I read Colin James’s piece on the need for a resilient economy/society in yesterday’s ODT. A competent explanation of a risks facing New Zealand and an acknowledgement that New Zealand needs to design itself to withstand and exploit them. Nothing new to readers of The Standard. But are we building that resilience? James offers no opinion. The answer is ‘no’.
James defines resilience thusly:
“a strong, secure core, which can withstand shocks, plus enveloping material that is flexible, elastic, compressible and adaptable, to absorb, adjust and adapt to the shocks.
In this country we have strong foundations for resilience.
First, the natural advantages: abundant water, abundant high-quality food growing and catching capacity and abundant energy in a world short of water, food and energy; less direct harm ahead from climate change than almost every other country; distance from mayhem; space to breathe and think; clear skies; and a fresh/safe/natural country brand most others would die for.
Add the institutional and social advantages: stable democratic and legal institutions; a good education system by world standards; an inventive and adaptive people; a generally liberal people who have over 25 years invented biculturalism and begun to live with multiculturalism.”
OK, as far as it goes, but are we taking advantage of these foundations for a resilient economy?
Does selling nearly half of our electricity sector and the owner of our major coal reserves improve our resilience or weaken it? Obviously, it weakens it because the decisions future governments may wish to take to insure security of affordable energy supply to New Zealand’s economy will be constrained by the rights of the (foreign) minority shareholders whose interests won’t necessarily align with the interests of New Zealand. Energy is a strategic asset – giving away partial control over it to people whose only interest is short-term profit is not resilience-enhancing.
Does a government pogrom against the teachers’ unions starting with national standards, charter schools, league tables, and performance pay along with restrictions on right to strike enhance the resilience of our education system? No, it does quite the opposite – it funnels the best teachers towards the schools of the elite’s children and degrades the education of everyone else. That’s its intention and the long-term result is a bigger tail of under-achievement, with negative impacts on our society and economy that last generations.
Does a programme of more and more centralised government, where councils are folded into ‘supercities’ and executive government seizes dictatorial powers without due cause enhance our resilience? No. At the heart of resilience is strength in depth; the ability to organise and be self-sufficient not just at the national and regional level but community level too. That is being rapidly eroded by the government’s power grabs.
Is it resilient when we are expending 3.5% of GDP on importing oil, which powers nearly our entire road transport network, and a 10% price bump sucks another $700m a year out of our economy? Is it resilience-enhancing, in the face of rising oil prices driven by peak oil, to increase our dependency on imported oil with massive highway building projects, which don’t make economic sense even under the rosy official calculations? Is it resilience-enhancing to burn billions of dollars to get worthless assets, which hook us on to burning more oil when less and less is available? Obviously not.
Do attacks on the wages, work rights, and collective bargaining rights of New Zealanders enhance our resilience? No. They make us even more dependent on the whims of foreign owners and the good will of our bosses. A steady, secure, adequate income and meaningful employment is the basis of freedom. We are moving away from that at a rate of knots.
A resilient New Zealand is a land of well-educated, empowered citizens who have livelihoods that allow them to support their families and have a real say in the rules and decisions which affect their lives. It is a land where we are not reliant on overseas producers and owners whose interests don’t match our own for the necessities of a modern economy, where we retain ownership over the core of our economy and the ability to make things for ourselves.
It’s nice that pundits are finally starting to realise that resilience, not growth, will be the watchword of the next 50 years but lets see them actually challenge the government to get on with the job.
We are not building a resilient New Zealand under National, we are destroying it.