Last month I did some travelling around India. While I was there for a bit of sight-seeing, I was also intrigued as to what socialand economic changes might have taken place in the ten years since my lastvisit. After all, I’d worked out that the Indian economy would have more orless doubled in size during my absence. My trip would be a chance to seefirst-hand how one of the world’s most populous countries was handling sustainedeconomic growth of more than 7%pa.
I recently saw the movie AmazingGrace. It’s a powerful, albeit Hollywood-style, retelling of thelife of William Wilberforce – the British politician who was instrumental inabolishing the slave trade throughout the British Empire. It’s the sort ofmovie that can make you pat yourself on the back and be pleased with how farsociety has come. But when future generations look back on us, it’s soberingto think they might judge us in the same light.
There has been a fresh proliferation ofnegative sentiment on international markets in recent weeks. The Euro-zone hasbeen slipping further into crisis while concerns over the US debt ceiling and a weak US economy are coming to a head. Expectations of US GDP-growth in thenear-term are beginning to drift downwards again with the labour market anddomestic demand expected to remain sluggish for some time.
The New Zealand dollar is trading above 80 US cents again, which is great news for consumers but has some commentators worried. A higher dollar lowers returns to exporters and makes borrowing to spend money on imports more attractive. But advocating for a lower exchange rate is akin to advocating that wages should be lower, which is a brave position to take.
It’s six in the morning on a typical day in Bangkok. Near where I’m standing a man lays out his worldly possessions for sale on a rug. Thumbing his book, he settles down for a long and uneventful day. Nearby a mother of three is also starting her day. She fires the charcoal grill and gets to work chopping up day-old meat and vegetables. Although she will do a brisker trade than the gentleman with the rug, it’s not much of a living. This scene is typical of the developing world. But just a stone’s throw from this particular makeshift market is a bustling mega-mall where Bangkok’s growing middle class come to find an outlet for their new-found wealth.
The National Party went into the 2005election with a promise to ditch Working for Families and replace it with taxcuts. But the current National-led government has largely left the policyalone so far. With widespread concern over the government’s finances atpresent, Working for Families no longer seems untouchable. But figuring outwhat to do with the costly scheme is no simple task.
With dairy prices rising another 7.2% in Fonterra’s latest online auction, consumers are likely to face further increases in the price of milk and cheese at the supermarket this year. Inevitably there have been fresh calls for the Government to step in and help lower the price of milk. After all, New Zealand is responsible for more than a third of the world’s export dairy trade. If petrol costs just forty cents a litre in oil rich Saudi Arabia, why are we paying so much for our milk?
The idea of user-pays conservation is untenable to many people. However, access to New Zealand’s conservation estate already includes a level of user-pays. Tourism operators pay concessions to access Department of Conservation (DOC) land, which they recover by charging their customers. Trampers pay for the use of DOC huts and camp sites, although these facilities are often heavily subsidised from the public purse. But the majority of trampers, hunters, mountain bikers, and other eco-tourists or adventure seekers do not pay directly for the use of the conservation estate.
As China’s economy continues to hum along, a major economictransition is taking place. China is starting to move away from export-intensivegrowth towards greater domestic demand. At the same time, China’s cheap labouradvantage is giving way to more focus on value-added. Questions have beenraised about China’s ability to keep growing amid a sluggish global recoveryand unwinding government stimulus. But a moderate recovery in exports and asteady rise in domestic demand will be enough for China to maintain growth ofaround 8-9%pa over at least the next five years.
At the turn of the century, telecommuting was a big buzz word in IT and management circles. Many white-collar workers wondered if the days of commuting into the office five days a week were numbered. But while communication and remote access technology has matured considerably over the last decade, most of us seem unwilling or unable to make the switch and start predominately working from home.