09 August 2013

China blows an ideological dog-whistle

Galling though it may be for many Kiwis to be lectured from the mouthpiece of a one-party state about our being "hostage to a blinkered devotion to laissez-faire market ideology," the rebuke is a deserved one. I recommend that you read the full China Daily editorial. One passage that has not been widely quoted in the NZ media is this: "the New Zealand government, which makes a great show of disdaining regulation at home, seems quite happy to let others regulate for it abroad." Think, for example, about vehicle emissions and safety. Had it been left up to she'll-be-right Kiwis, local vehicle emissions and safety standards would not be anywhere near those that we now enjoy, thanks largely to vehicles imported from Asian countries, mainly Japan. Our laissez-faire, anti-state attitude insists that it's economically inefficient to impose regulatory standards onto industries. The economy comes first. But that attitude can, as we know all too well in the building industry, lead to a false economy, as people are left to face the costs and consequences of poor quality-controls. Pike River hardly needs a mention.
It would be petulant and foolish of us to ignore China Daily's rebuke and not to do some examination of how well we do things at home.
New Zealand has hitched a ride with the economy (China) that will soon be the world's largest, one which operates politically and culturally on different values from ours, but whose consumers nevertheless will increasingly demand top-quality produce, just like middle-classes elsewhere in the world. New Zealand is relying on its trading relationship with China to help pull us out of the recent recession and to bring in foreign capital.
We may ask whether the 2008 Crash and the rise of China signify the beginning of the end of that American version of neo-liberalism that New Zealand so eagerly embraced in the recent past, and the beginning of a new global consensus around political economy that will be more multi-lateral and multi-cultural and more heavily influenced by countries like China and Russia. Will neo-liberalism give way to something like an authoritarian capitalism? And are we prepared for the change?
When it comes to building a reputation for excellence in all that we do (including keeping our environment clean), you'd have to say that we just aren't cutting it. And so we need political leadership that stops covering things up with "I'm relaxed/comfortable with that" (i.e., with low expectations), and instead insists that our industries can do better and that we will lift our game.


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