Monday, April 30, 2012

They endured David Cunliffe, but of vision there was none [update 4]

LABOUR’S DAVID CUNLIFFE yesterday released his economic vision for New Zealand in a community hall in Blockhouse Bay.

At least, we were told to expect by sundry bloggers, commentators and Mr Cunliffe himself to expect an “an economic vision worth fighting for,” “some ideas around economic development”—”a signal of where Cunliffe would take the party if he was in charge”-- “the most important speech given from a high ranking Labour Party politician since David Lange articulated NZ's independent foreign policy in the 1980's”—but it was in vain that I scrolled through his speech in search of either vision, or plans, or proposals for the future—or anything that might possibly make it “important.” 

I didn’t expect to agree with it, but I at least wanted to know what it is, this “vision” of his of “economic development.”

Now, his speech to the faithfully invited did indicate where he might take Labour if he were in charge, i.e., even further down the gurgler from where it is now, but what it mostly contained was not vision but bullshit, bluster and ego-driven ennui: a litany of historical errors and a mess of shop-worn cloth-cap clichés.

But there was nothing at all about economic development. Nothing at all to even suggest he understands how economies do develop. And if there is any “vision” at all in David Cunliffe’s head, the evidence is those visions are somewhat like those of Saint Joan’s—which is to say of himself at the head of some “True Labour” Column.

Perhaps he has forgotten she was burned as a heretic.

The whole sorry speech deserves a good fisk, but who has the time. So let me just pluck out a few of his more farcical pronouncements on history, on economics, and on politics… [Cunliffe’s flaccid prose is in italics.]

The major reason that voters didn’t vote for Labour, and sometimes didn’t vote at all, is simply that Labour failed to inspire voters that it was a credible alternative to National.

Really. No shit.

You hear the National government talking about the need to sell assets because we have so little money in this country. Do you know why we have so little money in this country? It’s because a large percentage of our economic assets are overseas-owned.

No, it’s so much spending of the spending in this country is poured down government holes instead of building up the capital structure—which means so much that New Zealanders do save goes to better homes overseas where they can find decent investments, instead of here.

And because so few large assets are easily bought by wealthier foreigners. (Cunliffe does realise that every purchaser of an asset has to hand over money to the local owners first, doesn’t he, who can then re-invest it here to make greater profits—essentially doubling available local capital with every foreign purchase?)

While the hippies were out protesting in the streets [in the 1970s], a professor at the University of Chicago called Milton Friedman, was selling his students the idea that taxation was evil and that businesses worked best when they were deregulated.

Actually it was Ayn Rand arguing that taxation is theft. Unfortunately, Milton Friedman and his Chicagoites just wanted to make taxation more “efficient.” Which they did: the total tax take under Roger Douglas and David Lange’s Labour Party went up to its highest ever level; something about Friedman would be delighted and Douglas was. But Rand would not be.

Does this sound familiar? It should be. The Republican Party in the US, the Conservative Party in England and the Labour Party in New Zealand enthusiastically took up Friedman’s philosophy, which is now called neo-liberalism.

This will be news to Ronald Reagan’s Republicans, who followed the blatherings of supply-siders, more than Friedman’s Chicago-ites. (Friedman had to go to Chile to try his ideas out properly.) And Margaret Thatcher’s Conservatives were followers more of UK-resident Hayek than that crass American from across the ditch. (Thatcher was famous for banging down Hayek’s book Road to Serfdom Constitution of Liberty on the cabinet table exclaiming “This is what we believe!” No similar stories exist about Friedman’s Free to Choose.)
And the “philosophy” is only called neo-Liberalism by people to the left of Jane Kelsey and Tim Hazeldine.

Neo-liberalism has become such a dominant economic philosophy that it is now the only economic philosophy taught in many universities.

This will be news to anyone studying politics or economics in virtually any university in the world, even in Friedman’s Chicago home-base. And to anyone studying under Jane Kelsey or Tim Hazeldine.

Friedman revived a belief in the “invisible hand” of the market. It was a fairy tale that Adam Smith had said a century earlier would automatically deliver the best of all possible economic worlds.

