Technology isn’t going to be the saviour of rural New Zealand. We’ve been hearing for years that new communications technologies (will) allow us all to work from home, the cafe, and the beach. We do that to some extent. A few people do build business empires on the back of broadband. But we also spend lots of time in our offices, seeing and talking with our co-workers. One of the interesting economic geography arguments I’ve seen is that technology is making face-time more valuable. As a result, work that requires us to spend time with each other is becoming more highly paid, and work that can be made routine and parceled out in bits and bytes is becoming less valuable. New Zealand is on the wrong side of that trend, and rural areas even more so.Let's take the agglomeration economic geography arguments as starting point. Tech is more a complement to big cities than they are a substitute for face to face interactions. Who gets the strongest benefit from this in a world that's mostly free-trading? Big global cities, not Auckland. Our small size makes us, over time, less competitive in sectors that compete with international big-city industries; our comparative advantage then pushes farther towards agricultural production.
This is already happening too: it's not crazy to see the "Dutch Disease" stuff as just being international markets telling us to put resources into the sector where we have a comparative advantage (dairy, ag production), abandon the ones where we don't, and build non-traded services around the sector where we have the comparative advantage. Our cities would then wind up doing more to provide domestic support services for the ag sector than building innovative non-agricultural products for international markets. And then it's a bit of a race between productivity increases in domestic agriculture pushing down needed labour and relative prices pushing towards intensified agricultural production yielding migration flows to the countryside.
Best counterargument: Peter Thiel is investing heavily in the NZ tech sector, seeing here perhaps a comparative advantage in sane regulatory approaches (albeit one that's eroding).
I still favour strongly increased immigration coupled with fixing urban land use policy to make our cities more internationally competitive. And who knows - maybe some of those migrants would then decide they'd prefer to live out in the countryside. It is ridiculously beautiful out there.