Mar­ket mantra takes a beat­ing


No doubt, Jacinda Ardern’s stated in­ten­tion of gov­ern­ing for the ben­e­fit of all New Zealan­ders – the ones who voted for her and those who didn’t – seems gen­uine enough. To do so, how­ever, the new coali­tion gov­ern­ment will have to deal with the gen­er­a­tional di­vide that’s now be­come a ma­jor fea­ture of our po­lit­i­cal dis­course.

Cur­rently, most of the vo­cal mi­nor­ity who are find­ing it re­ally, re­ally hard to em­brace the change of gov­ern­ment be­long to a gen­er­a­tion that be­came po­lit­i­cally aware dur­ing the 1980s and 1990s – when the wis­dom of the mar­ket was em­braced by many with the force of a re­li­gious be­lief.

As the Aus­tralian econ­o­mist John Quig­gin re­cently de­scribed it: ‘‘For most of the cur­rent po­lit­i­cal class whose ideas were formed in the last decades of the 20th cen­tury, the su­pe­ri­or­ity of mar­kets over gov­ern­ments is an as­sump­tion so deeply in­grained that it is not even recog­nised as an as­sump­tion. Rather, it is part of the ‘com­mon sense’ that ‘ev­ery­one knows’. What­ever the prob­lem,’’ Quig­gin con­cluded, ‘‘their an­swer [has been] the same: lower taxes, pri­vati­sa­tion and mar­ket-ori­ented ‘re­form’.’’

Yet for those born out­side that gen­er­a­tional bub­ble, the world looks quite dif­fer­ent. Peo­ple un­der 30 who have been bat­tered by the Global Fi­nan­cial Cri­sis, the low wage econ­omy and in­come in­equal­ity have no ro­man­tic at­tach­ment to mar­ket so­lu­tions.

In fact, young vot­ers have em­braced politicians – Jeremy Cor­byn in the UK, Bernie San­ders in the US – who have ex­plic­itly re­jected the pol­i­tics of small gov­ern­ment. Well be­fore Win­ston Peters said that cap­i­tal­ism had lost its hu­man face, young vot­ers had be­gun vot­ing against its harsher out­comes. In this year’s Bri­tish elec­tion for in­stance, the gen­er­a­tional di­vide was strik­ing: 60 per cent of 18 to 24-year-olds voted for Jeremy Cor­byn’s party, while 61 per cent of over-64s voted Con­ser­va­tive.

Peters, at 72, is ar­guably more in touch with this zeit­geist than many of his mid­dle-aged crit­ics. This would not be a unique sit­u­a­tion. In the US last year Bernie San­ders, aged 75, won more sup­port from vot­ers un­der 30 than the two ma­jor party can­di­dates – Hil­lary Clin­ton and Don­ald Trump – com­bined.

Po­lit­i­cally, this also sug­gests that the Ardern gov­ern­ment has some breath­ing space to po­litely ig­nore the an­grier, me­di­aam­pli­fied com­plaints of the ‘‘more mar­ket’’ true be­liev­ers, pro­vided it can de­liver on other fronts.

On the fore­court of Par­lia­ment last week, Ardern promised to lead an ‘‘em­pa­thetic’’ gov­ern­ment – and the pointed con­trast was with the pre­vi­ous ad­min­is­tra­tion, which tended to live in de­nial about so­cial prob­lems un­til it be­came ab­so­lutely nec­es­sary to ac­knowl­edge their ex­is­tence.

This week, Ar­den and her col­leagues have be­gun the dif­fi­cult task of meet­ing the sky­high ex­pec­ta­tions they have raised. To meet the as­pi­ra­tions of its young sup­port­ers in par­tic­u­lar, the new gov­ern­ment will need to ad­dress so­cial needs and de­liver on ed­u­ca­tion – by say, of­fer­ing gen­uine re­lief on stu­dent debt, ac­com­mo­da­tion costs, ten­ancy rights, jobs and wages.

No easy tasks, but the po­lit­i­cal re­wards will seem tan­ta­lis­ing. As the cen­tre-right did 30 years ago, the cen­tre-left now has a golden op­por­tu­nity to ce­ment in its sup­port and thus shape the at­ti­tudes of a new gen­er­a­tion of vot­ers, for decades to come.

‘‘Peters, at 72, is ar­guably more in touch with this zeit­geist than many of his mid­dle-aged crit­ics. ’’

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