Guest Blog by John Gallagher, 24 October 2008
My previous blog asked how New Zealand could situate itself best in a changing wider world. This blog looks at making the most of the locality.
The next blog will draw these perspectives together, establishing ground from which to launch a framework for a wider, more connected discussion – an “Antipodean Atheneum.”
I would be very interested to hear from any readers if they see resonances between the issues discussed here and what is happening in their own parts of the world.
A current New Zealand election campaign spat between the left leaning Green and Labour Party on one side, and the right leaning National and Act Party on the other is hardly surprising. However, it points to a need to learn how to develop more subtle framing before the next election’s debates.
According to The Press report 21 October 2008, after the Greens scrutinized the policies of the two major parties, Labour and National, they announced they could not coalesce with the National Party if it won the election. About then, National leader John Key was scoring campaign points by depicting a Labour-Green coalition as “basically a no-growth government.”
The issue here should not be simply growth, but quality of growth. Growth that is both environmentally and financially sustainable. Financially this growth needs to restore positive balances between income, savings/investment and expenditures. With over $NZ150 billion of external debt – per capita among the highest in the world – we have obviously not balanced income and expenditure. We have not since 1973.
This problem is not just about individuals. The nation has yet to create a culture or framework that enables it to pay its collective way in the world. And our political and economic decision-makers have yet to demonstrate the ability to recognise and get on top of the huge socio-economic changes of the last three or so decades.
One problem is that growth is not what it used to be. Once, growth was an unproblematic concept in that there simply had to be more of it. Now limits to various forms of growth are increasingly widely recognized, especially resource-and fuel-intensive and polluting growth. With the critical eyes of the world’s customers and competitors sensitive to such growth, simple-minded dependence on it can quickly become economically self-defeating.
On the other hand, it would be useful if much more was made by Greens (and others) of forms of growth that were both sustainable and desirable. In other words, smarter ways of framing and implementing growth are needed. This means going on new learning curves together.
It is certainly time for all New Zealanders to review – comprehensively – the smart ways for them to pay their collective way in the world. Smarter local planning, mostly overlooked in public discourse and by policymakers, could be very rewarding.
For instance, planning more locally integrated lifestyles could progressively reduce massive fuel-intensive transport and commuting costs involved in much current, geographically dispersed production, employment, marketing, educational and residential spaces. One community with such locality-building initiatives is Project Lyttelton.
Much smarter use could also be made of communications technologies. San Francisco began leading the way especially in 1989 when an earthquake ruptured its major roadways. Many quickly discovered how much of their work they could do from their home computers (The New York Times 15 November 1989). Now with broadband coming into vogue, in conjunction with chronic fuel price and financial instability, I believe that such cost-saving telecommuting is set to become ever more popular. (Refer to a report and discussion about the pros and cons of telecommuting in the Information Week, Jun 18, 2008).
New communications technologies could offer some very exciting possibilities for a remote New Zealand that gets smart about developing brokering relationships of various kinds with the rest of the world.
It is also my belief that there are ways in which the locally-based forms of networking could give considerable depth to such brokering activities, making their implementation highly robust and effective. I shall begin to take these up themes in my next blog.
Your comments, questions, and ideas are most welcome.