More on *Fairness and Freedom*, by David Hackett Fischer

by on February 26, 2012 at 12:59 pm in Books, History, Uncategorized | Permalink

I very much liked this book, which compares the histories of New Zealand and the United States, and in particular I liked:

1. The discussion of how the New Zealand government encouraged smaller land holdings through some deliberate policy decisions in the late 19th century (p.165).

2. The discussion of how New Zealand abolished its provinces in 1875 (circa p.193), and the importance of that decision (passim).

3. The near-uniformity of the crime rate throughout New Zealand (p.198).

4. The comparison between labor movements in the two countries and the possibly differing history of labor-saving devices (circa p.328).

5. The comparison between Bills of Rights; New Zealand for instance has a right not to be subjected to medical experiments and a right to refuse medical treatment, but no right to a jury trial (circa p. 464).

It is probably the best introduction to New Zealand history for an American, even though much of the book is not about New Zealand history at all.  That said, while I found this a very good book, and certainly a book to recommend and to make the year’s “best of” list, it did not for me quite live up to its full potential.  I have high standards in this particular area, so I would have liked:

6. A discussion of “cutting down tall poppies” before p.487.

7. A deeper discussion of the differences in role models in the two countries.  New Zealanders admire Sir Edmund Hillary more than a successful businessman, though this has changed somewhat.

8. A comparison between American social conformism, as outlined brilliantly by Tocqueville, with the more outwardly conformist New Zealand working class variety.

9. A discussion of why New Zealanders are less prone to extreme thought and explicit missionary dedication; can you imagine a Kiwi version of Whittaker Chambers?

10. More attention to the commodities dependence in the New Zealand economy, and the importance of the UK abolishing NZ trade preferences in 1972-3, and the ongoing struggles to suss out a coherent vision for a relationship with Asia and China.

11. More discussion of how it mattered for New Zealand as many centres of activity shifted over time from the South Island to the North Island, culminating in the centralization of so much activity in or near Auckland.

12. Much more discussion of religion, and of the extreme enthusiasms which are bred in the United States.

13. A greater understanding of how Americans would not necessarily regard their society as “less fair,” but rather that some benefits are to be portioned out in accordance with a peculiarly American notion of what a person deserves.

14. A discussion of Upper Hutt or Lower Hutt, ideally both.

15. Why are New Zealanders perhaps the most polite people in the Western world?

16. The importance of having so many people living so close to the water, and (in some parts of the country) being surrounded by relatively few trees, and the much lower productivity of hunting in New Zealand, as there is not so much to hunt.

17. A more explicit discussion of economies of scale, and of why New Zealand is sometimes accused of being boring.  There is one quotation offered from an outside visitor: “”I suppose they are happy,” she wrote in her contemptuous way. “I couldn’t bear it.”” (p.xix).

The Original Frank February 26, 2012 at 1:27 pm

And how they got closed and regulated, and then open and deregulated?

Ryan February 26, 2012 at 1:42 pm

I’m looking forward to reading it. Incidentally, yesterday Brian Easton put up a post somewhat related to your #11. He’s currently writing an economic history of NZ which I’m hoping you will review as well when the time comes. http://www.eastonbh.ac.nz/?p=1629

Andreas Moser February 26, 2012 at 1:50 pm

ad 7: I too admire Edmund Hillary more than a businessman.

dearieme February 26, 2012 at 2:03 pm

It’s wise to remember the different immigration histories. The ancestors of many Americans took scheduled trains to Liverpool or Hamburg, crossed the Atlantic in days on a scheduled steamship, boarded a train again in NYC, and perhaps another in Chicago. If they didn’t like the USA, the old country was only a couple of weeks away. The Kiwi ancestors journeyed half way round the world in sailing ships.

dearieme February 26, 2012 at 6:40 pm

To which I should perhaps add that the Maori are polynesians and therefore descendants of the greatest race of navigators in prehistory. The Red Injuns are descendants of chaps who got there by trudging through the snow.

