One of the great mysteries of New Zealand politics is why our Governments always strive to be more like Australia. If the rest of us wanted to live in Australia, we'd move there.
To be fair they only mean economically speaking. Growth rates, wages rates, that sort of thing. The abstract measurements that sound impressive, but tell us nothing about what is important. Despite economists' attempts to reduce every value to a dollar amount, GDP - the sum of monetary transactions - cannot describe our psychological, social, cultural or ecological well-being. Neither do growth rates tell us about the levels of police corruption, intransigent judicial racism or mindless jingoism in a country.
We know that economic growth stopped adding to human happiness from about the 1960's, in the West, which makes the political obsession with it hard to fathom. But more importantly economic growth now seems to be making us less well off, overall. It's like spending the pension savings on fags and booze – the faster we do it, the worse off we are. So I wasn't trying to be clever when pointing out some of Australia's less savoury characteristics. Increasing New Zealand's economic growth will inevitably lead to a lower standard of living, in my opinion. Some of us will have more money and more stuff, but all of us will lose something of greater value.
Where would economic growth come from? The Government has floated the idea of digging up areas of high value conservation estate in order to flog off the minerals underneath. Right now, in Happy Valley on the West Coast, a rare ecosystem that is home to a number of rare or endangered species, is being pillaged to dig up coal to sell off-shore. Burning it will increase greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, leaving an ecological debt to our descendants, while the coal is expected to last around a decade. Ten years on, the coal will be gone, the money will be gone and we will have lost something far more precious, forever. The Government proposes more of that.
We can increase dairy output. This goes hand in hand with the killing of our streams and rivers, from taking more water for irrigation and increased run-off, even with best practise farming methods. It drives the consolidation of land ownership and the corporatisation of farming, with young farmers less and less able to afford to buy their own farm. Rural communities are being altered forever by the resulting transient workforce and lower population density.
Corporatisation and environmental destruction are not inevitable processes. They are the outcome of political decisions. What New Zealand, and the world, needs is not more growth, but a move to a steady state economy. There is already enough for everyone, but we are finding it hard to shake the idea that “bigger is always better”. Working out how to live within our ecological means is a much more worthy goal than copying our cousins over the ditch.
(from my TV3 website column