solution to the problems created by the Global Financial Crisis. It is rather that the policies that were put in place before the GFC – and that we are now beginning to see were responsible for bringing it about in the first place – are now being pursued all over again, with every likelihood that they will produce the same outcomes.

              We see the effects of this unregulated globalised monetary policy world wide. Financial institutions and corporations given unrestrained license to create money at will. And they do. GM and Ford were making more “profit” from their financial dealings before the GFC than they did from making cars! No wonder they went belly up and required huge bailouts from the poor of America.

              It is estimated that of the money currently created by banks and financial institutions only 3% actually results in increased productive capacity. All the rest is just pure inflation of “financial vehicles”. No wonder the world’s economy is in such a mess, where a small minority now control more and more of the world’s resources through no real effort by themselves – just the lucky perchance to have some money and use it to create more.

              Neither Labour nor National have even begun to consider this problem, and I am sure that they lack the gumption that is needed to rectify it. But it must be addressed if the world is to become a more fair and just place. As far as I see it Govt’s have the law and the capacity to limit banks. They can require that all non-productive lending be limited to the the sum on the Banks liabilities. Productive lending (e.g. lending on projects that will produce work and enhance society) could be made extra to the banks liabilities but should be low cost and long term. Such measures as these are essential if we as a civilisation are not collapse through revolt caused by the excessive greed of the rich minority.

              • Colonial Rawshark


                Such measures as these are essential if we as a civilisation are not collapse through revolt caused by the excessive greed of the rich minority.

                Or collapse due to being unprepared for the upcoming low carbon future, climate change and financial crisis.

      • tricledrown 4.1.3

        PG.Tax cuts for the rich didn’t cost $2.2 billion a year.
        Which if put into the Cullen fund would have lowered the govt debt considerably!

  5. Colonial Rawshark 5

    Hi MS,

    To be honest, I get really frustrated with these kinds of posts.

    Wayne and co. are right, these charts do not show that Helen Clark and Michael Cullen were better economic managers than John Key and Bill English.

    They charts do that the majority of the Left (and the Right) do not grasp the nature of the economic and monetary system that we run: because of our persistent trade deficit the only way for NZ to increase GDP NZ needs to increase debt.

    In fact, NZ’s foreign debt shot up like a rocket under Helen Clark and Michael Cullen’s reign. And it did so at a faster rate than the Bolger/Shipley government before it.

    But here I am talking about NZ’s total foreign debt which includes both government and private sector debt. Cullen allowed private debt levels to skyrocket, thereby pumping money into the NZ economy (and providing the “economic growth” that Labour is so proud of). He then taxed those monies in order to reduce public debt levels.

    In other words, Cullen’s economic miracle was swapping public debt with private debt.

    The huge increase in NZ’s private foreign debt from 1999-2008 was driven by bigger and bigger house mortgages and bigger and bigger farm mortgages. Not to mention ever increasing credit card debt.

    Is this really something to celebrate or fête the Fifth Labour Government over.

    • mickysavage 5.1

      Hi CR

      NZ’s foreign debt shot up like a rocket under Helen Clark and Michael Cullen’s reign. And it did so at a faster rate than the Bolger/Shipley government before it.

      Private debt did and most of our banks were owned by Australia so yes.

      Cullen looked after the public debt but what do you think we should have done about private debt? Regulate real estate prices? Limit borrowing?

      • Colonial Rawshark 5.1.1

        If Cullen had limited or capped private debt levels and also continued to pay down the public debt, the NZ economy would have declined into a steep recession. This would have happened because the only source of funds left would be to take money away from the private sector in order to pay down the public debt. In real life, this means taking away household incomes and savings, and reducing company profits via increasingly high taxation.

        The economic system we have bought into survives on debt sourced money. We do not have a trade surplus, and our government does not issue its own money. So more and more debt is the only source of money we have.

        • Kiwiri - Raided of the Last Shark

          “Cullen’s economic miracle was swapping public debt with private debt”

          “The economic system we have bought into survives on debt sourced money”

          Thanks very much for these sharp and incisive comments that we should all do well to keep at the front of our minds, especially when looking ahead to future reforms that will need to be structural and provide real shift.

