Oliver Chan: Single malt Keynesianism for a new New Zealand

A seemingly unlikely cabal has emerged out of the New Zealand general election, between inner-city left-wingers and a pinstripe-suited older gent who, together, might lead the death knell of neoliberalism in New Zealand and could be an example for the broader-left worldwide.

The potential defeat of modern free market economics always had to come at the hands of both the political left and the right. For the left, Jacinda Ardern’s Labour might have finally gotten that free market monkey off its back and picked up an alternative, modern left-wing vision, that it abandoned in the wake of Norman Kirk’s early-1970s Labour government. With a similar focus on housing, the environment, poverty and free education, the party’s new approach is best described as ‘aspirational socialism’.

“Labour might have finally gotten that free market monkey off its back and picked up an alternative, modern left-wing vision.”

On the right, Winston Peters and NZ First are no Nigel Farage and UKIP – they’re the remnants of the old right free market skeptics who are equal parts Robert Muldoon’s 1970s ‘Think Big’ National Party and Lee Kuan Yew’s Singapore, rather than the misappropriated idol worshipped by free marketeers worldwide. Singapore is a low tax country in which the government plays an active role in the economy, owning the vast majority of land, housing and key infrastructure, and has strict immigration controls. With Winston as an anti-free market conservative ‘Muldoon in Singapore’, Labour and NZ First make the most fitting bipartisan gravediggers for neoliberalism.

Together, the Labour-NZ First government will place its faith in the benevolent state to intervene in the economy via spending massively on urgently-needed infrastructure spends funded by large loans: especially with rail, housing, education and a sneaky little Northland port. Additionally, it will prioritise the regions. Tellingly, Labour Deputy Leader Kelvin Davis, Winston and NZ First MP and prominent likely cabinet Minister Shane Jones are all from Northland and Ngāpuhi – the largest iwi in NZ – a region with deep socioeconomic issues that disproportionately affect Māori. A more local approach to poverty, especially the proposal by a bipartisan group of mayors of the Far North, Rotorua and Gisborne to create special zones where local government can engage in experimental, community-based solutions, could end up on the cards.

This politics, given the Labour-NZ First economic outlook and the well-known penchant for whiskey held by Jacinda, Winston and incoming Finance Minister Grant Robertson, is easily termed ‘single malt Keynesianism’. It’s an alliance of equal parts inner-city liberal trendsetters with that elderly distinguished gentleman of refined pleasures they ironically adore. It’s retro for the future.

However, single malt Keynesianism also comes at the expense of more diverse, innovative political and economics approaches, which luckily can be remedied. With the Greens outside of Cabinet and the Māori Party outside parliament, Green economics of carbon taxes and environmental industry and indigenous-based government models like Whānau Ora will be a lower priority. Yet this position that both the Greens and Māori find themselves in might revitalise their ideas and energy. The challenge for the broader left and indigenous politics in the next three years is to relentlessly hammer the government’s approaches.

“Single malt Keynesianism also comes at the expense of more diverse, innovative political and economics approaches, which luckily can be remedied.”

For the Greens, it’s attacking emissions trading loopholes and a growth-centred model that ignores the economic contributions made via the unpaid, voluntary work done disproportionately by women. For the Māori Party, it’s to defend Whānau Ora from the clutches of Winston’s baccy-stained fingers. Together, the more grassroots focus of both the Greens and the Māori Party can make a potential alliance to platform more local, democratic policy creation with public input via choosing random, representative public samples for citizens assemblies, deliberative polls and digital engagement.

Even for National, the next three years can allow it to rethink key ideas on tax and spending. Looking more closely at Singapore and Ireland – neither became successful through tax cut-spending rugged ‘rich pricks’, but are examples of the positive role that government can play, which a more pragmatic National could adopt. Until then, for the next three years, the New Zealand Government will be functioning on equal parts John Maynard and Johnnie Walker Black.

Oliver Chan is a London-based social and political researcher, writer and Politics Editor at Impolitikal. Read more by Oliver.