Sustainable Lens
Resilience on Radio
Passionate rationality
Categories: economics, politics

Gareth Morgan on economics, inter-generational alienation, philanthropy, politics, Putaruru, and motorbikes and cats.

I think the public are pretty well starved for quality…for intellectual contributions that are on par with them not reduced to the lowest common denominator

Shane: And our guest tonight is Dr Gareth Morgan. Gareth was born and raised in Putaruru. He then attended Massey University for four years, gaining the BA honours in economics. In 1982, he graduated from Victoria University with a PhD in economics. He the father of Sam Morgan who is the founder of Trade Me and that’s the New Zealand equivalent of eBay, and was an early Trade Me investor and director. When it was sold to Fairfax Media, Gareth received 50 million dollars, which he donated to their charitable foundation, the Morgan Foundation, which administers the Morgan philanthropic work, and Gareth and his wife Jo Morgan are also UNICEF good will ambassadors.

 

So he worked for the reserve bank in New Zealand for a few years, before founding an economics forecasting company, Infometrics Limited, back in 1983, and Gareth is well known for taking New Zealand’s financial services industry to task for questionable ethics and abuse of investors.

 

So he’s published four works, four books. 2009 was Poles Apart, a book surveying the state of the science around climate change. 2010 was Health Cheque, a book assessing the state of New Zealand’s public health system. In 2011 the Big Kahuna, which is probably his most famous book, and this book investigated the contribution that unpaid work makes to New Zealand’s society, and the consequences and measures of economic production not explicitly recognising such contributions, from community service to care of the young and the elderly.

 

In 2011, he also published another book, Hook, Line and Blinkers, a book assessing the state of the world’s fish stocks and then appraising the state of New Zealand fisheries here. And then in 2013, his most recent book was Appetite for Destruction: Food – the Good, the Bad and the Fatal, and that was with Geoff Simmons, and a book, which analyses the pitfalls of contemporary processed food and the problem with contemporary diets more generally.

 

So most recently, and this is why Gareth is here today, he started a new political party in New Zealand called the The Opportunities Party. Welcome to our show.

 

Gareth: Thanks very much. Nice to be here.

 

Shane: So you’ve had quite a busy life but let’s talk about your childhood. What was it like? What was growing up in New Zealand like for you?

 

Gareth: Well it was a very small town, Putaruru, 4,000 people back in those days, 50 and 60s, it’s still like that. I had a big shock I guess, so it’s a bit like some of these back puddle towns in the Appalachians and southern states of the U.S. and the Rust Belt and the sense of when I was there. There were seven sawmills in Putaruru. So I would work in those during my holidays right through school. In fact, I think I had my first job there when I was in standard four, but I kept doing that all the way through university, then worked in the bush a lot.

 

So I was pretty able in those days, to fund myself, through university. I didn’t need any money from anybody. Such were those sort of harrisome days. But Putaruru has undergone a whole series of shocks and now it has no sawmills. Of course what happen with euthanasia in 1990 there were [inaudible 00:03:07] budgets was that that really hurt low income people, really hurt, and Putaruru was reeling from that shock plus the fact that the sawmills were all closing. And so what’s happened in Putaruru is that the families least able to cope are still there and the families who have the means to move have moved. So Putaruru high school, my school that had 700 when I was there, is down to 300 and that includes the intermediate school these days and of course it’s very low just the whole school as opposed to my day where it wasn’t like that at all because even the capable families or well to do families that are there now all sent their children out to school, to Cambridge, private schools in Cambridge or Hamilton. And even the teachers, only three of the city teachers in Putaruru actually lived there.

 

And it’s had a lot of troubles. The education review board that has been in there because the schools had suicides and things that put stress on these kids, kids bullying and da-de-da. So I think that’s a bit of a microcosm of what’s happened, the worst of what’s happened during the economic adjustment. Let me put it to you this way, they are still waiting for trickle down.

 

Shane: Obviously you see that happening right across New Zealand in the small towns … a big shift there.

 

Gareth: Yeah, I mean, well creative destruction is part of, you know, that’s part of economics and how economies work. Industries, businesses come and go but really I would have thought the role of government in the civilised society has to cushion the impact of those inevitable changes. I’m not saying we shouldn’t have the changes but cushion the impact of those inevitable changes on the most vulnerable people, who tend to be the ones with the lowest skills, the lower wealth, basically the lower capability to adjust themselves. And I think that’s probably where we let ourselves down a bit with the Rogernomics revolution that had to happen, there’s no doubt about that. And of course that was a liberalisation type move, Americans were over regulated and we were, we had a constitutional crisis back in ’84 so Rodgernomics was a response and so I was quite a fan, and still am actually, of liberalising markets. What I’m not a fan of neoliberalism and there’s a very big difference.

 

Liberalisation, as any economist will tell you, is when you move to free and competitive markets. Neoliberalism is when you have free markets but they don’t have to be competitive, in other words they can be dominated by one or two players who in economic [inaudible 00:06:01] extract economic wind because you have no choice but to buy from them. And unfortunately that’s what ergonomics moved on to. Under the Nats mainly but also under Helen Clark’s government, she didn’t pull it back sufficiently. And so as a result of that now we’ve got this rising inequality in New Zealand that’s been, that really took its fist in 1990 when the mother of all budgets in the town of Christchurch under John Key’s government. That’s come under the guise of extreme unaffordability of housing that he has allowed to manifest itself. So rising inequality, rising in probably a ridiculously low affordability of housing is where we are now.

