The West Coast is a colony of Canterbury.

Think of all the gold, the beautiful timber, the coal, the fish. Think of the tourism dollars flowing from that extraordinary raised coastal road from Westport to Greymouth, and then the lakes, forests, glaciers and mountains - and spectacular mountain passes - and ask yourself: why isn't the West Coast as rich as Cruses?

Where does all the money go? Why isn't it going around from hand to hand and multiplying in that particular place? Why are all the benefits of multiplying value happening away from the source of that wealth? It has nothing to do with merit. It comes down to relative commercial and political power and ownership.

It wasn't just Marx that understood power and the transfer of wealth from the weak to the strong. Adam Smith wrote against the role of both corporations and aristocrats, especially influencing policy.

Cecil Rhodes certainly understood:
"We must find new lands from which we can easily obtain raw materials and at the same time exploit the cheap slave labour that is available from the natives of the colonies. The colonies would also provide a dumping ground for the surplus goods produced in our factories."

Advertisement

Imagine being on the weaker side of that "bargain". Well, we were. Take the cheap resources and watch the profits flow out with them, including further processing, and - best of all - leave most of the social and environmental problems behind with the "natives".

Colonisers justify their abuse of power by claiming "direct investment" and "jobs". The fact is that the colonial approach is very good news for the "investor" and very bad news for the local community and its lands.

That propaganda is all part of the deal making injustice. We know this in our hearts, as demonstrated by the widespread disgust at the gifting of our premium quality Hawke's Bay water to an outsider, pathetically justified by the same empty clichés.

This concentration of wealth, privatisation of gain and socialisation of costs is a phenomenon as old as man. The tribal war for slaves and land. The classical empires growing fat on the wealth of the conquered. The conquests by self-appointed feudal "lords" who then ensure that no surpluses trickle down to the land-bound serfs. The enclosures and clearance of commons so the lairds can grow fat. European colonisation of our very own country. Today the agents are powerful nation states supporting their mega-corporates.

The current economist priesthood still apparently alive and kicking in Treasury presumes none of this historic reality. In their models, we all live in a tiny village of equal opportunity, equal powerlessness and meritocracy.

That is complete and utter bunkum.

The West Coast is an extreme example of a local colony within a colony. It is made worse by being a classic "extractive economy", a contrast to "creative economies" that thrive on a base of human ingenuity and the enterprise. Extractive economies only last while the "resources" being mined are economic to extract - including those slow-cycling natural systems like forests, fisheries, soil and water.

Extractive economies are doomed, like Nauru. Where are the people of Nauru now? Where are the fishing villages that used to fish the Grand Banks cod? Where are the fishers of Somalia, who resorted to pirating because their seas were ravaged by outsiders?
What does this mean for our local provincial economy? Who owns what matters.

Where that ownership resides matters. The relative political and commercial power of that ownership matters. How money locally flows and grows matters. If an economist doesn't recognise those issues, then don't listen to them.

The first imperative is avoid being a colony. Retain value in our region. Avoid the loud sucking sound as profits, expenditure, interest and lost opportunity for local value chains drains away. If there is any sucking sound to be had, make it in our direction.

Given our own colonial past you'd think our governors would be mindful - like the Chinese, Indians and Brazilians certainly are - of strategically avoiding any sort of repeat of the colonial process. For almost 40 years we've heard nothing of these political realities from Treasury.

The second imperative is to avoid an extractive economy and build a creative one. Extractive economies attract the worst of "investors"; those who want things - labour or resource - cheap or free. Those on the look out for cheap Orcs and Mordor. Those who do not care about community or place.

A creative economy relies on social capital - trust, participation, social engagement with others. These are the institutions of a just society. Justice matters because hope is vital to creativity.

The third imperative is to multiply that value locally with long value chains. Don't send things to some huge throughput mill in Hawera if you can avoid it.
The fourth is to distribute value by paying people well, because a local economy thrives when people spend locally.

Lastly, create an environment and a society that attracts the community minded and the creative, those who treasure our land and waterscapes as we do.

We live in a province, often bombarded by the rhetoric of those who would do the very opposite of Retain, Create, Multiply, Distribute and Attract. They argue for making our home an extractive economy, owned by outsiders, populated by poorly paid people in a crumbling environment.

That suits them, not us. It should be our choice whether we want Hawke's Bay to be the Shire or Mordor.

A choice that is obvious.

Chris Perley has a background in primary sector and regional strategy, policy, research and operational management across land use community, economy and the environment. He is a research affiliate in the Centre for Sustainability (CSAFE) at Otago University.