GUEST BLOG: Bryan Bruce – What is an economy for?


In 1989 I was filming a documentary about Peter Blake and his family during the Whitbread around the World Yacht Race. One of the ports of call was Fort Lauderdale in the USA and when I went to the car hire rental depot I was struck by the fact that the people washing the cars and doing the manual labour on the site were all senior citizens.

Now curiosity is in my DNA (at least that’s my excuse for being a documentary maker) so I asked the guy doing the paperwork on our rental vehicle…

“ I can’t help but notice that a lot of your crew are quite old”

“Yep” came the reply “ we’re mostly in our 70’s.The oldest just turned 80 last week”

“Why’s that?”

“You don’t work you don’t eat. You don’t work you don’t have a roof over your head”.

In short these people were cleaning cars because either they had no pension or one that was inadequate to pay their bills.

Back then it seemed so different from anything from what was accepted in New Zealand , the land of social security and pensions at that time.

TDB Recommends

Yesterday I went to the garage fill up the car. The forecourt attendant was a man who would have had to have been in his late 60’s. The woman cashier looked to me as if she was also late 60’s, she was rocking from side to side and her face clearly showed she was pain.

She was polite but spoke in a tone that told me she didn’t really want to be standing behind a till asking me if I wanted to buy a coffee with my purchase.

“Are you OK?” I asked

She winced.

“Oh it’s my knee. I can’t walk very well and standing all day is painful. I have to have it replaced but that’s not going to happen anytime soon. ”

How have we become like America in 1989 where the aged and unwell have to work to pay the bills?

The answer isn’t simple but a lot of it has to do with the fact that five years before I filmed in Fort Lauderdale the Labour Government of the day embraced Neoliberal Economics as the theory that would drive our economic decision making.

In a nutshell it is the idea that the State should not be in business and should not own anything . That stimulating private enterprises will create jobs and wealth will trickle down to the poor.

It hasn’t worked. The rich get rich by holding on to their wealthy not releasing it. Corporations work to deliver profits to their shareholders not the general population .
Neoliberalism has benefitted the few – such as those who have been able to buy up land and housing and profit from sitting on their assets – not the many.

I’ve been very disappointed in many aspects of the current government’s previous budgets because they have shown a reluctance to pull all the available levers open to them to close the ever widening gap between the rich and the poor in our country. (By and large, for example,they rejected the recommendations of their own Tax Working Group).

My hope is that in the upcoming budget we will see some evidence the cabinet has asked themselves the question “What is the purpose of our economy?”

Is it so that a few people can get extremely wealthy at the expense of the many? Or that it should produce the greatest good, for the largest number of people, over the longest time?

Bryan Bruce is one of NZs most respected documentary makers and public intellectuals who has tirelessly exposed NZs neoliberal economic settings as the main cause for social issues.


  1. “I’ve been very disappointed in many aspects of the current government’s previous budgets because they have shown a reluctance to pull all the available levers open to them to close the ever widening gap between the rich and the poor in our country.” AND a reluctance to pull all the available levers open to them to reduce or wipe out exploitation in all its forms. AND a failure to recognise the senior ranks in our public service are not only interested in preserving the status quo, but are the biggest handbrake on transformation and kindness. AND the preoccupation with marketing and massaging the message (aka bullshitting) instead of doing stuff and things – which as you say, they have all the levers at their disposal

    And its for those reasons I can’t party vote Labour after a lifetime – even if it means tolerating woke Greens.
    I suspect there are a few others thinking likewise. 2023 will be interesting

    • Yep, I’m done with Labour. Given a mandate & they do nothing substantive. Not enough votes? …”we can’t do it, we don’t hav a strong enough mandate!” Get a clear majority & it’s …”we cant do too much, we don’t want to startle the horses. All things to all people ends up being nothing to no one.
      They’re pushing cultural leftism but basically still wedded to economic neo-liberal rightism. In the political compass I was 83% TOP, 82% Green, only 78% Green & even NZ First got 68% support from me coz though somewhat culturally right/conservative they seem to be a bit more economically left than given credit for. We need Left Nationalism, Self-Sufficiency efforts. I’ve always split vote Labour Greens but now I’ll go with splitting between Greens & either NZFirst or TOP but really I wish there was a Libertarian Socialist Party here.

