Whatever happens after the election, Hawke’s Bay needs a combined vision and strategy. Most protagonists agree. The real issue will be what type of strategy we get. If any strategy is based on the ideas of the past 30 years, then we can expect to see more of the same: lower employment with poorer working conditions, arguments for the right to pollute and exploitation in pursuit of narrow interests. We are sold that the ‘solution’ is to do exactly that – more of the same, but faster, bigger, bolder.
These people are not strategists. We have heard business ‘leaders’ and National Party politicians call for corporations to come to Hawke’s Bay because “we have low wages.” We have heard – repeatedly – that Central Hawke’s Bay is losing population and has a declining economy (which is not in dispute), and then a leap ahead in logic to a “therefore, we need the dam!” solution. It is a seductive argument – the large corporate coming to town; not unlike the Simpson’s Mr Burns promising to build a new nuclear plant in Springfield.
Which all raises the question: “What is Development?” There are so many myths. That more GDP is better. That the big corporate mill is the answer. That degradation of the environment and our society is a ‘necessary balance’, as if the economy is somehow not there to serve society, but society to serve an increasingly narrow elite, or that compromising the environment won’t at some point lead to the complete collapse of life-supporting functions.
The Ruataniwha Dam, the drive for highly-risky oil and gas exploration and the GE free debate are all of this ilk; ‘Necessary balance’ and ‘jobs’ rationalising a less resilient, more exploitative future that cannot be sustained. Realising a vibrant, healthy and clean Hawke’s Bay future requires a transformational shift – away from commodity and treating people and land as mere ‘resources’ to be justifiably exploited by the market. The first step in transformation is to question the ‘development is building things’ myth. It is much more about what Jane Jacobs referred to: “Development is not a collection of things, but rather a process that yields things.” It is about creating the social and environmental dynamics of good feeding on good, not bad upon bad. It is about understanding that a healthy environment and community culture is what creates a healthy economy – not the current myth that it is the other way around. By not asking the question ‘why?’ we are not realising our potential, the non-strategists make the mistake referred to by Einstein: “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”
So we encourage more commoditisation of our products, our land and our people, more debt, more farm aggregation, more concentrated outside ownership, shorter value chains, less ability to hold price creating yet more pressure to degrade systems and cut costs, migrant labour and the loss of local spending. In short, more colonisation, more ‘vicious cycle’ degradation; a road map to Detroit or Nebraska, less and less attractive, more and more desperate, thinking even shorter term, open to the propaganda of the financial elites whose interests are not ours. We can reverse that to a ‘virtuous circle’, value begetting value. There are a number of key changes upon which we need to focus to make that happen.
Measuring what is meaningful and avoid the GDP Myth of Progress: a ‘vibrant’ economy is not defined by GDP – a nonsense measure of financial transactions (flows) rather than stocks of social and environmental capital – but by such things as start-ups; median wages and conditions; levels of such things as social trust and engagement; local ownership; extent of localised value-chains; resilience to shocks; diversity and complexity. The measure of the environment is not about price, but by its capacity to function and provide its multiple blessings and benefits, and, yes, mauri. The creation and retention of diversity, complexity and value within Hawke’s Bay: requiring a shift from ‘sell-on-price’ commodities favoured by large corporates with short or non-existent value-chains, to high value ‘sell-on-quality’ products with long, localised, locally-owned systems that can hold their price on the world stage. Only under those systems can we provide highly skilled wage systems. Under such systems all of us benefit as well as through the local spend of profit and expenditure, not just the select few Auckland or New York-based owners.
Co-development of society, culture and the environment is critical to a vibrant Common wealth. Without co-development principles, ‘development’ is merely exploitation with wealth concentrated, followed by inevitable collapse. Building social capital creates the diverse, resilient and thriving economy. That means we should be actively encouraging thought, interaction, education, democracy, creativity, aspiration, inspiration, and a spirit of cooperation and get-up-and-go. Initiative, enterprise and innovation is a product of that underlying culture, not the institutionalisation of tasks and blind obedience. The functions of the environment are similar. A healthy environment attracts people, creates opportunity, lowers costs provided free by ecosystem services, and creates the ‘market position’ to retain price. Margins and opportunities are increased, the common wealth encouraged. A Tuscany, not a Detroit.
This long-term, resilient systems approach to development is at odds with the current cogs-in-a-machine short-term approach dominated by financial interests. We can transform Hawke’s Bay – and indeed New Zealand – for the benefit of all, but first we have to stop listening to those who do not speak for us or our children.