From fragmented localities to communicative communities
December 5, 2008
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John Key led the National party to an election victory promising “change,” and a “bright future.” However, his Speech from the Throne, outlining the new government’s agenda was – with the significant exception of broadband rollout – rather a blast from the past. His core solution, basically an 18th Century Western one, is for government to get out of the way of individuals so they can compete to “get ahead.” Refer to John Maynard Keynes essay (1926) – THE END OF LAISSEZ-FAIRE (PDF 63KB)

What the 21st century is calling for, however, is an ability to relate and collaborate, including with a sense of responsibility for the earth and for one another.

This 21st Century shift from individualistically-framed economics to relationship-based economics comes with the major shift of economic power from the United States to Asia, particularly China and India. Westerners doing business with China have to learn to build mutually beneficial connections and relationships if they are to succeed. In New Zealand Maori have been increasing their economic power using a collaborative, relationship-based and sustainable economic model that requires a new corporate legal model that recognizes Maori tribal values and practices.

The government’s economically-focused education is meant to prepare students “for the demands of tomorrow’s employers.” There are a number of references in the speech to basic literacy and numeracy and educational standards. However, today’s employers have to employ multicultural staff and sell to an ethnically multiple and very environmentally challenged world. A truly economically-focused Speech from the Throne would therefore incorporate literacy in intercultural relations and environmental sustainability as basic to the required educational standards.

Analogous to the self-interested individual in society, Key wants New Zealand to act as a self-interested state in foreign affairs. Here he proposes a “case by case” approach to “maximize self interest”. However, even the world’s most powerful nation, the United States, is realising the need to look beyond its own self interest to work in with others around combined and longer term interests in a multi-polar, interdependent world.

New Zealand has become relatively significant in international affairs, not simply as a small nation competitively pushing its own barrow, but by having valuable contributions to make. Building on the Lange labour government’s independent nuclear free policy of the 1980s,the 1990s national government’s foreign minister Don McKinnon campaigned hard to ensure New Zealand got a seat on the United Nations Security Council. As a Security Council member, it made valued contributions as a principled, honest broker. It also hosted the successful mediation of a bloody Bougainville conflict.

Prime Minister Helen Clark continued to build up international respect with her deep knowledge of, and engagement with, matters of global concern, including her support for intercultural and interfaith dialogue projects. New Zealand’s recent rapprochement with the United States had much to do with our country’s ability to make international connections. This included the close connections Foreign Minster Winston Peters had with Pacific leaders and his government’s independent, nuclear-free status that situated it well to act as a broker in the dispute over North Korea’s nuclear development program.

If New Zealand is to be part of international conversations it must understand the basis of its reputation and consciously build on it. There is much to be done: India and Pakistan have nuclear weapons and there is mounting tension between them. President Nicolas Sarkozy of France and US President-elect Obama are both committed to working towards a nuclear-free world. New Zealand has well regarded nuclear-free peacemaking credentials, yet thus far the only mention of foreign policy has been not about investment, but cuts to proposed investment.

Policy on social inclusion is also informed by a philosophy of individualism. Here, for instance, youth offenders are to be targeted with new mixes of expert interventions that can include Youth Court sentencing, various forms of intensive mentoring and ‘Fresh Start’ programmes incorporating military-style training. While the National Governments declared intention is to cut bureaucracy, this policy will add new layers of it. Even the community and church groups enlisted to help are themselves now steeped in bureaucracy.

For this otherwise eighteenth century nation of competing individuals, Key proposes one major innovation to bring them clearly into the 21st century: a substantial roll-out of broadband and the promise of its benefits. But benefits for whom? In the private-public partnerships he proposes, many more New Zealand individuals and small firms are likely, once again, to find themselves absorbed by some very large global corporate “partners” who can also be bureaucratic – just try getting them to respond effectively when you have a problem with them.

Key ended his Speech from the Throne with a nod to community, saying the government will tap into “the resources, ideas and collective goodwill of New Zealand communities” to assist with social policy.

The overall picture presented is bleak. Community consists of competitive individuals, and expert systems, with their layers of bureaucracy, targeting those who do not cope. While broadband further intensifies the competition amongst individuals, in practice they become further absorbed into global corporate life.

Yet the speech does contain the basis of a solution. Instead of funding more, expensive experts and bureaucracies to intervene, why not support community itself to develop so it can be well placed to know and support its inhabitants to reach their potential? Expert systems could then be worked with economically and efficiently. Mentors should grow naturally in healthy communities again, when and as needed. True mentoring does not come with a job description and CV – it comes with authentic care.

If this connected and connecting community could be given turbo-charged support, into this mixture broadband could be most usefully added, and then yes, an innovative, forward looking bright future may indeed come about. What do you think?

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