Business columnist, with a political twist, for NZ Herald

Dita De Boni: NZ rocks to the same old song

Illustration / Anna Crichton
Illustration / Anna Crichton

Here's my prediction for 2014: living in a "rock-star" economy won't just mean more riches in the coming year, it will also gain me a little more respect at transtasman family gatherings.

I've already played it out in my head: my Australian-based sisters will offer the usual raft of subsidies and benefits they receive for simply having a heartbeat, and in response, instead of my usual mumblings about non-lethal wildlife and pineapple lumps I'll be able to make a Billy Idol sneer, strum an air guitar and let them have it with both barrels.

"Rock-star economy," I'll bellow. "Hot dollar," I'll intone suggestively. "Lots of cheese curds and milk and calcium-enriched yoghurt up in this bee-atch." And ... um ... I'll try to work up a suitably menacing chorus.

But despite the sexy patina some wonkish economist has given it, burrowing deeper to find out what that rock-star economy is made of turns out to be only mildly erotic. Its three main touchpoints are: the Government tipping a huge amount of borrowed money into Christchurch; a housing market which is being inflated to the point of combustion by overseas money; and our ruminants.

The first two elements seem fleeting at best. Like a rock star, they are being feted today and will no doubt be working the cruise-ship circuit tomorrow. Christchurch will eventually be rebuilt and all that investment will have to start paying its way. The housing bubble will either burst or slowly deflate - and even if it continues to set some pulses racing, it seems to do little to benefit the average New Zealander.

So it's our agricultural sector that is once again underpinning our success - although some of that success is highly dependent on overseas factors which have little to do with our efforts. Nevertheless, we need to be getting more people into the sector and providing career pathways to keep them here - and suitably paid and engaged - if we really want to be rocking this cash cow into the future.

But really, do we want to follow the typical rock-star trajectory? Do we want the New Zealand economy to keep touring the world with the same old tunes, delivered by an increasingly desiccated, saggy-faced singer, a la Mick Jagger? Diversification will surely be as important as anything else if we are to stay on top of our game. Think Madonna's constant reinvention rather than Rod Stewart's annual album of Christmas cheese.

The other thing that excited economists never seem to consider is that however much star power an economy may have, that power is provided by actual human beings. He tangata, he tangata, he tangata, remember? We need properly educated, trained and skilled people to fuel our economy. We need women and men able to participate in decision-making in equal measure. We need better managers at all levels of business and government, to really capitalise on all our great raw materials.

And while there is an entrenched underclass of impoverished people who feel they have no hope of getting ahead, we won't remain top of the charts. We need to take everyone along, or our rock-star economy will be less a classic, more a one-hit-wonder.

- NZ Herald

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Business columnist, with a political twist, for NZ Herald

Dita De Boni is a columnist, commentator and TV producer/journalist. She first wrote columns for the NZ Herald in 1995, moving to daily business news in 1999 for four years, and then to TVNZ in Business, News and Current Affairs. After tiring of the parenting/blogging beat for the Herald Online she moved back to her first love, business (with a politics chaser), writing a column for Friday Business since 2012.

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