New Zealand offers lessons for constraining state power
by Linn and Ari Armstrong
The following article was originally published by Grand Junction Free Press on February 19, 2007.
Many Americans know New Zealand best through the breathtaking landscapes filmed for The Lord of The Rings trilogy. That story tells of the corrupting influence of power, symbolized by the Rings of Power and the Dark Lord Sauron's "one ring to rule them all."
In our world power has nothing to do with magical rings. The power to rule over others -- to initiate force against them -- comes from the failure of government to protect individual rights. Corruptive power can arise with gangs, Mafias, and strong men who seize control.
Or unjust power can arise when popular governments succumb to special-interest warfare, protectionist and nannyist legislation, and forced wealth redistribution. Properly, government agents employ force only to protect the rights of individuals -- to stop and prosecute criminals, to enforce contracts, and to defend the region from foreign aggression.
Government legitimately uses its power to protect life, liberty, and property. This requires Constitutional protections of individual rights, the careful separation of powers, and strict limits on the powers of government. The power of government must be limited to the defense of individual rights in order to preserve the power of individuals to direct their own lives.
On January 19, New Zealander Maurice McTigue came to Grand Junction to share his experiences with restraining state power. McTigue, now a visiting scholar and Director of the Government Accountability Project at George Mason University (GMU), spoke to a packed house at a Republican function.
McTigue talks about the need for smaller government generally. He also explains how New Zealand reduced the amount of resources the government consumed, thereby returning financial power to individuals.
In a talk transcribed at Flatrock.org.nz, McTigue said, "We achieved an overall reduction of 66% in the size of government, measured by the number of employees. The government's share of GDP dropped from 44 to 27%."
Many subsidies were eliminated. One of the results is that New Zealand is now producing the highest quality lamb in the world.
The headline of a July 2, 2005, article from the International Herald Tribune summarizes the results: "Shorn of subsidies, New Zealand farmers thrive." The story relates, "In 1984, despite farmers' protests, the Labour government scrapped almost 30 production subsidies and export incentives in a bid to bring the national economy back from the brink of bankruptcy."
John Acland of the Mount Peel sheep station told that paper, "It was a cold turkey time, and smaller farms with a lot of debt, they really suffered... But as a result, New Zealand agriculture is in a much, much better situation today. It's a prime example of what happens when you leave farmers to make their own decisions."
McTigue explained how New Zealand moved to return control to parents over their schools and children's education. This is a lesson lost on the educational elitists of our country. According to the January/February, 2007, issue of The Atlantic, since the 1970s per-pupil real spending has gone up, class sizes have been reduced, and the percent of "teachers with at least a master's degree" has gone up. The grand result? Average standardized test scores have remained flat.
McTigue's biography at GMU recounts some of his other accomplishments: "As Spokesman for Works, Irrigation, Transport and Fisheries, McTigue was closely involved in the deregulation of labor markets, deregulation of the transportation industry, and restructuring of the fishing industry through the creation of conservation incentives... "
Coloradans can expand on McTigue's lessons by promoting free-market economics, the case for individual rights, and proposals to transfer power from the government to individuals and voluntary organizations. We should look at everything from the Food and Drug Administration to the Department of Energy to state parks to the local ambulance service.
Despite the wisdom of America's Founders, we have not yet fully learned the lessons of individual rights and free markets. McTigue put some of those lessons into practice in his own country. We should be able to do even better here.
There is a final irony about New Zealand and the theme of corruptive power in The Lord of the Rings. According to a January 23, 2006, column by Edward Jay Epstein in Slate, "the New Zealand citizenship of Jackson and his team qualified Universal for a cash subsidy from the New Zealand government that could be as high as $20 million..."
A subsidy by "the New Zealand government" means that the government forced citizens of the country to fork over the money. While such unjust use of power doesn't rise to the level of Sauron's exploits, it still violates rights. Our own state legislature also spends millions on corporate welfare.
Frodo sought to destroy the Ring of Power in a volcano. That's nice symbolism, but we can prevent the unjust use of power only by advocating a government that consistently protects individual rights.