Bernard Ashwin: 1896-1975

Chapter 3 of The Nationbuilders

Keywords: Political Economy & History;

‘Fraser ruled in very close consultation with the Federation of Labour. The other powers in the land were Walter Nash and Bernard Ashwin.’ [1] ‘[He] was clearly one of a small group – Nash, Fraser, and Walsh being the others – who were at the centre of the decision making process.’ [2] For Ashwin, secretary of the Treasury from 1939 to 1955, that central role continued into the early years of the first National government.

He was much liked by his contemporaries, who – perhaps because they were so aware of his power – liked to recall his simple diction and his dry, sometimes irreverent, sense of humour, often  associated with a degree of self-deprecation. Geoff Schmitt, his personal assistant in the mid 1940s, tells how he ‘overcame a restriction preventing admission of non-military persons to a security area in Kent by pointing out that he was Paymaster General to the New Zealand Forces’. [3] In 1917, as a private in the New Zealand Expeditionary Force, Ashwin acquired a distaste for some of the more formal British he experienced. He liked to recall that the highest he got in his signals company was ‘acting lance-corporal’.

While Ashwin had an attractive personality, it was by intellect and position that he dominated the economics of nationbuilding policy from the 1930s to the mid 1950s. His personal views were clearly of the right. He was a fiscal conservative, as one would expect of any senior Treasury official. Government expenditure policy involves numerous ministers and departments, all anxious to spend the government’s money on the public’s behalf, and the lone Treasury and its minister have to raise the money.

Ashwin was also a political conservative. Of course, his official writings do not betray such leanings, addressing the specific question with a narrow answer dependent on the context, exactly as is required of a public servant. Yet there are numerous clues that he was on the political right: his general economic approach, his close friends, and his commercial career after Treasury. Even so, he was an interventionist nationbuilder.

Born in 1896, in Paeroa where his father was a storekeeper supplying the Waihi gold fields, Ashwin’s family later moved to Cambridge, where he had but two years at the local district high

school. He was the oldest of seven, and ‘the limits of my father’s purse decreed work for me’. Cambridge was still largely rural, and he recalled the ‘roses and buttercups’ of the farm. He even considered taking up farming under the rehabilitation scheme for returning soldiers after the First World War, an opportunity which a decade later he was glad to have turned down. [4]

We scroll forward to shortly after the Second World War. New Zealand and the US are negotiating in Washington over the windup of the Lend-Lease deal. Schmitt recalls:

“The difference in money was daunting. With an hour of the first session to go Ash obviously thought it was the occasion to play for time and regroup. So he started to talk about farms about Cambridge, describing them in some detail. . . . Then he had them ploughing up the pasture and the wife in the shed growing cabbage seedlings; then planting out, spraying with derris dust etc., etc., getting the order to produce the cabbages ‘nice and fresh’ for the US supply ship, cutting

them, terrible sore backs, etc. Then the punch line – ‘you chaps must be pretty dry after all the talking you’ve been doing. Show me the nearest pub, and it will be my shout.’ [It] took some explaining to tell the US types what was meant by ‘shout’! End of day one . . .

“ We went back to the legation. Ashwin and company got the embassy wives round and we repriced the meat and butter and cheese, and of course, cabbages at current US retail prices less a (modest for negotiation’s sake) margin back to wholesale. . . . we went back next day and say that, at common prices, we just about broke even. In fact they owed us just about $2m. . . . it was settled that we should settle for (I think) $US7mto them, to be paid in New Zealand currency, for a new house for the US emissary, and funding our end of the Fulbright [fellowships].

“. . . At a luncheon related to the signing, Eugene Black [the leader of the US team, later chairman of the World Bank] said ‘It is now written in the heart of everyone in the US Administration that, if ever a New Zealander starts talking about cabbages you might as well give

him what he wants, and save time.’” [5]

Schmitt’s story illustrates Ashwin as a superb negotiator. But it also reminds us of his origins: while one may take the boy out of the country, you can never quite take the country out of the boy. Ashwin was rooted in the texture of New Zealand life, of rural life, even though he was to live for over 60 years in Wellington.

Ashwin’s memoir, written in the late 1920s, says he wanted, but could not afford, to go to engineering school, and that there was ‘a narrow escape from becoming a bank clerk’, ironically for a man who became a founder and director of the Reserve Bank of New Zealand. The path to becoming New Zealand’s most powerful public servant began in June 1912, when Ashwin, not quite sixteen, went to Wellington to join the Education Department, one of three cadetships won in the public service entrance exams.

