I was going to write something short but serious, but then I noticed that Wellington economist (and economics blogger) Keith Johnson had been having another go at me.
I’ve never met Johnson but did rather admire his independent run for mayor of Wellington in 2016, campaigning (as much as anything) against the wildly uneconomic proposal for the ratepayers of Wellington to fund an extension to the runway at Wellington Airport. From memory, in the STV system used in Wellington, I voted for him (well) ahead of the winner, Justin Lester – who commits public money as if it is confetti (and whose council is apparently still trying to sort out a traffic management plan to fix leaking pipes in a dead-end street, now leaking for a whole month). Quite possibly the only thing we have in common is living in the same suburb – from the occasional photo posted on his blog I reckon I can see his house from where I’m typing.
Anyway, Johnson is clearly not a fan of yours truly. There was a whole post a couple of years ago rather more sympathetic to Graeme Wheeler in the matter of the OCR leak (which I had alerted the Bank to, only to have Wheeler attack me in a press release).
There has never been any doubt that he comes from the left. I don’t. That said, I was very glad to see National ousted in 2017. They’d done almost nothing in their nine years and, at very least it was time for a change. No one would have been more pleased than I had the new government actually followed through on the campaign talk about lifting productivity growth and fixing the systematic dysfunction that is the housing market. I even wrote a post at the time Jacinda Ardern became leader offering some specific suggestions.
Sadly, there has been so sign of anything serious. Instead, there is a great deal of Prime Ministerial blather, interviews with foreign media, walking and talking with celebrities. But not much sign of real governing, in ways that might make a real difference to (at least) economic and housing outcomes. And then there is the shameful silence on matters PRC – I wonder if any of the media will ask her what she made of George Soros’s Davos speech – he these days a doyen of the global centre-left – calling on the West to take much more serious Xi Jinping’s threat to free societies.
So, yes, I don’t have much time for Jacinda Ardern. As I suggested in a previous post, she might be well qualified to be Governor-General. It is less clear that she is equipped to be Prime Minister. They were her own words – published in one of most esteemed serious newspapers in the world – that I had a go at in my post the other day: lightweight, grossly misrepresenting history, and – for all the rhetoric – not offering anything of much substance that appears much different from what has gone before.
Which prompted Johnson’s first post. He started with some (favourable) comments that economic historian Gary Hawke had apparently made about this blog.
Not that I am totally in awe of either Reddell or Hawke, both of whom are typical of the NZ Establishment – in my view at least being among the Tall Poppy Scything denizens that a young consultant colleague of mine once called a ‘bunch of arrogant bastards’.
I’ll take engagement with ideas and arguments over “awe” any day.
Apparently, I can’t really criticise the PM on productivity or housing
The first and most obvious objection to Reddell’s castigation of Ardern for perpetuating House Price Inflation and Failing to Address our Low Productivity is that He is Part of the System.
One might well ask then ‘What the hell did he do during his career to tackle the problems he identifies?’
That’s easy. The Reserve Bank doesn’t do productivity or land use regulation.
He goes on
The second major objection of Reddell’s ‘analysis’ is that it is just plain rude.
You can reach your own view on that, but fortunately this is New Zealand not Thailand (lese-majeste and all that), and when you take the job of Prime Minister you should (she probably does) expect all manner of scrutiny.
And getting fully into his game we get this
Purporting to be an erudite independent-minded economic commentator, he nevertheless let slip his disdain of the so-called ‘left-liberal elites’ thereby placing himself firmly in the Alt-Right / Neo-Liberal camp.
Essentially he is arguing in favour of the plutocratic nationalism – in the form of the NZ National Party, the UK Conservative Party and the US Republican Party and Big Businesses Lobbies – and against the possibility of young people rediscovering hope in politics.
This Cassandra sounds to me like a jealous, covetous, exclusive bitch whose ears have been caressed by the Vipers of Malice.
Not sure how much overlap there is between the so-called Alt-Right and the so-called Neo-Liberal camps. I don’t identify with either. And, as I noted yesterday, I’m sure the National Party has never mistaken anything I’ve written here for support for them. (Republicans chose as their candidate a man totally unsuited by character and temperament to be President, and if they are more or less sound on abortion, have debuached the public finances and promoted interventionist foreign policies with which I have no truck.
Not that I disagree with everything that his says about the NZ Economy and its management. He is a smart fellow with whom it would be challenging to engage in a structured discussion on NZ economic policy.
And he is right to warn that rhetoric is no substitute for substance and that pretending to reinvent the wheel of Welfare Economics – while battening down Public Sector borrowing – simply raises expectations that cannot be reconciled or delivered.
I’ll take that. It was a big part of my point. There is – so far – no “there” there amid all the talk of “kindness” and “wellbeing”.