It was actually two centuries  before Friedman became popular that Adam Smith produced his analysis of what made nations rich--in the eventful year of 1776 to be precise. (Maybe Cunliffe  should have studied history at Harvard instead of poetry?) Adam Smith’s answer to the question of what made them rich was, famously, division of labour.
But “Silent T” apparently knows nothing of this, since the reader will search in vain in Cunliffe’s many turgid writings for anything understanding what Smith might have said, or for anything in Smith suggesting division of labour would “automatically deliver the best of all possible economic worlds”—or for knowing what else might have happened in 1776.  Because Smith observes in some detail that  the division of labour, and the freedom it requires, allows new resources to be produced and discovered and put to their best, most highly-valued use, producing more wealth and infinitely more real harmony than the pressure-group warfare of Mercantilism that Smith’s opponents (and “Silent T”) invariably seem to favour.
And for those who fail to see the economic plan in the free market, rest assured there is one. It’s called the price system.

Of course many of the rogues who benefited from [‘neo-liberalism’] have never believed [Smith’s story] – they remember how they got rich…
The people who were the most enthusiastic supporters of neo-liberalism were … advisors to government.

If he had read Smith’s Wealth of Nations (described by PJ O’Rourke as the study of why some places are as rich as hell and others just suck), Cunliffe would have noted Smith’s derision in passages like these at the type of “businessman” who gets rich by government favour:
“People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices. It is impossible indeed to prevent such meetings, by any law which either could be executed, or would be consistent with liberty or justice. But though the law cannot hinder people of the same trade from sometimes assembling together, it ought to do nothing to facilitate such assemblies; much less to render them necessary.” 
Note too that Cunliffe’s “vision,” or what there is of it, calls for more government subsidies for business, not less. Ask yourself what type of “businessman” this policy will favour.

Did you know, for example, that British Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair, regularly lunched with Rupert Murdoch, the far-right media boss? Tony, apparently, used to test which policies would be acceptable to Murdoch.Thus we have a far-right media boss influencing the policies of what was supposed to be the party of the people. It’s shameful.

This is blatant hyperbole, heading off into Ian Wishart territory.
But perhaps Cunliffe just prefers the media owners, media people, and media trainers that Helen used to lunch with-and with whom he would like to break bread if he ever manages the ascent of the greasy pole.

I think that’s a major reason that nearly one million voters deserted us at the last election. It wasn’t because we failed to communicate our policies. Quite the opposite. Those voters saw that our policies – with the exception of asset sales – were mostly the same as National’s.

Largely because National’s policies were copied from Labour.

The good news, if you can call it good news, is that the economic myths that drove the world into this current mess are starting to unravel…Europe’s current economic crisis was caused by bankers who loaned money on riskier and riskier ventures until the whole structure collapsed.

Um, actually Europe’s current economic mess was caused by government’s borrowing to pay (first) for their bloated and obese welfare states, and (second) to pay for the failed stimulunacy that has left them in a deeper hole and still digging.

And you know what? Despite all the promises that the European economic austerity measures would turn this tragic situation around, the opposite is occurring.

And you know what? The only governments in Europe attempting anything remotely like austerity are Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and Estonia (whose government currently has the only balanced budget in the Eurozone). These are the few Europeans who are doing even relatively well
As for the UK government itself, despite the political rhetoric Cameron and Osborne have imposed the very opposite of austerity.  For the past five years their deficit has been between two to five times that of New Zealand…

Austerity economics does not work. It did not work in the Great Depression of the 1930s and it will not work in the Great Recession of the current decade.

Once again Cunliffe’s history fails him. It actually did work: in every place that it was tried. What didn’t work was the Keynesian stimulus of Roosevelt’s America: their recovery had to wait until 1946-47, when govt spending plunged after the war and ten million came home to start producing things instead of shooting at other soldiers.

When you start closing down your government services and firing your workers, those people have no money to spend. Because they have no money to spend, the local businesses suffer. So they start firing staff. And so the economy goes into deep recession, with no easy way out.

