Maybe it's a sign of the economic times, but everyone wants a business case these days. Give to charity out of the goodness of your heart because they need it and you can afford it? Hell no.

Give me a business case, one entrepreneurial type demanded recently. What's in it for me? Apparently getting a third of it back as a tax refund still isn't enough.

Then there's Mark, who wanted me to justify Auckland University's efforts to raise achievement levels for their Maori and Pacific students. I get why we have an obligation to Maori, he told me (that pesky Treaty) but why should we do anything for Pacific Islanders?

To paraphrase the chief executive of the Ministry of Pacific Island Affairs, Dr Colin Tukuitonga: it's the demographics, stupid.

"The crude version is that our young brown people will become an increasingly important support network for other, ageing New Zealanders."

The Pacific population is young (38 per cent of Pacific people are under 15, compared with 22 per cent for the overall population), fertile, and increasingly numerous. By 2026 at least one in 10 New Zealanders will be Pacific, and given the 15-39 Pacific demographic bulge, PIs will be a significant proportion of the workforce whose taxes will go towards supporting the ageing Pakeha population (many PIs won't live long enough).

So, Mark, it's not because I expect your heart to bleed if Pacific people don't do well, or because there's a moral obligation to look after vulnerable communities that we've invited into the country to do our dirty work, or because of the history we share thanks to the imperialist hankerings of past Governments, but because it's in your own interests.

Especially now with Pacific unemployment at 13.1 per cent and Pacific workers likely to be the worst hit by the recession.

Says Tukuitonga: "Considering and mitigating the impact of the recession on Pacific people is smart thinking - both now and for New Zealand's long-term benefit."

He makes a good case for an increased focus on education but the Government appears not to have heard it. While the Maori Party chalked up some gains for Maori from the May Budget, Pacific needs figured not at all. Unless you counted all those new jail cells the Government's promising to build.

Yes, times are tough, budgets are tight, and hard choices must be made. But even if some job losses and the 1000 or so people signing up for the dole every week can be written off as an inevitable consequence of the global economic downturn, the Government's response so far has been long on rhetoric and short on vision; it lacks cohesion.

In fact, it's been about as disconnected and patchwork as the so-called national cycleway, which, at $50 million, wouldn't have survived a rigorous cost-benefit analysis if it hadn't been John Key's pet project.

Nowhere is this more clear than in education, which seems to be suffering not so much from a slash and burn approach as death by a thousand cuts.

As unemployment heads upwards there's never been a better time to focus on upskilling the population, especially as the recession has driven an expected increase in enrolments at universities and polytechnics. Yet the Government's policies seem to be headed in the opposite direction.

The IMF has said increased government spending on public education would do more to counter the effects of the financial crisis than tax cuts. But while Australia has boosted tertiary education funding by A$5 billion ($6.2 billion) and the Americans by US$30 billion ($46.5 billion), we've taken the axe to tertiary scholarships that helped poor students and bonded others to stay and work in New Zealand, to tertiary programmes for literacy and numeracy, and to funding that allowed universities to keep and attract world class lecturers and researchers.

There's been no funding for an increase in student numbers, and the Government has been deaf to pleas from polytechnics and technical institutes to remove the enrolment cap that prevents their taking on more students. It's also signalled a $50 million cut to teacher staffing budgets for public schools from 2010, the equivalent of 700 teachers, according to John Minto of the Quality Public Education Coalition.

Meanwhile, private schools, which educate 4 per cent of the country's students - including the PM's children - are being given an extra $35 million to make them "more affordable for parents".

Education Minister Anne Tolley trumpets the Government's "commitment to strengthening the ladder of opportunity", while slashing the funding for the adult night classes relied on by some 200,000 people by more than 80 per cent. Bill English, in opposition, had once called them "a leg-up for people wanting to return to the education system", adding, "National supports these low-cost courses. The current system of night classes through schools works well and should not be tampered with".

Even if you ignored their intrinsic social value, particularly for low-income and migrant communities, there's a solid economic argument from a 2007 PricewaterhouseCoopers report which estimated the national economic gain of this type of adult education at around $4.8 billion to $6.3 billion.

One could mount an equally strong argument for another "leg-up", a training allowance which allowed solo mums like Social Development Minister Paula Bennett to put themselves through university while on the DPB. That's no longer available to those wanting to do university degrees or diplomas, but only for school-based courses or basic tertiary certificates. Which seems to contradict the Government's stated goal for more of the high-level qualifications needed for that productive, knowledge-based economy that's supposed to be our economic salvation.