          • Colonial Rawshark

            I hope that more people associated with the political parties get it. Without that understanding, NZ will never find the capital it needs to invest in low carbon infrastructure for the future, nor invest in its people in the way that it should.

            We are trapped in a monetary system which is based on debt. If Labour doesn’t find a way to either play the game smarter, or to exit the game altogether, then its fiscal policies will always be severely hampered.

            We’ll end up with a Labour government which spends on slightly more sensible things than a National government, one which is not quite as mean spirited as National, and one which will find an extra $100M here and there for worthy initiatives, but overall, will achieve very little to get NZ ready for the Low Carbon/Climate onslaught which is perhaps only two decades away.

            • dave brown

              As you imply reliance on foreign investment to finance production and hence ramp up private debt and profits going offshore rather than being re-invested, essentially turning NZ into a colony of China and the US is not our only option. It is while both NACT an LAB stick to neo-liberal orthodoxy.

              Alternatively, increasing wages, increasing and enforcing taxes on wealth, increasing savings in the Cullen Fund to invest in production, taking back state assets without compensation, nationalising the banks and key sectors of the economy such as energy, communications etc would be expressed as an increased public debt to NZ savers/shareholders who would then exercise democratic control over the economy and plan production to meet NZ needs.

              Thinking through this escape route however it is clear that such a program would mean a revolutionary change in the consciousness of the 80% at the bottom to overcome their servility to the top 10%.

              • les

                you have great ideas.It would take someone not afraid of dying to try and implement them,however.

                • Murray Rawshark

                  Dying is something we all have in common, so why be scared of it? I’m more worried about a future with more and more people living on their knees. Or worse, just subsisting.

              • Les, thanks.
                There are thousands dying every day as the price of capitalism’s assault on humanity and nature, many of them children.
                I’m privileged to have survived into my 70s.
                I would rather die on my feet than in bed.

              • Draco T Bastard

                Alternatively, increasing wages, increasing and enforcing taxes on wealth, increasing savings in the Cullen Fund to invest in production

                One of the things that I’ve come to realise over the years is that savings are as much of a dead-weight loss as profit (In fact, they pretty much amount to profit).

                When a government, as sole creator of a countries money, creates that money and spends it into the economy to have a balanced budget it’s taxes would equal the amount created/spent. To have savings/profit then the amount returned to the government must needs be less than the amount the government spent.

                As long as we have the resources available to do whatever then the government can have it done by printing money. No need for savings at all.

                • “As long as we have the resources available to do whatever then the government can have it done by printing money. No need for savings at all.”

                  Yes money can be created as long as it is backed by value produced. But value produced under capitalism unless taxed is consumed privately as the value of wages or accumulated surplus value of employers appropriated from wage labour.

                  The capitalist state oversees and facilitates this expropriation.

                  There is no way the capitalists will agree to their ‘profit share’ being taxed to the equivalent of the surplus value appropriated.

                  To transition from capitalist state which represents the class interest of the capitalists, to one which represents the common interest of the producing class requires interim measures.

                  Of course there has to be the political will to do this because the state ceases to be the state which serves private accumulation, and becomes a state that serves common ownership.

                  Call it the Commune.

                  This will require no less than a social revolution.

                  The state replaces the capitalist market as ‘organiser’ of production.
                  It can do this by taxing wages and capital to create a sovereign fund to invest in the social production of value.

                  Value as under capitalism is still calculated in terms of the socially necessary labour time [SNLT] required to produce it.

                  But instead of the market determining SNLT, democratic social planning replaces the market.

                  Value is transferred from private ownership to social ownership by a process whereby foregone wages become shares in common property, while taxes on profits and nationalisations re-appropriate value back to the producer class in common.

                  This is the commune.

                  The commune will print ‘money’ as tokens that represent labour time equitably shared among all producers/consumers.

