Leadership and Nationbuilding

Revised version of a paper presented at a conference, July 2004.
Keywords: Political Economy & History;


The Nationbuilders described a particular phase in New Zealand’s economic and political history, between 1932 when Gordon Coates became Minister of Finance and the election of the Labour Government in 1984. It follows a group of (mainly) men embarking upon a strategy of developing an independent nation with its own economy and culture but engaging with the rest of the world. The story is told through their biographies, but it could have been told through historical sequence or policy themes, or with more biographies had there been the space.

Their nationbuilding strategy came out of the distancing of colonial New Zealand from imperial Britain, together with the impact of the two world wars and, crucially, the Great Depression. Importantly for this chapter. it began in a period when the forces driving economic globalisation – the integration of economies – were relatively quiescent. Conditions are very different today. Have the mid-century nationbuilders anything to tell us about the challenge that nationbuilders face today? (Throughout this chapter, ‘mid-century’ refers to the middle of the twentieth century.)

Briefly, while mid-century nationbuilding was a solution to a problem then facing New Zealand, the style of leadership the nationbuilders of that era remains relevant today, if not more so.

Leadership, Policy and Problem Solving

Policy is essential a problem solving exercise: the better the precise identification of the problem, the analysis of the options, and the choosing of the best option (with clarity as what is ‘best’) the more successful the policy exercise.

This approach has an interesting implication for the significance of the mid-century nationbuilders when we consider the task faced by the nationbuilders of this century. From one perspective we can say the time of the earlier nationbuilders has passed, and they have nothing to say to current generations. On the other hand, we can think of them as problem solvers whose problem solving strategies may be still relevant.

Problem solving is typically a team effort, although on occasions the leader may pace the floor, chew over the possibilities, and then make the ultimate decision. We are prone to portray our politicians this way, but usually there is some consultation in which a variety of other people are involved, but of which there is little record. (There will be more today because of the more formal policy process. Even so, the informal consultation is still likely to be unrecorded.) Thus the precious recollection of Gordon Coates’ decision style by Bill Sutch, who worked in his ‘thinktank’ from 1933 to 1935:

“[He] went right round the table [of those in the ‘thinktank’]. He would ask everybody’s view and the hour would be getting late – it might be 10 o’clock at night – and he’d say ‘All right gentlemen, we’ll have a cup of tea’. And up would come from Bellamys a tray with a silver teapot and we’d have a cup of tea. A quarter of an hour later we’d go on with the discussion and about 11 o’clock he would say, ‘All right, gentlemen, I’ve heard enough. I know what we’re going to do. These are the decisions.’ He would make a few notes on paper, and that was it. He’d make a decision and he’d say, ‘All right, go away, draft the legislation.’ And then he would go down to Mr Forbes who was Prime Minister, and say, ‘This is what the Government’s going to do.”
(An account based on cabinet papers or from the recollections of cabinet ministers is likely to entirely miss this process, giving the impression that Coates did it all himself.)

How Peter Fraser made his decisions is not as well recorded. We know, from the memoirs of Bernard Ashwin (and Alastair McIntosh who does not have a chapter in The Nationbuilders but could have had), that Fraser was in frequent one-to-one dialogue with senior government officials in which he mulled things over. Ashwin records
“I saw him almost every day during the war. For some reason he liked me and often asked me to call to see him. On my way home from work – usually around midnight – we would sit and talk through the early hours of the morning. He would give me some of his new proposals and seek my opinions of them. I always answered honestly; if I thought his plan crazy I would tell him so and I think Fraser respected me for this.”

He probably also consulted a handful of politicians, and certainly consulted a few outsiders (we know he did with F.P. Walsh). Whether he had the multilateral discussions like Coates is not recorded.

Another mid-century nationbuilder who we know consulted a lot was the surgeon Douglas Robb. Many of his books advocating health reforms were collective efforts, while the adoration of the younger members of his surgical team is reminiscent of that of the members of Coates’ thinktank.

