Neo-liberal economic reform: New Zealand (1984-)
Dominant economic thinking of the 20thCentury
As depicted in the narrative of the ‘Commanding Heights’ TV doumentary series, the 20thCentury can be economically characterised by (i) globalisation, (ii) a swing towards scienific socialism (i.e. the welfare state) during the golden years following World War II (1945-) and (iii) a violent swing back towards globalisation as part of what we now call the neo-liberal revolution. 34-years ago, New Zealand became one of the first countries in the world to dismantle its welfare state and adopt neo-liberal ideology as part of sweeping and painful economic reforms that were initiated by the fourth Labour government (1984-1990) under Prime Minister David Lange.
The neo-liberal transformation of New Zealand society
Neo-liberalism is a modern version of economic thinking that dates all the way back to the Scottish moral philosopher, economist and author ‘Adam Smith’ who argued that society was best organised by free markets with as little government intervention as possible. Following the lead of President Ronald Reagan (1981-1989) in the United States of America, Prime Minister Marget Thatcher (1979-1990) and the 4thNew Zealand labour government (1984-1990), economic neo-libaralism (now generally referred to as the ‘neo-liberal dominant market economic model’) has rapidly become the dominant and preferred global economic model of our time.
An important part of our modern economic identity
The sweeping economic reforms that transformed New Zealand society into one of the world’s first neo-liberal economies, left a trail of financial, social, ecological and cultural devastation behind it. In 2019, our current economic identity is inextricably connected with the neo-liberal reforms of the mid 1980s. Thus, to understand the root causes of the poverty and inequality that is still the lot of many contemporary Māori communities, a study and understanding of this turbulent period in our economic history is essential. Thankfully, this influential period of our economic history as a nation has been well-studied, documented and narrated.
Links to online digital resources
A good place to start exploring this history is the TV documentary ‘Someone Else’s Country’. Written and directed by one of New Zealand’s most respected film-makers (i.e. Alister Barry), this film draws extensively on archival flim footage, includes reflective interviews with key politians of the time and provides an easy-to-understand narration of key events.
TV documentary: Someone Else’s Country