Colin James: Social dimensions
A big argument in political economy these days is whether a country, especially one as small as ours, can protect its society against the caprices of the international traders of capital and money. It is essentially that point that divides Labour and the Alliance.
Labour ‑ even its “left” ‑ says the open economy is either desirable or unavoidable. Attempting even partially to close the economy again will bring lower investment, fewer jobs than would have been the case and higher prices, all of which hurt the poor more than the better off. A closed economy operates sub‑optimally and society is less well‑off materially.
The Alliance argues that an open economy costs jobs, fills the pockets of foreign speculators and hands the advantages to the quick and the sharp. New Zealanders can once again, as they did from the late 1930s to the early 1980s, use the power of the state to lift internal savings and investment rates through taxes and government borrowing and thereby obtain jobs and a better life for all.
This is not the place to rehearse or decide the economic arguments: it is hard to resist the internationalists’ logic, but social cohesion demands more than simple acceptance of that logic which brings with it disruption and fragmentation. That second point is not just a “socialist” view; conservatives wedded to notions of property and hierarchy deplore the moral and civil aridity of market theory and yearn for restoration of the mutual‑responsibility structures of the sheltered years before 1984. That, for example, is an important theme of a draft of a paper by Simon Upton for publication in the northern hemisphere which we hope to publish here in December. The question of how far we can resist the atomising tendencies imported through the open economy will increasingly re‑divide the right.
Liberals caught Janus‑faced in this argument should put it in its wider context: the international tides of information and people. Should we put up some insulators against those tides? Can we? There are no clear answers yet.
This issue we join the economic debate from a woman’s viewpoint with our lead review devoted to Victoria University economist Prue Hyman’s essays. Unfortunately our plan, laid in July, also to assess Hyman’s work from a feminist perspective foundered on the fact that the book reached us literally on the eve of going to press, weeks after we had expected proofs; Brian Easton’s review is a testimony to his depth and breadth of knowledge of the economic debate and his extraordinary speed, energy and application.
We rushed Easton’s review because Hyman’s book cried out for assessment in time for the Women’s Book Festival, that astonishing annual event which Lauris Edmond celebrates on page 3. That is the limit of our festival‑specific content, though in passing we might note that two-thirds of our contributors this issue are women.
That was without positive discrimination. Market liberals would approve. Or would they heave a value‑neutral shrug? Conservatives would not know which way to look.