Daniel Dostal February 29, 2012 at 2:21 pm

I believe these are both cases that TC believes warranted exploration in the book.

ohwilleke February 26, 2012 at 7:07 pm

The more important aspect of the immigration history is that New Zealand was settled by middle class people intending to settle there and engage in productive activity with their own labor to support themselves, unlike the prison colony that was Australia, or the various waves of settlers in the U.S. who went there variously as a religious refuge, as hangers on to a Dutch trading colony, as people seeking to enter slave based plantation agriculture, in search of urban jobs from dire economic situations in Italy and Ireland, in various gold rushes, from Asia as railroad laborers, etc.

The Founding British colonists of New Zealand may have been looking for cheap land, but not conquest or to rule some other people. The indigeneous Maoris were a road bump to them, and for a few colonists, a group of people to be converted, but not an intended labor force, and not a priority to slaughter (without necessarily receiving much respect from colonists either).

BenjaminL March 4, 2012 at 10:59 am

And the part of the US that has the most similar immigration history — small-town New England with its town meetings, common schools, and universal literacy — shares some of that culture with NZ: “middle class people intending to settle there and engage in productive activity with their own labor to support themselves.”

Roger Parkinson February 26, 2012 at 9:18 pm

“The Kiwi ancestors journeyed half way round the world in sailing ships.”
Not all of them, though. Lots of people arrived after that, on steamships, diesel ships, aeroplanes… remember the ‘ten pound poms’?
Still, all must have perceived it as an awfully long way.

Slocum February 27, 2012 at 7:38 am

How many 19th century immigrants to the U.S. ever did return to their old countries — even for a visit? I suspect the number is relatively small, and the reason is not the travel time, but the cost.

dearieme February 27, 2012 at 1:06 pm

I understand that often Italians did. I don’t suppose that many Eastern Europeans did. But they all knew that it would be much more practical than returning from NZ. How many people could afford to be out of the labour market for the time it would have taken to sail from NZ?

Daniel Dostal February 29, 2012 at 2:25 pm

This varies greatly. My Irish brethren did not travel back home. However, it seems that many Swedes emigrated back home while many others visited. These travelers returned with technical knowledge and kickstarted the Swedish industrial revolution.

Wayne H February 26, 2012 at 2:11 pm

Noting 14 I wonder about what car the 19 year old Tyler Cowen would be dri
ving: Subaru wrx, mitsi evo, ford falcon, or holden?
Would Tyler be drinking a flat white or espresso from fuel or mojo? and
Would Tyler be working as an elven extra for Peter Jackson?

Cmot in Chicago February 26, 2012 at 2:17 pm

The US is gigantic and incredibly diverse. Wouldn’t it be better to compare NZ with a area of the US similar to it? What about the state of Oregon. Settled by whites at about the same times as NZ, about as racially homogeneous as NZ, populations nearly the same, even the terrain and climate are similar (at least the settled portion or OR is very like the South Island), each has 1 dominate city. I could go on. How different is NZ from OR? Probably a lot less than between NZ and US as a whole, I’d guess.

And as for point 9, the real difference between the two nations is that in NZ, you’d never have heard about him or Alger Hiss, not that they wouldn’t have existed ….

kiwi dave February 26, 2012 at 4:26 pm

You make a good point — from talking to Oregonians/Washingtonians, seems NZ has a great deal in common with those places (also, strong environmentalist feelings and discomfort with flamboyant religiosity). I haven’t travelled much in the Pac. Northwest, but parts of northern California I’ve been in are environmentally and socially very reminiscent of New Zealand.

Ed February 26, 2012 at 4:58 pm

I was going to make the same point. Authors of pop social science books, and the people who recommend them, seem to have no idea of scale. The U.S. has a population of over 300 million. New Zealand has a population of about 5 million. This is like comparing Los Angeles with some town in the Napa Valley and speculating on why they are different.

The state of Washington has a similar size to New Zealand so maybe a comparison of the two places would be interesting.

