Editorial: When 'success' is a millstone

19:54, Nov 16 2012

Let's be thankful we are living in New Zealand, a country where - according to Finance Minister Bill English - success is our problem. Never mind our unemployment rate, the highest since 1999, or our massive current account deficit, which is worsening, or many other worrying indicators.

When Labour finance spokesman David Parker challenged him with such evidence that all is not well, Mr English countered: "We simply disagree with the member's diagnosis of the issues". He is adamant that in the face of a sharp recession and difficult global conditions, New Zealand is on a track to 2 to 3 per cent growth and he is sure the public will not accept Mr Parker's "attempts to sell snake oil" on economic policy. Mr English had mentioned the problem of success when questioned by members of Parliament's finance and expenditure select committee. Economic growth would be "patchy" and unpredictable but the rebuilding of Christchurch was among the factors underpinning his confidence that the outlook for our economy is better than the forecasters believe. Mr English said the high New Zealand dollar was a signal from the world that our country has sound prospects of producing stable yields compared with other countries. "Our problem is one of success."

Those words could come back to haunt him, if recent British history serves as a guide.

Edward Heath was Britain's prime minister in 1970-74. His government imposed a three-day week for two months early in 1974 to conserve energy; commercial users of electricity were limited to three specified consecutive days' consumption each week and prohibited from working longer hours on those days.

Mr Heath obviously didn't see this (or the implications) coming. Six weeks before the three-day week, he declared: "Our problem at the moment is a problem of success". A few months later Labour's Harold Wilson was prime minister.