• Who Cares About Facts and Figures?

    Who cares about facts and figures – especially if they don’t back up political prejudices?

    In the light of today’s Prefu forecasts as to where the economy is heading, which showed a pretty positive picture of the economic future, National’s Luxon and Willis were not to be deterred. “Labour has left the cupboard bare,” Willis proclaimed – a statement flatly disproved by the Prefu figures.

    “Kiwis deserve better,” said Luxon – apparently, like Willis, relying on the Herald’s headlined reporting of their remarks to convey a misleading impression to the unwary reader.

    With political opponents ever-ready to bend the truth, and a leading newspaper keen to give currency to their mis-statements, what chance do we poor voters have of reaching an informed view?

  • Aimless Kicking

    Aimless kicking is a failing that has afflicted New Zealand rugby for far too long. Even the least informed rugby fan would understand the simple proposition that advances cannot be made or tries scored unless the ball is in possession; to kick it away, in other words, is no more than a confession of impotence and an invitation to the opposing team to see what they can do with it.

    Why, then, do New Zealand coaches (and they include, of course, Ian Foster) allow – and, it seems, often, encourage – their teams to do precisely that? The loss to France in the opening match of the World Cup was a classic illustration of the price that is inevitably paid for such an avoidable error.

  • Be On Your Guard

    So now we know. We heard it from the man himself. Christopher Luxon told us that he is “incredibly confident” that National’s calculations about their tax proposals are accurate – and “incredible” is exactly what they are.

    There is another small indication that the proposition is shonky. Did you notice that the benefit to taxpayers was constantly expressed in terms of a fortnightly sum, rather than the more usual weekly amount? The effort was made, in other words, to present a figure to the unwary that was twice as large as the real one – and that’s assuming that either could be believed.

    Slippery, eh?

  • Stuck On A Hook

    What can be done to help Chris Hipkins off a hook of his own making?

    “There will be no wealth tax while I am Prime Minister,” he said, and there he is stuck – even though his own senior lieutenants, his party membership, popular sentiment, economic prudence, social justice, and political advantage all point in the opposite direction.

    He is stuck, it seems, because he fears the damage to his reputation, as someone who can be trusted, if he changes his mind. It may be, however, that demonstrating the courage required to change his mind might actually enhance his reputation. The country might well respond positively to a leader who showed that he was big enough to see the bigger picture, and to serve the wider interest and not just his own reputation.

    He might also consider the example of the great English economist, John Maynard Keynes, who was criticised by a correspondent for changing his mind on a point of economic policy.

    “When the facts change, I change my mind,” wrote Keynes, “What do you do, Sir?”

  • Which Europe?

    In today’s Guardian, Will Hutton – an old friend with whom I have, sadly, now lost touch – repeats a common (and possibly deliberate) error; he insists on locating Brexit as part of a far-right resurgence in Europe; and, in so doing, he conflates (as so many do) Europe and the European Union.

    Those who supported Britain’s initial joining of the European Union have always ignored and misrepresented the initial resistance to the proposition – a resistance that had its origins not so much in right-wing or left-wing politics, as in straightforward economic calculation.

    It never made economic sense for the UK to accept an arrangement that destroyed our access to efficiently produced Commonwealth food and compelled us to pay twice over – as both consumers and taxpayers – for expensive European food and for the Common Agricultural Policy (or, in other terms, the Inefficient-French-Farming Outdoor Relief Fund); and, at the same time, jeopardised our preferential treatment in Commonwealth markets for our manufactured goods, while simultaneously opening our own market to tariff-free German manufactures.

    The entirely predictable outcome was that we gave up our one competitive advantage – our access to cheap food – and allowed our manufacturing industry to be decimated by efficiently produced German manufactures, all of which was compounded by errors in economic policy – principally by holding the value of sterling at an overvalued rate.

    It was no accident that de Gaulle (supported by Adenauer) barred UK accession until he could be sure that the twin pillars of the Common Agricultural Policy and free trade in manufactures were safely in place. The romantics amongst us, however, ignored the hard-headed facts and were seduced by the notion that they were “building Europe”.

    They failed to recognise, not only the economics, but also the politics. In post-war Europe, a defeated Germany, and a France that resented the fact that it owed its liberation to the “Anglophones”, were jointly fearful that the the UK would claim a preponderant role in re-building the war-torn western Europe. The initial formation of “the Common Market” was a deliberate Franco-German attempt to “cut Britain down to size”.

    I had a ringside view of all these forces at work, by virtue of working in the Foreign Office on post-war western Europe and then serving in the UK embassy in Brussels. Those who now lament the downsides of Brexit seem to have no understanding of the real reasons for the British disenchantment with “Europe”.

    I am happy to acknowledge, however, as an olive branch to an old friend, that there is a Europe to which the UK undeniably belongs and whose future matters greatly to us. The sooner we can shake free of the detritus of past mistakes, the better.