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Economist Brian Easton considers whether economist Rodd Carr's approach to climate change will have echoes from Carr's work in proposed Rogernomics health system reforms in the 1980s

Economist Brian Easton considers whether economist Rodd Carr's approach to climate change will have echoes from Carr's work in proposed Rogernomics health system reforms in the 1980s

This is a re-post of an article originally published on pundit.co.nz. It is here with permission.


Does it make sense to compare our climate change adaptation with Rogernomics?

(There is nothing in this column that questions the notion that global warming presents a serious challenge which will require considerable adaptation.)

Rod Carr, the chair of the Climate Change Commission, said that the shifts required to run our economy without fossil fuels will make the economic changes of the late 1980s ‘look like a trial period’.

I am not sure what part of Rogernomics Carr has in mind. Does he mean that the economy will stagnate for longer than the seven years it did then, creating record postwar unemployment, while the bottom 30 percent will experience major reductions in their living standards for even more than the twenty years that happened between 1984 and 2004.

Meanwhile, under Rogernomics the living standards at the top were protected and enhanced, funded by higher taxes and reductions in services and benefits to the bottom 90 percent, with a consequent spectacular increase in income inequality. Are they going to again  protect the rich at the expense of the rest of us?

Recall the attack on the welfare state with the marked reduction of its generosity and scope. Is another such attack on the agenda?

A particularly viscous assault was on the nation’s health system, with a proposed redisorganisation which would have commercialised the system towards an idealised version of the US one.

The attack begins with the report of the 1988 Gibbs Task Force (Unshackling the Hospitals). In 1990, the incoming Minister of Health (Simon Upton, currently the Commissioner for the Environment) appointed a Ministerial Committee on the Funding and Provision of Health Services which led to the infamous Green and White Paper Your Health & the Public Health: A Statement of Government Health Policy. (It was part green because even the National Cabinet could not stomach some of its more outrageous proposals.) And so we marched forward to an expensive redisorganisation of the health system resulting in more patient suffering and death. It almost completely failed.

The Ministerial Committee was chaired by Rod Carr, who told us then that there would be a ’meltdown’ if its recommendations were not implemented. They were not and the health system has not melted down. In fact it has done pretty well given the repressed public funding (which was an underlying feature of the Gibbs and Carr reports).

If there was a meltdown, it was support for the National Government which lost a quarter of its voters between 1990 and 1993. National’s prime minister, Jim Bolger, attributed the loss to the public’s reaction to the health redisorganisation – sometimes the public shows more wisdom than the politicians. (In fact National would have lost the 1993 election except Labour and the left was even more disorganised.) Perhaps that is what Carr has in mind for the climate change recommendations – the decimation of the Green Party.

What strikes one about the health redisorganisation is that once the momentum for commercialisation got underway, it was difficult to stop – even by the prime minister. The neoliberal ideologues led it, making outrageous claims detached from reality. But they convinced the ignorant, who dutifully did what they were told – and were well paid for their collaboration.

The ignorance was widespread. For instance, one of the lead administrators confused intensive care units with postoperative recovery units. (We may be grateful he had gone by the time of the Covid Crisis.) Some of the papers produced by the National Interim Provider Board, which was driving the changes, would have been graded a C had they been submitted for academic assessment. The NIPB was learning while it was wrecking the system.

Not that they consulted their betters. By coincidence, a number of internationally accliamed health economists were coming through the country at the time. (One was Alan Maynard who introduced the invaluable term ‘redisorganisation’). They were appalled by what was going on, but were ignored rather than approached. The momentum said that the implementers may not have know what they were doing but they were strongly committed to doing it.

A feature of the Rogernomes is that they rarely go back over the period. No doubt they would have, had they succeeded but they prefer to forget the failure. A nice illustration was that when a seminar was held on the health system changes few of of those who drove it turned up; the few that did talked about anything except what happened or their role.

The approach now seems to be to trivialise the downside of what happened under Rogernomics by comparing it with the prospects of adapting to climate change.

Mind you, we could repeat the farce by depending on  a neoliberal framework – which is typically to reduce the state and enhance the power of the rich – to implement the transition. One of the reasons that deniers of anthropogenic global warming tend to be at the neoliberal end of the political spectrum is they have not worked out how to apply their policy directions to climate change. What we can be sure of is that the more neoliberals involved, the bigger the foul up will be.

