The New Zealand opposition National Party decries the increasing size of the state sector, saying it would conduct a thorough review of all state spending and "identify waste" if it returned to power. Fine, and it is true that after five years of Labour (to September 2004) total state sector staff numbers had grown by 33 630 to 278 831. In core government departments, staffing has risen from 30 702 to 38 270.
But the selection of 'cutting back the state sector' as a policy goal is, I believe, a symptom of intellectual bankruptcy. In this respect the New Zealand National Party is no worse than the New Zealand Labour Party or virtually any other political party in the world. Driven by ideology, they fail to target outcomes that are meaningful to the people they want to represent.
Cutting back on the numbers employed by the state is not valid as an end in itself. It might be a means to certain ends, but these ends should be explicit and transparent, and people should be given a chance to vote on them. The size of the state sector should be a result of decisions made about what social and environmental outcomes people want, not a matter of blind ideology. If political parties treated the electorate as adults, and gave us choices about meaningful outcomes, we might take politics more seriously and even participate in it. Perhaps that’s what they’re afraid of.