Saturday, September 29, 2012

New Zealand dairying productivity

I always browse the Friday edition of local rag The Press (okay, local rag is actually the Ellesmere Echo but it doesn't burn as well as The Press) because that's the day they run the farming section. And there I found a remarkable article, 'Importing feed 'harms productivity'' by Sue O'Dowd.

The first sentence rings like a bell: 'Productivity on dairy farms declined 0.5% a year between 2000 and 2010...'. This is from the rising costs of input such as imported feed, the revelation coming from Rob Brazendale, head of the DairyNZ productivity team.

Farmers are canny business peeps and undoubtedly watch international price movements daily to see where they are positioned. But do we as a nation labour under a myth of NZ farm productivity success?

The farming sector is groaning under growing debt, up 4.5% over the past year to over $49 billion. (Actually all NZ debt is up over the past year.)

I recall an article by economic geographer Paul McCann who listed NZ at 16th for farm productivity, hardly the 'world leader' we're accustomed to thinking of ourselves. The rural land-based sector has been the butt of a number of jokes and insults. Some warranted - dirty dairying a case in point - but agriculture still pulls in over 60% of this country's foreign earnings.

If the flagship industry has declining productivity within our key export sector, a hard rains gonna fall.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Neuroscience and economics

An interesting mash-up has been taking place between neuroscience and behavioral economics through the somewhat banal observation that individual definitions of 'maximize' and 'happiness' vary. By mapping those parts of the brain that are doing the actual defining of maximizing and the happiness, we could better account for those fundamental economic actions.

One comment is worth pulling in full from the Chronicle of Higher Education webpage...

I have not understood how economic theory could have spent even one day on the premise that humans act in their own self-interest.  How could a science disregard so fully the comic-tragic heritage of human beings? I wasn't in the least surprised that, aside from a few astute economists, the universities of the modern west had not produced theories and practices that would recognize, let alone inhibit such collapses as 2008 from happening--economists are themselves part of the comic-tragic heritage in that they thought a modern subject was a rational agent.  

So that while I'm very interested in what cognitive sciences can tell any of us, unless neuroeconomic theory is integrated with the most ancient insights and folk wisdom regarding the folly of human being, and the value of meaning as that value is cultivated and lost in our rapidly changing communities, it will be very late to arrive at conclusions long explored.  Buddhism has 5,000 years of studying the conditions under which a thought arises and provides ethical practices for living ethically with desires that lead to suffering.  Indigenous traditions emphasize the meaning and sustainability of exchange between the earth and its people, rather than the immediate profit realized from the sale of a commodified object.  If the neuroeconomists do not crawl backwards while studying the fMRI, they will remain in a modernist bubble, mistaking the brain of an individual as the site of meaning. 

At this moment of collapsing ecosystems and economic networks, we have the opportunity to reconsider what Charles H. Long calls "the meaning of matter and the value of meaning" which would produce a profound economic science adequate for the challenges of our times. Any economic theory that begins with the human subject will hang itself on its modernist valuation of the subject.  When economic theory begins with a human's position and dependence on the Earth (air, water, soil, climate, flora, and fauna), then cognition takes on an entirely different light because the question becomes, in what ways is homo economicus perceptive of Earth, upon which all economic relations and transactions depend. 

Once homo-economicus has lost the ability to see, smell, hear, and value Earth, (and these losses of ability are pandemic in modern, urban social mindscapes), you're left with real ignorance such that, even in Pinedale, Wyoming the air quality is so bad from ozone that you cannot ski on a cold winter's morning. My suspicion is that, in these days of "Drill here, drill now!," the neuroeconomist might be drilling the depths of individual brains without realizing that s/he will learn nothing outside of the desires of a tragic, modernist, human whose consumption habits and ignorance will make for a very short shelf life.  

The original article provides a nice academic map. While economics - when truly insightful - has always relied on a mixture of disciplines, the interdisciplinary lessons of Indigenous academia may yet prove vital as we lead the world's Indigenous turn...

