Five ways to think about 2006 before we get busy again

Here are five ways we might usefully think about 2006 before we settle back from the holidays and lose perspective.

First, the economy. This year the party ends and household balance sheets have to be put in order.

The Treasury and the Reserve Bank both say house prices may fall a bit. That’s OK if you have stayed put. It’s not OK if you have recently bought a home or an investment property on a big mortgage.

The best we can hope for is a gentle unwinding which gives everyone time and scope to adjust and doesn’t cost too many people their jobs.

But hoping for the best is no way to build a future.

Retailers, importers, car firms and real estate agents all need us to spend and banks have (over-)eagerly lent the necessary credit. So we have spent far more than we have earned.

But the economy needs us to spend less than we earn — that is, to save.

So what? Isn’t the economy just a machine economists gas about? Actually, no. The economy is your future job and future income.

Saving some income doesn’t just cushion the savers from shocks. It underpins investment and investment is the fount of more and better jobs and higher incomes.

For 20 years or more saving has been an optional extra. That saving is not an optional extra is the first way to think about 2006.

Second, the world about us. China is no longer an optional extra. Whether or not the trade deal is done in 2006, we are being wound into this huge, rapidly growing economy and its proud and energetic people.

We are cultural kin with the Americans and British and Europeans. Apart from the small minority of ethnic Chinese who live here, we are not cultural kin with the Chinese.

So do we shrug our shoulders and hope for the best — in which case the best is unlikely? Or do we start down the long track to cultural accommodation, learning to do things the Chinese way, to have China in our daily way of life?

We could start in 2006. Leaving it to 2016 will be far too late — unless, of course, the Chinese are here in large enough numbers to do it for us.

Learning to live with China is the second way to think about 2006.

Third, who should live here? We export large numbers of people, so to keep the show ticking over we need large numbers coming in and that now means Asians (not least, Chinese) because we can’t attract enough whites.

And that means diversity of cultural practice and attitudes, which has greatly enriched this once dull place. But “endless tolerance and valuelessness”, to quote American political economist Francis Fukuyama on super-tolerant Holland which has spawned home-grown muslim terrorism, undermines social cohesion.

The Dutch are debating “what it means to be Dutch”, Fukuyama wrote in a Wall Street Journal article in November. We might usefully do the same.

The National party toyed at election time with setting some cultural or values expectations of immigrants. But, as Fukuyama put it, “national identity has to be a source of inclusion, not exclusion”. A nation defines itself by who it is, not by who it is not, by who is in, not who is out.

The first is a confident, sure-footed nation-citizen of the world. The second is timorous and small-minded.

Making that choice is no longer an optional extra. That is the third way to think about 2006.

Fourth, the Treaty of Waitangi. A line was drawn in the sands of the foreshore in 2004 and the march of Maori rights halted there. But now there is a Maori party in Parliament, asserting those rights and with a mandate from a large proportion of Maori.

Settling the place of Maori in the national culture, in the society and economy and in the power structure is no longer an optional extra. Each New Zealander now has no choice but to work out what in everyone’s daily life will make this two-culture nation work.

So hard thinking about hard choices on the Treaty is the fourth way to think about 2006.

And, fifth, the air, water and land. We trade on “clean and green” and “100 per cent pure”. But we aren’t. If we don’t change we will be found out and the brand lost.

Getting ourselves clean and green and 100 per cent pure is no longer an optional extra, indulged in by those with time on their hands or a penchant for rope sandals and human compost. It is everyone’s jobs and incomes.

So 2006 is a year to think hard about what to do in daily living to protect those jobs and that income from being found out and losing the brand. That is the fifth way to think about 2006.

What links those five ways of thinking? The fact that none is an optional extra which we can leave to eggheads, enthusiasts, the argumentative and politicians. They are for all of us to think about.

History tells us we won’t make any of these five changes in thinking in 2006, just as we didn’t in 2005 and 2004 and …

But history doesn’t make history. People make history. The good thing about starting a new year is that there is history to make. And this country has a lot of history to make.

That’s how to think about 2006.