Dame Anne Salmond: It’s the end of an era

In New Zealand at present, a seismic shift is under way. Despite all the hype, this election is not really a contest between left and right. Instead, the tectonic plates between the generations are shifting.

Since the 1980s, New Zealanders have been gripped by neo-liberal doctrines. Here, life is understood as a competitive struggle among individuals. In this Darwinian contest, each seeks to minimise their costs and maximise their benefits, with individual success as the ultimate goal.

In this kind of philosophy, ideas of the ‘fair go’ and caring for others and the land we live in are replaced by an idea of society as a market, and the land as a ‘resource’ to be exploited for short-term profit. The rights of others, including those of future generations, are set aside.

After more than thirty years of this kind of hyper-individualism, however, a young, smart generation is stepping up, who think very differently.

The mindless pursuit of short-term profit has not just poisoned waterways across New Zealand. It’s been toxic for communities as well.

They focus on the long term future, and the quality of our relations with each other and the planet – Gen Zero on climate change, for instance; Marnie Prickett and Lan Pham in the debate over freshwater; Max Harris with his book The New Zealand Project; David Hall and his Policy Observatory website; or Dan Hikuroa on our relations with the ocean, among others.

These millennials are astute and free-thinking, with a refreshing optimism and generosity of spirit. Jacinda Ardern is one of this new breed of Kiwis. They make the neo-liberal die-hards seem moribund, stuck in an ideological morass.

As for the baby-boomers, my own generation, I think that many are also experiencing a change of heart about the country’s direction. Former Prime Minister Jim Bolger’s recent interview in The Ninth Floor was an eloquent case in point.

The politics of greed harmed their own children and grandchildren, many of whom find it difficult to start a family, to get a secure job or afford a home of their own.

The mindless pursuit of short-term profit has not just poisoned waterways across New Zealand. It’s been toxic for communities as well.

Radical inequalities between rich and poor have threatened cherished values of democratic liberty, decency and a ‘fair go’.

New Zealanders of all political persuasions find it difficult to believe in a ‘rock-star economy’ in which increasing numbers of people live in cars or on the streets, where children go to school hungry or die from third world diseases.

It's hard to feel proud of a country with the highest rate of youth suicide in the developed world.

After 33 years of the cult of the ‘free market’ from both major parties, many Kiwis are finding that its arguments no longer ring true.

In the shock poll last week, when Labour pulled ahead of National, closely followed by the Leaders’ Debate, the ground beneath the Beehive shuddered and shook.

This was not a seismic shift from blue to red, or right to left, however.

After 33 years of the cult of the ‘free market’ from both major parties, many Kiwis are finding that its arguments no longer ring true, and that its environmental and social costs are more than they can bear.

‘Jacindamania’ is not just about an individual politician, however caring and attractive. It marks a changing of the guard between generations, and a time to try out new ideas.

Comments

Newsroom does not allow comments directly on this website. We invite all readers who wish to discuss a story or leave a comment to visit us on Twitter or Facebook. We also welcome your news tips and feedback via email: contact@newsroom.co.nz. Thank you.

PARTNERS