 

Shane: So we have two parts to this question. One is obviously there is a bit, I can hear the upset in your voice when you’re talking about your home town and what happened there. So obviously it’s very personal, you felt personally the effects of those…

 

Gareth: It was just so unnecessary. We had a thriving cross section of community, we had some fantastic people come out of that school, Lorraine Muller the runner, of John Graham who was the head of Auckland grammar, Wayne Smith the All Blacks coach, you know? It was a real, I mean, schools are the centres of communities and so if you start [guessing] the community like we have under tomorrows schools and encouraging people to move to a distant school then those capable are going to do that and there was no evidence whatsoever internationally that that sort of streaming of people into the education system does the people at the top any good at all. There’s no evidence for that but there’s a hell of a lot of evidence that tells you that the people left behind in the residual schools do suffer. And the reasons were obvious. The incomes of the parents tend to be lower, the capability of the parents in the terms of being trustees tend to be lower, they’re lower school people, and so you just do not get the community support of your school and the school is nothing without the community support.

 

So I’m not a fan of tomorrow’s schools at all. I would rather we went to yesterday’s schools and then go straight from there onto the Scandinavian model.

 

Shane: Where would you describe yourself on the political spectrum? Because you’ve done pretty well out of the economy as it happened, you know?

 

Gareth: Thailand.

 

Shane: But at the same time you’re also still pretty upset about what happened and you have described a fairly interventionist approach to the economy. Where would you describe yourself or do you have, how would you describe yourself?

 

Gareth: Some would say I’m indescribable but I would say progressive liberal if you want a label. Or my political pal Jeff Simmons calls us radically centrist and I think we just are keen to do stuff that works so we are very evidence based as a party. Just about every policy we’ve done, we’re offering, has a book behind it and that book will basically be a researcher’s survey of you know the Brains Trust on that particular subject. I’m not putting us up as the geniuses but what we’re doing is saying, “well what is the state of academia on this particular issue?” We’ve actually just released another book called Pennies from Heaven which is all about how do you actually solve poverty in New Zealand so the books keep coming. But others would call it capitalism but I would put it this way, you cannot build sustainable prosperity on anything but a foundation of fairness.

 

Sam: So if you are looking, you conceived the party because obviously there’s a gap somewhere, you’ve perceived a gap in the political spectrum that’s been offered in New Zealand, so where is that gap? Where is it?

 

Gareth: Well there’s no progress so if you want to go backwards you would vote Winston Peters because Pearce essentially harps back to the past all the time he’s worked on, he’s described as an old fashioned conservative. So that’s where you would go with Winston. If you want to go nowhere then it really doesn’t matter vote National or Labour they will give you nothing. And the reason for that is that these are establishment parties with career politicians who basically their mantra is do not disturb or do as little as possible because you could put your voting base at risk. And we’ve seen that with superannuation you know? This is Muldoon’s biggest election bribe, the most successful election bribe that’s ever happened in this country and just remember Winston Pearce lays his craft on Muldoon’s knee.

 

And that’s what, you know, it was a populace policy and here we are 42 years later and we still haven’t dealt with that. That’s the do nothing governments that have fallen. But you know we have to do something about this thing, it’s like a monster, and I just think that people are ready for it and I don’t see anybody offering to go for it. I mean obviously we have the Green’s as well, who I have a lot of respect for, obviously on environmental matters, their economics worry me but we’re not far apart at all on environmental issues.

 

So the decision we made was let’s just put common sense, this is how you go forward in stuff, in front of people now, and they will either say, “yeah run it by us, let’s give these guys a bit of influence” or they’ll say, “nah we quite like no change”. What really concerns me with no change is that we are drifting, you know we are drifting to the inevitable, which is an extreme reaction, which is what you’ve just seen in the U.S. and you will soon see in France and the spectre of that I don’t like at all because that is really polarising across the population. So I’m trying to head that off at the pass but it’s like, hey. We can do these changes in an orderly fashion and we can reestablish our democracy so that these governments that we get actually serve everybody in New Zealand not just sector interests.

 

Sam: So when you think about the kind of person that’s going to vote for you, who is that? What does that person look like?

 

Gareth: Well, we’ve done a couple of gigs so far on the road in Invercargill and Dunedin, they’ve both been big crowds. They’ve both been right across the age spectrum. One thing that’s quite common is people will say to you, “I’ve never been to a political meeting before in my life”, I’ve heard it from every party that’s on offer over the years and you know I’m just woken up by the fact that we could do something. The questions at the gigs have been fantastic so if they ask you a question as, do you think it’s any New Zealander that cares? That cares beyond themselves, beyond their immediate family. That cares about what the future generations are facing in this country.

 

Which is, you know, I’m concerned that my grandkids won’t even be able to afford the blooming rent. Let alone, you know, buy a house. And who actually do care for the people at the bottom of this rising and the quality. So those people, that I’m talking about, are right across the political spectrum so I cannot give you a two dimensional profile of who we’re talking to. I’ve got no idea what’s going to happen at the end of the …

 

Sam: You’re speaking with some passion there. Are economists allowed to have that passion?

