Official corruption, there and here

On holiday in the (remarkably for mid-July) sunny South Island, I was reading Dictatorland: The Men Who Stole Africa, by British journalist Paul Kenyon.  It is well-worth reading for anyone with an interest in Africa, or indeed in economic (under)development. Over 400 or so pages, it is a series of accounts of leaders of post-colonial African countries who enriched themselves –  typically almost obscenely so –  from the vast natural wealth of the continent.    There are exceptions of course; notably well-governed Botswana.   And there were countries where idealistic disastrous policies impaired the material wellbeing of the citizenry without any great personal enrichment of the leaders (Tanzania and Zambia under Nyerere and Kaunda are two examples).  But Kenyon’s focus is on a series of countries with abundant natural resources (oil or very fertile land in his particular examples), one or more brutal leaders, and, at very best, mediocre material living standards for their people –  think Congo, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea, Libya, Ivory Coast (with the rather different, but equally bleak, Eritrea thrown in for good measure).  Eritrea may – the author reports – have abundant oil and gas, but the regime simply refuses to allow any exploration.   Looting by leaders and their cronies was too often a big part of the story –  billions in foreign banks, fancy houses in Paris, London and the like.  The way various Western companies –  oil companies notably –  acted as enablers of this evil is pretty unedifying too.

Many many books and learned articles have been written on failures of post-colonial Africa.  I’m not sure that any of the stories really persuade me, except perhaps in the most reduced-form sense: there were weak institutions for sure, but they needn’t have stayed weak; the boundaries of many countries were artificial at best, but a strongman (arguably necessary to hold some countries together) could have lived modestly, governed wisely, and so on.   And if one were to blame the colonial predecessors –  in some cases dreadful (think Leopold of the Belgians), in others not much better than indifferent – much of east Asia also emerged from (relatively shortlived) colonial rule at around the same time, and the small Pacific countries emerged even later.  Much of the Middle East emerged from Ottoman rule only a little earlier.   And if, indeed, there is a “natural resource curse” of sorts –  at least in the presence of weak institutions – there are places like Brunei or Norway (independent since 1905).

I spent a couple of years in Zambia, working as the economic adviser to the central bank.  Kenneth Kaunda hadn’t been overly brutal, and hadn’t much enriched himself.  But under his watch, his country’s economy and material living standards had been severely impaired nonetheless.  In the midst of the liberalisation/disinflation shakeout in the early-mid 1990s, per capita GDP is estimated to have been more than a third lower than it had been at independence in 1964.  In the “what might have been” file, the story was often told of how at independence Zambia –  rich in copper, and with abundant agricultural land and a small population – had had per capita GDP similar to (or a bit higher than) those in Taiwan or South Korea.   Zimbabwe had also been about as well-off as those two east Asian states, which themselves had only emerged from fairly brutal decades of Japanese occupation in 1945.   These days, Zambia and Zimbabwe “enjoy” per capita GDP between 5 and 10 per cent of those of Taiwan and South Korea.

Another way to look at Africa’s economic failure is to compare the growth performance with New Zealand. In 1960, New Zealand was still among the richer of the advanced countries of the world. Nowhere in Africa had estimated per capita incomes more than about half of New Zealand’s (South Africa and Algeria), and most had incomes not much more than a tenth of New Zealand’s.  As readers know, over the subsequent decades we have been among the worst performing of the advanced countries.  So beating New Zealand’s growth record over the decades since 1960, should have been easy.  But of the 25 African countries for which the Conference Board database had data (in PPP terms), only 7 did.   Taken as a whole, the continent couldn’t even manage to make gains relative to the advanced country laggard New Zealand.  Of the 18 east Asian countries in  the Conference Board database, every single one grew faster than New Zealand over the period since 1960.   Looting by Africa’s leaders is far from the only story, but at very least it was symptomatic of the wider failure –  as well as being morally inexcusable.

Official looting isn’t, of course, confined to post-colonial Africa. It is mercifully rare in New Zealand, but in the course of my holiday I stumbled on an extraordinary example from the early days of settlement,  In Nelson, we stayed in Blackmore Cottage, (the warmer version of) a house first built in the early 1850s for Edward Blackmore, who had been appointed by Governor Grey as Collector of Customs and sub-treasurer in Nelson.  The owner was keen to tell us the story.  Blackmore had started by lying about his qualifications –  claiming an Oxford degree when he’d done no more than qualified to matriculate (never even attending) – but that was just the start.  He appears to have collected customs duties (at the time, the bulk of regular government revenue other than land sales) and simply never passed the revenue to the government.  At the time, it appears, people appointed customs collector had to provide sureties or guarantors, but Blackmore never provided these either.  Questions were soon asked, repeatedly, but the mails were slow, and it appears that Governor Grey himself took Blackmore under his wing (when senior public servants started pursuing him).  By the time the incident came to a head a year or two later, Blackmore owed the Crown around 2000 pounds.   That mightn’t seem like much, but total customs revenue for the entire country in 1855 was 105000 pounds.

No one seems quite clear what Blackmore did with the money, but it was probably failed business ventures.  He’d even bought a couple of islands.  But whatever he did with it, there wasn’t much left by the time things came to a head.  You might suppose that he’d have been arrested and served a considerable prison sentence –  defalcation is no trivial crime. But, astonishingly, there were no legal consequences at all.   Instead, someone in the Nelson community apparently gave Blackmore ten shillings, and took over whatever assets were left, apparently with the intention of liquidating them and paying any proceeds to the Crown.  Ten shillings (or perhaps it was in addition to the fare) seems to have been enough for the Blackmore family to leave for Sydney, whence the law did not pursue them.  Blackmore was, reportedly, no more successful in Australia, running for a time (before it failed) a private school, at which two of Australia’s earliest Prime Ministers were educated.

The Blackmore affair seemed to create quite a stir.  There was a near-unanimous resolution in Parliament that Blackmore should be arrested, wherever he was.  There was a parliamentary inquiry into the failures of senior civil servants in dealing with Blackmore (the question was whether those civil servants should have their pensions docked.  But Blackmore was never arrested, never prosecuted. never punished.  Perhaps it was simply too embarrassing for some senior people?  Whatever the latter day failings of our leaders –  and they are many –  looting in office is almost unknown.

And with that post-holiday whimsy, I’ll start to get back to the regular round of posts.

The real exchange rate mattered in 1985, and it still does

In Christchurch tomorrow evening, Anne Krueger is giving the 2018 Condliffe Lecture.

