Economics and ethics – the China question

Economics and ethics are inseparable. For any economy to flourish and prosper, the market transactions propelling it forward must be encapsulated within a supporting framework of ethics and non-market institutions. Jewish sociologist Amitai Etzioni called that framework the “moral dimension”. Without it any economy will falter. The same is true of the global economy.

So this week’s allegations that Chinese officials have threatened New Zealand companies over an investigation into possible Chinese steel dumping, raises doubts about the long term prognosis for our Free Trade Agreement with China. Historically New Zealand and its western trading partners have shared a similar cultural heritage. The same Judeao-Christian values have infused our economic, political and cultural landscapes. Respect for honesty and integrity in business dealings, transparency and accountability, and playing by the rules are part of our common cultural heritage. That doesn’t mean we always live up our values, but at least there is a deeply rooted recognition of their importance.

However we are now increasingly reliant on trade with nations that do not have the same cultural background. Indeed some of them like China have spent decades trying to eradicate any ethic other than the progress of the State. In such cultures where the will to power prevails in politics, it should not surprise us that the will to establish and exert market power also prevails. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t foster positive relationships with such countries. It does mean that we should do so with caution and wisdom.

We should also be careful not to allow our national prosperity to become hostage to a few very large trade relationships. Especially relationships that may not be built on as firm a foundation as we would like to think. With Britain looking for new trading partners after leaving the EU, it is an opportune time for New Zealand to renew old family ties. A free trade agreement with the UK would not only help diversify our trade – we are also on the same page when it comes to the values that sustain democratic cultures and  help to grow flourishing economies.

Ewen McQueen
July 2016

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NZ doing the right thing in Iraq

This week Iraqi military forces liberated the city of Fallujah. 90,000 civilians had been held there under ISIS rule. They are now free of that barbaric regime. New Zealand troops helped train the Iraqi forces who have done the job. There are more cities to take back. There are more Iraqi soldiers to train. It is good that our deployment has been extended.

The Prime Minister and his cabinet colleagues who have made the decision to extend are to be applauded. It would have been easier to exit and avoid the cheap shots from their opponents about “u-turns” and the usual media drivel about pressure from the USA. This is none of that. It is about doing the right thing.

It is about the 4,000 Iraqi troops who have been through New Zealand training at Camp Taji and come out ready to fight ISIS. It is about the 90,000 people who will shortly be able to return to their own city in peace, rather than becoming another wave of refugees. It is about recognising that our efforts are worth it and now is not the time to walk away.

Those in the opposition parties who want us to exit and retreat to our little corner of the world need to show some political and moral courage. They should read the Cabinet paper reviewing the deployment which notes how it is working well and how many other countries are currently stepping up their military efforts against ISIS. Perhaps they may yet “get some guts” as the Prime Minister urged them two years ago in Parliament.

That is probably a vain hope. It seems they prefer to criticise the Government for not taking enough refugees rather than join the fight to stop people becoming refugees in the first place.

Ewen McQueen
June 2016

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A hero worthy of wider recognition

Major Geoffrey Faraday

Major Geoffrey Faraday

The New Zealand media hardly noticed it. But last week a true hero was recognised by the Prince of Wales at Buckingham Palace. The New Zealand Gallantry Star was awarded to Major Geoffrey Faraday of the Royal New Zealand Army Corps.

Major Faraday was working with the United Nations mission in South Sudan in 2014. At one point whilst protecting a UN refugee camp of 5,000 he personally intervened (unarmed) to try and hold back a machete wielding mob of hundreds that went on to kill 53 people. He then called in reinforcements who arrived quickly to stop further bloodshed.

On the same mission whilst accompanying a convoy of barges delivering aid up the White Nile his team came under attack from an ambush on the riverbank. In the ensuing four hour battle Faraday led his colleagues in a fight back that saw the situation brought under control without loss. You can read more detail here.

Major Faraday showed initiative, leadership, and outstanding courage in extreme danger. He put his life on the line in the cause of protecting the vulnerable. He is a true New Zealand hero who has done our country proud. He deserves much more recognition than the coverage he has received so far.

Ewen McQueen
June 2016

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Housing crisis – turn off the migration tap

If the bath is overflowing tBlenheim Home May 1960he first thing you do is turn off the tap. You don’t waste time trying to make the bath bigger. Yet when it comes to housing, our government has spent all its efforts trying to do just that. It needs to wake up and urgently turn off the migration tap.

For some years now, demand has continually outstripped the capacity of the New Zealand market to construct extra housing. Yet the government has focused almost solely on trying to increase supply. They have steadfastly refused to meaningfully address the reality of excess demand. Instead they have allowed it to grow. In the year to June 2016 there has been record migration of 70,700. Even Treasury has been raising questions about the consequences of such high levels.

Now the bath has overflowed and done serious damage to the structure of our economy. We have a huge debt-equity problem. The debt problem is as reported by the NZ Herald today – national indebtedness approaching half a trillion dollars. Most of this is private mortgage debt. We also have a huge social equity problem. When large numbers of Aucklanders can’t even afford to be tenants in their own city – let alone homeowners – there are real questions about social justice that need to be asked. Is this the country we want?

It is certainly not the country envisaged by previous National Party administrations.  As noted in a previous blog – a Holland or Holyoake government would never have sat on its hands and let such a situation develop. So why has this one ?

Surely it is not because, as some have suggested, many MPs own investment properties and hence are happily making untaxed wealth from the boom. There is still basic personal intergrity in New Zealand politics. Only last week we heard how National Party President Peter Goodfellow absents himself from caucus discussions on fisheries due to his own interests in this sector.

