New Zealand Listener 03.7.2020

(Barré) #1







The agenda is divided into important issues we
know about – whose magnitude is generally well
understood but about which politicians fairly
differ and squabble – and equally important issues
we won’t have the answers to until after polling
day. It’s possible the known unknowns are more
important and will be more influential than the
knowns. In other words, this could be a guess
For instance, if – fingers crossed – Covid-19 dis-
ease doesn’t plunge the world into a catastrophic
slowdown by September, the preconditions never-
theless exist for there still to be one, according to
many economists, who are a gloomy lot. They’ve
had us on standby for a crash since well before
Chinese bat germs got loose in a food market. That
means many voters will go into the booth with a
mental bookies’ spreadsheet on who they’d trust
most to get us through a downturn. Conventional
wisdom is that National does better when people
feel economically insecure.
But then there’s the US presidential election
in November. It seems far-fetched
to imagine current Democratic
front-runner Bernie Sanders
pulling it off, but given a
mood swell of anyone-but-
Trumpism, it wouldn’t be
quite safe to rule it out.
After all, five years ago it
seemed moon-howlingly
remote that Donald

Trump would win. Either scenario
would have global ructions: a victori-
ous Trump newly licensed to double
down on his protectionist rampage,
or President Sanders being at least
as free-trade averse – and socialis-
ing the means of production and
Would we fare better in this mael-
strom under a “safe pair of hands”
National administration or a “more
progressive” Labour-led one with
its door ajar to more managed trade

The brutal truth is it probably
wouldn’t make a speck of differ-
ence either way, but voters will fret
about it nonetheless – when they’re
not worrying about Covid-19. Even
if the epidemic is reasonably well
contained by our polling day, it
has cemented in our con-
sciousness the mordant
reality: there’s plenty
more where that came
from. The world’s
hubs aren’t going
to reform their
overcrowding and
hygiene practices
any time soon,

so further and possibly more deadly
mutations will thrive.

If the prospect of dying horribly isn’t
enough to put voters in a war-footing
sort of mood, there’s the inevitability
of more “weather events” as climate
change takes a firmer hold. These
are the trickiest of known unknowns
because we now know we will get
them regularly, but we don’t know
when or what or how bad: a July tem-
pest, an October drought, a January
flood. And that’s not even counting
natural disasters such as earthquakes
and tsunami.
These challenges require prudent
infrastructure, so which side of the
House has been more convincing on
that front, National’s fetish for roads
(so we can outrun the weather) or
Labour’s fixation with safeguarding
water infrastructure (so, if we survive,
the taps will still be running)?
At this rate, it’s like playing chess
without any black-and-white squares.
Then there are the smaller impon-
derables. We will almost certainly
be none the wiser by September 19
about the outcome of the Serious
Fraud Office investigation into
New Zealand First’s funding
or of the prosecution of four
people in relation to the
National Party’s funding.
The scales of justice refuse
to tip either way to produce
their august results in a timely
fashion, even to avert poten-
tial electoral distortion. We’re
still waiting for a judgment on
Deputy Prime Minister


lection year agendas are crowded

enough with items that are, shall

we say, less factual than fact-adja-

cent, but this time we’re having to

make room for a maddening quo-

tient of utterly unknowable issues as well.


Disease, weather, EVs and economics bedevil this year’s election.

Don’t know the half of it



Julie Anne Genter, left, and
Winston Peters.

Economists have had
us on standby for a
crash since well before

Chinese bat germs got
loose in a food market.
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