Fighting for New Zealand: New Zealand in the 21st Century
MMSC Ltd, $19.95
Recent experience in New Zealand confirms that the first goal of all politicians in a democratic system is to win the next election, and here Mike Moore fires the first shots in the 1993 battle. This is not to say that he is without good intentions: the compelling message of his book is that his plans for New Zealand are well-considered and aim to enhance the welfare of the country as a whole and especially of its least fortunate members, and that he has the energy and enthusiasm to attempt to put them into practice.
Although this is a political book, and not an academic text in economics or in sociology, Moore shows that he is aware of relevant schools of thought, and, in particular, he is aware of at least some of the likely constraints on policy measures that are designed to reduce unemployment and increase government provision of services to the community. He is severely critical of the present government, but is able to base his criticisms on his own experience in government until the 1990 election. He makes no apology for the economic policies (including deregulation) introduced by the Labour government from 1984, but feels that its successor should have been able to learn more than it has from the unfortunate effects of earlier policy. We have his assurance that he has adapted to the pressures of the 1990s better than have key ministers in Mr Bolger’s team.
Moore is adamant that there can be no return to the over-regulated economy of the Muldoon era, but is anxious to soften the existing style of macroeconomic policy. He has written at length, in a sprightly journalistic style, on the relationships between some key economic and social variables, and feels that it is fundamentally unsound for governments to ignore these. He refers, for example, to the likely relationship between rising unemployment and an increasing crime rate, between children’s health and their educational progress.
Moore is not an isolationist. He is aware of the importance of being competitive in world markets, and feels that we can learn from economic successes elsewhere. He believes that the non-nuclear policy is not only important on moral grounds but also essential to the dignity of New Zealand as an independent nation, though the force of this point is weakened somewhat by his certainty that the adoption of a new flag would also be a significant step.
This lively book reveals a lot about the ideas and the commitment to change of the leader of the Labour Party. It is not, however, an exciting book because it is not a significant contribution to original thought. Moore is not an academic and neither does he show exceptional literary flair. He is, however, probably one of our more adequate politicians, with the special virtue that he is wary of making specific promises that might be impossible to keep (though he is very fluent about the more slippery ones).
Jerry Mushin teaches politics at Victoria University of Wellington. [N.B. Issue 9 carried a correction: Jerry Mushin teaches economics at Victoria University, not politics.]