The limitations of N.8 wire, and how the political/policy talent bench is so thin.

datePosted on 17:59, March 6th, 2010 by Pablo

As some may remember, I have been in NZ on a mix of research and personal business (truth be told, I am in NZ accompanying my partner on her research leave. The title of this post is her idea, with a hat tip to Brian Easton). As part of my project on the security politics of peripheral democracies (which has NZ as a case study), I have been interviewing a cross-section of people involved in political life both in and outside the Wellington beltway: politicians, journalists, academicians, policy analysts, community and political activists, opinion-makers, bloggers (!) and a few very smart friends. Oh, and Lew (albeit informally, over a very enjoyable lunch). Some of those conversations were illuminating, some were lucid, some were disappointing and some, well, forgotten in the haze of a very good time.

Notwithstanding the fogginess of my recollection of a few of those conversations, one coherent theme has emerged. NZ’s so-called “number 8 wire attitude,” supposedly evidence of Kiwi pragmatism and resourcefulness, is actually the logical result of a chronic and perpetual lack of planning and an ex post, ad hoc approach to policy-making. One interlocutor phrased it as “policy by anecdote,” where politicians relate stories they have been told as proof that similar approaches elsewhere can work just fine in NZ (such as the repeated mention of Singapore as a developmental model for NZ because it is a small island economy, ignoring the obvious fact that it is authoritarian, stratified and in fact a state capitalist welfare state rather than a true market economy). Others simply noted a lack of vision, or a lack of reward for innovation. Some blamed the NZ character, others colonialism and imperialism, partisans blamed their opponents, analysts blamed the politicians, politicians blamed the analysts, journalists blamed the tabloidisation of news ….the range of explanations ran the gamut.

Be they on the political Left or Right, time and time again these keen observers of and participants in NZ politics and policy-making, some with storied histories of commentary and involvement in the debates of the last 25 years, noted that NZ political elites continually re-invent the wheel, adopt quick fix or knee-jerk responses and plaster solutions to concrete problems, and generally go with the cheapest option regardless of the complexities and repercussive consequences involved. There appears to be no full appreciation of the consequences of any given policy decision (including the shift to market economics and adoption of a nuclear-free status), and whatever sucess NZ has in the global arena is more a product of luck and chance (fortuna) rather than strategic planning and foresight (virtu). The current government is no exception and in fact is considered by this select crowd to be one of the shining examples of the syndrome.

In the view of these participant/observers, the situation is compounded by the lack of political and policy talent available. Beyond those who move overseas, the problem is generally seen as a product of the dunmbing down of political and historical knowledge in schools, media disinterest in anything other than scandal, risk-adverse cultures and abject mediocrity within the public bureaucracy, a gross lack of intellectual acuity and political nous on the parliamentary backbenches, and a general attitude of the part of both policy bureaucrats and politicians that “she’ll be right” regardless of what they do. That, and a loss of ethics, principle and integrity amongst the NZ elite in general.

I invite readers to ponder and comment on this. Given the range of people I have spoken to, this is not just the comments of a small group of disgruntled personalities. At another time I will reflect on what was specifically said about those people and agencies involved in security policy–that the MoD is less than useless, that the NZDF is a bastion of short-sightedness and political ignorance, that the NZSIS is a politicised, vengeful, incompetent cesspit, that the EAB is worthless and deservedly ignored, that the Police are as much a problem as they are a solution to domestic security issues, that the advice of all of these agencies and others are routinely ignored by the politicians in government at the moment–the list of grievances is long but the consensus amongst the consiglieri is strong: NZ needs a serious change in political and policy-making culture if it is going to really “punch above its weight” rather than simply muddle along–or be relegated to the lower tiers of democratic capitalist development within the next ten years.

25 Responses to “The limitations of N.8 wire, and how the political/policy talent bench is so thin.”

  1. SPC on March 7th, 2010 at 00:24

    In my opinion, the problem has a source.

    We handed over the place of intelligent government decision-making to the free market. We did not just give up the government’s role in the economy, we diminished the role and the capacity for government.

    This weakened our institutions and institutional knowledge that leaves us vulnerable to the latest policy design fad/corporate makeover style.

