There is an enormous gulf between where New Zealand presently is and where it could be.
New Zealanders (the 99 per cent) should now be enjoying a quality of life and living standards among the highest in the world.
Conversely, on practically every metric, we are now one of the worst-performing nations in the developed world*.
Two reasons, respectively, account for this discrepancy.
Firstly, we have an increasingly undisciplined, dysfunctional multicultural population entirely lacking any sense of national purpose or common interest except sport.
Secondly, as a middle-income agricultural export nation, we simply do not have the massive industrial / high-tech or productive sector that is so striking a feature of all the tiny, high-income nations. Put simply, we just do not have the means to achieve the very high living standards enjoyed by those nations.
Pervasive anti-social behaviour in all its forms and escalating crime not only cancel out all quality of life but impose enormous costs on a nation. Add that stratum of unmotivated, undisciplined people, our expanding feral underclass, and our problems, both economic and social, are immeasurably compounded.
It would be impossible to precisely quantify the enormous cost of crime and rampant anti-social behaviour but we can hazard a rough estimate.
In a speech delivered in 2010, the former Leader of the Opposition, Judith Collins, claimed the cost of crime to be around $11 billion, a figure likely highly conservative and one which would have increased dramatically since.
Many would argue the rot has permeated too deeply into the social fabric to change the situation when in reality it is a question of political will.
Singapore, for example, was in a far worse condition before Lee Kuan Yew and his People’s Action Party came to power in 1965. Lee, reviled by many, notably our legal community, was the supreme pragmatist. The rest is history. Singapore now ranks as one of the cleanest, safest, and richest nations on the planet.
Since 1984 under the banner of “internationally admired economic reform” ( a euphemism for unadulterated neoliberalism) we have been force-fed deregulation, privatisation, corporatisation, down-sizing, re-engineering, de-centralisation, outsourcing, free trade (or unregulated international commerce), employment contracts, immigration (to inject vibrancy and dynamism), investment openness and so on, all of which have got New Zealand nowhere.
Hence the grim situation of the moment right now.
Those who believe a change of government will break the deadlock could not be more completely wrong.
Irrespective of whichever party or parties are in power the political will to implement the changes required to reverse our decline does not appear to exist. Yet, even if it did, we face two major impediments to economic and social progress.
Firstly, the prescriptions required; prescriptions which have been proven in nation after nation including our own in the past, invariably challenge deep-set beliefs and violate cast-iron ideological convictions.
Secondly, a large swathe of the public appears satisfied with the status quo simply because it has not known life any differently (the new normal).
To many New Zealanders success in international sport provides confirmation that, despite our sinking status, “we’re doing alright,” as one blinkered commentator recently put it.
With that mindset, all prospects of economic progress can be ruled out entirely.
Short of a radical change in direction, New Zealand’s economic decline will simply continue.
We will eventually become like Argentina, an immigrant nation of recent settlement with a highly diverse, vibrant and well-educated population of 45 million, over half of which live below the poverty line.
It’s our call.
- John Gascoigne is a Cambridge-based economic commentator.
* Addenda: The World Bank produces a vast array of statistics on comparative national economic performance. From its rankings, Luxembourg is the richest nation in the world now with a per capita income of $135,000; Singapore $72,000; Iceland $68,000; Denmark $68,000; Finland $53,000 and so on. Argentina has a per capita GDP of $10,000 and Uruguay $17,000. One should always compare nations of similar population, 5 million or less for any meaningful comparison. Our per capita income is $48,000. All these metrics are in US currency which does not matter; it is the relativity that is important. We are well above the South American level and, after that, there is a sharp drop off to the third-world where per capita income is measured not in thousands but hundreds of dollars. Bear in mind that per capita income figures disclose nothing about how the national income is distributed, or inequality. That said, per capita income in combination with other statistics can give a very good fix on a nation’s economic and social performance