The Worried Face
Deep in the bowels of the treasury there are very intelligent mathematicians that occasionally talk to their very intelligent friends in Statistics and every year produce reports that tell us that we have an aging population. They then calculate what the country might be earning in overseas income in a couple of decades, confer with their expert colleagues in the Tax department and come to the conclusion that the future working population won’t be able to support the retired population and all of the trimmings it has come to expect.
Occasionally they all get together at the BackBencher (the favourite pub across the road from Parliament) and joke about that ticking time bomb…(and perhaps our mounting debt levels) but laugh it off, because they will be long retired before it all blows up. They know that with such short electoral cycles, the popularity contest we currently have will never produce the kind of leader capable of making the hard calls and implementing them.
A bit like the people who sat by and looked at the massive bubble of medical physicists (the scientists who power cancer treatment)
progressively marching towards retirement, without any obvious plan to manage this – sadly glacial!
The Grimacing Face
The imperative of maintaining economic throughput and the associated revenue receipts is not lost
on the Ministry of Business and Innovation and their colleagues in the tax department.
Their old model of scale, pitting competitors against each other in accordance with 'market
theory', so as to commoditise everything for the benefit of society, (thereby justifying their existence), is a well-worn model that seems to be retiring itself. The electricity sector is worth a look for those keen to learn about 'messes'.
With "hundreds of intelligent people, monitoring thousands of indicators" (quoting a senior leader in the sector here) "we are coming to the
conclusion that the system is changing". What has worked in the past is proving ineffective now, and this is painful because it threatens the ongoing growth (and possibly existence) of central government as we know it. And what action is being taken? (Almost forgot to mention the taxpayers there!)
And, even though many public servants know that throwing vast sums of money at innovation programs, speculative technology, magic bullets and wonderful wrap around communications and PR, are efforts
that are not changing the game in any significant way - but they carry on because that is what the are employed to do. Be compliant and risk averse. (Which incidentally works synergistic-ally with the politicians who get to call all the shots now)
The Brave Face
Over in the Social services sector, we have thousands of devoted people fighting what is virtually an impossible battle. Anything 'Social' and possibly 'In the news', makes working in this field highly rewarding for those that can cope, and a living nightmare for those that cannot. The huge variety of interest groups and incessant media coverage can make for a knife-edge existence in some perverse working conditions.
Lets' not forget, society and business is being buffeted by the extraordinary conditions as the economy convulses under the strain of the
pandemic and global economic change. Running a large-scale operation at the whim and call of the politicians (that constantly dream up new requirements) is no mean feat. And then there are the promises the politicians make each electoral cycle... more of this, more of that.
Meanwhile their colleagues over at the Tax department and Treasury are doing the numbers again (as
costs of living go up) with worried faces and more trips to the BackBencher.
The Invisible Face
The government and the politicians know that they need the economy to be functioning, growing, evolving and, of course, paying tax.(Otherwise
they don't have money to run the country and pay themselves).
Given that productivity is generated and taxes are paid by the private sector, the government needs to maintain a balance between having a
golden goose and killing it. (the late Sir Michael Cullen made a similar comment in his first term as finance minister) Maintaining this balance is a fraught process, but a highly profitable one for those that know how to work the system. (Fears and gaps)
Numerous professional lobbyists make a living working between boards of directors, politicians and government departments. The banks, large consulting firms, state owned enterprises, significant companies all form part of a web of influence that is supposed to be doing the
right thing by the voter and taxpayer. We often hear academics and some public sector leaders remark “we can’t make that decision, there are ‘interests’ at play”. Who's and what ‘interests’ we wonder?... whatever they are, the invisible system doesn’t seem to be working that well.
The Defiant Face
Despite the increasing costs of living and the backlash from ordinary people through the pandemic, we see politicians and some heads of departments continuing with their rhetoric and agendas, instead of listening and adapting. The parliament grounds occupation was a national embarrassment, and perhaps there is a sense of guilt that core government has continued to grow through these years and continued to pay itself when the productive sector was mostly shut?
By international standards Central government in New Zealand is significantly ‘over-weight’, compared with local government, (Findings by
Local Government NZ and the Productivity Commission). There seems to be a 'centralisation force' at play that wants to maintain control and power at all cost. Who is perpetuating this and why?
The culture of 'we know best' is fueled by a mix of the deployment of young ideological (and mostly overpaid) zealots who have no experience other than the questionable example set by recent waves of politicians, and the growth stalwarts, such as those at the ministry of Transport that continue to build more roads... like there is no tomorrow, (perhaps they on on to something)?. Which seems somewhat self-serving, underwhelming, and bordering on crazy. Basic math and listening skills development seem like a great
We expect the future will include some tough economic conditions. (Nothing insurmountable but
needing good leadership, long-term strategy and evidence-based transition approaches)
These future conditions will be exacerbated by the need to significantly reduce energy consumption
and emissions (although the Climate Change Commission recommendations, that were relatively weak to begin with, will most likely be watered down even further in a rather reduced "nuclear moment" response).
The Real Transition will be unlike anything we have experienced before. Local government will need
to be at the ready, as they are the ones that will inherit the people that will need caring for, long after the banks, big business and big government have extracted what they can, and vacated.