 

Gareth: No. That’s why I’m a little estranged from my colleagues. I mean, you know, you look back through all our books and you know, we’ve had help on a lot of these issues from some extremely confident and leading New Zealand academics and global, actually, when it came to the climate one, academics. Quite flawless research, quite flawless. So then I get to this point and I say all right, it’s time to stand up now and do something about this. We’re going to go with the political so the first thing I want, is I want competent team mates.

 

I want a competent team around me so I turn on these people who are all in their own authorities, in their own right, come on you’re getting near the end of your career at the university or wherever, come and give us a hand. Because you are the icon on your treasure map and I want you. God no. Why would I give my, that’s too much. Why would I subject myself to ridicule? And you know, so they are all in the head share and I can’t get them out and it’s exactly the same experience I had when I raised the issue of cats, which you might recall. You know, I had a 40 year economics career and I spent two weeks on cats and what do I get known for? Cats.

 

When I did that it was because, when I launched cats to go, it was because I had been told by DoC and Forrest and Bird actually, that cats were by far the main predator in New Zealand. So I said, “well come on then. Let’s tell the people and the people will do something about it.” Forest and Bird said, “we’re telling the people.” I said, “why?  And they said, half of our subscriptions come from people with cats.” And I said, “but that’s not the point. They’re still sensible people, they’ll know that by confining the cats they can have both so that’s the price of your ethics is it? It all begins and ends at the tail.” Yes. So and SPCA was the same.

 

Okay. So now we’ve made traction on cats and now we’ve got councils doing it. Chipping, something. Whatever it is. Snip and chip in Wellington for cats. Auckland all wandering cats are feral even if they’ve got those on them and a chip so. It’s getting heavy now. Councils have picked it up and they are running with it. so it’s now, four years later, conventional wisdom. But at that time I went with it. It was like the pioneer getting all the arrows in the bag. No one would stand up with you and it’s like this now with the politics. So you wait. If this thing gets momentum they’ll come out of the woodwork, which is fine, everybody’s got to find their own comfort level but to answer your question that’s why I’m a little estranged right at the moment from the economics establishment.

 

Sam: Where do your ethics come from?

 

Gareth: Boy, that’s a hard one. I don’t know, I think it’s emotional. I think when I see somebody, I mean I have a core belief that you should treat other people exactly the same as you want to be treated yourself. So it’s very simple, you know, I’m going to say ridiculously simple and so when I see that not happening it actually emotionally upsets me. I can’t control it, it just happens. So it’s about combining that with the logic, the analytical skills, da-de-da-de-da. All that stuff we are doing at the university, whatever, and trying to get the evidence based to help you to achieve your value set. And actually believe that’s how New Zealanders feel. I think New Zealand’s just traditionally other people who, you know, champion a fair go. And that actually puts us incredibly close to what drives what they call the Scandinavian model on many fronts.

 

We don’t actually mind paying a bit more tax if we had the most civilised society in the world and I think that’s something to aspire to. And obviously so does the rest of the world, that’s why they are banging down the doors to come here.

 

Shane: So what you’re describing is a passionate view of ethics but that’s not what, you know, economists always talk about the rational actor [crosstalk 00:18:39]. So what’s your opinion on the so called rational actor in economics and society?

 

Gareth: Yeah.  Well I think people are rational, not every single one of us. I think if we’re going to use economic balance we have a very high discount rate. Which means, in English, we value what happened yesterday and what we think is going to happen tomorrow a hell of a lot harder than anything that’s a year ago or a year ahead. You understand what I mean? So we don’t look past our noses, how I put that in English, and that can be a real encumbrance in terms of doing things that have a longer pay back period. That’s why I say in the Health Check that you will see politicians prefer to be opening hospitals, cutting waiting lists and opening hospitals, than investing money in prevention. Because there’s no cheer and that’s what you’re seeing with the National Party at the moment.

 

They are announcing these wonderful policies that don’t kick in until world end, you see what I mean? So the discount is actually high, so they say, “well we know that we’ll get you emotionally or swimming holes whether they don’t even have any water in them they’re still a swimming hole by the way. You know the Greens got to get upset about this. But we won’t do that until the year’s up and we won’t do it until New Zealand’s secrets will get us 76. Well the problems sort of were …” you see what I’m saying? So we’ve got this emotional, yeah this is the right thing to do but I’m not taking any risks tomorrow so let’s put it off on the never, never.

 

So they’re trying to straddle the two aspects of our, so to answer your question, the rational being I would rephrase it this way, if crowds get full information, so I’m getting safety in numbers here, okay? I’m not talking about you the individual but you and me and all the rest of us as a crowd, if we get full information then the crowd will elect very rationally. Doesn’t mean to say each and every one of us does but the average will be rational. So yeah, that’s where I come from and that’s why I suppose I’m pretty supportive, or a champion, of free and competitive markets because all of the markets are an expression of a crowd. So you cannot allow the market to be dominated by one or two players. That is neoliberalism. That is what we mustn’t have and that’s what we must address so it’s free and competitive.

 

Shane: So on that matter of good information, one of the things that has been a real issue with the Princes of Brexit Campaign and with Trump’s election in America was being this proliferation of you know what could be called fake news, anyway, what we would call propaganda beforehand. How do we assure, and the fact that the media is often, is now captured by one or two key organisations. How would you address, for instance, that problem here in New Zealand?

