Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Fiona Mackenzie: Our Fatal Flaws

I’ve just read a great book – “Why Nations Fail…….the Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty”.  Based on 15 years’ research, it’s no light read but it has much to say that is relevant to New Zealand. I hesitate to condense it, but feel some key messages are important.

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!
Open and inclusive institutions in western countries have evolved through time, sometimes hastened by historical crises. The Boston Tea Party, Napoleon Bonaparte and the Industrial Revolution have all played their part.

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.


Brian said...

As an over 80, I take my hat off to you Fiona. Bravo
We are in the era of government dictated by the demands of a never satisfied indigenous minority; our politicians are ruled by this factor as it is the key to win them the next election. There is however a more sinister shadow which dominates their thinking the indigenous dictates of the United Nations.
Under the present MMP electoral system power is in the hands of a minority, we no longer are able to determine by our vote who enters Parliament to represent us. In one stroke we have stepped further away from the concept of democracy. It now follows that we are to have forced upon us by a Maori orientated specially chosen Committee, an ethnic version of the Treaty of Waitangi as our new Constitution.
Why nations fail? (Book quoted)
Principally, it is because they become exhausted. Inwardly they destroy themselves, and not only their leaders’ fail to lead; but the population continues to exist on the economic hump of the past. Along with this comes a softer and softer acceptance of crime, whether blue or white collar, a running down of the democratic systems of governing, increased welfare spending to assure re-election, a lowering of moral standards, an over active emphasis on sport; and internationally, a blind appeasement of the actions of dictator states along with total subservience to the United Nations.
In his book “The Great Degeneration” Niall Ferguson covers how, with the decline of our Institutions goes hand in hand with failed economics. This book should be read by all who subscribe to this website, and also be standard fare in our High Schools!

Geoffrey said...

The use of the term "indigenous" to label the first wave of migrants to these shores is a contrivance employed to access the store of goodies promised by the UN. A mere 700 year head start does not qualify.

I thoroughly agree with everything else that Fiona and Brian have offered.

Anonymous said...

I to are uncomfortable with legislated apartied that's being slowly introduced. Also a concern is the states absolute prohibition of self defence not legally but in real time if you are in a position whereby you are required to go to someone's aid & or defend yourself you are subjected to the full weight of the states power & purse few of us (citizens) have the economic might to fight & the mental anguish you are subjected to is soul destroying, culminating in the "softer & softer acceptance on crime" as the punishment for the law abiding is worse than the perpetrator of serious crime.

The United Nation is the most dangerous organisation in the world today they are positioning themselves as the world government & are disarming all free countries to this end finding it easy with one obvious hurdle the rest of the world like blind sheep pander to their dogma. Most member states have tyrants at best as leaders loving the power. The UN allows them to enslave their populace under the name of peace. Sounds like a star wars plot shame if it comes to be.

Dave said...

How crazy are we? my father in law is 25% Maori therefore my wife is 12.5% Maori and our children are 6.25% Maori. Today each of my children recieve a voting paper from Te Kotahitanga o Te Arawa Waka Fisheries trust board to vote for either Andre Paterson or Christopher Clarke (both sounding like they are very European).
My children are as white as me if not my grandchildren are 3.12% Maori, they too will be classed as Maori. Enough said,26 that is a major part of the problem of our country.

Denis McCarthy said...

Well written Fiona. There are certainly flaws in our so called democracy as you outline.

I believe a further aspect of our situation is the reluctance of many of our citizens to take an active interest in what our politicians are doing. Their response might well be that the politicians will do as they like anyway and that there is nothing we can do about it. While this reaction is understandable there is something we can do about it - we can do what the Swiss did many decades ago. The Swiss have a system of Direct Democracy where, under certain conditions, citizens can block government legislation and initiate binding referenda.

If ever a country needed Direct Democracy it is our country. Both major Parties have shown they can't be trusted to genuinely consult with and represent the will of the people. It's the Party first, the Party second and the citizens last.

Isn't it ironic! In times past we've sent our young men overseas to fight and sometimes die for democracy in other countries but now it's us who need a genuine democracy. I don't see anyone else coming to save us so I hope enough of us have the will and determination to save ourselves.

Trevor said...

While I agree with most of your views I take umbrage at the snide reference to being a lawyer as a help to becoming part of the so called elite. You offer no evidence; do you have any? If it is supposed high income, then why not doctors, accountants, top company officials, top public servants?

Ross said...

Sorry Trevor, but I have read the paragraph again carefully and I don't see the reference to lawyer as snide. Rather I read it as a sad acknowledgement that competence in legal hairsplitting would be helpful, and that is the specific skill of a lawyer.