What may make the difference is that Rogernomics was done in a hurry. Roger Douglas would talk about getting it over in three or six years and that he would rather lose the next election than deviate from his policies. This time we are talking of a thirty year horizon – that is ten elections to lose. If they mismanage the carbon-emission transition in the way the Rogernomes did, the government will lose every one until it gets on a saner course.

There is an interesting parallel between Rogernomics and climate change adaptation. In each case we had failed to take sensible measures for decades earlier (market liberalisation in one case, reducing carbon emissions in the other). It is evident that the world should have been doing something since, say, the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (a.k.a. the Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit) in 1992. New Zealand also has lagged, so we have a lot of catching up to do. But that is not a case for doing it badly powered by hysterical slogans and the forgetting of history.


Brian Easton, an independent scholar, is an economist, social statistician, public policy analyst and historian. He was the Listener economic columnist from 1978 to 2014. This is a re-post of an article originally published on pundit.co.nz. It is here with permission.

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62 Comments

Great article.

I totally agree with you Kate - thankfully there are still people around who can pull the veil aside to expose the costs and consequences of nonsense proposals.

It may be 'great' in terms of rubbishing neoliberalism.

But in terms of addressing energy and the Limits to Growth, I give it a Fail.

Associating Carr with his prior bent, is interesting but the fellow-s offspring got to him and he's had a partial epithany. How partial, is the question.

"...... the implementers may not have known what they were doing but they were strongly committed to doing it." They who fail to learn from the mistakes of the past are condemned to repeat them.

Learning that Carr was instrumental in the so-called "Health Reforms" is concerning. The only thing that got reformed for the better was a bunch of admin positions to a higher salary bracket. Isn't Hipkins talking about rolling the DHBs into a more centralised model, due to waste and excessive costs? Hope it happens. Seems Carr's "experiment" was a failure - doesn't bode well for his current offering

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It is all being done with the best of intent but unless we address the elephant in the room, it is all bollocks and a bit of a waste of time. Our population needs to reduce if we want to make any meaningful head way on global warming and most of the other environmental disasters that the world faces. Pointless increasing our carbon efficiency by 30% if we also increase our population by 30% also.

What assumptions have been made in the analysis about NZ population? Has anyone seen them? A crucial bit of information. I'm part way through reading the report and supporting documents but have not seen them yet. So Chris-M, reduce the population but from what? Stable from here? same rate of growth as the last 10years? And some sensitivity analysis. God forbid, It might even start a national discussion on an 'optimal' population for NZ.

Even if we do reduce our population we will mostly just be moving the problem elsewhere. People still have to live somewhere. So the real answer is that we gave to reduce the global population, but that is going to be tricky and have all sorts of unintended consequences. There's no easy way out of this mess we created...

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Accepting other countries over population simply enables them to continue over populating and taking no responsibility for the problem that they are creating.

Nope. Many, if they stayed in their home country would be on a bicycle rather than driving a car here.

True for some certainly, but there are very few places where people live a truly "sustainable" life, and they're probably not people who emigrate to NZ.

Population is not the problem. Resource consumption is.

I don't think it's an either/or situation. Both matter

But simply calling it as a population problem and then upping our consumption just calls us out for the obese slobs we are.

You expect a larger population to consume less?

I expect to survive much longer consuming less regardless of population is a necessity.

Well you'll be wasting your time, if population keeps increasing on a world of depleting resources.

Great conversation; both of you are right, but pt08 is righter.

Yes, consumption/depletion/waste is all Mother Nature counts. But if you want to indulge in them at even a fraction of the rate we do now, per head, then you need a lot less heads.

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The vast 188 page Climate Change Commission Summary Report is completely silent on the issue of NZ population growth. Equally silent on immigration - check the Natural population growth from NZ Stats
https://twitter.com/robyn_red_brest/status/1357511702963654656

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Really, I thought I was just missing it. Can the Climate Change Commission Summary Report have any credibility if those key assumptions are not up front and explicit?