 

Gareth: Well don’t let the problems get so extreme that that’s what it drives people to. I mean I can remember when Trump put himself up for nomination for the Republican party and my wife Joann said, “He’s going to win this thing.” And I said, “of course he’s not going to win, the guy’s a moron.” And she said, “Gareth, you’ve spent a lot of time in the Appalachians in the southern states, you know he’s going to win. Because those people are going to run on fear and the people in Washington and California wouldn’t have a clue about how those people feel.” You know? They’re the bullets for the guns in the middle east, you know, cause it’s their kids that go to the middle east. They’ve got no jobs now and the Democrat regime hasn’t delivered them anything in the terms of social services. I mean, you know, it used to be the dream in America to have a three bedroom home in the burbs and you know a Chevy pickup and now it’s a trailer home and a ride on mower, then it’s a John Deere if you’re really doing well.

 

And it’s that complete smashing of what they thought they stood for and the fear that they haven’t won against terrorism and it’s coming their way, to their town any day, that’s actually driven that extreme reaction. Now I’m not saying that’s imminent in New Zealand, I’m not saying that, but what is imminent in New Zealand is the thing that we’re talking about which is, you know, housing. You want to own your own house? Forget it, it’s not going to happen. They’re being bought up by guys like me and on masse, foreigners, on masse and you know land bankers who are surrounding cities now holding hand and choking a city for expansion until the prices are right.

 

So all that does, that sort of stuff, is alienate people. And the one I’m worried about in New Zealand is the intergenerational alienation. I mean I’ve saw, not too happy about towns today like Putaruru and all the rest, but the thing I see looming is this massive intergenerational resentment. I mean my generation was basically born with its head in the trough and still got it in the trough. So we need to wake up. Now the good news with the boomers is that when I talked to them they’re all prepared to invest more in their grandkids than they are in themselves at this point.

 

So I think that the politicians have got it wrong here saying that, you know, we’re not going to change super, we’re not going to do anything to injure the boomers and all the rest of it because they’re our voters, you know? And two things on that. People younger than boomers now dominate the polls, there are actually more of them, problem is that we can’t get the voters out of the bed in the morning to vote, so that’s a real issue and secondly they’re reading my generation wrong. My generation does not want to leave the environment worse than we found it, we don’t want to leave our kids with climate change and we don’t want to leave our kids not even being able to afford their rent. So I think that we’ve got [crosstalk 00:24:36].

 

Shane: But the evidence is that you’re not dealing with climate change, as you say, your generation is buying up all the houses so it’s not that they are reading the generation wrong.

 

Gareth: No. You’re two liberals here. That’s exactly the reality, what you just said, but what I’m obviously going out there and presenting to them is, this is how we deal with climate change, this is how we deal with rivers, this is how we deal with the unaffordability of housing in the inequality game. And my age is saying, “yes, we need to do this. It’s about time.” That’s where I get the optimism from. So we’ll see. September will tell us but you know. So I agree with you but I’m looking forward here. In terms of there’s a mandate here, I suppose.

 

Sam: So how do we switch from fear to optimism? Is there a lever somewhere?

 

Gareth: Well I think you’ve just got to sell the vision and you’ve got to present credible ways to deliver on that vision. And then I think you will get the support and that’s the sort of challenge that, you know, I’ve set myself really. I may be totally wrong and I might be back on my motor boat come September and that’s fine too.

 

Sam: Do you want to be Prime Minister?

 

Gareth: No. I don’t’ actually need a job like that. No. I do have the life of Reilly at the moment and that’s a wonderful life and I want to keep it but I’m very concerned to get New Zealand on the right political, do the right thing basically. I mean I’m not far off from dying now so it would be a tragedy if I walked away from all this work that we’ve done and other people have done having belief in us and all of this, you know, saying “I’ve done all those books and everything and just said I’m satisfied now. What can be done? I’ll see you later.” I think you’ve got to at least just put it out there and the people of New Zealand will say, “Nah. See you later, Gareth.” Or, “We’ll have some of that.” Or, “We’ll have it all.” And see.

 

Sam: But could you stand being a small party with no influence? I mean, those are good ideas, wouldn’t that drive you crazy?

 

Gareth: Yeah, I wouldn’t go into Parliament. So we’ll talk about that, aye? I need for me 10 to 15% for me to feel there’s a mandate for this. Okay? So if we got in that sort of range for things over there then I’d go and roll my sleeves up and try to have a difference on whoever the party, the leader, you know. Coming from the days we’d stay in the cross benches because I think as soon as you go into coalition you lose yourself. You actually lose your identity, which is the main thing so you know, and we can see under and plead the evidence for that so that’s no no for us. And also I’m not into just governing day to day, I mean who the hell would want to deal with some disaster with P in a house or something and the minister has got to come up with smart answer today, forget it. Get that to go as we want, cohesion politics, I’m interested in top seven major, major reforms.

 

Now if we don’t get there and we’re down at naught too, well depends I suppose if you get a list seat but if you’re down in one, this is the way, one level seats and you really are treading water having not a fit. But that’s a building block. That’s a building block isn’t it? Just sit there, I mean that’s for the Green’s. I mean the Green’s are down there and they’re doing blooming well and they’ve put in the yards and they’ve, you know, they’re up to wherever they are in that 8 to 15% somewhere. So that’s a long, so I need people around me who are prepared to do that but it’s not me.