Kingtoots February 26, 2012 at 5:29 pm

When I was in NZ last. I would often tell kiwi’s that I thought that the North Island was a lot like Northern California/Oregon, not surprising as the Latitude is the same only south, and the South Island was a lot like Vancouver Island/ Southern BC.

They would always look crestfallen.

I think it is because they get so many Englishmen coming and telling them that NZ is the most beautiful place on the earth they they have come to believe it. Again, not to say that NZ isn’t a really great place, just that there are other great places too.

Ed February 26, 2012 at 5:56 pm

Yes, Ive seen the argument, maybe on this blog, that its pointless for Americas and Canadians to visit New Zealand, since they get pretty much the same thing in the Pacific Northwest, for a much cheaper airfare.

Kingtoots February 26, 2012 at 6:03 pm

Hey I wouldn’t go that far but I was talking to a Kiwi and he told me when he visited Vancouver Island and brought back pictures, his mates said that he could have saved some money and gone to the South Island. But he pointed out that he probably wouldn’t have gotten laid as much. Which I don’t know, as most NZ women I know have a very healthy attitude towards sex. But you don’t know how far a foreign accent goes.

Sorry to be crude.

Tracy W February 27, 2012 at 4:54 am

It depends on what you are comparing. NZ is a sovereign nation, while OR is a state within the sovereign nation of the USA. That’s a pretty big difference between the two in terms of what voters in each place can get their politicians to do, even taking into account that US states retain considerable local control.

Sandeep February 26, 2012 at 2:50 pm

I would be curious to know how much of politeness etc. is explained by ethnic and cultural homogeneity.

Sandeep February 26, 2012 at 8:05 pm

Thanks to the commenters below who pointed out that it is not actually that homogeneous.

Ranjit Suresh February 26, 2012 at 4:21 pm

New Zealand isn’t that homogeneous – 15% of the population is Maori Polynesian.

Douglas Knight February 26, 2012 at 6:25 pm

NZ is 69% white. OR 93%. WA 77%. BC 75%.

Cmott in Chicago February 26, 2012 at 6:42 pm

These are wiki numbers and they are incorrect.

White Non-Hispanics =
78% in OR
78% in NZ
72% in WA

FWIW, it’s 74% in Akransas

Does anything think the differences in ‘felt’ culture on the ground, as shown by how local people interact and handle local issues (as opposed to matters of national law) are greater between Aukland and Portland or between Portland and Little Rock?

Douglas Knight February 26, 2012 at 11:27 pm

The numbers are more unspecified than incorrect. In particular, I excluded hispanics in WA but not OR (and probably not BC). From the census, the number of people who claim to be non-hispanic white (and no other race) is 82% in OR, 78% in WA, and 77% in AR. If you counted people who list multiple races, it would be higher, but few Americans do that. About 10% of New Zealanders do, leading to the discrepancy of their numbers. The sum of European and “New Zealander” is 79%, while the sum of other responses is 31%.

swan February 28, 2012 at 8:55 pm

The latest New Zealand census numbers are somewhat difficult to interpret as many people decided to put down New Zealander. Most of these people were likely European, but who knows what the actual number is. You would need to look at the previous census.

Kingtoots February 26, 2012 at 5:21 pm

re: #6. Talk to any successful person from any of the english commonwealth and they will talk about how they were hated in their own country and had to come to the US to reach their full potential.

re: #9. I think the US is perhaps unique in its missionary zeal. This is one of the reasons that internal politics is so fractious. Inside of every American is the belief that not only do they have to belief it but they have to convince everyone else of the truth of their belief. THis goes for the right as well as the left. In most places I visit, people will let you be after you have said your piece. I never get that in the US. It is more common for me in the US to be literally hounded by people to agree with them. This almost never happens in other countries. The US is also unique in its financial ability to do anything about any evangelical fervor. I still prefer the US, I just don’t talk politics there.

re: #12. I must admit that nothing compares to the bible belt in the US as far as religious zealotry. In my experience the Southern Island with the heavy density of farmers I found to be very heavy with fundamentalist Christian ethos as well as most farming centers in the English Commonwealth (see Alberta).

