Critics of the PM, left and right

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.

And yet

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?








37 thoughts on “Critics of the PM, left and right

  1. He criticises you for being rude and then is ruder.
    He clearly doesn’t get irony over the blog name and he is very angry. Best to completely ignore him.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Yes, I’m not particularly interested in or bothered by his efforts to insult me. It is more about a left-winger, who appears to have a significant readership, and who at times runs serious considered views (incl on the airport) who, when all boiled down, is being really quite critical of the PM.

      A left wing critic who, at least on my telling, is largely right….

      Liked by 1 person

      • I thought David Parker was the front man for Free Trade negotiations in this Labour Government? Looks like publicly he has been sidelined? He did a great job with the revival of the TCPP from a dead TPP when Trump pulled out.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Looks like Jacinda Ardern should have stayed out of the EU Free Trade negotiations limelight and left it to David Parker. Clearly the EU parliament took a negative view of her representation.

        The European Union’s parliament has taken a decisive step towards unilaterally reducing New Zealand’s rights to export specified quantities of tariff-free sheepmeat, beef and dairy products to the trading bloc if and when Brexit occurs.

        The move has been slammed as “outrageous” by former trade negotiator Charles Finny in a Tweet and “disappointing” by the Dairy Companies Association of New Zealand.


      • This is one of those issues where I have a fair degree of practical sympathy with the EU line. For all the huffing and puffing from NZ, the original access provisions were mostly about access to the UK market.


  2. Well Michael it all goes to show one must never criticize the Fairy Princess, the darling of aging suburban socialists everywhere. They will rise to defend her honour whatever mockery she makes of her office.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. I follow this blog for the frequent well expressed idea. For once not one of yours; I like Mr Trotter’s “” Jacinda is only going where Bono has so boldly gone before “”.

    I will watch out for Chris Trotter articles in future. The problem with your posts is many I haven’t the technical knowledge to grasp and most of the posts I do understand express my own opinions (although invariably with greater clarity). But reading what you agree with is an unproductive use of time.

    I just took the time to read Mr Johnson’s blog that consists of cut and paste from your commentators (or is it commenters?). Read some of the radical stuff I wrote myself and was rather pleased with myself. I think floating the idea that NZ should join Costa Rica in having no defence force ought to cheer up a left-wing economist.

    Judging a blogsite by its comments is a mistake – clearly this site is read by some very bight people who only rarely make comments; Katherine Moody for example. Less intellectual readers are more likely to make comments – or in PNG they say ‘it is the empty cans that make the most noise’.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sometimes the “empty cans” have a point. My friend works part-time as a tour bus driver. Years ago all the drivers were New Zealanders. Today the airport carpark was full with two waiting to get in. He and one other were the only non-migrant New Zealanders (Chinese and Korean). Everywhere he stopped he was the representative Kiwi. This is the mighty tourist industry of which we are so proud. Who cares about that but an “empty can”? This empty can is sitting at home for the same reason (usually fighting off work).


      • Bob, not too sure what being intellectual is? If you are using an empty can makes the most noise as an analogy of dumb, perhaps the context is wrong because I would expect that people or empty cans who have nothing would naturally make the most noise.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I wouldn’t worry too much about this person Mike.

    People of inferior intellect often try to box people with simplistic labels…


      • This person Mike, does make a good point. This Labour government is made up of handshakers. They rely heavily on experts. Last count this government has balloon the number of working groups to 152 spending $170 million for advice on what to do. The consequence is Wellington now has the highest rent average in NZ. The problem with reliance on experts is they usually never agree. Separating out the good advice from the bad advice is what makes a great leader.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Michael,
    I don’t recall making the comment Keith alleges, but I may have done so. I do recall endorsing your views on migration in particular and relating them to standard economists’ judgements over many years. I also share your views of membership of “the Establishment” – I even voted for Keith in the mayoralty contest!
    I haven’t made a comparative evaluation of economics bloggers, but I find croaking.cassandra useful for generating thought with one exception. I suspect that your views on China would be more at home on your “religious” blog than they are on economic commentary.I have submitted an evaluation of the first year of the Adern government to East Asia Forum expressing views not dissimilar to yours.
    Best wishes
    Gary Hawke


    • Blindly endorsing Michaels views on immigration does not provide a practical alternative. It would be more productive if you actually laid out an alternative path because our largest industries are service based industries, Tourism, international students and aged care. The alternative so far being our Primary industries is already at peak 10 million cows and 30 million sheep.

