The Atlantic on New Zealand

March 27th, 2012 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

An article in The Atlantic Magazine talks about why NZ is better than the US:

THE PULITZER PRIZE–WINNING scholar David Hackett Fischer—whose books include Historians’ Fallacies and one of the most creative and innovative books on American history in the past quarter century, Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways in America—declares that his new work is the first historical examination of the idea of fairness, and of its social and political ramifications. I haven’t been able to pin that down. Nevertheless, this comparison of the United States with is a pioneering, illuminating, and at times startling book, which you’d think those given to diagnosing and expatiating about the nature and future direction of American society would jump to read. But because it’s lengthy (656 pages) and complex, and delves into such recondite matters as settlement patterns in colonial America, the history of ’s feminist movements, and the evolution of the Lib-Lab coalition, this book won’t be column fodder for the punditocracy.

Ambitious and observant, widely (if at times sloppily) researched, Fairness and Freedom is a work of frequently profound historical and social analysis. Its purpose is neither programmatic nor polemical. Still, its main value for American readers may be its unintentional skewering of our self-congratulatory tendencies. Our democratic values, rule of law, and tolerance are a model to the world—or so Democratic and Republican politicians’ rhetoric and even our political scientists’ pronouncements would have it. But those who speak today of America as “the last best hope of Earth” or as “the indispensable nation” seem narcissistically unaware that Britain, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand developed and fought for those same civic virtues independently of, and in some ways in opposition to, America.

New Zealand—where during the Second World War the Austrian emigré Karl Popper wrote his enormously influential The Open Society and Its Enemies, an excoriation of historicist totalitarianism and a defense of liberal democracy—is a particularly successful polity and society. In some ways its achievements seem all the greater when compared with those of the United States. In 2010, its unemployment rate was nearly half of ours. Our economic inequality is the highest of any developed country’s; New Zealand’s hovers much lower on the list. New Zealand ranks first in Transparency International’s global survey of government honesty; the United States ranks 22nd—just ahead of Uruguay! And comparable divergences, Fischer shows, are found “in trends and measures of political partisanship, legislative stalemate, judicial dysfunction, infrastructure decay, home foreclosures, family distress, drug consumption, and social violence.” Fischer’s rich cultural analysis leaves little doubt that New Zealand’s achievements are largely rooted in its “highly developed vernacular ideas of fairness,” a complex set of values that Kiwis prize and pursue earnestly. The result: by virtually every measure, New Zealand has a more just and decent society than ours—while resorting far less readily to legalistic and legislative remedies.

Americans tend to disdain, say, effete northern-European countries, with their generous social-welfare provisions and histories of neutrality and defeatism. But Fischer’s astute examination of Kiwis’ esteemed tradition of skill and courage on the battlefield—epitomized by their beloved Second World War heroes Bernard Freyburg, Howard Kippenberger, Humphrey Dyer, and Charles Upham (“combat officers who led from the front, brave beyond imagining, loyal to a fault … close to their men and very careful with their lives”)—won’t allow the scoffers to dismiss New Zealand. (Surprisingly, Fischer doesn’t discuss the New Zealander Keith Park, the RAF’s brilliant key operational commander during the Battle of Britain. As “the only man who could have lost the war in a day, or even an afternoon,” in the words of Air Vice Marshall Johnnie Johnson, Park is a military figure of nothing less than world-historical importance.) Characterized by initiative and aggressiveness combined with a chivalric ethos, a respect for the intellect, and an impatience with rank and hierarchy, New Zealand’s martial virtues have imbued Kiwis’ sense of fairness and decency with muscularity—a quiet courage and a puckish, manly large-spiritedness.

Fischer’s purpose in writing what is almost certainly the most detailed and sophisticated dissection of New Zealand society ever aimed at an American readership is decidedly not, however, to fashion a paean to Kiwis. That society appealingly (at least from my perspective) marries two complementary traits that Americans wrongly believe to be antithetical: it is both deeply conservative and fiercely egalitarian. The result, as the American journalist John Gunther (not quoted by Fischer) observed in 1972, is a cooperative society of “wholesome lives” in which “democracy is carried to the ultimate”—but a society marked by a somewhat “low-burning ambition.” For better and worse, Americans will never emulate New Zealanders. But as we enter the Pacific Century, New Zealand and its more energetic antipodean cousin will be playing an ever more vital economic, cultural, and political role. Rather than continue pontificating about “America’s larger purpose in the world” (to quote our president’s messianic invocation), we’d perhaps be better off shutting up and trying to learn something from other peoples. This book is an excellent place to start.

I quoted the whole article, because the writing is so good, I didn’t want to paraphrase it.