re: #15. Ack! I give up. Isn’t that the joke about Canadians? Since when did NZ take that prize?

re:# 16. This is just wrong. There is a lot to hunt. Maybe less so now, as I think most of the deer are on farms. My cousin was a helicopter pilot in the business of deer reclamation. Deer were acclimatized for people to hunt. The deer were very successful. He was very busy in the 70′s and 80′s reclaiming deer. Apparently, the venison and felt are very popular in Germany for some reason.

re: #17. Again, wasn’t that the joke about Canadians? When did that change?

kiwi dave February 26, 2012 at 5:32 pm

re: #6. Talk to any successful person from any of the english commonwealth and they will talk about how they were hated in their own country and had to come to the US to reach their full potential.

I don’t know how true it is now, certainly has been a factor in the past. In my experience, in NZ or Oz, it’s ok to be highly financially successful as long as you are circumspect about it and don’t “put on airs.” Conspicuous consumption looks very bad.

Slocum February 27, 2012 at 7:58 am

How are the nearly 100X differences of scale addressed? In terms of population, NZ would be a smallish U.S. state — so, for example, the abolition state governments in the U.S. would be nothing like the abolition of provinces in NZ. Abolishing states in the U.S. would be more like merging NZ into OZ (with NZ not even remaining as a separate province). Continuing the U.S. state level comparison, it sounds like NZ has counties (though they are no longer called that) and provinces sound like they are making something of a comeback as ‘regions’:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Counties_in_New_Zealand

But just reading the wiki article, it sounds like much more centralized power is accepted over local governments. I can’t imagine even state governments in the U.S. attempting a forced, whole-scale reorganization of their counties (and at the national level, that would be virtually unthinkable).

Tom February 26, 2012 at 5:27 pm

14… Classic. Please post more on Upper Hutt.

alexh February 26, 2012 at 5:39 pm

I am a Kiwi who moved the U.S. over 20 years ago. One of the things I remember is my incomprehension at what was, at the time, a real controversy over motorcycle helmet laws. Nothing in me prepared me to think with an open mind as to whether these were good or not; they were to me _obviously_ good and I didn’t have the intellectual toolkit to even begin to question that. Fast forward a couple of years, when I had a bicycle (not motorcycle) accident where – among other surprises – I got billed even for the police time involved in attending the scene (I was unconscious.) It was like an epiphany: here (U.S) – you are a private individual and the basic “social contract” is that society provides nothing as of right, not even police services. I suddenly saw, for instance, how helmet laws were profoundly immoral in the U.S. (how dare you interfere with my choices, if you aren’t going to step in when my choices fail?) and yet this was 100% opposite from how I would feel when wearing my “NZ” hat.

Roger Parkinson February 26, 2012 at 9:22 pm

That’s really enlightening. Thanks for sharing that.

WCOG February 26, 2012 at 11:56 pm

I’m just curious where that happened to you. I’ve lived in the US my entire life and I’ve never heard of anyone being billed for emergency services. Our tax dollars have to pay for something! Still, you nailed the root difference.

Ed February 27, 2012 at 8:12 am

I’ve been billed for emergency services, also provided when I was unconscious, in New York City. I wonder how common this is. It did come as something as a shock.

Slocum February 27, 2012 at 9:43 am

I believe billing for ambulance service is common, but I don’t know anybody who’s ever been billed for police service.

alexh February 27, 2012 at 9:58 pm

Hmm, I’ve never been in that situation again; I didn’t realize the police thing was unusual. Perhaps I’ve spent the last couple of decades
being too cynical about the US social contract! I do remember it was a small amount (something like $100 or so?), certainly near trivial
relative to everything involving the ambulance and hospital, even after insurance. There was no other party involved, no crime, no fine, and no follow-up – so I
don’t know what would make this case anomalous (if it is). I wish I could recall more about how they explained the charge on the bill I got but it’s been a while. I just paid it (kiwi thinking again: if the police want to bill me, well gee that’s strange and annoying, but they are _the police_ so this simply must be the way things are properly done here.)

