The crisis: My mother, Cullen and Kipling
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
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