(The 6th of 8 posts about my new life in New Zealand.)
An Early Laboratory for Neoliberal Reforms
Overall I have enjoyed numerous lifestyle advantages living in New Zealand. There are a few notable exceptions, of course, beyond the emotional isolation of being separated from my family and American friends. Most relate, either directly or indirectly, to New Zealand’s historic role as “the Chile of the South Pacific.” During the 1980s, New Zealand was used as a laboratory for the neoliberal reforms subsequently implemented by Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher.
In theory, neoliberalism is a “market-driven” approach to economic and social policy that stresses the efficiency of free enterprise and opposes government regulation of corporate recklessness and any government role in public services other than law enforcement. In practice, neoliberal policies have been universally pro-corporate and anti-free market, promoting vast amounts of legislation (tax law, government contracts and direct corporate bail-outs) that favor large corporations at the expense of both small business and ordinary citizens.
The University of Chicago is usually credited as the birthplace (in the 1960s) for neoliberalism and Milton Friedman as its father. A frequently overlooked aspect of the CIA’s 1973 coup in Chile was the direct role University of Chicago economists played in assisting Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in setting out the neoliberal economic reforms enforced by his brutal regime. New Zealand played a similar role in the early eighties, by trying out neoliberal policies that were later adopted by Britain and the US.
New Zealand: a Second World Country
At present New Zealand is a relatively poor, second world country. It ranks 20th in GDP for OECD countries. Americans are always struck by the high cost of living here relative to wages and salaries. Although average income is much lower than in other developed countries, the cost of basic necessities is just as high. At times it’s much higher, particularly in the case of gasoline, home energy costs and fresh meat and fish.
Central heating is virtually non-existent – in part because so few people can afford it and in part because the (colder) South Island has no access to piped natural gas. Just so no one has any illusions about our climate, the New Zealand winter is relatively short. However except for the far north, it gets just as cold here as in northern California and the Pacific Northwest.
Here We Call It Rogernomics
In 1975 New Zealand was 10th in the OECD in per capita GDP. Prior to the eighties, the UK was always the primary importer of New Zealand lamb and dairy products. In the early 1980s, these policies changed, and Britain began to favor European Union trading partners over commonwealth countries.
Increasingly, however, many economists blame the draconian reforms Minister of Finance Roger Douglas enacted in 1984 for the decline in Kiwi living standards. So-called “Rogernomics” was responsible for the institutionalization of a large and steady wealth transfer (as profits and dividends) to overseas corporations. This in turn has led to a large, chronic accounts deficit (negative balance of trade), which has led to many other economic problems.
It’s only with the 2008 economic collapse and the non-existent US recovery that American analysts are starting to appreciate the devastating impact that “Reaganomics” – the main culprit in the virtual collapse of American manufacturing – had on the US economy.
In a country 1/60th the size of the US, the damage was much more immediate and obvious.