        • Tracey

          Thanks for your comments in this thread CV. In future when people say this is just an echo chamber for labour people I will remember this. That you challenged the post and carried out a “conversation” with those disagreeing.

          One could hardly accuse you of being a national apologist 😉

    • Colonial Rawshark 5.2

      Chart: NZ’s foreign debt

      You will see that NZ’s foreign debt rose rapidly under Helen Clark and Michael Cullen.

      Under Key and English, total foreign debt levels have actually slightly decreased in terms of real dollars.

      You can also see from the chart that the National Government has allowed households, individuals and companies to deleverage (pay down debt) – at the expense of loading debt on to the public sector. But the overall result they have achieved is a stabilisation of NZ’s foreign debt levels during a very trying time for the local and international economy.


      • newsense 5.2.1

        Lol at PG’s BS semantics compared to this dismantling and more honest look.

        Except who was it who won’t support incentivising investing elsewhere than housing?

        Agree with CR, except it then takes us back to arguments around housing supply. Which is where the Nats are very poor economic managers and social engineers.

        • newsense

          Who is the economic policy development team? Any chance of a Q and A here?

          • Colonial Rawshark

            they are all orthodox monetrists as far as I can see.

            Which is why Labour lost the election last two times, going on about the need to raise the retirement age because we would somehow run short of NZD as the population aged.

            Even though NZD are just electronic credits generated by keyboard strokes. And you can never run out of them. The Reserve Bank has as many, or as few, NZD as you could ever want.

    • Colonial Rawshark 5.3

      Sorry for the crappy edits of my original comment. This line should have read:

      “The charts above show that the majority of the Left (and the Right) do not grasp the nature of the economic and monetary system that we run”

    • tricledrown 5.4

      CV New Zealands debt levels rose at exactly the same levels under the Clark govt as Shipley Bolger govt!

  6. disturbed 6

    Hey Mickey of course we should also factor in the fact that Helen hung onto our assets while this carpetbagger Key NatZ lot just sell out everything they can get hold of and our Health system is next to go private after state housing selloff.

    These National scumbags are criminals and traitors to our past and future generations.

  7. Peter W 7

    I thought it was an upside down labour vote chart

  8. Ovid 8

    The big thing to remember is that government finance is nothing like household finance.

    I don’t think debt in itself is a bad thing for a government to run. So long as it is for the right kind of expenditure. I think it’s entirely appropriate to amortise capital expenditure over the lives of assets like hospitals, roads, railway track, schools and so on. A 10 year government bond in NZ returns 3.37% p.a. Which is fuck-all, really.

    Like a good Keynesian, I favour counter-cyclical spending. So borrowing in a poor economy is appropriate for weathering an economic storm – ensuring public services are maintained, social welfare remains in place and capital works are commissioned to provide stimulus.

    However, bad debt should be avoided. Borrowing to fund tax cuts, for example, is highly irresponsible. It hamstrings the government’s ability to intervene in the economy. Further, there is no evidence that tax cuts provide significant economic stimulus, particularly in an economy where consumer goods are chiefly imported. Which we saw in NZ’s economy continuing to flatline for several years after the current government cut taxes in its first term.

    All-in-all, it’s complicated.

    • Draco T Bastard 8.1

      I don’t think debt in itself is a bad thing for a government to run.

      The government should never be in debt. Specifically, if it’s running a deficit (which it pretty much has to do to cover the dead-weight loss of profit) then it should not be borrowing to cover that deficit but creating the money.

      I think it’s entirely appropriate to amortise capital expenditure over the lives of assets like hospitals, roads, railway track, schools and so on.

      This is actually a load of bollocks. Nothing can be paid for later no matter how much people would like to believe that to be true. To produce something then the resources for that thing must be available at the time of production. For something to be paid for later through the auspices of borrowing money indicates three possible things:

      1. That there is to much money in the economy
      2. That a lot of that money is in too few hands and
      3. That that accumulated money isn’t actually doing anything (ie, it’s sitting around waiting to be borrowed rather than being spent back into the economy)

      The response the government should be making to such a situation is:

      1. Creating enough money and spending it into the economy so as to get any spare capacity used and
      2. Taxing the bejeesus out of accumulated money so as to avoid over accumulation

      • Murray Simmonds 8.1.1

        You need to know that Western Governments are no longer responsible for creating money. This is now an activity that has been taken over pretty much entirely by the Banks (at the expense of democracy.)

