Pain and gain of Rogernomics remembered in US-made documentary

Sir Roger Douglas

They say history is written by the victors and that journalism is the first draft.

In New Zealand, the first part of that aphorism is only partly true and the second is dubious.

With the odd exception, the positive side of the radical economic reforms that lasted less than a decade from 1984 has not been completely explained.

In many cases, the losers have written the history and at least three political parties, Labour, the Greens and New Zealand First, still talk about the “failed policies of the past” – meaning market-based solutions – and their views are echoed by many academics.

Their evidence is raised every day in the media – rising inequality, increased homelessness, “unaffordable” housing, damage from free trade, excessive immigration, unproductive foreign investment, money laundering, etc.

Bryce Wilkinson has noted how one of these historians, Dame Anne Salmon, maintains the myths of “neo-liberalism.

Unexpected source
A counter-attack to this offensive has come from an unexpected source – US public service television, specifically the Free to Choose Network.

A new documentary, Trailblazers: The New Zealand Story, was privately screened to an audience in Auckland that included many who were directly involved in transforming the country from neo-Stalinism to one of the world’s most open economies.

Sir Roger Douglas spoke briefly before the screening about the need to “package” reforms across-the-board to balance the wins and losses, rather than introduce them piecemeal. He also the said the aim was "remove privilege."

In the doco, Swedish-born presenter Johan Norberg explains this is the only way to counter lobbyists against change for one particular measure or other.

Sir Roger was among those interviewed. Others include Ruth Richardson, Richard Prebble, Alan Gibbs and Don Brash.

But mainly those who tell the “New Zealand story” are some farmers, fishermen, entrepreneurs, such as Jeremy Moon (Icebreaker) and Roger Beattie (paua pearls), and NBR columnist Eric Crampton.

Much left left out
One surprise is how much material the husband-and-wife production team crammed into the hour-long programme.

The other surprise is how much they didn’t cover; only the surface was scratched in how the lives of New Zealanders have been changed for the better by moving from cloistered state-controlled capitalism to the free market version. 

Trailblazers: The New Zealand Story is unlikely to be screened in here but the FTC network does sell DVDs of its programmes once they've aired.

The main pity is that this production, due to be broadcast in early 2017, has taken so long to emerge and that those who grew up in the past three decades know so little about what conditions were like in 1984 compared with today.

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Tune into NBR Radio’s Sunday Business with Andrew Patterson on Sunday morning, for analysis and feature-length interviews.


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26 Comments & Questions

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Do you what would be a real coup? NBR video. Just like the audio stream but showing the genre that the chournolists in the main stream media will never do.

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What a great idea Phillip. C'mon NBR. Dare you.

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I had the pleasure of a one on one conversation with Sir Roger many years ago.

During his time in office, with the benefit of hindsight, I was way short of life experience to understand the changes he was introducing. Effectively I and many others resented his direction.

Now much older and world travelled I consider Sir Roger was the most underated real leader of our time and gutsy enough to make the changes regardless of personal political sacrifice.

The famous cup of tea from David Lange was the unfortunate handbrake stopping NZ from being the top nation in the world.

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Couldn't agree more. Douglas' reforms were desperately needed and bravely introduced by Labour and Douglas. What might have been if Lange hadn't called the ridiculous cup of tea break! Unfortunately it has become fashionable to bash the modernisation of the economy as putting the country back, and those not old enough to remember the gloomy NZ of the 1940s, to the 1970s simply do not see how much better off and liberated we all are now.

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David Lange was a buffon and the worst 20th century Prime Minister New Zealand had the misfortune to have.

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I dunno Steve - that is a big call!

I admire good public speakers and idealists - how could you not be moved by the Oxford debate in 1985?

David Lange RIP

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Bollocks. He copied Thatcher who (tried) to copy Adam Smith. What a shame that neither clown took time to read and understand Adam Smith.

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And for other NBR readers who are not up to speed with Mr AS here is what investopedia says - ( he lived in the 1700s BTW ).

Adam Smith was born in 1723 in a small Scottish town. At the age of 14, Smith went to the University of Glasgow, and he attended Oxford University at the age of 17. After years of school and traveling, Smith began writing his now-famous works.

The Theory of Moral Sentiments
Smith is more famous for his 1776-piece, Wealth of Nations, but his first major treatise created many ideals still practiced today. Released in 1759, the book provided a glimpse into ethics and morals. Smith argued that humans are self-interested but naturally like to help others. It was this piece that first began discussing charitable efforts. A natural sympathy seen by humans leads to wanting to help others.

The Theory of Moral Sentiments proves complementary with Wealth of Nations in that self-interested humans can live together peacefully and productively.

Wealth of Nations Becomes a Masterpiece
In 1776, Adam Smith released An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. The title is commonly shortened to The Wealth of Nations and considered one of the most influential books ever written. Smith changed the import/export business, created the concept of what is now known as gross domestic product (GDP) and argued for free exchange.