But having, it appeared, largely conceded my substantive point, he presumably thought it necessary to finish with abuse
What I thoroughly disagree with him over is his misunderstanding of the difference between Policy Advocacy by a politician who openly declares her preferences and allegiances, and Policy Assassination by a biased, back-biting pseudo-academic with axes to grind and panties to bunch.
In this regard Mr Reddell should remember that the exercise of power without responsibility is the prerogative of the whore – not of the critic – panties bunched or off.
Never having had an ambition to be an academic, pseudo or otherwise, I’m not quite sure what he’s on about. Where there is an important difference is between politicians who talk a good talk, and citizens who might reasonably ask for evidence of substance.
As for the weird conception that I wield “power” – with or without responsibility……..
I came back to Johnson’s blog today to find two more posts. One runs under the title “Croaking Cassandra: Making NZ A Country for Angry Old White Men” – which is a bit odd really as, as far as I know, Johnson is white, and quite a bit older than me. Personally, I’m keen on improving the country for young New Zealanders – people like my kids who will soon face the prospect of unaffordable housing costs, in an economy heading towards upper middle income status.
The entire post consists of extracts from readers’ comments on my post on Ardern’s op-ed run together. I’m not sure what the point is, although I have left a comment on the post to ask. I’m bemused, but I thought some of you might be interested to find bits of your comments popping up somewhere else.
And then there was a third post headed “Jacinda Ardern: When Kindness May Not Be Enough”. That sounded like music to my ears.
But before he got to his own substantive points, there was another go at me.
Apropos of my defence yesterday of our NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern against the harridan drag artist blogger Croaking Cassandra,
“Harridan drag artist blogger”: well, that’s a new one. Surely it must offend the sensitivities of some oppressed minority? (But not me – it just seems weird.)
But that was just a lead-in to an important observation from someone on the left
“I nevertheless feel the need to sound a note of caution on the gushing approbation that our girl is receiving in the world’s media from those of leftward tendencies.”
Hard to disagree, although personally I try to avoid describing adult women holding responsible accountable offices as “girls”.
He goes on to include lengthy extracts from an article on a local left-wing website, and cautions against paying too much attention to Helen Clark’s gushy promo for the Prime Minister in Foreign Policy. And then offers his editorial
“Of course, I massively endorse the sentiments behind Kinder Government – as well as being more than ready to support Women Warriors against the Baddies who are often authoritarian. reactionary, and male.
But much of what is being said is Not New….
In fact, it may all be perceived by many as yet another illustration of what I have termed The Big Lie.
So Jacinda – Go for It – But retain some humility.
Don’t get caught in your rhetoric and over-promise.
And kindly take account of the realities [including] you lead a front bench that is very short on real talent.
Hard to disagree really, although personally I don’t much care whether Prime Ministers are male or female. Performance is what should matter. And we aren’t getting it.
But apparently never content to end with a rational mildly-sceptical take on his own sainted leader, Johnson feels the need to hit out again. This is the final paragraph of that post:
Quite apart from that, you need to spend a bit more time covering your derriere. You can’t expect those accustomed to power who are authoritarian, reactionary, and male [i.e people like Croaking Cassandra Michael Reddell] to let you do your thing unmolested. Believe me – they are coming for your girl.
So – on his own terms – his leader has a front bench without much talent, appears to be over-promising and underdelivering, and what she has to watch for is people like me. It would be the voters I’d be more worried about if I were her. New Zealanders seem to rather like their Prime Ministers being feted by overseas media and celebrities (whether Ardern or Key) but there will come a time when they are impatient for results. Better results need better policy. Johnson himself more or less makes that point.
And then I noticed a more-eminent commentator from the left, Chris Trotter, also had some new comments on the Prime Minister under the heading “The Jacinda Problem”.
It would seem that we misunderstood the Labour leader when she promised us a transformational government. Our naïve assumption was that she intended to transform New Zealand society when, clearly, it was herself she was determined to transform.
There will, of course, be a great many Kiwis who cannot get enough of their PM’s global celebrity status. Seated on the same stage as Sir David Attenborough. Discussing mental health with Prince William. What’s not to like? Jacinda is only going where Bono has so boldly gone before.
He goes on to make various policy points – serious stuff not being done – where I might differ on specifics while endorsing general thrust, but this is his conclusion.
Jacinda is the most accomplished ambassador for New Zealand to have graced the global stage since David Lange bowled-over the Oxford Union. That is not, however, enough. Jacinda is not New Zealand’s MC, she’s our PM.
It’s time for her to start acting like one.
There is lots of rhetoric, lots of moving among the echo chamber of the like-minded overseas elites, but not much substance, all underpinned by even less robust analysis.
Keith Johnson can call me all the names he likes – perhaps “harridan drag artist blogger” should now appear on the banner for the blog? – but it doesn’t change the unease that thinking people from both left and right are beginning to feel. Where’s the beef?