Krueger is an eminent figure in economics, now in her 80s.  She had a distinguished academic career, specialising mostly in trade and development issues, and she also spent time as first Chief Economist at the World Bank, and then later (until 2006) as first deputy managing director of the International Monetary Fund.   (My lasting impression of her, as an international bureaucrat, was the day she declaimed at a Board retreat about the challenges the IMF faced as a small organisation –  at the time staff numbers totalled about 3000.)

According to Canterbury University

In the University of Canterbury’s 2018 Condliffe Lecture, Anne Krueger will explore the topic: “Is it harder or easier to develop rapidly than it was a half century ago?” in her talk on development and economic growth.

She will argue, we are told

“In this lecture, I shall argue that while the future is never entirely foreseeable, there are a number of considerations that point to greater ease of development now than in the past. These include: the diminishing rate of increase in populations in most low income countries; the fact that much more is understood now (albeit still imperfectly) about development (and especially how not to achieve it); that global markets are much larger; and obtaining information of all kinds is much easier.”

There are also some technological advances that make development easier: mobile phones; continuing discoveries of improved technology in agriculture; advances in materials sciences; and so on.

I hope a copy of her text is made available.

I’m not sure how often Professor Krueger has been to New Zealand, but there is a record of a visit in 1985, when she was at the World Bank.  She delivered a lecture under Treasury’s Public Information Programme, under the heading Economic Liberalization Experiences – The Costs and Benefits (if anyone wants a copy, it appears to be held in the University of Auckland library, but isn’t online anywhere).

As she noted

As a newcomer to the New Zealand scene, it would be foolhardy of me to attempt any assessment of the policies implemented in support of the New Zealand quest for economic liberalization.  It may be useful, however, to discuss what liberalization more generally is usually about, and to attempt to draw on the experience of other countries for lessons and insights that may potentially be applicable –  by those of you more knowledgeable about the situation here than I – in evaluating the progress of liberalization in New Zealand.

It is a very substantial lecture (18 pages of text), drawing on the experiences in previous decades of a wide range of other countries grappling with twin challenges of stabilisation (inflation, fiscal etc) and liberalisation..   The small bit I wanted to highlight –  which saddened me when I first read it a few years ago, and still does, from a “what might have been” perspective –  was about the exchange rate.

Two important lessons emerge from the Southern Cone [of Latin America] experience: failure to maintain the real exchange rate during and after liberalisation is an almost sure-fire formula for major difficulties and the defeat of the effort.  The reason for this is that a liberalization effort aimed at opening up the economy must induce more international trade; it is not enough that there be more imports, there must be more exports.  Since the exchange rate is the most powerful policy instrument with which to provide incentives for exporters, its maintenance at realistic levels which provide an incentive to producers to export is crucial to success.

and a few pages later she returns to the theme

“In particular, the exchange rate regime must provide an adequate return to producers of tradable goods, particularly to exporters”

At the time, this would have resonated strongly with senior New Zealand officials.  One of the starkest memories of my first year at the Reserve Bank, fresh out of university, was being minute secretary to a meeting in late 1984 attended by the top tiers of the Reserve Bank and The Treasury.  It was a just a few months after the big devaluation that ushered in the reform programme: senior officials were explicitly united in emphasising how vital it was to “bed-in” the lower exchange rate, and ensure that the real exchange rate stayed low.

You can see that 1984 devaluation in this chart of the real exchange rate I ran a few weeks ago.

ULC jun 18

In fact, the gains from the devaluation were swallowed up very quickly by inflation.    When we finally got on top of inflation, the real exchange rate did average lower for some time –  and during those years the tradables sector of the economy (and export and import shares) were growing relatively strongly.  But for the last 15 years, the real exchange rate has averaged even higher than it was prior to the start of the liberalisation programme.  It hasn’t been taken higher by a stellar productivity performance.

It shouldn’t be any surprise that the export and import shares of GDP have fallen back, and that there has been no growth at all in per capita tradables sector GDP this century.    Successful sustained catch-up growth –  of the sort New Zealand desperately needs – doesn’t come about that way.

Perhaps some attendee might ask Professor Krueger for any reflections on her 1985 comments about the importance of the real exchange rate in light of New Zealand’s disappointing economic experience since then.  And linking back to the topic of her 2018 lecture, can we now catch-up fast, having failed so badly to do for the last 30+ years?  Fixing the badly misaligned real exchange rate, a symptom of imbalances but which is skewing incentives all over the economy, seems likely to be imperative.  New Zealand just isn’t that different: wasn’t then, isn’t now.

 

 

Free speech, even for odd or obnoxious views

Last week the Mayor of Auckland, Phil Goff, announced –  using what powers isn’t clear –  that no venue owned or managed by the Auckland Council would be made available for hire by organisers for an event involving a couple of controversial Canadian speakers, who had been planning to visit New Zealand next month.

I’d never previously heard of the speakers, or the organisers.    When I looked them up, some of the views one or other has apparently propounded seemed, frankly, kooky.  Here, for example, is a (unverified) report of some of Stefan Molyneux’s views.

According to Jessica Roy of Time magazine, Molyneux argued that violence in the world is the result of how women treat their children, and that “If we could just get people to be nice to their babies for five years straight, that would be it for war, drug abuse, addiction, promiscuity, sexually transmitted diseases, … Almost all would be completely eliminated, because they all arise from dysfunctional early childhood experiences, which are all run by women.”

Odd, or even obnxious, as some or many of their views might be, they are quite at liberty to hold them, or express them.  And New Zealand audiences should be free to listen to them, whether to cheer, to heckle, or just out of curiosity.

No owner of a private venue should be under any obligation to rent out a venue –  or provide a media outlet – but councils should be a different matter altogether.   Council property is paid for by all the local residents and ratepayers, and when such venues are available for hire or use by private groups, there should be a strong and clear commitment that the political views of those who happen to be councillors, mayors, or council staff at the time won’t influence which groups are allowed to use such facilities for their functions/meetings.  There are plenty of causes around that individual people will count as obnoxious –  stances on a contentious issues such as abortion law is a good example, where either side tends to view the other in a very deeply hostile light –  and it isn’t for those who happen to hold office at a particular time to impose some sort of ideological litmus test on views that can be uttered in public facilities.    Such an approach would smack of the sort of authoritarian semi-democracies of Turkey, Russia, or Hungary –  where elections still take place, but those in power stack the field by denying access to the public square to views/people they find awkward, disagreeable or threatening.

The stance taken by Auckland Council staff and the mayor shouldn’t be tolerated, no matter how odd or obnoxious many of us might find most of views of Lauren Southern and Stefan Molyneux.  And plenty of views now regarded as mainstream, almost obligatory in “polite society”, would have been regarded as threatening or obnoxious only a few decades back.