        At least that is how it is explained in that excellent article I tried to flag a couple of days ago . . . . see ‘Banking vs Democracy – How power shifted from Govt to the banks’ – the link has been corrected and reposted by Lprent in the replies to the Blog headed up “Andrea Vance . . .” an article that featured on ‘The Standard’ a couple of days ago.

        (I haven’t posted the link here ‘cos I’m afraid the link might get screwed up again. But the article is important and readable and extremely interesting and informative. The article argues that this shift in power, from government to the banking sector, is largely responsible for property price inflation. Try Googling it. Its lengthy but well worth the half hour or so that it might take you to read it).

        • Draco T Bastard

          Banking vs Democracy

          This report from Positive Money finds a banking system that has more ‘spending power’ than the democratically elected government, no accountability to the people, and a massive concentration of power in the hands of a few individuals.

          However, the greatest concern is that government has surrendered one of its most important powers—the power to create money and control the money supply— to the private sector, which has exploited this power to blow up housing bubbles and indirectly transfer wealth upwards and inwards, with disastrous results. There has been no democratic debate about this transfer of power, and no law actively sanctions the current set-up.

          Yes, the private sector has been slowly taking over government and displacing democracy for some time and our ‘representatives’ have been helping them.

    • Colonial Rawshark 8.2

      Like a good Keynesian, I favour counter-cyclical spending. So borrowing in a poor economy is appropriate for weathering an economic storm

      Two things I will note
      1) There has been a secular economic change. We are 7 years into a global economic stagnation with no end. The long term trend now is stagnation and depression. Upcycles will be small while down cycles will be savage. “Counter cyclical spending” is not a workable strategy in this new environment where the economic recovery is always 12-18 months away.

      2) You will note that in the last set of economic “good times” NZ foreign debt shot up. Only it was private debt not public debt. That is because we are in a monetary system where debt is our country’s only money supply, whether in good times or in bad (and especially because NZ runs a chronic current account deficit).

  9. Draco T Bastard 9

    The simple fact of the matter is that neither are any good as they’re both following the same failed ideology. An ideology that must result in the collapse of society and, as the science now shows, the collapse of the global ecosystem due to anthropogenic climate change.

  10. Enough is Enough 10


    There are many things to hit John Key over the head with but to use this graph as evidence of why one government was better then the other shows economic illiteracy and ignorance at its extreme.

    Michael Cullen’s economic management followed the same general neo liberal economic prescription that every government has subscribed to since 1984.

    There was no revolution in 2008 that caused the inequality that we live in today. That happened in 1984.

    Cullen and Clark knocked the sharp edges off the inequitable society we live in. However it is pure ignorance to suggest that anything other than outside influences caused the trends in the silly graph you have shown.

    • Tracey 10.1

      I agree the revolution on behalf of the wealth began in 1984, there is NO getting away from that. The difference between the left and the right is the right want even more of 1984, some on the left want a new way and Labour can’t quite decide.

  11. Chooky 11

    Helen Clark was the better economic manager when it comes to the environment

    …this John Key Nact government has trashed the environment

    ..nor did Helen Clark sell off the NZ family silver ie State Owned Assets

    …and she was way better on State education..this government is selling it out

    • tricledrown 11.1

      Chooky Education National had damaged our future by meddling unnecssarily with over testing our children when that time and money should be used for more teacher time in front of pupils.
      While this govt claims to be reducing red tape its increasing it in Education removing creative thinking moving backwards to teac
      hing children to pass endless tests wrote learning!
      University Education is being deliberatly underfunded per student less is being spent!
      All fees and loans for post graduate study has been removed like in the US which had done so earlier and now Economic data is showing this is slowing economic growth in the US by as much as 3% as theirs a now a massive shortage of post graduate’s!

