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There are always silver linings.
Through this Covid-19 crisis, one key silver lining was that amidst the frenzy of lockdown preparations many saw opportunities to stop and speak to their neighbours. Not just a friendly nod, a wave hello. An actual conversation and sharing of details, just in case. Meeting online with old and new friends. Standing on the street at 7pm to clap for our essential service workers, feeling stupid at first, but then as more people venture out, we share a smile and have a chat (appropriately distanced) before returning to our bubbles.
Another key silver lining is a visceral sense that something has to change.
The world — with all our technology, our military might, and our economic productivity — has been confounded by an invisible pathogen. Communities, large and small, black and white, East and West are beginning to to see this moment as a global turning point, as an opportunity for imagination and innovation to take a front seat as we rebuild our economies.
Aotearoa New Zealand can and should take a leading role in the response to this turning point. We have demonstrated foresight and resilience in our responses to the Christchurch terror attacks and Covid-19.
In the face of these crises and earlier ones like the Christchurch earthquakes, we were steadfast in our solidarity with each other. Our responses have been technologically and economically sophisticated, but importantly these have been wrapped around the meaningful consideration of our humanity.
We did not need a highly contagious virus to teach us that we are all in this together, though our swift and co-operative response to the crisis has impressed our peers around the world.
New Zealand’s economic policy response to the pandemic so far — from the latest effort to include every child in off-site learning to our initial strong commitments to wage subsidies and winter heating — have demonstrated yet again that the most advanced and successful national policies are the ones that are responsive to everybody.
Our Government and our nation’s actions have reflected a human-centred perspective that is often-times lost in the machinations of political systems, national and global. Now, as we cross from the emergency response to the longer-term economic planning challenges, we can continue to demonstrate the resilience and vitality of our human-centric approach.
Planning is currently under way to develop significant projects to reinvigorate our economy following lockdown.
Economic revitalisation and growth should be priorities. However, we would suggest that this is also an opportune moment in time, one we should not squander. Time to imagine and enact an economic system that works for people. All people.
An economic system that responds to society, rather than forces society to bend to its will. An economic system that results in a cleaner environment, rather than externalised costs. An economic system that is stronger, diverse and therefore better able to bounce back from the many more shocks scientists predict for the future.
In the spirit of developing conversations to imagine and create a more resilient society we are going to present three key options for the Government to consider for a reinvigorated economy that will have wider benefit for Aotearoa New Zealand.
The first is in low-carbon building projects. We see no reason to invest as a country in anything that does not prepare us for the future. Low-carbon projects enable us to build competitive advantage as a nation and develop a key skill base to enhance productivity in our people. The turning point in the world is now to prepare for the effects of climate change — some of which will present us with greater health risks. We can do this through investing in infrastructure projects like hospitals such as in Dunedin, new transport systems — particularly in Auckland — maybe that light rail that would be so important for the future.
And social housing. We have a housing crisis in New Zealand and we need good housing stock that is built with low-carbon materials (using these materials in bulk will increase the scale and bring down costs for all and develop an essential future skill base in our people) that is energy efficient to run (see Blueskin Resilient Communities Trust for their climate-friendly house) and healthy to live in.
The outcomes for the economy and productivity will be positive, we will upskill our workforce for a climate-constrained future through developing world-leading building skills, plus we will decrease inequality and improve health outcomes and productivity by allowing everyone, including less advantaged members of our community, access to a warm and healthy home.
Second, we need to develop resilient local food systems, as not only do people need shelter but access to (good) food. We’ve seen panic buying with Covid-19 and our ability to grow food has only been compromised by people not being able to work in some places. Unless we are proactive in planning for resilient local food production, climate change will compromise our ability to actually produce the food due to environmental factors such as water shortages, temperature rises, more frequent and violent storms.
The more locally we can produce food and support our local producers, the more resilient we become. Supplementing our imported food (and still acknowledging our export markets — which also may change) with local food networks will enable access to food in times of need: a turn to climate-resilient local production will be a reinvigorating tool for the economy and is a smart move forward.
Third, we need to achieve the above two points by embracing the bicultural spirit of our nation and utilising a people-centred and values-based way of thinking about the economy and economic action. Imagine considering a notion of the economy that ‘‘fits’’ with a view of the world where people, place and wellbeing are the drivers of economic action. An approach that values and prioritises an understanding of wealth that goes beyond economic to encompass the wellbeing of our people, our communities, our natural environment. Te Ao Maori, the Maori world, brings a system of practice derived from traditional knowledge passed down and tested through generations, and cultural values that reflect a resilience beyond the here and now. Values that enhance our connectedness to each other and the world around us (whanaungatanga); bring respect for others and responsibility to care for to the forefront of our actions (manaakitanga and kaitikaitanga); and, empower us to work collaboratively, with purpose in unity (kotahitanga).
The global shifts from Covid-19 are going to be radical.
Structural changes to our economy will be far reaching. Governments and people will be and are questioning the current operating system and will change as a result. As a society we need to be proactive to these changes and future shocks, which science tells us will occur as a result of our changing climate and rising inequality. If we make the right choices now then we prepare ourselves for the new future that we will see emerging globally. Business as usual after Covid-19 is not an option.
Aotearoa needs to be bold, think local and build resilience in developing our economy to meet the needs of all of our people.
- All authors are from the University of Otago Te Whare Wananga o Otago. Sara Walton and Diane Ruwhiu work at the Otago Business School in the Department of Management Te Matauranga Whakahaere. Lisa Ellis directs the Philosophy, Politics and Economics programme.