The cri­sis: My mother, Cullen and Ki­pling

Auckland City Harbour News - - News - ...

Politi­cians live a ca­reer life of half-truths. Never more so than in an elec­tion cam­paign.

As Michael Cullen re­vealed with his mem­o­rable throw-away lines about the state of world economies – and ours.

He summed up mem­o­rably in Au­gust: “I think there was to some ex­tent an ex­ag­ger­a­tion around the se­ri­ous­ness of what is oc­cur­ring.”

And then, on Oc­to­ber 6: “The rainy day has now ar­rived.”

“Rainy day” – I re­mem­ber the de­scrip­tion well. My mother used to talk about it.

But when she did there was an­other half to the truth of it – “putting some­thing away for a rainy day”.

In­ter­est­ing in the cir­cum­stances that Dr Cullen should use only half my old mother’s truth.

No ref­er­ence to “putting some­thing away”. And cer­tainly no ev­i­dence of it.

Per­haps he just hadn’t seen the sig­nif­i­cance of the whole quote. How un­for­tu­nate. Ques­tions: Just when was he go­ing to tell us?

The fig­ures which are the ba­sis for the alarm­ing sum-up of the New Zealand econ­omy and its/our fu­ture were drawn from May records and com­pleted in Au­gust – but with­held un­til Oc­to­ber.

When did Trea­sury tell Dr Cullen the sad, se­ri­ous story and why didn’t he take the coun­try into his con­fi­dence be­fore his hand was forced by the Oc­to­ber pre-elec­tion dis­clo­sure which the law now de­mands?

The his­toric back­ground is very sig­nif­i­cant.

When the Mul­doon Na­tional gov­ern­ment was ousted in 1984, David Lange, Roger Dou­glas and Labour opened the books only days later and dis­cov­ered chaos.

Ahead lay de­val­u­a­tion of the New Zealand dol­lar, Roger­nomics and the rest.

Labour – in­clud­ing young MP Michael Cullen – and the coun­try were shocked by what was re­vealed. It was ob­vi­ous that such danger­ous se­crecy should never be al­lowed again. Later, the Pub­lic Fi­nance Act – note that word “Pub­lic” – set up com­pul­sory open­ing of the state’s books “not less than 20 and nor more than 30 work­ing days be­fore an elec­tion” so that all par­ties and the tax­pay­er­share­hold­ers know the facts.

This year, the books came open 24 days be­fore the vote.

The Pub­lic Fi­nance Act – note that word “Pub­lic” – set up com­pul­sory open­ing of the state’s books not less than 20 and not more than 30 work­ing days be­fore an elec­tion so that all par­ties and the tax­payer-share­hold­ers knew the facts.

This year the books came open on day 24.

You’d think that with those mem­o­ries, Dr Cullen would have found a way to tell us as early as pos­si­ble just what was and was not in the 2008 na­tional money box we all de­pend on, and not nec­es­sar­ily waited for the pro­vi­sions of the act.

If a cor­po­rate board kept sim­i­larly dam­ag­ing com­pany dis­as­ter fig­ures un­der wraps in the same way and for as long, share­hold­ers would be looking for blood and the stock ex­change would be send­ing a stern “please ex­plain”. Vot­ers may well do both.

In a flash­back to last week’s col­umn which be­gan “How could they have stuffed up so badly?”, a reader writes, quotes Ki­pling and puts all this in per­spec­tive:

From Philip Hick­ling of One­hunga:

“Liked your col­umn on the mar­kets. Con­cur­rently, I read in the New York Times a com­men­tary by Roger Co­hen in which he used Ki­pling’s poem The Gods of the Copy­book Head­ings, writ­ten in 1919 as a metaphor for our cur­rent woes.

“It is apt and shows that noth­ing re­ally changes.” • About copy­books. Copy­books dis­ap­peared from school­rooms more than 60 years ago. They were an ex­er­cise book used to prac­tise hand­writ­ing in. The pages were blank ex­cept for a printed spec­i­men of per­fect hand­writ­ing at the top.

You were sup­posed to copy this spec­i­men all down the page.

The spec­i­mens were proverbs or quo­ta­tions, or lit­tle say­ings – the ones in the poem il­lus­trate the kind of thing.

Th­ese were the copy­book head­ings.

About Ki­pling: He had lost his dearly loved son in World War One, and a pre­cious daugh­ter some years ear­lier.

He was a drained man in 1919, and Eng­land, which he iden­tifi with so in­tensely, was a drained na­tion.

With all this as back­ground, the gen­eral opin­ion is that The Gods of the Copy­book Head­ings is a cling­ing to old-fash­ioned com­mon sense by a man deeply in need of some­thing to cling to ...

As many do again just on 90 years later. • So, Oc­to­ber 2008:

From The Gods of the Copy­book Head­ings, by Rud­yard Ki­pling.

As I pass through my in­car­na­tions in ev­ery age and race,

I make my proper pros­tra­tions to the Gods of the Mar­ket Place.

Peer­ing through rev­er­ent fin­gers I watch them flour­ish and fall,

And the Gods of the Copy­book Head­ings, I no­tice, out­last them all.

We were liv­ing in trees when they met us. They showed us each in turn

That Wa­ter would cer­tainly wet us, as Fire would cer­tainly burn:

But we found them lack­ing in Uplift, Vi­sion and Breadth of Mind,

So we left them to teach the Go­ril­las while we fol­lowed the March of Mankind.

We moved as the Spirit listed. They never al­tered their pace,

Be­ing nei­ther cloud nor wind-borne like the Gods of the Mar­ket Place;

But they al­ways caught up with our progress, and presently word would come

That a tribe had been wiped off its ice­field, or the lights had gone out in Rome.

With the Hopes that our World is built on they were ut­terly out of touch,

They de­nied that the Moon was Stil­ton; they de­nied she was even Dutch;

They de­nied that Wishes were Horses; they de­nied that a Pig had Wings;

So we wor­shipped the Gods of the Mar­ket Who promised th­ese beau­ti­ful things...

In the Car­bonif­er­ous Epoch we were promised abun­dance for all,

By rob­bing se­lected Peter to pay for col­lec­tive Paul;

But, though we had plenty of money, there was noth­ing our money could buy,

And the Gods of the Copy­book Head­ings said: “If you don’t work you die.”

Then the Gods of the Mar­ket tum­bled, and their smooth-tongued wizards with­drew

And the hearts of the mean­est were hum­bled and be­gan to be­lieve it was true

That All is not Gold that Glit­ters, and Two and Two make Four-

And the Gods of the Copy­book Head­ings limped up to ex­plain it once more. • As Philip Hick­ling wrote in his cov­er­ing note: “Noth­ing re­ally changes”

Like Ki­pling wrote nine decades ear­lier: Quote The Gods of our mar­ket tum­bled and their smooth-tongued wizards with­drew. Un­quote

To con­tact Pat Booth email: off­ All replies are open for pub­li­ca­tion un­less marked Not For Pub­li­ca­tion.

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