A group of concerned people have got together to challenge the Auckland Council’s right to deny use of their venues.  It appears to breach the Human Rights Act, and is inconsistent with the (non-binding) New Zealand Bill of Rights.  I’ve pledged to donate to the fund being raised to seek a judicial review of the Council’s action.  I’d encourage you to think of doing so to, whatever your view (or none) of the substantive views held by Southern and Molyneux.  This issue –  effective freedom of speech –  should be one of those issues that unites people from left and right (and people in open support of this cause range from Don Brash to Chris Trotter), and nowhere in particular on the political spectrum, who care about a functioning democracy, robust debate, and who believe that ideas –  even obnxious ones –  are best debated, not suppressed by government agencies.

The website is……https://freespeechcoalition.nz

I have also encouraged the organisers to consider working with a sympathetic member of Parliament to seek to introduce, via the ballot, a private members bill, to require all local authorities and similar public entities (eg school boards of trustees) to adopt a hiring or facilities use policy that does not use judgements about whether those in control of deciding on facilities use happen to agree with any views that would be expressed or not. These are community facilities, and when made available for outside use, it should be clear that no ideological litmus tests can be applied.

Choices: New Zealand and the PRC

There was an article on interest.co.nz the other day from the New Zealand resident American geopolitical and strategic affairs consultant, Paul Buchanan.  In his column –  well actually even in the headline –  he argues that

New Zealand is facing a very tough choice between our security interests and our economic interests, and that choice may have to be made very soon.

This is, as he sees it, a choice between the PRC and that of the United States (and our traditional allies).

Perhaps, but I reckon Buchanan misunderstands the nature of New Zealand’s economic exposure to the PRC.  The economic interests involved aren’t those of the country as whole –  countries make their own prosperity – but rather of a relative handful of, perhaps politically influential, businesses (and universities)  And if there is a choice it is more likely to be between the sort of values and friendships that have guided this country for the last 100 years and more, and those of one of the most brutal aggressive regimes on the planet; a regime which, as this article highlights, is becoming worse –  more threatening to its own and others –  not better.  It should be no choice at all, unless our politicians are now quite without shame.  Values and beliefs –  the things that unite people, communities, countries, beyond just common material interests –  don’t appear in Buchanan’s story.

Buchanan sets up his article noting that New Zealand`s trade and security relationships had diverged.   He seems to present it as a matter of active choice, whereas I would see it –  at least on the trade side –  as a natural evolution.  There was no conceivable world in which the bulk of our firms` overseas trade (and it is firms that trade, not governments) would continue to be with UK counterparts, or even with Australian or US firms.   That is true in respect of both imports and exports.   Our previous position –  buying and selling from firms in a single dominant country –  was historically not the norm.   These days –  though you wouldn’t know it from Buchanan’s article –  our foreign trade is relatively unusually widely spread.  No single country’s firms –  not even the very largest or the very closest –  take or provides more than a quarter of our foreign trade.  And, unfortunately, our foreign trade is rather smaller, as a share of GDP, than it would be if our economy were more successful.   To the extent that one worries about trade with the PRC –  and some individual firms clearly should, having chosen to sup so large with the “devil – a much larger share of Australia’s trade is with PRC counterparts than New Zealand’s.

Buchanan presents New Zealand as caught on the horns of a dilemma, or as he puts it

…that makes the New Zealand’s stance more akin to straddling a barbed wire fence while standing on ice blocks rather than balancing between competing great power interests.

It seems he sees it as a choice because he has bought into the narrative, often promoted by the previous government, that somehow our (so-called) prosperity (weak productivity, shrinking tradables sector etc) owes much to the PRC.

On the one hand, the Chinese presence in New Zealand has been materially beneficial. But that has come with strings attached that are believed to compromise the integrity of New Zealand institutions. For its part, New Zealand’s Anglophone orientation has not recently paid similar material dividends even though it gives it a seat at the table in security meetings with our traditional partners.

But where is the evidence that, in anything other than a willing buyer/willing seller sense, New Zealanders as a whole have particularly profited from the relationship with the PRC?   Is there reason to suppose that more milk powder would have been produced, if PRC buyers hadn`t purchased it from New Zealand sellers?  It is a globally-traded product, and what isn`t sold in one place is sold in another. In that respect, it is a little like oil.   The same goes for many of our exports, which aren`t specifically designed from the Chinese market.  And no one supposes that the PRC is about to impose export bans on the sort of stuff New Zealand firms purchase from the PRC.

Trade is, generally, mutually beneficial, and so things that disrupt trade patterns are generally costly.  But the cost of any particular disruption can easily be overstated, especially in a bilateral relationship where total exports to a particular country (in this case, New Zealand to the PRC) total only around 5 per cent of GDP.   Dairy prices fluctuate from week to week and, quite a lot, from season to season.  On the other side, so do oil prices.  But economies have a lot of capacity to adapt, and instruments like monetary policy and a flexible exchange rate that help smooth the adjustment.  It isn’t always easy for particular firms –  but they’ve made choices about their exposures, and the failure to manage them effectively – but the focus of policymakers needs to be on the economy, and country, as a whole.

Buchanan sets up a looming almost inevitable choice, about rising US/PRC tensions (economic, but even more so strategic)

The question is therefore not a matter of if but of when and for/against who?

He offers this scenario of “going with” the PRC (although it isn’t entirely clear what specifically he thinks this choice would involve doing, or not).

Should New Zealand choose China, it will lose the security umbrella and suffer the diplomatic wrath of our most traditional and closest international partners. The consequences will be felt in a loss of trade and diplomatic ostracism, but most acutely in damaged security relations with other Western democracies. The Five Eyes listening posts in New Zealand will be dismantled and all of the highly sensitive equipment, to say nothing of archived records and stored data, will be removed under duress. This could prompt a revolt within the New Zealand intelligence community given its Anglophone orientation, and when coupled with “dark” influence operations by former allies could cause civil unrest amongst those disinclined to cast their lot with the Chinese. It could even lead to covert and overt hostile responses from jilted partners, who will likely discontinue military relations with New Zealand, including sale and supply of equipment. There will be a moment of national reckoning.

I`d certainly join any protests against such a choice – utterly morally reprehensible as it would be.  It would be akin to Marshall Petain treating with Hitler, with less excuse. It isn`t entirely clear why Buchanan thinks this opting for the PRC option is a realistic possibility though.   All he offers is economic coercion initiated by the PRC.

Should New Zealand opt to side with the US and its security allies, it will suffer serious economic losses as a result of Chinese retaliation. This has already been presaged by the PRC response to New Zealand’s support for the International Court of Arbitration’s ruling in favour of the Philippines in its dispute with China over island-building in contested waters, where state-controlled media editorials warned New Zealand over the consequences of siding against China (including in trade). More broadly, there is ample record of Chinese economic retaliation against countries that do not toe its preferred line on a number of issues, so New Zealand has both immediate and contextual reasons to see the writing on the wall.

