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One Country, Worlds Apart

Wellbeing Economics: Future Directions for New Zealand
by Paul Dalziel & Caroline Saunders (BWB Texts, paper $14.99; e-book $4.99)
Growing Apart: Regional Prosperity in New Zealand
by Shamubeel Eaqub (BWB Texts, paper $14.99; e-book $4.99)
Reviewed by Marlene Ware

Editor’s Note: This post is the first in a series of reviews of books in the BWB Texts series.  

growingapartwebShamubeel Eaqub’s research, as outlined in Growing Apart, suggests that although we are one country, the regions of that country are worlds apart – some areas are comparable to the thriving economies of Finland or Saudi Arabia, while others are more like emerging economies – Timor-Leste, Greece and the Seychelles are mentioned. What’s more, the  household income gaps between these regions are continuing to widen, as some areas stagnate whilst others prosper.

Some of the important contributing forces are beyond our control, for example, globalization, urbanization, technological advances and the ageing population. Other factors relate to differences in regional economies themselves: some are large and diverse, while others are small and specialized; some have varied opportunities for employment, while unemployment is high in others.

After diagnosing the problem, Eaqub’s final chapter, “A Call to Acton”, urges us to attend to this increasing regional disparity in order to maintain social cohesion and fairness. But he acknowledges the issues are complex (“This short book…has not proffered easy solutions – because there are none”), and suggests we use Treasury’s Living Standards Framework to first agree on some goals:
• economic growth
• increased equity or fairness
• improved social infrastructure
• creation of future resilience
• risk management

Eaqub goes on to propose 5-step pathway: agree on the problem and goal (see above); gather the evidence; develop a strategy; work collaboratively (involving local and national policy-makers); and review and refine the policies. But, as he says, it’s not going to be easy, and there’ll be no “instant gratification”. If we want to fix this – and we should – “we need a bold national vision, but one that can also accommodate the ‘many nations’ beneath New Zealand’s surface.”

wellbeingeconomicswebIn Wellbeing Economics, Paul Dalziel and Caroline Saunders define ‘good economics’   as economic growth that’s not measured just for its own sake, but for how it contributes to community and individual wellbeing. Examples of ‘good economics’  might include expanded opportunities for private enterprise, capable adults being gainfully employed, inflation being controlled, New Zealand having the ability to pay its way in the world, individual effort being rewarded and economic opportunities shared so people are not trapped in poverty; and respect for social and cultural values as well as the natural environment. These kinds of outcomes underpin sound economic management, and focus on value-added activities in all spheres, the latter being  a key concept.  To achieve this ‘well-being state’ requires co-ordinated changes across the whole economy at individual and national levels. Thus, the authors see an opportunity for New Zealand to transform itself from the current ‘welfare state’  to this ‘wellbeing state’  in which all New Zealanders   thrive.

To illustrate what might seem esoteric, the book’s closing chapter includes a case study, drawn from private business, of a Southland dairy farming couple, “Cherie and Michael”. They take a wellbeing approach to scheduling, which benefited the couple and their employees, while at the same time adding to the nation’s GDP. “A focus on wellbeing does not mean that traditional economic measure must suffer. The changes made by Cherie and Michael increased their wages bill and increased their profits.”

The authors conclude with a whakatauākī: Kia ora tātou katoa. (May you and we all enjoy wellbeing.)

Both these books are short, accessible and stuffed full of clear evidence that economic action is needed, and not just action that fiddles around the edges. The conversation about inequality in Aotearoa New Zealand must continue, and these easily digestible texts should help ensure it does.

Marlene Ware, a founding member of Closing the Gap, lives in Tauranga Moana.