Life in the doldrums

The Cadbury factory and Cadbury World building in Cumberland St, Dunedin. Photo: ODT files.
The Cadbury factory and Cadbury World building in Cumberland St, Dunedin. Photo: ODT files.
You are invited to a grand celebration of economic malaise, writes Chris Skellett.

So Cadbury is leaving town. The latest in a long line of remote big-business decisions that kicks the hard-working people of Dunedin in the guts. Following a long list of similar manufacturing decisions (Hillside Workshops, Fisher and Paykel, Wickliffe Press, etc) we see production moving north in the face of logic and despite the efforts of a dedicated, highly skilled workforce.

The pattern is always the same. Decisions are made from a distance and based on short-term financial expediencies, usually at the expense of longer term social benefits. Usually driven by cost-cutting, and with no accounting for more subtle, invaluable yet unquantifiable factors such as staff loyalty, reputation, and organisational stability, they slash and burn their way through workplace structures that have taken years to evolve.

Nevermind, soon the decision-makers will be parachuting out of their current role (always temporary) and into higher office, where they will wreak even greater damage on the world at large.

So maybe it's time for us to take stock? Looking around the country we see Aucklanders continuing to grow wealthy simply on the back of their property prices. In Christchurch we see impressively rampant development on the back of earthquake-related insurance funding, while dear old Wellington continues to thrive on bureaucratic Central Government job creation schemes. Here, working parties, steering committees and regulatory bodies continue to form and reform as gross caricatures of their own deluded self-importance.

Notice anything? All of these ''thriving communities'' are based upon passive income, with not a whiff of productivity about any of them.

Clearly, Dunedin needs to become smarter at operating in this new world order. It's pointless trying to work hard and contribute meaningfully to the nation's growth and development when they don't want you to. Manufacturing is dead in the water.

Even if a small/medium company gets up and profitable, you can bet your boots it will eventually be bought out, have its assets stripped, and be relocated north. The harder we try to create wealth, the more we get knocked back. Regional development is dead.

So ... here's the plan:

We collectively ditch the idea of ever being productive again. Why bother? Instead, we encourage a local culture of ''economic malaise'' where everyone tries as hard as they can to suck handouts from central government. We apply for grants, benefits, and subsidies wherever we can. We deliberately become a high-dependency community full of gold card holders and other needy useless folk. Instead of feeling proud about our work ethic, we celebrate our ability to draw on our helplessness.

Paradoxically, by developing as a community of pathetic dole bludgers and dependants, we will draw in a huge network of sophisticated support services. They, too, will generate no actual wealth for the country, being lawyers on legal aid, ACC-funded health professionals and community support workers drawing on public sector funding. They would be employed by non-profits funded by more grants and subsidies. This will all help suck more precious central government funding into our community.

Dunedin would slowly become a huge black hole of helplessness down which money would pour. It would fold in on itself like some cataclysmic economic sinkhole. And as the cash flowed through our hands, the rest of the country would look on in envy as our economy boomed away on the back of our lethargy. Our role would simply be to consume, not to produce. We would all become delightfully fat and lazy as we warmed to the role.

Associated with this lack of purpose would be a lack of ambition or drive. We wouldn't give a toss about running a successful Super Rugby franchise. Pride and glory would be virtues of the past ... simply old-fashioned concepts based on doing things well. Instead, we would greasily slap each other on the back whenever good fortune fell in our laps or we heard about another scam to draw in funds. Passive indulgence would be the order of the day.

Freedom campers already show us the way. They flock to Dunedin in droves, showing an unerring instinct for feeding passively off the generous support of others. As the city considers applying for subsidies and special levies to help us cope with this unrelentingly negative drain on our resources, we can learn from them. The less you contribute, the more funding you attract. It's the new dynamic, like it or not. Passive dependency is where it's at.

Some may struggle to embrace this new vision. But we need to wake up to the reality of current economic factors. Instead of vainly trying to build economic wealth in the face of totally self-serving and remote decision-makers, let's fall in with the inevitable consequences of this arrogant neglect of our region.

Let's read the wind shifts of economic fortune, and get real. They will reap what they don't sow. Pigeons will come home to shit, and we will fiddle while Rome burns.

-Warrington man Chris Skellett is an author, speaker and workshop presenter.


Chris, it's too much, passive dependency. No one can stay polite and 'umble for that long.

Secesh. From the Waitaki down.