This is all rather overwrought.   I’ve written previously about PRC attempts at economic coercion.   In a case that will have bothered the PRC far more than anything New Zealand could do, and where the PRC authorities had far more effective leverage, –  missile defence system being installed very close to the PRC – the central bank of Korea estimated an effect from PRC coercive measures of perhaps 0.4 per cent of GDP.

As I noted in that earlier post, a couple of industries –  one government-owned anyway (the universities) – have made themselves overly-dependent on the PRC.  A sudden stop on PRC students or tourists coming to New Zealand (the option that would hurt here and do least harm to PRC people themselves), would be very disruptive to those industries.  But those are risks they need to be managing –  and not just by persuading governments never to see anything upsetting to Beijing.     No matter what the PRC did, there is no sense in which the “writing is on the wall” for the New Zealand economy.   The next international recession –  whatever its cause – is more of an issue to worry about (especially as our authorities aren’t that well prepared).

So we can choose to abandon traditional allies, and abandon any interest in supporting democratic countries in the east Asia region, and in doing so abandon any sort of self-respect as a nation.  Or we could summon some self-respect, and perhaps give some lead (moral if not military) in pushing back against PRC intrusions abroad (including here specifically), and abuses at home.  But whichever choice our leaders ended up making –  and it should be no choice at all –  it isn’t one that seriously threatens our (rather attenuated) economic prosperity (let alone our physical security).

On which note, it was interesting to see that in a week the government had moved from being unwilling to name the villain in the South China Sea, to being a bit more explicit in the Strategic Defence Policy Statement released on Friday.  Even then, they can barely bring themselves to disapprove, and cloak there concerns in all sorts of rather laughable diplospeak such as the suggestion that “China is deeply integrated into the rules-based order”.  When it suits perhaps, but that is not at all the same thing –  what matters is the choices made when it doesn’t suit.  And those aren’t encouraging.

Also interesting to note the contrasts in the comments of two senior officials, one from New Zealand and one from Australia.  Our outgoing ambassador to the PRC, John McKinnon, was profiled in the Dominion-Post on Saturday.

Some have expressed unease over China’s expanding influence in the Asia-Pacific region. Canada’s Security Intelligence Service has claimed China is busy “co-opting political and economic elites” in New Zealand.

McKinnon makes it clear it is not a topic he will comment on; nor will he discuss current government policy towards China or the policies of the ministers he has served while in Beijing.

He also does not want to venture an opinion on whether China will move towards a more Western-style democracy.

“To understand the dynamic of what’s driving China now you have to understand where they’re coming from. It’s something they have to make their own decisions about and I can’t foreshadow what will happen.”

I’m enough of a bureaucrat to not encourage officials to speak out-of-turn openly. But clearly his masters also had no interest in him ruffling any feathers at all, even as the defence strategy document was being released.

And on the other hand, in his final days in his role, the outgoing head of the Australian defence forces comments thus

Defence chief Mark Binskin says Beijing’s broken promise not to militarise the South China Sea means it has squandered the trust of its neighbours and undermined its aspirations to regional leadership.

and

Asked about China’s trajectory since he took over in 2014, Air Chief Marshal Binskin agreed “it has changed” and cited the “very, very concerning” militarisation of features as well as “the influence of some nations starting to come down into the south west Pacific”.

Chinese President Xi Jinping said during a 2015 visit to Washington that his country had “no intention to militarise” the artificial islands it had built in the strategically important South China Sea.

Air Chief Marshal Binskin dismissed Beijing’s claims that its placement of weapons on built-up features in the Paracel and Spratly archipelagoes were purely defensive and said other countries around those waters were entitled to stand up for their legal and territorial rights.

 “I don’t think there is trust there … because [according to] all the reports that you see, they are militarising,” he said. “They’ll put a spin on that and say it’s only for defensive reasons. But … if you didn’t build an island, you wouldn’t need to defend it. If there are weapons on those islands, they are militarised.”

Asked what the militarisation was for, he said: “I think that they are looking to expand into there and I think it is quite obvious what their approach is.”

Not, sadly, the sort of thing one hears from New Zealand ministers or their senior officials.  But then, why would they, when they seem unbothered by Jian Yang as a member of Parliament, and where the parties seem to compete over which president can offer the most laudatory praise of Xi Jinping and the PRC.

Do our leaders –  National, Labour, New Zealand First, or Green –  care any longer about anything but the quiet life, and the next trade transaction? Do they feel no shame at all about associating with such a heinous regime?  If so, how would we know?  Thank goodness that wasn’t the approach of people like Michael Joseph Savage, Peter Fraser or their then Opposition counterparts.

Are things better or worse than 50 years ago?

I saw reference the other day to a new(ish) multi-country survey conducted by the Pew Research Center last year, asking people in 38 countries whether life in their country was better, worse, or not much different for people like them than it had been 50 years previously.  Among the people I saw tweeting a link to the survey results, there seemed to be general incredulity that anyone could not think things were better now than they had been 50 years previously.  The focus of those comments was particularly on the US results, where 41 per cent of respondents thought things were worse, and 37 per cent though things were better.

But, as it happens, the US results were close to the middle of the field.

pew

At the extremes, the results are not remotely surprising. In 1967 Vietnam had been in the midst of a longrunning war, and now is relatively prosperous and stable, even if not free.  And in 1967 Venezuela was pretty prosperous, whereas now it is poor and chaotic.

And if it is mostly rich countries above the median line, and mostly poor countries below it, that picture isn’t uniform.

New Zealand wasn’t covered by the survey, but Australia, the UK, and the US were.  Australian and British respondents were net positive, while US respondents were slightly net negative.   To the extent that overall economic performance is a material part of what shapes respondents’ answers to such a question, I suspect that New Zealand answers would be less positive than those for the US and the UK.  After all, over that half century almost a million New Zealanders net left the country in pursuit of better opportunities abroad, mostly in Australia.

In a bit over half the countries covered in the survey (but not, for example, in Australia), there was a statistically significant difference in which those with a higher education were more likely than the less educated to say that things had improved.

pew 2

Without being aware of this survey, I wrote about the 2017 vs 1967 question on another blog a few months ago.   I came to the conclusion that, taken as a whole, I’d answer “worse” if asked this particular survey question about New Zealand (even though transplanted 50 years back, this blog would have been impossible, and I’d have been grinding out an existence in some public sector job, probably longing for retirement).

