The book dispels the arguments that wealth and prosperity can be due to climate, geography or culture. Rather it’s the openness and accessibility of institutions a country operates under (both economic and political). These determine whether people feel they have a chance of being heard and, most importantly, whether it’s worth investing their time, effort and resources in trying to achieve anything. Fundamental human psychology, really!
If a country’s systems are fair, we will largely keep the proceeds of our hard work. Then we’ll be inclined to innovate and work some more. And so the inevitable wealth that’s created is more widely held and shared. It’s not syphoned off by a grasping, greedy ruling elite.
With open access to education, health and opportunity, everyone in society benefits. It grows in capability, capacity and standards of living.
Peace will reign and we will thrive if law and order is centralized, applied fairly and equally; if political powers are kept in check by a strong opposition; and if differences of opinion can be freely and robustly argued. Bullies and the power-hungry exist in all societies, but if they can be openly challenged and kept under control, then growth and prosperity will follow.
So then you might ask: Why do some countries reach a state of wealth and innovation, then start sliding back into economic oblivion? The book argues that our histories are powerful anchors. It explains the entrenched attitudes, control structures and corruption that have prevented sustainable progress in places like Argentina. It points out the weaknesses in current strong performers like China and India, explaining why these will inevitably cause dramatic decline if radical reform isn’t completely delivered.
So what about New Zealand’s kinks and flaws? We have a few:
Democracy? Every day there are examples of self-serving political powers promoting tribalism (feudalism) and different rules for different folk. The Maori Party’s Tariana Turia rubbishes democracy as “the tyranny of the majority”. It seems she’d much prefer the tyranny of a grasping minority instead.
The will of the people? 80% or so of us are constantly told our opinions count for nothing. We are way too ignorant to know what’s good for us. On that subject, when will Sue Bradford and her supporters be called to account for making not one iota of difference to serious child abuse statistics in this country?
Equality before the law (i.e. no discrimination based on race, religion or gender)? That tenet has long been swept out of the Beehive, government departments and council offices. Just ask the people in the fishing, aquacultural and other coastal industries. Talk to the Kiwi patient denied a taxi chit from his local hospital - “because he wasn’t a Maori”. Even Pharmac is asking whether they should treat Maori and Pacific Islanders preferentially.
Property rights? Only as along as you can avoid the attention of iwi. Bones, taniwhas, or ‘just because’ means your property could be affected next. Check out the powers of mana whenua to manipulate property values under the proposed Auckland’s Unitary Plan.
Unfettered Power? The bureaucracy is promoting its agenda, despite who’s in power. Talk to teachers about the pressure they’re under to incorporate Treaty mantras and te reo into their lessons.
Transparency in government? Well, issues with Sky City, the GCSB and Auckland’s Unitary Plan raise some red flags.
Freedom of speech? We might politely raise issues of concern and are promptly labeled, ridiculed or put down. The price of free speech is high.
Independence of the media? Traditional channels seem more concerned with “celebrities, sharks and babes” than investigating serious issues. Thank goodness for social media (- horrors, did I just say that?).
Inclusiveness? You may not be able to convince anyone you’re Maori, but that red-head over there just received a Maori grant. You might finish university studies with a massive debt, while others get doctorates without ever paying a cent. You can win a seat on Council, but only if you spend significant money on campaigning hard. Others will be gifted a seat (with pay) because they’re “Maori”. Admission into the new, taxpayer-funded but unaccountable ruling elite is restricted. It helps to have the right connections – or be a lawyer.
No tax without representation? How come Auckland City’s unelected, unaccountable, tax-consuming and vote-casting Maori Advisory Board exists again?
The distortion of our political and economic institutions - the extracting of other people’s money for unfair, undemocratic purposes - is corrupt. Our politicians have been legalizing such corruption at an increasing rate for some years now.
So if we care, how do we reverse the process? Firstly, forget absolute trust. It is a foolish notion. Inclusive political and economic conventions can only be maintained by constant vigilance, transparency, and the right to have your questions properly answered. Care enough to raise your concerns, make them known far and wide, and breathe deeply when the bullies try to make you cower. Momentum will grow and if enough people demand democracy, then we will get New Zealand back on track, inclusive and prosperous for the ultimate benefit of all.