In 1972, Walter Mischel of Stanford University performed an experiment on the development of delayed gratification. A group of 4-year-olds were given a single marshmallow. They were told they could eat the treat, but if they waited 10 minutes until the researcher returned they would be rewarded with a second marshmallow.
About a third of the kids waited. The interesting results came later as those kids were followed over the next 30 years.
Those who controlled their impulses at age 4 did much better than the others in health, education, work and family achievement.
This single trait, the ability to delay immediate gratification early in life, appears to predict long-term success.
It's been taken as a given, here and in the United States, that success in business is a unique qualifier for political leadership. There may be some historic truth to the proposition, although the failures in the US of George W Bush and Mitt Romney do not seem to lend it much weight.
Those marshmallows may be of help here as these modern businessmen, in contrast with an older kind, are the product of established corporations with the mindset that implies.
The people who built those businesses had to take the long view, one that encompassed many years and included the need for promoting the economic health of employees to make them the best of customers. Henry Ford is an example.
With the move away from manufacture to service economies (especially financial services), the standard of success is determined by strict bottom-line considerations and the timeline moves from decades to the quarterly report, which moves stock prices and thereby bonuses.
From this short-term view, it matters little whether the apparent profit number comes from added value or from the laying-off of employees.
That short-term viewpoint informed the personal business success of Bush and Romney.
Add John Key to that list for his work on the rapid turnover of the currency trading desk at Merrill Lynch. Credit Key with politically astute moves in building a coalition between the Act and Maori parties, whose constituencies and interests couldn't be further apart.
Beyond coalition-building, the list of Key's failings grows weekly. GST was increased, contrary to campaign promises. The increase in debt, when revenue fell with tax decreased for the wealthy, has given a supposed rationale for austerity. Despite the lessons of Britain and Europe, where austerity has worsened unemployment to 11 per cent, the Key Government has cut government spending and driven unemployment up from 4 per cent to 7.3 per cent.
Blaming our own economic difficulties on Europe's economic downturn, this Government has done the opposite of the necessary; it has failed to invest in the nation's future and thereby failed to promote prosperity.
Key's one-marshmallow policies include the sale of power companies, promotion of mining in national parks, refusal to sign on to Kyoto II (citing the US and China as role models), and failure to face the problems of pollution of our rivers through unwillingness to enforce restrictions on agriculture.
Key gives clear signals of intent to further privatisation of healthcare, education and even superannuation. His recent comments from the Cambodia economic summit, that trade agreements are more important than human rights, ought to give pause to every citizen for whom he speaks.
Though National should by now have worn out its welcome, the Labour Party, if it is to succeed, needs to articulate a programme that demonstrates a two-marshmallow commitment.
It needs plans for the future by investing in education, children and families, and must preserve the social safety net as well as the patrimony of our resources.
And it needs a leader who can convince voters that he is more than a smile and a shined pair of shoes.