    We have even been poor managers of the free market, primarily because we failed to bring in a CGT – and left this distortion to investment patterns (an overvalued currency often caused by over-borrowing for land and property does tremendous harm to the productive sector in a global market economy). We failed business because we under-value R and D and have placed too great a reliance on anti-inflation purety over employment.

  2. Bruce Hamilton on March 7th, 2010 at 11:19

    I might comment later, when I have more time, but first let’s address the title.

    Sorry for the off-topic rant, but I wonder how many people under 40 have encountered and used No.8 wire, it even disappeared from wire coat hangers many decades ago.

    The limitations of No 8 wire were well known, it was thick, heavy, and low tensile – meaning that wire fences stretched and sagged over time.

    It was replaced by high tensile 2.5mm wire several decades ago. The NZ-developed high tensile 2.5mm fencing wire was very successful, and exported to several countries.

    A couple of decades ago, NZ developed aluminium-zinc coating to replace galvanised zinc coating. That coating offers superior corrosion protection, as well as improved electrical performance when used as part of electric fences.

    Some modern high tensile fencing wire also now includes vanadium to assist flexibility.

    However, as with other NZ manufacturing industries subjected to economies of scale, the local fencing wire manufacturing industry may wither and die as cheaper wire imports from China and other nations appear.

    The manifest limitations of low tensile No 8 wire are irrelevant in the 21st century, and it’s disappointing it’s still used in the context of NZ innovation.

  3. Lew on March 7th, 2010 at 11:50

    Bruce, given that context it’s a metaphor which seems all the more apt.

    L

  4. Bruce Hamilton on March 7th, 2010 at 22:39

    The continual changes to government service delivery in the last two decades have adversely impacted NZ’s global status. Recently, NZ citizens don’t rate our politicians highly, so we don’t punish them for non-performance, as the “adequate performance” bar is now so low.

    I suspect the system is OK, just a significant percentage of the current participants are flawed. It’s hard to change the ratio, as the problem is spread across all political parties and academic and media commentators.

    Also, we seem to get a lot of lawyers and academics into our political, policy-making, and business scenes – not exactly people who will know how to grow the economy or our global role.

    We are not alone though, Free Trade Agreements in Asia are breeding faster than kakapo. Maybe we need to look at balancing our educational streams?.

    The public service changes over the last few decades weren’t rational, they were driven by dogma – such as free market and privatisation will stimulate innovation and investment, and NZ’s position in the world was being held back by the dominant government agencies.

    NZ’s current health, education, telecommunications, infrastructure, and research status are now lagging well behind similar countries, and we can’t make up the gap. We either no longer own the asset, or planning is now in the hands of naive but dogmatic ‘policy advisors”, many of whom lack explicit subject knowledge, but they apparently interviewed well.

    For example, consider Singapore’s A*Star R&D programme. It’s focused, strongly linked to local industries, and industries are prepared to invest in the necessary R&D timelines to bring products to market.

    I don’t think it’s the style of government that’s important, just the ability of all parties to work towards a common goal. India has similar problems to NZ, except much larger. They are gradually overcoming major obstacles, and we could watch what works.

    In the 1970s, I was in Singapore when the goverment noted that many streets were barren wastelands. I was surprised how many people proceeded to dig up a small part of their lamd and plant something. It was about freely participating towards a common goal. In NZ, that concept is much rarer, and basically restricted to a few voluntary do-good organisations. The lack of an economic national identify in NZ is often masked by the media’s attention to the sporting version.

    In NZ, industries regard R and D as a distress purchase ( like petrol – only seek a service station when the fuel tank is near empty ), and management believes it’s more cost-effective to purchase overseas technology and support as the need arises. Public relations managers and compensation will help retain unhappy customers.

    Telecom’s XT network problems are one example of our third world status. The managers, justifably, focus on exceeding their personal performance goals, rather than long term issues. This is a common attitude, not just in NZ.

    My issue is that this government is not performing strategic or long term root cause analyses of issues, but will propose “solutions” that are just as irrational and dogmatic. The recent reviews of CRIs and Ecan are examples. They are not specific root cause analyses, but surveys that summarise responses and then offer recommendations that match the initial carefully-prescribed terms of reference. I can’t see many other countries using such a compromised system to plan.

    I can’t comment on the security services, but perhaps our isolation ( physical and anti-nuclear ) means we don’t value these services because they don’t seem to be relevant anymore?.