Indigenous Health

Just back from the 5th Biennial International Network of Indigenous Health Knowledge and Development Conference held on the St Lucia campus of the University of Queensland Brisbane. The conference theme was Building Resilience: Renewing Individuals, Families and Communities. There was some depressing data presented including some health indicators for Maori that showed increasing rates of rheumatic fever and heart disease and figures showing Aboriginal children are being removed from the families at rates higher than the forced removals from last century.

High turnout from Maori showing we have comparatively secure funding and extensive programmes. I stress comparatively as many Indigenous programmes are under huge pressure as support (by which is meant funds!) are withdrawn as the ongoing financial recession continues to bite.

Members of Homai Hoatu. Have guitar, will travel...

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

We told you so...

As a researcher who regularly - but not solely - uses qualitative data, I'm often challenged by quantitative-centric colleagues as to the veracity of my findings and the robustness of my data. Which is fair enough. If I've got interesting numbers, and I do look out for them, I'll build them into my work as and where they are valid and robust although it must be said that numbers can be as woolly as drunken hearsay ($38 billion Maori economy anyone?!).

I accept we're often too quick to take on narrative approaches and re-articulate the stories of participants for their supposed insights. But here's a very interesting take on narrative from economist Robert Schiller who accepts "people remember – and are motivated by – stories, particularly human-interest stories about real people."

No shit Sherlock.

This morning I heard three inspiring Indigenous women who spoke at the opening of the 5th Biennial International Network of Indigenous Health Knowledge and Development conference at St. Lucia camous of the University of Queensland. Each began with the story of their own families which framed their lives and work. While Tariana Turia threw in some numbers six children, 20-something grandchildren, some more grand children (the exact numbers escape me!), it is the interconnections of whakapapa and the lived experiences of a family that define who she is.

Schiller's point seemed to be that how people hear and retell stories about the financial crisis somehow affects their actions and responses. Again this is hardly new but perhaps a page has been turned in the methodologies available to economic analyses.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Hard rains gonna fall...Again

I posted awhile back on the declining Maori and Pasifika media wage. Coupled with high unemployment from these two communities and it’s easy to see why the government (mainly in the increasingly bizarre persona of PM John Key) retains a certain degree of popularity.

Quite simply, mainstream New Zealand, aren't carrying their load which is disproportionately shouldered by Maori and Pasifika communities.

But before this mainstream cries foul, let visit current political economic debate and its examination of the exchange rate.Two camps are evident.

The first argue that the exchange rate is too high by which is meant the $NZ dollar is somehow falsely valued by international exchange of the Kiwi, currently 82 US cents to our dollar. This makes are goods more expensive and more difficult for our exporters to compete. One option is for the Reserve Bank of NZ to cut the Official Cash Rate (currently at a record low of 2.5%) although proponents accept restrictions would be needed to diffuse the risk of runaway house prices.

While it is widely accepted our dollar is overvalued (perhaps by 20%), and that a correction will take place one day, the second camp argue that manipulating the $NZ exchange rate is too difficult - indeed possibly beyond the tools and competence we have at our disposal - and doomed to (expensive) failure. The current Minister of Finance lives in this tent. In a recent interview, he recommits to a floating exchange rate and accepts it may go even higher.

While this may seem a good thing if you are buying imports (which we all do as this includes petrol) or travelling offshore, we're a trading nation and need to sell more - and make more profit from what we do sell - to cover our debts and presumably pay them off.

But here's the kicker. As the minister goes on to explain: "... reducing [the exchange rate] would reduce the standard of living of all New Zealand households."

Maybe. But as we already know, the burden of recession is carried on Maori and Pasifika shoulders. The correction will come. And our people will be even poorer.

As an interesting parallel, a recent article in The Guardian notes that the 'dismembering of the welfare state is presented as a technocratic exercise of 'balancing the books' '. In this way Bill English and John Key both speak of the current reforms as being a necessary exercise. 'Democracy is neutered in the process and the protests against the cuts are dismissed.' Just as in Christchurch. The description of the externally imposed Greek and Italian governments as "technocratic" is the ultimate proof of the attempt to make the radical rewriting of the social contract more acceptable by pretending that it isn't really a political change. Be under no illusions, political change is taking place in Aotearoa?NZ in the form of even more radical wealth transfer from the have-not-enoughs to the have-plenty's.