 

I would rather be outside still doing the research on the stuff, still making a hell of a noise, I don’t need the empowerment to be noisy and I’d still be funding that building team. It’s just that I’d get on with my life of Reilly as well. So I’ve got a few personal scenarios there but the main thing now is to get the message in front of people for you, as a public, to make up your mind and then to try and get some decent candidates coming out of the woodwork too, cause somebody said we’re around the electorates, you understand them. And I said we’re somewhere between zero and sixty, it depends on how much talent comes out.

 

And actually Winston Peters said that when he started too, with New Zealand First and he ended up of course taking in people. He found out how shallow the talent pool was, who were prepared to go political I mean, that’s the problem. It’s a very small fraction of the talent in New Zealand who are prepared to put their families and themselves on the line. And he ended up filling his ranks with no talent. Well, I’m not going to do that.

 

Shane: So why do you think that is? Why do you think the people are reluctant to go into politics?

 

Gareth: Because it’s visceral and it’s just horrible. I mean I’ve noticed that already. I mean I, what have we been in this thing? Three and a half months now, we’re babies but I mean it’s stuff like that right.  ACT does an OAA to the electoral commission on us every second day. Just to cause trouble. That’s just the politics that some of these people get off on. That’s like the worst of Facebook, that’s like trolling, it’s no different. You have to put up with that shit. You know that’s my point. You have to be resilient enough to, and I’m not the sort of guy who normally doesn’t react so somebody is awful to me I tend to be awful back with interest and it’s just my natural instinct and people say put yourself above, put yourself above but you can’t get one without the other.

 

You can’t get the sort of compassion of go forward without the passion of reaction. Which is why it’s very difficult. I admire people who have got that capability, I don’t. So you have to be prepared. Like I’ve had a woman working with us, the researchers working with us, who are the most stunning, fantastic academic brains that you could have met. So I say to them, “come on girls, you’ve got to come and help people. You’re the expert in this.” No way are they coming near it and putting their family at risk and themselves. And that’s just the reality of politics.

 

Shane: People say that’s reality but realities can change and there’s just something that the toxic environment, do you think that’s levity created to exclude or do you think … what do you think has created that? How would you change it?

 

Gareth: Well I think it has been amplified by media, I would have to say. Corporate media has definitely amplified this. I mean look at what they’re doing to journalists. They’re losing their ethics, they’re being told to be stars and get a hit or a sound bite with everything they do. You have the celebrity media thing, like the Hosking  type phenomenon or the Paul Henry type phenomenon where the show is all about them and all you are is somebody to walk over, you know, so you come on as the expert and then you get called this, that and the other thing. So that’s what corporate media does.

 

I mean I don’t support Trump in any way, let’s just get that clear, but by golly we’re that. He read that straight away and he just excluded them. And the media in America are still struggling to understand the Trump phenomenon. They’re still having a [inaudible 00:31:52]. They’re still having to come to terms with it. And I’ll never forget that graph on election day when the New York Times was there with all the polls and it started at 8:00 in the morning, a 97% chance that Hillary is going to win this and of course at the end of the day it was a zero percent chance.

 

So that told you what the conventional wisdom, how wrong it was and I actually think we have seen that here already. Where they’re talking about more Labour and National day-to-day, do-nothing, do-nothing stuff. That is not what I’m feeling out there and I’ve only done these two towns but I can tell you now there are people who are very concerned about New Zealand that we are drifting doing nothing and they want change and they want it in a positive way which is what you’re alluding to. So we’re going to have to overcome this toxicity of you know these sort of grubby political movements like ACT and you know John Brash’s  extreme right , those sort of guys. We’ve just going to have to somehow deal with them. And we’re going to also have to go past the commercial media, all the stand there type media, because they just amplify what the corporate owners want them to amplify.

 

Shane: I mean that’s the real issue isn’t it? I mean like here we can have a conversation and we can actually get into some issues really deep, you know, actually get in a deep conversation and explain complex issues that are facing New Zealand or the world but you can’t do that in a two minute interview on national TV can you? And then you wind just butting heads who is the exact opposite [crosstalk 00:33:37].

 

Gareth: And that’s the show and that’s nothing in terms of informing the public. But I feel the public is pretty blooming intelligent when it comes down to it and they recognise that as well. And I think the public are pretty well starved for quality, …for intellectual contributions that are on par with them not reduced to the lowest common denominator so I think there’s a demand, I mean I can see it, I can just see it in the numbers of these people that are turning up. And the pillar I look forward to every night is their questions because they are just awesome. You know, that tells me, man that guys thinking. You know? So yeah, it’s cool.

 

Shane: So the other question, the last question I have, is building your party because you could have done it from the top down. You could have said here’s the party come along. A lot of other parties are going to fill up from the ground as well so how are you finding that as a …?

 

Gareth: Well it’s lonely. We’re seven people, with seven policies, with seven months until election so how’s that for an outsider? But you know I just hope as we get momentum that we get some real talent come out of the woodwork and we actually have seen it on the volunteer base. I mean we did that by election Mount Albert where we got just under five percent which wasn’t bad for a three month old party, I thought, and against two blooming good candidates. Particularly Julie Anne Genter of the Green’s, she’s high quality that woman.

