During my 1950s sport-obsessed youth, I had no idea we were the world’s third-wealthiest country. Nor did I know we had a trove of natural resources, including the world’s fourth-largest exclusive economic zone. Our climate, and the absence of ferocious mammals and deadly reptiles, meant I was unwittingly living in a virtual South Sea Pacific island paradise.
Though we remain far removed from the world’s numerous conflict zones, that paradise is now unobtainable for many. Why? Foremost causes are unaffordable housing, household and foreign debt levels, a largely low-wage economy with few well-paid jobs and low productivity. How might we regain our paradise potential for all of our people?
First, forgo investing overwhelmingly in property. We invest much more in housing than in businesses that employ many. And we won’t raise our standard of living selling houses to each other.
We need more leaders of the calibre of the compassionate Dr Lance O’Sullivan, a North Auckland Maori GP, who has instigated a workable consensus to lessen poverty and improve not only healthcare but employment and education.
Politicians and others who fail to ensure quality, well-funded universal education need to heed the dictum, “If you think paying for education is expensive try ignorance”. About a fifth of our pupils leave school illiterate or semi-literate and innumerate or semi-numerate.
We need more skilled tradespeople, scientists, engineers, technicians and other quality people working, especially, in high-tech and intellectual capital enterprises. Ideally, these are home-based and owned by residents who work together with their colleagues to put the nation’s interests ahead of their own.
Such role models are Auckland’s Beca Group and Buckley Systems; Gallagher Group of Hamilton and Christchurch’s Tait Communications; Hamilton’s Jet and Canterbury Scientific. Admirably, these export-led enterprises plan long term, with innovation and collaboration paramount.
Many of us are uninterested in politics and ignorant of finance, trade and industry. Leisure and sport dominate. We should apply the same collaboration, investment and long-term planning to export-led sectors that is done in sports.
Further, we must stop substituting well-informed consensus with our highly quarrelsome individualism. Individualism underpinned the success of our British and European settlers. As wealthier nations advance, we’re in danger of falling back. Most of us should be well off but instead we have a stand-apart rich class and a large, burgeoning, impoverished underclass.
We must discover new ways to participate effectively in the global economy. An enlightened dialogue is required involving our people that replicates the consensus achieved by the Danes, Finns, Norwegians and Swiss who think globally and act locally.
Hopefully an accord will emerge, enabling our intellectual, creative, innovative and entrepreneurial potential to be realised. If not, many could be on the road of despair to nowhere.
I believe that, with our many enviable advantages compared to most other developed nations, we should be doing very much better.
• John Hawkes is a writer in retirement