      Jacinda pushing for another Free Trade agreement makes zero sense. We are already at peak land use. Sell more milk or meat or fruit and we lose tourists.


  6. You make a serious mistake responding to criticisms on a line by line basis

    Another mistake you make is your proclivity in staining things left or right
    Either your point stands on its own feet without the smear – or it doesn’t

    Your repeated left-leaning smears paints you in the establishment basket


    • “…….left-leaning smears paints you in the establishment basket”
      If you’re suggesting (“left leaning smears” is ambiguous) that criticism of “the left” makes you part of the establishment then I disagree. The legacy media, education, central government; the establishment, is overwhelmingly supportive or actively pursuing left wing causes and openly hostile to the free market economy, personnel responsibility, traditional values, Christianity and even Western Civilisation itself.
      Conservatism is the new counter culture.

      Liked by 2 people

    • It is not the left leaning smears that paint Michael as part of the establishment. It is his decades working in Treasury and in the RBNZ which puts him in positions of advisory to the government and therefore part of the establishment. I point the finger at the RBNZ for the monetary policy settings that have for decades wrecked NZ high productive industries.


  7. Michael
    The fact that he spends more time attacking you than your arguments, indicates that he doesn’t like what you write, but can’t fault your arguments.
    Best thing to do is regard his criticisms as a badge of honour, and keep writing.

    Liked by 2 people

    The early Blair years represented the flowering of a liberal-egalitarian nationalism in Britain. Though some charge liberal elites with being post-national, it’s more accurate to describe them as missionary nationalists. This is not a contradiction. When a country sees itself as blazing a trail for others to follow, or leading the world as the defender of a universal idea, it brings glory on itself. When the Soviet Union styles itself as the vanguard of socialism, America the leader of the free world , France the ‘Eldest Daughter’ of the Catholic Church or Saudi Arabia the guiding light of Islam, these countries are engaging in what scholars term ‘missionary nationalism. They may appear to be cosmopolitan, selflessly serving a transnational ideology, but they do so in part to court the approval of other nations and win glory for themselves.
    In Britain’s case, New Labour was showing the world that its country, centred on the globalist capital, London, was at the forefront of liberal cosmopolitanism. This lent British elites international prestige. Not only did their pride swell when they met counterparts from other Western countries, but it was bolstered even when their audience was .absent. As the social psychologist George Herbert Mead argues, our sell-esteem reflects the opinions of our ‘generalized other’, those we hold in high regard and deem to be judging us even when not physically present.’ In this sense, British liberals could bask in the glow of the imagined approval of their counterparts from around the world. New Labour advanced this form of nationalism prior to 2000.

    Liberal missionary nationalism is qualitatively distinct from an ascribed ‘ethnic’ nationalism based on settled cultural traits, folk myths ,and memories. An ethnic sense of national identity is inflected by locale and region, rooted in characteristics handed down from generation to generation. There is no tension between being working class, a ‘Geordie’ (from the north-east) or a ‘Scouser’ (from Liverpool), English and British. The working-class Geordie views England as an extension of her own class and regional identity, and Britain as an extension of England. The national identity starts local and moves outwards to the nation-state. Local accents, customs and landscapes blend seamlessly into national reference points like the English flag and football squad. Their Englishness tills most of their imagined canvas of Britishness. They gain self-esteem from their collective identity by taking pride in their local particularity as ‘truly English’, an authentic expression of the nation. The audience for this expression of pride is national, not international. Those in other regions applaud the distinctive English type found in a city such as Liverpool. Region and class do not compete with national identity, but reinforce it. On the 2009-10 Citizenship Survey, 83 per cent of white skilled workers for whom class is a ‘very important’ identity also say their nation is ‘very important’ for who they are.
    On a progressive reading, when a country succumbs to cultural nationalism at the expense of the national mission it looses face in the court of international public opinion. Brexit induces a sense of shame among many British missionary nationalists…..
    White Shift – Eric Kaufman