The contrast is Rob Muldoon, who was included in the book to illustrate that the mid-century nationbuilding could go wrong (perhaps a little unfairly because his time was well past the mid-century and the world has changed, even if Muldoon kept to old nostrums). As the record of history thickens, there are numerous reports of bilateral interactions between Muldoon and his policy advisers, but the sense of each is that it was a hierarchical relationship, rather than a consultative one we get in the Ashwin quotation. Ashwin and McIntosh were lower in the hierarchy of age, experience, and position than Fraser but give no sense they were made to feel inferior. Similarly, while Coates by age, experience and position was senior to members of his thinktank, Sutch and Dick Campbell (the ones who left memories) thought they were involved.

Muldoon’s style cannot be solely attributed to the formalisation of the policy process that occurred in the late twentieth century. His successor Minister of Finance, Roger Douglas, also had – Coates-like – free flowing discussions with advisers and officials. Rather, Muldoon, the clever but lonely schoolboy, carried on this approach into adulthood, and could neither encourage collective discussions, nor treat those involved as able as he. Muldoon said that nobody understood the New Zealand economy better than he. Even were that true, there were pairs of advisers who knew better, although he rarely harnessed them in the way that Coates did.

Muldoon did have his advisers – sometimes called the ‘kitchen cabinet’ – but characteristically they were more cronies than talented individuals, a praetorian guard to protect him from the able rather than to enlarge his policy making process. (Muldoon also had an official advisory group, sometimes called a ‘thinktank’. But it was for intelligence gathering, and does not seem to have operated in the manner of Coates’ thinktank.)

The talented were suppressed. In the Cabinet and hence not entirely avoidable, George Gair, for instance, was given the task of dealing with portfolios that other ministers had botched. But despite this acknowledgement of ability, he was not a part of Muldoon’s inner circle, and they rarely spoke. Similarly, it is rare to get a sense of any warmth towards Muldoon from senior officials – respect yes, affection rarely.

It cannot be entirely a matter of being an insider or outsider. Muldoon knew he was not readily accepted by the policy elite in Wellington. (Treasury officials had considerable respect for him in the 1972 to 1975 period, following his term as Minister of Finance under Keith Holyoake. He blew this goodwill by his approach to personnel, although his social conservatism were also alienating).

Norman Kirk also saw himself and his Labour government as outsiders, but that did not prevent him from having close affectionate relationships with some officials, notably the head of the Prime Minster’s Department, Frank Corner. Fraser probably thought of himself (and Labour) as an outsider too – before 1935 he had been in the wilderness all his life. Both Fraser and Kirk believed they had a mandate from ‘the people’, which empowered them to over-ride the policy elite. But it did not prevent them (or Bill Rowling, who was more at the heart of the machinery of Kirk’s government) from working cooperatively with senior officials.

It takes skill to identify those who can contribute. Notoriously, Coates’ thinktank was to his left (Ashwin aside). Fraser was surrounded by a galaxy of talented men (together with his wife Janet). Their politics were not his own, and indeed he promoted a number of men who at earlier stages had been his political enemies: Bernard Freyberg from military suppressor of the Auckland waterfront strike in 1913 to Governor General and prime minister’s confidant in 1946, Sutch and Arnold Nordmeyer who had been on the other side of the leadership succession battle in 1940, Coates who had been driver in the hated coalition government. (Ashwin’s ‘for some reason’ in the above quotation may indicate that he was aware he and Fraser were on opposite sides of the political spectrum.) Fraser’s blemish was his relationship with Jack Lee: perhaps it was the father rejecting a rebellious son – perhaps Lee, who saw himself heir apparent if not heir denied, threatened Fraser’s self confidence as ‘The Leader’.

In summary, the leadership style that succeeded among the mid-century nationbuilders involved a process of consultation (not necessarily involving only officially designated advisers), in which those involved were talented (and had a mix of skills) and felt they were valued and involved. The leader was not necessarily the most talented on all dimensions, but he was, confidently, ‘The Leader’. His policy success seemed to have involved a degree of humility, that others were in some way cleverer, or knew significant things he did not, or could do things he could not. (Robb must have known he was not the best technical surgeon in his team.) Perhaps too, he worried that he was not quite on top of the problem, and so kept reworking it, rather than seizing slick answers. But, unlike Walter Nash, he could make decisions when he had to.

