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Howard's End: Messy Surf At Knowledge Wave

If New Zealand faces such dire economic consequences that it prompts speakers at the Catching the Knowledge Wave Conference to call for desperate and urgent changes, then how do they explain that Japan, the world's second-most productive economy, has now moved from 10 years of stagnation into full-blown recession? Maree Howard writes.

Japanese workers have a high savings rate, they are highly educated, they work longer hours and with more intensity than we do, no-one would ever call them lazy, so why is their country in recession?

Analysts now focus on the cartelised nature of the Japanese economy. That's true because Japan does have a highly structured society.

But hold on, Japan has had the "job for life" societal structure since the Meiji Restoration of 1868, yet it's in much more trouble than we are.

I'm not suggesting we can all afford to go back to sleep and that we shouldn't at least try to improve our lot but, quite frankly, I'm sensing a whiff of desperation coming from some of the speakers at the Knowledge Wave Conference.

Some of them seem to be calling for a form of welfare pluralism which is, in fact, an appeal for a reconsideration, reconstruction or destruction of the nature of the relationship between state, economy and society that's at least as profound as the shift from state-centred visions of the past to the market arrangements of today.

For example, Dr Brash said, "One of my colleagues has suggested the idea of abolishing the unemployment benefit but introducing some kind of 'employer of last resort' system, perhaps run by local authorities with support from central Government, under which every local authority would be required to offer daily employment to anybody and everybody who asked for it."

But Dr Brash seems to merely be flying the Government's kite.

Because that's exactly what Local Government Minister, Sandra Lee, seems to be proposing in the review of the Local Government Act discussion document, currently under public consultation until the end of this month.

The consultation document proposes that the purpose of local government be, " to enable local decision-making by and on behalf of citizens in their local communities to promote their social, economic, cultural and environmental well-being in the present and for the future."

The word "social wellbeing" in a new Local Government Act would mean exactly what Dr Brash is suggesting - that local government could/should become involved as an 'employer of last resort' for the unemployed in the future.

Call me cynical, but I've always believed that nothing happens in politics by accident.

This new Knowledge-Wave thinking seems to be pointing to a vision of society in which government bureaucracies, market entities, and private or community institutions become partners in societal management. - an arrangement far in advance of most social theory today.

For me, The Catching the Knowledge Wave Conference has so far been a big disappointment and I am saddened that the expectations and visions I had for a more inclusive and vibrant society have not been fulfilled.

The Government must be tearing its hair out, because if what we have heard so far comes to pass in the conclusions and recommendations, then it will face a very hard sell to the general public to get its programme through.

Knowledge Wave? My husband posted some views to the Catching the Knowledge Wave website on Tuesday night, 31 July.

Today, the 3rd of August, it's still not up. In fact, the responses to the "What People are Saying" sidebar on the website, hasn't been updated since 28 July.

I phoned many of my friends last night, both young and old, to ask their views and they said sure, we need to take the time to look up and see the endless possibilities and then, the nation desperately needs to capture the thoughts and vision of every New Zealander if we are to be successful.

Meanwhile, I suggest that the Knowledge Wave speakers and the Government take a deep breath, reflect on what is happening economically around the world, and then take time-out to smell the roses.

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