World on fire

Last month, former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper visited Auckland and painted a picture of a world on fire. Across Europe ethno-nationalist parties are winning 10 to 20 per cent of the vote. Even in Germany, the black-garbed Alternative for Germany won 15 per cent, the kind of result that country has been trying not to repeat for three generations. France is a basket case in nearly every respect except the quality of wine and cheese, and Britain is in a state of constitutional chaos. Switching channels between CNN and Fox is like watching two different political dramas about two completely different countries. The Ukrainians got so fatigued with their politicians they just elected an actor who played a fictional President in a TV drama as their real President!

It’s the free market’s fault, apparently

Harper was a classic conservative leader who campaigned from the right then governed from the left. The Conservatives riddled the tax code with exemptions depending on who’s vote they needed, ran economic growth programs that would embarrass Shane Jones, and failed to take on any of the bêtes noires of Canadian politics such as their refusal to buy New Zealand dairy. Predictably, he thinks the world is on fire because free trade and free markets have the working classes feeling left out. He couldn’t be more wrong.

Economic Freedom of the World

Since 1974, at the instigation of Milton Friedman, Vancouver’s Fraser Institute has been ranking countries according to their economic freedom. The criteria are free trade, low taxes and government spending, private property rights, and flexible labour markets. Most years, God’s Own Country comes in a respectable third with Hong Kong number one, Singapore number two, and a combination of Switzerland, Chile, Australia, the UK, Canada, Estonia (a fascinating free market success story) and Denmark (not all Scandinavians are socialist) making up the top ten. America fell out of the top ten in the Obama era.

Free market countries

A look at the top five shows you the freest, most diverse, tolerant countries that have ever existed. Mt Roskill Grammar famously has pupils speaking 60 languages, and yet New Zealand is one of the most peaceful countries on earth. The same can be said of most of the top ten including Harper’s own country. The notable exception is the UK, which is a top ten free market country in turmoil, but their problems are caused by getting into bed with the communists from across the Channel.

Socialist countries

On the other hand, the socialists countries are in all manner of trouble. France ranks 57th for free markets. Their labour laws are so absurd that 21 per cent of their youth are unemployed. They have little in the way of hope and opportunity, and they’re angry. The same can be said for France’s former colonies in North Africa, which have 1950s policies for shop opening hours, trade and employment law. No wonder they are in chaos.

Meanwhile in New Zealand

We enjoy the fruits of a free and tolerant society. We believe New Zealanders have created the greatest society that’s ever existed anywhere, but we can’t afford to be complacent. We have an education system that doesn’t provide opportunity but spits kids out at the same level of proficiency as their parents. We’ve land use laws that have created the most expensive housing in the world despite the country being practically uninhabited. Productivity growth has all but stopped. What is our Government doing?

What it could do

Productivity matters. It’s the difference between New Zealand in 1913 where the average person died at 45 and the country we have today. To become wealthier, we need to produce more valuable goods and services each hour by combining better ideas, more investment, and more skilful workers. But productivity is flatlining. The Government has no plan to turn it around. If the Prime Minister was serious about being kind and truly committed to eliminating child poverty, she would consider the evidence that productivity and incomes are higher, and poor children fewer, in countries that have free market policies. Yet she rejects that evidence. She says capitalism has failed. But this is a failure of logic on her part. Children are not in poverty because of capitalism, but despite it. ACT Leader David Seymour explains here.

We wish we were making this up

The current Government has plans to make the tax system more complex, destroy the governance arrangements of the most successful schools in the world, crowd out the private sector from the housing market, reintroduce failed R&D tax credits that were scrapped a decade ago, and establish so called hate speech laws where some Government department decides what is legitimate political expression and what is ‘hate speech’.

The upshot

As of right now, ACT has active campaigns to oppose the capital gains tax and maintain the independence of community-governed schools. We have spoken up for the sovereignty of our Parliament when the Prime Minister tried to turn it into a rubber stamp for theatrical lawmaking. We are campaigning to give people choice over their death if they suffer at the end of their life. We will vigorously oppose any attempt to curtail free speech. In June, we will relaunch an even more focused ACT with a view to not only winning power in 2020 but pushing the political discourse back to freedom. As always, we ask for your help in this task.