Here is how, in that earlier post, I described some of the things I would put on the positive side of any such assessment.

For sure, there are things to be thankful for –  that favour 2017 over 1967.   Real per capita GDP, for example, is around twice what it was 50 years ago –  that is the ability to consume more stuff.  “More stuff” encompasses “better stuff” –  cars that are better-built, that are air-conditioned; TVs that offer (in NZ) more than a single channel; a rich array of eating-out options; much more affordable overseas travel, and smartphones with the resources of the internet in our pocket.   And yet in 1967 New Zealand most people had fridges, ovens, washing machines, TVs and radios, cars, and it is far from obvious how much real gain new and better gadgets have brought.  Some no doubt, but much?   People like to talk, for example, of the immediacy of news via the internet.  But how many of us really need that immediacy that much?  I look at some copies of Time magazine on my shelves from the late 1960s –  sure it was only weekly, but the content was generally far superior to that in today’s newspapers or news magazines.  I’m not suggesting I’d prefer the 1967 model in this respect, but how large is the gain?  (In some ways, this is  economist Robert Gordon’s point)  After all, in 1969 I heard the broadcast of the moon landing live, played out into our school playground.

Life expectancy is quite a bit longer than it was too –  infant mortality has dropped further, and life expectancy among the old has also improved considerably.    And there are more work options for women in particular –  if most discriminatory laws had gone by 1967, old models in which married women were typically out of the workforce either permanently or for long periods while children were around still prevailed.  In many more-formal ways, options for Maori have considerably improved –  witness the number of Maori MPs as just one small example.  In 1967 people like me couldn’t find an audience with something like a blog.

And on the other hand, specific to New Zealand:

  • so many New Zealanders have left (a regrettable thing in itself, for community and family relationships/networks etc),
  • the house price disaster.  Just prior to 1967, my parents bought a (new) first house on a single (not especially high) income.  Few have that opportunity now,
  • rates of imprisonment are so much higher now than then,
  • rates of welfare dependency are so much higher now than then,
  • a far smaller percentage of children are growing up in two-parent families,
  • the normalisation of drug use (my 13 year old niece told me the other day of recently being offered marijuana in the playground in a nice middle class New Zealand high school),
  • pervasive access to, and use of, pornography,
  • more social isolation and higher rates of mental illness,
  • the growth of the regulatory (and surveillance) state,
  • the deference paid by our elites to one of the most brutal states on earth, in contrast say to New Zealand attitudes to the Soviet Union in 1967.

I could go on to include things more specific to the decline of Christianity in the west, and in New Zealand specifically, but I won’t belabour that point here.  As a parent, my impression is that it is harder to raise children well now than then.

In the Pew results, there was not a statistically significant difference between attitudes of young and old respondents in most countries, but among those where the young were more upbeat were the UK, the US, and Australisa.  Most probably, one would find such a difference in New Zealand.

When we discussed these results around the dinner table, it was suggested that woman might be more inclined to answer positively than men.  I am not sure I share that prior, but unfortunately no results were reported by gender (perhaps suggesting that there were not any consistent or interesting differences, given the typically fairly comprehensive nature of Pew analysis).   Sadly, there also was not any analysis of differences by political inclination (liberal vs conservative), which one would expect to explain some of the differences in responses within, and perhaps between, countries.

I can see how some people would answer that things were better now (many liberals –  depending on the components of the liberal agenda emphasised – would be expected to), and economists seem often to weight most heavily income measures (undoubtedly higher than half a century ago), available technology, and life expectancy.   But these results suggest that to people around the world the answer is not clear cut.  Perhaps in some cases those negative answers involve people just looking at the past with nostalgic rose-tinted glasses, but the diversity of results across countries suggests something more is at work than that.

The debate on PRC influence on Q&A

Late last week I posted as a standalone item the comments that Peter Jennings, director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (and former senior Australian defence strategy official), had made in response to my post about last week’s Asia New Zealand foundation roundtable on People’s Republic of China (PRC) influence/interference in New Zealand.   Jennings was pretty critical of successive New Zealand governments’ attempts to pretend there is no issue.

This morning someone pointed out to me that Jennings had been interviewed on TVNZ’s Q&A programme on Sunday, so I took a look.  His comments were pretty moderate (especially about New Zealand), and largely focused on the Australian situation, and the new foreign interference laws passed with support from both the Liberal-National coalition and the Labor Party.   He highlighted issues around political donations, the Sam Dastyari affair (Labor senator forced to resign over inappropriate activities in this area), and noted that, between Federal and state Parliaments, there was concern that Dastyari’s wasn’t the only worrying case.

Re New Zealand, he noted that New Zealand seemed to face similar pressures as Australia, and that things weren’t that different in Canada, in the UK, and in many EU countries, and that in his view it would be smart if New Zealand and Australia tried to align their approaches.   While noting that New Zealand and Australia had different geographies and different strategic imperatives, he noted some risk to the bilateral relationship (important to both sides) if our governments don’t take the PRC intrusions seriously.

Corin Dann, the interviewer, pushed back, suggesting for example that Sir Don McKinnon would see things differently.  McKinnon is, of course, head of the government-sponsored China Council, designed never to see anything concerning, never to say anything upsetting, about Beijing and its activities.   As Jennings noted, there is an interest in having an effective relationship with the PRC, but that all countries needed to recognise that there were downsides as well as upsides in relationships with such a massive power, in the process of being more dictatorial.   He argued that even if officials were confident they had things under control –  something he was explicitly sceptical of in his comments here –  it was important for governments to take publics with them, and engage in open dialogue on the issues, risks, and responses.

Dann again attempted “what-aboutism” – every country spies, there is no military threat etc.  Tell that to Taiwan –  or countries with lawful claims in the South China Seas –  was my reaction, but Jennings was a bit more emollient, simply pointing out that countries like ours did not engage in large scale intellectual property theft by cyber-hacking etc.

And finally, asked about the PRC backlash to the new Australian laws, Jennings noted that the PRC (and some its populist media) didn’t like the new approach, but that the relationship goes on.  He argued that there was a mutual interest in a “steady relationship”, and that the PRC would come to recognise that Australia couldn’t do less than say “thus far and no further”.   Given past PRC attempts at economic coercion (which I wrote about here) that seemed optimistic.

All in all, it was pretty emollient stuff, and there wasn’t even any material bad-mouthing of New Zealand governments –  an approach which, fair and accurate or not, tends to get the backs of New Zealanders up.

But it was still all too much for two members of the Q&A panel, political scientist Bryce Edwards and former Minister of Defence, Wayne Mapp.  The word “overwrought” appeared so often that one could almost use it to describe their reaction.