 

Shane: [crosstalk 00:35:09]

 

Gareth: Oh she is. She’s very awesome. And you know Jacinda is not a slouch either so it was a good contest and I only met those three so it was quite a dig. What were we talking about?

 

Shane: Oh just [crosstalk 00:35:26].

 

Gareth: So yeah, the volunteers that we had at Mount Albert were just superb people in terms of just their intellect, you know, that’s the part that really got me just the ideas they had on the poll. And we just had it again here in Dunedin the same sort of thing. So I just feel from the volunteer base that’s coming forward and wants to be part of this, they don’t just want to give out stickers and crap you know? They actually want to engage with the public on stuff, you know, themselves and they want to head discussion groups and have them Skype in and all that sort of stuff. Which is sort of the thing you were talking about, democracy from the grass roots up so it’s coming, it’s just that you know I sat at the beginning of the year or the end of last year thinking “how am I going to do this? Oh, I’m just going to do it and see what happens”, you know? It’s a standard technique for me.

 

Sam: You’ve made a lot of money.

 

Gareth: Yeah, you’re telling me. It’s ridiculous.

 

Sam: Couldn’t you just be off on a yacht somewhere?

 

Gareth: Yeah, I do a bit of that. In 2015, I was only two months in New Zealand, in 2016 I was only four. People think I’m here because that’s the power of social media isn’t it? I can communicate, I can do phone interviews and people not have a clue where I am. So I do have that life of Reilly very much and love, we both love running circles around the world and last year we did Indonesia from the top of Sumatra to East Timor so we’re still pretty active and Joann is planning for us to go from Nigeria to Japan so you know, we’re still pretty heavy in that stuff.

 

But I can’t do that, and if you read any of the travel books I’ve done you’ll find with me it’s not really about the motorcycle it’s about the society and the politics and how do these people get by trying to scrape a living out of bloody rocks and nothing. And you look back at New Zealand and we’re only worried about property prices, it’s pathetic really. Tend to the problem we really had back in NZ. So it’s not enough for me, that life of Reilly I have to, I’ve spent my whole life in this area on economic and social policy so I probably, no matter what happens with the election, I’ll probably still keep doing that work just to keep my intellectual satisfaction going.

 

Sam: What did you want to be when you grew up?

 

Gareth: I hope that never happens. But the answer to that, I just want to be me. And I’m a sort of spontaneous sort of out there guy and, you know, I’ve got wonderful people around me and I’m a very, very lucky chap.

 

Sam: Your investment company for the kiwi saver is ethical investment. To what extent is that viable or to what extent is that perhaps, you know, what do we need to do, I suppose my question is, to make that the norm?

 

Gareth: Well I think consumers are actually demanding it, just like they are demanding better quality food and a lot of things. So that’s definitely the case in finance and that’s great to see, isn’t it? Rather than saying, “well I know if I invest in a company that sells guns I’ll probably make more money than anything.” And then they say no thanks. The issue with the ethical investing for an investment company like the one I own, I’ve sold it now, that’s actually where I made most of my money, it’s about the degrees of freedom. You can actually, no gain companies no smokes, no oil companies, you know what I mean, fossil fuels [inaudible 00:39:21], but what about banks? Because banks bank them all, you know? So you can only go so far with that because you can’t see through that’s the issue. I’m not saying it’s just tokenism but it’s understanding the limits of that. I think the best thing you can do is live an ethical life in terms of your fellow human beings.

 

Sam: Do you have a go-to definition of sustainability?

 

Gareth: Yeah. Our environmental policy is to, for each generation to leave the environment at least as good in condition as they found it from this point on, hopefully better. So that’s all economic growth and all economic growth is is income growth has got to be subject to that constraint so that’s why in the environmental policy we had this whole polluted place thing, so I can give you an example of that. Farming. Just talk about farming, dairy farming, talk about the sub-catchment we’ve been leaking nitrates so the authorities that be, whoever they are have to decide well here is a tolerable level of nitrogen leaching so you set that and over time you might set that down, down, down but you set it and any farm that leaks more than that gets taxed.

 

These are collective taxes, economics 101. And then the revenue of that goes to any farm that leaches less than that, gets that revenue. So we base it so that it’s completely neutral within the geographic area and within the industry. So what you’re doing is inciting good behaviour and distancing bad behaviour and so far as the environmental target is concerned. So we are very much with the Green’s on the environmental bottom line. Same with the rivers. The Nats have just come up with this unbelievable definition of swimable rivers, they don’t have to have any water in them, I mean come on.

 

Sam: You talked before about the discount rate but is the problem with the discount rate being, I was thinking about the future or people further away than us if you apply it… what is the economics, can do to overcome that? Is there an alternative model for how we should be thinking for the future?

 

Gareth: That’s just full information. Once you understand the consequences of the situation, not just for tomorrow but further down, and what the unintended consequences might be further down, you’re discount rate will fall. You’ll say okay, “well if I let this go”, say climate change, “if I let this go then the consequences are could be by year X South New Zealand is under water. Oh shit, maybe we should do something.” So you just dropped your discount rate. So I think it’s about knowledge, I think it’s about people being educated on stuff. And people are hugely hungry for information rather than Mike Hosking sound bytes.