We can see how such a leadership approach is likely to lead to quality policy making. It is rare, when a significant policy issue first appears, that the problem is well defined and the viable options obvious. It takes reflection to transform the incipient policy problem into a solvable one,. Typically the process of reflection benefits from a number of able thinkers with a diversity of talents and backgrounds. A consultative style of leadership enabled this transformation.

Yet the network of consultation can get too large and destroy the creativity which is sometimes crucial in the development of policy in new circumstances, where an original policy framework is needed. The policy development process which dominates official advice today, works well within a policy framework. It does not seem particularly effective dealing with the creation of a pragmatic policy framework in novel circumstances. Better the Coates thinktank of the talented, the Fraser bilaterals with the able, or the more open public debate which seems developing today.

The problem-solving policy approach explains another feature of the nationbuilders. Irrespective of whether they came from the left or the right, their solutions tended to be centrist, but mildly progressive. This is not to say that Coates or Fraser, say, did not on occasions put some political twist on their policies, and frequently their policies were publicly presented with a somewhat stronger twist than was justified. But ultimately the vast majority of policies address the problem in a forward looking way in a manner with which those of the moderate left or right can live (so that old enemies Coates and Fraser could respectfully work with one another in the War Cabinet).
(The one exception to this generalisation is policies which are primarily distributional but do not have much other influence – even though it is normal for the rhetoric to disguise distributional impacts with efficiency justifications. A simple illustration is the way in which patronage appointments are likely to be biassed by party considerations.)

The chapter now sets out the policy problem of nationbuilding in a globalised world. After that is consideration of how the political leadership of today has or can respond, with particular attention to the policy process.

The Meaning of Globalisation

At the heart of the problem of nationbuilding, is how to respond to external circumstances, especially globalisation. The popular sentiment is, by the standards of scholarly discourse, opinionated, uninformed, and confused. The growing consensus among scholars may be summarised as follows:

First, economic globalisation is defined as “the closer integration of national economies”, to which I add “and regions” because internal integration is so similar to, but preceded, international integration. For instance, it is helpful to think of as the economic integration of the regions of the United States as a form of globalisation. The addition becomes important as this chapter extends globalisation to cover nationalism.

There is an ambiguity in the scholars’ definition. ‘Globalisation’ may refer to the process of globalisation, or it may refer to the degree of globalisation. The distinction can be important, especially when different time periods are compared. In the first half of the twentieth century the process of globalisation was quiescent or even reversed, but there was still a considerable degree of globalisation, that is interdependencies between economies. Thus the process of globalisation was stagnant or reversed in the first half of the twentieth century, but the level of globalisation was still higher than what it had been in the first half of the nineteenth (when the process was more vigorous). Moreover the interdependencies are multi-dimensional, so we see today far greater integration of trade and capital markets than labour markets.

Second, in contrast to the popular discourse, economic scholarship does not see globalisation as a recent phenomenon. There is some disagreement as to whether the process starts as early as the first European explorations in the fifteenth century, but the consensus is that globalisation begins in the early nineteenth century when international trade begins to shift from absolute advantage (gold for spices) to comparative advantage, where countries import products they could make themselves but it would be inefficient to do so. The process of globalisation was virtually non-existent in the first half of the twentieth century, despite the degree of globalisation being higher than in the earlier part of the nineteenth century. There is debate whether the stagnation began in 1914 or up to thirty years earlier, but general acceptance it came to an end, and a new phase of globalisation began, shortly after the Second World War, say in 1950.

The pattern is illustrated by international trade. It was 1.0 percent of World GDP in 1820, rising to 9.0 percent in 1929, but falling to 5.5 percent in 1950. In 1998 it was 17.2 percent, and is no doubt higher today. Other indicators – say of capital and labour flows – have the same general pattern but the timing of the turnarounds differ.