Edwards began claiming that there “no compelling evidence of a problem” in New Zealand, and asserted that the new laws continued Australia’s journey down a path towards being an authoritarian illiberal state, where people could no longer participate freely in political debate and protests.  To be honest, I wasn’t really sure what he was on about – and I hold no brief for the specifics of Australian legislation.  The BBC –  no right-wing authoritarian outlet – summarised the law thus

The laws criminalise covert, deceptive or threatening actions that are intended to interfere with democratic processes or provide intelligence to overseas governments.

They are designed to include actions that may have fallen short of previous definitions of espionage.

Industrial espionage – the theft of trade secrets – is among new criminal offences, while people who leak classified information will face tougher penalties.

The government also plans to ban foreign political donations through a separate bill later this year.

But I presume that what Edwards is on about is material in this Guardian article.   But even if the specific points the critics make were sound  –  and both government and opposition disagree with them – they are details, perhaps even important ones, not a challenge to the basic proposition about PRC activities and agendas in Australia and similar countries.

Former Defence Minister Wayne Mapp then joined in, claiming that Australia would not put any pressure on us to follow suit, because our political donations laws were very tight.  That would, presumably explain how former Foreign Minister Phil Goff was able to get a very large donation to his mayoral campaign from a PRC-based donor, through a charity auction organised by, among others, Raymond Huo?  I’m not disputing that the New Zealand laws are tigher than Australia’s, but here is the relevant section from my post on the Asia NZ roundtable last week.

There was clear unease, from people in a good position to know, about the role of large donations to political parties from ethnic minority populations –  often from cultures without the political tradition here (in theory, if not always observed in practice in recent decades) that donations are not about purchasing influence.  One person observed that we had very much the same issues Australia was grappling with (although our formal laws are tighter than the Australian ones).  Of ethnic Chinese donations in particular, the description “truckloads” was used, with a sense that the situation is almost “inherently unhealthy”.

Dr Mapp went on to claim that there was no need at all for new laws in New Zealand, lauded New Zealand’s role as a pioneer in relations with the PRC, and highlighted favourably the New Zealand government’s choice to eschew the term “Indo-Pacific” in favour of “Asia-Pacific”.   I can’t excited about that latter point –   New Zealand has no exposure to the Indian Ocean, and on the other hand Asia is a big place, including Israel and Syria as well as the east Asian bit.  But Mapp went on to declare that concerns about New Zealand were ‘overwrought” and that he would put his trust in his former National Party colleague Don McKinnon, over the perspectives of Peter Jennings.   The McKinnon approach, like that of the China Council more generally, has been to consistently pooh-pooh any concerns, and in the article I linked to a few lines back even asserted that

To suggest we are too scared or cautious to ever rock the boat with China is simply incorrect.

I think most of us –  agreeing or disagreeing with the stance –  will take the evidence of our senses over Don McKinnon’s make-believe.

At this point, Anne-Marie Brady’s work, and her Magic Weapons paper, finally came up.  Bryce Edwards volunteered that she had raised some points, especially about particular MPs (Jian Yang and Raymond Huo) and their closeness to PRC interests, that hadn’t really been debated, and which needed to be debated.  But this was all too much for Wayne Mapp, who asserted that we hadn’t had the debate because we didn’t need to –  the claims were all overwrought.  Weirdly he then went on to assert that we wouldn’t go down the Australian path because we don’t have overwrought debates like the Australians do.  One can only assume he was determined to keep it that way, and keep on avoiding debate and serious scrutiny of the issues.

So, for example, one can only assume that Dr Wayne Mapp, former Cabinet minister, former military intelligence officer, former law professor, and current Law Commissioner, is quite unbothered about such facts as:

  • his own party putting Jian Yang on its list and, through successive elections, never disclosing his past.
  • that past included study and work as part of the PRC military intelligence system, and
  • membership of the Communist Party
  • (experts point out that no one voluntarily leaves the Chinese Communist Party, and that given his military intelligence background he would only have been allowed to go abroad if was regarded as politically sound)
  • Jian Yang himself now acknowledges, after the media exposed his past, that he had withheld key details from the New Zealand immigration authorities, and that the PRC authorities had encouraged him to do so,
  • that in seven years in Parliament he has never once said anything critical about the PRC regime, whether about Tianammen Square or more recent abuses (domestic and foreign),
  • that a prominent former diplomat and lobbyist has gone on record of Jian Yang (and Raymond Huo) that both are close to the PRC embassy, and that he is careful what he says in front of either man.
  • or about the efforts of his own former Cabinet colleague, Chris Finlayson, to tar Anne-Marie Brady as some sort of xenophohic racist –  one of the more despicable events of the last election campaign.

No, according to Dr Mapp, there is no problem here, just a few “overwrought” claims.

But, as I’ve pointed out previously, calling things “overwrought” or “sensational” is no substitute for dealing with the specifics of Brady’s paper.  I’m not aware that anyone has rebutted anything much in her paper, despite plenty of opportunities over almost 10 months now.  They aren’t just about Jian Yang, or even Raymond Huo.  There are the party presidents grovelling to the regime, whether for fundraising or trade purposes.  There are things like a former MP trying to block out from local Council minutes any record of listening to citizens with an alternative view on the regime.  And it isn’t as if the issues and threats are all in past either –  I was told just this morning about a university which has, under pressure, withdrawn, permission to screen a documentary on campus about aspects of the PRC regime.  And much of it is about pressure on New Zealand citizens of ethnic Chinese orientation, unseen to most of us, but no less real for that.

It was a pretty extraordinary performance from Dr Mapp in particular.  As Jennings had usefully pointed out, it is not as if these issues are unique to New Zealand  But the sustained denial –  whether wishful thinking or a deliberate choice to look the other way –  of any issue, any risk, any problem, does seem to be something rather more specific to successive New Zealand governments and the Wellington establishment.  They seem willing to sacrifice self-respect, and any interest in our friends and allies in other democratic countries including in east Asia, for the mess of pottage –  some mix of trade for a few firms, and keeping the flow of political donations flowing.

Eaqub on nationalism

I guess one views, and experiences, a country differently when one is an immigrant, even one who came involuntarily as a child.   And since all of us are either immigrants or –  mostly –  not (with perhaps a few shades of grey for people who think they have come somewhere temporarily, but year succeeds year and they never actually go/come home) it can be hard for any of us to see the perspective of the other person.

