Sandy Galland searches out Mike Moore to discover what it is a former PM does to fill his days.
The name Mike Moore conjures up many an image. While once he was a regular in our media as director general of the World Trade Organisation, and for a short stint our Prime Minister, he has held many a position of power in opposition and in government.
Today he is not an unknown visitor to our TV’s, but what is it Mike has been doing with his time since he left the international spotlight in 2002?
For one he has been busy writing – books and newspaper columns here and abroad, he trips around the world doing a combination of self confessed “do-gooder” work, mixed in with enough commercial activity to pay the bills.
The conversation was, at times, light and humourous, mixed in with reference to world issues and heart-felt stories. Moore is a man of many dimensions – happy to have a laugh at himself; call himself a contrarian, yet serious enough to be called upon by governments the world over to offer insights and advice.
About New Zealand he is passionate, yet realistic. Repeatedly he extols “we have to toughen up”.
“If I ran for parliament again my slogan would be ‘Toughen up New Zealand’. We are getting too slack. Wealth is created by people with ideas and energy, people who take risks and work long hours,” he says.
In the same breath he believes risk taking is something “a lot of New Zealanders have become adverse to”.
Like so many others, Moore advocates it will not be the public sector which rescues the economy – it will be the private sector.
“There can be no strong public sector unless the private sector is growing. We (NZ) keep putting up difficult compliance costs to business, be it resource management, labour rules or ACC rules.”
He also believes there is a great need to educate for the future.
His theory on how to limber up our economy, any economy for that matter, is to “create skills and give people the incentives to invest and take risks”.
Does New Zealand do this well? No, declares Moore.
While he is adamant there are “stunningly clever” Kiwis out there, he is saddened to see so many of them living offshore. “It’s a curious thing – if you look at our rich list, most don’t technically live in New Zealand.”
The conversation turns to our taxation laws and how they hinder our ability to create wealth.
“This is a very big problem. It isn’t, frankly, something I understood when I was in parliament. People talked to me about tax and I suspect my eyes glazed over and I thought ‘oh bugger you – you’re making it, pay it mate’.”
There are “stupid” things in our tax laws which cost us money and don’t raise revenue, he says.
For New Zealand to prosper the taxation laws need to change. Not only are people choosing to pack up and leave, thus the revenue stream is completely lost; they are driving people away.
“So we lose the revenue, and we lose the people. We have some crazy taxes. We are the only country that taxes your overseas accounts.
“So if you’re locked up in US dollars or Swiss franks, you’re being taxed on those movements, even if you haven’t made any money. It just a paper entry.”
He does believe you should pay tax if you have made money as “It’s the price of civilisation”.
Another bugbear is we are one of the few countries who tax you on incomes from all sources.
“If you lived anywhere else and was doing business in other countries, you would only be taxed on the income you got from the place you live. In New Zealand you are taxed on income from all sources.
“Every six months my accountant feels obliged to tell me to leave New Zealand,” Moore throws in.
“Everywhere I go I meet amazingly clever Kiwis. One of our problems is a function of size. We have people who generate big ideas then move off shore… maybe that’s inevitable,” he muses.
“How many good ideas came out of England and went to America? How many good ideas from America went to China, and how many out of China are now going to Bangladesh and Africa?”
On what Mike Moore actually does, he describes himself as retired, and has been so since he finished with the WTO.
“Retirement means choosing what to do. I choose to go to the Middle East next week, then I choose to go to Rotterdam for a board meeting, then I choose to do some do-gooder work in Switzerland, then I choose to do a book launch in Germany, then I choose to do nothing for a month.
“I think freedom is choosing. I understand most people don’t have choice and this is a sad thing.”
Most people have to work five days a week, 48 weeks a year, so in the weekends and four weeks a year they can do what they want. Moore adds the most successful people are those who turn their passion into their job.
On the global stage
The timing of our interview coincided with the launching of Moore’s 10th book. Its subject matter being close to his heart and something which surfaced many times during our conversation.
In Saving Globalisation he pours out his views on globalisation and how it is not a policy, but a process and one which has been going on forever.
“It’s the human condition to look over the horizon. It can’t be stopped because you can’t stop people thinking, but it can be slowed.”
In the main, he believes globalisation is a good thing. “The interchange of ideas and the interchange of cultures and business.
“We have created more wealth in last 60 years than all of history put together.”
He is passionate about this topic and with his work around the world, his base of experience is broad – he has been well recognised internationally for being an expert on the subject.
“I am convinced there is a model which does best and it happens to be one of open markets, democratic governments, property rights for all, independent courts, freedom of and more importantly, freedom from religion, and an active civil society.”
Education is the key, he says. “Lack of skill almost guarantees poverty.
“I make the case that a lot of the things we take for granted in New Zealand are fundamental. Tolerance is actually a good economic idea, as is social mobility – widening the base of the pyramid to allow anybody, whether they are poor, whatever their race or gender, into the market.”
The great challenge of the future, he says, is how to get another billion people integrated into the global economy – be it as citizens, consumers, or partners.
“What’s rescued us from the recession has been the purchasing power of people who have been previously poor – the people of China and India. This is the new world.
“The truth of it is there are only two types of people – those thinking about China and India and those who are not,” he declares.
“This is going to be what drives the global economy for all of us. I think it is a healthy thing America’s economy is based on China’s capacity to save and borrow and grow.”
Influence and negotiation
If nothing else, Moore is recognised as a superior negotiator.
Throughout his career he has been out there talking to people, making deals and changing the world. What does it take to bring about a successful negotiation?
“Understand the other guy’s case as well as your own. What do they need? What do they take home? How can it be their win and frequently seen to be their win and not yours?
“If you can do a good deal and the other guy believes he’s actually won and you have lost – that’s a good deal for me.”
Another fundamental, according to Moore, is to like the people you are dealing with.
“If you don’t like them, and don’t like the culture, you aren’t going to do good business.
“If you can understand another culture’s sense of humour you can work with them. That’s very hard and it takes time. But it’s achievable by talking to the interpreters, learning the local history, picking up the local newspapers and saying what does that story really mean? What is that cartoon actually saying?
“You also have to accept we are a minority. Most of the world is not white and most of the world has not heard of New Zealand.”
But most of all it is about listening and this means following the old 80/20 rule – 80 percent listening, 20 percent talking. “The other guy must have 80 percent of the conversation.”
I ask Moore to describe himself in three words. Happy. Disappointed. Optimistic.
Explain the middle one, I ask? “We must always be disappointed – that’s a condition of man. The moment you are not disappointed you are smug.
“I think this country could be doing so much better. I don’t think New Zealanders realise how poor we are.”
Our income relative to other countries and not just Australia is low, he adds.
“Most would not accept the average New Zealanders gets less income than an average person in Singapore or Japan, and they don’t live as long and have fewer holidays.
“However we are blessed, if you are not going to have a high income, this is probably the best country in the world to live in.”
The big question and the one I will leave you with is “why can’t we have both?”