Rod Oram: NZ stuck in neutral

We are becoming evermore dependent on the government to maintain our standard of living. Wages are barely keeping up with inflation so we need tax tweaks and government largesse to help us out.

If the government didn’t take so much of our money, we would be in a better position.

Worse, the government is having to funnel a lot more money into healthcare and infrastructure in particular to cope with a fast-rising population.

Thankfully, the government can keep doing so for a while. Treasury forecasts budget surpluses, excluding investment gains and losses, will rise from a $1.6 billion surplus in fiscal 2017 to $7.2bn in 2021.

2021.  Right.  Bollocks to that.  

Yet, despite the fact that there’s more workers, more research and development grants for business and more government co-funding of innovation in the primary sector, it is barely raising productivity, wages and exports.

Treasury’s forecasts show that exports will grow only in line with the whole economy out to 2021, thereby further compromising the government’s long-standing target of lifting exports to 40 percent of GDP by 2025, from near 28 percent currently.

Likewise average weekly incomes in the year ended last March, and adjusted for inflation, showed no gains. The budget forecasts show they will barely keep pace with inflation out to 2021.

This means many households will have no material improvement in their inflation-adjusted income. Meanwhile, those with large mortgages will suffer from slowly rising interest rates.

We have certainly worked hard to stand still. Our growth in hours worked per person was the third fastest in the OECD 2009-14.

But we aren’t working much smarter, or creating significantly more value from our work. In 2009-14, our labour productivity growth was the lowest in the OECD along with Mexico, Israel and Norway.

We’re like the proverbial frog in the proverbial pot that’s slowly coming to the boil.  The changes are gradual, and we seem to be happy and content.   We make ends meet.  But we’ve not done anything smarter.  We just got more people working more hours.

And that will come to tears.

The Productivity Commission laid out these issues late last year in its report Achieving New Zealand’s productivity potential.

As the commission points out: “New Zealand’s leading frontier firms have mostly had a weaker productivity performance than global frontier firms in the same industry, indicating poor technology diffusion into the economy.”

Successive Labour and National governments have failed to overcome this fundamental weakness in the structure of our economy, and the way we earn our living in the global economy.

This budget is more of the same.

We may have praised Key and National for keeping the wolf from the door through the GFC and two earthquakes, but the conditions to generate more wealth have yet to be realised.


– Rod Oram, RNZ

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As much at home writing editorials as being the subject of them, Cam has won awards, including the Canon Media Award for his work on the Len Brown/Bevan Chuang story.  And when he’s not creating the news, he tends to be in it, with protagonists using the courts, media and social media to deliver financial as well as death threats.

They say that news is something that someone, somewhere, wants kept quiet.   Cam Slater doesn’t do quiet, and as a result he is a polarising, controversial but highly effective journalist that takes no prisoners.

He is fearless in his pursuit of a story.

Love him or loathe him.  But you can’t ignore him.