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37 Responses to “The Atlantic on New Zealand”

  1. philu (13,393 comments) says:

    “..The result, as the American journalist John Gunther (not quoted by Fischer) observed in 1972, is a cooperative society of “wholesome lives” in which “democracy is carried to the ultimate”..”

    of course..this is somewhat out of date now…

    ..this was pre yr neo-lib/rand-ite revolution…

    ..if it wasn’t totally good back then..

    ..at least we were heading in the right direction..

    ..then we started really ‘heading in the right direction..’..

    ..which brings us to now…

    ..now we are much nearer america in those worst of stats…

    ..we have to/need to get back on-track…

    ..because we do have it in our powers to achieve ‘democracy to the ultimate’…

    ..it is all just a matter of will/priorities..

    ..it’s not t.i.n.a…

    ..it’s t.a.a….’there are alternatives’…

    phillip ure@whoar.co.nz

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  2. berend (1,716 comments) says:

    So Americans now aspire to glide out of the OECD top 30.

    Who would have thought John Key can teach Obama a lesson?

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  3. BlairM (2,365 comments) says:

    It really does depend on what State you live in. I find Texas to be a far superior place to live than New Zealand, at least in terms of the quality (or in fact, absence!) of government, the cost and ease of living, and certainly the weather. Texans have a healthy attitude to government, an unfailing politeness and civility, and a live and let live philosophy which busybody New Zealand, if it ever had it, now lacks. And on a personal note, I love living in a place where one can practice one’s Christianity without being sneered at.

    Of course, I miss the scenery, my friends and family, and the quality of New Zealand food, which is unparalleled in the world. US healthcare is an abominable melange of crony capitalism and state meddling which makes socialism seem like a healthy alternative. And frankly, there is still a lot of government in the United States – Americans love to talk (loudly) about their values but the left hand is often pretending what the right hand is doing isn’t happening. At least in New Zealand people are upfront about how much government they want in their lives. But on balance I think New Zealand could learn a lot from Texas.

    Of course if the article is comparing the United States as a whole, they may have more of a point. I can’t imagine how awful life might be for someone living in New Jersey, or Maryland, or Illinois, when I read about the horrors of their respective State governments.

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  4. Fisiani (1,048 comments) says:

    4 times Pulitzer Prize winner author Thomas Friedman was in Wellington two weeks ago. He claimed that virtually all politicians in NZ could fit within the Democratic Party. This supports the idea that NZ is a Centre-Left nation and why National are truly Centre. We do not have the equivalent of a Gingrich, Paul or Santorum in NZ.

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  5. tvb (4,518 comments) says:

    Not all New Zealand leaders have traditions of fairness decency and muscularity but the ones we love most have those characteristics. John Key and Keith Holyoake have those qualities in abundance but Miuldoon did not.

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  6. simonway (387 comments) says:

    a live and let live philosophy

    You know it’s less than a decade since Lawrence v. Texas, right?

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  7. insider (1,028 comments) says:

    it sounds like Lake Wobegon downunder

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  8. Scott Chris (6,177 comments) says:

    Texans have a healthy attitude to government, an unfailing politeness and civility, and a live and let live philosophy which busybody New Zealand, if it ever had it, now lacks.

    Another one who lives in a Republican bubble. What are the odds Blair lives in a gated community?

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  9. KH (695 comments) says:

    A facinating excerpt and I am off to read the whole article in the Atlantic.
    But one little piece of “evidence” did jar. — Freyberg.
    As a boomer and child in the 1950s I was surrounded by Aunts, Uncles and an extensive social network. I overheard plenty of talk that Freyberg was not a ‘beloved’ Universally instead he was discussed as ‘Butcher Freyberg’ and the view was that he was overkeen on placing the New Zealand Divisions in the worst places. So there was a peoples view and an official or media view. And they were/are quite different.
    I think the social political differences between the USA and NZ is a fascinating subject. But it’s really hard to be sure of ones ‘evidence’ By and large I prefer the real experience and view of participants such as Blair above (10.48) I don’t have to agree with him, but such comment seems more real more often.

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  10. nzclassicalliberal (34 comments) says:

    New Zealand culture has changed, I suspect, almost beyond recognition since the heroism of our forebears in the first and second world wars. I don’t think discussing what New Zealand was like in the 1940s tells us much about what it is like today.

    While there is much that is good about modern New Zealand, being “fiercely egalitarian” and being possessed of “low-burning ambition” seem to me to manifest largely as grasping, envious tall-poppyism and a lack willingness to bear the costs of achieving our ambitions.

    We have achieved much by way of reducing the government’s role in regulating our private lives. This is good and worthy of emulation. But economically, we are going nowhere, and this has a lot to do with our culture, not simply current economic policy: though the two are mutually reinforcing.

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  11. Cobolt (94 comments) says:

    BlairM wrote:
    “And on a personal note, I love living in a place where one can practice one’s Christianity without being sneered at”
    And yet what of those who do not practice Christianity?

