Dr Liz Gordon: Equity, education and economic recovery


In the 1880s, economic wealth came to New Zealand by virtue of the discovery of refrigeration. Shipping huge numbers of (mainly) frozen sheep carcases to (mainly) the United Kingdom got us out of a long recession and set us up for an economic boom that lasted until the great depression in the late 1920s. A country built on carcasses, not innovation. And which emphasised certain social and cultural traits that we are glad to have left in the past, such as role sexism and resource-based racism.

The came the 1930s, and the rebuilding of our economy based on the building of the roads and infrastructure that still, to a large extent, define our pathways today.  The building of the original state houses, constructed from rimu and other hardwoods, is an enduring feature, as these houses stand the test of time and remain able to comfortably (with a bit of insulation and a heat pump) house families today.  I should know, mine was built in 1940, but then sold off by a privatizing Labour government in the 1980s.

In the 1950s we were among the most prosperous countries in the world.  It was far from nirvana for women, Māori and others of ‘difference’. The culture and society was socially stifling, judgemental and narrow. Gender roles were strictly enforced for all but a few. Māori were being forced into the cities for economic wellbeing but faced social stigma and discrimination.

The next big economic reform period was Muldoon’s ‘think big’ in the 1970s. It was hugely costly in terms of wages and wellbeing, but left some enduring projects, some of which are still of benefit today.  Others, and especially the Bluff aluminium smelter, offer jobs but profits are siphoned overseas.

Finally, there was neoliberalism. Privatise what you can, reshape what you can’t, reduce the size and scope of the state and hope the market will improve over time.  The main worker effects have been high employment levels but low pay and little job security for most. The cost of getting qualifications adds years of debt burden to a person’s bank balance, and the abandonment of ‘housing for all’ as a policy, in favour of ‘let the market provide’, has driven up the cost of housing, as the market has failed to provide adequately. 90% of New Zealanders are worse off as a result of this policy.

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In building the post Covid-19 world, we should reject all of these modes, but take the best from some of them. I think the three main themes need to be economic equity, a nation-building state and education.

The first principle is that New Zealand needs to foster a diversified economy based on well-paid and well-educated staff. We may be looking at very different ways of working in the future.  Some businesses have found, to their surprise, that there are a range of benefits in having people work from home.

There will need to be a focus on domestic production, excluding tourism. If the predictions are correct that Covid-19 will ‘stalk’ the human race for much of the next decade, then the full recovery of the international tourism industry is a long time in the future. We may rethink tourism, too, as for a while now there have been concerns about overcrowding in popular spots.

So we are looking for intelligent industries that hire educated workers and pay good wages. This needs to be the starting point for a government strategy. It has a double whammy effect, too, in building up both education provision and trained workers. 

Second, there is a need for a nation-building state once again, especially in the areas of housing and manufacturing production, roads and local facilities.  The building industry is a mainstay of New Zealand but tend to be dominated by huge companies that are significant profit-takers. The government might also look at supporting a lot more artisan, small scale “intelligent” development with better profit sharing among workers. I have been very concerned at the large number of ‘Coronation Street’ type of development, with little space and little land.  There must be better ways of having affordable housing than this.

The final plank is education.  There are a range of factors here.  First, the universities have been reliant for the past 20 years on large number of international students paying higher fees to bolster waning coffers. The sector is dramatically under-funded if this income is removed, which is very likely.

The work to improve school outcomes has largely been done, but ensuring most New Zealanders end up with tertiary qualifications has never been a government priority.  Since 1990, with tertiary fees, such a goal has almost been actively discouraged. But in a strong and growing economy, tertiary qualifications not only improve employment opportunities for individuals but add to diverse and innovative industries.  Intelligent, science-built, future focussed industry requires high levels of qualifications, which requires free tertiary education for all, better wages and higher taxes. 

