Kieran Madden

By Kieran Madden - 03/04/2014

Kieran Madden

By Kieran Madden -

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Growing Aotearoa

Is New Zealand growing better, or worse? 

Well, it depends on what you look at, of course. Stats New Zealand has just released a tool which may help, called “Tupuranga Aotearoa.”  Tupuranga means growth, which has over the past few decades been measured by New Zealand’s average income and GDP (gross domestic product). 

However, while almost anyone will admit that well-being is about more than what’s in our wallets, it’s only recently that governments have attempted to capture all areas of life in official measurements. Even Treasury— known for its hard-nosed economic rationalism—have jumped on the bandwagon. 

Stats New Zealand’s new tool gives a snapshot to how we’ve progressed as a nation from the late eighties to today, not just economically but socially and environmentally too. From assets and infrastructure to energy intensity, there’s heaps of indicators to check out. For instance, even though our GDP (the total value of all of the goods and services New Zealanders make and trade every year) has risen steadily in the last few years, the amount of energy (things like electricity, petrol, coal) we use hasn’t risen as fast, which means that we’re not only more productive, we’re getting more efficient too.  

The 16 indicators are selected based on Stats New Zealand’s Sustainable Development Framework. In the same way that the word growth was hijacked by economists, it seems sustainability has been hijacked by environmentalists. But sustainability is about much more than the green stuff. If we are to grow as a nation we can’t just work at being environmentally sustainable, but socially and economically sustainable as well. Indeed, Stats New Zealand defines “sustainable development” as:

“…development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. 

Sustainable development means ensuring that well-being is at least maintained over time. The principle of fairness within and between present and future generations should be taken into account in the use of environmental, economic and social resources. 

Putting these needs into practice requires living within the limits of the natural environment.”

We need sustainable families and public spending just as much as we need sustainable rivers and forests. We are unavoidably intergenerational beings: society is not just about those who happen to be walking about but those yet to be born too. Kudos to Stats New Zealand for recognising this. 

Additional fun facts for the statistically insatiable:

  •  The Ministry of Social Development (MSD) used to produce a brilliant annual collection of multidimensional indicators called the “Social Report.” However, they mysteriously stopped producing it from 2011 onwards. The 2010 version is still available online. Really interesting comparisons on a range of dimensions from both Australia and the OECD are available there too. 
  • For anything income related however, I recommend sifting through Bryan Perry’s (MSD) ridiculously comprehensive Household Incomes report (2013). Key findings are here, and for the really enthusiastic, the full report is here.  A section called “Low incomes, poverty and material hardship: conceptualisation and measurement issues” which stretches from pages 93 – 104 also gives a great overview on what poverty is and is not in modern New Zealand. Enjoy.
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Kieran Madden

By Kieran Madden -

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