The First World War was his Overseas Experience. Like many others, he over-reported his age to join up in 1916. He spent seven months in England before going on to France. Free rail passes

enabled him to visit much of Britain. He visited the theatre as often as he could, cathedrals and churches, and once spent all night arguing the English land question with a stranger, who he found out later was the novelist Rider Haggard. ‘The class distinction, a comparative new thing to colonials, did not operate against us to anything like the effect to which it was observed in the case of less fortunate “Tommies”.’ Everyone made a great fuss of ‘colonials’. He served in Ypres. ‘Dead horses and mules were plentiful and tens of thousands of men had been buried all over the place. The countryside literally stank.’ He twice diced with death, probably more often, leaving us to wonder how many other less fortunate potential mid-century nationbuilders are buried in Europe.

He returned home after the Armistice. “As a result of the war I had seen much and learned much. I had some good times and some bad times, but fortunately the former sticks more in one’s memory. Still I never got quite used to army routine and having to obey orders from all sorts of people was irksome to me. . . . Before the war my chief interest in life was sport and my work merely a tiresome necessity. Coming back, with all my old associations completely severed

and older than my years as a result of my experiences I was forced to stand aside as it were and ponder as to which way I would go.”

He ‘wanted to be more than an ordinary clerk’ and began to study part-time, initially to qualify as an accountant. As Sam Barnett, a secretary of justice, has remarked, ‘pre-war, the only training for public servants in New Zealand was provided by the Society for [sic] Accountants’. [6] But for Ashwin, ‘accounting was becoming so popular . . . it was clearly advisable to go further’, to degrees in economics. In 1925 he graduated with an MCom in economics from Victoria University College.

Ashwin began work in the Treasury in 1922, marrying in 1926. He and Rachel had three children. From 1930 he appears regularly in the bureaucratic record. He was promoted to assistant account-

ant in February 1930, and prepared a Treasury paper on currency and monetary policy, presented as a personal view to the Economic Society in June 1930, which his colleague Dick Campbell saw as a key step in the development of the Reserve Bank. [7] In November 1931 he was promoted to second assistant secretary, a newly established position, probably created for him. The report of the Economic Committee – commissioned by cabinet (by Coates?), and signed by four academics (James Hight, Horace Belshaw, Douglas Copland and Arthur Tocker) and by the secretary of the Treasury – ‘express[es] its thanks to Mr Ashwin . . . who was constantly in

attendance’. [8]

He became first assistant secretary in  1935. He was not a member of Coates’s brains trust, a postscript in a letter by Coates in 1934 explaining: ‘I don’t see how the Treasury could possibly spare Ashwin, though were it otherwise there is nobody whose services would be more acceptable to me.’ [9] He was close to Coates, even before he became minister of finance, as is indicated by the visit to the bankers in 1931 or 1932, which led to the creation of the Reserve Bank ofNew Zealand. Later Justice Arthur Tyndall described him as ‘the father and mother and everything else of the [Reserve Bank] Act’. [10 ] (Ashwin demurred: ‘that may be going a little too far’.)

In the 1930s he was the Treasury’s only economist. He had a strong grasp of the positive theory of markets (how they work), but little of the normative theory of markets, of welfare economics and how the market can generate allocative efficiency, since those branches of the subject had been developed after he left university. His economics training would have emphasised the importance of physical investment in the growth process. We see this concern in his occasional writings, as when he criticised government spending to reduce unemployment on the grounds that it diverted the money from capital formation. (Marxists would readily categorise Ashwin’s activities as the state being used by capitalists as an instrument of capital accumulation.)