      • Chooky 11.1.1

        yes John Key Nactional is destroying New Zealand State free high quality education….a once proud internationally renowned education system, like Finland’s is now

        …under John Key we are following the USA corporate privatisation system of education which is one of the least affordable internationally and the results are not good



        John Key is keeping NZ afloat by selling off all that New Zealanders hold dear…its land, its environmental protections , its assets, its housing, its egalitarian traditions…New Zealand under John Key is for overseas speculators and plundering

        Helen Clark was a saint in comparison

        • Draco T Bastard

          under John Key we are following the USA corporate privatisation system of education which is one of the least affordable internationally and the results are not good

          The two lessons we should be taking from the US are:

          1. That privatisation is always the most expensive way of doing things and
          2. That privatisation also brings about the worst possible result

          These lessons are there for all the world to see and yet we’re still told that privatisation is the Holy Grail.

          • Chooky

            +100…and democracy by the people, for the people and of the people is undermined and cast aside…it is oligarchy corporate takeover by stealth

            …heading towards totalitarianism with a smiling face

  12. Al66 12

    The reality is that Helen Clarks government was in power during a time of relative prosperity. While I am no John Key / National Party cheerleader, I don’t believe their administration can be held entirely accountable for the graphical outcome illustrated, however I do believe a Labour administration would have kept debt down better than National because they didn’t give a “lolly scramble tax cuts” to their mates.

  13. Sanctuary 13

    If someone bans Pete George, I will make a $20 donation to my favorite charity. Alternatively, if the Lord chooses to smite him with a mighty sword, and be pleased, I promise to go to mass and put $20 in the collection plate.

    • Chooky 13.1

      Sanctuary …this is not Christian of you…personally I dont mind Pete George because i ignore him…and he once agreed with me on Nigel Latta being a great guy …so Pete George can think for himself and he is not always wrong

    • Tracey 13.2

      what a silly notion. Donate the $20 bucks to charity anyway.

    • tc 13.3

      PG is welcome here IMO as long as he responds to the questions that poke holes in his ever so reasonable sounding assertions.

      All part of the egalitarian nature of TS which seems to annoy many so let the mouse be your best friend and scroll on.

  14. Philip Ferguson 14

    I think discussing whether Helen Clark or John Key is a better manager of capitalism rather misses the point.

    I’m quite happy to give Helen her due on that one. After all, the two times NZ capitalism has been up shit creek without a paddle were the 1930s and the 1980s and both times it was Labour which saved the system.

    And that is the problem with Labour. It is totally – and unchangeably – wedded to managing the capitalist system.

    But folks who aspire to something better than this shite – I mean how many capitalist crises, how much wasted labour-power and wealth, how much human misery, how much war and destruction do we need before drawing the conclusion that this is not the best possible world that humans can make and we decide to make a different kind of world?



    • Tracey 14.1

      Am enjoying your contributions immensely Philip. I don’t see the upside of a comparison between clark and key’s economic management but I suspect Mickey’s point is that Key’s is nowhere as heroic as the media and others claim and he used the clark regime to highlight it.

      In any event labour gets so few goes at power they seem hell bent on preserving the system paradoxically for fear of not getting back in for a long time.

  15. Philip Ferguson 15

    Actually speaking of Helen Clark, here’s an assessment of her reign by a former Unite union organiser and veteran left activist, Daphna Whitmore:


    • Chooky 15.1

      Helen Clark was for peace and anti-nuclear…when it took courage !…she was a force for good….she made a dignified place for NZ women in a difficult world of man made religious bigotry and war mongering …give her credit!

      eg.in comparison look at women’s rights and the macho carnage mess that was in Ireland during her time as a politician…. and only recently they have dug up the graves of unwanted children of unmarried mothers in the grounds of Catholic Church homes

      …and Helen Clark, unlike Australia , UK and Canada…. courageously did NOT lead NZ into a false macho war of aggression in Iraq with NZ troops following the Americans…she deserves credit for this too

      ….sure she could have done more for some NZers on benefits but she was a strong moderate popular NZ leader …and not elected to overthrow capitalism

      ….it annoys me how some on the supposed Left could almost be apologists for John Key Nactional in their undermining and attacks on Helen Clark…smacks of sexism imo

      ….and surely Helen Clark can NOT be blamed for the problems of capitalism….re “.how many capitalist crises, how much wasted labour-power and wealth, how much human misery, how much war and destruction do we need before drawing the conclusion that this is not the best possible world that humans can make and we decide to make a different kind of world?”