alexh February 28, 2012 at 12:18 am

Another “NZer comes to the US” anecdote. I have never had any real, and certainly no adverse, experience with law enforcement either in NZ or US (aside from paying the latter for attending an accident scene where I was anyway out of it). In NZ I never thought to question the absolute integrity of the police. In the US, with no personal negative experience at all (nor any of my well-off acquaintance that I knew of) I nevertheless quickly [i.e. 3-6 years horizon or so] formed an impression of them as on the whole dangerous and deeply, scarily, corrupt. I think the drug war reporting had something to do with it. But it hadn’t touched me at all, so why this turnaround!
Some time later I saw reported a study showing that across the world, NZers’ perception of police corruption and unfairness was lowest in the world – and by a considerable margin! Somewhat older and wiser I can now see that, objectively, this makes no particular sense. What about the U.S. turned trust in authority so quickly the other way? The reasons can imagine seem poor relative to magnitude of my mindset change, but it nevertheless happened.

Steve Sailer February 26, 2012 at 5:41 pm

How many famous New Zealanders are there in the world per million Kiwis, vs., say, Australians, Canadians, Irish, Americans, and Brits?

Kingtoots February 26, 2012 at 5:46 pm

Good question but a little complicated. Over what time span? Since confederation of each country or over last 20 or 50 or 100 years?

msgkings February 26, 2012 at 6:31 pm

Complicated indeed. How do you define ‘famous’ in the wired world anyway?

It’s pretty much Hillary, Tim Finn/Split Enz, Flight of the Conchords, and some mid level actors (Lucy Lawless. Sam Neill, Anna Paquin)

Bren February 26, 2012 at 8:25 pm

Throw in Peter Jackson and I think you have it. Is Ernest Rutherford famous outside NZ?

WCOG February 26, 2012 at 11:58 pm

Among science and engineering students, yes. We actually learned about him back in high school in introductory chemistry, but that might have just been my teacher being unusually committed to explaining the history of physics.

Bazza February 27, 2012 at 2:27 am

Surely Kiri Te Kanawa deserves the label ‘famous’, no?

Tracy W February 27, 2012 at 4:56 am

Add in the writers Katherine Mansfield and Ngaio Marsh (one of the 3 queens of the golden age of mystery fiction), along with Dorothy Sayers but not as popular as Agatha Christie.

kiwi dave February 27, 2012 at 10:08 am

How do you define New Zealander — birth (so we get Keith Urban)? ever lived there (then we could get Karl Popper and James Flynn, the latter with more justice than the former)? grew up there? lived there as an adult? did whatever made them famous there? The latter is difficult, because even in a digital world, it’s hard to do world-scale famous stuff and not live in or near a major population center (the Warren Buffetts are rare).

Also, you forgot Russell Crowe.

Re sportsmen, Richard Hadlee, John Kirwan, Jonah Lomu and Dan Carter are famous in large parts of the word, but not North America because, as Salem notes, the major NZ sports are not popular in America. Kiwi sportsmen large numbers of Americans might have heard of: David Tua? John Walker? Michael Campbell?

Salem February 27, 2012 at 3:52 am

There are some very famous New Zealander sportsmen, but I wouldn’t expect their fame to translate to the US, since rugby and cricket are not big there.

Brett Paul Dunbar February 27, 2012 at 4:58 pm

A couple of sportsmen from a century ago:

Tennis player Anthony Wilding, Wimbledon Mens Singles Champion 1910, 1911, 1912, 1913, Australian Mens Singles Champion 1906, 1909, World Hard Court Mens Singles Champion (forerunner of French Championships) 1913, 1914

Cornish born World Middleweight (1891-1894), Heavyweight (1897-1899) and Light Heavyweight (1903-1905) Champion Bob moved to New Zealand at nine.