Hard rains gonna fall.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Christchurch School Mergers and Kura Kaupapa Maori

Rapid explosion of Facebook comments on the proposal to merge the two Kura Kaupapa in Otautahi, and merge and close many of those schools affected by the earthquakes. I know one of those kura has lost just ten pupils - hardly a threat to their operations and they expect to grow their roll through the rebuild, now picking up somewhat.

There is, of course a strong economic rationale for the proposed closures and mergers. [the rationale is that NZ is broke and getting broker ;)]

There's always a strong economic rationale for drastic change in recessionary times.

MP for Te Tai Tonga, Rino Tirakatene, has said "You betcha Labour opposes this merger...Sure, Labour realises that there had to be a change in Canterbury post-earthquake, but not like this. Not without proper consultation. Theres a way to deliver bad news! Hekia delivered hers from the Enola Gay ! I'd like to think my Labour colleagues have more of a heart than the Nats."

[Was going to correct the typos but maybe it shows our MP is really busy as opposed to not being able to write right...] [oh and decided not to point out Labour's approach to troublesome natives, arresting due legal process and legislating away our rights: pot, kettle, black ay bra] [oh oh, the Enola Gay was the US Airforce plane from which dropped the first atomic bomb...]

Government consultation processes have always been loaded against Maori; the current government merely compounds this by the scale and breadth of their disdain in what is clearly a process entered to bolster the government's position in any court action (re: assets sales and water rights) and achieve - for the Chch school's proposal - a designated outcome.

[what does it mean when a government coalition member slams government approach to consultation?!]

At the risk of sounding melodramatic, there's something rotten at the heart of this government, and with all due respect to MP Rino, I'm far from convinced that Labour has any more heart than National (I suspect they retain strong proponents of neoliberal economics within their ranks). The Prime Minster's performance in supporting the thoroughly tarnished John Banks is the latest incarnation of a leadership that thinks their wealth is proof positive they're cleverer than the rest of us.

Anyway, taking the kids to tomorrow's protest at the Bridge of Remembrance. The names carved in that stone, while they wouldn't've all supported Maori language schooling, fought for a fairer world.


Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Tuhoe sign

Just announced: Tuhoe have agreed to settle.

$170 million, plus an equal role in governing the Urewera.

Maumau kai, maumau taonga, maumau tangata ki te po!

I'm up on our marae this Xmas (taking our girl's whenua home) and look forward to getting the rundown on what this means for us at Te Kuha Tarewa and Waimako.

Panekiri on the left, Waikaremoana behind, Whitiaua on the right.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Mozzie economy tracking down?

The Maori economy can only be the totality of economic activity undertaken by Maori. Simple though somewhat larger than the BERL-framed 37 billion-dollar-baby. Of course, we have to accept we can never draw a line around it, not least because any line we do draw would have to take in 130,000 cousins in the West Island (Australia for those not in on the geography joke).

With median Maori weekly incomes are down $40/week over the past year - thus shouldering the economic recession - Australia remains an obvious opition with 21 consecutive years of economic growth. Truly exceptional and probably not matched by any other similar economy.

But we now have news that the Australian mining sector has contracted for the first time since the Wallabies drank from the Bledisloe CUp (okay, I havne't checked that. I just needed a really really long time period). While Western Australia still managed to add 51,000 full-time jobs, the rest of Australia has lost 13,000. A bit of growth in New South Wales (11,000), Queensland (5000) and the territories, but over (I think the past year) Victoria has lost 21,500 full-time jobs, South Australia 19,000 (one job in 30) and Tasmania 6700 (one job in 23).

Ozzie youth unemployment - a key indicator for me - is 23.5%.

But for Maori any slow down increases our vulnerability, first because NZ is highly reliant on a bouyant OZ economy.
Second, because (as Maori show) Australia remains something of an extension to Aotearoa, a landfall of security and growth. While we'll still pick up work there, the squeeze is on and we're just one of many migrant groups in the queue (and for most it can't be the dole queue, a luxury for citizens only).

It was not that long ago when PM Key assured us all that NZ would be fine as we had the busy and hungry Australian and Chinese economies to pull us along. It was a hollow call then, and a poor result now.
Simon Lambert

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