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  12. BlairM (2,365 comments) says:

    Another one who lives in a Republican bubble. What are the odds Blair lives in a gated community?

    You dumb fuck. I live in San Antonio, which is Democrat-leaning. Before that, I lived in Corpus Christi, also Democrat-leaning. Most of my friends are registered Democrats and they usually vote that way. My Texan ex wife is a registered Democrat.

    Texas has 25 million people – it is a very diverse and cosmopolitan place.

    You know it’s less than a decade since Lawrence v. Texas, right?

    Yup and only two since Homosexual Law Reform in New Zealand. So what? I have several gay and lesbian friends, and while I can’t speak for them and their experiences, I’d say it’s not much different here than in New Zealand in that regard – if you want to be gay in the city, you won’t have problems, but it’s not advisable in small country towns. BTW, if you want to blame Texas politicians for the lack of action on legalizing gay sex, blame the Democrats, who controlled the legislature for over a hundred years until 2003, when Lawrence v Texas was decided.

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  13. cosmopolite (9 comments) says:

    I lived the first 40 odd years of my life in the USA, the next 20 odd in New Zealand. My feel for day to day life in the USA is now far from the best. That said, I am less confident than Fischer and Gunther are that the New Zealand example is relevant to the USA. For starters, New Zealand is a small quiet country, the furthest extremity of English speaking civilisation. New Zealand pays its way in the world by exporting farm products, timber, refined aluminium. At any given point in time, New Zealand has 2000 soldiers ready for combat. The USA is the world’s leading industrial and military power. New Zealand soldiers proved themselves very very well in WWI and WWII, but have not been truly tested since. Rumour has it that Kiwis are good soldiers because the cast off civilian snobbishness and racial tensions when they put on a uniform.

    New Zealand’s population is about the same as Kentucky’s. Its land area is about that of Colorado. Its GDP per capita is less than that of any USA state. New Zealand’s total GDP in US$, ~125B, is about the same as Nevada’s. This means that there is almost as much economic activity in greater Las Vegas as there is in all of New Zealand.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_U.S._states_by_GDP
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_GDP_%28PPP%29

    Much of the New Zealand that endeared Popper, Gunther and Fischer was an isolated social democratic “paradise” that is now gone for good, because of 25 years of “reforming” governments that either aggressively “reformed” how the state interacted with the economy, or declined to undo the reforms.

    “…its unemployment rate was nearly half of ours.”
    New Zealand’s unemployment is ~6%, the USA’s ~8.5%. There are states and provinces in North America with lower unemployment rates than New Zealand’s. I further maintain that the ratio of employment to the population between 21 and 64 years of age is a much better indicator of the general tone of the labour market. The American value of that ratio is as high today as it was in 1977-78, halcyon years for the American economy. I have no idea what New Zealand’s employment population ratio has been at any time.

    “Our economic inequality is the highest of any developed country’s; New Zealand’s hovers much lower on the list.”
    Because of the enormous size of the American and Canadian domestic markets, successful American and Canadian entrepreneurs will become very wealthy in a way that is impossible in New Zealand. Meanwhile the poor in the USA and New Zealand are not only numerous, but very similar (welfare dependence, substance abuse etc etc). The result is that the USA will have higher measured inequality of household incomes and wealth. American inequality is not a pretty sight, and public policy should not encourage it. But it also is not completely bad. I submit that a society that fully embraces Schumpeter’s “creative destruction” will experience a lot of inequality in the short and middle run.

    “New Zealand ranks first in Transparency International’s global survey of government honesty; the United States ranks 22nd—just ahead of Uruguay!”
    “Government honesty” is not a well-defined and fully operational concept. The problem in the USA is the varying quality of state government and local authorities. There are parts of the USA which are no better than Latin America, and where corruption and brutality have been rife. The New Zealand public sector strikes me as honest, but honesty is not synonymous with nirvana. Honest people can nitpick, deny the obvious, pontificate, be vindictive or beholden to vested interests, and held in thrall by unadmitted ideologies.

    “And comparable divergences, Fischer shows, are found “in trends and measures of political partisanship, legislative stalemate, judicial dysfunction, infrastructure decay, home foreclosures, family distress, drug consumption, and social violence.”
    New Zealand is indeed less partisan, but mainly because Kiwis are poorly educated about ideology and social conflict. Elementary notions from political science and sociology that educated Americans take for granted are unknown down here. The typical high school teaches neither civics nor New Zealand history. Legislative stalemate is not an issue in New Zealand, but at a price: a unicameral legislature, and party line voting as per the Westminster system.

    Infrastructure decay is not a major issue in part because New Zealand does not have a lot of it. Trunk highways in this country still have one lane bridges in rural areas. New Zealand’s roading network reminds me of that of the USA and Europe during my 1950s boyhood.

