Does small always have to mean provincial?

Here is a question for readers. Just because NZ is small does that mean it has to be provincial? Having returned–and happily so–to NZ after a 3+ year absence, I am struck as to how insular public debates tend to be. Leave aside the grating RWC ads and hype. Although it makes much ado about a second tier sporting event, it is being hosted here and there is money to be made as well as sporting prestige on the line. So the hoopla could happen anywhere. I also understand the focus on Christchurch given the earthquakes, but am struck by how most attention is on the human dramas and not on the policy response and consequences of the disasters (which seem to this uninformed eye to be slow and not considerate of long-term implications). More broadly, be it in the tone of political debate, the focus of popular culture, or the economic preoccupations of the moment, it all seem a bit inbred to me. Am I just being precious or unduly judgmental?

I ask because I came back from Singapore, which is small but is incredibly cosmopolitan because of its strategic location and thriving expat culture (native Singaporeans are quite insular as well but have been forced to cope with the influx of more worldly people as part of their national transformation project). Switzerland, San Marino, Andorra, Monaco, Ireland and Malta are small but their location in Europe makes them acutely sensitive to and knowledgeable of their larger neighbour’s actions and interests. The same can be said for Uruguay, surrounded by larger States, or Central American republics, dwarfed by Mexico and the US. This is not to say that the masses as a whole in these countries are always on top of international affairs or erudite in their discussions of global trends, but that they seem to have a better appreciation of the world around them than what is evident in NZ. That seems counter-intuitive.

I say so because the tyranny of distance should have been overcome by advances in telecommunications and transportation, NZ is increasingly a nation of immigrants, including many from non-traditional source countries, its commercial ties are more varied and distant than in earlier generations, its has high standards of literacy and access to news sources, it has a good percentage of citizens returning from OE’s and its diplomatic connections reflect all of these trends. So why is it that, if I am correct, NZ remains rooted in a seemingly mythical short-and-gumboots, rugby-fixated mentality unconcerned about the larger world in which it is inserted? After all, unlike like large states that can “afford” to be ignorant of world affairs because of their economic weight and territorial size (e.g., the US), Kiwis are constantly told that their well-being is directly linked to NZ’s position in the international community. If that is true I would expect that average Kiwis would take an interest in global issues and ask questions of national elites about them.

Why, for example, has the NZ government made no public pronouncements on Syria (and muted comments about Libya) given its purported commitment to human rights? Why has issues like human trafficking, child labour and environmental degradation not entered into the debate about undertaking trade agreements with Asian despotic states? Why have tensions between Fiji and Tonga only been awarded two days of media attention, especially given the role of other powers behind the scenes and NZ’s connections to both countries? Why is there no debate about the NZDF role in Afghanistan given the beginning of the US military withdrawal in July? Why is it assumed that “privatisation” and public expenditure reductions are sacrosanct when in many faster developing parts of the world that are also commodity export-dependent (Latin America, SE Asia) such market-driven zealotry has been abandoned in favour of more judicious public management schemes that see public welfare and employment as requisite part of the social contract (and long-term stability)? Why is draconian anti-terrorist legislation and expansion of domestic intelligence powers passed when NZ security elites admit that the threat of a terrorist event is extremely low and that domestic threats are more likely to be criminal than political in nature (with some of that criminality being a direct result of NZ’s permissive attitude towards trade conditions and regulatory requirements on foreign investment and corporate accountability). Why are national leaders allowed to dismiss those who raise such concerns as extremists or unhinged?

In fact, what the heck happened to policy debates in general? Why is it that when not rugby the entire country seems to be fixated on human dramas and political sleaze rather than the pressing issues that impact they very way society is organised?

I realise that NZ may not be alone in this syndrome, should it in fact be real. It just strikes me as incongruous that a country with such an abundance of human capital should be so inward-focused, especially if it’s material, social and political status is directly connected to, and dependent upon, its ties to the outside world. Provincialism may serve the interests of elites who can govern and do business without considered scrutiny so long as a few popular sops are thrown the public’s way, but it seems to me to be an unfortunate comment on national consciousness if indeed it is a reality rather than a figment of my imagination.

41 thoughts on “Does small always have to mean provincial?

  1. I wrote on Twitter this morning:

    >A decade ago, the country I live in seemed to think itself a shining example of small nationhood. It no longer has such grand aspirations

    >No burden of expectation, certainly.