 

Sam: But after almost every news article, particularly on national radio, and there’s an economist comes on and says oh yes, but that’s going to reduce job rates by seven percent or is able to put a number on something that is quite specific we might argue about whether or not those are just made up, but if we’re talking about some impacts into the future we’re not able to have someone come on and say in a sound bite well that’s going to increase jobs by …

 

Gareth: Yeah so what you need with every policy is here’s the benefits and here are the costs so that’s the draw and that’s what I’ve done with all these policies, is said here is the good news, we’re a very radical flagship policy which is shifting the textbooks, here’s the good news, eight percent of your income comes into your pocket with the tax cuts and I say here’s the bad news, your house is going to get taxed on the half percent of every vehicle they own, okay.

 

Every policy has got a positive, there’s no free answers here and the stats quo with establishment parties is tendered to be, “here’s a free lunch, here’s another free lunch”, you listen to Winston, how is he going to solve the housing thing? I’m just going to have the government build more houses. Well hang on Winston, where the hell is the money coming from? Specifically, which tax bar are you going to take the money from? Please tell us the downside of your policy because every policy has got a downside. That’s all economist do so I think, people aren’t stupid, we all know it’s a world of trade offs so once the general public understands the nature of the trade off they all make an informed decision.

 

Shane: What’s the biggest success you’ve had in the last couple of years?

 

Gareth: I think just doing the books. Yeah, they’ve been. For me, the biggest joy has been working with those cool people, who are so good in their areas and just learning. Understanding, I mean I was the biggest climate change skeptic on earth basically until my wife read Flannery’s book and said, “Gareth, you have got to understand this because you don’t, it’s clear.” Three years later we had a book. That was harder than my PhD, that darn thing. So it’s just the joy of learning is by far the best part of life.

 

Sam: What’s the big unknowns?

 

Gareth: For me going forward?

 

Sam: Yeah.

 

Gareth: Or for all of us?

 

Sam: Well, for all of us. What’s on the next on the list of books?

 

Gareth: Next on the, well I’m almost through with my book phase, actually contrary to what you said I’ve actually done twenty books. Six of them were on travel and the last one was riding motorcycles across North Korea, you know, it’s never been done before or since. So it was a big seller, that book, in Korea anyway, South Korea. I think the big unknowns really for me is how is New Zealand going to handle the opportunity and the threats that are sitting out there. I mean I am not a great fan of what I sort of call the foreign peril when New Zealand is actually selling it’s land and allowing foreigners to have permanent residency without New Zealander tax status. I just think that’s nuts. The demand from abroad for stake in New Zealand is infinite and the value they are putting on it is going through the roof this is what Sir Paul Callahan referred to as a place where talent wants to come and live. That is probably the biggest gold mine for New Zealanders, I mean, that’s available and we need to cap that gold mine in one way or another.

 

Sam: We are writing our own book about these interviews. We are calling it Tomorrow’s Heroes. What we’re trying to do is capture the things people are doing that are making a difference because then if we can work out what that is we can bottle it and get other people to do that. So a couple of questions from that. How would you describe your super power? What is it that you’re bringing to the good fight?

 

Gareth: Well I do think we all learn from other people. As our son Sam said there’s no such thing as an original idea, it’s all in the execution and we do learn from what other people do. And I’ll give you a couple of examples of that.

 

You know we’ve been riding these motorcycles around the world since 2001 and the number of New Zealanders that will come up to me and say, “I’ve read this book, I’ve read that book on travel and now we’ve gone and done the same.” Or whatever has been just awesome you know and so another thing that we’ve, Joanne and I have been very busy doing, is all this charitable stuff. I mean we had to get rid of that Trade Me money, right, so we’ve been doing all this charitable stuff overseas.

 

Mainly in the country we ride bikes through with funding hospitals and all sorts of projects, Kiwi Heroes is working over there and there’s some amazing people, New Zealanders around the world, in the most desolate places doing incredible stuff. And that has rubbed off too. We’ve been on speaking tours around New Zealand talking about that and other New Zealanders will say because of that we just sold up. We just sold the house, everything and we’ve been off the last three year doing …” and you just go, blooming heck, it doesn’t take much to turn us does it? You know. So you get a lot of satisfaction out of that sort of thing and I’m the same. I get influenced very heavily by my heroes.

 

Shane: Do you make any mistakes?

 

Gareth: Heaps. You know, like I say some of my investments weren’t successes, 30% is probably too high probably 20. So you know I’ve done a lot of those. I don’t think I handled the beach discussion as well as I could have. That’s another one. The beach discussion really made me angry because the public ended up paying three million for a beach that we could have gotten for 300,000 and I just couldn’t get that across. I tried to do it in a way but it was a wee bit too complex and it got lost so I see it as a bust. So you know, not everything works. I thought cats was a big mistake for awhile but I don’t now, it’s been an outrageous success. So yeah. You take risks.

 

Sam: Do you need to find some outrageous things like that over the next seven months?

 

Gareth: Yeah, I mean I’m basically an anarchist from way back so you know I get no more satisfaction than throwing the marbles across a dance floor and seeing what happens.

 

Sam: Do you consider yourself to be an activist?

