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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 70

Economic Legislative and Constitutional Reform. — IV

page 16

Economic Legislative and Constitutional Reform.


The fourth plank is: To promote economic legislative and constitutional reform.

Economics, are those principles which regulate the production, distribution, and exchange of wealth; and an adequate discussion of them involves a consideration of value, rent, wages, and the relative functions of land, labour, and capital in the creation of wealth, also the question of land tenure.

In proposing to effect economic reforms, the National Association has shown a boldness of policy which will tax the wisdom of its wisest members, and if it succeeds in economic reforms, it may do immense good to the Colony. But it should prosecute such reforms very warily, for the air is electric with economic theories, and any unwise interference with existing customs may do harm. The Association should, however, boldly try to do something to solve the economic problems which demand solution. If it should succeed, it will do good to all, and if it fail, it will fail in a noble effort, in which it were better to honestly try and fail than never to try at all.

The Coming Struggle.

There is great necessity for the Association's help. The outlook in the world is not cheering. People absorbed in money making and self-indulgence, and people whose knowledge of current events is bounded by the horizon of their own little district, smile at any expressed misgivings about the future; but those who have been close observers of men, things, and events, and are discerners of the signs of the times, realise that even before this decade terminates we may have such a social and political eruption as may involve the old order in ruin. Even in England the police and the household troops mutiny; in Germany, in spite of his threats to shoot "Westphalian miners, the Emperor's palace has been besieged with thousands of rioters; Poland is kept down with 170,000 Russian troops; Austria and Italy are alarmed at the social unrest of their people; France is in a war with Anarchists; Australia has labour and poverty problems, that may make the approaching season one of the blackest in her history; an armed labour struggle rages in America; and New Zealand has a legacy of class feeling from the last strike, which renders a large section dangerously sensitive to labour and Socialistic disturbances elsewhere. Never before was there such universal unrest, distrust, and impatience as to-day.

Fortunately, things are not very bad in New Zealand. Elsewhere they are bad enough.

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Men cannot resist Democracy, but they can direct it, and their wisdom is to unite and make peace and order too valuable to the masses for them to jeopardise them with disturbance; to make such happy conditions in life as the masses will wish and labour to preserve. That can be done by securing for labour its proper reward. It cannot be done by land nationalisation, Socialism, and State regulation of everything; and its efforts to effect economic reforms which may tend to the welfare of the Colony, entitle the National Association to goodwill and a fair trial.

But it must not be expected that it will aim at equalising men's condition in life, for that is absolutely impossible. The drunkard, dunce, spendthrift, loafer, and habitual criminal cannot expect to have sober, studious, economical, industrious, and law-abiding citizens levelled down to their level. But we can secure equal opportunities for all, that is, so far as human wisdom can do it, in spite of natural differences. That is all men can expect and will get—fair play to all alike; and as a private member of the National Association, I believe that it honestly intends justice for all. That is true Liberalism.

Remove Restrictions.

Possibly the best way to secure that desirable end is to zealously aim at the removing of restrictions, instead of experimenting with new panaceas. Wherever an inequality exists, remove it. Anything which impedes the production, distribution, and exchange of wealth should be removed. There has not always been fair play in the past. Wealth has counted for more than loyal hearts and moral worth. To go no further than New Zealand: Railways have sometimes been made at the poor man's cost for the rich man's benefit; the State has been used as a milch cow by moneyed men; public works and the sale of the public estate have sometimes been manipulated for the benefit of a class, and now if democracy is somewhat slow and awkward in holding the scales of Justice evenly balanced, it is little wonder. There must be patience. Democracy has not had a long innings.

Man Versus the State.

But the State cannot save us. State regulation cannot make us rich and happy. We shall have to be content to progress slowly. Competence can only come after years of hard toil and patient waiting. There is no short cut to riches. Possibly that is a good thing, for one might "wax fat and kick." Easy come easy go. The tortoise beat the hare. It is the steady plodding at one thing, unallured by outside speculations, that tells. The page 18 great political superstition is in trusting to Government instead of oneself. The wolf in the heart often brings a wolf to the door. Material progress is not necessarily real welfare, and much discontent arises from the mistaken belief that it is. It is, of course, desirable that all men should be able to earn decent livings without being overworked. That depends more on self-help, humanitarian and moral, than legal remedies. Legislative interference will only intensify trade depression and obstruct industrial opportunities.

Our northern settlers have proved that self-reliance, hard work, and frugality can win victory from even an uncongenial soil on the margin of cultivation, where roads are bad and markets distant.

State regulation of interest, rent, hours of labour and of shopping, factory work, mining and general economic interests will make matters worse. There is too much legislation; there are too many experiments, too many bids for popularity and office, and the Association will do well to put on the brake to retard State coercion. Self-reliance is needed; and unless the people have that, no laws can help them.

Legislative and Constitutional Reform.

Herein, too, great care must be exercised. That certain reforms are necessary was evidenced by the Select Committee of the House of Representatives, which last year reported to Parliament on constitutional reform.

Governments and Parliaments have done some queer things, High functionaries have been liberally provided for at the tax-payers' expense. They have, in the words of the Select Committee, "pandered to any popular delusions of the hour," to retain power and emoluments; they have "bought off opposition by the expenditure of public money"; have sacrificed the country's best interests for party purposes, and sometimes encouraged class antagonisms; public loans have been raised for one purpose and used for another, and extravagance of administration has sometimes been shameful.


The following extract from the Parliamentary Report alluded to, should incite all loyal New Zealanders to demand reform:—

Next take the House of Representatives, where discord reigns; where party struggles obscure and obstruct the discharge of Parliamentary duties; where Government is supposed to lead, but really is itself driven by any combination strong enough to overthrow the balance of power; where members may be coerced by a threat of dissolution or corrupted by patronage—almost page 19 powerless for good—practically denied the right to initiate—where, with great waste, so much is commenced and so little finished—where so many abuses flourish under the vagaries of a system which leaves the representative a shadow of power, but a real discredit. Compare this also with a Parliament supreme; with a political atmosphere purified, with free scope to each member to exercise his privileges and vote honestly upon the merits of every question submitted to him. The people, too, would have issues simplified. The accretions of the past have left our political machinery clogged, encumbered, and disconnected. The voters' aspirations should lead to true and direct action; nothing less will satisfy their common sense. When an election takes place now, the people learn but little of the Legislature, and less still of the administration of public affairs; all is filtered through the bias of partisanship, and so obscured by personal considerations as to reduce public affairs to the second place.