    The world financial crisis that began in 2007, and that was very much driven by insane mortgage underwriting practices in the USA and the UK, has not led to large numbers of foreclosures in New Zealand. I honestly do not know why that is. I suspect that New Zealand banks are more willing to agree to moratoria and to quietly renegotiate payments downward. I know of one spectacular case. In 1989, New Zealand farm policy went from heavy subsidies to no subsidies in one fell swoop. Since the market price of farm land incorporated the present value of these subsidies, a fair number of farm mortgages suddenly went under water. It is my understanding that local banks wrote off 20-40% of the balance of the affected farm mortgages. For better or worse, American mortgage lenders are unwilling to do this.

    “Fischer’s rich cultural analysis leaves little doubt that New Zealand’s achievements are largely rooted in its “highly developed vernacular ideas of fairness,” a complex set of values that Kiwis prize and pursue earnestly.”
    That fairness is known as “fair go” in the Kiwi vernacular, and strikes me mainly as a sentimental residue from a now gone social democratic past. The USA is “fairer” than its individualist rhetoric would suggest. Conversely, New Zealand is more individualist than its fairness rhetoric would suggest.

    “The result: by virtually every measure, New Zealand has a more just and decent society than ours—while resorting far less readily to legalistic and legislative remedies.”
    It is difficult, if not impossible, to quantify the “far less” in the preceding sentence. Believe me, there is human misery in New Zealand: people who are unemployed because unemployable, drugs, violence, welfare dependence, and a high suicide rate.

    Finally, the following speech by a New Zealand native disabused me forever of the notion that New Zealand’s political institutions are admirable:
    http://www.maxim.org.nz/index.cfm/Media/article?id=1758

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  14. BlairM (2,365 comments) says:

    And yet what of those who do not practice Christianity?

    I see hijabs in the supermarket all the time. My ex wife is an atheist. Most of my friends are not religious. Like I said, 25 million people, very diverse cosmopolitan place. You know the Constitution of the United States guarantees religious freedom, right?

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  15. tvb (4,518 comments) says:

    I do not think the NZ public service is as honest as we used to think. There is plenty of corruption in the immigration and corrections departments and we hear of cases in the police as well. But it is not deep seated and the upper management are prepared to be decisive in dealing with it. I predict it will get worse, not better but it will take a generation.

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  16. cosmopolite (9 comments) says:

    I lived the first 40 odd years of my life in the USA, the next 20 odd in New Zealand. My feel for day to day life in the USA is now far from the best. That said, I am less confident than Fischer and Gunther are that the New Zealand example is relevant to the USA. For starters, New Zealand is a small quiet country, the furthest extremity of English speaking civilisation. New Zealand pays its way in the world by exporting farm products, timber, and refined aluminium. At any given point in time, New Zealand has 2000 soldiers ready for combat. The USA is the world’s leading industrial and military power. New Zealand soldiers acquited themselves very well in WWI and WWII, but have not been truly tested since. Rumour has it that Kiwis are good soldiers because they cast off civilian snobbishness and racial tensions when they put on a uniform. The lack of creature comforts in day to day NZ life before the 1950s meant that life in the field was less of an ordeal for Kiwi soldiers.

    New Zealand’s population is about that of Kentucky’s. Its land area is about that of Colorado. Its GDP per capita is less than that of any USA state. New Zealand’s total GDP in US$, ~125B, is about that of Nevada’s. Hence there is almost as much economic activity in greater Las Vegas as there is in all of New Zealand.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_U.S._states_by_GDP
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_GDP_%28PPP%29

    Much of the New Zealand that endeared Popper, Gunther and Fischer was an isolated social democratic “paradise” that is now gone for good, because of 25 years of “reforming” governments that either aggressively “reformed” how the state interacted with the economy, or declined to undo those reforms.

    “…its unemployment rate was nearly half of ours.”
    New Zealand’s unemployment is ~6%, the USA’s ~8.5%. There are states and provinces in North America with lower unemployment rates than New Zealand’s. I further maintain that the ratio of employment to the population between 21 and 64 years of age is a much better indicator of the general tone of the labour market. The American value of that ratio is as high today as it was in 1977-78, halcyon years for the American economy. I have no idea what New Zealand’s employment-population ratio has been at any time.

    “Our economic inequality is the highest of any developed country’s; New Zealand’s hovers much lower on the list.”
    Because of the enormous size of the American and Canadian domestic markets, successful American and Canadian entrepreneurs will become very wealthy in a way that is impossible in New Zealand. Meanwhile the poor in the USA and New Zealand are not only numerous, but very similar (welfare dependence, substance abuse etc etc). The result is that the USA will have higher measured inequality of household incomes and wealth. American inequality is not a pretty sight, and public policy should in no way encourage it. But it also is not completely bad. I submit that a society that fully embraces Schumpeter’s “creative destruction” will experience a lot of inequality in the short and middle run.