No the issue is probably not integrity. It is fear. The fear of being labelled xenophobic. In the eyes of the liberal media anything that hints of xenophobia is a serious crime. The inevitable criticism that would come from cutting back migration is probably what is paralysing our current political leaders into doing nothing. This is what holds them back. But for all our sakes they need to find some courage. Be brave – turn off the tap.

Ewen McQueen
June 2016

Posted in Economic Transformation | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Marriage – evidence that demands support

Public policy should be evidence based. The evidence backs marriage. As an institution it produces significantly better outcomes than other relationship forms. This is so across the board including lower rates of child abuse and neglect, less domestic violence, and increased family stability and financial progress. In spite of this our policymakers and political leaders continue to ignore it.

This week Family First released another report with further evidence of how the decline in marriage rates has been a major contributor to child poverty in New Zealand (Child Poverty and Family Structure). Not a single political leader has bothered to address it. Instead the Prime Minister today was supporting making the grounds of Parliament smoke-free along with the rest of Wellington. This is where leadership and direction for the nation comes from he said.

The media to their credit have noted the report, even if with ridiculously caricatured headlines such as – “Poor – its your fault for being unmarried”. It is little wonder their stories have engendered equally shallow responses in their opinion pages. There are the inevitable pieces from individuals in non-married households denying there is any problem. They report happy and prosperous family life. This is great news for them. However it is akin to someone living in a 1990s monolithic plaster home reporting that their house is fine so therefore the leaky homes problem doesn’t exist.

The point is that public policy needs to be evidence based. And it is not what happens in the lives of any particular individuals that counts as evidence – it is what happens across the whole population that matters. It is the outcomes achieved in the aggregate that should draw the attention of our policymakers.

Family First have once again put the evidence out there for those who have ears to hear and eyes to see. It is not new. The evidence has been around a long time. I recall publishing an article nearly twenty years ago in the NZ Herald on exactly the same topic – Poverty – it’s not a lack of jobs, it’s a lack of fathers.

One day as a nation we will come to our senses and honestly face the evidence. For the sake of our children I hope and pray it is soon. Twenty years is another generation gone.

Ewen McQueen
May 2016

Posted in Cultural Renewal, Economic Transformation, Honouring Marriage, Protecting Children | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Where was Moko’s dad?

The court has reached its verdict. The marchers have gone home. The politicians and media have done their usual hypocritical hand-wringing. But the question remains – where was Moko’s dad?

A father is supposed to be there to protect his children. A father is supposed to be there to help their mother look after the family. A father is supposed to provide for and love his family.

So where was Moko’s dad? We have no idea. We have no idea because the question was never asked. It never is. In all the national breast-beating that happens whenever such a tragedy occurs, the real issue is never addressed. Why are so many New Zealand children left without the care of a natural father? Why have we allowed a relationship culture to become embedded which accepts as normal the regular dropping in and out of relationships and frequent changing of partners? How is this supposed to build strong and loving families?

These are the questions which should be asked. But instead the focus is always on the failure of social agencies, the need for more education or awareness campaigns, tougher sentences or more money to be spent coordinating ever more welfare programmes. No-one ever wants to face the real issue.

The politicians don’t because they know it will be an uncomfortable conversation with the electorate. It may lose them votes. Many would also have to revisit their ideological commitment to socially liberal policies that have undermined marriage and family life. They would have to admit that their rejection of traditional Christian morality around family life has not led to a celebration of diversity. It has led to dead children.

The media don’t want to face the real issue because as soon as their current affairs journalists finish shedding tears about the latest tragedy, it is back to business as usual. And business as usual means more trash programming that normalises and promotes the very values that are rotting our family life. If it is not some reality show with contestants hopping in and out of bed with each other, it is a soap fueled by a focus on continual relationship churn or a “comedy” pushing the lie that the new liberal morality is all fun and laughter.

Sadly the reality for our children is very different. Until we are willing to face that, all the national soul searching will produce nothing but more hypocrisy.

Ewen McQueen
May 2016

Posted in Cultural Renewal, Honouring Marriage, Protecting Children, Respect for Life | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

Land Wars Day risks locking in grievance focus

In a healthy relationship you celebrate your successes – you don’t memorialize your conflicts. That is why a national day to commemorate lives lost in the land wars in New Zealand is not a good idea. There is a real risk that it will not build unity (kotahitanga). Rather it may simply reserve a space in our national calendar around which grievance will coalesce and contention will fester. On both sides.

In a healthy relationship you do your best to face your failures and conflicts. Difficult conversations are had. Apologies are offered. Actions are taken to put things right. Forgiveness is offered. Reconciliation is achieved and whilst lessons are learned, both parties put things behind them and move forward to better things.

This is the dynamic of a healthy relationship. In New Zealand we are building a strong relationship between Maori and Pakeha based on this dynamic. It is called the Treaty settlements process. The process is not perfect and has still to be completed. However it is a journey that has been undertaken in good faith and engaged in honourably by both sides. A Land Wars Day threatens to divert that journey by freezing our focus on conflicts that need to be put behind us.

Yes we need to know our history and yes our children need to be taught about our past conflicts. However those lessons are for the history books and the classroom. They are not for a national day of commemoration. Besides, we already have such a day. It marks those times when we stood together against a common enemy. The times when we united to fight facism and injustice. That is something worth remembering together. Our battles against each other are not. They are something we need to deal with, put right, and put behind us.

It was Otorohanga College students whose petition seeking a Land Wars Day is now being considered by the Maori Affairs Select Committee (make a submission here). Their efforts should be applauded. Their interest in our history and engagement in our political process is absolutely commendable. However to build kotahitanga in New Zealand, a more fruitful focus might be how to make Waitangi Day more truly the celebration that it should be. That is when we started our journey together. It is worth remembering.

Ewen McQueen
April 2016

Posted in Cultural Renewal, Spiritual Renewal, Treaty of Waitangi | Tagged , , | 8 Comments