And, of course, we will significantly expand our tertiary education system along the way.  It will not only be bigger but better. An intelligent higher education will use a mix of online, cross-institution collaboration and other digital, cultural and scientific strategies to deliver “the best that has been thought and done” to a new generation of students, in ways that have never been thought of before. Building the sector may not involve building new facilities, but building networks.

The equation is clear and the future possible, but it relies on a government that has the courage, tenacity and vision to do this work. Everything is going to change, but what change, and for whom, remains to be seen.


Dr Liz Gordon is a researcher and a barrister, with interests in destroying neo-liberalism in all its forms and moving towards a socially just society.  She usually blogs on justice, social welfare and education topics.


  1. “The work to improve school outcomes has largely been done, but ensuring most New Zealanders end up with tertiary qualifications has never been a government priority…. ”

    Yet here are government and industry constantly braying they have no doctors, nurses, teachers, registered builders and trades people and have to import them in. Actually the don’t import those in, they mostly import in the lowest waged workers into NZ Chefs, retail assistants and so forth who make up our ‘essential skills’… as a visa Ponzi scheme and to help out our increasingly large levels of low wage employers in NZ out competing the high wage employers.

    The principle tenant of neoliberalism is that people are pretty much like widgets and you should just import in the cheapest you can find.

    We see it all the time in government planning, why bother to train essential people and pay them enough to retain them, when you can just buy in cheaper overseas ones. In fact having quality now seems a liability when they ask for things like PPE… or suggest the NZ system is being run down. Nobody in government wants to hear the truth! Who wouldn’t prefer a neoliberal CEO of a DHB that just tries to cuts costs, and keep their mouth shut while enjoying those overseas conferences…

    Aka if you can find a cheaper widget overseas, then just buy that one. The dream of neoliberalism is that all the world’s workers are widgets and you pick and choose the cheapest. It’s all about cutting costs wherever you can and making sure you have a steady supply so you can call the shots.

    We see that with Covid when NZ businesses are encouraged to just dump their workforce onto the state and presumably restart with a new workforce when business conditions resume, (even better you can hire them back on even cheaper wages and conditions citing Covid) and that way you can minimise your profit loss for shareholders.

    From Sky City demanding the government import in Chefs for them over the past few years… https://workpermit.com/news/new-zealand-restaurant-chain-looks-chefs-abroad-20070216 seemingly as they can’t retain locals with their poor work culture and wages

    To then asking the rest of NZ for handouts for their staff as they make them redundant…

    Coronavirus: SkyCity asks staff to donate salary into hardship fund to help those it made redundant

    The Sky City CEO’s have had salaries of over 6 million…. expected profit post Covid 2020 at Skycity is $80 – $100 million… but apparently SkyCity expect the other NZer’s to provide welfare for their own staff, (many of which they have imported in, to dump on the NZ taxpayers when it is inconvenient to have them working).

    Air NZ asks for $900 million in loans… then next minute dumping 30% their staff and expecting the government and others to redeploy them… Air NZ have 1.1 billion in cash reserves….

    Downturns are common in economies from GFC to September 11 to Covid.

    Increasingly business expects the taxpayers to bail them out, every few years and give them special corporate welfare and loans.

    Weird how workers don’t seem to be bailed out at the same levels when there are down turns.

    Now many former workers are not even workers, they are self employed contractors.

    Workers are out on their ear straight away in downturns, no state redundancy pay conditions https://www.rnz.co.nz/news/in-depth/365540/why-being-made-redundant-in-nz-is-so-tough and wages and conditions in NZ continue to plummet with big business leading the charge.

    Guess what, in a couple of years, (maybe sooner, the same businesses) will be braying about how they can’t get workers on their zero hour contracts and wages from 1984!

    And what of their former workers, well do you really want to work for an organisation that behaves like that if you are a decent worker and person?

