Reading John Gascoigne's Herald opinion piece "Paradise Lost" just before I fell asleep last week made me wake up anxious and sweaty. I have a [very] personal reason to figure out if he is right.
Gascoigne's argument took New Zealand's annual GDP and slid in a divider of increased population each year, then compared it to other OECD countries. He made the distracting conclusion of a "tragic story of economic decline". Further, he wrote, his New Zealand is an example of "a story of economic decline unparalleled in the developed world". It was unsettling hyperbole.
I found the source of worry when I read it again. He points to the root cause of decline of the "costs" of population growth fuelled by "immigration" using up resources of residents. Wow. My article conclusion: Immigrants are bad.
Two things I want to share: I will soon be one of those "immigrants" with my wife to Aotearoa, thanks to what I firmly believe is one of the most forward thinking-immigration experiments in the world, and, even if Dr Gascoigne is right, do mathematical comparisons of countries' GDP growth really matter?
Let's look at examples to support the "tragedy" argument; countries with far higher GDP growth for the period, and negative immigration: Russia and Belarus. New Zealand's GDP growth rate from 1988 until 2020 averaged 2.62 per cent. Russia's averaged 4.3 per cent. Belarus' was even higher. Is this really a tragedy?
I'm coming because of New Zealand's future economic prospects not its past. All the economic drawbacks that the country has ever had – distance, lack of intellectual capital, and feather-weight economic clout in my opinion are going to disappear, replaced by smart choices in technology, zero-distance cost of advancing telecommunications and world leadership in government policy already being shown and being implemented in climate, sustainability, outreach, and, yup, immigration.
Proof: I am an experiment joining an experiment. I am an Edmund Hillary Fellow - a experimental "joint venture" between the Edmund Hillary Institute and INZ/Immigration New Zealand. I'm coming with dozens of other Fellows - vetted like any immigrant for medical burden, disease and criminality, but also for entrepreneurial skills, empathy and the ability to listen and focus on issues of high importance to be solved.
This is immigration policy at its finest with no global comparison. The nested experiment: If a percentage of us replicate the success we've already had in our home countries in Aotearoa, the result will be dramatic: for our community, businesses and people we hire and advise: Geometric GDP growth.
New Zealand has lots of issues. It's small by OECD standards. As a country it can't scale a lot of historical inputs, but it has already learned many things. It has competitive advantage in the agricultural and other niche export businesses it has focused on.
The other countries mentioned. High-growth Russia doesn't really appeal to us. My wife is a human rights activist, so she would be immediately jailed if she were to go there. Belarus. Nope. I just don't like the policies of silencing anyone who looks sideways. And have you checked their GDP growth rates lately?
New Zealand's 2.62 per cent isn't a tragedy. It was a gift to not over-exert an economy with non-reversible mistakes. If New Zealand had had 8% GDP growth, it would have come with what every other country got: burnt-out, maniac, 70 hour-a-week workers, more pollution and scant regard for the morality of a widening GINI coefficients of income disparity. Hypergrowth always comes at a cost, sometimes even a tragic one.
My business experience as an immigrant in New Zealand will be focused on supporting myself economically; not as a carpet-bagging know-it-all, but with on-the-ground social impact work and local application of capital earned in the country I'm emigrating from.
I will be advising and investing; in start-ups and high-growth firms with aggressive and intelligent entrepreneurs including new immigrants who need, want and welcome global experience. Hopefully, I will also be able to advise the Government on work I've already done to intelligently take risk and innovate with experimental new policies and programmes that can be successfully implemented at scale.
And those immigrants to New Zealand that come as real refugees? Many academic studies support and recommend aggressive immigration policy for GDP growth. It takes time, like every other investment.
There isn't any place on earth with more opportunity than Aotearoa. The only tragedy will be to not minimise regret for missed opportunities, as we figure out where to live and what to dig into when we finally get to Aotearoa New Zealand in September.
Doug Steiner is a Cohort-8 EHF Fellow, currently living in Toronto, Canada