    I leave these here as a comment, because I agree with you. The rest I have no answers for, other than the suspicion that the relentless pursuit of a particular kind of New Zealand by the elite (political and media, particularly, although endorsed by a number of cultural elites) has left the playing field empty.

    People get the democracy they deserve, insomuch as they have the media they deserve. I consider that people require a fair amount of relatively truthful information about politicians and their policies, and the implementation and outcome of those policies, in order for a democracy to work. Those preconditions are manifestly non-existent in New Zealand.

  2. When you say “the entire country seems to be fixated” are you sure you don’t mean “the news media is fixated” ? Remember, news in this country is an entertainment industry. Don’t look to it to be informed, merely entertained.

  3. Look at the concentration of media ownership in a few hands, the gutting of state broadcasting, the huge revenue losses suffered by print media as classifieds moved online. George may well be right at asking what even deeper causes there might be.

    Brent: I agree with you, but there used to be an element of public service that has disappeared under commercial pressure.

    Here’s a devil’s advocate proposition though: maybe, most people in NZ never did give a toss about things outside a tiny, materialistic, parochial sphere, but it looked as though they did because high-minded elites made editorial decisions that met a particular set of tastes. That elite doesn’t impose its tastes any more, and now genuinely reflects the public taste. About the same proportion of people genuinely care now as did 25 years ago, but they don’t have disproportionate power editorially any more. The elite minority’s discussion of things outside that tiny sphere now doesn’t take place in broadcast and print media, but online, eg here.

    (I now work professionally supporting a large online news venture, and I have a good idea what the public likes, and it’s not the stuff Pablo cares about.)

  4. (I now work professionally supporting a large online news venture, and I have a good idea what the public likes, and it’s not the stuff Pablo cares about.)

    Certainly, I wouldn’t disagree with you about where the centre lies. You will of course know that media exists to deliver a profit to its owners, and it does that by providing saleable material. You will also know that the economics of doing so is often marginal, and thus there are cost pressures on the product delivered. What is sold is often what is cheapest to produce. People may genuinely be interested in investigative journalism (a large enough number to interest advertisers, anyway) but investigative journalism is expensive. However, conceding your main point, I think that the comparison with Australia is a useful one. Channels Ten and Seven rate much more highly than the ABC and SBS, but the latter two have a non-zero audience (at most hours of the day, certainly!). There is an audience for the products they provide; 4 Corners rather than Masterchef, but it won’t be served without some market intervention. Elite discussion in New Zealand, both online and off, is very frequently ridiculously constrained, more interested in Darren Hughes underpants than the very real issues New Zealand encounters with Fiji, or the costly mistakes it is making with greenhouse policy.

    Is special programming merely elites delivering themselves entertainment on the taxpayers account? To some extent, yes. But there is a desire by a large minority of the population, and there are wider issues to be considered. In a small media environment run entirely on strict and narrowly defined commercial principles, this is what we get.

  5. I wanted to steer clear of the media angle simply because a) I agree with Brent, George and Stephen on its turn for the (infotainment and reality-based) worst; b) Lew covers the topic much better than I can; and c) we have posted on the subject before.

    I appreciate Stephen’s point that maybe nothing has much changed except the elite attitude towards news dissemination and policy debate, which is an interesting angle and which begs the question as to what prompted the change in elite attitude (media training, perhaps?). But given the plethora of alternative means of popular communication I would have thought that the number of the “informed” NZ public would be greater than in previous generations.

    Then again, when I think of the ignorance about foreign affairs displayed by some of my students at the National University of Singapore in spite of that society being extremely “wired,” perhaps the NZ provincial “syndrome” is not exclusive to it after all, but merely displays certain idiosyncratic characteristics that have caught my attention after a time away.

    I also realise that I am barking up a tree because blogs like this do not cater to popular whims or advertiser bottom lines.

  6. Pablo – let’s face it, from your perspective, the vast majority of the population of any given country is going to look ignorant, because they are not as informed about important issues like Syria and Libya as you are.

  7. Hugh, that sounds suspiciously like trolling to me. Would you say that their ignorance of the pulling apart of their single-payer accident healthcare system also marks them out as ignorant?

  8. I think you’re asking a bit too much of New Zealanders there, Pablo. For all intents and purposes, New Zealand is a village. Like a village we have our idiots and all the stereotype personalities that come with that.

