Hehir on crisises


In 1991, the Soviet Union unravelled.

Its empire had been lost, its constituent regions declared independence and its economy crumbled. After decades of failure, the will to preserve the Soviet state was exhausted.

Nineteenth-century America was bitterly divided by slavery. This eventually led that country to civil war in which more than one million people were killed. At times, the very existence of the country hung in the balance.

The 3rd-century Roman Empire found itself beleaguered on all fronts. With the assassination of the emperor in 235, the Romans were plunged into a half century of repeated barbarian invasions, rebellious provinces, civil wars, plague outbreaks and the economic turmoil caused by currency debasement, known today as “quantitative easing”.

In each case, the countries involved were facing critical challenges to their existing order. In other words, they each found themselves confronted with a “crisis”.

Some came through better than others. America survived her civil war and is better for it. Rome got lucky with some good emperors and managed to buy another century before its final collapse in the West. The Soviets’ crisis was too much for their rotten states to withstand.

Many of our opinion-makers seem to be of the view that New Zealand is in the grip of a great crisis. Looking back through the news this year, we have seen the proclamation of a manufacturing crisis, an agriculture crisis, a regional economy crisis, a trust in politicians crisis, a healthcare budget crisis, a mental health crisis, an income inequality crisis, a wealth inequality crisis, an obesity crisis, a teacher recruitment crisis, a log-supply crisis, a water crisis and a casual racism crisis.

Labour refer to every issue as a crisis because they have a belief if they call everything a crisis the public will believe them and that if something is a crisis, then the only solution is a change of Government.

The media play along as crisis headlines make good clickbait.

This is to say nothing of the Auckland housing crisis, which absorbs at least three-quarters of public debate these days. This crisis is so bad the opposition wants to declare a “state of emergency” over the matter. Previous states of emergency have been declared over the destruction of our second city in 2011 and the worst strike in our history in 1951

Labour getting over excited.

With the country in the grip of so many crises, you could probably expect us to be at the brink of secession, civil war, economic collapse or irresolvable constitutional impasse.

Instead, our politics is stable. According to the Legatum Institute, New Zealand is the second best governed country in the world. Even our populist party is led by somebody who has been in politics since the 1975 and is a former deputy prime minster, foreign minister and treasurer.

Things are pretty good on the economic front too. Recently released GDP figures show the economy is growing at a rate that most Western countries would kill for – partly due to a strong performance from the manufacturing sector. Our unemployment rate is at the lower end of the OECD spectrum and wages are growing in real terms.

It is certainly true that the country faces problems. Some of these are concerning and a few warrant some anxiety, but “problem” is not a synonym for “crisis”. We will always have problems, but it has been a long time since we were confronted with anything like a crisis.


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