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.
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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