Jim Bolger’s Decent Society

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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.

“What people want…

…is a job, someone to love, somewhere to live, and something to hope for. ” Norman Kirk, Labour Prime Minister of New Zealand, 1972-1974.  Reminds me of the Bible verse learned long ago from Hebrews 11:1: Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

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My substance and evidence of hope.  A job.  Teaching.  I hoped for this from the time of was about eight years old.  Someone to love and to be loved.  So lucky to have such a supportive husband and children of whom I am so proud.  Somewhere to live.  I am grateful to live in a beautiful land, and in a special little community beside the sea where I plan to retire.  Something to hope for: being useful in the now and in the future.  That part is a little more nebulous because who knows what the future holds.  All we can do is know the one who holds the future and dare to dream and to make the best possible choices and to enjoy the ride.  But how lucky we are to have choices, to have something to believe in, to have hope.

“What people want is a job, someone to love, somewhere to live, and something to hope for. ” These words were raised in the second episode of The Ninth Floor, when Guyon Espiner was interviewing Mike Moore, Labour Member of Parliament, Deputy Prime Minister and Prime Minister between 1972 and 1999, who went on to become Director General of the World Trade Organisation.  To be WTO chair and a Trade Union member at the same time shows the measure of the man and his Labour dreams of which he has never let go.

The equally good first episode in The Ninth Floor series interviewed Sir Geoffrey Palmer (MP, DP and PM between 1979 and 1990), who has since returned to Academia.  Where Moore seemed to have led from the heart, Palmer seemed to have led from the head.   Both men, however, pulled in the same direction.

Further episodes in the series will interview Jim Bolger (PM 1990-1997), who went on to become Ambassador to the USA and chaired Kiwibank and Kiwirail, Dame Jenny Shipley (PM 1997-1999), who went on to become an independent director and speaker, and Helen Clark (PM 1999-2008), who has been the Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme from 2009 to 2017.

The series, The Nonth Floor is, in my opinion, excellent journalism on behalf of the team led by executive producer, Tim Watkin, and interviewer, Guyon Espiner.  I am looking forward to the next three interviews.  A pity John Key has so far declined.  I’d like to hear his thoughts also.

We need more of such journalism instead of the the usual trashy offerings that swing between mindless infotainment and belligerent confrontationalism and that rob us of our dignity and hope, instead playing on such emotions as jealousy, Schadenfreude, unhealthy obsession and embarrassment.  What irritates me is that those who create such news programmes think these are what we, the people, want.  They assume we all belong to the great unwashed uneducated, and instead of inspiring us they attempt to entice us with unhealthy intrigues and celebrity or else bully us with shame and fear.  They could inspire us with hope and integrity to think and to reason.

What the media so frequently offers is certainly not what this person wants!  I’m with Norman Kirk – I want a job, someone to love, somewhere to live, and something to hope for.  The media has a role to play here, as do politicians.  That’s why The Ninth Floor is so good.  No tacky infotainment or unhealthy sensationalism. It gives us hope in our future as we explore our past.

Thank you to the team of The Ninth Floor for honouring our former Prime Ministers, who gave their all to provide us with the tangible substance of things hoped for: jobs, families, homes, a future.  The current Prime Minister, Bill English, despite being a National Party parliamentarian, he also gives me hope.  His web site says that he is “focused on tackling New Zealand’s toughest social problems, including inequality, welfare dependence and the educational under achievement of Maori and Pasifika children, aiming to give all New Zealanders the best chance of succeeding.”  That sounds like Labour to me.  That gives me plenty to hope for.

Kindness

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On October 14th, 2016, Helen Kelly, trade unionist extraordinaire, died after a courageous and very public battle with cancer.

The news kept reiterating the fact that she had been a fighter for workers’ rights all her life and had been born into a family who fought for workers’ rights but what I shall remember of Helen’s legacy are her words in the final television interview she gave.

Helen was asked about the very acrimonious Clinton and Trump US presidential campaign. She explained that it wasn’t only his politics that caused her to dislike Trump so much, it was his unkindness. He is just so unkind, she said. She hoped she wasn’t too naive in this sentiment, but she just wanted people to be kind.

Synonyms for kind include friendly, generous, considerate, thoughtful, patient. Galatians 5:22 calls kindness a fruit of the Holy Spirit. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness.” Colossians 3:12 calls kindness one of the features of love. “Love is patient, love is kind.” Or as Laurence Veinott (2000) wrote: “Kindness is love’s conduct. It’s how love behaves.”

Kindness is not some soppy sentiment, it is a call to action.

Back to Helen Kelly. She was no soppy, shrinking violet. She stood up out of kindness to fight  for others who were being treated unfairly. She showed a gutsy kind of kindness that often went against the flow of those around her and that often earned her truckloads of unkind words and deeds. Her kind of kindness had backbone.

So what I will remember of Helen Kelly is not so much her fights but the kindness that led to her good deeds and which in turn often led her into battle for others.

29th February – Popping the Question

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I can’t let a month go by without a blog post and today, a date that only comes around once every four years, seems a good day to take the leap.  After all, I can’t miss out again…  Due to overbearing cloudy skies, I didn’t get to experience the early morning, once in ten years alignment of the five planets, so this auspicious event, Leap Day, 2016, will have to do.

So what is the question I want to pop on this day when women are allowed to pop the question?  Pop is a word that implies fizz, champagne, celebration, so it needs to be a positive question.  I will therefore avoid  questions about Donald Trump and what Americans are thinking, or about my failure to buy a house in Auckland to capitalise on sizeable resale profits, or about inconsiderate neighbours whose drunken noise still continues at 1pm on Monday mornings and whose dog poops regularly on our lawn.

Instead I will ask about the wonderful luck of being born in New Zealand, this beautiful island nation, surrounded by oceans, steeped in modern-day peace and prosperity, where the birds sing at dawn, where even the poor are rich by world standards, and where crowd funding allows ordinary citizens to band together to buy a beach.  Yes, we bought a beach!  I haven’t felt so excited about anything since eight years ago when I danced around our Seattle lounge with my grandson because Obama became President.

In the late 1980s, I had the wonderful privilege of tramping the coastal walk in the Abel Tasman National Park and wading across the Awaroa inlet at low tide with four other teachers and thirty fourteen year olds on an end of year Wider Living Week excursion. We were exhausted after carrying our tents and food on our backs for four days but in awe of the beauty that surrounded us we straggled across that magnificent bay.  So when two ordinary unsophisticated Christchurch blokes saw that the up-till-then privately owned stretch of sand was up for sale, they put in place a plan to ensure continued access to foreshore and seabed, a right that New Zealanders prize alongside being clean and green and anti-nuclear.  In just three weeks, their project captured the imagination of this tiny South Pacific nation and, with a little help from the Joyce Fisher Foundation and the Conservation Minister, Maggie Barry, we won the auction.

Even if I never get to wade across that remote stretch of paradise again, it was wonderfully exciting being one of the 39,249 kiwis who took the leap, gave their mites and purchased this nearly three million dollar patch in paradise.  And to crown it all, it was out from underneath the noses of powerful international corporates.  Power to the poeple!  Ka pai, Ngati Aotearoa!!!