Spending doesn’t stop when you close down your government services. It just changes its form: the money that was taken to buy government waste and pay back government’s debt is left in the producers’ hands and spent instead on private production and capital formation. So instead of spending it on arseholes to play with paperclips, the money can be spent instead on new capital goods—on production instead of consumption—on industry not on bureaucracy.
This is what actually produces wealth (as Adam Smith could teach Cunliffe) and why cutting government leads not to recession, but to prosperity.

You know, these problems that we face today stem from a lack of appropriate regulation or a lack of enforcement of existing regulations. The global financial crisis was caused by unregulated banking…

This is a complete fantasy. The three areas of the US, European and local economies that are and were most heavily regulated are the production of money, the production of housing and banking. It is no accident that it was the intersection of these three industries where the crisis began. Perhaps Mr Cunliffe could read about the true causes of the crisis before he travels the country spouting his fantasies.

Leaky building syndrome was caused by deregulating the building industry…

What planet is this moron on? There has been no “deregulation” of the building industry. It has become more regulated by the decade, not less. And the causes of leaky houses was plain enough: poor building systems mandated, approved and allowed by government agencies unqualified to vet them (agencies like the BIA whose names were changed after the debacle to avoid litigation) and inspected, assessed and approved by councils unqualified and too inexperienced to know what they were looking at.

SO ANYWAY, WE’RE NEARLY two-thirds through this grand-standing “positioning paper” and still yet to see a “plan.” Perhaps this is it:

Do I favour supporting positive businesses? You’re damned right I do. Businesses help create jobs and economic growth. I want to see a future Labour government get stuck in and do more to help the economy grow.
Do I support all businesses? No way. Businesses that let workers die unnecessarily, or abuse and exploit their workers, or steal from old people: all these business need a strong, legal response from the state.
All this requires regulation…

This is all that can be found in his diatribe that even remotely approaches his promised delivery of a “simple, credible economic development plan.”

And all it amounts to is three paragraphs of tax, subsidise and regulate--a vision promised by a man whose biggest “achievement” as minister was to eviscerate the country’s biggest business and nationalise its infrastructure.

In other words, it’s a wet dream for a command economy—a plan without a plan, and vision without any vision; a plan like that of Karl Marx’s, of which Ludwig Von Mises observed it “just assumed roast pigeons would in some way simply fly into the comrades' mouths, while omitting to even consider how this miracle is to take place.”

It is a sign of Labour’s desperation that anything in that could be taken for vision.

UPDATE 1: Canterbury University’s Paul Walker, who writes at the Anti Dismal blog, responds:

Does Cunliffe know anything about economics? This speech is awful. A few quick points.

"While the hippies were out protesting in the streets [in the 1970s], a professor at the University of Chicago called Milton Friedman, was selling his students the idea that taxation was evil and that businesses worked best when they were deregulated."

Friedman wanted markets regulated, but he knew that the best form of regulation is competition

"Does this sound familiar? It should be. The Republican Party in the US, the Conservative Party in England and the Labour Party in New Zealand enthusiastically took up Friedman’s philosophy, which is now called neo-liberalism."

As Friedman (see “Capitalism and Freedom”) said himself his philosophy is call classical liberalism.
"Neo-liberalism has become such a dominant economic philosophy that it is now the only economic philosophy taught in many universities."

Do any universities teach courses in "economic philosophy"? Most economics departments will teach many things I'm sure Friedman would not like, they will argue that there are many reasons for market failure and government interventions.

"Friedman revived a belief in the “invisible hand” of the market. It was a fairy tale that Adam Smith had said a century earlier would automatically deliver the best of all possible economic worlds."

No one says that. Adam Smith never said that and no economist today says that. The best you will get is that markets are better than the alternative.

"You know, these problems that we face today stem from a lack of appropriate regulation or a lack of enforcement of existing regulations. The global financial crisis was caused by unregulated banking…"

Unregulated banking?!! One of the big problems with banking was over regulation. People believed that the government has made banking safe and no business is safe. The moral hazard problems the government caused are still with us.

Paul concludes, “If this speech is an indication of the quality of economic advice Cunliffe is getting he needs to change his advisers.

