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  • rmacculloch

A Man who Lost an Empire. A Woman who Lost a Nation?

The slide down our "lock-down" levels has led to a most extraordinary & unexpected comparison with the demise of the Soviet Union. Before the breakup of that Empire, it was a "closed" economy, where command-and-control rules reigned supreme. A "hermit" kingdom. There were severe restrictions on freedom-of-assembly and freedom-of-travel. Breakers of the rules could be "dobbed in". Sound familiar? Almost certainly without ever intentionally inviting the comparison we're about to make, our Prime Minister announced yesterday a "transition plan" to "open up" the country. Yes, we're "transitioning", she repeatedly said. Ironically, the identical word was used to describe the former command economies of the East in the late 1980s and early 1990s as they moved to embrace the open ways of the West. They were even formally referred to as "transition economies".

The President of the Soviet Union in 1989 when the Berlin Wall was torn down, Mikhael Gorbachev, who led this "transition" & who I met after his fall, whilst being widely admired outside of Russia, ended up becoming one of the most disliked people ever within Russia. Why? In his own words, as well as countless eminent commentators, his moves to "open up" were too fast for the hardliners - they wanted to continue with many of the restrictions of the past - yet he moved too slowly for those who wanted a full liberalization of the economy. So no-one ended up liking him.

As a consequence, we ask the question: could the same fate become of our own Kiwi Prime Minister? She's horrified a whole swagger of "hardliners", including many prominent health experts & modelers who've been advising her own government, by seemingly giving up on "elimination". They want to continue with the stringent lock-downs. Yet the full might of the business community has begun to heavily criticize her for not opening up and liberalizing faster. Their profits are at stake, just as they were under President Gorbachev.

In a strikingly similar way to Gorby, is not our PM running a significant risk of falling out of favor with practically everyone, not necessarily through any fault of her own? Just like the Russians before her, she may well find out the hard way that managing a "transition economy" is a nightmare and has led to the wreckage of many a political career.


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