Pike River: not laissez-faire but lackadaisical

The Pike River commission’s report must, finally, represent the low-water mark of economic de-regulation in New Zealand.

A dictionary definition of “laissez-faire” gives two meanings:

  1. individualism the doctrine of unrestricted freedom in commerce, esp for private interests
  2. indifference or non-interference, esp in the affairs of others.

Read the section What Happened, in volume one of  the report of the Royal Commission on the Pike River Coal Mine Tragedy.  It difficult not to draw the conclusion that, in New Zealand’s deregulated and commercially-oriented economy, laissez-faire means not just indifference, but callous indifference, to the well-being and even the lives of others.

Rod Oram, in the Sunday Star-Times on 11 November, damns the “She’ll be right” culture that seemed to pervade the Pike River company, saying:

It wasn’t an anomaly. It will happen again. Deep in our psyche we believe improvisation is innovation. We believe cutting corners copes with complexities.

Rod’s opinion piece is a good read, and a damning indictment, but it doesn’t entirely get to the heart of the matter.

Over the last three decades, New Zealand’s ruling elites have developed a culture of indifference and unconcern – not just to workplace safety, but also to child poverty; to the integrity of the democratic system of government; to our economic future in the post-carbon age.

The term “lackadaisical now correctly describes New Zealand’s political and economic system. The proof of that is given in the Pike River tragedy; and in this government’s gutting of the ETS; and in the programme of road-building it has undertaken; and in the child poverty statistics.

And it is not just this National Party government that is to blame.  It is the cosy duopoly of National and Labour governments that have led us down this path, playing pass the parcel in parliament – both following a neo-liberal agenda, since the mid-1980’s.

The Pike River tragedy must serve as the nadir of neo-liberalism: the point at which we should turn away from those corrupt ideas, and start to restore and re-develop our public and private institutions.  Market systems are fine when they are effectively self-regulating: but the concept of self-regulation does not imply a lack of regulation.  Market mechanisms can, and must, be used if they do in fact serve the needs of society and all its members. In any other case society must, unapologetically and thoughtfully, regulate to serve its best interests.

The antonyms of lackadaisical include: active, careful, caring, energetic, enthusiastic, and hard-working.  These words are more than mere adjectives: they also describe values.  Values that should describe the Green Party in the public mind, and a Green Party government after the 2014 election.

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