Joe Hendren

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Monday, February 19, 2007

Thank you Wolfie!

On Friday I recieved the news of Dr Wolfgang Rosenberg's death aged 92. For a large part of the 20th century Wolfgang was one of New Zealand's most prominent left-wing economists.

A lot of the left shys away from debates over economics, often suspicious of the unstated assumptions about human nature made by the domineering neo-liberal economic theories. Some of this suspicion is justified, but often this has left the left in a position of arguing in favour of social goals (eg higher benefits, cheaper housing) and leaving the economic case to one side.

For me, I gained a lot of insight from the work of Wolfgang Rosenberg and Bruce Jesson, especially in regards to a New Zealand context, and I would recommend both to any lefty who wants to gain greater confidence in engaging in economic debates.

Wolfgang's 1993 book "New Zealand can be different, and better" is one of the first 'economics' books I ever read. It still remains an excellent introduction to Keynesian economics in a New Zealand context and a strong critique of the so called 'new right'. In a review of the book Brian Easton lays down the Rosenberg challenge.
"Those who wish to challenge Wolfgang Rosenberg’s policy prescriptions must confront the outstanding performance of the New Zealand economy in the first part of the postwar era. In the three decades from the mid-1930s, following the recovery from the depths of the interwar depression: the economy grew as fast as – or faster than – the rest of the OECD; the rate of inflation was slightly below the average; the overseas debt was not compromising; and there was full employment....Rosenberg explains this nirvana by the economic policies pursued at the time They involved a commitment to policy goals such as full employment, an expansionary fiscal stance, a high level or government intervention in markers and – most notably – border protection by import controls. He argues that as we have moved away from this policy mix. the economic performance has deteriorated The further we have moved. the worst the outcome."
Wolfgang liked to use tables of figures to illustrate his points. I found a table in the book on New Zealand's public debt levels to be particuarly enlightening. Roger Douglas told New Zealand he had "no option but" to sell off state assets to reduce public debt. Yet one look at a table in Wolfie's book demonstrates NZ debt levels rose from $21,878m in 1984 to $39,961 in 1989 (public debt reached $46,674m in June 1992). Some conclusions suggest themselves. Douglas didn't really care about New Zealand's debt levels and/or his policies were a self defined failure. Perhaps he was simply incompetent.

While I never got to meet Wolfgang, the stories my friends have told about him are inspiring. Wolfgang provided a great example in the way he remained intellectually active for as long as his health would allow. After his retirement he wrote books. He also studied for a law degree, cycling around Christchurch as a practicing lawyer until he was 83!

The next time I raise a glass, I will quietly raise it for you Wolfie :)

On Friday Murray Horton of CAFCA distributed the following message celebrating Wolfgang's life and his contribution to the left.
It is with great regret that I inform you that Wolfgang Rosenberg died today, aged 92. He had been in poor health for the best part of a decade. A Berliner, Wolf arrived in NZ in 1937 as a refugee from Naziism (he had relatives and friends murdered in the Holocaust). Germany’s loss was New Zealand’s gain.

He was an academic at the University of Canterbury from 1945 until his retirement in 1980, finishing up as a Reader in Economics. Following his compulsory retirement from academia he started a new career as a Christchurch lawyer, and practised in the courts until ill health forced him to finally retire at 83.

During his 70 years in New Zealand Wolf became a wellknown public figure as one of the country’s foremost Leftwing economists, with a string of books to his name, not to mention a ceaseless flow of articles and Letters To The Editor. He was actively involved in virtually every Christchurch Left/liberal organisation and publication that you could name over those decades, from the Canterbury Council for Civil Liberties to the former Monthly Review, to name but two. He was involved in all the big campaigns, such as those against the Vietnam War and NZ’s ties to apartheid South Africa, plus those of recent years.

He was a staunch proponent of socialism and travelled extensively in what used to be known as the Second World (or as the papers called it, the Communist bloc). He was the founder and driving figure behind the NZ Democratic People’s Republic of Korea Society, and spent many years fostering friendly relations with that country.

He was a member and supporter of CAFCA from our foundation, more than 30 years ago, and he regularly wrote for Foreign Control Watchdog until his deteriorating eyesight would no allow it. Wolfgang Rosenberg was a major public figure in the New Zealand of the second half of the 20th Century.

He is survived by Ann, his wife of 60 years, and his children, George, Bill and Vera, and grandchildren.

The funeral will be at 1.30pm on Tuesday 20 February at Lamb and Hayward's chapel at 467 Wairakei Road, Burnside, Christchurch. In lieu of flowers you can make a donation to the Howard League for Penal Reform, for which there will be a collection box.

