Jim Bolger’s Decent Society


Image from: http://www.livestrong.com/article/391288-nutritional-values-of-a-slice-of-cherry-pie

Jim Bolger, early in his interview with Guyon Espiner in the The Ninth Floor series on five Prime Ministers, stated that New Zealanders believe more in fairness whereas North Americans believes more in  freedom.

As a result of listening to the interview, I have to reassess my ideas of Jim Bolger, a man I absolutely did not support when he was Prime Minister.  I have to allow that Jim Bolger and his government set in motion some very good things – they were the first to honour the Treaty of Waitangi and they ushered in proportional representation.  However, they also set in motion some very bad things as well.  My dislike was related to Bolger’s disempowerment of the union movement and for his right wing fiscal policy as seen in Ruth Richardson’s Mother of All Budgets.  The effects of both are still in play today, the rich being so much richer and the poor being so much poorer.  We always knew and said so, Jim, that trickle down economics could never work!

Yet listening to Guyon’s interview of Bolger, I gained new found respect for the man.  He admitted that these initiatives have been taken too far.  He sought a decent society where advantage was fairly spread.  The current world, he says, is neither decent nor fair.

  • Neo-liberalism has failed;
  • Unions should have a much stronger voice;
  • Treaty of Waitangi settlements may not be full and final after all; and
  • Maori language tuition should be compulsory in primary schools.

These are largely Green Party – Labour sentiments, with which I totally agree.  I also agree with Mr Bolger on his more centre-right attitude towards immigration.  He speaks loud and clear in admiration and favour of refugees and immigrants, who, like our forbears, courageously leave all that is familiar to build a better life for their families.  He believes that immigration provides good outcomes for our society.  He sees the sentiments behind Brexit and Trumpery as pure racism akin to that of Hitler.

Yet you, Mr Bolger, and we are to blame.  We have allowed the rich to get richer and we have marginalised the poor, the people who feel they don’t belong and haven’t been heard, who haven’t had the choices that education affords.  The ultimate indication of our wrong doing, says Bolger, is that we are building more prisons than schools.  So now the disadvantaged are speaking up, loud and clear.  But instead of blaming those who fleece them, they are blaming the immigrant.

Fairness and education.  So important.

Fairness.  In his 2013 Democracy Journal article entitled Of Freedom and Fairness, Jonathan Haidt says there are three types of fairness, procedural fairness, distributive fairness, and fairness of opportunity.  Quoting Obama’s 2012 State of the Nation address, he states:

“We can restore an economy where everyone gets a fair shot, and everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules.” The second phrase (“fair share”) is a clear plea for fairness as proportionality, and the third phrase (“same set of rules”) is a clear plea for procedural fairness. But what should we make of that first phrase, “everyone gets a fair shot”? What exactly is a fair shot?”

He goes on to say that both sides of the political spectrum see having a fair shot in terms of liberty.  The right has a negative view of liberty – the government leaving you alone to go about your business.  The left has a positive view of liberty – the ability to make choices and fulfill your potential because you have the power and resources to do so, the welfare state being a fine example of this.  I think, Mr Bolger, that, while you dallied with the former, in the end, you prefer the latter.

So how do we put it right?  I agree with scientist, Nicola Gaston, who, in a NZHerald interview plumped for lifelong education:

“I’d like to see far less focus on the utilitarian value of education for students coming straight out of school, who haven’t even had the opportunity to vote yet, let alone figure out what they want to do with the rest of their lives. If we actually value knowledge in New Zealand, we should put our money where our mouths are, and enable everyone to participate in learning as a life-long activity.”

Because education has become too utilitarian and too expensive, we have too many who are easily swayed by extreme right wing fat cats, obscenely wealthy because they took more than their fair share (e.g. Trump and his tax evasion).  Those swayed have been hoodwinked by the fat cats into believing that their social ills are because of the immigrants, not because of the fat cats!

Which brings me to Saturday’s Earth Day March for Science.  As reported in the New Zealand Herald, “Kiwi scientists are set to take to the streets in solidarity with US colleagues protesting against the policies of President Donald Trump – while also calling attention to concerns facing the sector at home.”  These include the government’s disregard for science that draws attention to water issues related to over-dairying, our society’s anti-immigration sentiments and other issues related to diversity and equality which are based on racism and ignorance, and the increase in anti-intellectualism in general which many blame on infotainment and fear-mongering through social media.

A fair and decent society, as Mr Bolger says, depends on each citizen feasting on a good slice of the education pie.

So thank you, Guyon Espiner, for another excellent interview of a Prime Minister, and for stimulating so much end-of-week thinking.


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