Deborah Hill Cone

Deborah Hill Cone is a Herald columnist

Deborah Hill Cone: It's the existential crisis, stupid

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While Rome - and the rest of Europe - burns, we're banging on about John Key's undies.

'There is a two-bald-men-arguing-over-a-comb aspect to Key and Goff's tussle over our economic woes.' Illustration / Anna Crichton
'There is a two-bald-men-arguing-over-a-comb aspect to Key and Goff's tussle over our economic woes.' Illustration / Anna Crichton

So. The election. How is that working out for you? David Cunliffe doesn't want to discuss the Ugandan situation with Judith Collins. John Key is happy to go commando. A thespian criticised John Key for being too good an actor. Whereas Key revealed Labour are high-rollers.

I don't know about you, but even the big stories in this election campaign seem rather hey-nonny-nonny compared to the deep soul-searching about the fundamental financial structure of modern life which seems to be going on all around us.

I keep wanting to say we are fiddling while Rome burns, although as a non-classics scholar I am wary of using quotes like this. Apparently, violins weren't invented in AD64, and anyway, I had always just imagined Nero adjusting his bits under his toga - oh, not that sort of fiddling.

Also, when you point out that the number two story on Stuff this week was not even election-related but "Why I wore no pants on national television", you sound like one of those funsters who are proud never to have heard of the Kardashians.

So sue me; I still can't escape the distinct feeling that we are sort of missing the point, like there is a real existential crisis going on somewhere in the world but on our stage we still have politicians throwing custard pies and doing silly walks.

I am not saying this as a hacky sack-playing Marxist. Even the most passionate free-marketer has to concede that there is a loss of confidence in our establishment among ordinary punters. We seem to be ready for some big thinking on big moral issues, not more wittering about John Key's being too likeable. Frankly, there is a two-bald-men-arguing-over-a-comb aspect to Key and Goff's tussle over our economic woes. There is no money.

Whereas out there in the real world, things are really changing. In Britain, even bankers themselves seem to be taking seriously the attack on their ethics. The big story this week was ex-Lazard and UBS chairman Ken Costa saying the market economy had lost "its moral foundations with disastrous consequences".

Costa is leading an initiative aimed at "reconnecting the financial with the ethical". Good luck with that.

The New York Times ran a piece by two Keynesian academics who said economists were behaving too much like economists and not enough like philosophers. They rightly blamed John Maynard Keynes himself, who said economists should be like dentists: modest folk who look at a small part of the body but remove a lot of pain. We should stop thinking about toothache and wonder whether what ails us is terminal.

In this country, one of the big issues I would prefer we were talking about this election is how you shift generations of dysfunction that gets handed down from grandparents to grandchildren in our - substantially Maori - underclass.

Also, why do a third of teens want to leave New Zealand? And how do you create a culture where people take responsibility for helping each other rather than expecting the government to do it?

In the meantime, I don't feel like this election is either Stop or Go. More just chugging along. But perhaps we should actually stop. And think.

dhc@deborahhillcone.com

* Illustration by Anna Crichton: illustrator@annacrichton.com

- NZ Herald

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