I think the report is more designed to advertise NZ as an investment space for the ETS, rather than a practical street level report for the likes of you and me. We're just along for the ride

Dark art of Deception at its worst?
Strewth - the main report runs to over 600 pages - how much did the exercise cost

Just government making it up as they go along, sold abusiness strategy disguised as a feel good story to save us from our sins. Eco-Catholicism

The disclaimer at the beginning is very revealing.

Well, as our emissions contribution is 0.7%, I guess we can sit in the back row and watch...
But referencing our savings to 2005 instead of 1990 is a bit duplicious.
The Aussies did the same but it smacks of underarm bowling.

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I'm all for swimmable rivers, good surge systems, clean energy, planting trees, responsible farming, even some pest-control. But everything else is Climate Extremism - the idea of telling cows not to fart, banning gas, emission trading schemes and signing up to vague international agreements - DISGUSTING~!!

Please DO NOT push your Climate Extremism/Religion on others. It's concerning these nut-jobs have gained so much power. Not to worry, society will turn on them soon enough. It will be a good day.

Not big on science are we Zack. The real extremists are the morons that can't accept shifting the entire planets energy balance, is ultimately a civilisational ending activity. You are looking in the wrong place for your"extremists"!

"The real extremists are the morons that can't accept shifting the entire planets energy balance, is ultimately a civilisational ending activity."

1. The above statement doesn't even make sense if your religion is Climate Change.
2. The prophecies of your religious order have failed to come true hundreds of times. In times gone by false prophets were put to death, now they receive government grants.
3. I believe in taking care of the planet, not authoritarian enforcement of ANY religion.

I believe in freedom of religion, if you want to worship nature/Gaea - that's fine. You should be free to fellowship with other believers too. However, please take your holy war somewhere else.

Separation of Church and State please - Thank You.

I suspect the Covid emergency has just been an exercise to condition us to give up our freedom to fight climate change. This article confirms my fears:

Sacrificing freedom for the environment? German MP suggests restrictions ‘similar’ to Covid-19 lockdowns to fight climate change

"I suspect the Covid emergency has just been an exercise to condition us to give up our freedom to fight climate change" Yeah, probably not. Ultimately if the bulk of the population refuse to take responsibility for emissions, freedoms will be lost. Like the freedom to eat! https://theconversation.com/climate-change-is-hitting-african-farmers-th...

They are Climatic Babel Builders for sure.

"The above statement doesn't even make sense if your religion is Climate Change." That's probably one of the reasons you don't know what you're talking about. Scientifically illiterate! :-)
"According to the study, the 2019 ocean temperature is about 0.075 degrees Celsius above the 1981-2010 average. To reach this temperature, the ocean would have taken in 228,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 (228 Sextillion) Joules of heat. (Or, 5 Hiroshima bombs/second)" http://english.iap.cas.cn/RE/202001/t20200114_229373.html

"Separation of Church and State please - Thank You." I'll just settle for separation of anti science cranks from any position of influence.

A reference to one of your Holy Texts no doubt. I'm already spiritually accounted for, thank you anyway Sir.

Absorbed too much QAnon pollution it seems? It's a good thing the changing climate is observable to anyone drawing breath. It means action will be taken, although too late of course. Denial cultists, such as yourself, will no doubt still be wedded to their weird beliefs, however physics doesn't actually care. :-)

Persecution: when someone (inside or outside of the group) corrects the group in doctrine and/or behavior, it is interpreted as persecution, which then is interpreted as validation. Classic Climate Cult behavior.

Indoctrination: The teachings of the group are repeatedly drilled into the members, but the indoctrination usually occurs around Special Knowledge. Classic Climate Cult behavior.

Control: of members’ actions and thinking through repeated indoctrination and/or threats of loss of fellowship, or cataclysmic events. Classic Climate Cult behavior.

Salvation: from impending doom through association and/or submission with the group, its authority, and/or its Special Knowledge. Classic Climate Cult behavior.

Isolation: Minimizing contact of church members with those outside the group. This facilitates a further control over the thinking and practices of the members by the leadership. Classic Climate Cult behavior.

Love Bombing: Showing great attention and love to a person in the group by others in the group, to help transfer emotional dependence to the group. Classic Climate Cult behavior.