    It doesn’t have to be that way — you’re right. But to change it you’d need to change New Zealand society. Which is hard. Everything is conspiring against changing NZ for the better. The Government (whether it is National or Labour) doesn’t want thinking people — hence why it’s going to crack down on tertiary education. It doesn’t want people to be mobile — hence why it is not investing money into public transport. It doesn’t want Gen X and Gen Y to be able to get out from under the mountain of debt the baby boomers are creating for them. All the neo-liberal policy changes for the the past 30 years have been targeted at making NZers shy away from policy discussions and having to think about complicated political matters.

    I can’t offer any way to turn back the tide, but it is something that I think we need to investigate further.

  9. Hugh:

    Besides the factors that I mentioned previously, it seems to me that in a advanced democracy such as NZ it is precisely the lack of popular knowledge about what occurs “in their name” and the impact remote events have on the country that makes a more global view all the more important. An informed public can frame the way policy-makers approach domestic and international issues so that accountability and consensus constrain the egotistical impulses of the latter. An uninformed public wallowing in the syrup of commodity fetichism and voyeuristic escapism cannot.

    Which brings up Lew’s point about democratic fundamentalism (and its pre-requirements)…

  10. No, I’m just saying that Pablo is a specialist in security affairs with years of experience both in the field and in theory, so very few people will ever appear knowledgable in comparison to him, even in a highly educated and informed society.

  11. JJW – The assessment might be right but the reasons are dead wrong. You suggest a conspiracy among government media and baby boomers. Implausible.

    NZ has lost its purpose. When settlers arrived they looked forward to building a new colony from the bush. In WWI and WWII the population did their duty towards the mother country and grew rich.

    By the early fifties New Zealand was the third richest country in the world. It had achieved its aims of prosperity and an egalitarian nation.

    Since then it has been a long slow relative decline. As it turned out the 80’s and early nineties were an aberration rather than a recognition of the problem.

    The reason why New Zealand seems like a village is because the few who have initiative and energy become deadened by the inertia around them or attracted by the opportunities offshore.

    New Zealand is comfortable, not hungry, and certainly not inspired to improve itself. It is not alone in voting in politicians who will maintain the status quo rather than look outwards and change things around. It is however extremely remote. Who has the energy to work all hours in an office when the outdoors and the rugby call. What relevance are the goings on in Europe or America when they have no impact on New Zealand.

  12. Hugh:

    My concern is not that people should have an interest, much less expertise in the subject areas I tend to focus on. My concern is that Kiwi’s appear to be remarkably unconcerned about the broader world around them, to include matters of domestic as well as foreign policy, even though they are directly impacted by those matters sooner or later.

    I often hear people say that this is a nation of sheep but have so far resisted the notion that a country that has a No.8 wire mentality and a reputation for staunchness would also be largely indifferent to the machinations of elites both distant and proximate. Here is where the “not in my name” clause should come in to play yet largely does not.

    It has been interesting to see that Phil, George and some Kiwi expats on the Twitter feed tend to agree with my observations, when not add a healthy dose of their own (such as JJW’s scathing assessment).

    Whatever the case I am back in order to buck the trend of people leaving for greener pastures, even if I am not native born.

  13. You seem to be describing a basic apathy about political process domestic and international.

    I think that this stems from a general impression, held by many members of the public (rightly or wrongly), that there are few real alternatives on offer. The public seems to see that there are questions of style and tribalism about what politicans you might support, but there is no real different substance.

    This seems, to me to be a consequence (or maybe a cause; it’s hard to tell) of politicans and political parties viewing how they communicate to the public in terms of branding rather than in terms of argument. Politicans of even twenty years ago seemed to try to argue why the policies they espoused were right. Whereas, politicans today seem much more orientated around creating a brand that people support rather than policies that people support.

  14. New Zealand is now a two tier country, with a diminishing Anglophile (and almost exclusively) white, settler middle and upper class elite with a newly minted and burgeoning cultural cringe sitting on top of a rapidly browning semi-third world nation. This elite shares characteristics Pablo could perhaps recognise with the white, Castilian elites of countries like Venezuela – cosmopolitan, well travelled, and utterly uninterested in the realities of their own country, preferring Sydney to Auckland and looking to New York or London for glamour and opportunity. These elites control every aspect of our media and economy and have, as Pablo notes, little interest in public policy debate or even realistic portrayals of our countries economy. Instead of confronting today, our past is mythologised as an excuse for whatever action – or inaction – these elites decide upon.

    As for the other side of the equation – the beneficiaries, those living solely on their super, the struggling students, and the working poor – one is forcefully reminded of Willem de Kooning’s quote – “The trouble with being poor is that it takes up all of your time”, a state of affairs the elite is entirely comfortable with and actively interested in retaining.

