05 April 2014

Gotta feel sorry for Labour

Hovering in the low 30s in the opinion polls, and looking unlike a government-in-waiting, Labour can only watch with chagrin as the economic recovery gets moving. Oppositions love bad news, but the economy isn't supplying any. Labour may cling to the straws of rising interest rates and their impact on household budgets, even though a change of government will do nothing to bring interest rates down.
And then, last week, just to really piss the left off, an international social-indicators agency rated New Zealand as the world's 'most socially progressive nation,' beating even the Scandinavian countries and Switzerland, not to mention Australia. That's ironic news, coming while National is in office. Aren't the Nats supposed to be the scourge of all good socially-responsible and progressive policies?
OK, social indicators are not an exact science, and we could easily question the methodology used by the Social Progress Index. But leave that to the academics. What matters politically are the headlines, such as the Herald's. Any talk of how our social well-being is going down the gurgler thanks to neo-liberal policies and the accompanying poverty and inequality is now going to sound hollow.
So, who produces this Social Progress Index anyway? Well, they are a collection of globe-trotting do-gooders and philanthro-capitalists of the kind you might meet at UN development conferences or the World Economic Forum. And the leading adviser is Prof Michael Porter of Harvard, the same guy who co-authored a report on how NZ could increase its economic competitiveness, back in 1991. It looks like he is one of those business-know-best gurus who's had a post-GFC enlightenment and now wonders how countries can compete to become more socially progressive. Let's wish him luck. But I'm not sure that we ever needed his help.
By the way, if it makes you feel any better, NZ ranks only 28th out of 151 countries in the New Economics Foundation's Happy Planet Index. But there's a reason for that, one which Green voters will gloat over. The HPI divides well-being indicators by ecological footprint.
A lot depends on what you measure and why, and what formula you use!


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