In 2015 I returned back to Aotearoa after working for many years abroad. I was lucky to work in different countries with some incredible people, but nothing beats coming home. This is a wonderful country with people up and down the country contributing to their communities in various, positive ways.
But, it is hard not to notice the creeping in of the “me” culture. This sense of entitlement and disregard of others, absent compassion, is an unfortunate yet unavoidable aspect of living in this country today.
It appears in work conversations, at social events, and is all too evident in the mainstream commentary where selfishness has an unusual and bizarre dominance. Ultimately, this is driven by self-interest and greed, but it is also driven by an element of fear.
These driving factors also reflect the economic orthodoxy that we follow in this country. The mantra of the free market, unrestricted by government influence, is the cure to all evils, economic or otherwise. The free market, driven by self-interest and greed, is supposedly the answer.
Yet, in 2008, we saw the fallacy of this orthodoxy. The global financial crisis, caused by self-interest and greed, saw even Alan Greenspan concede the flaws of this model.
What surprises me, then, is the almost complete failure in the Anglo world to respond to this failure with an orthodoxy placing people and communities at the centre of desired outcomes. The excel spreadsheets and target driven policy development demanded by the adherents to the free market deliberately ignore social realities and differences too inconvenient to be understood by accountants.
Instead, we have continued to see conservative parties across the Anglosphere prosper under an unproven assumption that they are better at running our economies. This assumption is driven by the marketing skill possessed by the conservatives with public relation strategies overcoming actual policy development and thought.
One response from academia has been to focus on inequality. Guy Standing’s work on the Precariat shows a class of predominantly young people in precarious work. There is no job security, meaning no financial security.
Standing’s work sits alongside economists such as Piketty and Stiglitz (plus many more) in highlighting the flow on effect of trickle up economics. Oxfam’s recent publication showing that a mere 62 people own the wealth equal to half of the world’s population confirm this incredulous outcome of self-interest and greed. Inequality, it seems, is just too entrenched meaning that self-interest and greed wins out.
But, in 2015, Canada became a beacon of hope.
After years of the Conservative government of Stephen Harper, Canadians voted for the Liberal Party lead by Justin Trudeau. Trudeau shows the value of a progressive party uniting under a charismatic leader with a core message – that diversity is a strength and Canada’s common uniting feature.
Trudeau’s cabinet reflects that diversity. He has installed a “man-ban” with success, and when confronted about why he chose a cabinet with gender equality, he simply stated “because it’s 2015”.
This lead to a movement in social media in Canada – #becauseits2015 – where Canadians were able to express their pride in their new government. In a way, Canadians were feeling proud again to see their values being espoused by their leader. Rather than being driven by fear and division, the call to embrace diversity had won out.
In short, Canadians could be Canadian again.
Trudeau has increased Canada’s commitment to take on more refugees. In fact, when the first Syrian refugees to arrive in Canada under Trudeau’s leadership landed in that country, Trudeau was there to greet them at the airport.
He has also set out his desire to begin a conversation based on equity and dignity that actually incorporates, rather than patronises, First Nations people. No one can dispute that Canada has a long way to go in this conversation, but Trudeau has expressed its central importance to his Prime Ministership.
For me, these are the issues that we want people to lead on. Leadership is about brave, but tough, decisions. We need bravery on long term decisions that are important for our children, our health, our education, our economy, our environment, and our actual lives. It is not easy, but that is what real leadership demands.
But, hey, we’re pretty relaxed about all of that, aren’t we? As long as we have a new flag and Max Key posts something on Instagram, then why bother actually looking at all of that hard stuff? I mean, we’re just too small to matter anyway, right?
Globalisation does not mean an absence of decision making. We still need brave leaders in this country and, in my view, we deserve them.