You are not permitted to download, save or email this image. Visit image gallery to purchase the image.
There is absolutely no doubt that New Zealand has to keep moving. The question, though, is in which direction?
It’s not just the (still unstoppable) Covid-19 pandemic. Populism, trade wars, and isolationism are threatening the whole world order. Environmental calamity is going full steam ahead and shows no sign of reversal. There is a worldwide subversion of democracy led by the president of the United States. The meagre controls over nuclear weapons that existed in the 1970s and ’80s are being undermined, treaty by treaty.
China thumbs its nose at anything challenging its authoritarian and expansionist mindset and Russia seems little better.
The old order is collapsing. These are apocalyptic times. Our coalition government has kept its nerve, and focused on keeping citizens, safe and well. But have we really begun to grasp the seriousness of this crisis?
The United States and the United Kingdom, are experiencing an unparalleled collapse of social confidence and rationality. For centuries our Western civilisation has been based on Enlightenment values.
From the 18th century on, we threw off fatalism. We came to believe we could be captains of our own destinies. Oliver Cromwell challenged the divine right of kings, and the American and French Revolutions followed suit. The unleashing of agricultural and industrial innovation, of modern science and medicine, of critical thought in the universities, ushered in an age of progress, affluence and wellbeing.
In little Dunedin, as elsewhere, a passion for education was yoked to an emergent vision of a society in which social justice had primacy of place. Rutherford Waddell was one of its prime movers.
In this crazy world, however, a politics of transformation is no longer a luxury. Young people realise this, and we need to get behind them.
First, it’s time to challenge quite explicitly the mad ideology of growth. Neoliberalism and all its works are destroying the planet, and its finite resources. We have made a good beginning by redefining what GDP means and focusing on the public good but this needs to be consolidated.
Secondly, the escalation of child poverty and Unicef’s appalling report card on child welfare in New Zealand remind us that if we do not care for the next generation we will have failed in one of our fundamental human obligations, namely ensuring the survival and flourishing of those who succeed us.
There is a growing gap between the generations, and a continued marginalisation of Maori and Pacific peoples. We can only halt these by looking seriously at ways of taxing capital, and not just income.
A capital gains tax will be unpopular as huge vested interests are at stake. But without one we will not be able to respond to any of these challenges.
Thirdly, and most challenging of all. We have to work with the team of five million at rethinking what our real values are. We cannot leave it to the Beehive or our already overworked politicians. Without a vision the people perish. It is vision that is most missing from this current election campaign .
In the 1930s, Labour promised ‘‘womb to tomb’’ security for all New Zealanders. They realised that the first claim on government was to reduce inequality of both assets and opportunities; provide free education and a public health system for all. The welfare state that emerged from this transformative government led the world for a while. The important point of the 1935 Labour government, however, was a widespread recognition that the State did not exist to serve the interests of a few but the wellbeing of all. If this meant turning private services into public ones, so be it.
This current pandemic has forced the coalition Government to do the same.
What is missing, however, is some positive vision of the role of the New Zealand state in a post-Covid world. State-society relations have to change in response to the pandemic, climate change and a predicted global slump. There is nothing eternal about the state-society contract. It has to be renewed every few years to ensure that the state serves the people and that power is realised with others rather over others. To do this effectively means that the people have to rediscover their strength and resilience in united communities.
You cannot legislate people into common sense, still less into far-sightedness if, as Alastair Macintosh argues in Riders in the Storm, the key factors in facing up to the new world order are rebuilding a sense of community and nourishing a relevant spirituality or humanitarian commitment, this election should focus on ways in which we can do that.
We have to keep moving. But let’s ensure that the New Zealand ship of state is being steered in a transformative direction. Let’s work to create a new normal, that builds on the best of the old while developing less adversarial, more collaborative problem-solving politics for an uncertain and unpredictable future.
- Prof Kevin Clements is chairman and foundation director of the National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Otago. The Rev Dr Peter Matheson is a historian and theologian and an honorary fellow in the University of Otago’s department of theology and religious studies.