Budget Day, where our centre left neoliberal government straddles the line between compassion and BAU.
Sandwiched between the expectations of New Zealanders looking on with disbelief at skyrocketing prices and Labour’s big spending policy commitments, his challenge is to balance those short term pressures against longer term investment.
The pandemic and effects on the economy, worker, skills and goods shortages, inflation, interest rates, it’s a hefty list, especially as covid isn’t over.
Lurking behind all that is the constant threat of new and even more disruptive Covid variants, and the high economic risk that carries.
A sharp correction to house prices has also been red-flagged; clear signs they’re on a downward slide reverse a comfortable trend of many years for homeowners, but perhaps provide a glimmer of hope for those still locked out of the market. Accommodation is a big part of everyday costs and, as an ongoing political vulnerability, could be an area of focus.
And yet rents are still going up.
Buffeted by global events, the Labour majority government is already locked into two big spending areas: climate change, most of which was revealed on Monday, and the cost of the new structure replacing District Health Boards – Health NZ and the Māori Health Authority.
Both of those, climate and health, required long term planning that is easily disrupted by the pandemic and undermined by MSM and public short attention spans and focus on what’s right in front of us. How much of what Labour does now is about not losing for next year’s election? Is it possible to imagine a government that takes the bigger, longer view and doesn’t get punished by voters for it?
If Labour are straddling compassion and BAU, the world is on a knife edge regarding climate and the environment. We’re coming up harder and faster than many thought to the limits of growth and the consequences of the way we run our economies and live our lives.
While we’re waiting for the speeches, it might be useful to look at some alternatives to what we are currently doing.
Here’s a four minute introduction to Doughnut Economics, a model created by English economist Kate Raworth, that takes into account planetary boundaries (eg climate, water, pollution) and social foundations (eg food security, housing, jobs).
Here’s the ideal model, where humans get to live good lives sustainably (i.e we can live those good lives indefinitely as a species). Meeting the needs of all people within the limits of the planet earth.
Here’s the reality of where we were globally in 2017. The red shows were we are in overshoots of planetary boundaries, and where we are losing on social issues.
Here’s where New Zealand is at currently in comparison with Sri Lanka (from Leeds University Good Life project. You can select and compare different countries)
What we want to see there are all blue and green wedges. While the Labour majority government is moving in the right direction, New Zealand is not yet prepared to make the leap into the whole systems transformation needed to bring us back within the ecological ceiling while helping other places lift up into a good social foundation.
So how can we get there? We need to look at not just the problems (as above), and what we should do, but how we can do what is necessary and have that work out well. We need inspiration and new stories that show us the change into a good future.
One of New Zealand’s great advantages is that we have a strong indigenous population who have power within the mainstream as well as a vibrant and thriving culture outside of that. Māori have both expertise in their own cultural practices of sustainability that are different from non-Māōri, and experience of being up hard against social and environmental destruction via colonisation. Here is one of two indigenous adaptations of the Doughnut model, a Tūhoe perspective from scientist and Executive Manager of the BHW Lands Trust, Teina Boasa-Dean. The environment is now the foundation, and the social encompasses from the outside ring.
We can also look to Amsterdam’s adoption of the Doughnut model (PDF). Here Kate Raworth brings the big global model down to the level of a nation or city, where the policy decisions are made (short video of the how). This is something we can be thinking about with the upcoming local body elections in early October, which people standing are best placed to make those decisions?
I also found this cool slide show on the Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment’s website (PDF). Don’t know what the date is, or who did it, but there are some solid ideas there about the kinds of thinking and models we need to change.
Another slideshow from Rod Oram (March 2021). Great to see this being discussed in New Zealand. Ultimately the issue here is social and political, and having signposts about where we might go. We don’t have to settle for whatever comes out in the budget today, and the pressures of reality will force us to change one way or another. For now we have some choice in how that goes.