What does it mean when someone yells that you’re a neo-liberal?

by Bill Ralston / 16 June, 2017
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It’s been a busy week. We took possession of our new shack on the beach, our dog died, I had a drink with several hundred journalists, and late one night, an Auckland bloke abused me on Ponsonby Rd.

The new “once was a bach” house is not a huge challenge. We just need to give it a lick of paint to get rid of the midnight-blue interior walls, shift our baggage from the house we are in, rediscover a host of belongings in a storage unit and move a cellar-full of tools from Auckland to Hawke’s Bay. Oh, yes, and then discover the place is half the size of our last home, so our striving for minimalism will probably prove fruitless.

The death of our scottish terrier is one of those small tragedies that pet owners go through. I knew we would end up in this situation one day, but I still embraced the wee critter wholeheartedly and now we are paying the price for a decade of canine good times.

As one of the Canon Media Awards judges, I trotted along to the prize-giving at a hotel in Auckland where nearly 600 journalists, editors and hangers-on were gathered to eat, drink and self-congratulate. Actually, judging by the categories I had a say in, journalism is in a strong state even if media companies are not.

More than 70 awards were presented over several hours and, luckily, the wine kept flowing to assist in concentration, although most of us were more intent on having a good natter than attending to the dishing-out of the gongs.

The night before, I’d had a one-sided conversation of a different sort. After an excellent meal at a Thai restaurant, I was waddling back to my Auckland home with some friends when a passer-by loomed out of the darkness and bellowed angrily, “Bill Ralston. The neo-liberal. You’re not dead yet!” He then strode off grumpily into the night.

Now, I thought, this is a little odd: neo-liberal? My high-school Latin tells me that “neo” means new. “I’m a new liberal?” I asked the friend next to me. “Don’t worry about it, Billy, it’s a term of abuse hurled at people by lefties.”

Once in a bar for a steadying drink, I quickly googled the term. Apparently, I am in favour of free-market capitalism. Well, I voted National in the past few elections and I’d voted Labour before that under Helen Clark and both of those parties seemed to favour reasonably free markets and capitalism as a driver of the economy. I agree.

What concerned me most was that anyone, apart from a Tourette’s sufferer, would think it acceptable to angrily shout at a stranger in the street, and I wasn’t impressed by the latent ageism of his last words. I have yet to reach the age where I get Winston Peters’ SuperGold Card and I’m determined not to check out before I can savour the manifold benefits of it. Whatever they are.

I think the angry shouty encounter is a peculiarly Auckland thing. When many people live too close together, like crowded rats they can turn ugly at the drop of a hat. In Hawke’s Bay there is no random public shouting, except at the province’s many kamikaze roundabouts, where it is entirely understandable.

In the bay, or more precisely the Mahia Peninsula, we launch rockets into orbit for science. In Auckland, lefties periodically launch themselves skywards for no discernible reason.

This article was first published in the June 3, 2017 issue of the New Zealand Listener.


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