  2. What idealist trash you write. The state has no wealth- it only has the collective tax take of all the tax payers. If you have more tax takers than tax payers your society will fail. NZ was broke in early 1980s so it had to change.

    • Well that depends of course on levels of taxation not numbers of people being taxed. And since the 80s, the taxation arrangements have meant a few have ended up with the mostest of stuff and things (usually useless stuff and things they usually only have to feed their egos and what they perceive as their status) while the rest struggle.
      It won’t end well. Humans, like viruses and most forms of life have this inbuilt instinct to want to survive – a bit bloody inconvenient if you happen to be at the top table with all the treats and trinkets (like flat screen TVs in the karzi) with all those plebs after a piece of the action.

    • ” What idealist trash you write. The state has no wealth ”
      Your statement is garbage! 🙁
      The State can and has accumulated wealth on behalf of its citizens. Look at NZ prior to 1984. Look at Norway’s soverign fund from North sea oil wealth. Look at the infrastructure of a modern state by the state for its sitizens: roads, public spaces and buildings and services such as health.

    • Well yes it does, even if that wealth is gathered in taxation. It is the duty of the state to use that wealth for the common good of the majority. Also the state/crown is ultimately the sovereign owner of all land, minerals, coal, fish in it’s sea-limits etc. Freehold is not absolute in itself it is a grant to a citizen to ‘freely’ hold that parcel of land, ie not encumbered by required mandatory military service/or supply of others to fight on behalf of that ‘owner’. The state can gather wealth from it’s resources & the allowing of citizens/companies to farm, mine, fish etc. Taxation is the price paid for those exploitation rights. There is no sane reason on Earth that Govs can’t cut out middleman parasites of usurous bankers by ‘printing’ own money thus no need to borrow or tax incomes. There is no sane reason on Earth that states can’t themselves engage in capitalist endeavours, own shares, invest, and/or mandate that every company that wants to trade within a state’s borders be owned partially by the state. Gov can receive dividends from companies, not just rely of taxing them & citizens & use that wealth to benefit the whole society. Capitalism abroad, socialism at home … The only reason this doesn’t happen so much is that Bankers/Capitalists have too much power & have cowed the states.

    • No Sam, you are wrong.

      No one knows what is going to happen in our future.
      Divorce, poor health etc can strike any of us, and we don’t plan for these things to happen.
      But they have great potential to upset the best laid plans.

      If a couple divorce in their sixties, which is quite common, then they will never catch up to where they were as a couple.
      And poor health limits the chances of work as well.

          • People with good health typically do what humans have done for hundreds of thousands of years which regular and vigorous physical activity. Do I have that correct or nah? Genuinely interested in your alternative theory of good health, yknow the type of good health that is unrelated to physical activity, choice and human history. Yknow, logical stuff, here’s your chance to educate me. Give it shot.

            • I believe you are uneducated in so many ways that you are a lost cause.
              Bad language is always the backstop for those who cannot formulate an intellegent arguement .
              Life throws you curved balls . I hope when you grow up there are too many come your way.

    • Oh fuck. Labour governments are supposed to help people into better paying jobs and those who can’t Labour are supposed to give them some dignity because we don’t leave people behind as we create a better future. Nationals job is yo fuvk that all up. That’s what an economy is for dum arse.

