In Praise of changing your mind
by Mike Moore
I watched an excellent movie on Ché Guevara, Castro’s comrade and organiser during Cuba’s revolutionary struggle. At the time I like to think I would have first supported the trade unions in their strike against the Cuban dictator, that bastard Batista. When strikes and democratic action was brutally suppressed, I would have supported Castro. But within a few years the authoritarian tendencies of Castro would have repelled most free-thinkers. I confess that, as a young man, I thought Mugabe was a great freedom fighter. But it’s one thing to support Mugabe or Castro in the 1960’s, and quite another in the 1980’s. Now I carry a Zimbabwe $100 billion note in my wallet because, better than any speech I can give or book I can write, this explains how, when politicians go wrong, everything collapses. No need for a speech on economics – everyone gets it.
I was a protectionist, an economic nationalist, until the late 1970’s when, after studying our country’s negotiations for closer economic relations with Australia, I changed my mind and thought the NZ National Party was correct but too cautious. Pragmatism is not the opposite of principles in politics. What is right for one historic period or set of conditions, may not be right for different situations. This is not to say there are not core principles, those objectives are how to raise living standards, look after people, our physical, social and cultural environment, but how to influence these outcomes, the tools we can use, will change.
In the tough, uncertain times, spending is in vogue again as are deficits, and we’ll be borrowing big time. Watch for some lazy opportunistic expenditure that will be wasted. However, in a few years, governments will have to wean the economy off the taxpayer teat and show some discipline. How big the deficits will be will depend on the quality of expenditure and how quickly confidence returns to the markets. No country, not even the U.S., can solve this crisis on its own. That we are all each other’s customers means our success is based on others. A healthy thing. De-globalisation and deflation are current threats, but help is on the way. We have elections, the political market works too.
Mike Moore is the former Director General of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and former prime minister, foreign minister, trade minister and deputy finance minister for New Zealand. He was a GLF Member before becoming a Patron of GLF in 2009.