    “New Zealand ranks first in Transparency International’s global survey of government honesty; the United States ranks 22nd—just ahead of Uruguay!”
    “Government honesty” is not a well-defined and fully operational concept. The problem in the USA is the varying quality of state government and local authorities. There are parts of the USA which are no better than Latin America, and where corruption and brutality have been rife. The New Zealand public sector strikes me as honest, but honesty is not synonymous with nirvana. Honest public servants can nitpick, deny the obvious, pontificate, be vindictive or beholden to vested interests, held in thrall by unadmitted ideologies, and simply led by the nose by the cunning.

    “And comparable divergences, Fischer shows, are found “in trends and measures of political partisanship, legislative stalemate, judicial dysfunction, infrastructure decay, home foreclosures, family distress, drug consumption, and social violence.”
    New Zealand is indeed less partisan, but mainly because Kiwis are poorly educated about ideology and social conflict. Elementary notions from political science and sociology that educated Americans take for granted are unknown down here. The typical high school teaches neither civics nor New Zealand history. Legislative stalemate is not an issue in New Zealand, but at a price: a unicameral legislature, and Westminster-style party line voting.

    Infrastructure decay is not a major issue in part because New Zealand does not have a lot of it. Trunk highways in this country still have one lane bridges in rural areas. New Zealand’s roading network reminds me of that of the USA and Europe during my 1950s boyhood.

    The world financial crisis that began in 2007, and that was very much driven by insane mortgage underwriting practices in the USA and the UK, has not led to large numbers of foreclosures in New Zealand. I honestly do not know why that is. I suspect that New Zealand banks are more willing to agree to moratoria and to quietly renegotiate payments downward. A spectacular case in point. In 1989, New Zealand farm policy went from heavy subsidies to no subsidies in one fell swoop. Since the market price of farm land incorporated the present value of these subsidies, a fair number of farm mortgages suddenly went under water. It is my understanding that local banks wrote off 20-40% of the balance of the affected farm mortgages. For better or worse, American mortgage lenders are unwilling to act in this manner.

    “Fischer’s rich cultural analysis leaves little doubt that New Zealand’s achievements are largely rooted in its “highly developed vernacular ideas of fairness,” a complex set of values that Kiwis prize and pursue earnestly.”
    That fairness is known as “fair go” in the Kiwi vernacular, and strikes me mainly as a sentimental residue from a now gone social democratic past. The USA is “fairer” than its individualist rhetoric would suggest. Conversely, New Zealand is more individualist than its fairness rhetoric would suggest.

    “The result: by virtually every measure, New Zealand has a more just and decent society than ours—while resorting far less readily to legalistic and legislative remedies.”
    It is difficult, if not impossible, to quantify the “far less” in the preceding sentence. Believe me, there is human misery in New Zealand: people who are unemployed because unemployable, drugs, violence, welfare dependence, and a high suicide rate.

    Finally, the following speech by a New Zealand native disabused me forever of the notion that New Zealand’s political institutions are admirable:
    http://www.maxim.org.nz/index.cfm/Media/article?id=1758

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  17. cosmopolite (9 comments) says:

    @Fisiani: I disagree with Tom Friedman. ACT, Don Brash, Gerry Brownlie, and the Business Roundtable would emphatically not fit in the American Democratic Party. And American Greens who talk like New Zealand Greens don’t get elected except in the People’s Republic of Berkeley.

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  18. BlairM (2,365 comments) says:

    ACT, Don Brash, Gerry Brownlie, and the Business Roundtable would emphatically not fit in the American Democratic Party.

    I agree as far as Don Brash goes, but ACT are more like Joe Manchin/Howard Dean/Bill Clinton Democrats – social services with fiscal responsibility. ACT still does not have a policy to reduce the size of the NZ government as far as I am aware. Gerry Brownlee is about as wet a Nat as they come – he would fit in very well with the Louisiana Democrats. In fact, he kind of reminds me of John Edwards, but fatter and uglier.

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  19. berend (1,716 comments) says:

    Great post cosmopolite.

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  20. RRM (10,034 comments) says:

    Seems to pretty much bear out what all of the Expat Yanks (and Kiwis who’ve done their OE in the USA) I’ve known have said to me:

    Life in NZ is good; the stakes are just a lot lower here, and there are no real social problems.

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  21. Scott Chris (6,177 comments) says:

    You dumb fuck. I live in San Antonio

    LoL. So I take it you aren’t one of those who practice “an unfailing politeness and civility”. After all, you’re the kind who posts unsubstantiated smears about his ex-wife on his blog. Oh so civilized.

    Now be a good hypocrite Blair and turn the other cheek and humbly apologise.