Third – and this is less explicit in the literature – globalisation is a consequence of the falling costs of distance. This is no surprise: regionalisation occurs when the connections between regions improve; trade based on comparative advantage is going to be negligible when the costs of transporting the goods are high.

There is an important implication here. As long as the costs of distance continue to fall, the process of globalisation will continue and the degree of globalisation increase. Indeed they will continue for a period after costs no longer fall, as it takes time to make full use of all of them. The implication is that not only will globalisation continue, but there is a sense that it is irresistible as long as it is driven by falling costs of distance. The policy issue is how to respond to the closer integration of nations, not how to prevent it.

These three general facts are from an economist’s perspective. We can, and should, extend, the notion of globalisation beyond the economic, where there is less consensus because of the wider topic and the plethora of disciplines. For this chapter’s purposes, we need only extend the topic to cover nationalism: the ‘only’ is, of course, an understatement.

Nationalism and Globalisation

The English history of nationalism presents a misleading portrait of nationalism for the whole world. As Shakespeare’s Henry V portrays, English nationalism began in the sixteenth century, presumably because of the clarity of international boundaries – the Welsh and Scottish borders aside, and the distance of Britain from a world centred on Rome. However, nationalism only becomes a significant European and American phenomenon in the nineteenth century, and for the most of the rest of the world in the twentieth.

The sources of this upwelling in nationalism were twofold. The Enlightenment (and the subsequent Romanticism) challenged traditional views of identification with class, family, race, and religion, turning attention to community as an identifier of the collective interest. Of course these communities were influenced by older divisions (and often never quite overcame them), but a notion of a community inhabiting a common region became popular (although sometimes relatively distinct communities of interest overlapped spatially).

Second, the notion of a nation was reinforced by the falling costs of distance. When the costs were high – Thomas Hardy’s Wessex novels recall such a time – villages which today are but a car’s hour away were then isolated from one another. As those costs, including the time security and reliability involved, fell the villages interacted. Consequently villagers had to extend the notion of the communities to which they belonged.

The experience of Germany is a better paradigm than England. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, the remains of the Holy Roman Empire had left a plethora of principalities in the centre of the European continent, which generally, but not always, spoke variations of German (but read the same Martin Luther’s translation of the Bible, if protestant). Even today, a German on the western boundary may better understand the Dutch across the border than a German on the eastern boundary. Nevertheless boundaries were drawn. The creation of the German nation-state is a complicated story, ending – perhaps – in 1993 with the union of the East and West Germany but, to simplify, a first step was the customs union (or Zollverein) of the principalities in 1834. In 1871, a Germany state was created following the Franco-Prussian war. The successful commander, von Moltke, said that railways built Germany, referring to his military’s ability to amass quickly large number of troops. However there is a deeper truth here. The German railway system gave communities a commonality (although where exactly were the boundaries had an element of arbitrariness). The rhetoric, not unrelated at first to the rise of the mass newspaper (distributed by railways), reinforced this incipient nationalism, as did the political and military needs to justify and defend (and extend) any borders, however arbitrary.

Prices at either end of a new railway line (and telegraph) began to increasingly move more closely together, so falling costs of distance created regional markets. The geographical widening of commerce needed an institutional infrastructure, which developed from the end of the nineteenth century, requiring a national government to create and regulate the law and related institutions. EU commercial law may be seen as a whole of Europe parallel, while the IMF and the WTO are examples of international ones.

Even in Europe, nationalism usually preceded regional independence and the creation of nation-states, especially in the west and south with the breakup of the Austro-Hungarian, Ottoman and Russian Empires. The phenomenon was to be repeated in the twentieth century with the breakup of the extra-European empires of Europeans nations including the British, Dutch, French, and Portugese ones. (The big collapse in the Spanish empire leading to Latin American independence occurred a century earlier. Completeness requires mentioning that the first British Empire collapsed in the creation of the United States.)

The creation of nation-states had salutary effect on economic policy. The development of the domestic institutional infrastructure also enabled the state to control its border far more effectively than previously. The associated rise of democracy –sometimes it was an increasing of the franchise rather than the universal franchise, but everywhere states became more sensitive to the desires of the masses – meant that the instruments of economic policy became used in the interests of wider groups.

