What sort of future do we want? George Bryant, one of New Zealand’s foremost writers on people in society, looks to the future in his new book NZ 2050 and explores what the world might look like and how we might live as a society in another 30 years’ time. Thanks to Daystar Books, we’ve got one copy of NZ 2050 to giveaway – just email firstname.lastname@example.org with your name and postal address and you’re in the draw. A winner will be drawn 23 June – good luck!
The ultimate test of a moral society is the kind of world that it leaves to its children.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer 1
What sort of future do Kiwis want? How do we want to live twenty-eight years from now? Do we just want to toddle along with more of the same or move in a different direction? Indian physician, Dr Karpil Tetarwal, says, “The choices we make today create the future that we are dreaming of.”2
So true. What are Kiwis dreaming of in 2022? Are we simply struggling with the chores of daily living, with barely enough time to think ahead, or are we purposefully working towards something better for our children and their children?
If the latter, then we can evaluate the mistakes we are making now and correct them by altering course. We can look at our successes and build upon them. We can choose to become more democratic or move down an autocratic pathway. We can decide to pursue a growth-at-all-costs economy or work towards a sustainable nation. Whatever path we take, whatever sort of country we wish to leave behind, the future is in our hands.
Materialistically, New Zealand is one of the better off countries in the world, and there is every indication this will continue to be so, unless we dramatically change our approach for the worse. New Zealand has the 52nd largest national economy in the world in terms of GDP (Gross Domestic Product)3 at present. As our population grows can we, therefore, expect ever-rising standards of living compared to the best in the world?
We have a highly developed and regulated economy, a mixture of free and public enterprise, combining aspects of both capitalism and socialism. As we head towards 2050, we could be simply an advanced and more complicated version of what we have now.
Or, we could become more centralised and planned, firmly trusting in the wisdom of the state to govern our lives in the way it thinks we should go. Or, we could work towards a more refined form of democracy in which individual voices count and personal enterprise is valued.
On the other hand, world pressures or events may distort what we want into something we don’t want. Some cataclysmic event might enforce reverting to a simpler, subsistence lifestyle. Too dramatic? Who knows? A golden future is not guaranteed.
And what of the welfare state? Free education, free health care, universal accident compensation, and a whole range of benefits – unemployment, housing assistance, child care, single parents, disability and universal superannuation. Most of them come from taxation. Can we afford all this as we move into the future?
Presently, over one third of all Government spending goes on social welfare. No one would doubt the need to aid the aged and vulnerable in our society but has the time come to overhaul the system and target the taxpayer dollar better?
It’s heartening to read of moves towards a ‘wellbeing’ state rather than a welfare one – a state where people pursue “purposeful activities, acting individually or in collaboration with others – leading lives they value.”
While the concept is a progressive and welcome one it can only be achieved nationally if key changes are made to the way in which the government operates – changes in both political philosophy and the economic system. Unfortunately, we tend to measure ‘welfare’ only in monetary terms.
Our present policies are moving us in the direction of a sustainable society, although no one seems absolutely sure what this will look like. It appears to be one of targeted small-scale industry, zero carbon growth, conservation of valuable resources, maybe an emphasis on a ‘knowledge’ economy, developing the things we do best, adding value. ‘Diversification’ figures as a key concept. New, clean technologies will dictate, but to what extent will we remain profit-oriented and export-driven?
Some decades ago, there was the thought we could become a self-reliant, self-sufficient state, producing mainly for the local market with the emphasis on self-development and self-contained communities, with more people living on the land. This option, however, is contrary to present trends and somewhat utopian in the light of globalisation. It would also penalise those on low incomes and would negate our perceived role as the bread-basket of Southeast Asia, and a safe haven for refugees.
What are we looking for in our daily lives? More comfort and security, pain free? Greater pleasure and personal freedom? More money? What will we require for a good, worthwhile existence on Earth? Some items on our wish list will no doubt come into being, while some we least expect will frustrate our wants, but will we be happier and more caring?
Our future will require visionary leadership? Poet, Alfred Lord Tennyson, said, “For I dipt into the future, far as human eye could see, saw the vision of the world, and all the wonder that would be.”5
Sure, there will be ‘wonder’ in the decades ahead but it won’t be a utopia. Achieving a perfect society is beyond the capabilities of fallible human beings. Where it has been tried it has failed. Anyway, there are different opinions as to the constitution of a utopian society. Even if there was a consensus it is highly doubtful it would be reached by 2050.
However, there is no clear universal vision. Attempts to provide one have been piecemeal. Unfortunately, political manifestos provide little guidance since they focus on short-term goals and actions aimed to acquire votes, such as housing the homeless or cleaning up water supplies.
If we’re going to live a productive future, and make progress, we need vision. We need to be inspired, expand our horizons, have goals to work towards, goals that are positive and good.
Planning needs to be based on sound principles, but to get agreement on what are sound principles might be difficult in an increasingly diverse society. We have lost many of the foundational moral and spiritual principles upon which the post-World War 2 society was built. What are now considered ‘sound’ principles differ widely depending on who and where we are.
And what constitutes ‘progress’? Most of us think merely in terms of economic growth – more money, more machines, better qualifications, improved housing. For politicians, it means an upwards movement of the GDP.
Real progress surely means more than simply trying to ‘keep up with the Joneses’. Human beings are more than mere economic machines. There are other outcomes to consider – social, emotional, spiritual, intellectual and environmental. Besides, not all economic progress is good. “Forward momentum, on an individual or social level, is not automatically good simply because it is forward momentum. Sometimes we push ourselves in the
Our usual (economic) definition of progress can produce pollution, enlarge the rich-poor gap, boost violence…It is now apparent that continued growth, and the trickle-down theory, does not reduce poverty or flatten inequalities and it fails to make people more co-operative and considerate. Therefore, we may have to redefine, what we mean by ‘progress’ and use bottles of milk instead of plastic, ride bicycles instead of drive cars, and heat our homes with biofuel instead of coal or oil.
Is progress, as we presently define it, inevitable? Is it impossible to change direction? We can, and must, shape the future, rather than sitting on our couches waiting for it to happen. Better to be active than passive. Whoever we are, wherever we are, each individual can make some sort of difference and contribute to a better world. We owe it to those who follow us.
It seems logical, therefore, to press for a sustainable economy by 2050, and not allow unrestrained economic, technological progress to dictate how we live.
“To hell with more. I want better,” said celebrated American author, Ray Bradbury.7
1 Goodreads attributes this to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, German theologian, although the actual source is difficult to find: https://www.goodreads.com
2 Kapil Tetarwal, physician at Churu Hospital, India. This quote is found on several quote sites.
3 https://en.wikipedia,org Note: The GDP is a measure of the
size of an economy, the net economic growth.
4 Wellbeing Economics: Future Directions for New Zealand, Paul Dalziel and Caroline Saunders, BWB, 2014
5 From Locksley Hall, Alfred Lord Tennyson, 1842
6 Matt Haig, Notes on a Nervous Planet, Canongate, 2018
7 Beyond 1984: The People Machines, an essay written in 1982