    • cont.
      On a progressive reading, when a country succumbs to cultural nationalism at the expense of the national mission, it loses face in the court of international public opinion. Brexit induces a sense of shame among many British missionary nationalists. In their minds, the country is now associated with anti—cosmopolitanism and a betrayal of liberal values so it contributes negatively to their self-esteem. As a result, some British liberals seek to distance themselves from a British national identity in favour of a London or metropolitan identity with the places which voted to Remain. Alternatively, they join the fight to get the country back on its former missionary-liberal track. When it comes to immigration, liberals are prepared to sacrifice elements of the cultural particularity of their nation on the altar of the liberal mission. This relegates ascribed nationalism in favour of achieved nationalism: local particularity and domestic approval is lost, but global applause is gained. Both are forms of nationalism, but one is based on international adulationion advancing an ideal the other on intra-national recognition for exemplifying authentic cultural traits. Their intended audiences are different as are their social bases

      Liked by 1 person

      • Shame in Brexit? There is no shame in Britain exiting the EU. This is the mighty British Empire. The shame is how far the mighty has fallen. It is about time the Brits recall their history and stop being wimps.


  9. I’m sure you’re well aware that Keith Johnson’s sprays are not the best contributions made by the left to political, economic or social debate in New Zealand. I’m glad you don’t take them seriously given there’s little on offer in them.

    I’m well and truly “far left” these days as I’m somewhere about the position of the 1972-75 Labour government.

    I derive considerable assistance from following your posts and am very grateful for your contributions to thought and analysis on issues of concern to us all.

    You and I disagree on some ethical issues, eg abortion, but even on these issues you state and argue your case, and don’t merely spray abuse like Keith Johnson.

    Your arguments and analysis on immigration have given me much to think about. It’s one of the big issues, tying as it does to global warming, sustainability etc. Regrettably it’s a political drug of addiction in being an “easy” way to ramp up GDP leaving the problems arising therefrom to later governments.

    Thanks for your considerable effort for our country.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks Alan

      Re immigration, you will no doubt be aware that it was Norman Kirk and Fraser Colman who “turned off the (immigration) tap” to a considerable extent in the 70s (in their case, by restricting the previous open access for people from the UK and Ireland).


      • Yes, those baby boomers in their 30s are now in their 60s. Turning the immigration tap off is not so easy as fit young 30 year old bodies start to turn into easily broken bodies with dementia and senility setting in.


  10. I wonder if Michael (or Alan) might wish to refer readers to what they see as “more serious analysis” from other viewpoints?

    Would be great to get a feel for whom y’all test your ideas with.


    • Alan can speak for himself

      I probably read more US/UK stuff, but there are people here writing interesting stuff – even Keith Johnson has his days (why I check out his blog occasionally). Daryl McLauchlan and Chris Trotter always make one think. There are academics like Jonathan Boston or Jane Kelsey, and I do keep an eye on both The Standard and The Daily Blog, and sometimes find interesting stimulating pieces there.


      • I check all those contributors you mention. I enjoy Chris Trotter’s robust articles very much. He frequently has a take I’ve not thought of and sometimes startles me with an article of unmitigated nonsense. He has an excellent knowledge of recent NZ history, frequently because he was there. Context is often lacking in discussion and analysis online.

        I also ensure I read Gordon Campbell as Werewolf. I’d consider him my most reliable source. And I check Idiot/Savant blogging on No Right Turn. I read Brian Easton on the Pundit blog.

        There are good articles to be found from time to time on Newsroom and The Spinoff, occasionally on Noted NZ.

        I’m not an economist of any kind, merely a citizen trying to be informed. I subscribe to the Economist and WaPo. Nothing else. I never read the UK Financial Times or the WSJ.

        I read a poorly written and badly argued opinion piece on the UK and Australian versions of the Guardian today by Matthew D’Ancona. It’d be cruel to suggest this piece was indicative of current conservative thought 🙂 it’s not worthy of being linked to. I mention it simply as an example of the range of stuff I see every day as we all do.


      • Yes, agree re Gordon Campbell, Easton and No Right Turn (the latter esp good on open government issues).

        Having just read that Matthew D’Ancona piece, I think all it really tells anyone is the enfeebled state of the UK Conservative Party (admittedly in very difficult circumstances, where there is no single detailed option that commands a majority). As someone noted last week, remarkable to think that a party that played a dominant role in UK politics for 150+ years could totally splinter very shortly.


  11. I just came across this post was I was googling to try and find out what ol mate Keith’s deal was and I’d really warn you against engaging with him. I’ve only seen the worst of his creepy behaviour towards women I’m friends with, but if you scroll through his blog long enough to see his fantasizing and speculating about specific young women’s bodies, you’d know he’s not someone on your level or worth devoting your time to. Dude gives me the heebs.


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