Collectivist beliefs may be holding back Maori economic success, three economists say.

The trio have found that Maori are much more collectivist and non-materialistic and have stronger kinship ties than other New Zealanders.

They say these values may explain why many Maori enterprises are built on a "stakeholder" model, where profits are shared with all members of an iwi rather than a few shareholders.

But they warn: "There are arguments that it comes at the expense of economic efficiency, since stakeholder firms no longer become focused on the singular goal of raising shareholder returns."


The three authors Professor Robert MacCulloch, Dr Arthur Grimes and Fraser McKay have used the World Values Surveys of 1998, 2004 and 2011 to show that Maori are much more "left-wing" on economic issues than even Labour-voting non-Maori.

Asked whether a better life came more from "hard work" or from "luck and connections", 63 per cent of Maori plumped for hard work. But this was below other New Zealanders regardless of whether they voted Labour (74 per cent) or National (83 per cent).

Asked about how much the Government was doing for people in poverty, 82 per cent of Maori said it was doing too little, compared with 64 per cent of Labour-voting and just 37 per cent of National-voting non-Maori.

Moreover, Maori have stayed strongly left-wing while non-Maori New Zealanders have shifted dramatically to the right. Non-Maori who said the Government was doing too little for people in poverty plunged from 61 per cent in 1998 to just 36 per cent in 2011, while Maori who believed the same actually increased slightly from 81 per cent to 84 per cent.

"Most economists would tend to associate those left economic belief patterns with lower long-term at least material prosperity," said Dr MacCulloch, a Pakeha New Zealander who worked overseas for 20 years before returning to Auckland University in 2011.

But he said the surveys also found that Maori were surprisingly "right-wing" on some non-economic issues. For example, they were much more likely than other New Zealanders to be against abortion, to agree that people should always respect their parents regardless of their faults, and to agree that "we should emphasise tradition more than high technology".

Unlike Black Americans, who shared many of their other values, Maori were also more likely to agree (63 per cent) that "protecting the environment should be given priority even if it causes slower economic growth" than non-Maori were (55 per cent).

The study found that on all these issues the differences between Maori and others were still significant even after allowing for differences in income, work status, education, age and sex.


"In other words, there appears to be a pure 'ethnicity' effect," the authors said.

Dr MacCulloch said other studies had found that people in poorer countries tended to share the same values as Maori people on issues such as believing that success came more from "luck and connections" than from "hard work".

"That's a reason why some economists think poor countries are poor," he said.

He said those beliefs were often understandable because of colonial histories that created very unfair societies in which power was held by a foreign elite.

"That can mean that, because of something that happened in your historical past, you have beliefs that weaken the point in working because I may not end up being rewarded for it," he said.

"It's a very powerful way of explaining why countries have been trapped [in poverty]."

At the other extreme, Chinese and some other Asian cultures had views that were "off the scale in terms of how right-wing they are on economic beliefs and values".

Dr MacCulloch suggested that Maori enterprises could change people's beliefs by giving iwi members individual shares in their companies, as Fonterra had done by setting up a shareholders' fund alongside the main co-operative.

However a management lecturer at Canterbury University, Dr Tyron Love (Te Atiawa), said the original World Values Survey methodology on which the study was based was problematic.

"The force-choice nature of the survey and some of the questions asked would be challenged by a number of Māori researchers on methodological and mana-enhancing grounds."