Much more here at his post  “Just what does David Cunliffe know about economics?

UPDATE 2: No, my mistake. “It’s a cracking speech,” says Russell Brown this morning.

Well, that’s me and Paul told then.

UPDATE 3: Eric Crampton: “That Cunliffe seems to think he can use Bernard Hickey as trump card over Milton Friedman suggests he has little grasp of modern economics. Or of anything else.”

UPDATE 4NZ Classical Liberal blogs:

Cunliffe outlines plan for economy; forgets plan
Drawing attention to his speech on Red Alert, he titled his post Economic Development Ideas, and in his introductory remarks promised to tell us what a Labour economic development plan should contain. Yet nowhere in his speech is there a specific policy to be found…Despite devoting at least two thousand words to the failures of neo-liberal economic policy, not once does he deign to sully his flowery prose with anything so base …
    Cunliffe’s speech may well have its merits as a means of motivating Labour’s base and laying the groundwork for a leadership challenge.  Measured against its stated goal of articulating a new economic plan for New Zealand, however, it is nought but facile verbiage, bereft of ideas, wanting of genuine thought and devoid of purpose beyond rhetorical attack on economic freedom.
    Before his next speech, perhaps Cunliffe would do well to reflect on the words Churchill once dedicated to a waffly Labour politician of his own time: “We know that he has, more than any other man, the gift of compressing the largest number of words into the smallest amount of thought.”

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19 Comments:

Blogger Mark Hubbard said...

I've been convinced for some time that there's a terrifying future for NZ. Labour will be running the finances again from 2014, and as bad as the National Soclialists are, Cunnliffe is a big spending, big taxing, Keynesisan economic retard. Even two brief exchanges with him on Twitter last night shows he has no understanding, not even a little bit, of the causes of the GFC.

He will tax business and grow the State at a more horrific rate than Cullen whose unfortunate timing at the finance job squandered the best decade of commodity price booms NZ will see for some time. And freedom: fuck, forget that. An ever increasing trip down the road to serfdom to the Gulag of Good Intentions, and the productive eeking out a living behind the IRon Drape.

4/30/2012 04:02:00 pm  
Blogger Mark Hubbard said...

Oh, serendipity. After I wrote teh above I nosed over to Granny Herald to catch up with news - I've been fishing for the last four hours :) - and what do I see but this lovely piece about Apple:

http://www.stuff.co.nz/technology/digital-living/6831835/How-Apple-legally-sidesteps-billions-in-taxes

From memory, Apple is not one of the most valuable companies in the world by market capitalism: even without that it would be harder to name any other company that has been more innovative over its lifetime. And why has Apple been so successful? Well for a start, it would seem, it's been keeping its tax bills trimmed smarter than any of it's competitors, so has had the extra money to reinvest in its core activities, and reward it's owners, rather than see profits extorted to grow the power of politicians and be redistributed to the welfare states to so be destroyed, in the countries it operates. And we are all better off for that.

Work that into your big tax world, Cunnliffe.

This was written on my third generation IPad, which I am in love with. Truly.

4/30/2012 04:16:00 pm  
Blogger Paul Walker said...

"Unfortunately, Milton Friedman and his Chicagoites just wanted to make taxation more “efficient.” "

I'm not so sure. An efficient tax system would drive an efficient government and Friedman has this to say about efficient government:

"The United States today is more than 50% socialist in terms of the fraction of our resources that are controlled by the government. Fortunately, socialism is so inefficient that it does not control 50% of our lives. Fortunately, most of that is wasted. People worry about government waste; I don't. I just shudder at what would happen to freedom in this country if the government were efficient in spending our money."

4/30/2012 04:39:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

it’s so much spending of the spending in this country is poured down government holes instead

You know, it wouldn't even be so bad if the borrowed billions were "poured down government holes" - we might have good roads, broadband, secure prisons, and effective police force, an effective defense force, or even railways and public TV (if that's what floats your boat). But, of course, the money is actually flushed down the toilet of benefits & entitlements. Dole, DPB, health & education & super (and all for people who don't love their children enough to provide for them properly, or make provision for their old age).

