Shearer’s tricky bal­anc­ing act

Kapi-Mana News - - OPINION -

For weeks, new Labour leader David Shearer has been ad­vised by all and sundry to get more vis­i­bly in­volved in the is­sues of the day, and to let ev­ery­one know where he stands on the ports of Auck­land dis­pute, the Cra­far Farms con­tro­versy, the Gov­ern­ment’s wel­fare agenda and so on.

All that urg­ing is about to bear fruit.

Shearer is about to de­liver the first in a se­ries of speeches set­ting out his po­lit­i­cal phi­los­o­phy, and the di­rec­tion in which he in­tends to take the Labour Party. It could be a dif­fi­cult sell. Cer­tainly, the public will be want­ing more than good in­ten­tions and a few re-brand­ing strate­gies.

One of Shearer’s prob­lems is that he needs to please sev­eral au­di­ences at once, some of whom can­cel each other out.

Any warm fuzzies about the plight of the un­em­ployed, for ex­am­ple, seem bound to af­front many of the mid­dle- class strug­glers who have drifted away from Labour.

In one of his few speeches since be­com­ing leader, Shearer de­scribed this bloc as con­tain­ing many for­mer Labour vot­ers who are now self-em­ployed, in­de­pen­dent con­trac­tors, or in small busi- ness. The sort of peo­ple, Shearer sug­gested, you’d ex­pect to find fill­ing out their GST re­turns at the kitchen ta­ble.

As job se­cu­rity be­comes a thing of the past, they’re also fear­ful about be­ing pushed down the so­cial lad­der.

They’re a vot­ing group un­likely to be in­ter­ested in any Labour plan to re­dis­tribute the na­tion’s wealth down­wards.

Shearer has to do more than de­vise some palat­able ways to re­dis­tribute wealth more fairly.

He also has to un­veil new ideas for gen­er­at­ing wealth in the first place. Again, that’s a chal­lenge. De­spite all the so­cial up­heaval that New Zealand has been through, our econ­omy looks lit­tle dif­fer­ent to­day than it did 40 years ago.

We re­main just as re­liant on sell­ing pri­mary prod­ucts to a world that has steadily be­come more tech­no­log­i­cally so­phis­ti­cated – while we have hardly pro­gressed be­yond the farm gate.

More­over, de­spite three decades of free mar­ket pol­icy and pep talks, the state is still the main en­gine of wealth in the econ­omy, in a trend that ap­pears to be ac­cel­er­at­ing.

In 1981, the New Zealand share­mar­ket was dom­i­nated by pri­vately cre­ated and owned com­pa­nies – and re­port­edly, eight out of the top 12 com­pa­nies back then were strongly in­volved in ex­port­ing.

To­day, how­ever, the share­mar­ket is dom­i­nated by for­mer sta­te­owned or­gan­i­sa­tions, or by near mo­nop­o­lies.

Con­se­quently, there are seven for­mer gov­ern­ment or lo­cal au­thor­ity- owned com­pa­nies among the 12 largest com­pa­nies listed. Ex­port- ori­ented firms barely fig­ure.

As fi­nan­cial an­a­lyst Brian Gaynor says, once the par­tial sale of the state’s en­ergy com­pany as­sets goes through, it ap­pears likely that 10 of our 12 big­gest listed com­pa­nies will have had their ori­gins in the public sec­tor.

Not that Shearer can af­ford to dwell on that point.

Ul­ti­mately, he may just end up call­ing for a new and dy­namic part­ner­ship be­tween the state and pri­vate en­ter­prise.

No mat­ter how zeal­ously some politi­cians try to starve and shrink the gov­ern­ment, it still re­mains the most re­li­able en­gine of wealth in this coun­try.

All Shearer has to do is de­vise a more pos­i­tive role for the state and – some­how – make that vi­sion sound ex­cit­ing.

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