NZ: Hell of a fine place

by Bill Ralston / 13 December, 2012
Just when things seem really bad, they get better.
Panic Room cartoon by Steve Bolton
“You and the kids make yourselves at home. I’m right here, in the panic room.” /cartoon by Steve Bolton.

At the risk of encouraging you all to launch into a rollicking chorus or two of Fred Dagg’s immortal We Don’t Know How Lucky We Are, this is a good moment to reflect on our collective good fortune in living in Godzone. Of course, if you listen to the news it seems as if the apocalypse is upon our green and pleasant land. No, I don’t mean the Mayan belief in the world ending on December 21. If the Mayans happen to be right, I’ve just written my last column before we’re all reduced to atoms and released back into the cosmos.

Allowing for that possibility, I’m putting off my Christmas shopping until the 22nd because I don’t want to waste money buying presents no one will receive. Instead, as the world goes up, I’ll say, “Oh! What a shame, I’d bought you an Aston Martin for Christmas – now you’ll never get it. Drat!” At least my nearest and dearest will die believing in my generosity.

No, what I’m talking about is the barrage of daily news that leaves us feeling as if we are on an express train to hell. The media tell us our rivers, lakes and beaches are cesspools of toxic slime. It would seem we are all unemployed, unable to buy a house and saddled with an unbearable burden of personal debt. Our children are unteachable and most starve before being sent to jail. We can expect to be murdered in our beds because the failed justice system turns kids into homicidal maniacs who are then released from custody just in time to climb through the window at night to kill us.

The truth is different. We happen to have better economic growth and lower unemployment than countries such as the United States and our rate of violent crime is falling. Our children have one of the highest levels of educational achievement in the OECD. For all its apparent failings, our social security safety net still manages to provide a basic level of support for those who need it.

The Economist magazine recently rated New Zealand seventh in the world for quality of life. In 1988, we were in 18th spot, well behind the US and UK. So we’ve either dramatically improved our quality of life over the past quarter-century or the rest of the world has crapped out badly. The latter is possible, thanks to the global financial crisis, but we can still gloat over being much better off than Americans and Brits.

The Economist uses 11 indicators to arrive at the rankings, including life expectancy,
earnings, GDP, political freedom and climate. Switzerland came out on top, followed by Australia. One of our mistakes, which invariably plunges us into deep depression, is to benchmark our progress on the way to hog heaven against Australia. Yep, in 1988 our two countries were in a dead heat for 18th place. Lately Australia has done better than us, but that doesn’t mean we’re going backwards. We outperform the Dutch, Germans, French, Americans and English in quality of life.

We are one of the top 10 countries in the world to be born in. So stop the moaning. To quote Fred Dagg, “So if things are looking really bad and you’re thinking of givin’ it away/Remember New Zealand’s a cracker and I reckon come what may/If things get appallingly bad and we all get atrociously poor/If we stand in the queue with our hats on we can borrow a few million more.”
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