Stagnation of globalisation occurred towards the end of the nineteenth century, as the more democratic nation-states bedded in, and nationalists resisted further extensions of the domain – and the possible absorption of their nation – by the creation of artificial costs of distance, such as tariffs, to offset the falling natural protection.

The steady abandonment of many of these policies from 1950 probably reflects a change in the internal political economies, the recognition of the substantial gains from trades, and the advantages of mutual disarmament of protection. But if the trading of goods and services and the mobility of capital is easier today than it was in the nineteenth century, the movement of labour is far more restricted. Today, the most important economic function of most borders is to prevent cheap labour crossing into higher income economies. (The greatest exceptions are the absence of restrictions between the states of the United States since it first began, and increasingly within the European Union.)

In a sense then, the economic nationalism at the centre of the nation-state, which evolved in the nineteenth century and which stagnated globalisation towards the end of it, remains alive and well as a restriction on population movements, even though many other economic interventions associate with the stagnation are being dismantled.

New Zealand’s Nationalism

While the forces which created the nation-state are evident for New Zealand, its nationalism was complicated by the older nationalism of England. Indeed, its nineteenth century rhetoric was a ‘Better Britain’ (which, incidentally, North Americans also chanted in the eighteenth century). As in the other settler colonies – South Africa aside – there was no revolutionary settler movement demanding independence in the name of nationalism. Rather, the shift to national independence evolved, with New Zealand’s demands being among the more tardy compared to the other settler colonies and to the new European states.

Curiously, none of the mid-century nationbuilders had an explicit nationalistic manifesto, until Bill Sutch in the 1960s, and he in the early 1940s was happy to call himself an ‘Englishman’. It is from the next generation, Bruce Jesson, whose republicanism gets closest to revolutionary nationalism. (Keith Sinclair, who was considered as a candidate for the book, said of his 1958 History of New Zealand that he intended that nationalism be writ large on every page, but that he had to say this shows it was muted.)

Distance and the natural boundaries of the sea simplified New Zealand’s sense of identity, but were offset by emotional and personal attachments to ‘the Old Country’, together with the economic ties. So New Zealand’s separation from Britain evolved organically, like a couple of family members going their different ways under different circumstances. The process was complicated by the rhetoric of ‘Mother England’ but it was a static account of a past Britain, because Britain had also moved on. It may be better to think of Britain and New Zealand (and Australia and Canada) as sisters (or even cousins) than mother and daughter(s).

The trade story is illustrative. Until the 1870s, the main destination of New Zealand exports was Australia, although some was consolidation in Melbourne and Sydney for transhipment to Britain. About half of all imports came from Australia. It seems likely that, had that closeness continued, New Zealand would have joined the Australian Federation in 1901. However by the 1880s over three-quarters of New Zealand exports went direct to, and half of imports came direct from, Britain, a situation which was continued – war aside – until the 1950s. This symbiosis arose from refrigeration (and other transport improvements such as telegraph and steamers, and the opening of the Panama and Suez Canals) which enabled the export of meat and dairy products to feed Britain (and wool to clothe them).

While the myth is that the break in the symbiosis occurred in 1973, when Britain joined what is now the European Union, the data series suggests weakening as early as the 1930s. Decades ahead of his times, Minister of Finance Gordon Coates’ remarked that
“Before 1882 we were an isolated island . . . Then came Refrigeration – and at once our perishables became marketable in England. . . . In 1882 we discovered in Great Britain a bottomless market; in 1932 we discovered that the market was not a bottomless one. The fifty years from 1882 to 1932 were very different from the fifty years before; the fifty years ahead of us will be very different again”
(To illustrate an earlier theme, the insight was probably from one of Coates’ the bright young men, Dick Campbell, whose LSE PhD was on Imperial Preference.)

Economic nationalism was natural in the times of the deteriorating international trade of the 1930s, and what today seem policies to promote self-sufficiency were no more than attempts to husband the limited key resource of foreign exchange. (The argument belongs elsewhere, but here we note that normal market responses were limited by the price inelasticity of exports.)

