It is quite clear that one team thinks the economic history of New Zealand is very different from what it actually is in terms of outcomes across heterogeneous households.

But the other team doesn’t have an accurate version of that economic history either. Nothing is black and white in New Zealand’s economic history, and the short ebook “Ruth, Roger and me” by Andrew Dean (published recently by Bridget Williams Books) is a really interesting look into how one side thinks about these things from a non-elderly person’s perspective.

Many of the reformist grey ones – once cardigan wearers now sporting grey hair – suffer from attribution error where successes are their responsibility, but failures are not theirs at all and the suggestion that there were any negative outcomes at all from the reforms of the 1980’s and 1990’s is met with an indignant “what do you mean, the gains were so much greater than the losses”.

There are obviously enormous benefits that have accrued to society as a whole in terms of standard of living – but not all of those gains can be directly linked to the reforms. More seems to be driven by technology and the ability to import cheap goods than the easier path of entrepreneurial trial and error that will never feasibly be open to lower quintile households.

The recent efforts by the UNITE union to make zero-hour contracts untenable for fast food restaurants are an interesting example of this asymmetric information and bargaining power conflict that the top quintile barely understand as it is discussed on National Radio.

Ironically, normally higher levels of uncertainty lead to higher wages – see how much IT contractors get paid relative to IT permanent staff for clear labour market evidence – but this doesn’t apply to “low skill” jobs. It seems that economics doesn’t apply equally because clearly bargaining power is necessary to be treated appropriately in a 21st century liberal democracy.

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