When Keith Holyoake became minister of marketing in 1949, he received some long memoranda from Ashwin advocating major reform and liberalisation. Thus Ashwin was not an arch-interven-

tionist, great interventionist though he was in the 1940s. Markets and interventions were a means to an end. In Ashwin’s day all economists studied Alfred Marshall, who defined a good economist as one who has ‘less need of elaborate scientific methods, than a shrewd mother-wit, a sound sense of proportion, and a large experience of life’. [11]

Perhaps the significant event for the putative nationbuilder was that humiliation by the trading bankers. It was reinforced by a second great humiliation of New Zealand by the financial system

in 1939, where (uniquely) Ashwin was also involved. The requirement to roll over some £17m of British-based debt plus the need for more borrowing – there was an exchange crisis – had Nash travelling to London. The British reaction was hostile, ranging from antagonism to the recently imposed import controls (which they thought were an abrogation of the Ottawa Agreement because it limited access by British manufactures), to anger at the focus on welfare rather than preparation for war, and to dismay at the economic crisis which seemed to be overwhelming New Zealand. Among the options considered by the British government were ‘take over’ and bankrupting New Zealand, although neither option was thought practical. Instead, the loans were offered on appallingly harsh terms, and although eventually those terms were moderated, the experience reinforced the Labour government’s dislike for overseas borrowing. [12]

Ashwin was in Wellington receiving the cables. He knew there was an exchange crisis: export revenue was not keeping pace with import payments, despite the recently imposed import controls; private capital movements were unfavourable; and foreign suppliers were reluctant to provide trade credit. He was turning his mind to the use of exchange controls, perhaps out of desperation, and developing internal loans to soak up domestic savings:

“Nash has had a rough spin in London. Terms of conversion of the 1940 maturity (pay off £2min 1940 and £3.5m thereafter) are severe but the proposals submitted in the course of negotiations practically amounted to putting in a receiver. I attended Cabinet daily while cables [were] considered. Each day as the latest cable was read out the first comment came from [Bob] Semple (Minister of Public Works) – Tell them to go to Hell – and most of the Cabinet were inclined to

support that view. Each time I had the job of pointing out that we were not in a position to do that.” [13]

Such are the experiences which create nationbuilders, committed to national independence, concerned about their country having the policy instruments and institutions, such as the Reserve Bank, to frustrate international bullying.

The history of economic policy development in the 1930s has thus far largely been written by historians, and largely through pink and populist (even Social Credit) glasses. The approach is extremely critical of official policy. Of course there was incompetence. In retirement Campbell wrote: ‘if Ashwin had been there, instead of subordinate to [A. D.] Park and [G. C.] Rodda [the

secretaries of the Treasury before Ashwin], at least there’d have been an above-average intelligence at the top. There wasn’t.’ [14] Nevertheless much of the criticism is excessive and misdirected, taking into account neither the size of the external shock nor the lack of economic instruments to deal with it.

The deep depression of the early 1930s haunted the nationbuilders. We do not know the effect of the record unemployment on Ashwin, but we know later he was anxious to promote New Zealand industry by active intervention. He would have been particularly concerned about the lack of a reserve bank and other macroeconomic policy instruments, the mismanagement of the

loans account, and the dreadfully imbalanced fiscal stance.

Ashwin was not just the Treasury’s longest-serving (co-equal) secretary, but at 43 one of its youngest, [15] nd the Treasury’s first graduate. By the time Ashwin left Treasury there were 31 graduates in the main division alone. Despite Ashwin’s pleasure at such numbers, these statistics hardly represent his significance to Treasury. As Leslie Lipson commented in 1949: ‘In recent years, however, the powers and influence of Treasury have been considerably strengthened by a vigorous secretary. Originally an agency which did little else than prescribe departmental accounting systems, it acquired a stricter control over departmental appropriations since the depression.’ [16] The Treasury extended its role as the keeper of the government finances to become economic manager as well – from bookkeepers to analysts, the path Ashwin himself followed. If there be any doubt, consider the 1928 National Industrial Conference, a Coates initiative, which was attended by over 70 delegates from the private and public sectors, including five university economists and nine heads of government departments. The record shows no Treasury representation. That has been unthinkable since Ashwin’s time.

Ashwin served longest under Walter Nash. He kept a personal diary in the first months when he became secretary of the Treasury in February  1939. Only a month into the new job he shrewdly

summarises Nash, after commenting that ‘matters drift dangerously’:

“In [import licensing] and many other things the driving force is Walter Nash and he is definitely not a man of action. Other Ministers lean on him or fret at his delay but he keeps a tight hold on most things. He works hard in his office till midnight every night and is there on Sundays. His room is referred to as ‘the cemetery’ by other ministers who are unable to get decisions out of him. He has hundreds of files in his room and some of them have been there for months. He has a curious habit of sorting them up and stacking them neatly periodically. He is probably the best brain in the ministry and he is fond of ideals to improve the lot of mankind and [the] feelings(?) of the people. In his opinion anyone should be willing to work for £500 a year. [About twice the average male wage.] While personally pleasant to meet and a likeable person in many respects he is suspicious and does not really trust anyone very far. His egoism is unbounded. His greatest failings are indecision and a passion for detail. He wastes hours each day over matters that [he] should not consider at all, while urgent matters of national importance are laid to one side. I sometimes feel that he turns to small things for relief from big ones.” [17]

In the case of Savage and Fraser, Ashwin started off distancing himself, but later became respecting of, and warm towards, them. Ashwin’s relations with Nash were more of a trial, moderated by the time Nash spent overseas.

“[T]he fact that Nash refused to resign when he took up his position in Washington did make things a little awkward for me although I had no difficulty in carrying on without him. . . . Nash could not hope to run Treasury from 12,000 miles away. I wrote all the budgets and although he arrived to present them, there was never time for him to alter anything of basic importance. I let him play with a few words to make him feel that he had contributed to the budget, for Nash had a great love of the theatrical and made a great show of presenting ‘his’ budget to the house [18]

(The practice of the Treasury writing the entire budget was not new. Ashwin’s predecessor remarked: ‘we never consult a minister in advance of preparing a budget.’[19])

The gossip has it that Ashwin was frustrated by Nash’s dithering (plus the uncaring way he treated his officials). There is a story of  Ashwin standing over Nash in his last day in office in 1949, and taking a grim pleasure in insisting that Nash sign some documents over which he had been delaying.

In contrast, Ashwin was extremely popular among those who worked for him. Henry Lang, a subsequent Treasury secretary, described him as an ‘excellent manager of staff’, and ‘very accessible’. Schmitt uses the expression that the staff used to ‘worship’ Ashwin. An outsider, Jim (J. C.) Fletcher reported he was ‘approachable’ and ‘an outstanding public servant’. In contrast to most public servants he was a ‘visionary’. [20]

The promotion of industrialisation was part of his vision, a strategy reinforced by war needs. In 1942, faced with a crisis of a lack of equipment, Ashwin became deputy chairman of the newly

established Supply Council. He commented that ‘he was left with a good deal of authority and discretion with which to act’. There was ‘only the flimsiest of engineering industry’ and yet by ‘improvisation we did manage to achieve some impressive results which meant that the country would not have been completely lacking in defensive equipment had the Japanese threat eventuated’.

“Rifle ammunition was desperately short . . . there was only enough for one decent skirmish. Ammunition was manufactured by the Colonial Ammunition Company in Auckland but, as it was situated right by the Mount Eden prison, it was regarded as a too obvious target for the Japanese. The Supply Council requested that it be shifted but Army said this was not possible as production had to be maintained. . . . First the ammunition producing plants were converted to an independent source of power. . . . The Waikato was chosen for it was necessary to defend the area as it held the country’s key power operations. We arranged with Fletcher to build a number of small Army type sheds. The ammunition producing plant was placed on the back of the trucks, the girls who worked the machines were put in the cab, and the machinery shifted to the huts in the Waikato. The whole operation was so well planned that production loss was only a matter of hours.” [21]

At the same time Ashwin was in charge of financing the war, and his office was close to those of James Fletcher, commissioner of defence construction (J.C.’s father), and F. P. Walsh. Wellington was a small, intimate, and informal place for those inside.

‘At the official level [of economic policy] the dominance of Sir Bernard Ashwin [was] extraordinary.’ [22] In 1943 he was made chairman of the newly established Economic Stabilisation Commission. As well as secretary to the Treasury and chairman of the ESC and the chairman (in effect) of the Supply Council, he was chairman of the Office of National Development and served on the boards of the State Advances Corporation, the Defence Council,

and the Reserve Bank of New Zealand, where his resignation in 1955 left a vacuum.