Special Knowledge: Instructions and/or knowledge are sometimes said to be received by a leader(s). This leader then informs the members.
The Special Knowledge can be received through new interpretations of sacred scriptures. Classic Climate Cult behavior.

Group Think: is maintained by the observance to policies handed down from those in authority. There is an internal enforcement of policies by members who reward “proper” behavior, and those who perform properly are rewarded with further inclusion and acceptance by the group. Classic Climate Cult behavior.

Blink 3 Times if You Need Help lol - deprogramming cult members can take some time and is 100% not my aim here. What is important is to remember these extremists don't think entirely rationally. They are programmed to take any nuance as blasphemy against their religion/cult.

Yes, Zack - you're an obvious believer

Try doing some homework about the bigger picture:
https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0921800919310067

More Holy Texts?

And what if your pagan beliefs of “I can do whatever the f*ck I want” affects other people or natural systems? Your simplistic view of the world ignores that fact there are other things in the world apart from your sense of entitlement.

Definitely not big on science, or facts for that matter, eh Zack Brando?

News.

Climate Change Commission
In order to meet future power needs, NZ will need to build 13 major wind farms, together with releasing Manapouri power. All else equal, no population growth. Those wind farms will be developed and owned and operated by the major generators.

Vector Energy Ltd is talking distributed energy, roof-top solar and boutique community owned solar farms plus boutique community wind farms
They are the only outfit talking about getting the "power" away from the majors and the noose from around the necks of the consumer

A particularly viscous assault was on the nation’s health system, with a proposed redisorganisation....

A viscous assault? Also I don't think redisorganisation should be a word. Spellcheck doesn't like it. Websters: The word you've entered isn't in the dictionary. Yes, you can keep on adding prefixes to English words but is it necessary or a bit faddish?

redisorganisation - any attempt by a govt mandated committee to shuffle the deck chairs under the guise of "efficient delivery to customers" whilst causing massive and needless upheaval to the incumbent staff which usually results in less working staff, more management staff, higher salaries for said management and ultimately poorer outcomes for the "clients". Sound familiar??

Sounds like Te Pūkenga – New Zealand Institute of Skills and Technology.
No sign of any efficiencies or cost reduction there.

Advertisements for NZ to attack more immigrants and wealth into NZ. NZ is a posh and trendy country, just like electric cars.

Are we allowed to attack immigrants?

Looks like people are running out of ideas to make money and turning to the flames of "Climate Emergency" to wring the last dollar out of the commoner. If you research any climate fanatic's investments, you'll find that they had substantial speculations in the ESG sector. It's not hard to understand why these people are pushing extreme ideas as hard as they can at the detriment of the poor people.

It's no difference from pump and dump schemes operated by scammers who peddle their stock 'tips'; trying to rouse the interests and excitement of the naive- only to rip them of their money.

Al Gore had made a killing peddling his version of "Climate Emergency".

https://www.investors.com/politics/editorials/al-gore-runs-global-warmin...

“Neoliberals” aren’t climate change deniers. For the most part, they’re advocates of a strong carbon tax, which should form a core part of any realistic transition to a low carbon society.

Even though the renewables cost curve is in free fall, we need to reconsider nuclear. We should be aiming to go carbon free AND double our energy use.

"we need to reconsider nuclear" - not to sure that'd be a great idea in NZ. Certainly hasn't worked well in Fukushima

There are areas in NZ which are seismically inactive enough.

Fukushima wasn’t even particularly bad. Only one person died of radiation exposure (many more died due to the stress of evacuating the area, however). So nuclear fission actually has worked out pretty well for Japan, despite the one catastrophic failure. Nuclear energy is the safest form of electricity in the world.

Next you'll be telling us radiation is good for you. https://www.commondreams.org/news/2020/12/30/lethal-levels-radiation-fou...

Well visible light is a form of radiation, so yeah, I’m pretty sure it is good for you... but I assume you’re referring to ionising radiation; in which case, yes there’s is a theory that it’s good for you at low levels (radiation hormesis). But that’s not relevant to nuclear energy, which isn’t going to expose the public to levels dangerously greater than the background environmental level, even with a Fukushima level failure.