      • Sam Many people see the Government as a huge business that generates all the wealth we need to live well. Of course the Government is the banker but only until the money runs out. The business owners generate the cash through wages and taxes, not the Government. That means that even Labour Governments can only hand out what the business and exporters earn. If everybody does ok the general tax take provides the cash. That’s why all Governments have to strike the balance between promoting business and exports and providing adequate social support. National has promoted business and exports and forgotten the social part. Labour is socially minded but often neglects the business part. There has to be a balance as one can’t do without the other. Covid has shattered our economy even though it looks to be doing ok. Labour has borrowed billions but knows it can’t keep doing it. Your best bet Sam is to hope the business world does well enough to generate more jobs because job creation from the Government is temporary and usually poorly thought through. Why, well because most MP’s have an education but know fuck all about business.

        • Gov also able to generate wealth by controlling it’s natural resources directly instead of letting capitalists/foreigners take the lion share profiting in exploitation and not just settling for taxing them softly, taxes which they do their darndest to avoid/evade ala Panama, Caymans, Singapore etc. Gov can generate wealth by buying into corporations becoming shareholders on behalf of citizens. We can adopt the idea that every citizen is a shareholder in the collective natural wealth and receive a social dividend on that basis. Our Land, Minerals, Forests, Fish, Water belong to everyone in this country, not too a handful of exploiters enabled by the state.

          • Kevin in theory you are right, but in-reality it rarely works because Governments don’t run Corporations efficiently. That’s why the MoW and the Railways were sold off originally. Like I said MP’s on the whole know nothing about business. I like your idea but would need proper management and from what Iv’e seen from this Government they wouldn’t know how to get the paper to a toilet roll factory.

            • Some how when The National Party is the government there’s this psychological phenomenon that allows them to lose their shame. That’s the only way the advanced degree and theoretical economics proffesor community like this new view can get up and talk about wages systems, tax avoidance, railway systems, micro reform, exports, and there new view is talking about the stability of the free markets which isbused to telling The Labour Party what they should and shouldn’t do with stability of the NZ currency. He’d trip up all those 24 and 25 year olds in New York and London on the foreign exchanges when National is in power as if the markets would magically take it easy on the NZ currency when National is government. I mean the lunacy to to believe that these apex preditotrs would leave National alone. Just absolute bullshit.

        • Money is just a proxy for labour when you income exceeds the numbers of hours worked congrats you are now a capitalist because you’re living of you’re own capital. The education system doesn’t teach this stuff, not even an MBA gets taught thus stuff. Marx git his labour theory of value wrong and so does Trevor Sennitt and Bryan Bruce get there labour theory of value wrong because it’s not taught in schools. 2 years ago I was saying there’s a depression coming, 3 years ago I predicted a pandemic. And I predicted Labours 37% and a majority government admittedly I was high both times by 0.1 but I’ll take that as bang on. I didn’t use advance math or anything just simple math ykmow 1+1=2 so instead of rounding up the margin of error like you’re taught in schools, I round numbers down. I believe itz more accurate. There is a whole bunch of real math behind it but I learnt it by osmosis no one schooled me in it, future poles and prices tell me I’m correct not some rando on the internet telling me how inferior my education is (fuck you trev)

          So making wealth during a crises for the poor if there ever really was a poor and middle class to begin. with because these classes last until there’s a crises and bang wealth and inequality explode and the poor and middle classes eat ass cake num num num, so basically the poor and middle classes horde money while capitalists horde capital. Yknow you can change the values, medium of exchange or what ever great fucken theory of Money but you can’t change human nature. And yes I am mocking you because it’s not an advanced economics theory it’s just simple math.

          No other asset is least loved than money. Our of all the asset classes money is taxed the most and has a zero percent return. So if you’re just holding money or consumption like new shoes or what ever luxuries than you’re actually poor because your return on investment is still zero unless of course if your income 3xceeds hours worked, of course. If it’s not billionaires ith there advanced degrees in unemployment hording all the capital then it’s some bullshit dictator. It’s just so universal it happens every 10 years tyring a financial crises.