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  22. Chthoniid (2,047 comments) says:

    There are a lot of measures that put NZ ahead of the USA.
    NZ is less corrupt
    Based on latest EIU rankings, NZ is more democratic.
    Based on CATO Institute rankings, NZ has more economic freedom.
    According to OECD life expectancy is higher
    We’re ranked as more peaceful.

    The point the column makes about our democratic institutions is something much of the US is oblivious to. The assumption that the US is the exemplar of democratic and economic freedom is wrong. NZ has done very well by these metrics.

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  23. trout (945 comments) says:

    Tvb’s comments re Muldoon not having ‘fairness, decency, and muscularity’ are so ill informed as to require a response. Muldoon was a conservative socialist if you like; he tried desperately to protect Kiwis (‘the ordinary bloke’) from the economic realities of the outside world. He covered for the loss of income from Europe after the creation of the Common Market, and the massive increase and energy prices by borrowing, and building ‘Think Big’ – why? – to sustain the kiwi standard of living. He gave in to Union and farmer demands by handing out subsidies; remember GMP’s. He tried price and wage freezes. His motives were for fairness and decency, and he did have the muscle. But he suffered the same fate as King Canute; he was unable to turn the tide. His politics became nasty but he did not have that on his own. Other leaders faced with the same issues may have behaved the same way; Holyoake certainly had it good in his time; we have yet to see Key’s mettle, at the moment Nero is fiddling while Rome burns.

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  24. UpandComer (537 comments) says:

    We are a much better place to live. It’s because the Act party is so small. We don’t have nutty people who are arch social conservatives and complete non-regulation, fake free trade, corporatist non-capitalists. Their system is so flawed I don’t know how Obama does it. That said, Act is still to the left of the Republican party. Simple things like ACC and a relatively high minimum wage make it less high stakes here as someone said above.

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  25. Paul G. Buchanan (294 comments) says:

    Although I think that Fischer is waxing nostalgic about a NZ that used to be but which is no more in large part due to the market zealotry that has been imposed on it for the last 25 years or so, I still believe, an a US expat, that NZ is a “freer” place than most of the US and is definitely more relaxed as a culture (the bullying aspects of it notwithstanding). I believe that BlairM is correct in that some places in the US are freer and more low key than others–I found living in the Southwest to be far less restrictive and hectic than living in Washington, New York and Boston. I also believe that NZ is on a slippery slope in the measure that it “Americanises” its politics and economics (in terms of how to approach political and economic matters). Even so, it really is comparing apples and potatoes to try and run parallels between an isolated archipelago and a continental sized state. Cultural affinities aside, these really are two very different places, and I am thankful that I get to spend time in both of them.

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  26. Lee01 (2,171 comments) says:

    The modern world is a toilet. It really makes no difference which part of the bowl you swim in.

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  27. tvb (4,518 comments) says:

    Trout, Muldoon was NOT the typical NZ leader. He was nasty brutish and short. His economic policies failed to grasp the changed financial situation and he came close to defaulting on NZ’s international obligations, because politically he could not give in and devalue. He borrowed a great deal of money to avoid it and landed us very heavily in debt. Awful awful person, I hope we never see his like again.

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  28. trout (945 comments) says:

    Well Tvb you may just be seeing a rerun of the same movie; although John Key is not vertically challenged and seems to have a mild demeanour. (Although why being short is such a sin I would not know – noting that 80% of the world leaders old and new are below average height).

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  29. kiwi in america (2,511 comments) says:

    Fascinating thread. I concur with much of what BlairM and cosmoplite said. There is some nostalgia for a NZ that hasn’t existed for almost 30 years since the Polish shipyard that was Muldoonism. It is impossible to consider the US as one country for the sake of such a comparison. The US to me is 9 distinctive regions that are vastly different – the Pacific Northwest is as different from the deep south as NZ is from England – same language and cultural heritage but vastly different lifestyles. The sovereign nature of the States and their widely different laws make for much greater diversity than exists between Australian States, Canadian Provinces and across NZ.

    Some comments were just plain ludicrous. The infrastructure in the US is vastly superior to that of NZ even if some parts of it in cash strapped (usually liberal) states like California are showing signs of fraying. US roads, hospitals, airports, shopping malls, schools, sports stadia and homes are all better built and significantly bigger than NZ counterparts. US homes come mostly with standard fittings that in NZ are luxuries or mostly seen only in newer homes (large washing machine/driers, dishwashers, central air conditioning/heating, automatic garage door openers, pools – in sun belt areas, large fridge/freezers with ice/water dispensers). Americans drive newer (and of course bigger) cars that cost far less to buy and run. The quality of building materials is usually higher because they are cheaper due to economies of scale.

