by Colonial Viper
NZ is no longer the same wealthy western nation which used to generously give foreign aid to poor underdeveloped, commercially backward countries like Singapore and which kept apparent economic pace with its far larger neighbour, Australia, until the Rogernomics reforms of the 1980’s. Today New Zealand is still reliant on low value added commodity trading for its sustenance. One which is struggling to pay its bills after a lengthy period of selling off its economic sovereignty, often for a song, and primarily on the recommendations of Chicago-school economic idealogues and right-wing politicians. One where its people have pretended that personal incomes weren’t falling behind year after year by offsetting their low wages with higher and higher levels of personal debt.
Although it is clear that the top few percent have radically prospered, the majority of individual New Zealanders now struggle to maintain a decent standard of living in a country which has been falling in the OECD rankings for years. And let’s be clear: this is not a failure of the working and middle class. It is a failure of leadership from our politicians and heads of business, the same ones who are rewarded with the highest salaries. But high paying, highly interesting, high fun jobs are now rare in a hollowed out employment market dominated by low wage, low skill, service sector and farm work.
Even now, the Bill and John led National Government makes it a point of pride to push wages even lower and devalue not just the monetary worth but the self-respect of the average New Zealand worker, whether they wear a uniform, coveralls or a shirt and tie. The result has been a massive cumulative talent and workforce flight from New Zealand. At least 529,000 New Zealanders now live in Australia long term, and since 2008, that number has been increasing at a record rate. These numbers do not even consider those who have left our shores to work in North America, Asia or Europe. Make no mistake, this is not a simple ‘brain drain’. It is a full scale haemorrhage and our economy – and perhaps our larger society – is on life support because of it.
The Fabian Society presentation around a ‘Resilient Economy’ at the 2010 Labour Party Conference provided powerful insights and economic antidotes to our current destructive right wing malaise. A total refocus on the ‘real economy’, the part of the economy involved in exportable tradeable goods must now be an urgent priority for Labour’s Battle of 2011. For too long, Governments of both Labour and National flags have favoured economic settings which have strengthened and encouraged the non-tradeables sector of the economy. Financial speculation, banking hyper-profits and property asset bubbles have resulted. At each step, our manufacturing, industrial and technological base has eroded as company after company has downsized, offshored or simply shutdown in the face of currency speculators and a deliberate, known deprivation of local investment capital.
And what have we got in return? An artificially strong dollar with highly liquid capital inflows enables us to buy cheap TVs and cheap overseas holidays with personal debt. But the cost of enabling this cheap consumerism is that our export and tourism industries suffer as a high dollar makes them look comparatively and unsustainably expensive. Our communities experience a hollowed out job market, a hollowed out economy, high unemployment, and property prices way out of reach for aspiring young home owners and young farmers alike.
The Fabian answer: to heavily invest in the general manufacturing and high tech sectors, where ‘investment’ means far more than simply providing financial capital and encouragement to individual industry sectors. It means providing political leadership, human resources and powerful, forward looking macro-economic change. To create and firmly use new monetary and macro-economic tools designed to expand the tradeables sector while squeezing the non-tradeables sector into a properly proportionate (smaller) part of the economy. To export far more, and to make sure that each unit of exported product is of far higher value.
For too long New Zealanders have been incentivised to put valuable financial capital in the wrong (non-tradeable or low productive) asset classes. Our love affair with property as the country’s primary way of apparent wealth generation must be put to the sword by gutsy economic and political leadership, however painful the forced separation prove.
This table says it all.
If we want a society with a surplus of $30, $50 and $100 per hour jobs, those jobs must be in New Zealand owned industries capable of creating high value added products and high return on capital invested. A typical dairy farm might require $4.5M of capital – but produces only a handful of typically lower waged jobs and a very poor export return on investment. In comparison, ‘General Manufacturing’ and ‘Software Development’ as example industries hold many advantages. Huge export earnings relative to the capital employed, as well as many more well paying jobs per dollar invested.
Yes, the age of cheap energy and unsustainable resource use is nearing an end, an end which will come about by undeniable necessity. It is now high time for New Zealand to de-emphasise low value soft commodities which rely on massive scale environmental extraction. However: New Zealand must and will remain an active player in the global trading economy. Our high value products and services must be known and sought throughout the world. And we must achieve that in a way which provides long term, high waged, high fun employment, for New Zealanders.
Sustainable prosperity and enduring wellbeing for all our people is the goal, not an unrealistic never-ending growth in GDP. Reductions in inequality and unemployment will bring with them significant flow on social benefits to our communities. Its now high time to manage careful, albeit painful, property value declines in order to redirect flows of investment capital to high value productive sectors. To focus on developing a high wage generating, high employment, advanced tradeables sector based economy. To ensure that we have the means and the vision for a progressive, caring, 21st century society which provides bounty for the many over the long term, not just the few over the short term.