Thus the pragmatic requirements of policy generated a nationalistic rhetoric, although a muted one. It is idle to argue whether economic nationalism preceded or followed political nationalism. They fed on one another.

Nationhood Today

It could be argued that the economic situation facing today’s leadership is so different from that which faced the mid-century nationbuilders, that there is little to be learned from them. The issue here is not about pre or post the reforms of the 1980s, for they simply accelerated a trend which had been occurring through the post-war era but had almost stagnated in the 1970s under the prime ministership of Robert Muldoon. It is not simply that New Zealand’s composition and destination of exports and imports has changed since the late 1930s. Compared to the interwar period, New Zealand is much more engaged with the world (and not just Britain), in part following the international trends and the opportunities it offers, but also because falling costs of distance make it easier to engage.

Perhaps too, there is a desire to engage in other ways. A grumpy M.K. Joseph, returning from the war and the experiences of other places and ways of life that it presented, wrote in ‘Secular Litany’ that in the 1950s New Zealanders wanted to be defended ‘[f]rom all foreigners with their unintelligible cooking’. Today, there would be a riot were the kitchens of New Zealand without the ingredients which enabled exotic cooking.

There have been two simple reactions to this new situation.

One was the colonialism of the advocates of the reforms of the 1980s and 1990s, which abandoned the notion of a nation as having any relevance to a modern economy. In practice the subservient mentality resulted in inefficient solutions, because its imitativeness did not recognise that the international generality of the theory was actually dependent on some extremely specific assumptions peculiar to another locality – usually the United States. Even ignoring that the US is considerably larger than New Zealand, and as the issuer of the international currency of preference (the US dollar) it has options in fiscal and monetary policy unavailable elsewhere, its governance arrangements arising from the oldest constitution in the world are not always the most efficient: its electoral system, its lack of effective parties in the legislature making coherent policy difficult, and its patronage appointment of senior public officials. Those with colonial mentalities may have resisted the notion of country, but the policies they were implementing came from another country rather than were universal or optimal.

But even had the policy implementation had been more sensitive, the colonialists’ policy framework had a major omission. People want to belong to larger collectives than themselves and the family. (Indeed some advocates of a country-free economic policy were just as parochial as their fellow New Zealanders during an international sporting match.) Thus the public’s yearning for ignored expressions of nationhood, such as the local or public ownership vehicles of commercial provision of culture, such as TV New Zealand. (A nice trivial pursuits question is for which New Zealand company did the public esteem rise from around 20 percent to around 80 percent when it went, for practical purposes, bankrupt. The answer is Air New Zealand, because the quasi-bankruptcy led to re-nationalisation.)

While this colonial mentality was important a decade ago, it is no longer dominant, largely being confined to those in the elite (including the policy elite) who are alienated from the rest of New Zealanders. More important is the nostalgic, those who recall the old practices while ignoring that the subsequent changes are responses to new circumstances which cannot, or are not, easy to reverse. The most pernicious nostalgia is to emphasise the merits of the some of the old ways, while accepting many of the changes and ignoring the contradiction between the two.

The nostalgic enthuse for the nation-state of the mid-century nationbuilders, with its ability to control economic policy within and across borders., while at the same time accepting and indeed benefiting from the economic intercourse that the subsequent globalisation has generated. (Thus there were those who obtained books on globalization via Amazon.com, used Microsoft based software to contact their friends, and got on Boeing planes to go to Seattle to protest against globalization, Seattle then being the home of Amazon, Microsoft and Boeing.)

There is little recognition that trade (or international borrowing) is like marriage, where two people (or countries) agree to give up some personal independence (sovereignty) in order to benefit from the resulting cooperation (voluntary economic exchange). It is true that the rules of the marriage matter, and that often a small country like New Zealand has little influence on determining the international ones. Even so, it may still be in New Zealand’s interests to participate in the ‘marriage’, even if only as a junior wife in a large harem. (Anti-globalisers, trying to improve the rules – making them fairer and less onerous on small states – rather than raging against globalisation, have much to commend their efforts.)