Spending doesn’t stop when you close down your government services

I sure as FUCK hope that it does! Because we're borrowing what - a couple of billion every week to flush that money straight down the toilet of benefits! Without borrowing, can NZ afford all those schools, hospitals, KFCs, bowling clubs, RSAs and the rest - all paid for either by borrowing or by the 5% of Kiwis who actually earn overseas exchange and thus pay for all the rest?

That's NZ's problem in a nutshell: spending that NZ cannot afford, taxing high-value Kiwis at a marginal rate of 60%+, and still borrowing massively to plug the "shortfall" of funds that are immediately flushed down the toilet.

NZ must stop borrowing!
NZ must stop taxing!

and above all - NZ must stop spending!

4/30/2012 04:45:00 pm  
Blogger Paul Walker said...

Does Cunliffe know anything about economics? This speech is awful. A few quick points.

"While the hippies were out protesting in the streets [in the 1970s], a professor at the University of Chicago called Milton Friedman, was selling his students the idea that taxation was evil and that businesses worked best when they were deregulated."

Friedman wanted markets regulated, but he knew that the best form of regulation is competition.

"Does this sound familiar? It should be. The Republican Party in the US, the Conservative Party in England and the Labour Party in New Zealand enthusiastically took up Friedman’s philosophy, which is now called neo-liberalism."

As Friedman (see Capitalism and Freedom) said himself his philosophy is call classical liberalism.

"Neo-liberalism has become such a dominant economic philosophy that it is now the only economic philosophy taught in many universities."

Do any universities teach courses in "economic philosophy"? Most economics departments will teach many things I'm sure Friedman would not like, they will argue that there are many reasons for market failure and government interventions.

"Friedman revived a belief in the “invisible hand” of the market. It was a fairy tale that Adam Smith had said a century earlier would automatically deliver the best of all possible economic worlds."

No one says that. Adam Smith never said that and no economist today says that. The best you will get is that markets are better than the alternative.

"You know, these problems that we face today stem from a lack of appropriate regulation or a lack of enforcement of existing regulations. The global financial crisis was caused by unregulated banking…"

Unregulated banking?!! One of the big problems with banking was over regulation. People believed that the government has made banking safe and no business is safe. The moral hazard problems the government caused are still with us.

4/30/2012 06:00:00 pm  
Blogger thor42 said...

The day that I ever vote Labour will be the day that they promise to axe Working for Families and force the bludging beneficiaries out to work in the orchards, dairy farms and forests.

That will be the same day that Air New Zealand starts replacing 737s with pigs.

4/30/2012 07:46:00 pm  
Blogger Kiwiwit said...

You know the really appalling about his speech is that I know Cunliffe is smarter than this. It shows the man's complete lack of character that he cyncially exploits populist stupidity about economics in a desperate bid to promote his own leadership prospects just as questions are already being asked about Shearer's competence as Labour Party leader.

4/30/2012 08:13:00 pm  
Anonymous Simon said...

Time to start lobbying Cunnliffe now with business ideas. How about a business that catches Clean Green NZ moon beams to sell to Asia. The business will employ 200 people to harvest the NZ's finest moon beams. Moon beams ticks all the boxes.

Cunnliffe in his first month in office will likely cut me a cheque for $25 million. I will of course be taking my consultants fees up front the minute the Cunnliffe’s cheque clears. Anyway it is all for the people of course. Like Cunnliffe I share a faith and admiration for ordinary kiwis.

Would also add that Cunnliffe is a visionary. How dare you attack him this is a border line thought crime. Thin ice indeed. Ordinary kiwis & NZ need to protected from bigots like you lot.

4/30/2012 08:57:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thatcher banged 'constitution of liberty' not 'road to serfdom' on the table. But excellent article just wish more people would read this instead of listening to MSM

5/01/2012 12:22:00 am  
Blogger Peter Cresswell said...

"Thatcher banged 'constitution of liberty' not 'road to serfdom' on the table."

Yes, you';re right. Which does make much more sense.

