Posted by: scribe9 | February 11, 2010

What’s it all about, Kiwi?

It’s easy for Americans to live in New Zealand because it’s so familiar—enough different to let you know you’re in a foreign country (the people are more polite, but they drive on the wrong side)—just a few miles, psychically, beyond Canada.

Some of the similarities are distressing. The tax system encourages over-investment in real estate, which inflates housing prices. Health care costs are rising, and schools aren’t educating students as well as they should. Substance abuse is damaging or destroying many lives.

The government plans to raise the sales tax to help pay for tax cuts for the middle and upper class, while increasing welfare and retirement benefits. It also wants to allow mining in the national parks. There’s a lot of money to be made there, but at the price of New Zealand’s clean and green image, and it won’t happen without a fight

 New Zealanders remember that it was only a few decades ago that they had a very high standard of living, based on exports to Mother Britain before she cut them off and joined the Common Market. China’s a big buyer of New Zealand dairy products, but it’s not enough, even in this fairly non-materialistic, low-key country.

What’s it all about? Essentially, keeping up with Australia. New Zealand hasn’t done so well lately—its standard of living is lagging—and young people who think they can’t buy houses here because of the run-up in prices are heading across the Tasman where they can earn more, too. Australia mines like crazy—its agricultural system is on life support because it’s the wrong continent for European-style farming—and China is an eager customer. Desperate times, desperate measures.

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