  2. “So we are looking for intelligent industries that hire educated workers and pay good wages”. Remember the knowledge wave. That broke some time ago. We then churned out graduates from Universities and PTEs who struggled to find work with the limited prospects available. Many ended up in call centres and endured the first waves of off shoring in IT. The problem was that it was assumed adequate to have pools of trained people and this would somehow morph into a successful knowledge economy without an accompanying industrial or economic development framework. Much work in IT has now become a commodity, the high paying roles now limited to specialized areas with no easy entry level path. Mass immigration has suppressed salaries and conditions. Much of the skilled intermediate work left has been or is destined to become automated in the next few years. Cloud computing has meant the elimination of many well paying tech support roles. Another factor is the tendency of organisations in this sector to be sold overseas or bring in international partners when they reach critical mass, subsequently meaning a downsizing or closure of local faculties. There have been success stories. This will work if there are incentives to create good added value businesses who aren’t simply going to be commodity providers involved in a race to the bottom in terms of pay and conditions. There is scope in many sectors for this, we need to make sure we have joined up thinking in terms of policies needed to make it work this time.

  3. Why you need minimum levels of educated people and basic manufacturing in your own country!

    Hospital leaders hit out at government as PPE shortage row escalates

    This is what happens when a former manufacturing super power starts to rely on immigration and tax havens while producing less and less of anything real anymore.

    Sounds like the EU is in a similar boat accessing PPE. Britain now seems to be relying on China and Turkey for PPE with disastrous Faulty Towers consequences … weird when Britain used a be a major manufacturer and Germany is also known for manufacturing but somehow with all the member states don’t produce enough medical equipment needed….

    Hate to think what will happen when China runs the UK power if the 200,000 PPE turns to 20,000 from China, I guess someone made a profit, removing the 180,000 gowns before shipment… or after… who knows.

    Clearly the UK never learn’t from previous lessons when they sent their soldiers off to the fake WMD war with Iraq with boots and guns that didn’t work either…..

    Instead of manufacturing, the UK seems to be more invested in certain types of paper businesses with generous tax havens… sarcasm.

    Why bother making wealth (and educating people to help your economy) when you can buy in dubious money? Easy money is so short term though.

    NZ is very like Britain in terms of our Thatcher infatuation and going from a manufacturing/farming industry to a reliance on easy immigration, selling foreign degrees and international tax ponzi’s for new residents, rather than value added products that people actually use/eat everyday.

    Increasingly countries seem to be relying on essential products that other countries to produce and an 8000 km journey to arrive. (or not).

  4. Yes all very good and altruistic,… but the question remains ,… WHY have these things not been of critical importance for the last 35 years, Liz ?…

    WHY the fucking hell not?

    And WHO gained from retarding these things, Liz?

    WHO and HOW did they achieve this neo liberal consensus , Liz?

    WHO were they , HOW did they do it and WHY did they do it Liz?

    And WHY did academia stay so silent over THREE FUCKING DECADES, Liz?

    I’ll tell you why.

    Because grabastic suck – shit academics latched on to a political ideology that could feather their own nests using foreign students to pay exorbitant fees and NZ young national’s to go into massive and disproportionate debt based on the cost of real time inflation in this country and the fucking NZ dollar’s rating / trading on the global FOREX markets , that’s why , Liz.

    The govt wins , Liz , because the debt they force on our youngest and brightest cripples them for decades, ensuring they cant even buy a bloody house which then slavers up to the slum landlords, keeping the Aussie banks afloat , – and meanwhile we import tens of thousands of cheap foreigner laborers on ponzi Visa scheme’s using bogus shit certificate study’s to cover their tracks and create downwards pressure on wages and undermine Trade Unions…

    This is WHY, Liz ,… this is WHY.

    And yet you dream or paint the picture of some sort of future Shangri La bullshit NZ altruistic dream?

    It is PRECISELY BECAUSE of the toxic academic sell outs who have successively polluted and bolstered up these far right wing wanker neo liberals over the last 3 decades that we are where we are.When they should have been raising the alarm?… they were disgustingly counting their profits above the welfare of their own countrymen and women.