A constant preoccupation of any Treasury secretary (indeed of any Treasury official) is fiscal control. In Ashwin’s case his natural conservatism would have been reinforced by experiences in the early  1930s, when the government’s fiscal position was under extreme pressure. [23] A paper he presented in 1935 is instructive not only for the way he passes quickly over theory to get to the practicalities of the current situation, but how modern his analysis sounds half a century later. (That impish sense of humour could not resist ‘it is not unknown for men to join in some resolution [that public expenditure must be drastically cut] and then in some other capacity go with a deputation to the government with a request that involves further government expenditure.’) [24]

As Treasury secretary, Ashwin travelled overseas extensively; he was at Bretton Woods (for the founding of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank), and negotiated with the British government for the meat and dairy prices. A widely quoted story is that the two Treasuries would settle the deal on the first day, and then there would be more public negotiations to come to the same agreement. It is said that once the parties disagreed by a farthing on the price of butter, and that the dispute was settled by a game of snooker in which Ashwin represented New Zealand. Although versions differ as to whether he won or lost, we may be sure that the outcome was judiciously in New Zealand’s long-term interests.

One consequence of the overseas travelling was a network of contacts in foreign financial markets, which became especially useful for government financing. This was illustrated by the

founding in 1946 of BP (NZ), which was 51 percent owned by the New Zealand government,  49 percent by the British company (itself with substantial British government ownership). Ashwin was ‘largely responsible for BP getting off the ground’. [25] He was a director from  1946 to  1967. Significantly, in  1957 Ashwin was angry when the National government sold its share to the parent company. One takes it that he saw New Zealand ownership and control of the oil company as a part of the nation’s independence.

It does not follow that Ashwin always favoured public ownership. He rejected the full nationalisation of the Bank of New Zealand in 1945, taking the view that public ownership was unnecessary since the Reserve Bank controlled trading banks. But ownership of an oil company gave the New Zealand government information about world oil prices, helping it to monitor and

reduce transfer pricing. The full nationalisation of the BNZ and the failure to join the IMF are among the few occasions where Ashwin’s views did not prevail. The Social Crediters in the Labour caucus were probably as much the bane of his life as was Nash.

Social security was another trial. Ashwin was on the departmental committee on national superannuation and health insurance which reported to Coates in 1935, and all the major officials’ committees which reported to the Labour government in preparation for the passing of the 1938 Social Security Act. Most accounts of its development focus on the conflict in the Labour caucus and overlook the technical constraints of funding, eligibility and generosity which the officials faced. To simplify, the 1936 interdepartmental committee investigated a scheme based on the election manifesto, estimated at costing 14.5 percent of GDP. The cost steadily came down as eligibility was tightened and generosity reduced. It was almost halved by the time of the caucus committee report, and another third was clipped by the time it was introduced in 1939–40. Yet the 4.0 percent of GDP was still more than double the cost of the old scheme. [26] The big reductions were in the provision for the elderly and the slower implementation of the

health benefits.

Ashwin resisted the various extensions, on fiscal grounds. In 1938 he was arguing against the size and generosity of the scheme (especially the age of universal eligibility), claiming that ‘the budget would be virtually out of control’ and it would ‘endanger the financial stability of the Dominion’. [27] When the war broke out, he advised Nash to postpone the parts of the universal health and superannuation components of the scheme not yet introduced. In 1955, to the royal commission on money and banking, Ashwin was still doubtful about the sustainability of this later scheme (which then was costing 6.7 percent of GDP). Undoubtedly social security (or, more precisely, its substantial extension) was a major achievement of the first Labour government, but it succeeded in the form for which it is much admired because it was made fiscally sustainable by people like Ashwin. As Robert Muldoon was to learn in the mid-1970s, an overgenerous pension scheme may be electorally attractive but causes severe fiscal and economic problems.

Perhaps Ashwin’s greatest industry achievement, nicely illustrating his pragmatism, was his involvement in the founding of the Tasman operation at Kawerau, the pulp and paper mill which was to process Pinus radiata from the vast Kaiangaroa forest, the planting of which had been begun in the 1920s. His son says Ashwin thought the project so important that he talked of giving up the Treasury secretary job early, so that he could be more closely involved in it. But when he in fact retired in 1955, not yet 59 and entitled to another six years of service, the deciding factor may have been sheer exhaustion. Moreover early retirement meant that he could still enjoy a new career as a company director. While his power may have diminished, his networks and mana did not. In 1957, Sutch asked for his support when applying for the secretaryship of Industries and Commerce. [28]

He remained one of the three government appointments on the Tasman board, and was their director of finance. He ran the Tasman office in Wellington (from the BP building) until his five-

year appointment ended in 1960, when he was replaced by the then secretary to the Treasury. The government then appointed him to the Dairy Products Price Authority. As well as BP(NZ), he held a number of directorships in the private sector, very often involved with the private financing and construction of nationbuilding projects (including the Coastlands shopping centre at Paraparaumu, which was once the only significant shopping centre in the Wellington area open on weekends).

