Already, the election year hand-wringing has begun.
New Zealand is, apparently, a "broken" country. The list of reasons why is long and politically mediated. It includes absurd rents, infrastructure deficits, large chunks of the population living week to week on inadequate incomes, insufficiently competitive utilities, the slow response to climate change, a supine attitude to China's authoritarianism, the politicising of the police, the alleged failure of previous governments' transformational policies, coupled with the alleged failure of the current government to generate transformations of its own. That's just a sample.
None of these complaints is necessarily untrue or unfair.
But all of them are relative.
In global terms, New Zealand faces disintegrating consensus in democratic norms and international rules-based order and the massive challenges of climate change with some of the best opportunities of any country on the planet.
So here, to start the year, are five reasons to be hopeful about New Zealand in the 2020s. And note: not one of them assumes anything about who will form our governments. These are advantages that are either innate or institutional, rather than party political.
New Zealand is in a temperate part of the world, below the tropics, with abundant fresh water and very low population density. Roughly the same size as Britain or Japan, it has barely five million inhabitants.
It might get windier and rainier as climate change increases the incidence of extreme weather, but it is unlikely to burn like Australia or disappear underwater like much of Bangladesh or Florida in the next century. We are a long way from any of the obvious flashpoints for war or unrest.
New Zealand will be increasingly attractive to people seeking to move away from heat, floods, wars and autocrats.
MMP politics is frustrating. It requires compromise and is the enemy of decisive leadership. However, overly decisive and disruptive leadership was what got New Zealand to MMP in 1996 after the see-sawing radicalism of the Muldoon-Douglas-Richardson years.
Compared with the UK, where voting for a third party is like voting for Social Credit used to be here – a wasted vote no matter how well the party polled nationally – MMP delivers a Parliament that looks and feels more like a representative democracy. The winner-take-all formula of first-past-the-post in the UK or the deeply flawed US political system, with its electoral college and super-charged presidential powers, are failing two of the world's greatest democracies.
We have moved on and are insulated from these trends because of it.
A critical mass of New Zealanders remain horrified by the March 15 mosque attacks. Our population is increasingly diverse and, while there is racism and legitimate concern about clashes of cultural values created by galloping inward migration, New Zealand is making a relative success of both its bi-cultural foundation and its multi-cultural future. Note: "relative" success. It's not all plain sailing and it never will be. But the fact that large migrant communities are arriving, finding work, and thriving here is a plus mark. Add to all this a relative lack of institutionalised corruption.
Strong government accounts
It's become fashionable to suggest that today's public infrastructure deficits just show how foolish the previous generation of both National and Labour-led governments were for pursuing Budget surpluses.
This rear-view mirror analysis, whether right or wrong, makes no difference to the fact that New Zealand governments of any stripe, today, have such strong government accounts that they can afford to double down on investments transport, health, education and other public infrastructure. The consensus for that is already firming.
It will be necessary if New Zealand is to embrace the population growth and economic dynamism that its favoured place in the world imply.
Problems of growth
In much of Europe and the most troubled parts of Asia, the Middle East, and Africa, low growth, high unemployment, and crippling debt levels drive the toxic political environment that is fuelling parochial nationalism and threatening international order and economic opportunity. New Zealand is the opposite. Almost all our problems are the problems of an economy growing faster than it can find workers or resources to keep up.
That produces high house prices, crappy public transport, overloaded water infrastructure, and crowded hospitals and schools. These are all big, expensive problems, but they are better problems to have than face most other countries and, as noted above, we have the financial resources to respond.
Fake meat and fake dairy will be good for NZ. Better for our environment. And people who stick with real meat and milk will pay a premium for it - finally breaking us out of commodity pricing https://t.co/L6i9DYd2B9— Chris Keall (@ChrisKeall) October 8, 2019
Being dissatisfied with things as they are is politically healthy and is part of the human condition.
But it's reasonable to be optimistic about a country in a good location, with a representative, functioning democracy, whose people are tolerant and resilient, whose governments have options thanks to prudent predecessors, and whose economic problems are those of growth rather than stagnation.
We might more often wake up and smell the coffee, which, on the whole, is pretty good too.