Mike Moore on Globalization

The Press, October 10, 1998

Denis Dutton


A Brief History of the Future: Citizenship of the Millennium, by Mike Moore. 192 pages. Shoal Bay Press, $24.95.

That the old politics of right and left are obsolete is demonstrated in the very person of the Rt. Hon. Mike Moore. A Labour man with a unionist, shop-floor background, he was once a hero of the working man. He still ought to be. But when he became New Zealand’s Trade Minister, he saw it as his “patriotic duty” to pull down this country’s Berlin Wall of import controls both for the benefit of New Zealanders and incidentally to help our small Pacific neighbours to make a living for themselves.

Mike Moore

This was viewed as a betrayal of working-class interests. “From hero to traitor in a decade!”, he writes. But this stubborn bloke knows vastly more than his embittered critics about trade and the creation of wealth in the brave new borderless world of international commerce and he’s not about to be shouted down. In A Brief of the Future he mounts a persuasive case for the increased internationalization of New Zealand and for greater individual liberty and responsibility: “democracy and the ingenuity of our species know no bounds when freedom unleashes the genius of the people.”

The word “reactionary” once applied exclusively to the political right. The reactionary conservatives who count most today include not only jingoistic provincials like the Australian Pauline Hanson, but leftists who, disappointed by the failures of socialism and embarrassed by the stupendous successes of capitalism, are keen for any excuse to reintroduce their programmes of government economic control. (I’ve been told by at least a half-dozen friends and correspondents from the left that the recent share-market setbacks are clear evidence that capitalism is on the ropes. Or so they seem to hope.)   

Hardly, says Moore, pointing out that the living standards of at least half a billion people have doubled since the early 1980s, and it wasn’t state socialism that achieved it. The setbacks Southeast Asia don’t negate that. Even countries such as India that once seemed backward basket cases now have prosperous, growing middle classes of hard-working people.  Singaporeans, to whom New Zealanders used to send food parcels, now earn more per capita than we do, have a lower infant mortality and higher life expectancy. 

For Mike Moore, the key to New Zealand’s future is to take an open and competitive attitude toward world markets. We must eschew protectionism and commit ourselves, both intellectually and technologically, to the information revolution.     

Like many of us, when he read Orwell’s 1984 as a teenager Moore came away certain that someday government and big business would control information and therefore people. The result of the computer revolution has been just the opposite, with the free and instant flow of knowledge across distance (and political frontiers) vastly exceeding what anyone ever predicted.

An English labourer would have worked a week 130 years ago to pay for a single word in an international telegram to New Zealand. A three-minute phone call between New York and London cost an astounding $600 (current NZ dollars) in 1930.      

The same call costs $2 today. Moore doesn’t add that anyone can now plug a small microphone into a computer and talk to London from Christchurch for $1 an hour (I do it). Not only is this unthinkably cheap, it is also uncontrollable. To have an official New Zealand Censor in the age of the Internet is as quaint as the Department of Transportation maintaining an office to regulate oxen.

The die-hard isolationists find the openness of markets and information a threat to Fortress New Zealand.  Luddites love their morality tales about the dangers of technology: the Internet’s full of pornography, cellphones cause cancer (and did you hear the tragic story of the man who got his tie caught in the fax machine?).   

It’s fun to be reminded by Moore of the many crazy expert prediction we’ve survived.  Jevons predicted in the last century that Britain would lose its status as a world power when it ran out of coal. The Club of Rome in 1972 told us that gold would be exhausted by 1981, petroleum by 1992. The doomsayers’ predictions included global famine by the 1990s, with massive new deserts, and a new ice age thrown in.

Mike Moore is an irrepressible optimist, and his prognostications are far more pleasant. He has a clearer picture than any politician I know of the productive and prosperous place these little islands could enjoy in the next century. His message is one to be heeded.