Anon. February 26, 2012 at 7:11 pm

>There is one quotation offered from an outside visitor: “”I suppose they are happy,” she wrote in her contemptuous way. “I couldn’t bear it.”” (p.xix).

My exact feelings for Sweden. It was maddening.

WCOG February 26, 2012 at 11:59 pm

Yes. +1000.

Don February 27, 2012 at 3:58 am

1. New Zealanders love to fight, at least the men do. And they fight hard, with bare fists, at the drop of a hat. They also love to drink. The two may be related.

2. New Zealand has curious immigration policies. If you can bring a business with you or start one, you can stay. Otherwise, they’ll let you come and scrounge for under the table work and then give you the boot. Local Kiwis exploit the visa laws to get out of relationships with young women, at least according to a couple of gals I know. One was actually grassed out by her boyfriend who was tired of her.

3. New Zealand once was famed for producing professional sailors who dominated yacht racing. They weren’t at all posh, upper-crust toffs, in fact went about it quite ferociously (see No 1). Russell Coutts, Peter Blake, Chris Dickson and others. New Zealand could have held the America”s Cup forever after winning and defending it, but a rule change allowing sailors to sell their services regardless of their country of origin succeeded in bleeding the talent out of the country. The Kiwis themselves wanted the rule change so they could cash in. They did, and there went the Cup, to that notable seafaring nation, the Swiss. Markets in everything…

Tracy W February 27, 2012 at 4:59 am

As a Kiwi:
1. Not in my social circle.
2. You can also immigrate as a refugee (assuming you qualify and get into the quota) or a highly-skilled migrant. Given past racist immigration policies basically preventing migration by non-white Africans until the last few decades (plus the distance probably accounts for a lack of interest), this leads to the odd situation that nearly every African in NZ is either a refugee who has been through absolute horrors, or has more degrees and what-not than you can shake a stick at.

Philip Epstein March 27, 2012 at 3:19 am

Not sure when you last checked their immigration policies. My wife and I are planning to emigrate there in ~1 year (from the US) and their immigration system is fairly similar to other Commonwealth countries. It’s points-based: you get points for your area of work expertise, years of experience, education, age, some others. They have a list of needed occupations where you get extra points. If you have enough points, you are automatically given the chance to apply for permanent residency and the avg. time for the process to complete is ~6-12 months. You’re eligible for the national health care system on Day 1 of your residency. You can apply for citizenship after 5 years of residency. This is a lot easier and more straight-forward than immigrating to the US.

Tracy W February 27, 2012 at 4:51 am

As a Hutt girl myself, why more about Lower and Upper Hutt?

Rich Berger February 27, 2012 at 8:34 am

9. What, there were no communists in NZ?

kiwi dave February 27, 2012 at 10:33 am

Strongly ideological socialist varieties, such as Marxism and other forms of communism were only ever fringe phenomena in NZ and never gained mass popularity. This is related to the suspicion in NZ society of theory, over intellectualism and over religiosity or ideology of all kinds. The kind of socialism that became popular in NZ in the late 19th and 20th Century was based much more on somewhat inchoate ideas of “fairness” than any klnd of theory (which I think is one of the major themes of Fischer’s book).

Even today, NZers hate ideology. Every election, each party accuses the others of being “ideological”, while claiming their own policy preferences (which, to be honest, usually are based on an ideology of some sort) are based on common sense and pragmatism.

dearieme February 27, 2012 at 1:09 pm

I don’t suppose they caught Freudianism either, which greatly afflicted parts of the USA.

David Sucher February 28, 2012 at 2:34 am

Don’t forget “The Queen’s Chain”.

Hume February 28, 2012 at 9:06 pm

Jeremy Waldron = NZ’s most valuable contribution to humanity.

david morris March 27, 2012 at 6:21 am

not much to hunt in nz? i’m an american who has been here since january on vacation and it seems to me there’s lots to hunt: deer and rabbit are introduced species with no natural predators, and they absolutely destroy the native foliage. so hunting is not only encouraged but required to keep the populations down. no shortage of fresh venison and rabbit here..

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