    Most days I have meal breaks with enthusiastic and skilled scientists of all ages from private research firms and a CRI, who could help drive innovation – if given the resources and guidance, and also a willing NZ industry and suitable financial environment for investors.

    I’m not pessimistic about the future role of NZ, as we do have an upcoming generation of bright young people in all disciplines, and what we need is for some clear mandates for them. There are obvious issues ( environment, transport of commodities to overseas markets, healthcame etc.) for them to work on.

    Several Asian countries have strong appreciation of critical skills ( education, innovation ), and they will continue to exceed NZ’s economic performance. NZ will become a third world paradise, but that may be superior to other options.

    We fixed the limitation of No 8 wire decades ago, and could do a lot more if our skilled young citizens were given resources and tangible problems to solve.

    All that’s needed are some competent root cause analyses, along with a political will to engage with experts, rather than inexperienced “policy analysts”, cronies, and bean counters.

  5. Ag on March 7th, 2010 at 23:55

    I think that part of the answer is that New Zealand is a deeply anti-intellectual country.

    I’ll qualify that by saying that New Zealanders admire intelligence as long as it is directed to means and not ends. So the makers of clever gadgets are lauded, whilst those who ask the question “are we aiming for the right thing” are hated. The idea that there could be a rational argument about common ends just rubs a lot of people the wrong way.

    It’s no surprise to me that the free market rot is so popular here, since in its purest form it has no place for general or collective ends.

    Despite the fact we are pretty dumb, our popular media isn’t quite as bad as that in Britain or the US. I really don’t know why that is.

  6. Scott on March 8th, 2010 at 08:25

    The reasons why we do so poorly are complex. I think there is certainly something in the New Zealand character that prevents us from being better at commercialising innovation. We’re good at making things, but not so good at commercialising them. Too many people lack basic business and managerial skills, and the people who have these skills are often shunned. NZTE and Tony Smale have done a bit of work in this area, identifying “national culture” characteristics that hold us back.

    This unwillingness to engage experts and general lack of business nous affects our political system. It’s just too hard to explain complex decisions to the public, so politicians instead look for quick fixes that can be easily understood.

    Our system has long been cursed by a lack of long-term thinking. There are signs this is changing, with the introduction of Kiwisaver and the Cullen Fund. And a lot of work has been done over the last year or so in identifying some of the reasons why we do so poorly. In recent months the tax working group, and taskforces looking at capital markets and CRIs, have identified flaws in our system that constrain growth and innovation. The current government may be too timid to implement many of these recommendations, but at least they are being identified and discussed. That is a change at least.

  7. Lew on March 8th, 2010 at 08:33

    Tony Smale’s report, Playing to Our Strengths: Creating Value for Kiwi Firms, is here and it’s worth reading (though very much focused on entrepreneurship, rather than on political/policy matters).

    Scott’s own blog post on the report, at the time of its release (late November 2009), is also worth a look.

    L

  8. Bruce Hamilton on March 8th, 2010 at 09:56

    We’re good at making things, but not so good at commercialising them. Too many people lack basic business and managerial skills, and the people who have these skills are often shunned.

    I don’t think we are any better than many others at inventing or innovating, and the problem is not the lack of business and marketing skills – inventors and scientists don’t need them, they hope the investor will bring them.

    Every research and development funder is overwhelmed by applications from researchers and inventors. However, most of the investments have not resulted in economic benefits, unless keeping researchers off the streets is considered one.

    The two billion dollars a year NZ spends is an awful lot of money for minimal returns, and we should do better at choosing programmes that will enhance NZ.

    It’s the failure of government and companies to understand that overnight success is usually based on somebody recognising years of careful preparation and skill, and investing in that knowledge.

    As anybody who has tried to peddle ideas to NZ companies will know, most of our business graduates are bean counters, not visionaries, and risk is a feared four-letter word.

    They believe that research is a distress purchase, and are not prepared to invest for long-term strategic possibilities. If required, they will purchase the skills from offshore firms.

    In my experience, projects succeed when there is a proactive, committed, visionary champion in a company who can align and drive projects to well-defined markets. It doesn’t matter whether the companies are in NZ, USA, or Asia.

    However, until recently, USA firms recognised strategic advantages accrue from in-house R and D, and didn’t outsource, and assigned champions to drive programmes to market.

