Sunday, April 12, 2009

History Will Be Kind

When I lived nearby and used to shop at Thorndon New World, I would occasionally see Michael Cullen, smartly dressed in dark suit and red tie, wandering up and down the aisles with a shopping basket. Dr Cullen seemed to enjoy prowling through the local supermarket as any ordinary person would (though perhaps he was keeping an eye on the price of cheese?).

In my view, Cullen is far and away the best Minister of Finance New Zealand has had in my lifetime. I'm sure history will be kind to his prudent approach of paying down debt, encouraging savings, and finding ways to 'spread the wealth around' in what remains a small and poorly-diversified economy.

I also have quite a bit of sympathy for him as a politician. The public impression is of an intellectual who was content to immerse himself in the technically most difficult jobs, had few aspirations for leadership that would have required excessive ingratiation and politicking, and occasionally lost the ability to suffer fools.

I know that Cullen has inspired strong negative feelings in some who adhere to other parts of the political spectrum, but the intensity of those feelings probably says more about those who bear them than the man himself. At worst, perhaps he could be said to suffer from that classic Kiwi ailment of being 'too smart for your own good'.

I therefore was pleased to see Cullen interviewed in reflective mode in the Sunday Star Times this week, on his way to a quieter life with NZ Post and free from the need to follow party lines. A couple of the quotes are worth repeating, not just because they're pretty close to what I think, but because they articulate some core principles with striking brevity and common sense:

"We didn't believe that wealth is best created at the top and then trickles down. We believed that wealth is created by the efforts of everybody that participates in the economy and needed to have some fairness in distribution. In part this was because in a country like ours particularly you can't afford to have a large part of the population unable to contribute effectively because they've fallen out."

Cullen believes "only a tiny group of highly entrepreneurial people will make their way out of any situation, because they've got this enormous gift and it's a lucky gift they've got". Other people[, he said,] needed to have the comfort of a safety net if they were going to chance their arm in the economy.

If a political party could consistently articulate such thoughts, rather than trying to repeat the lines focussed-grouped by their communications advisors, they might be surprised at how well they do.


Susan said...

Thanks for that Simon. I warmed to Michael Cullen for the first time ever when reading that same piece. If only he could have come out and said just that instead of the PR presentation, what a difference it would have made.

terence said...

thanks Simon. Nice piece.