Source: ACT Party
The BCS Prime Minister
Jacinda Ardern studied a Bachelor of Communication Studies at Waikato University, where students learn not to change how things are but how people see them. She became Prime Minister by polling 37 per cent with the exact same policies that Andrew Little polled 24 per cent. All of her experience tells her good communications are more important than good policy.
Ardern’s speech this weekend was a master class in communications. She walked out onto the stage with a cheek-mounted microphone, TED-talk style, and spoke of a compassionate government in a country to be proud of. It was so bland John Key could have given a similar speech with the same policies and more dad jokes, but Ardern is an even better communicator than Key.
What Did She Say?
Ardern wants a growing economy that is working for all of us, wellbeing for New Zealanders and their families, and a country we can be proud of. No doubt all of these outcomes test well in focus groups, but how will they be achieved? This could be good news, perhaps the Government’s swarm of working groups are not groundwork for radical transformation, just part of a giant marketing exercise?
How to Tell if a Policy is Absurd
If the opposite of a policy sounds absurd, then the policy is absurd. Who would campaign for a shrinking economy that doesn’t work, misery for New Zealanders and their families, and a country we should be ashamed of on the global stage? The opposite of ACT’s policies are more state control in education, heavier handed regulation of the economy, higher levels of taxation and Government expenditure, and more Government ownership. All inferior opposites of ACT’s actual policies, but not absurd.
If You Don’t Use Political Power…
…You lose it. Ardern has enormous power. As the Prime Minister, any speech she gives is news. People expect that the Prime Minister will say something meaningful that affects their lives. We wonder how many content-free speeches a Prime Minister can give before people stop listening?
What She Should Have Said
We are in big trouble. Poor people around the world keep entering the global economy, driving down the price of low skilled labour. The 21st century will be the greatest yet if you are educated, but if you are unskilled you are toast. Unfortunately, our education system churns out one-in-five kids illiterate and innumerate. Our approach to welfare has one-in-eight kids born onto a benefit. Productivity growth across the economy is anaemic. If we carry on like this we will become a two-speed society, then a divided one, then worse.
The True State of the State in New Zealand
Why does the New Zealand Government own power companies, an airline, a mail business, and a television station that makes reality TV? How has it come to have over half of New Zealanders on some form of government benefit? How can it take longer to get permission for a building than to actually build it? If the state is in education to level the playing field, why do decile one schools get almost no students into Engineering, Law, and Medicine?
What to Do?
Rather than continuing the style and policy of the Clark-Key era, Ardern could use her communication skills to sell something that’s actually challenging to sell, real reform. A good outline of what she could do is still contained in the 2025 Taskforce reports. No Government can move New Zealand closer to major markets, significantly increase the population, or make us smarter. Any Government can choose to rationalise its own activities so that it is efficient, not holding the country back.
Starting from First Principles
If we started again without the souvenirs of decades of political horse trading, what would Government own, spend money on, and regulate? Most of the SOE’s would be gone. The Government would subsidise education and regulate minimum standards, like it does with Early Childhood Education, but it would not otherwise be involved in schools. There would be income insurance with strict obligations, but accommodation supplements and working for families would be gone. Students would again borrow money with interest.
Something Truly Bold
Rebuilding Government from the ground up, keeping only the activities that really can’t be performed any other way would be bold. Real reform really does require good communications. It would also make sure the poorest New Zealanders have a shot at life in the 21st century and thus would achieve Ardern’s stated goals. It does seem unlikely though, and National who dismissed the 2025 taskforce out of hand are no better. That’s why New Zealand needs ACT.