    NZ levels of drug use (with the exception of cocaine and heroin which are relatively less abused in any country) and alcohol abuse are higher than the US – significantly higher compared to the states of comparable size (eg Minnesota). Similarly if you take out homicides (a comparitively rare crime event compared to burgaries, assaults and car thefts) almost all cities and counties in the US enjoy a lower crime rate than NZ. It only the high crime cities like Chicago, Baltimore and Washington DC that beat NZ’s non murder crime rates.

    The tall poppy syndrome, small population base, isolation from the world’s markets leading to more costly imported consumer durables, years of higher tax rates, no really ingrained culture of entrepreneurship (the backbone of US prosperity), the permanent emigration of so many wealth creating people and a nationwide suspicion of wealth accounts for the comparitively low number of really wealthy people in NZ even on a per capita basis thus skewering the so-called equality result.

    And as for the democracy comparison, the residents of most states enjoy far more fruits of democracy than the average NZer. There are some corrupt black holes (Chicago, Louisiana pre Bobby Jindal etc) but most voters have much greater real power to affect change in the US. Not only do we get to vote for many many more offices (not just your obvious President, Congress, Senate, Governor etc but a raft of state level offices, judges) and often dozens of ballot initiatives. Most cities and counties won’t allow any debt or taxes to be raised without voter approval. BCIR are common thus allowing voters to thwart partisan Governors’ vetos and pass popular issues from referendum question to binding law. Some states offer recall petitions enabling voters to throw out unpopular incumbents should their laws exceed that which was promised or be so partisan as to go against the grain of majority opinion in that state. There are limited to no equivalents of such power available to NZ voters. Referenda are notoriouosly difficult to get on the ballot and their results are routinely ignored in a way that is not possible in most US juristictions. US politics is rambunctious, expensive to participate in and involves a myriad of complex legislative nuances but it is much much easier to change bad law and expel bad pollies.

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  30. mikenmild (11,777 comments) says:

    tvb might like to read something about Muldoon rather than repeat a caricature. Muldoon was a typical National (conservative) politician. His aim was to leave NZ no worse than he found it. I’ve yet to discern any ambition whatsoever from the present incumbent.

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  31. kiwi in america (2,511 comments) says:

    mikenmild
    “I’ve yet to discern any ambition whatsoever from the present incumbent” – ah regardless of Key’s success in this endeavour, at least he has made closing the wage gap with Australia one of his stated ambition as PM. Your powers of discernment need a little tune up.

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  32. tom hunter (5,095 comments) says:

    But because it’s lengthy (656 pages) and complex, and delves into such recondite matters as settlement patterns in colonial America, the history of New Zealand’s feminist movements, and the evolution of the Lib-Lab coalition, this book won’t be column fodder for the punditocracy.

    That gave me a good chuckle, but while that point comes as no surprise to me, it’s worthwhile remembering the next time some member of the punditocracy says something that implies that non-pundits are ignorant peons.

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  33. cosmopolite (9 comments) says:

    “New Zealand ranks first in Transparency International’s global survey of government honesty…”

    New Zealand public servants can hand out gratis the supine acquiescence that their cannier Third World counterparts sell for handshake cash, sometimes dearly.

    Who needs corruption when you have a public sector staffed with monkeys who can see and hear no evil??

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  34. mikenmild (11,777 comments) says:

    kia
    I think you must have missed Key wriggling out of that one. Remember he redefined that as an ‘aspirational goal’ (ie, not an actual goal) and ignored the 2020 Taskforce recommendations.

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  35. BlairM (2,365 comments) says:

    You dumb fuck. I live in San Antonio

    LoL. So I take it you aren’t one of those who practice “an unfailing politeness and civility”. After all, you’re the kind who posts unsubstantiated smears about his ex-wife on his blog. Oh so civilized.

    Now be a good hypocrite Blair and turn the other cheek and humbly apologise.

    I made some statements about my experiences in the United States, and straight off you made a sneering assumption about me, and then when I call you out on it you compound it with comments about my ex wife! You are beneath contempt. I stand by my original assessment of you as a dumb fuck. Have you ever lived in the United States? Have you ever visited Texas? No? Shut the fuck up then, otherwise say something constructive that somehow avoids talking about my former spouse.

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  36. Lee01 (2,171 comments) says:

    BlairM,

    Scott does not need to have actually lived in the U.S. to dismiss your experience. Remember that his liberalism gives him special psychic powers so that he knows everything there is to know about the U.S. without ever having lived there. Thus the opinions of those who have lived there are not relevant to him.

    Of course having lived there myself I can conclude that his special powers are seriously broken.

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  37. tom hunter (5,095 comments) says:

    While it has been interesting to read the comments on this article, particularly from those who have lived and worked in both countries, I had a slightly different take on the article, focusing on asking what the real driver for the book could be. Was this purely a piece of academic research – Its purpose is neither programmatic nor polemical – or was it driven by ideology?

