As described above, the massive sell-off of both state owned and private Kiwi companies to foreign owners has translated into a chronic accounts deficit (negative balance of trade), as foreign companies collect their profits and dividends. To compensate for this steady loss of wealth, New Zealand, under pressure to increase exports, eagerly entered into "free trade" agreements with larger countries. Under these agreements, they agreed to reduce tariffs and quotas even more and to export unprocessed raw materials. This, in turn, led to the shut down of even more "value added" industries (for example, those involved in converting logs into timber), which had no hope of competing with overseas companies that paid sweat shop wages to third world workers.
These "free trade" agreements, which opened New Zealand markets to cheap imported consumer goods, continued the downward spiral. More manufacturers shut down, owing to their inability to compete with overseas companies, leading to more lay-offs and more young Kiwis departing New Zealand in search of well-paying jobs.
The Student Loan Debacle
In my view, the most damaging neoliberal reform of the 1980s was the decision to replace government subsidized tertiary education (which until recently was standard in most European countries, including Britain) with a student loan scheme. While lumbering young people with student loan debt, can pose major problems for large, broad based economies like US and Britain, the policy has proved absolutely disastrous for New Zealand -- both in terms of wealth creation and the long term health of our hospitals, schools and other major institutions. I believe this continual hemorrhage of human capital is the number one reason New Zealand remains near the bottom of OECD countries for both economic growth and wages and salaries.
At present approximately one-third of medical students leave New Zealand following graduation (see http://www.nzma.org.nz/journal/123-1318/4212/ and http://www.nzmsa.org.nz/wp-content/uploads/2010/04/190410-pr-on-student-debt-final2.pdf) -- mainly to Australia and the UK -- where than can command a salary 20-30% higher than what they would earn here. Many really have no choice, strapped with large student loan repayments, just at the point they are looking to buy a home and start a family.
A recent study estimated 37% of new NZ teachers left teaching within the first three years (see http://www.nzcer.org.nz/default.php?products_id=2446). In addition to doctors and teachers, New Zealand also loses a large proportion of the nurses, physiotherapists, social workers, audiologists and other health professionals they train -- as well as engineers, urban planners and veterinarians, who are also on New Zealand Immigration's critical skills shortage list.
New Zealand's Neoliberal Transportation Policy
In my view, the other really destructive neoliberal policies New Zealand enacted relate to public transportation: 1) the privatization of New Zealand railways (which led to the immediate shut down of all but four routes, owing to their failure to turn a profit) and 2) the dismantling of local public transportation systems. Both have resulted in extreme reliance on private automobiles and foreign oil, the second biggest culprit in this country's accounts deficit. New Zealand, which still has a predominantly rural population (only 1/3 of Kiwis live in major cities), holds the embarrassing distinction of the highest rate of car ownership in the world.