Today’s unemployment figures have shown us that we are not immune to the downturn faced by other countries. In a sense we never will be so we need to focus on a few hard truths. We rely on exporting to other countries, hopefully of our high added-value products. In a sense we are lucky that have products that the rest of the world desires and needs, that is, food. Of course if those economies find it increasingly difficult to pay for those goods, then we are in trouble too.
There was a time when we had a larger manufacturing base. New Zealand was a proponent of ‘protectionism and tariffs.’ There was an upside to this way of doing things--- we had almost full employment. The cost for that was that we looked like a rather grey nation with little consumer choice and certainly higher prices for those items we could buy.
I am not saying that we should go back to that time. I mean, who the hell wants to be in the position of not being able to buy a new car (with little choice of colour, model and make) without having a good trade-in. I well remember those days, when my parents were fairly limited in the choice of mainly English cars.
Since those times, the market has opened up but so has the floodgates for the haemorrhaging of local manufacturing and the jobs that went with it. New Zealanders quickly cottoned on to the new market. The prices of imported goods went down and our perceived need for these new products went up.
I believe that we became more selfish and transitioned into an ‘I want it now’ nation. Unemployment went up and some of our iconic firms went to the wall as the jobs went overseas.
Is there a middle way? Does New Zealand have to be at the forefront of the new global market? Many other countries still have subsidies for some of their industries. Our source of much of the new consumerism, China is certainly not participating on a level playing field so why should we?
Finding a balance that works is going to be fraught with danger, but the exercise is at least worth pursuing, if we want to halt the inexorable leakage of jobs and skill overseas, as well as profits to the former owners of our successful industries.
We often hear of the need to retain high skill workers, but even these industries are under threat. We talk about value-added exports but getting them to the markets that are far away has disadvantages for us. If you add in the ‘green miles’ factor; we are at a disadvantage there too.
So New Zealand faces many challenges which cannot be overcome without a new look at how we do things. If the political will was there to have this discussion rather than being continually side-lined by pathetic points scoring and big egos, then perhaps we would have a chance to find a truly New Zealand solution. We have done it before when we came up with a fair ‘social justice/welfare system, so why not dig deep and do it again; this time for the good and benefit or our workers and industries.