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Interview: David Chapman talks about Who Dropped the Ball? Democracy in Crisis

David Chapman talks to NZ Booklovers about Who Dropped the Ball? Democracy in Crisis.

Tell us a little about Who Dropped the Ball?

Obviously the title is a metaphor but it was not my first choice. My first thought was “Who Dropped the Baton” as in a relay, but if you do that you are disqualified and so far that has not actually happened to us. Instead we drop the ball and end up playing someone else’s game. This is my entry point into a review of our political history that led me to suggest that our democracy needs to pull its socks up.

What inspired you to write the book?

There was not one point of inspiration for this book. I could say there were several, or perhaps that a build up of evidence finally snapped its restraints and I got swept up in the avalanche. The activities of the Lange-Douglas government bothered me at the time and have bothered me since. They are the original ‘de-spiration’ (opposite of inspiration) for the book. They and their kind were brought up in the welfare state, yet dismantled it for their children. I have always seen parenthood as a kind of relay; passing the gifts received from our own parents on to the next generation, hence the original metaphor.

My other chief long term cause of angst has been the sale of assets to overseas interests and the general atmosphere of speculation and wealth acquisition by the few. The housing market exemplifies this. When I bought a house at one point it cost three times my annual salary. My son did a calculation recently and the house in Auckland was fourteen times his salary. No detailed analysis is needed.

What research was involved?

Ah; what is research? There are many sorts of research and anyone that claims their work is objective is deceiving, either themselves or their audience. Are you ready?

It should be obvious that it is a while since this chicken saw spring. I am naïve in an odd kind of way too, so from an early age it has always bothered me that the rhetoric of politics in largely empty and have tried to make sense of that.

I have felt since the mid 1980s that Douglas, Prebble and Lange are primarily responsible for what we have become, a society blighted by suicide, poverty and inequality, and the fact that this has been systematised. However, they came to power in a crisis, those that have followed did not.

As I began to write about things, a dawning began that the problems I was describing spring from deep flaws in our democracy: Who gets in to parliament for example, especially with MMP; that political parties are vested interest groups trying to sell themselves at election time with dubious responsibility to do what they said, and so on. Thus, what we get is an inevitable consequence. This realisation really shook me.

My starting point was that we had abandoned our ‘traditional’ values (I understand the problems with that statement). What I began to see however is that the society we have is the logical outcome of the system we have and the snowballing agenda of self-interest that has grown since the 1980s. Perhaps it has always been there and this realisation is merely an awakening.

I have done a lot of checking on dates and events, and found some great quotes, but the framework is my memory of events and the patterns I read into them with the vantage point of hindsight. That is necessarily subjective but I make no pretence that it is anything else.

You say all kiwis have to take some level of responsibility for dropping the ball, how so?

The Lange-Douglas government took us by surprise, but since then, we have known. Sure, the property market in Auckland has been driven to a point by overseas buyers, but only to a point. When the Key Government got in back in 2008 it was on an asset sales platform. We all know that inequality is growing. We let obscenities like “Child Poverty” go by unchallenged: Child poverty is just poverty!

But we are also trusting and naïve in a weird kind of way. That aside, I think most people vote for the party that will benefit them rather than work in the common good (another vague term).

Do you think your solutions could be seen as idealistic?

Idealistic, what a loaded word! If I said: “I am going to be a millionaire” would anybody accuse me of idealism; “All I want is what I see as a better world” (for me). If instead I say: “I would like to see a fairer country” I would be an idealist. Our culture is full of impossibilities that sound like wisdom. (A growth economy in a finite world facing climate change, Hello?) Oddly, when we talk sense, we are idealistic.

I put it this way as an illustration: What you see depends on how you look at it. I have worked to suggest a different kind of democracy that works for agreed goals and holds governors accountable, pretty basic stuff.

I don’t think what I have said is complete. I can see problems, but we have problems now, and any system will involve people and all that implies. I have tried to be plausible while at the same time being clear that this is a collective issue and it would be wrong to think I could solve it alone. We need proper democratic processes. Transition would (will J) involve issues I have made no attempt to grapple with.

What do you hope readers will take away from this book?

Idealistically, I would like a democratic reawakening and a model of improved governance for the rest of the world to follow. If readers look at our form of government differently and seriously question it, I will have been successful. What happens after that, I can only hope.

Who Dropped the Ball? Democracy in Crisis

by David Chapman

RRP: $20.00


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