    Projects fail when managers start to impose business and marketing graduates who want to enhance their CV, but don’t own the project. Those recruits keep calling meetings and sending out emails seeking basic or useless administrative information. In the past, we encouraged such people to become teachers, but somehow they’ve escaped.

    Our fastest-growing group of entrepeneurs are probably the local criminals, as they aren’t held back by business experts calling for information and meetings.

    In recent months the tax working group, and taskforces looking at capital markets and CRIs, have identified flaws in our system that constrain growth and innovation.

    The CRI taskforce report was an opportunity missed. They suggest bulk-funding several hundred million dollars of tax-payers money to entities who have a less-than-stellar record of producing useful innovative ideas. They received several billion dollars over the last two decades and, despite containing some of the brightest and best scientists in the country, the returns to the country have been paltry.

    Without first addressing the failure of NZ businesses to treat R and D as long-term and strategically important, bulk funding of CRIs is like giving booze to alcoholics to solve the P problem. Bizarre.

  9. Eddie C on March 8th, 2010 at 11:45

    Without first addressing the failure of NZ businesses to treat R and D as long-term and strategically important, bulk funding of CRIs is like giving booze to alcoholics to solve the P problem. Bizarre.

    Or perhaps it’ll actually allow people to do proper science which, depending on the field, doesn’t fit neatly into a schedule demanding updates every 18 months, or you risk losing your contestable funding. The only way proper research, both academic and commercial, is ever going to be done here is if the baseline funding allows people to do their jobs.

    (captcha: the decline – heh)

  10. Scott on March 8th, 2010 at 12:44

    Bruce, the CRI sector does good work, but could be contributing more. I disagree with your view of the CRI Taskforce report, as I think it has identified a number of the reasons why CRIs don’t do better. The changes to the funding regime recommended would provide more stability in the management and operation of CRIs, and would enable scientists to get on with what they do best. The proposed requirement on the part of CRIs to transfer IP into the private sector and to collaborate more with private businesses, should encourage businesses to work more closely with CRIs.

    My comment about lack of nous was not directed towards scientists and inventors within large organisation, such as CRIs, because those organisations have their own commercailisation departments who should be taking care of business. But much innovation happens within small businesses. In a lot of businesses the inventor is also the CEO and marketing manager. It continues to baffle me that many of these people are more than happy to spend tens of thousands on developing new technologies, but balk at spending money on an expert who can help them with their business.

    As anybody who has tried to peddle ideas to NZ companies will know, most of our business graduates are bean counters, not visionaries, and risk is a feared four-letter word.

    Another problem is that a lot of people trying to peddle ideas to NZ companies really don’t know how to go about it. They often approach the problem from the wrong perspective. A common mistake is for inventors pitching ideas to focus on how technically clever something is, rather than on whether there’s a potential market for the product.

  11. […] The limitations of N.8 wire, and how the political/policy talent bench is so thin. […]

  12. Ag on March 8th, 2010 at 15:17

    My point is proven.

    Most people are talking about scientific R&D. This has limited application to the political talent bench, but it is the only sort of intellectual endeavour that many New Zealanders feel comfortable about.

    captcha: hangman in (!)

  13. DeepRed on March 8th, 2010 at 16:36

    We produce no shortage of know-how, but most of it is lost overseas because we can’t, or won’t back it up with the necessary capital. It especially seems to have been a problem since the bankruptcy of DFC in the late 1980s.

    Pegasus Mail creator David Harris summed it up quite nicely in 2002, and it couldn’t be more true now:

    “New Zealand is in real danger of becoming a McDonalds nation – nothing more than a bland plastic replica of suburban USA – simply because we can’t seem to believe that we are as good as we are, or that our own culture and expertise have the value they do. As long as we remain focused on the trap of being “Little America”, we’re ignoring our greatest strengths: our individuality, our number-8-wire approach to finding novel solutions to problems, and an inherent humanity that believes that there might be more or better reasons for doing something than just the bucks in the bank.”

    And notice the resemblance to Germaine Greer’s words about her native Australia a couple of years later?

    “For the vast majority, life in Australia is neither urban nor rural but suburban. The reality is not Uluru or the Sydney Opera House but endless, ever-expanding replications of Ramsay Street that spread out as rapidly as oilstains on water, further and further from the tiny central business districts of the state capitals.

