Monday, August 28, 2006

A fine pickle we're in...

I've tried to stay away from political leanings but feel compelled to write a few words on this (I'll categorise it under 'Thoughts on Fatherhood' as it's critical to the world that Ella will live in if we are in NZ).

I had a very insightful experience a couple of weeks ago. i was invited to a 2 day symposium run by the NZ Business Roundtable on the importance of public policy to the future of NZ. The event was targetted at so-called Emerging Leaders. It killed a few myths for me and certainly got me thinking a bit.

Firstly the myths

1. I always thought the NZBR was a lobby group that is primarily aimed at lining the pockets of big business ( a few socialist traits coming through there..) - it's not. It's a think tank that focusses on the research and development of public policy with a particular focus on human flourishing. It's almost noble.

2. Relatively, we've come through the last few years unscathed - fact is we've been lucky and we haven't been investing for the future of NZ in key infrastructure (roads, hospitals - the important stuff). We're in trouble and we're falling further behind

3. MMP is a great leveller for governments and stops them getting out of control - it's the opposite : MMP drives GROWTH of government. More specifically in NZ, the core civil service has increased in by the same amount in the last 5 years as the previous 160 years. I knew we were getting bloated but that just stunned me.

This session also stimulated lots of thoughts - here are a few

1. We have to find a way to limit government. Peter Boetke put it best at this event. We are caught between the erring entrepreneur and the bumbling bureaucrat. The erring entrepreneur is at least likely to get weeded out by market realities. The bumbling bureaucrats hang around for ever until an electoral discontinuity occurs (eg Lange / Douglas in the 80's) and actively avoid reality.

2. Despite the notion of public policy being important, particularly businesses needing to take a long term view, there was only one group of people who were actively planning for a long term future - Maori. I have taken this view based on a presentation given by Tahu Potiki who is CEO of the Ngai Tahu trust. He was talking about how Ngai Tahu are planning to get returns on their settlement with the Crown that are focussed on sustainably improving the level of education of Ngai Tahu people. In order to do this they are taking a 30 year view - who does that in business? It means they will, in Tahu's words, skip a generation of benefits. That's a big call - but clearly the pay-off is there. Incidentally the panel with Tahu, MP Shane Jones and Rob McLeod convinced me that Maori Leadership could possibly be the key to NZ's future. They are dynamic, bright and very astute. Moreover their Maori background makes them grounded and more holistic in their approach.

3. Making a stand for less government is the equivalent of political suicide - how do you convince the majority of the nation (who are in someway the beneficiaries of the government's largesse )that it is not in their best interests to get handouts and that we would all be better off with a simpler tax and incentive structure.

4. Governments are bad at designing incentives
A great story was told by Alan Gibbs about how he successfully ran a business that manufactured TV's in NZ. The rules at the time said he could not import them fully built up. He went to a Japanese manufacturer who had to de-construct already assembled TV's, send them to NZ where they would be re-assembled. Gibbs recieved an incentive for this new industry - consumers paid twice the global average price for TVs and a nonsense industry was created that would fail once the incentives were removed.

5. We have an amazing bunch of successful business people in NZ who are willing to share their experience and time with people like me - any chance you get to talk with people like Alan Gibbs, Ron Trotter, Gil Simpson amongst others is a real treat.

1 comment:

Michele said...

usual story. The ruling class is in the minority and becomes the victim of the popularist government policies. The solution is education to bring the average to the level of an independent thinker. This though presents it's own problems as idependent thinkers are volatile voters. Party's don't like this. The american solution is to keep the majority stupid and hence control them more easily.
Noam Chomski's 'Manufacturing Consent' covers this well.

Which way are we going to go?