Build a Nation

The following was a contribution to the New Zealand Management cover story, “Big Ideas”, of the March 2006 edition. p.30.

Keywords: Political Economy & History;

New Zealand is beset by colonial cringe: we cant do it ourselves and those overseas are better at it. We are followers of the latest fashion, obsequious to third rate foreigners, promoting them and their lack lustre domestic disciples at the expense of quality New Zealand work.

Of course we should follow what is going on elsewhere – confidence in oneself need no mean chauvinism – but the challenge with it is to engage with it rather than slavishly imitate it. What was most wrong in the 1980s’ economic policy (which stagnated the economy for six years, knocking us out of the middle of the OECD, on the GDP per capita measure, down into its lower half), was that we adopted unproven policies fashionable among certain right wing elements in the US, which may not have worked there, and certainly did not work in the very different local conditions here.

Meanwhile we ignored the rest of the US debate, and the more relevant experience of many other countries. We are still doing it. The colonial cringe, following fashion, is the easy path. Keynes, had he been writing in New Zealand, would have talked of practical men and women being slaves of defunct overseas intellectuals.

Thinking for ourselves, adapting the relevant from overseas, implementing it creatively at home, is the tougher course. But without such a commitment, New Zealand will become an increasingly poor offshore neo-colony – as almost happened in the 1990s. We can do better, but first we have to have the confidence in ourselves that we can.

“Brian Easton is an economic commentator and author of The Nationbuilders”, he is currently writing The Globalisation of Nations, with a grant from the Marsden Fund.”