Last week, I met a kid in his final year of high school. I asked him if he had a plan for his future after school. He didn't hesitate. "Yep, engineering and then I'll move to Australia." His friend might head to the UK. Neither thought there was any benefit in sticking around in New Zealand because there are more opportunities beyond our borders.
'Anywhere but here' is a growing sentiment among younger Kiwis and families with small children. A mother of four recently emailed me to say she was moving her kids to Canada since "anyone who works hard, saves, and budgets is just punished here."
I've lost count of the number of young nurses, construction workers, IT professionals and school leavers who've said they're thinking of moving away. It might be easier to list those who want to stay.
We've got to turn around talk of a brain drain and make New Zealand the best place in the world to work and raise a family, because our status as a first-world country depends on it.
That means focusing on what policy settings will keep aspirational Kiwis here. But we've become complacent, less competitive, and more obsessed with how to slice the pie than focusing on how to grow it.
Over the next week, the Government will drip-feed details of how much money will go to whom in the Budget. On Budget Day, the question will inevitability be "who are the biggest winners?" based on which group of people gets thrown the biggest bone.
The Budget should really answer the question: who do we want to be as a country? It needs to give hope to a mother working hard and striving for her family that she's not going to be fodder for a handout culture. That her kids can aspire for and achieve more.
It also needs to create an environment for investment that leads to more productive jobs with higher wages so that our best and brightest feel like they can have a future here.
That we are a country that says it's okay to work, save, invest, innovate, succeed and aspire for even more. And you can do it right here.
While most politicians and the media will be focused on the next Budget and the next election, we need to ask about what we're doing for the next generation. That's why I'm proud Act has put forward an alternative Budget based on the theme of real change.
Our Budget takes on issues many politicians run a mile from because they're scared of big, bold changes. But what we can't afford is inaction.
Somebody born in the early 50s had a life expectancy of 69. That would see them collect four years of national superannuation. Thanks to the miracles of modern medicine and healthier living, life expectancy is now 81. That means a retiree can expect 16 years on national super.
The thing is, we just can't afford it. Australia, Britain, the USA, Italy, Ireland and Spain - to name a few - are raising their pension ages to 67 or 68.
Act's alternative Budget proposes that we gradually follow suit, raising our age to 67 by two months each year, getting there by 2035. If you're already retired this change won't affect you at all. If you're 59 you'd be eligible for super one year later than currently planned. But life expectancy will have increased by almost a year in that time.
This policy would save taxpayers $16 billion in 12 years. Can we really afford to be an outlier when all those other countries are already richer than us?
That kind of change, along with reductions in truly wasteful spending such as the woeful Jobs for Nature scheme, which costs hundreds of thousands of dollars per job in the middle of a labour shortage, would get us back to surplus and put the brakes on the inflation that is squeezing families like the one I mentioned.
We would also reduce taxes so that a nurse on $70,000 would keep $2300 more of their own money each year to keep up with the price rises we've already seen.
These are just a couple of the initiatives we'd take to make New Zealand a place where aspirational people want to stay. The alternative is to carry on with Labour and National photocopying each other's Budgets, taxing a declining number of productive people as more and more head for the door.
The real question for New Zealand is not whether we can afford to be bold. It's whether we can afford a long comfortable decline until we're one of the world's pretty island nations that's nicer to visit than to actually live in.
• Brooke van Velden is the deputy leader of the Act Party.