5/01/2012 09:02:00 am  
Blogger Eric Crampton said...

I can't tell if Cunliffe is genuinely an idiot or is playing to a crowd that revels in idiocy. I put 75% chance of the latter. Not that it helps tons for policy if he gets the reins.

5/01/2012 10:05:00 am  
Blogger Peter Cresswell said...

@Eric: His performance as Minister in eviscerating Telecom might indicate that the question is moot. He is prepared to be an idiot, which is really all that matters.

5/01/2012 10:45:00 am  
Blogger Mark Hubbard said...

Everyone keeps crediting Cunnliffe with intelligence, but he's being populist, etc.

I don't think so.

Look at the link I posted on Paul's anti-dismal blog to an online debate I had with Cunnliffe years ago, at the stage when he'd become a born-again Keynesian devotee - which had not changed at all.

I just think he's a bit of a thickie, unfortunately, which would also ring true as it's the MO of most politicians.

By the way, typo correction: in my Apple post above I was supposed to say:

Apple is now the most valuable company ...

Not, Apple is not ...

It's that 't' v 'w' thing on the keyboard.

5/01/2012 11:01:00 am  
Anonymous Damien said...

David Cuntliffe's face looks like a wall plug.

5/01/2012 11:32:00 am  
Blogger Maurice Winn said...

//Apple is now one of the most valuable companies in the world by market capitalisation: even without that it would be harder to name any other company that has been more innovative over its lifetime.// I name Qualcomm. Apple took what Qualcomm invented and did a great job of turning it into user tools. That's the great thing Steve Jobs always did from when he first peered over the shoulders of Wozniak and the other Geeks in the beginning when the Geeks had little idea about what makes regular humans tick and how to provide them computer technology. Steve had the good sense to use what other people invented, shape it with added attributes making it.

Qualcomm [Rich Kerr and co] developed the pdQ way back in the late 1990s, but they failed to get the handset division humming so sold it. Kyocera developed the pdQ further http://www.kyocera-wireless.com/pdq-smartphone/ But they too, and Nokia and everyone else, failed to put it all together how Apple did.

Qualcomm has invented in mobile Cyberspace the biggest thing not just since the industrial revolution, but including everything since the beginning of the industrial revolution, and since the invention of fire, flint and the wheel, and we should throw in everything since the invention of DNA which set off the whole biological realm leading to consciousness and intelligence.

It's bigger even than that. This is nothing less than extra-somatic sentience. We need to get theological and teleological here. Humans are just the launching pad for extra-somatic sentience, like chimps were the launching pad for humans. We no longer pay much attention to our chimpoid antecedents. Some people even claim we are descended directly from some metaphysical deity so reluctant are they to consider their prehensile fingers and hairy arms.

New Zealand is not in the game. We are like the backwoods of Rwanda's gorilla grounds, though the behaviour is not so civil as the gorillas, probably due to social disaffection through welfare and anonymity.

5/01/2012 12:57:00 pm  
Blogger Paul Walker said...

"Well, that’s me and Paul told then."

Yes, just how did we get it SOOOOO wrong?!
.
.
.
.

Well maybe we didn't.

5/01/2012 02:31:00 pm  
OpenID nzclassicalliberal said...

Thanks for the link, Peter. Much appreciated.

It is interesting to note how excited the Left are by Cunliffe's speech. I suppose, to be fair, if a leader of a major platform used rhetoric as far to the economic right as Cunliffe's speech was to the Left I too would prick up my ears. I think I would still be bothered by the failure to deliver on any sort of plan, though.

5/02/2012 11:23:00 pm  
OpenID nzclassicalliberal said...

Err, major party. Blast.

5/02/2012 11:24:00 pm  
Blogger Peter Cresswell said...

@NZ Classical Liberal: I would think they should be bothered too by the failure to deliver on any sort of plan.

But for the last three years I've been incredulous that Cunliffe has gone around the country decrying Bill English's lack of a plan, without every being asked to provide one himself.

Frankly, I'm glad he hasn't provided one, because we know already something of what it would look like.

5/03/2012 09:59:00 am  

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