Wednesday, May 7, 2008


The good news is that the Government led by Helen
Clark has bought back the national railways network,
which should never have passed out of state hands
in the first place. Put this alongside the Government’s
move to ensure that Auckland International Airport
does not fall into foreign hands, and we have, I think,
a turning of the tide. And not just because it’s election
year in New Zealand. It could be argued, in fact, that
more-market mania has passed its zenith, and that,
from here on, Western governments are going to be
much more pro-active in matters of public utility
ownership and national control of key assets. This
view is certainly held by British left-wing commentator
Martin Jacques, who has argued in the Guardian that
the British Government’s nationalization of the
Northern Rock bank, to prevent it from going under,
is highly significant. It marks, he says, the end of one
era (that of neoliberal economic orthodoxy) and the
beginning of another, in which state intervention and
control will no longer be seen as the Devil’s work.
Jacques even foresees a swing back to protectionism;
don’t rule it out in New Zealand either, heretical as
that may be to say.

The bad news is that the Clark-led Government, having
apparently grasped the nettle of global warming, has
partly withdrawn its hand with exclamations of pain
and dismay. The decisions to postpone various aspects
of the Emissions Trading Scheme—not exactly the
most enlightened way to tackle global warming in the
first place, but at least a gesture in the right direction—
send all the wrong signals about petrol use and private
transport. It makes a political football out of something
too important to be kicked around every time the cost
of living goes up. The Government may think it's
being kind to people by sparing them extra expense
as the scheme begins to phase in, but it’s only going
to make matters worse in the long run.

We have to accept that the great age of the private
car is over. No kidding. No stalling. No pretending
otherwise. No putting off the day when serious
alternatives (and not soft options like the ETS)
must be thought about, planned and introduced.
That day is now. Actually, it was several years ago;
but encouraging people to go on pumping fossil-fuel
carbon into the air like there was no tomorrow is
no way of making up for lost time.

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