Monday, May 11, 2015

NZ's Social Democracy Leadership Ends.


New Zealand is a small pacific nation with a total population that is much smaller than many cities around the world. Despite our size we do have a reputation for having an impact that is much greater than our size should dictate. Our sporting achievements, social justice leadership and political influence has provided us with useful recognition and respect. Much of this has been achieved by thumbing our noses at major powers through making stands on moral issues and doing things our own way at home. We once had the highest standard of living in the world and New Zealand was known as being a family friendly country with one of the best education systems in the world. New Zealand was described as the Scandinavia of the Pacific because of our affluent, egalitarian society and governance that aligned with other social democracies.

While the last thirty years or so saw Neo-liberal economics infiltrating our governance, and increasing inequality, we were still leading the world in aspects of social democratic legislation like our ACC and the RMA. Both Labour and National Governments used to support progressive legislation and National's Simon Upton reviewed the RMA bill that Geoffrey Palmer had introduced and strengthened the environmental protections before it was passed into law. 

Under this current National Government, John Key's relaxed leadership and offhand manner has fronted some very determined attacks on the very things that won us international respect and ensured fairness to all was a guiding principle. Sadly we are no longer being recognised for being a progressive country, but as a country that is squandering the advantages we had and being a lap dog to larger powers. I have tried summerise our decline:

Global Leadership
Education
  • Clarence Beeby is widely recognized for lifting New Zealand into the position of being a world leader in education. He moved the country away from narrow, restrictive testing regimes and concentrated on lifting professional capability and meeting the individual needs of children.
  • The National Government has reversed the focus on evidence based change, reduced professional input and returned to narrow testing regimes. We have dropped from the top ten in world rankings to as low as 23rd
  • I have listed the numerous ways the Government has dismantled our once strong public education system to favour the rich and private business. 
Employment
Child Welfare/Housing
Public Health
Taxation
  • One of the hallmarks of a social democracy is an acceptance that Governments have a role in providing a strong base of services and support for all citizens. Wealthy New Zealanders used to pay a much higher percentage of their income in tax and Government funding in the 50s and 60s allowed for high levels of government services and employment. 
  • The social contract that all citizens contribute according to their means has been substantially eroded. Tax avoidance and evasion is common amongst the very rich and many corporates now evade tax
  • The National Government cut tax for the rich at the very point its income was constrained through the economic recession. 
  • Cuts in government services is the necessary outcome of a reduced income and despite New Zealand experiencing substantial increases in economic growth we have not seen a comparable growth in government revenue.
Democratic Government
  • Another hallmark of a social democracy is strong public participation in the democratic process. New Zealand once had a high level of union and political party membership and in 1984 almost 94% of voters did so.
  • An important part of the democratic process is a strong 4th Estate and most social democracies have well funded public broadcasting.
  • In 2011 the voter turnout to had dropped to 74% and for local body elections it has dropped to 40%.
  • Under this Government we have seen an erosion and restriction of public information and an increase in urgency to progress legislation with limited public scrutiny. 
  • National wiped our remaining public funded TV channel and has restricted other funding to public broadcasters like National radio. We have much fewer jobs for journalists and a growth in PR and media advisors instead. The capacity for robust scrutiny of Government performance has diminished. 
While I accept that neoliberal economics within governance is now a dominating factor around the world and a global wealth capture (well described by Piketty), New Zealand doesn't have to follow the same path. It now seems that we have well and truly lost our reputation as a social democracy leader and an innovator in social justice legislation. We have recently been identified as the country that has suffered the most from a restricted economy due to a steady growth in inequality. We are being led by a Government with a limited moral compass, that would rather be a loyal lacky to bullying powers than make a principled stand.

Rather than seeing the economy as something that should serve all people, as social democracies did in the past, people now are expected to support an economy that benefits a wealthy elite. 

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