The widespread nostalgia for mid-century nationbuilding, including the advocacy of policies from the past which do not take into consideration subsequent changes, is a part of the challenge to today’s leaders.

There are two further significant difference from the days of the mid-century nationbuilders. Theirs was a white male program, but today’s approach has to encompass women, and Maori and other minorities. Some of those minorities can properly think of themselves as New Zealanders and yet belong to the diaspora of another nation. Similarly there is a New Zealand diaspora offshore whose interests do not exactly align with the typical home-based New Zealander.

The second difference is that the mode of decision making has changed. There is now a formal policy process within government (which might be described as rigorous to the point of rigor mortis). Crucial is the policy framework. While in the 1980s it was imposed by a handful of people, that is much less possible in the post-MMP political environment, which requires more consensus that in the 1980s and earlier. So a community wide policy debate may occur before the final decision is made, and which may not be led or even controlled by that the government. A crucial difference from fifty years ago is that power is much more diffuse.

Ultimately though, the political leadership still makes crucial decisions, as the Helen Clark-led government did with its Growth and Innovation Strategy (GIS). And there is some choice within a broad consensus. Clark-led governments since 1999 have been uncompromisingly committed to what GIS called ‘global connectedness’, despite the widespread nostalgia for the insulationism which characterises the public’s perception of the mid-century nationbuilding. In fact, as the book points out, the nationbuilders were not inherently isolationist and it is easy to give examples of situations where they engaged with the world. (The best might be Fraser’s decision to maintain New Zealand troops in Europe and the Middle East after Japan entered the war). The record shows that not only was Sutch committed to an export oriented manufacturing economy (he is the father of export diversification) but that he shifted his position as circumstances changed or new ones came to light. Given that circumstances have continued to change since he died, who knows what Sutch would think today (other than it would be perceptive, orthodox, and forward looking)?

The key to the current government’s stance may be Kirk’s vision of nationhood, articulated as
“Let us have a sense of pride in being New Zealanders. Let us recognise the value of the unique way of life we have built here – a humane, non-violent society, free from the social and economic injustices that plague so many societies.
“Let us proudly cultivate a sense of nationhood and stand up for ourselves in international political and trade circles, not acting in a spirit of independence merely for the sake of asserting ourselves, but to protect our own interests, both political and commercial.
“Co-operation with other nations does not necessarily mean subservience or submission: we are seeking friends, not masters.”

Kirk, himself greatly influenced by Sutch, is a major influence on current Labour politicians. (One might say his intellectual leadership is greater than, and has been more long lasting than, his political leadership.) It is no accident that Prime Minister Helen Clark has taken the arts, culture and heritage portfolio: Fraser and Kirk were deeply involved with those too. She also actively attends international sporting fixtures and military observances. For her global connectedness is intimately connected to national cultural development.

It harder for a commentator to assess how an opposition may govern. It could lapse back to colonialism maintaining global connectedness while letting nationalism die. It could go down a nostalgic path abandoning aggressive global connectedness in the name of nationalistic promotion. Even so, National’s Jim Bolger, would on the basis of his record as prime minister be comfortable with the above sentiments of Kirk (if less so with the oratory). And he would have ruthlessly rejected any racism, as did Clark in the 2002 election.

The notion that a country may actively promote its national culture arose in the international negotiations over the Multilateral Agreement on Investment, when France resisted some of the neutral ownership proposals because national ownership could be used a means to promote national cultural ends. More recently the EU trade commissioner, Pascal Lamy, has advocated ‘collective preferences’ in trade relations. That he is French does not make this a peculiarly French concern. Rather the French are articulating a position not overly different from that of many other – but typically smaller – countries.

As long as (democratic) countries can decide who may cross their borders and who can not – who may belong – they have an incentive and mechanism to promote the nation-state. The challenge is to avoid a nation-state rhetoric which is aggressive towards those outside the borders and dismissive (or worse) of some of the minorities within. If that was a leadership strategy pursued by some other nations in the mid-century, it was not the one pursued by New Zealand’s nationbuilders then or largely now.

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