    Secondly, a spirit of national defeatism and a certain masochistic nihilism lies at the very heart of neo-liberalism, and New Zealand’s elite is amongst the most neo-liberal of them all. This defeatism and nihilism infests our national psyche nowadays. We don’t deserve public works like an Auckland underground rail loop that we can be proud of. We are too incompetent, to useless, to build trains in Dunedin. How can we debate noble foreign policy objectives if are losers in a failing peripheral state who should behave like a grateful cur when shown the crumbs from our foreign masters table?

    Our pathological anti-intellectualism, our parochialism, means our societies business, political and media leadership is in an ossified thrall to neo-liberalism and all it entails. They have neither the brains, the wit nor the inclination to try and work a way out of it. One only has to listen the constant dirges of defeatist gloom from our minister of finance to know our elites are decadent Quislings who have lost their nerve and given up on New Zealand as a country which might be able to be a better place, preferring the safety of becoming managerialist administrators of a particularly rigid interpretation of foreign doctrines. No wonder, then, that these people – simultaneously loathing and frightened of intellectuals and alternative ideas lest their own incompetence be exposed – insist that all policy debate is entirely set within the boundaries of their own impoverished intellectual imaginations, where they fail to suppress debate and it occurs at all.

  15. “…By the early fifties New Zealand was the third richest country in the world. It had achieved its aims of prosperity and an egalitarian nation…”

    This is a classic example of how our right wing TINA-phile elites use an uncritical mythologising of our past as a weapon to control our present and future. Why pick 1950 as you start point? Was New Zealand richer than Germany in 1939? Richer than France in 1940, or Switzerland or Sweden in 1920? We were not that exceptionally rich in 1950 – but we were on of the few relatively developed countries to escape WWII unscathed and even then it had taken two decades of socialism in this country to ensure the wealth we had we evenly distributed.

    Yet 1950 is always picked as the jump off point. Why? Because to my mind it suits a certain right wing political narrative of defeatist failure to not point to our great achievements as a nation in the last one hundred years. It is like the pernicious myth that New Zealand was, before 1984, a grey Polish shipyard, an economic failure where you needed a prescription from the doctor for margarine and it took six months for a lazy and inefficient post office to install a telephone. Anyone who grew up before 1984 knows what a load of nonsense that is, yet it is defeatist myth constantly peddled by our self-interested elites to justify their treasonous economic behaviour over the last thirty-odd years.

  16. This country has been twice colonised, once in the 19th century by British imperialism and subsequently in the 20th by international capital with ample assistance from local compradors. Like much of the world really, is geographic isolation the key to the dark, parochial kiwis? Partially.

    Most peoples thinking is shaped by their social conditions, as much as the more aware might deny it, and we have had 25 years of neo liberal ideology. Public personal participation in politics drops ever lower. Commodity fetishism dulls the pain of alienation for a bit. The good ’ol boys down at the Field days represent a certain sector, the one armed tatoo city boys another.

    There are niches of what ever you want in New Zealand if you seek them out, but the stultifying mass anti-intellectualism described by any Aotearoan literary contributor worth a damn since the 1920s, remains.

  17. There are times when I despair at the tone and content of some of the threads, but then there are times like this when I just sit back and enjoy reading the commentary because it is intelligent and informative, even if strongly opinionated. Thanks for the read.

    On the other hand I see that Danyl at the Dim Post tweets that he would like to join in this discussion but does not understand a thing that I write. Given that he got the gist of this post I ask: How does the latter preclude the former?

  18. Sanctuary – The early fifties is a good comparative startpoint because it is real. By international objective comparisons we had a position of advantage that was not sustained. I doubt we were richer than Germany in 1939 and we probably were not richer than Switzerland.

    The reason we were in a good relative position in the early fifties is a result of the destruction of European and Japanese wealth arising from the World Wars taking them backward and at the same time the enormous profits made from selling our primary agricultural products to the war effort.

    That is not a matter of left or right viewpoint, simply history. The extent to which NZ was subsequently impacted by poor policy choices vs European protectionism driving down export earnings and national wealth is certainly arguable but I am struggling to understand why identifying the high point of the early fifties is controversial.

  19. I don’t think any amount of high-speed broadband and cheap international travel can really mitigate two of NZ’s essential features: it’s a very isolated country and it’s got a very small population. Both of those are strong drivers for parochialism.

  20. I see that Danyl at the Dim Post tweets that he would like to join in this discussion but does not understand a thing that I write. Given that he got the gist of this post I ask: How does the latter preclude the former?