Prior to the release of The Wealth of Nations, countries declared their wealth based on the value of their gold and silver deposits. Smith changed that forever by arguing that countries should prosper based on production and commerce and judge their value by that. This is now what is referred to as.....

See investopedia!

Also it is possible economic theory may be more art than science....

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Thanks heaps crackity. I would have people ponder as to why "AS" has been so often misquoted, misinterpreted and deliberately misunderstood by so many politicians?
It seems that vote getting trumps truth in politics.
But hey wasn't/isn't "JC" abused and used similarily? Even by our Churches?
Yes. *sigh*

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"Also it is possible economic theory may be more art than science...."
Absolutely it is. Mr Smith also agrees with you. Mr Smith interprets 'economic' to "Home Law" and suggests it was never considered a science. I personally go further and believe the correct term the old greeks used "οἰκονομία" could easily be "Natural Law" in to-days lingo.
Coz that suits my take on economics just right:)

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John. Another book you may wish to read," Free to Choose" by Milton and Rose Friedman.

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Yeah but don't forget the reforms were written up and presented to our Roger by the usual lobbying suspects - the ones most likely to benefit such as big business, Round Table, farmers. He was receptive and so it goes.

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As one of your "villains" - not true. Roger was his own man and the farmers and "big business" of the day (who owned most of the import licences) certainly did not support a lot of what Roger did at the time.

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I wonder if Little and Labour would call the Douglas, Prebble and Lange's of then "Right-wingers" like he has done with Nash & Shearer today?

It's like he thinks it's a bad thing!

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Have I got a deal for you Mr Takapuna!

We’re striving for a safe, vibrant and progressive New Zealand that encourages individual choice, responsibility and excellence. A nation with a strong economy where hard work is rewarded, not taxed away, and people are free to build prosperous families, businesses, and lives.

Change can happen. But nothing worth fighting for is easy - it’s going to take people-power to get there.

Join ACT and together we’ll take a step closer to achieving our shared vision for New Zealand.

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Jeez Nevil - and I thought NZ had always been a democracy but we were North Korea of the South Pacific back in the day!

Neo - Stalinism according to Wikipedia -

According to former General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev, the term refers to a moderated Stalinist state, without large-scale repressions but with persecution of political opponents and total control of all political activities in the country.[2][

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A very accurate description of Robert Muldoon!

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Yep crackity and like gorbachev's perestroika it was hock off a monopoly or two to mates and she'll b right, just call it free enterprise.
Thank Gawd poor old Adam Smith was not alive to witness what was done with some people (philistines) attaching his name to it!!!

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I'm always amazed at the disdain John Keys treats the Roger Douglas era. Compare the bold changes from JK. The smacking bill to reduce child abuse, a real success. The dog chipping bill to reduce dog attacks, another success story.
Then there is the um, er. Can someone else help me out?

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And I'm always amazed at the number of New Zealanders that even after 8 years in office still don't know what the Prime Minister's last name is and how to spell it correctly. If one can be that stupid and ignorant of that, what else is one stupid and ignorant of..............?

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Don't worry about the spelling. Think about the message?

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Well...that was a pointless contribution that appeared only to seek distraction from the point raised. Perhaps we can look forward to your next post listing Key's achievements?

I certainly think it's an impressive achievement the way he campaigned on the need to urgently tackle the housing crisis, only to deny its very existence for the next nine years. Very impressive indeed. Takes a tremendous amount of gall.

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"Trailblazers: The New Zealand Story is unlikely to be screened in here"

What an extraordinary statement to be made in a Western Democracy and an indictment on our left-wing media for whom only one narrative from that time is truth acceptable for broadcast. The narrative of the losers.

Not for us then the nuance and balance of multiple perspectives to complete and make whole the story. Not for us the perspective and judgement of outsiders to reflect back to us a more objective reality of ourselves and those times and an assessment of the long-term benefits and losses of the reforms. Not even the insight of whether or not these reforms were admired by the outside political and business world and something to be copied if one dared.

No, none of that is acceptable as it cuts across the party line of class struggle and that neo-liberals are the hated enemy filth, the Frankenstein monster at the gate, that deflowers and that always will deflower the innocent worker, the saintly beneficiary, and the beatified poor. That and that alone IS the narrative, the whole narrative and nothing but the narrative so better raise your torch and pitchfork and hunt the untruths, or better yet stop them from been published. Coming from the 4th estate, that is shocking.

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Roger Douglas did more work - and achieved more outcomes - on a typical Tuesday morning than John Key has done in, what, 8 years?

Roger was a politician who worked. Key is a star of reality media, not so dissimilar to Donald Trump.

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Thanks for covering this, Nevil. I'm going to see if I can get a review copy, so I can also write about it.

By the way, there is a typo:
"How the lives of New Zealanders have |beenchamnged| for the better."
[Since corrected - Editor]

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This goes way beyond the narrow focus of the Taxpayers' Union, so don't try to jump on the bandwagon.

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