The revolution that changed our lives

The Dom Post editorial:

It was years ago today that the Lange Labour Party won the election that would change all our lives. This proved to be one of the major reforming governments of our history, comparable with the Liberals of the 1890s and the Labour government of the 1930s. It made profound changes in our economy, our foreign policy, and in race relations. Some of these changes were for the better, and some were not. We are still wrestling with the legacy of David Lange and Roger Douglas.

National’s Robert Muldoon was a backward-looking leader who had in many ways painted his country into a corner. Douglas used the economic crisis – massive internal and external deficits, a frightening overseas debt – to push through a Right-wing, top-down revolution which never figured in Labour’s election manifesto. New Zealand was hauled into the era of Thatcher and Reagan by stealth. At the end of six years, the government had a deserved reputation for failing to tell the voters of its real intentions.

Some of the economic changes were clearly needed. A brutal assault on costs was inevitable. An excessively protected economy imposed unnecessarily high costs on ordinary New Zealanders. Exchange rates, wages, prices and interest rates could not continue to be set by prime ministerial fiat.

Has someone told Labour today this?

But Douglas and his friends went way beyond sensible reforms and deep into the swamps of ideology. His massive privatisation and flat-tax proposals of December 1987 were shrink-the-state Hayekian politics dressed up as economic orthodoxy. That forced the fatal showdown between Douglas and Lange killed the government. It was a civil war that Labour had to have.

Douglas said his revolution would put New Zealand on a new, high-growth path. It didn’t. His excuse was that the job was left unfinished. Only ACT and Tea Party Republicans still believe that. The last 30 years have seen huge changes in economic theory that have demolished central parts of the Reaganite-Rogernome credo.

That’s the assertion of the editorial, but I don’t accept that. I think it is a shame Lange destroyed his own Government by going against the wishes of his own Cabinet. It would have been great to see a flat tax implemented.

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