    Each street has a “nature strip”; each bungalow faces the same way, has a backyard and a front garden, all fenced, low at the front, high at the back. Somewhere nearby there’ll be a shopping centre with fast-food outlets and a supermarket.

    If your ambition is to live on Ramsay Street, where nobody has ever been heard to discuss a book or a movie let alone an international event, then Australia may be the place for you. But you need to remember that Australians don’t live in each other’s pockets; Neighbours is a fiction. Most Australians don’t know their next-door neighbours or care what becomes of them. Australians are kind but in a thoroughly British, non-committal kind of way.”

    In short, the biggest threat NZ faces right now isn’t al-Qaeda agents or violence-prone gang prospects, but rather, Kath-and-Kim-ism.

  14. Bruce Hamilton on March 8th, 2010 at 16:58

    Most people are talking about scientific R&D.

    That’s my fault. I used the CRI review as an example of our failure to perform root cause analyses that could discover why we seldom reach our destination, despite spending large sums of money. Others disagree.

    I agree with your point. People understand scientific knowledge has modified their lives ( telecommunications, medicine, understanding our environment, etc. ) and want to learn more.

    It’s a benign curiosity with limited potential for conflict. Politics, and similar topics ( eg religion, social policy ), can be more of a minefield, unless carefully reasoned and qualified.

    I’m sure I’ll be as distracting again – unless I’m banned.

  15. What would Hayek say on March 8th, 2010 at 17:01

    I disagree with many of the commentators, a little with Pablo, but would reinforce most of the points Pablo makes. Content free policy making is a significant concern, but it is not just in New Zealand – the issue was touched on in the following presentation titled Is serious cost benefit analysis dead? The current Australian experience – http://www.treasury.govt.nz/events/guestlectures/ergas-oct09/

    It has also come up in many many many economists blogs and discussions with regards to the US, UK, EU etc. See also the issue in the UK where leading policies advisors in defence and science have been pillored by decision makers. It is instructive to read the report form the better government initiative “http://www.bettergovernmentinitiative.co.uk/da/57700” Most of what is in the report can be heard/seen in NZ/AUS/US.

    This suggests that whilst there maybe some NZ specific issue with governance (in its widest sense – including central and local government) and policy development, our relative performance against other countries may not that bad.

    What I do consider an issue is the framework for decision making, at present the environment at a policy and communications level (by this I mean the media) may not support decision makers to address complex problems. Complex problems need care in their analysis – evidence based in the first instance, otherwise well set out information on the underlying assumptions and theories and which parts have the largest weighting on the preferred option presented.

    Decisions must then be owned by the decision maker to which they can then be held to account on. Now it maybe that we have a problem with how decision makers are held to account – there maybe too many incentives on them to pass on the blame or to just make an instant “content free” decision without considering advice because they have a journalist asking a question and they must give an answer now.

    This suggest to me, that the institutions that develop advice/policy need to lift their game – advice needs to be prepared well in advance and ready so that media is front footed – this is not to spin the information, but to be able to present information that counters the instant prejudice e.g. the “more dog attacks than ever – what are you doing to stop babies dying?” type of situation.

    Those institutions are not just the central and local government agencies but also the civil society groups -from greenpeace through to Fed Farmers and including barnados. And not to forget you an me by engaging with civil discourse and helping propose/shape ideas at a local and/or national level.

    So in summary – content free policy is an issue, but we maybe no different to anyone else, what might ne more interesting is the need for policy advice to evolve to match modern communications (you can blame Blair if you want, but he made the best use of the tools available with no reason to no do so, what we need to do is go one better).

  16. JeffW on March 8th, 2010 at 17:32

    When government takes so much of the national cake and spends it in ways that are not geared to productivity enhancement, what do we expect? Another billion for welfare, no problem; some money to improve infrastructure, no way. Change NZ in ways that will make us richer but less equal? – you must be crazy. How can the present government do anything meaningful when the MSM sees only the negative impact (often short term) and has no interest in the positive (usually/always longer term)?

  17. Alan on March 8th, 2010 at 17:56

    I think when you review the ideology and performance of various Government agencies you might want to consider the international performance of MFAT too and how effective (or ineffective) and independent their foreign policy advice has been over the years. They are, after all, an integral member of the NZ intelligence community that you refer to.