The Tasman story straddles both the public and private sectors, so typical of New Zealand’s industrial development. So here it straddles two chapters, with the post-1950 development  covered in the chapter on James Fletcher. It is also a story in which the environment and the economy interact.

Around 200AD, a central North Island volcano, whose crater is now Lake Taupo, erupted. The clouds reached the Northern Hemisphere and were recorded by the Romans and Chinese, the first time that something happening in New Zealand came to the attention of mankind. The scattered ash lacked cobalt, molybdenum, and selenium. Without those trace minerals, livestock grazing on the Central North Island land wasted away with bush sickness, as the nineteenth-century pastoralists soon learned. (Vogel’s solution, it will be recalled, was to grow fruit trees as the basis for an export canning industry.) From  1913 the land was planted in radiata pine, a Californian tree which flourishes in New Zealand. During the interwar period large areas of the Kaiangaroa

forest were planted by the government as a form of regional employment and to provide an alternative source of timber as the native forests were depleted.

Pat Entrican, the director of the Forest Service appointed in 1939, saw the potential and commissioned a report from a newsprint manufacturer in 1941. Ashwin was ‘generally sympathetic with the proposal and . . . inclined to suggest for the government’s consideration that it might be adopted.’ He saw advantages from direct employment and savings in foreign exchange (but he was not then thinking of its export potential) in that ‘the scheme, if sound, should assist in the widening of the diversity of industry which is so desirable to a balanced economy’. But he was not ‘satisfied that the future income and outgo is reliably estimated’, expressing reservations as to the project’s profitability.[29]

The war set aside the ambitions, as it did for so many others, the trees kept a-growing, and when the project was revisited in 1947 the costs had leapt to five times the original estimate (but still

only a third of the actual outcome). The cabinet had agreed with the principle of the scheme in April  1949. Ashwin became increasingly cautious. He told Nash: ‘As you are aware our present

capital programme is much in excess of available capital resources and therefore inflationary, and it is clear that the large project in addition to the Roxburgh hydro scheme and other large works

cannot be financed from internal savings.’ (About the same time he was advising delaying the Auckland Harbour Bridge for the same reasons.) He recommended that the project be established in the form of a corporation or company, that £6m be raised in share capital and that the company would pay half the capital costs and the government would assist by advancing the rest in the form of interim funding. Later, approaches should be made to the likely large subscribers. This is almost exactly what emerged in 1955. [30]

Entrican said that Ashwin was showing ‘passive resistance’. But this is no more than fiscal conservatism. Ashwin had expressed anxiety about the already substantial pressure on the Reserve Bank to increase the money stock. Basically he saw a private contribution to funding (less than half, for the infrastructural costs including rail, roads, port, rental housing, and electricity would be borne by the government) as a means of relieving the pressure. He may have favoured private enterprise, but his positive response to the government’s purchasing a majority share holding of BP(NZ) shows a pragmatic approach rather than the ideological position of

a free enterpriser.

Ashwin and Entrican were involved in a dispute about the nature of the government’s involvement in the Tasman enterprise. It was a heated one, not least because Entrican was a ‘man who was quick to state his own opinion’, in contrast to Ashwin’s more taciturn approach. [31] It can be usefully portrayed as an argument about the means by which the project should proceed. On a spectrum from government department to private corporation, Entrican favoured the left and Ashwin was, with J. C. Fletcher, more to the right. The dispute was more about means than ends. The government finance and support was provided by a (right-wing) National government led by Holland who, though at first suspicious of his public servants, came to respect Ashwin. He was knighted in 1956.

Tasman was not the last time Ashwin as secretary of the Treasury was involved in the development of industry. The secret, but abortive, negotiations between the British and New Zealand governments to convert geothermal steam into heavy water for the British nuclear power industry (which led to the geothermal electricity generation programme) took place in Ashwin’s office.

