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           Home >  Community  > Politics  :

Small Is Beautiful
Rod Donald MP, Green Party Co-Leader - 25/05/01

During the summer I re-read a book which first opened my eyes to Green politics. E. F. Schumacher's Small is Beautiful asks some fundamental questions about the roles of economics. Way back in 1973 Schumacher said that economic growth had become the abiding interest if not the obsession of all societies.

"Anything that is found to be an impediment to economic growth is a shameful thing, and if people cling to it, they are thought of as either saboteurs or fools. Call a thing immoral or ugly, soul destroying or a degradation of man, a peril to the peace of the world or to the wellbeing of future generations; as long as you have not shown it to have been uneconomic, you have not really questioned its right to exist, grow and prosper."

Schumacher goes on to question gross domestic product, pointing out that economists are unwilling and generally unable to face the question of whether growth in GDP is to be taken as a good or bad thing. "The idea that there could be pathological growth, unhealthy growth, disruptive or destructive growth is to the economist a perverse idea which must not be able to surface."

But it shouldn't be a perverse idea to a Government which has claimed to be concerned about sustainability. Unfortunately that concern, expressed so eloquently by the Prime Minister at the Redesigning Resources Conference in Christchurch last year, has not translated into this year's vision statement.

Helen Clark wants our country to be kinder, fairer, more prosperous, innovative, tolerant, progressive and advanced, and we applaud her and her government for those visions and aspirations, but ecological sustainability must surely underpin all those other goals?

The economy alone will not be our salvation - we need to become a wise society, not just a knowledge economy. But there was nothing in the Prime Minister's vision statement to suggest she leads a Government which is aware that our prosperity and very survival depends on healthy and respectful relationship with the rest of the living world. There is nothing in the economic transformation section about sustainable development. Long before we start to top the OECD league tables we will need to ask whether these league tables really measure our quality of life or the sustainability of our production and consumption patterns.

Despite all the talk of the knowledge economy and the need for more educated and skilled people - the Government has yet to make a significant contribution to improving our tertiary education sector. The 2.3% increase in tuition subsidies equated to an average funding increase of around 1.6% - this is less than inflation.

While the Government may have looked to the future for all the ageing baby boomers with their superannuation fund, they have been less than assiduous in investing in the future for our young people who enter their twenties and thirties with huge debts. These young people are unable to get loans to buy their own homes, and many have been forced to move overseas.

Student debt is still predicted to rise to $20 billion by 2020. We want the Government to implement Green Party policy of debt write-offs for all students who choose to remain in New Zealand and contribute full time to our society - paid and unpaid work - and provide incentives for those overseas by matching debt repayments dollar for dollar.

And we want a commitment to not just train young people to go to work but to build the knowledge and wisdom base of New Zealanders: how to live in our natural environment, how to build and care for communities, how to build a sustainable economy, how to live with others without conflict and how to actively participate in decision-making processes.

We will certainly be actively participating in every opportunity we can to influence the direction of this Government this year. In addition to playing an active role in the Government's legislative programme we have been negotiating a range of Green initiatives in this year's budget and have a number of members' bills in the ballot to implement green principles.

This article is reprinted from Presto magazine (available on dead tree in Christchurch) with permission from both Presto as publishers and Rod Donald as author.

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