    GREED !!!

  5. And what about these heroic people then?

    Coronavirus: Orana Park thinks outside box to entertain …www.stuff.co.nz › the-press › news › coronavirus-orana-p…Highly educated , dedicated academics ….


    …” The team did not have time for “doom and gloom” though and were coming up with proactive ways to survive post-coronavirus.

    Closure was not an option, nor was euthanasia, which would happen “over my dead body”, she said”…


    Wow. If only the mainstream academics thought less of themselves and had the philosophy of these ‘earth workers’,… maybe we wouldn’t be in the same sort of dilemma we are in now, eh?

    Always takes a Sasquatch to teach you how to live,… why is that?

  6. And this documentary,… amply demonstrates the the loving forgiveness of the veterans one to another , as opposed to demonstrations of the young mans testosterone filled and propaganda filled insanity of killing each other using physical means or economic means…when we see old veterans of both sides, extending love and forgiveness long after the fact of war, and in hindsight….,…

    I would like to think that you have learnt of the message of the Sasquatch…that you have learnt the message of the old sages, the thinkers and the philosophers,…

    Yet have you ?

    Mahoe man,… Maeroero…

    Have you?

    James Robertson: The Untold Civil War | Nat Geo Live

    So come on now, let us not pitch our young men and women against each other anymore….because the hours getting late…

    The Jimi Hendrix Experience – All Along The Watchtower (Audio)

    C’mon now Liz , the hours getting late.

    Lets get real here.

  7. talk

    This guy , is such an incredible slouch towards evolution he is a colossal failure. With his silver grey hair and his silver beard expounding his ‘so called learned dissertation to the masses’… go fuck yourself , bud.

    You are an epic fail and an insult to the intelligence of rest of us , bud. Don’t EVER be taken in by these ‘father figured’ snowy white haired , bearded elder men.They can just as easily be the sociopathic death of you. Don’t listen to the cunts.


    Learn as a good Sasquatch,… to always set them apart.

    AND weed them out.

  8. Good Day Dr Liz Gordon. Fine analysis in a condensed timeline. Lot’s of important stuff still hidden in the details required….

    Yes, these are the right conclusions and all of those are pretty much realistic, pending on the quality of actual implementation

    Is there something missing?

    Yes….those changes MUST be embedded in the overall context of the ecological reality that human beings do encounter.

    In this ecological reality a clear priority is climate adaptation and the wide range of needed measures: environmentally, economically, socially, spiritually.

    Community-centered Early Warning Systems, Disaster Risk Reduction and Disaster Management as initial thematic areas to be further developed.

    Combined with a network of localized IT/communication infrastructure.

    System Change. Now.

  9. We live in a global modern economy and inefficient methods and means will be not be dealt kindly by global markets. Neoliberalism made NZ competitive again and allowed us to transition to industries where we actually have a comparative advantage. You cannot lay all the problems that New Zealand faces at the feet of neoliberalism.

    The housing crisis is much more a supply problem than demand. The only solution to reducing the cost of housing is building more houses. That means relaxing building and zoning laws and regulations. And importing more immigrant workers who are skilled in those areas.

    The returns to tertiary education are the lowest in the world in NZ and Australia. Have you read Bryan Caplan’s book, The case against education? In it he suggests university is much more about signaling than building human capital. Being “qualified” for a basic office job required what a high school degree could get you back in the day. I fear that degree stacking is just a zero sum game that only causes us all to waste an additional 3-5 years without really gaining marketable skills. Most people at university actually forget what they learn a year after their course has ended.

    I absolutely agree we should be transitioning towards a high skill society, this means more STEM and IT jobs. But this pipeline I fear is rather narrow, you cannot force everyone to be software engineers. There will inevitably people left behind. I do not think there is an easy or even feasible solution for this problem.

    “For whoever has, to him shall more be given, and he shall have an abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has shall be taken away from him.”

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