‘We must leave a better world’
What people mean when talking about “the economy” was the key theme of an economist's presentation at the Rau Tipu Rau Ora summit on Wednesday.
Dr Ganesh Nana from Business and Economic Research Limited (BERL) came to Gisborne for the two-day summit organised by Toitu Tairawhiti.
“We have a task in front of us — we have got to leave a better world for our mokopuna,” he said.
Dr Nana is invited to speak around New Zealand and when he asks what he is to talk about, he is told “something to do with the economy”.
Through the Covid-19 lockdown and alert levels he heard a lot of talk about “saving the economy”, he said.
“So that's what today's korero will be about — how do we save the economy? but I think to myself ‘what is the economy?',” he said.
“If you all talk about saving the economy then what is it?”
He referred to a recent survey showing New Zealanders' main concern was “the economy”.
“Following that are issues like housing, unemployment, climate change, inequality and poverty. Apparently all have nothing to do with the economy because ‘the economy' is most important.
“Don't talk about ‘the economy' because that is jargon,” Dr Nana said.
He told everyone to be realistic, open and explicit about what they actually meant when saying “the economy”.
“Let's get serious about our korero — don't leave ‘the economy' to pointy heads like myself, don't leave it to the treasurers or secretaries.”
“When we talk about not providing shelter, or being able to put food on the table for our whanau, then we are talking about the economy properly,” he said.
The normal model of the economy was about using resources, then consuming and depleting them, while making “a bit of mess” that will go into the water and be left for the next generation to fix.
Dr Nana's version of the economy is one that goes in all directions and looks at resources “not as something to use and exploit but rather something we have to look after”.
“The economy is the taonga (treasures) that people have inherited and what needs to be done to look after those taonga to pass on to the next generations.”
“It's not about using resources, it's about how we act in our role as kaitiaki (guardians) of our taonga, that is what the economy is about.”
He said one resource that was important was housing.
“If we don't have houses to pass on to our mokopuna, there is something wrong with the economy and we have done something wrong.
“We need to fix it.”
Dr Nana had a message for Maori and for the Maori economy.
“Don't adopt the western world's way of doing things,” he said.
“Be confident in what you have learned from your tipuna.
“The economy is not bound up in your balance sheets and profit and loss. The economy is bound up in how you look after your land, how you look after your whanau, how you put food on the table.
“Those are the models we need to measure performance by, not by returns on investments measured by dollars, but by wellbeing.
“The biggest taonga with the most value that saw us through the last four months wasn't on a balance sheet at all. It was community.”
“(It was) the value of being connected to the community, and when that community was under stress or threat you knew what to do.
“You didn't wait for Wellington to tell you.
“You made sure the most vulnerable were looked after.”
That sense of community was something we needed to value, Dr Nana said.
He read from an email he had received from the International Monetary Fund that said the pressures of the Covid-19 pandemic were “forcing an overdue reckoning of our world's ability to manage systemic hazards”.
“The 21st century is set to experience massive disruptions that pose serious and existential threats to society — this is coming from the IMF not me,” Dr Nana said.
“They are pretty much saying that because of increasing fragility and political orders, everything has been turned upside down and we don't know what to do about it.”
He said a narrow focus on shareholder returns for decades has yielded efficient but largely fragile systems stripped of resilience.
“Policies must ensure societies are resilient to a full range of threats such as pandemics, climate volatility and economic stress.”
He spoke about how job losses will increase and the uncertain future for many New Zealand employees.
“We are really lucky here in New Zealand compared to the rest of the world,” he said.
About 50,000 more people were on the job seeker support benefit and this could increase over the coming months.
“It's not going to be an easy task to suddenly put those people back into jobs.”
The tourism sector had been heavily impacted by the pandemic, but the food sectors were still working well.
“Let's not go back to business as usual, let's not go back to how it was,” Dr Nana said.
“Let's use this as an opportunity to fix it so we can put food on the table, so we can provide resilience and look after the vulnerable.
“We have to look to the future, we have to look at what we want to leave for the next generations.
“When decisions are made people need to be conscious of those who aren't at the table, because I can guarantee the ones who are not at the table are the ones mostly being affected by the decisions they make.
“What do you and I want to leave for our mokopuna?” he asked.