While the Finance Minister will worry about long-term implications, the earthquake is good news for a lot of New Zealanders facing tough times, especially Bob Parker
I don't know what Jim Anderton and Bill English have done to the gods, but it seems they are Lear's flies to wanton boys, the playthings of the divine, after this weekend's Canterbury earthquake. Or, at least, they will be quietly cursing their luck.
Jim Anderton had the Christchurch mayoralty in the bag at 4.35am on Saturday. But the earthquake a minute later knocked over his stroll to the mayoralty surely as it did so many walls. Now, who knows?
Bob Parker has had his Rudy Giuliani moment. No-one could stop him talking over the weekend... He talked and talked and talked some more. And it was reassuring. It was competent and composed, calming and compassionate. All his broadcasting experience came to the fore – his interviews on television were essentially live crosses, the execution of which many a young telly reporter must have watched with envy.
Most importantly, the work seemed to match the talk. People by all accounts I've seen are having their needs met efficiently and effectively.
It reinforced the rule that a natural disaster always favours the incumbent – especially one that's significant, but not too nasty or too fatal.
Just a week ago The Press newspaper ran the only poll of substance thus far on the Christchurch mayoral race, questioning 600 voters – of those who had decided, 50 percent were backing Anderton, while 31 percent backed Parker.
A poll back in May had put Anderton on 46 and Parker on 21, and although Parker had previously dismissed it, reasonably enough, as too small to be reliable, he was quick to push the narrative that he was on the rise and catching his rival.
The bad news for Anderton coming out of this weekend is that only 43 percent of those polled had settled on a choice. Those undecideds can now be expected to swing heavily in behind the incumbent, assuming mismanagement or despair doesn't creep in within the next three weeks.
Of course, there's a chance that the people of Christchurch could do a Winston Churchill to Parker and dump him as soon as the chaos is over, but Anderton must now be the underdog.
And Bill English? Having spent all year warning us of our national debt and resisting the calls for more stimulus, the gods demand a stimulus by default. Sure, most of it will be paid for by the Earthquake and War Commission and private insurers, but it all shows up on the country's books. Long-term, it'll be interesting to see what it does to Treasury's estimates of when we'll get out of deficit and the like.
What, with the South Canterbury Finance payout in investors' pockets waiting to be spent or invested elsewhere, and with Cantabrians set for a buy-up to replace all their broken walls, pools, televisions, cars and so much more, we can expect a spike in spending, regardless of tax cuts and the GST rise.
First the global credit crisis, now this. English is being compelled to act like a Keynesian once again by forces beyond his control. Heh heh.
Lucky we're so well prepared, economically, to handle "unexpected shocks". (NB, that's a pre-quake story).
But remember, just last week the construction industry was talking openly about its woes. As the Rugby World Cup work is drawing to a close, they weren't signing any new contracts. Hawkins Construction Chief Executive Chris Hunter said, "We are facing quite a tough period", while Fletcher Building spokesman Philip King fretted,"There are no new developments coming, no new shopping centres, no new warehouses".
Now there are.
NZIER has said construction was "on the precipice of collapse" and feared for up to 20,000 jobs. Now there will be jobs, in Canterbury at least. And good news for retailers, who were also on their knees.
It'll be interesting to see how willing the government is to help workers get down there. This could mean a generous wee population spurt for the south, which is no bad thing.
I don't mean to diminish the fear experienced by Canabrians this weekend, or minimise the hassle and heartache of the clean-up, but, as back-to-front as it sounds, this earthquake is good news for New Zealand's economy, short-term. It's a fillip the spending sector needs, without people having to load up more household debt.
Just spare a thought for Anderton and English.