      …face it …Helen Clark kept us out of making war and destruction on other countries and other peoples …she mitigated against human misery!…imo she was a great and courageous Prime Minister

      Helen Clark was undermined and stalked not only by the Right ( who knew her value to the Left in winning) when she was Prime Minister but also the supposed Left…and look what we have got now!….are the virtuous ‘Left’ critics of Helen Clark now satisfied ?….seems to me many are still sanctimonious

    • Murray Rawshark 15.2

      That’s the Helen Clark I remember. I think the one people chat about here was another one.

    • Clemgeopin 15.3

      @Philip Ferguson:
      Daphna Whitmore sure writes well! I do not agree with a lot of what she wrote because Clark HAD to move carefully and slowly in order to make Labour relevant and acceptable to the voters over time because of what happened in the Rogernomics era. Nevertheless, I enjoyed reading that article as it is well written and thought provoking.

  16. Jenn 16

    I really think we need to credit the canny Dr Michael Cullen for Labour’s financial successes over the nine years, and Helen Clark and her caucus’ trust in him.

    • Tracey 16.1

      SIR MIchael Cullen would have been pretty comfortable n this National Party, why do you think they found it SO hard to criticise him over the 9 years? He only gave them fertile ground when he tried to buy some votes in last minute desperation.

    • Chooky 16.2

      +100 Jenn

  17. reason 17

    John Keys Nats follow the very short economic managment hand book that all right wing governments follow ………

    “When we talk of neoliberalism, we are talking about something that has fuelled inequality and enabled the 1%. All it means is a stage of capitalism in which the financial markets were deregulated, public services privatised, welfare systems run down, laws to protect working people dismantled, and unions cast as the enemy.”

    It should also be noted that those who engage in economic treason against us have been or are large donars to the National party …

    Finally for PG’s thick head ……. Dirty Politics as exposed in Saint Nicks book is a large National Party smear machine involving the breaking of our laws by John Keys Government and henchmen.

    David Farrar is a national party dirty politics paid employee and player.

    Kiwi Blog is a national party sewer with the odd air freshener ………..

  18. gnomic 18

    Clearly the answer is none of the above. I feel sure that neither of them would claim to have any special skills in managing an economy. Probably much on a par as to being political operators. And having political ambitions beyond the shaky isles. One might hope that Helen had her heart set on making life better for the masses at large, whereas the weasel rules for the various elites comprising the powers that be. Both of them driven by the polls and avid triangulators.

    I rate Cullen as one of the best of recent times despite his coming from the Labour Right as I understand it. At least he tried to put the country on some vague sort of financially sound basis. Not many have a Fund named after them. I expect he had to grit his teeth when the pollies forced him to offer electoral bribes. Compromised by his SirHood. And killing off the posties.

    But seriously, how could anybody hope to ‘manage’ the economy, whatever that is, of NZ-Aotearoa on any sort of rational basis in the present state of world affairs? Isn’t it mainly a matter of rolling on back and asking for a tummy scratch? Would the Prime Minister not mainly be a token figurehead subject to the whims of the markets, the oligopolies, the near-monopolies, the dark forces, foreign powers/investors, and so forth? And as for who has the ear of the minister of finance, I shudder to think.

    Speaking of Bill, I doubt he will go down in history as a top utterly fab min of fin. But he worked in treasury so what could you expect?

  19. samuel 19

    national is bloody useless
    nz has been loosing for 10 years common keys get the bugers out
    anyone but them.

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