 

Gareth: Yeah, in my own funny way. My trouble is that I’m a bit of a lone wolf. I like teams as long as I can be boss, which is almost an oxymoron. But I do, as Jeff put it one day, we are very team oriented, it’s fantastic. We’ll all have a really good discussion and you know we go back and forth and Gareth makes his decision. But that’s the only way we get go forward. And that’s why I reserve the Green’s actually. I mean I love the democracy of the greens but the trouble is that it’s your worst enemy at times, you know, what did Churchill say, he said something like that about democracy didn’t he? You know or actually Churchill has another great quote about democracy which really resonates with me right at the moment, “I used to believe in democracy really strongly until I had a 5 minute conversation with the average voter.” I’ve had a bit of that but that is actually a bit disparaging. I have found that the people who have shown up for me are really wonderful. But, yeah, democracy isn’t everything but it’s what we’ve got.

 

Sam: Given that you may or may not get in to Parliament, and even if you do you’re not going to be there forever, what do you need to change? What is it that you would do that you were there that we need to be doing differently over the next 10, 20, 30 years?

 

Gareth: Well the biggest thing for us, for me personally, in our policy offering as the democracy we see it, that by far for me personally. I mean the climate thing is important but it’s a no brainer you know you’ve got to do it. Same with the river, with the environment all that so a lot of that stuff is you know, you’re just falling off a log really from a technical point of view.

 

But the democracy we see is a bit more subtle and what I’m concerned with democracy in New Zealand is that actually Parliament doesn’t have sovereignty. Sovereignty lies with the cabinet and despite the fact, you know, the law, that’s what it says Parliament does. All the National MP’s who aren’t in the cabinet are essentially just voting further and all the opposition MP’s you know are almost a waste of space. It’s not their fault it’s just the way the system works. So I would like the sovereignty of Parliament restored and the proposal to do that is first you get up a constitution so I agree totally Palmer on that and the point of a constitution is that it means that you and I understand very succinctly what it is that New Zealand values and what we stand for and we will not allow those rights to be infringed on.

 

So Muldoon would have never, ever have got that superannuation fund changed in 1975 if we’d had a constitution because a constitutional board would have said immediately this is a breach of human rights of future generations. So you have the constitution so that we all know what we stand for and we’re all in the same canoe and then you have either an upper house or a constitutional review board, whatever you call it, but it’s got to have some sort of teeth. It hasn’t got sovereignty, Parliament has got sovereignty and they can say this coming up legislation that you are proposing breaches human rights.

 

We’re all aware of it, we know our constitution and we say yeah, you’re not doing that to us. So we would have nipped that New Zealand super bribe in the bud and it never, ever would have happened. Rather than 10 years later Cullen trying to caw it back with the Cullen Fund and with Kiwi Saver because it was such a balls up. And we’re still fighting, here we are 30 years later still trying to deal with it. And to me that’s the biggest thing is to get democracy back on the rails in this country.

 

Sam: What gets you out of bed each morning?

 

Gareth: I just enjoy people. I just, you know, why wouldn’t you, you know? I know I’ve only got a limited number of days left I want to max out here so that when the grim reaper comes I can’t say “Hang on I haven’t done this, I haven’t done that.” I can say, “oh thank God! Take me away, I’m knackered.”

 

Sam: What’s the next motorbike trip?

 

Gareth: Lagos to Japan. So it goes up West Africa and then across the top of Russia, because we have done [soc row] but we haven’t done the top and gets to Japan just in time for the World Cup.

 

Sam: Well. If you could wave the magic wand and have a miracle occur what would you have happen?

 

Gareth: I’d get fairness back in the tax system. That’s our number one policy. I think that would solve so much in New Zealand. Take the tax burden right off salary wage earners and get it across us all so that people like me pay our fair share of tax, basically and I think that just solves so many issues, it solves the housing issue, it gives businesses capital for investment because that’s where the savings have to go. It reduces our reliance on foreign savings and stops the Prime Minister from going around with the bloody begging bowl overseas and bending over backwards to help, to give foreign investors tax breaks. It makes us resilient, self sufficient, makes us fear and makes us more prosperous. I mean come on, what is there not to like here?

 

Sam: And lastly then, do you have any advice for our listeners?

 

Gareth: Well I would just say that don’t, especially don’t think you’re powerless. You’re hugely powerful. You cannot throw rocks at what’s happening and say this is terrible, this is terrible. And moan and groan about the government. If you don’t exercise your rights in the voting booth, and to do that in a responsible way you have to be informed. Not just a single issue person and not a bigot. Now the biggest issue we’ve got with the voting at the moment apart from what we just talked about, the whole democracy alienation, is the young ones. Trying to get these young ones out of bed in the morning.

 

So we took a poll on that you know. We went last season, we just did a whole lot of polling, what would actually get you off your bums in the morning to actually exercise your vote? And I couldn’t believe the answer but the number one issue was Cannabis reform. Talk about a first world problem, you know, I’m not saying it’s completely irrelevant, I’m just saying it’s pathetic in terms if that’s the top if your tree, you know, boy just stay in the educational system mate, you’ve got a way to go.

 

Shane: Okay. You’re listening to The Sustainable Lens on the Otago Access Radio on 105.4FM. This show was recorded on the 10th of March 2017. Our guest was Dr. Gareth Morgan. Your hosts were Sam Mann and Shane Gallagher. You can get podcasts of previous shows on sustainablelens.org or you can subscribe on iTunes or on [inaudible 00:55:36]. We hope you enjoyed the show.

 

If you enjoyed this post, please consider leaving a comment or subscribing to the RSS feed to have future articles delivered to your feed reader.

Comments are closed.