That was my initial reaction when I read Shamubeel Eaqub’s latest column, headed (online, although not in the hard copy version),  Forces of nationalism a spoke in the wheels of trade.   It was, probably, a slightly unfair reaction, as there are staunch globalists (from strands of both the left and the right), almost embarrassed by the particularities and heritage of our own culture, among those whose ancestors have been here for generations.  But it is probably an easier stance to adopt when you have few or no roots in a particular country.   And many of the staunchest opponents of anything resembling nationalism seem to be immigrants themselves.  For them it seems to mean no more to move from one country to another than to move from, say, Hamilton to Tauranga.    Most people, across most pairs of countries, simply don’t see it that way.   Many, perhaps, feel an attachment even more specific: to a town or region where they may have spent all, or most, of their lives.   It is how most people live.  And the pride they often take in place, and the people of that place, is often what helps build strong functioning communities.   There is a sense of identity, shared destiny, and shared assumptions about how things are done.   It isn’t that, at least in any serious sense, one’s own community is in some objective sense “better” than the others, but it is mine, and a bit different (for good and ill) from other places.

Eaqub begins his column lamenting the rise of “nationalistic fervour”.  It isn’t abundantly clear what he means by that phrase, but in his book whatever it is counts as a bad thing.   It isn’t, he says, “just” Donald Trump or Brexit –  as if the two phenomena (two narrow victories) really have much in common.   But it isn’t clear what it is.  And he seems to have no sense that people tend to become more vocal, and intense, in defence of what they value when they perceive that someone is threatening to take it away.   There is nothing in the column that suggests he sees any value in communities (town, regions, countries –  perhaps even families) nurturing their own heritage, and what it is that makes them what they are.  Perhaps he hasn’t noticed the trend, over perhaps 100 years now, for a greater number of independent states to emerge.   It seems unlikely that that trend has exhausted itself.  And the world seems a better place for the Czechs and Slovaks to be able to have their own countries, or the Slovenes and the Croats, or the Poles – unhappily suppressed for 120 years –  or the Dutch, the Finns, the Estonians, Lithuanians or Latvians. Or at least the inhabitants of those countries seem to think so.

Instead, we get this sort of empty stuff.

Nationalism by definition prizes nationhood and pits nations against each other. It makes cooperation between countries harder, and tensions more likely. Nationalists have much in common, but even they cannot get on with each other.

Of the first half of that paragraph, he seems to have things almost completely the wrong way round.  It is no more true than to claim that because I prioritise my own house and family over those in the rest of the street that I either think badly of, or wish ill to, the rest of residents.  I don’t, I imagine Eaqub doesn’t, and I suppose only a very few people do.   At a national level, England/Britain and France both have strong national traditions, and it has been more than 200 years since those two countries were at war with each other.  Do New Zealanders resent Australians because they are a different country/nation?  It seems unlikely.

And “makes cooperation harder”?   Well, again I doubt it, except perhaps in some trivial sense that were there a single world government, its regulatory reach would cover the entire world, and none of us would have any choice, any exit options.  It doesn’t sound remotely appealing to me (and in my culture, has resonances of the Tower of Babel, which didn’t end well).   We managed to fight World War Two, beating such aggressive determined powers as Germany and Japan, without losing sight of the fact that the United Kingdom, the United States, the Soviet Union, South Africa, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Australia, and Canada were all independent states, with a shared commitment to a common goal, as well as individual national interests.

And what of “nationalists have much in common, but even they cannot get on with each other”, well since the phrase is used so broadly, in such an ill-defined sense, no doubt is true –  I doubt Michael Gove and Vladimir Zhirinovsky have almost anything in common, but one could define another side almost as broadly, and meaninglessly, and make almost exactly the same observation.  Close to home, for example, and within a single professional discipline, I doubt Eric Cramption and Shamubeel Eaqub – who would probably both accept a non-pejorative descriptions of “globalist” – have a great deal in common.

Eaqub goes on

The nationalist agenda seems to converge across three main areas: anti-immigration; protectionist economic policies; and a distrust of global institutions.   Anti-immigration and nationalism go hand in hand. At the core of nationalism is the nation state and the right to belong to it.

I’m not sure that this is necessarily true, but it is particularly unhelpful because Eaqub makes no effort to distinguish between legal and illegal migration.  Most of the debate in the United States, for example, seems to stem from the substantial stock of illegal migrants, and the renewed salience of the issue in much of Europe also seems to substantially reflect the wave of illegal migration.   That –  not the high legal numbers –  was also what has given the issue salience at times in Australia as well.

But then we are straight back to casting nonsensical aspersions, with little or no historical foundation

Being a citizen is the critical element, and easily leads to demands for tougher controls on who can come in.

It is then a small step to conflate citizens’ culture and racial makeup as different and better than those looking to come in. Language we have seen previously in precursors to discrimination, war and genocide become easier: like pests, lock-em-up and exterminate.

He simply seems to have no concept that in the same way that I don’t think badly about my neighbour, but I don’t wanting them occupying my house, people might simply value what they have, and the culture – in all its dimensions (about trust, and the way things are done, as well as arts, cuisine, religion, literature, language and so on) –  they and their ancestors have built and fostered, and be uneasy about things which threaten it. I suspect many citizens of Invercargill would be uneasy if 100000 Aucklanders moved south, and they are citizens of one country.   Arguably, it is those mass movements of people –  especially those of quite different cultures –  which sow the seeds of future tensions, and perhaps worse.    Whatever economic gains there may have been to Maori from large scale immigration since 1840, it sowed seeds of tensions that are likely to be with us for generations.  It wouldn’t have been unreasonable –  although it might have been infeasible, given the technological imbalances –  for Maori in 1840 to have said, “no, we prefer to kept these islands predominantly Maori –  we don’t think poorly of you English, and indeed we are happy to trade with you –  but we think we’ll be better, our heritage will better sustained, if we stay here and you stay there (or just in Australia)”.   By what criteria does Eaqub say they would have been wrong to have done so?

I’m not sure if I really qualify as a “nationalist”.  Even though my ancestors have been here since 1850, I feel a strong affinity for the UK and for Australia –  in many respects shared cultures, and common histories – and I count myself fortunate that the interests of those three countries haven’t collided very much, very materially, in my lifetime (let alone the century prior to that).   There are things we do differently and distinctively here,  and memories/experiences/reference points that are specific to individual countries (or regions, or cities) but I suspect I share considerably more in common with middle-aged co-religionists in Australia and the UK (perhaps even the US to some extent) than with my own mayor or Prime Minister.  My views about New Zealand immigration policy –  too many migrants, but it doesn’t much matter for those purposes whether they come from Birmingham, Banglalore, Brisbane, Beijing, or Buenos Aires –  are about the economic interests of a group called New Zealanders, and thus “nationalistic” to that extent.  If that is “nationalism”, then I’d happily sign up.

