The Unholy Triad

I’ve always struggled to understand economics, which means I have a bit of cheek embarking on   a view of the economics of the western world. Still, in my possibly naive view there are simple rules. Take Alzheimers for instance. By taking daily exercise, eating healthy food and maintaining mental and social stimulation, there is a good chance of avoiding Alzheimers. Similar rules apply for avoiding type 2 diabetes and heart disease, and probably many other diseases that swoop in when the rules are ignored.

 The prevalence of these diseases threatens the public health system as we know it. Yet we have allowed ourselves to be lured away from life’s fundamental rules by abundance. Too much food to choose from, most of it unhealthy processed ‘convenience’ food, and probably too much time to sit in front of he telly eating chocolate biscuits.

 It’s tempting to shrug this off as individual weakness but the point is unimportant. More to the point; Imagine a TV documentary 40 years ago predicting the growth of diseases we are currently struggling with.

It would have seemed scary but not really believable enough to worry about. What is significant now is that the rosy vision of the future that was so secure 40 years ago has been altered.

It is no coincidence that, along with these harmful lifestyle changes, our economic system has undergone a radical transformation. Privatising public assets and deregulation for instance, and  normalising an economic vision of the future that Donald Trump would support.

 But to get back to food, and particularly its production, farming too has been steered away from the rules that govern sustainable life. In an effort to join the boom, farmers have been encouraged to vastly increase their herds to a point where they cannot feed their cows without importing food, and cannot maintain their businesses without poisoning the waterways.

It is generally believed that dairy farming is the biggest enemy of the environment. But it is not the only industry determined to blindly go where none have gone before, at least not without leaving a trail of damage, see the gold rushes for instance.

So it’s ironic  then that another member of the unholy triad, the tourist industry, is now complaining about farming tarnishing New Zealand’s’ mythical clean green reputation. Yet the tourist industry is eating itself with its policy of ‘pack em in’ regardless of the cost to the environment. The cost, as well as too many tourists for the infrastructure of small communities to cope with and the consequent despoiling of the environment, is that the ‘kiwi experience’ has become unpleasantly crowded.

An anecdote may serve to illustrate this point better. I met an Australian who has been visiting and fishing in the Ahuiriri Valley (Waitaki Valley, North Otago) for years but the experience has soured because, “some bastard has built a great big fishing lodge,” the river is no longer pure, and the pleasure of fishing in that once peaceful valley has been ruined by helicopters dropping in fishing parties.

But how do you get tourism and farming to care more for the environment than it cares about profit? How do you get the processed food industries to stop poisoning people when poison food is profitable? You can’t, not without government intervention.

But let me conclude with another confession: 40 years ago when unemployment was negligible, when homelessness, food banks and beggars on the streets were unheard of, and when most people could afford to buy a house, the economy was awful. So awful we had to change to the current neoliberal system. And according to everyone who should know, this system is successful. The New Zealand economy is performing very well.

I still don’t get economics.

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Chris Horan

Chris is a former social worker, probation officer and Family Court counsellor, living in Hawea in the South Island.