  18. Ag on March 9th, 2010 at 00:38

    You folks are talking about something distinct from what Pablo is talking about.

    This is key:

    the problem is generally seen as a product of the dunmbing down of political and historical knowledge in schools.

    The humanities and social sciences have taken a double hit in New Zealand. First, New Zealanders tend to be uncomfortable with them. Second, they have been undermined by changes in educational practices since the 1970s.

    People don’t understand the latter because they don’t realize that subjects like English and other languages used to be as rigorous or more rigorous than mathematics or science.

    The result is that we don’t have any politician who displays any sort of political imagination.

  19. Lew on March 9th, 2010 at 09:03

    Ag, that’s another thing Pablo mentioned to me when we had lunch — the increased focus on quantitative methods in social science (specifically political science, but it’s across the board), whereas previously there was a stronger focus on judgement and reason. It’s now as if “data” has come to be synonymous with “evidence”, as if evidence can’t come from other sources, and this rules out a very great deal of actual evidence.

    I find it a lot in the research I do. While it’s good to have strong data, and it enforces a sort of discipline and a check on making rash generalisations and assumptions, it also promotes a reluctance to make statements or draw conclusions which don’t show directly in the data — and so the scope of possible enquiry and outcome is bounded by the data as a subset of actuality.

    L

  20. SPC on March 9th, 2010 at 09:16

    Perhaps there is a reason for this, the “data” comes from models that presume that market theory works in practice and ignores reality.

    If you read the Weekend Dom Post there is an article from an Infometrics economist claiming that his model shows 17,500 new jobs by increasing GST to 15% and cutting income tax. If this is true in reality, one wonders why the government would not choose 20% GST and an extra 50,000 jobs?

  21. What would Hayek say on March 9th, 2010 at 10:56

    SPC if you bothered to read the article “http://www.infometrics.co.nz/article.asp?id=4996” you would see that the economist explains why a shift to 15% would result in 17,500extra jobs (changes at the margins) but that further increases may not add more jobs essentially due to no further efficiency gains in the tax system. The argument is that the tax mix matters (i.e. 15% GST accompanied by changes to PAYE/other forms of tax).

    Good of you to provide an example of tribalism over reason.

  22. SPC on March 9th, 2010 at 20:43

    Oh really, the fact is that nearly all the GST increase money is being used to compensate people at the lower and middle income levels (the government has clearly signalled this). These people will simply spend their tax cuts in higher payments, so there are no jobs resulting from the GST change.

    The money to cut the top rates (and company tax?) is said to be coming from property tax changes. Maybe there is increased employment resulting from the possibility of more effective use of resources occuring for this reason, but this has nothing to do with the GST change proposed (given how the government has promised to use the money so gathered) and it’s nonsense to say otherwise.

    Its’ the presumption in the economic analysis (that the GST change will fund the top rate changes/company tax change) which is flawed and your overlooking that is a sign of your own tribalism – pot kettle black.

  23. Ag on March 10th, 2010 at 23:42

    Ag, that’s another thing Pablo mentioned to me when we had lunch — the increased focus on quantitative methods in social science (specifically political science, but it’s across the board), whereas previously there was a stronger focus on judgement and reason. It’s now as if “data” has come to be synonymous with “evidence”, as if evidence can’t come from other sources, and this rules out a very great deal of actual evidence.

    Adam Curtis has been pondering this insanity for some years now, as part of his work on how our societies have become increasingly deranged. My favourite example is the “community vibrancy index” in Britain. Here’s a recent quote from him, which has given me much thought:

    When the neoliberal project first began in 1979 with Mrs Thatcher the idea was that politicians would give away power to the markets and the state would shrink. Over the past 15 years the idea of the “market” has been extended to practically every area of society – education, health, even the arts. But to make this happen those running the neoliberal project had to enforce it by creating vast and intricate performance indicators and feedback systems (which in many cases led to wide scale absurdities). And to do this they used the mighty power of the state.

    The crucial thing is that these systems had practically nothing to do with the original idea of the “market”. They are actually a strange pseudo-scientific piece of planning engineered by politicians and groups of technocrats that borrowed far more from cold-war ideas of feedback engineering and cybernetics than from the risky roller coaster of the market. And to create the systems they had to greatly enlarge the state and the extent of its power, which is the very opposite of the vision of a free-market utopia.