          So if we print a whole bunch of money with no corresponding increase in productivity then the prices of capital assets goes up, again it doesn’t pay to hord money or borrowing money to fund a government’s budget, but they can invest in productivity, infrastructure and protect essential services during a crises by increasing productivity and inflating asset prices so that the government can tax 10% of that asset price inflation and increases in productivity.

          We know the government is going to borrow billions. We know what’s going to happen because it’s happened 6 times before during a crises including the great depression. Why fight it with some bullshit theory in advanced mathematics. Chasing money isn’t worth it I hope you will agree. Although I’m not that many lefty commis would accept my right wing economics but reality can fix that.

  3. The purpose of the economy is to allow financially wealthy and morally impoverished people to loot and pollute the planet and exploit less wealthy people, enjoying the spoils of their various looting and exploitation activities with other members of the loot-pollute-and-exploit club.

    In order to prevent immediate revolt, the members of this club allow sufficient ‘breadcrumbs’ to fall off ‘the table’ into the hands or mouths of the masses.

    To ensure the system continues, they control the minds of the masses via advertising, fake narratives in the mainstream media and corporatised sport -another source of revenue for the sociopaths at the top of the financial-social pyramid- and get the masses to vote for sycophants or members of the loot-and-pollute-and-exploit club every few years so the ignorant masses think they have some say in what goes on.

  4. The up-coming budget is make or break time for Labour; with no NZF as an excuse they need to show what side of the neo-liberal fence they are on…..

  5. The economy is not an entity in itself but rather production,distribution, trade and consumption.
    It is not dynamic it’s controlled and regulated by government policy both nationally and internationally.

  6. (By and large, for example,they rejected the recommendations of their own Tax Working Group).

    The recommendations were never going to fit with the Social Democrats third way neo liberal kindness agenda.

    It was an excuse for Adern and Robertson in 2017 to heighten expectation and give them a easy soundbite to any difficult questions around tax and to say lets wait for the working groups findings ( already knowing what those would be ) before committing to do nothing or the absolute minimum.

    Blaming wily Winston was just a ruse to keeping to the free market principles in place.
    Robertson and the rest are not Labour socialists but a product of the 1984 capitalist revolution that bought us to where we are today.

    Grant and his colleagues still mistakenly believe that the market will cure the worst excesses of the neo liberal straight jacket and deliver the mythical cure that they still believe capitalists and their reciprocates will allow them to deliver to or least pretend they are just a little bit concerned with the economic refugees plight in god zone.

  7. Jay 11
    Sorry but that’s silly.
    In 1984 New Zealand was on the brink of economic collapse.
    The reforms of the Labour government got us through.
    Further reforms by National saw us make unprecedented progress.
    Norway’s government took a major share in North Sea oil with private enterprise a smart move,it was never nationalised.
    Our Government ,Labour that is ,had a nuclear moment and banned further oil and gas exploration in New Zealand.
    So please what are you actually trying to say?

  8. Trouble is, when you get to a situation where a wealthy few control everything, revolution has the common way out. Problem we have today, is how to storm a Cayman Islands bank account

    • Revolution is a “common” way. You don’t need all this creative accounting or some bullshit equivalent special kindness. You just need to be willing to die for what you believe.

  9. ” What is the purpose of our economy?”

    To make people like this rich while they support dirty oil.

    This from No Right Turn’s idiot savant.

    Stuart Smith is National’s climate change spokesperson. As such he spends his time trying to discourage and undermine government action on climate change.

    Stuart Smith also appears to be quite rich. And according to the Register of Pecuniary Interests released today (p45-46), he has a large investment portfolio, including shares in Contact Energy, Genesis Energy, Vector, Freightways, Mainfreight, and US energy conglomerate Berkshire Hathaway (which was in the news this month for rejecting even reporting on their emissions). In other words, in gas, coal, trucking, and oil – all industries which need to radically shrink or change if we are to meet our climate change goals. Which seems like a fairly direct conflict of interest to me.

Comments are closed.