The end was economic nationhood, with New Zealand trading internationally but having the independence and status of a nation, not a colony. The New Zealand country boy who got to Bretton Woods, via the hardships of the war in France, the self-discipline of a part-time MCom, and the policy shambles at the beginning of the Great Depression, saw the need for nationhood, as much as did the younger Sutch, who had similar – yet different – experiences and saw things from a different political perspective. The 30-year-old Ashwin wrote, before his distinguished career was to be evident, that in early adolescence, ‘I acquired a desire which I did not entirely abandon for many years to be an engineer and build bridges and tall buildings’. [32]

Instead he became a social engineer, and built the mid-century New Zealand economy.


1 K. Sinclair (1976) Walter Nash, Auckland, p.208.

2 J. Martin (1991) ‘Economic Policy Making n the Early Post-war Years’, Society an Culture: Economic Perspectives, Proceedings of the Sesquicentennial Conference of the New Zealand Association of Economists, Vol I, June 1991, New Zealand Association of Economists, Wellington, pp.245–72.

3 From a memoir written by G. Schmitt in 1997. A copy in Ashwin files of B. H. Easton.

4 The quotations in this and the next few paragraphs come from a memoir written by Ashwin between 1926 and 1929, held in the Ashwin family papers.

5 Schmitt (1997), p.63.

6 Campbell papers. (Notes on A. D. Park.) Original emphasis by Campbell.

7 B. C. Ashwin (1930) ‘Banking and Currency in New Zealand,’ Economic Record, 6 (November 1930), pp.188–204.

8 Ashwin memoir, p.7.

9 Coates Papers MS 1785/188, held in Alexander Turnbull Library.

10 Proceedings of the Royal Commission on Monetary, Banking, and Credit Systems, Wellington, 1956.

11 A. Marshall Principles of Economics, 8th edition, London, 1920, reset and reprinted 1949, p.642.

12 Sinclair (1976), pp.170–89.

13 Ashwin diary, 8 October 1939.

14 Campbell papers, letter to W. B. Sutch, 30 Sept 1971.

15 Second only to Murray Horne (1993–97).

16 L. Lipson (1949) The Politics of Equality: New Zealand’s Adventures in Democracy, p.443.

17 Ashwin diary, 8 October 1939.

18 Henderson (1970), p.7.

19 Henderson (1970), pp.13–14.

20 These quotations come from interviews I had with the three.

21 Campbell papers, letter to W. B. Sutch, 1 July 1973.

22 Martin (1991), p.217.

23 As well as the revenue fall-off, the government’s London borrowing was inept. See Campbell papers. (Notes on A.D. Park.)

24 B. C. Ashwin The Practical Problems in Public Finance, Notes of a lecture to the Commerce Society, Victoria University College, 15 April, 1935. Copy held in Macmillan Brown collection of the University of Canterbury Library (presented by W. Rosenberg).

25 J. C. Fletcher, interview, 13 February 1997.

26 Expenditure figures from Hanson (1980), pp.154–5; GDP figures from Easton (1997), In Stormy Seas, p.299.

27 Ashwin to Nash, 4 Aug 1938, T25/20. National Archives.

28 G. Fraser (1990) Both Eyes Open: A Memoir, Auckland, p.114.

29 M. Guest (1997) ‘The Murupara Project: The Tasman Pulp and Paper Company Ltd and Industrial Development in New Zealand 1945–1963’, MA thesis, Victoria University of Wellington, pp.36–7.

30 Op cit., pp.40–3. Much of the material in this paragraph is based on a letter from Ashwin to Nash dated 24 August 1949.

31 Op cit. pp.40–3.

32 Ashwin memoirs.


Barr J. C. (1969) ‘Interview of B. C. Ashwin’, Alexander Turnbull Oral History Archive.

Easton, B. H. (1997) ‘Bernard Ashwin: Secretary of the Nation Building State’ New Zealand Studies, Nov 1997, pp.13–21.

Easton, B. H. (1998) ‘Ashwin, Bernard Carl’ DNZB, Vol. IV, pp.21–2.

Easton, B. H. (1998) ‘Fraser and the Development of the Nation-Building State’, in M.Clark (ed) Peter Fraser: Master Politician, Palmerston North, pp.119–30.

Henderson, J. (1970) ‘Interview with B. C. Ashwin’, copy held in Ashwin family papers.

The Ashwin family papers, which include a memoir written from about 1926 to 1929, and a diary of 1939.

I have collected a couple of box files on Ashwin, which will eventually be deposited at the Alexander Turnbull Library. The files include memoirs written about Ashwin by G. Schmitt in 1997.