    Should you happen to write a post that invites a pithy one-liner perfectly highlighting some spectacular stupidity contained within it, I expect Danyl would be along presently…

  21. Milt:

    I mentioned a number of small population countries that exhibit more mass engagement with policy issues than NZ, so I do not think that parochialism (in my words, provincialism) is a function of size (plus, there are enough large countries with provincial-minded populations to argue against the relationship of size to outlook in any event. Middle America is one of them).

    I also think that “isolation’ is an insufficient explanation because by all measurable terms NZ is much less isolated today than it was 30 years ago (again, for reasons I mentioned in the post). Thus the causal factor(s) for NZ provincialism must lie elsewhere, if indeed what I have suggested is true (and which most of the commentators seem to agree with).

    The rich vein of comments in this thread points to a number of reasons acting in pernicious concert, to what I feel is the nation’s detriment.

    As for Danyl, perhaps my convolution impedes his comprehension (which I think was the point of his tweet).

  22. Having diagnosed the illness we could usefully spend some time arguing towards solutions.

    My feeling is that the biggest problem facing New Zealand is the corrosive effect on personal responsibility arising from a social welfare system that delivers money to people with no expectation of responsibility.

    Taxpayers rightfully resent the impression of their hard earned income being confiscated to support the seemingly feckless lifestyles of those who do not work to support themselves and their families.

    Those recipients of such largesse recognise, subconsciously or not, that they contribute nothing to society and look with envy at those who have more. That exacerbates societal problems and leads people to commit and accept what are horrifying acts for those closer to the mainstream, let alone your so called elite.

    Unfortunately the shrill voice of such utterly misguided people like Sue Bradford do not seem to understand that people’s basic dignity is more undermined in the long term by dependency than the stability that welfare provides in the short term.

    Iain Duncan Smith in the UK is making moves to change this and you could argue Clinton’s welfare reforms in the nineties were consistent with this, but simply cutting and time limiting welfare is not the complete answer.

  23. Having diagnosed the illness we could usefully spend some time arguing towards solutions.

    Have we though? I think you’ve found yours. As for me, I’m going to do a little more thrashing things out.

    “Define the problem” is the most important, and often the most difficult part of any attempt to deal with an issue, and a clear and well understood reckoning of NZ’s current dilemma is hard to find (there are plenty of vague and mildly substantiated ones).

  24. Cheer up Pablo,
    Enjoy the light, the land, the vistas of our Aotearoa isles. I like this site because it is a mind stretcher, for this non academic at least.

  25. George – Fair call, I thought none of us much disputed the problem, although the root causes are still at issue.

    It would help to make the thread a little more positive to discuss what could be done.

  26. NZ has always had its fair share of anti-intellectualism, but only in recent years has it been wilfully milked for all it’s worth. Paradoxically, the very same provincialists exhibit a certain cargo-cultism that denies Britain joined the EU and America lost Vietnam. The same kind of provincialists who supported the 1981 Tour. They think Sarah Palin is the only thing standing between order and anarchy. They also make themselves feel better by wilfully treading on those right below them, not unlike how poor Southern whites hate blacks the most.

    Such provincialism I suspect was also exacerbated by the 1987 Crash, where many NZers lost their shirts on the local glamour corporates of the day, and have since cartellised the property market. In doing so they’ve become NZ’s version of French farm lobbyists.

    Everyone agrees that welfare is an elephant in the room. But it has to be remembered that low-skill jobs from a generation ago have been replaced by machines, closed down or otherwise offshored. Meatworkers don’t turn into engineers overnight. Sugarbags and Indonesian wage policies certainly aren’t the solutions either.

    When intellectuals like Jim Salinger speak out in the name of science against the dogma of the day, they get the boot – all part of the chilling effect. And it seems the Prolefeed machine from Orwell’s 1984 has come to pass. Big Lies rule the day – scare the public enough, and they’ll believe anything.

    Software entrepreneur David Harris wrote a gem of an essay in 2003, and he’s basically been proven right:

    What is most amazing to me, though, is that so many people can excel while living in a country that gives them so little incentive, and so little recognition when they do. It’s a sorry thing that a country with so much to recommend it has so little interest in its brightest and its best. There’s a kind of mass inferiority complex in New Zealand, and it’s probably the most regrettable facet of our national psyche. It’s that little voice in the back of our minds that tells us that the imported product must be better than the local one whenever we have to make a choice; or when a sporting team that has slogged its
    guts out loses a game after a winning streak, it’s what makes us say “well, back to our normal form now, I guess. ha ha ha”.

