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July 25, 2011 | by  | in Opinion |
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Failure to Communicate – Science = Money

I would like to share with you all today the message of one of Victoria University’s leading scientists, and New Zealander of the Year, Professor Sir Paul Callaghan.

You may have already encountered this message in his 2009 book Wool to Weta or in any one of numerous speeches, but if you haven’t, then you need to.
For the last few decades, New Zealand has been becoming a poorer country. In 1970, New Zealand was among the more prosperous countries in the world. We were then wealthier per capita than our neighbours across the Tasman! But since that time, our wealth has tracked slowly but steadily downward and we are now 35 per cent poorer per capita than Australia. And it is not for lack of trying—New Zealanders work more hours than all but one country in the OECD, and yet our output for hours worked is among the lowest. Why is this? Sir Paul’s answer is that we have chosen to be poor.

Let me explain that statement—we have chosen to work (as a country) in industries that offer low returns. Tourism is a big industry in New Zealand. Approximately 16 per cent of our exports are in tourism, which covers about 10 per cent of all New Zealand jobs. Every job in tourism generates about $80,000 in revenue per year. And while that may sound like a lot, consider that in order to live as we do right now, every job has to contribute an average of $130,000. If we wanted to catch up with Australia’s lifestyle, then every job would have to contribute $175,000. In the USA, that figure is $225,000. No matter how much effort and manpower we put into our tourism industry, it will never make us more wealthy[1]. Our agriculture industry fares a little better, mostly sitting at about the $130,000 mark. Fonterra does very well, at $350,000 a job. However, there are limits on how much this industry can expand, and we are already running up against them—our waterways are becoming polluted, our arable land is being used up.

Sir Paul argues that what we must do if we want to increase our wealth, and our standards of living, is to create new technological companies. Such companies already exist in New Zealand—the top ten of them together contribute almost $4 billion to New Zealand every year. This revenue is sustainable from year to year, does not require significant land use or produce pollution; it has a very low energy requirement and a small carbon footprint; and it does not require a large number of people to produce.

One hundred such companies would, by themselves, lift New Zealand’s GDP to Australia’s level. It’s not an impossible task—companies such as Fisher & Paykel are already succeeding as high value exporters. We need as a country to look up to the scientists and entrepreneurs who made these companies, and replicate their successes.

I could not explain this as fluently as Sir Paul Callaghan, but I am passionate about sharing his message, and building a brighter future for New Zealand. I highly recommend reading his book, or listening to him speak. *

Further viewing: Sir Paul speaking,
[1] This is not exactly true… One could convince each visitor to spend twice as much money when they visit New Zealand. But that would be a very difficult task.

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  1. Philinda says:

    The paragon of understanding these isuses is right here!

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