    And when you examine the roots of the neoliberal idea of the market it gets odder still. The ideas that rose up in the post-war years that captured the imagination of people like Mrs Thatcher are actually a very strange mutation of capitalism. If you listen to interviews with Friedrich Hayek he talks far more like a cold war systems engineer discussing information signals and feedback than Adam Smith with his theories of Moral Sentiment.

    While the roots of the technical systems that the banks created to manage risk also lie back in the cybernetic dreams of the 1950s and 60s. Dreams not of progress through the dynamism of markets – but of using computers to create a balanced, almost frozen world. – just like in the Cold War.

    Which raises the question – have we misunderstood what we have lived through since 1979?

    We think it was the resurgence of capitalism. But maybe it was something very different? Something that we can’t see properly because we are still trapped in the economists’ world and their mindset.

    I am putting up a film I made as part of the Pandora’s Box series – because I think it is relevant. The Pandora’s Box series looked at how scientific ideas were taken up and used by politicians and other powerful groups to justify what were essentially political attempts to change and re-engineer the world.

    In this episode I argue that Mrs Thatcher’s monetarist experiment of the 1980s was not just giving power away to the markets. In reality it was a pseudo-scientific attempt to re-engineer Britain that had far more in common with the preceding Old Labour attempts at “scientific” economic planning that it did with any free market theory.

    And I think it would be good to pull back and look at the recent crisis in the same terms.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/adamcurtis/

    I think he’s right.

  24. Stuart Mackey on March 11th, 2010 at 01:06

    . At another time I will reflect on what was specifically said about those people and agencies involved in security policy–that the MoD is less than useless, that the NZDF is a bastion of short-sightedness and political ignorance,
    snip
    .

    On defense and security matters, I think a lot of the issue is, to be honest, a lack of intellectual horsepower within the government, its party and a society that is ignorant of the world around it, and where the money comes from .
    Although I did not agree with Labour’s policy, I felt that it proceeded from false, idealogical, premises, they at least gave direction to the armed forces and a set of planning tools to get there. National seems to have adopted most of this, but without thought, because, I think, they don’t have any viable alternatives. They feel its simply too hard to argue, and I think the armed forces fall into the same boat.

    Perhaps our lack of strategic perspective is because we have simply never developed it? because it was always provided for us by the British, certainly we don’t seem to have inherited much for having Admiral Jellicoe as GG!

    A lot of armed forces types I have spoken to about lack of equipment and how that relates to wider strategic issues, repeat ad-nauseum a stock phrase along the lines of ‘our people are really professional, we achieve the same with less, and we are better than the Yanks’. Well maybe so, but Wellington’s peninsula army was very professional but I still reckon that Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia would belt the Duke of Boots silly for no other reason than Lee was an excellent General as well, but he had rifles, not muskets, and could translate tactical success to operational and strategic victory as well. NZ cannot see beyond a single issue.

    We have adopted a line of thought that success in one area is a panacea for failures elseware, to the extent that it removes those failures , willful self delusion at its finest, and we don’t want to shake it.

    We need to see that, for the purposes of defense and security that there is a world beyond the South Pacific that we depend upon for our living, and we ignore it at our peril.

    I don’t know how to shake MOD’s shortsightedness or Nationals intellectual laziness, perhaps we need a scare, a big one, to wake us up. Rainbow warrior didn’t do it, perhaps if the nuclear armed, dictator run, Chinese do get their big deck carriers and go for a cruise in the South Pacific, that might? I doubt it, Wayne Mapp does not see them as a threat, but maybe the public will take notice like they did of the Japanese a long time ago?

  25. Pablo on March 12th, 2010 at 08:22

    Thanks Stuart, for joining the conversation. i will post more on this once I stop traveling. It was unsettling to hear the near unanimous views that, in spite of the good work performed at the tactical level, the NZ military-security apparatus suffers from a lack of vision and strategic depth.

    Thanks also to everyone for the interesting comments. The post was more about the failures of political leadership, but the subsequent discussion appears to reveal that the myopia syndrome apparently extends to all quarters of NZ society–something that I suspected when I used the N.8 wire metaphor (and yes, I am aware that N.8 has been replaced as the fencing wire of choice).

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