Messages can be sent to: 26 Beckenham Street, Christchurch 8024,

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Sunday, February 18, 2007

Switch blogger

I was putting off upgrading to the new blogger software in case of problems, but tonight the new blogger claims to be out of Beta and insisted I make the switch. If you spot any obvious issues please leave a comment and tell me.

Apologies for the lack of posting of late. I have been juggling being busy with work and getting myself settled in a new city. A lot of the busy around work is self inflicted, but I am really enjoying my job (well 95% of the time) and feel I am doing stuff that is worthwhile. I hope things settle down when I get myself into my new flat - next step is to find a flatmate who wants to live in Onehunga.

And thanks to all the new blogs that have linked here in the last month or so. Linkage is on its way soon.

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Saturday, February 03, 2007

Telecom pirate leader resigns

Rod Emmerson's cartoon in this mornings Herald nicely summed up my thoughts on the resignation of Telecom CEO Theresa Gatting. Even TV3 voiced one criticism of Gatting in their coverage the other night - Gatting was too focused on shareholder returns. TV3 didn't make the connection, but "shareholder returns" is a key reason few New Zealanders have decent broadband. Long John Silver would be proud.

It appears some Telecom executives are still shaking in their insecure little new right boots that the Government stepped in and finally did some long overdue regulating.

Quite frankly unbundling the local loop is hardly heavy regulation, particularly if you look at the number of other countries who have also introduced the policy (and most did so many years ago).

If the local right wing loonies and the board of Telecom are going to overreact to a moderate policy like unbundling, then perhaps we should have gone the whole hong and renationalised the local loop instead. My point is, and I think this is a worthwhile lesson for the left - the reaction would have been the same.

Christopher Niesche also calls on Telecom to stop being a company obsessed with holding back the tide of regulation at any cost and become a company seeking growth

I hope Telecom appoint a CEO who takes a longer term view of Telecom's position in the market and realises the company will be far better off to invest in itself through greater investment in infrastructure. This would involve stop giving into the demands of the short term speculators for their blood sucking dividends and putting more emphasis on the interests of their customers, staff and real investors (ie the long term shareholders).

That said it will take some time for New Zealanders to forget the number of times Spot the dog shitted inside our house. I hope Telecom improve their behaviour, but unfortunately I can't help but think they will be a naughty puppy for some time yet.

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Thursday, February 01, 2007

Rudman on Jenny Gibbs and Telecom

Good to see Brian Rudman in yesterday's Herald taking up a couple of points I made on Thursday last week about Jenny Gibbs and her inability to access broadband internet on the leafy Paratai Drive.

This is worth noting in the context of the venomous Herald on Sunday editorial criticising blogs for "rarely researching" their offerings, when the editoral itself was really just a poorly researched rant.

I regularly see more evidence of research on the blogs than I do in the newspapers these days. Pushed for time many journalists are forced to spout the public relations lines given to them by newsmakers. Could it be the editors of the newspapers are feeling a bit sensitive on this point as they rarely give their journos the time to adequately research their stories?

But back to Brian Rudman's column on Telecom.

A) Jenny Gibbs, former wife of Telecom privatiser Alan Gibbs, gained some of her wealth from the privatisation of Telecom

"Not until Mrs Gibbs, angered by weeks of Telecom come-on promotions for broadband, came to the Herald, with the damaging publicity for the company that ensued, did the monopoly lines provider leap into damage control and suddenly do the impossible.

Sadly for the rest of suffering humanity, Mrs Gibbs was not set on becoming the people's champion. As soon as she gained the ability to download art prints from foreign parts at high speed, it was up with the drawbridge and, "Sorry, I'm all right, Jack, I don't want to talk to the media any more."

Which was a shame. Telecom would have found it harder to flannel the rest of us with one excuse after another if one of the privileged class was there to keep them honest. It seemed so little to ask of someone whose wealth, in part at least, derives from former husband Alan Gibbs' part in the privatising of Telecom.

B) If Telecom shareholders like Ms Gibbs had taken less out of the company in terms of dividends Telecom would have had more capital to invest in infrastructure and the residents of Paratai Drive would be more likely to be able to access decent broadband services.

"One can only assume that, like the privatised rail system, Telecom has been squeezed for profits by its new shareholders, at the expense of basic infrastructural maintenance and improvement. Meanwhile, while the infrastructure groans and splutters, the Telecom sales staff are pitching away like used car salesmen, promising Rolls-Royce performance from a secondhand Lada network."

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