Auckland Council’s draft economic development strategy

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By Greg Presland

Economic strategies are unusual beasts.  They are always optimistic, full of platitudes and express the expectation that Nirvana is just around the corner.  They offer generalised conclusions and if followed the promise that we will be rich, rich, rich.

The Auckland Council’s draft economic strategy is a bit like this.  The goals are to achieve an average annual increase of regional exports greater than 6 %, an average real GDP greater than 5% and an annual productivity growth rate of greater than 2%.  At the same time there is the desire that we have a sustainable eco economy.

I hate to be critical but I do not see that these things are complimentary.  Continuous growth and environmental sustainability are essentially mutually exclusive.

We are already in a situation where depletion of resources is occurring at a greater rate than our earth can sustain.  The World Wildlife Fund estimates that by 2030 two worlds will be needed to sustain current rates of consumption.

It seems clear that the production of oil has peaked.  When a conservative and august organization such as the International Energy Agency says so then we should be worried.  Our reliance on petroleum to drive our industries and transport our goods is in for a shock.  Recent events such as the spiking of petroleum prices, the world wide recession, a tepid recovery and the respiking of prices conform with the predictions of what would happen.

So what sort of economy should we aim for?

Certainly full employment is a priority.  There is nothing better for the community than for everyone to have a decent job.

But the trouble is that reliance on traditional manufacturing and export led growth is dangerous in the extreme.  As the cost of transport goes up exporting will become more and more fraught and unprofitable.

Low environment effect jobs need to be preferred.  Website development and other IT jobs, education, counselling, creative industries are ideal.  To ensure that we can live in a sustainable way we will need to concentrate less on gadgets and chattels and more on spiritual and mental improvement.

Import substitution will become more and more important.  For instance out west the former orchards of Oratia could again fulfil a role of being a food basket for Auckland.  Why import food when we can grow it locally?  There is a benefit, freshly grown fruit is far preferable to the refrigerated to hell stuff we are currently sold.

The economic development strategy is at the same time conventional, asperational but unrealistic.  We need a braver more futuristic strategy if we are going to leave a world fit for our kids.

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