Friday 22 March 2019

Right Here, Right Now

My column in this week's Insights newsletter - now a bit dated. The newsletter comes out at noon; our national moment of silence was an hour and a half after that.
Last week feels like it was a year ago. And the past week has made the world feel a little smaller.

Last night, the Rt. Hon. Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada from 2006 through 2015, addressed members and guests of the Initiative at our annual retreat.

We found that Laureen, Prime Minister Harper’s wife, had lived in Christchurch as a young woman. Streets and buildings that stood as backdrop in news scenes playing in international media, for the second time in a decade and again for terrible reasons, were ones she remembered.

The world is smaller than we think.

Harper’s address reminded us that New Zealand and Canada remain rather special places in a world growing worryingly dark.

While living standards globally are better than ever, Europe, the UK and America have polarised – not along traditional left/right lines but on a newly emerging populist/elitist axis.

Trump and Brexit are obvious examples, but so too are right-wing populism in Germany and France, and the strange marriage of the populist left and right in the Italian government – which Harper likened to a coalition between Trump and Bernie Sanders.

Drawing on his recent book, Right Here, Right Now, Harper said this polarisation is inevitable when mainstream policy stops addressing the concerns of lower and middle-class voters.

In America, for what seems the first time, voters are telling pollsters they expect their kids to have a worse standard of living than they do. That builds an appetite for populism, and while populists have a keen nose for policy failures, they offer no positive policy agenda to solve the problems.

Harper rightly noted that Canada and New Zealand stand apart from those trends. In both countries, household income growth has been broadly shared across the distribution. We have not seen the income stagnation present in America. That makes for a better polity. It also makes for a country better able to accommodate migration; Harper noted Canada’s welcoming attitude to migrants and strong growth in immigration.

Populist resentment fuels anti-migrant sentiment. See Europe, the UK and America. In New Zealand, a broken housing market gave us a too-xenophobic 2017 election campaign. But last Friday’s tragedy brought us together rather than drive us apart.

During our moment of silence this afternoon, let us remember the victims – and renew our commitment to building a better New Zealand for all New Zealanders.
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