The article you’ve linked me refers to the cleanup of the core of a reactor which had melted down. Yes that’s dangerous. But the people cleaning that up know what they’re doing.

Check this comparison of the safety of various energy sources https://ourworldindata.org/safest-sources-of-energy

Fukushima IS particularly bad. Japan is in a bind with the disposal of the contaminated cooling water - they've run out of storage space. Chernobyl also springs to mind as does Three Mile Island. I agree the technology is useful but when coupled with corruption, human incompetence and/or expediency and a seismically active land mass I think the risks outweigh the benefits. You say there are seismically inert areas of NZ - so was Kaikoura until previously unknown faultlines ruptured. Australia - yes. NZ no

Well they should dump it in the sea. It’ll have a negligible effect.

Chernobyl was obviously bad. 600 workers were badly affected, and there *might* have been a slight uptick in thyroid cancers. But even that is disputed. Chernobyl is as bad as it gets, and doesn’t come close to the apocalyptic event it’s made out to be. I’m waiting for the HBO special addressing the 10,000 people killed by fossil fuel pollution every DAY (probably far far more deaths than Chernobyl will ever cause).

Three Mile Island wasn’t especially disastrous, and is typical for a light water reactor melt-down.

I’d probably agree that a typical large-scale reactor of the type deployed most in most places isn’t appropriate, but we could have sea-based reactors. And we’re very likely to have passively safe newer generation reactors coming available over the timeline contemplated by the Climate Commission. We should become a world leader in becoming a favourable jurisdiction for those. At least, that’s what we’d be doing if there really is a “climate emergency“.

The U.S. National Academy of Sciences (NAS) has investigated the dangers of low-energy, low-dose ionizing radiation and has concluded, “that it is unlikely that a
threshold exists for the induction of cancers…” Therefore, saying that there can be a “safe” level of radiation exposure is simply wrong. There is no guarantee that even
the smallest doses of radiation will not cause some level of harm.".
"After examining epidemiological, biological, and physical data, the committee concluded that existing evidence does not support a hormesis or threshold model for radiation injury." https://www.nap.edu/catalog/11340/health-risks-from-exposure-to-low-leve...

Note I said “there is a theory”. It is far from settled science. Even IF the LNT is true, the level of radiation there is very low (there are popular hot pools in Japan with similar levels of ionising radiation to the worst affected areas in Fukushima).

Even at sea leavel we're receiving something like 3mSv of ionising radiation. Some comes from the earth's crust, the rest is cosmic rays. Bad luck - you can't escape it - 78% comes from natural sources

Fukushima was a stupid location and dumb design. They should have known better.
Molten salt nuclear - safer (no meltdowns), less waste, and doesn't produce appreciable quantities of weapons grade plutonium. I'd be happy giving Iran molten salt nuclear

Agree. The issue with wind and solar is that they are not dispatchable, and thus cannot keep grid frequency and voltage excursions within the very, very narrow limits that AC grids require in order to function with multiple sources of generation. Big, heavy rotors spinning (pure inertia) are needed for grid stability - the very thing non-dispatchables cannot supply. NZ is an exception to the overall picture: we have lotsa Hydro, which has big, heavy rotors spinning constantly, and thus a relatively stable grid. But lose the 3 'poles' over Cook Strait (say, when the Alpine Fault lets go) and the NI is in a world of pain.....good luck with their EV's then....

Pole 1 was decommissioned wasn't it?

Omg I nearly had heart failure. PDK wanting a nuclear power plant in godzone. No no no.
No was right. We have an infiltrator. PUK. Well I know something that rhymes with PUK. Similar starting point as Fukushima. And that is one hell of a f#k up. A bit larger than the claimed one death. Good grief PUK. All those bucky balls of Plutonium now swirling in the air. Yum bloody yum.

Yeah sorry, my statement was inaccurate. There were no deaths directly attributable to the accident (according to the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation). They also don’t expect any discernible effect to the general population.

Air pollution and energy poverty kill millions of people around the world (including in NZ).

Bless you PUK. Dream your dream. The multi multi billion dollar clean up of Chernobyl and Fuku will go on forever. But the true believers never stop dreaming.