And that should be uncontroversial (even if views differs as to how best to advance the economic interests of New Zealanders).   In raising my kids, I look primarily to their interest  –  not exclusively so, not seeking harm or wishing ill on anyone else’s kids, and even feeling some attentuated responsibility (through the political system among other avenues) for those of others.  I’d lay my life on the line for my kids. I can’t automatically say the same for others, and probably no one can.   And those rare people who perhaps profess an equal interest in everyone, often in practice end up neglecting those for whom they have a particular responsibility.  Dickens treated such people in the form of Mrs Jellyby.

So I do think policy should be made at as low a level as it feasibly can, primarily with the end in view of benefiting the group those governing are responsible for.   Had I been British I’d almost certainly have voted for Brexit, and been among the many who did so (so the exit polls tell us) simply on the grounds of wanting to make our own laws.  In that vein, I think it was right that New Zealand should have its own government –  not still be part of an empire administered from London (as it was for a very short period).

And I am “suspicious” (well, more like generally disapproving, and favouring the winding of many of them) of global institutions, regarding many of them as primarily serving the interests of those who staff them (I sat on the board of one of them for a couple of years).  And if some of the more prominent ones are ever effective, it is often in constraining the future (legitimate) choices of individual countries’ citizens, in ways we simply wouldn’t accept within a single country.  So probably in Eaqub’s terms I count as a nationalist.  If so, I’ll wear the badge happily –  I even found a Guardian columnist a few weeks ago noting, perhaps reluctantly, the possibilities of a good nationalism, based around the things –  in many cases the very considerable achievements –  we’ve built together.

And, if I count as a “nationalist”, I’m a free trade and open markets one. Nationalism isn’t and never was, at least in our Anglo tradition, primarily mercantilist  The bit I liked best –  perhaps the only bit –  in Eaqub’s column was his praise of trade (his focus is external but I presume he means internal as well) –  not exports, but trade, exchange, specialisation and so on.  But for all his attempts to write about some very broad-brush “nationalism”, it isn’t obvious that he is even generally right about economic protectionism.  Perhaps I’ve missed something, but last time I looked Michael Gove was pretty keen on something approaching free trade, and whatever the concerns of governments or prominent parties in the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Poland or Slovakia, there doesn’t seem to be much of those parties wanting to take a protectionist path.  No doubt, the gains from international trade are too little appreciated –  and thus New Zealand still has tariffs in place, disadvantaging New Zealanders –  but the push for increased use of tariffs seems to be a distinctly Trumpian theme, rather than one appearing more generally.  What, perhaps, there will be –  and rightly so in my view –  is resistance to preferential trade deals (often at best orthogonal to free trade) attempting to tie the hands of future national governments on domestic regulatory issues.  Our own government –  and its predecessor –  seem too keen on such deals (even if now, no longer on removing disputes from the jurisdiction of domestic courts).

Eaqub, by contrast, seems rather keen on such deals, and rules, and structures, and institutions.

This is why global rules on trade, travel, finance and standards have developed over time. To make it easier to connect with each other and to also use a rules-based system to deal with bad behaviour by countries.  As nationalists pull away from these global institutions, there seems little realisation that these greased the wheels of global trade, which helped their exporters and domestic producers too.

To the extent, he is specifically referring to the Trump administration approach to the WTO, I share his view.     But mostly trade has grown because of the opportunities it offered (both parties), and those opportunities aren’t going away.

Eaqub has long been a fan of immigration in New Zealand, and he returns to that theme in his columm

The global environment for migration is becoming more hostile. New Zealand can follow on a similar path, or be more organised in nabbing the best and brightest.

Being open in a closed world can be a boon. We need to actively consider our inward migration policy.

New Zealanders who have long been used to leaving for other countries, mainly for economic opportunities, will find their choices becoming more limited.

We should think about what to do with the many bright and hard working locals who will no longer leave.

It could delay the provincial decay of recent decades, which has been hastened by young people leaving.

Which seems wrong on every count.  There is no –  repeat, no –  evidence that our large scale immigration policy has been of economic benefit to New Zealanders as a whole.  There is little reason to believe that we could attract many of the “best and brightest” even if we set out to –  short of the early days of some Neville Shute On the Beach scenario, we are remote and not that wealthy, and it isn’t obvious why anyone (well, many of them) with the sort of drive, creativity and determination that might really make a difference somewhere would choose this “where”.   And as for New Zealanders leaving, perhaps the Australians will make it even harder for New Zealanders (and Australia is overwhelmingly the destination of New Zealanders that leave), but if they can’t go to Australia, I doubt it makes them much more likely to stay in Taihape.   People will flow to where the best opportunities are, whether elsewhere in New Zealand or abroad (and contra Eaqub, I’m not that worried about individual towns rising or –  in most cases –  modestly falling).

Eaqub ends with a call for New Zealand to join some group of countries with liberal views.

As nationalistic tendencies rise in many countries, we can expect a grouping of countries with liberal political and economic views.

New Zealand has an opportunity to be a strong player in this grouping. We have a strong track record in leading multilateral trade negotiations and championing liberal ideals.

We should get our house in order on migration and imports, then lead a charm offensive to place ourselves firmly in the liberal team in a divided world.

I’m not quite sure where he expects to find these countries, given how broadly he cast his “nationalistic” aspersions.  Nor is it likely to be, consistently, in the interests of New Zealanders to do align with them if they are found.  People will, perhaps annoyingly, insist on governing themselves, and form and maintain distinctive communities, and those who attempt to trade away that freedom risk creating in time backlashes, which are typically more unsavoury than a realistic regard for human nature, and the sense of place, or community, and culture that most people value in some form or other.

You’ll have noticed the sly attempt in Eaqub’s article to suggest that any scepticism about immigration is “racist”.  Perhaps because I’m still annoyed at the way Eaqub attacked me as “racist” several years ago for my arguments around immigration and New Zealand economic performance (remember, doesn’t matter: Birmingham, Bangalore or Buenos Aires) I thought I’d draw attention to a chart I saw over the weekend that perhaps captured quite starkly the differences on such issues, at least in the US context.   It was from a New York Times article, in turn reporting some work done a year or so ago by a leading UK-based political scientist Eric Kaufmann

Kaufman chart

I was stunned by the differences.  I’d not have been a Trump or a Clinton voter, and my views on New Zealand immigration (as economic instrument) apply as much to British immigrants as any others, but it reinforced a sense that the word is one that should be retired, as all but useless for any purpose other than abuse.  Debate the substance of the policy by all means –  in a New Zealand context, for Maori to oppose all further immigration to safeguard their position in New Zealand seems a reasonable option (not necessarily one I –  non-Maori –  would welcome) and not in any meaningful, ie pejorative, sense “racist” –  but drop the descriptor.