There is something disconcerting for the layperson seeing economic experts arguing over whether we’re receding into a depression, or just depressed about a recession.
The mega-trillion transfusions of freshly printed money being pumped into their ailing economies by United States and Great Britain are starting to make Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe look like a model of monetary management. Mugabe was clearly impressed by Adolf Hitler’s Germany, which churned out so many millions of inflationary deutschmarks that a pound of liverwurst cost the equivalent of six second-hand Panzers.
Prime Minister John Key and his colleagues have resisted trading in the big BMW fleet for a bulk buy of Hyundai Kias, but he has lightened our gloom by suggesting that we could give our long-awaited tax cuts to charities, presumably so they can give them back to us once we’ve lost our jobs.
Things are so bad that even State-owned enterprise TVNZ has been forced to reduce its legendary corporate largesse by $25 million. A leaked memo about its fiscal pruning, apart from axing 18 news and current affairs jobs, said the cost-cutting included “reviewing” Koru Club membership for staff, actually requiring receipts when they transport their well-tailored selves around in corporate cabs, and having their allowances for clothing and “grooming” audited. It’s got so desperate that TVNZ could be forced to make do with just one prime-time newsreader having to learn how complete an entire sentence on their own.
Mediaeval monarchs who were prone to gross overspending on wars and extravagant lifestyles finally had to back down to rioting peasants and belligerent barons and succumb to parliamentary approval, or in France’s case, literally face the chop. Sadly Occupational Safety and Health would almost certainly rule out the introduction of the guillotine here unless its blade was blunt enough to bounce off a soft-boiled egg.
I have always liked the idea of old-fashioned wooden stocks being placed in every city mall, with a plentiful supply of over-ripe Hawke’s Bay braeburn apples on hand to exact public retribution on taggers, skateboarders, boy racers and elected officials who fail to meet pre-set budgets. It would be a very cost-effective way of showing local bodies that there is a limit to what the district really needs and what it can afford. The healthy exercise of apple-throwing would surely qualify for a SPARC grant and the stocks could be hired out to the Black Caps for some much-needed practice.
It would be nice to imagine that council officers have been tapping the “delete” key on their calculators and rapidly revising their departmental budgets in the wake of the economic collapse. Hopefully the hum of their office air conditioners has not drowned out the cries of anguish from the streets outside, where Japanese imports gleam unwanted in the nation’s car yards and factory managers pore over empty order books.
Some years ago, when I was covering estimates meetings of the then-Hastings City Council, there was always nakedly keen competition to get the biggest slice of the rates cake. If you had a strong works committee chairman and a weak parks and reserves head, the city could look forward to 12 months of sewers and water mains being dug up while parks burst into fields of rampant paspalum.
Councillors and long-suffering ratepayers were always being told that the city’s 100 year-old brick-arch sewer mains had crumbled and a few hundred thousand dollars were needed to stop Heretaunga Street from erupting into a three-mile effluent pit.
After seeing his budgets chopped to save our sewers, the defeated chairman of the library and social services committee would retire to console himself from the mayor’s liquor cabinet and bitterly vow to make a stronger case for a bigger non-fiction section next year.
The works committee’s failsafe strategy was to keep a continuing base of work on hand, so that councillors began their estimates meetings believing the city would collapse unless it kept building 30 miles of footpaths, 60 miles of sewers and 300 miles of new water mains every year. One would hope that by now every last brick arch sewer on the Heretaunga Plains has been replaced with a gleaming ferro-concrete pipe the size of the chunnel, yet the uprooting of roads and footpaths to expose the city’s aged arteries seems to be going at a faster pace every year.
Much of this work is based on the assumption that there will be increasing residential and business expansion. But even Nostradamus would be scratching out his earlier predictions after seeing the scale of the economic collapse buffeting the world at the moment.
Yet local authorities are now undergoing their obligatory long-term planning covering the next decade. It’s a costly process which will almost certainly be a complete waste of time. Who can predict what we will need or be able to afford in three years’ time, let alone during the next ten?
Our parks could be covered with canvas towns, our big bore sewers turned into underground shelters like tube stations in the London blitz. Everyone could be walking around in council-surplus high-viz jackets and wearing orange cones on their heads while they pick up windfall apples from our orchards.
Forget the long-term plans. They are a bureaucratic make-work scheme to produce a weighty document that is obsolete almost as soon as it is produced. Replace it with a big whiteboard so targets and budgets can be re-written every six months.
Turn Nelson Park, Hastings’ most expensive vacant lot, into a communal garden so we can cut household bills by growing spuds on our allotments. Stop building roundabouts and sports parks and put the money into cycleways. It will cut fuel bills, pollution and remove the boy racer problem overnight.
And don’t order any more high-viz jackets. The op shops will be full of them shortly.