It's funny how fashions change. I used to think I looked pretty smart in stovepipe jeans, trainers and a jacket from the army surplus store, but history shows I was mistaken.
In my case the damage was limited to my sartorial standing, which was never very high at the best of times. But fashion can be a much crueller mistress.
Back in the early 80s, New Zealand had one of the most regulated economies in the western world. You had to order a new car in advance (it was normally a Ford Cortina and no, you couldn't choose the colour) and you could drive it on only certain days of the week.
You couldn't take money out of the country without permission, employ anyone who wasn't in a union or put a cafe table on a footpath.
Former prime minister David Lange likened us to a Polish shipyard, and the fourth Labour government set about dismantling it. The buzzword throughout the latter part of the 1980s and into the 1990s was "deregulation", followed by "light-handed regulation" and its kissing cousin "self-regulation".
The idea was simple, if crazy with the benefit of hindsight. Why employ big expensive government departments full of people who have to check everything when you can replace them with slimmed-down ministries that set policies and then tick off the completed forms sent back to them by employers?
Get rid of the people who check planes, mines, workplace safety, food safety, telecommunications and other infrastructure, weights, measures, building standards, and everything else. And then make everyone do it themselves.
The theory of light-handed regulation was that, under a proper market economy, everyone would be incentivised to do the best possible job for the lowest possible price or they wouldn't succeed. Government should stand aside, because it was only complicating things, getting in the way, and making everything slower and more expensive.
The rest of the world applauded us, calling us "visionary", and "bold" and "world-leading". But there was a conspicuous absence of countries following suit. At the same time, we decided to get rid of most of our import duties, performing a down-trou on the world stage that was again vigorously applauded by an audience that then went home wrapped up in its nice warm tariffs.
It's taken a good 20 years for the sheer magnitude of the stupidity of those "reforms", begun by Labour and continued with equal enthusiasm by National government in the 1990s, to become obvious.
We've had to endure the meltdown of our finance companies, the fleecing of thousands of investors of their retirement savings, a $6 billion leaky homes fiasco, the worst and least competitive telephone service in the western world, some of the highest electricity prices, the deaths of 29 miners at Pike River and most recently, the severe shock to our dairy industry.
Light-handed regulation has, in short, been an unmitigated disaster.
In the wake of the Fonterra debacle, several commentators have referred to the dairy giant's "Pike River moment". They mean the point at which Fonterra's lack of oversight or systems suddenly became unstuck. It was perhaps a little tasteless to compare a dirty pipe with the loss of 29 good men, but the point they made was fair enough.
In its findings on Pike River, the royal commission said the deaths of the miners were preventable.
"Pike, a new company with no underground coal mining experience, was able to obtain a permit to develop the mine, with no scrutiny of its initial plans for maintaining health and safety requirements with little ongoing scrutiny," the commission said. At the time of the explosion, the Department of Labour had just two mining inspectors.
Perhaps it took the lives of those 29 men for us to wake up to what was happening. A bill now before Parliament will see the creation of WorkSafe New Zealand, a government agency charged with overseeing and enforcing new, tougher health and safety standards in the workplace.
In the past couple of years our wet-bus-ticket Securities Commission has been replaced by the Financial Markets Authority, which actually regulates financial advisers and even investigates the dodgy ones.
The Reserve Bank has new powers to regulate the banking sector and it's using them right now - even if first home buyers aren't happy about it.
The Government has begun making noises about introducing new food safety standards for the dairy industry, possibly a case of shutting the milking shed door after the herd has bolted but better late than never. And our two major telcos have responded positively to Government suggestions they might like to consider lowering their prices before it's done for them.
The building code is now tougher than it's ever been, but it's going to take a long time before we finish paying for the mistakes of those geniuses who thought it wasn't necessary to enforce the use of treated timber in buildings (because surely building companies would use it anyway . . . right?)
Labour and the Greens have proposed re-regulating the whole electricity market if elected next year - one of the more radical examples of the fashion pendulum swinging back in favour of more centralised control.
Is this taking things too far? Probably. But so were Lycra jumpsuits. Fashions change, and what seems like a great idea one decade can look pretty silly the next.
If there's one lesson I'd like to think we've learned, however, it's that pure market theory, Adam Smith's Invisible Hand and the notion that capitalism is somehow self-correcting - is bunk. It was, with apologies to Sandra Coney, a very unfortunate experiment.
Colin Espiner is a Sunday Star-Times columnist
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