Scoop has an Ethical Paywall
Work smarter with a Pro licence Learn More

Gordon Campbell | Parliament TV | Parliament Today | News Video | Crime | Employers | Housing | Immigration | Legal | Local Govt. | Maori | Welfare | Unions | Youth | Search

 

NZ has dethroned GDP as a measure of success

When you’re in politics, words are a high-stakes game. Voters and journalists hold you to them and there is a risk in using words that are hard to live up to. This is particularly true for politicians whose reputation is founded on sincerity and authenticity.

New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern saddled herself with the word “transformational”. She used it heavily in the heady days of the 2017 election campaign, although less so in the compromised reality of a coalition government. Still, it is the aspiration she is held to. The 2019 well-being budget is held to it by association.

But how do we know transformation when we see it?

________________________________________

Read more: The search for an alternative to GDP to measure a nation's progress – the New Zealand experience

________________________________________

Beyond the status quo

Obviously, transformation must go beyond the status quo. But to be transformative, it must also go beyond mere reform.

A reform agenda recognises that trouble is brewing, that social, economic and environmental trends are on the wrong track. It accepts that major changes to policy and lifestyle may be required. As sustainable development research shows, it does “not locate the root of the problem in the nature of present society, but in imbalances and a lack of knowledge and information”.

Advertisement - scroll to continue reading

Are you getting our free newsletter?

Subscribe to Scoop’s 'The Catch Up' our free weekly newsletter sent to your inbox every Monday with stories from across our network.

It tends to reach for existing policy levers, and to hang its hopes on technical solutions. It reacts to the toughest choices by devising new frameworks for analysing them.

The well-being budget easily goes this far. Finance minister Grant Robertson is entitled to say, as he did in his budget speech, that this is a government “not satisfied with the status quo”.

Most important, New Zealand’s well-being approach de-centres GDP as the principal measure of national success, using instead the multi-dimensional living standards framework. In doing so, Ardern’s government has acted upon doubts that are as old as GDP itself, and gained traction in the years after the 2008 Global Financial Crisis.

As economists Joseph Stiglitz, Amartya Sen and Jean-Paul Fitoussi argued in their influential analysis of what went wrong:

What we measure affects what we do; and if our measurements are flawed, decisions may be distorted.

By arguing for more nuanced national accounting that captures quality of life, they made a case for reform that Ardern’s government is putting into practice.

Beyond reform

A transformative agenda goes further. It sees problems as rooted in the present structure of society. It isn’t only about managing the flaws and oversights of the dominant system, but overturning the system itself. This involves an order of ambition that the well-being budget lacks.

Consider, for instance, its centrepiece investment: NZ$455 million (over four years) for a new frontline service for mental health. This is vital support for those in need, complemented by wider reforms recommended by He Ara Oranga, the report of the inquiry into mental health and addiction.

But its primary focus is to address existing suffering. It doesn’t aim for the socioeconomic or historical causes of many people’s misery and strain. Other aspects of government policy may do, such as the Provincial Growth Fund, by creating meaningful jobs in places where opportunities are low and shame or whakamā are high.

But whether you think this is adequate depends on how you answer the big questions about the structure of the economy, distribution of power and decolonisation. This is undoubtedly the territory of transformational politics, but the well-being budget only touches the edges.

Just transitions

There is another word for change that the prime minister sides with: not “transformation” but just transition. This is the idea that socioeconomic change should be guided by principles of justice, such as equity and inclusivity, to minimise the disruption that change can bring. The aim of a just transition is to achieve revolution without revolt.

The concept is prominent in climate change policy – and the well-being budget delivers projects to support these objectives, including a clean energy development centre in Taranaki, sustainable land-use funding to enable the shift to low-emissions landscapes, and an extended budget line for just transition planning.

________________________________________

Read more: NZ Budget 2019: support for lower-emission business, transport, land use

________________________________________

But Ardern obviously sees the idea of a just transition as more broadly relevant, contrasting it with the “rapid, uncaring change” of structural reforms in 1980s New Zealand. To my mind, this better captures the temper of this government – not transformational, but potentially transitional.

As the well-being approach is bedded in – not only with policy wonks but also business and community leaders, and the voting public – it will loosen GDP’s grip on the minds of decision makers. GDP will be repositioned as only one among many indicators that ought to inform political judgement. Then political leaders can be confidently ambitious, not only with their words, but also their actions.


© Scoop Media

Advertisement - scroll to continue reading
 
 
 
Parliament Headlines | Politics Headlines | Regional Headlines



Gordon Campbell: On The Newshub/Smokefree Twin Fiascos


Here’s a tale of two sunset industries. One has a track record of quality investigative reporting, and sound reportage of the 24/7 news cycle. The other sunset industry peddles a deadly substance that kills and injures tens of thousands of New Zealanders every year, while imposing significant annual costs on the public health system.

Which industry is this government rushing to assist..?
More


 
 


ACT: New Zealand Dodges Dopey Experiment In Prohibition

“Labour’s attempted crackdown on smokers would have delivered criminal groups a near-monopoly over the cigarette trade,” says ACT Health spokesman Todd Stephenson... More


Government: Backs Police To Crackdown On Gangs
The coalition Government is restoring law and order by providing police new tools to crack down on criminal gangs, says Justice Minister Paul Goldsmith and Police Minister Mark Mitchell. “Over the last five years gangs have recruited more than 3000 members, a 51 per cent increase... More


Government: Humanitarian Support For Gaza & West Bank

Winston Peters has announced NZ is providing a further $5M to respond to the extreme humanitarian need in Gaza and the West Bank. “The impact of the Israel-Hamas conflict on civilians is absolutely appalling," he said... More


Government: New High Court Judge Appointed

Judith Collins has announced the appointment of Wellington Barrister Jason Scott McHerron as a High Court Judge. Justice McHerron graduated from the University of Otago with a BA in English Literature in 1994 and an LLB in 1996... More

 
 
 
 
 
 

LATEST HEADLINES

  • PARLIAMENT
  • POLITICS
  • REGIONAL
 
 

InfoPages News Channels


 
 
 
 

Join Our Free Newsletter

Subscribe to Scoop’s 'The Catch Up' our free weekly newsletter sent to your inbox every Monday with stories from across our network.