    To my jaundiced eyes the first thing that jumped out at me was the following sentence: [He] declares that his new work is the first historical examination of the idea of fairness, and of its social and political ramifications..

    Fairness? Now where have I been hearing that recently? Ah, but of course, OWS and a whole host of media backers, including pollsters who had conducted surveys in the wake of OWS efforts and announced that people were now very concerned about “fairness”. The word had peppered the speeches and commentary of a number of Democratic politicians and activists over a period of months.

    Then there was the history of leftist Americans writing sweet dedications to the social democrats of Western Europe. The praise for their “consensus” politics (meaning that all political parties and thought are merely shades of leftism), their welfare systems, government health care systems, and even the wonderful way they ran their capitalist sectors, with all that regulation and cooperation between government and business. This sort of thing also seemed to increase when the US economy hit rough patches (the 90/91 and 2000/2001 recessions) or when US politics became “polarised” (e.g. some wonderful leftist idea had been bottled up by the GOP).

    And here we are again: very bad economic problems in the US and “political polarisation” that has left government programs, climate change and other subjects dear to the heart of the left, blocked or in serious risk of failure. So US leftists are once again looking abroad for good examples. Unfortunately the Euro-praise is not such a popular or defensible tack nowadays, given the huge, well-publicised problems across a range of issues in Europe: issues that they seem to be no better at resolving than the US, and which have been caused by none other than the many things they were supposed to praised for.

    So what’s a serious US leftist to do? To whom will their lonely eyes turn now for inspiration and a cudgel with which to beat back the right-wing extremists that assail them? This book and article suggest that it’s now the turn of the larger British colonies.

    But as I said, that was my jaundiced take on the matter and I thought it was not worth arguing on the basis of one article and book.

    Until today. Because today I came across – courtesy of this Tim Blair link – which covers a flying visit Downunder by the doyen of NYT idiots, Thomas Friedman. In turn, what does Mr Friedman have to say in his article, Elephants Down Under:

    In New Zealand and Australia, you could almost fit their entire political spectrum — from conservatives to liberals — inside the U.S. Democratic Party.

    Whereas in today’s G.O.P. it is political suicide to take climate change seriously, in Australia and New Zealand it is political suicide for conservatives not to.

    Conservatives in Australia and New Zealand have also long accepted single-payer national health care systems.

    There are many reasons for the narrowness of the political spectrum here, Johansson added. Neither New Zealand nor Australia are strong churchgoing countries, so social issues don’t resonate as much.

    How orgasmically wonderful. And of course egalatarian fairness gets gets mentioned.

    Being who he is of course, Friedman completely misses a lot of stuff, in particular the fact that the Australian carbon tax is a dead parrot and the proximate cause of Labour’s troubles, not least because of the outright lie about it, told by a Labor leader desperate to win an election. These sorts of misses probably come as a result of talking to people like Malcolm Turnbull, who has still not figured out that his stand on AGW was the reason he got booted from the Liberal party leadership, and the ever-present Jon Johansson, whose ideological stripes would be unknown to most American readers (and remain unknown in the article, but that may simply be a typical NYT reader assumption: He’s just like us!. Amusingly Mr Friedman also got some keen political science insight from the towering figure of former National MP, Paul Quinn. Perhaps Friedman just has bad luck with his sources.

    Of course if Freidman did have any real understanding of what’s going on here he might be a little less judgemental of his own country’s ability to change, since many Kiwis aren’t exactly thrilled about our future and are frustrated by a seeming inability to get on to another path:

    So we’ve lost our ability to do big, hard things together. Yet everything we have to do — tax reform, fiscal reform, health care reform, energy policy — is big and hard and can only be done together.

    “A lot of us who love your country,” said Johansson, “do not see where change can come from” in America these days. “We see all the barriers you have now to structural and fundamental change. It feels like you’ve lost your amazing ability to adapt politically.”

    There have been quite a few moments like that in American history – not that these two seem aware of that. But coincidently, Freidman’s concluding paragraphs were remarkably similar to those of another North American who recently toured Down Under, Mark Steyn:

    I was in Australia earlier this month and there, as elsewhere on my recent travels, the consensus among the politicians I met (at least in private) was that Washington lacked the will for meaningful course correction, and that, therefore, the trick was to ensure that, when the behemoth goes over the cliff, you’re not dragged down with it.

    It is faintly surreal to be sitting in paneled offices lined by formal portraits listening to eminent persons who assume the collapse of the dominant global power is a fait accompli. “I don’t feel America is quite a First World country anymore,” a robustly pro-American Aussie told me, with a sigh of regret.

    So there is agreement between the US left and the right on the decline – except that the message of Freidman, Fischer, and company is that the US needs to become more like us? I don’t think so.

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