    We hear the phrase “brain drain” all the time these days, often couched in a way that imputes a kind of disloyalty to those leaving. Well it’s time we woke up: when the river dries out, the buffalo will go elsewhere, and it’s just the same with talent: if there’s no reason to stay, how can we blame our brightest minds for leaving?

    New Zealand is in real danger of becoming a McDonalds nation – nothing more than a bland plastic replica of suburban USA – simply because we can’t seem to believe that we are as good as we are, or that our own culture and expertise have the value they
    do. As long as we remain focused on the trap of being “Little America”, we’re ignoring our greatest strengths: our individuality, our number-8-wire approach to finding novel solutions to problems, and an inherent humanity that believes that there might be more or better reasons for doing something than just the bucks in the bank.

    The way things are going, they’ll get worse before they’ll get better. How bad could it get? Quite possibly a sequel to 1981, or even something out of Sir Joh’s Queensland.

  27. This may seem trite, and I am no expert on pre-university education, but in answer to Phil’s plea for solutions I would say start by reinserting a robust social studies element into primary and secondary education that includes government and international affairs along with NZ and colonial history etc. The 3 Rs and Science are fine as a core, but social studies is the foundation of informed citizenship. Given the increased multicultural flavour of the country, it only seems natural to engage the larger world at an early age.

  28. I’ve got to admit I don’t really understand the problem, and I think you guys are talking past one another, to a degree.

  29. Hugh:

    Looks like on this one you and Danyl have something in common. :-0

  30. There are a few aspects of my life I’d like to be more like Danyl’s, but this isn’t one of them.

  31. Actually, Pabs, I think they’re all too well aware of the international situation, which is precisely why they’re hunkered down and willing to entrust their fate to the dulcet tones of Smiley Do-nuttin and his Optimism Band.

    It doesn’t look too good out there: coming in hard from the North, so chuck another log on and snuggle up bro. We’re alright Jack, the league’s on Prime and Double Brown’s 18 for 18.

    And wee Johnny accepts his welfare dependency: he’ll toss his bugger-all-will-starves and breedings-for-a-business to the appropriate swine, but won’t rock our boat, he knows it’s barely afloat.

    We’re on the cusp of a wave

    When the intellectually brave

    Will rave from the cave

    Let those who can’t, cant

    It’s time to rant

    On all fronts

    For all runts

    Or succumb

    To the

  32. Pablo, there is a social studies curriculum as you describe, as far as I’m aware. Students learn about Israel/Palestine etc and if anything many students can come through high school never touching NZ history. NZ history proper is only covered in the final year of high school and even then it is a choice for the school between that or English kings and queens. Many choose the latter.

  33. Yet it’s not all doom and gloom. To name just a couple of examples, younger folk such as Sam Morgan and his compatriots have thumbed their nose at the cargo-cult orthodoxy, and actually built and created stuff.

    N.B. This was prompted by but is not aimed specifically at the commenter above, but more of a general observation.

    Sam Morgan made a lot of money and good on him for doing so, but I’ve never quite understood the fawning admiration of him from some quarters. His idea wasn’t original, he simply happened to be the first out the blocks to successfully copy eBay in NZ. He profited from the fact that eBay turned its attention to NZ later than other, bigger markets. So please stop pretending that Sam Morgan is an example of “great Kiwi no. 8 wire mentality etc. etc.” who just came up with a brilliant idea when he needed a heater in 1999. eBay began in 1995 and Morgan knew exactly what he was doing.

    OK, many good ideas are not original. But TradeMe’s ambitions were modest from the outset. Because it was intended as the place “Where Kiwis buy and sell”, TradeMe has never generated export income, it has simply helped NZers sell things to each other. Then instead of building up the company, Morgan sold it to an Australian media conglomerate for $700m, which is now doing very nicely.

    A different trajectory might have seen TradeMe building up capital and using it to fund other investment opportunities, perhaps buying and taking over media company like Fairfax itself (perhaps not the best strategy in itself, but hopefully one sees my point – the boot could have been on the other foot).

    I understand Sam Morgan is now investing in some smaller projects, perhaps something truly innovative will come of them. Although he’s a clever and wealthy businessman, just as Bob Jones has been, he’s hardly a model for generating greater prosperity for NZ as a whole in the way that Ingvar Kamprad, the founder of IKEA, was for Sweden, for example.

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