SOUTHERN MAN IMMIGRATION BLOG

NZ Tops In Social Progress For 2014

April 4, 2014
Iain MacLeod

I don’t often get excited by surveys but when one appears that affirms the message we give potential clients, I do get excited. Few have excited me as much as one released this week from the Washington based Social Imperative Forum that ranks countries by social progress.

It’s not as dull as it sounds as it goes to the heart of what our society is about, how we got here and what challenges remain.

The survey asks three essential questions:

  1. Does a country provide for its people’s most essential needs?
  2. Are the building blocks in place for individuals and communities to enhance and sustain wellbeing?
  3. Is there opportunity for all individuals to reach their full potential?

It ranks New Zealand top out of over 130 countries for social progress. While historically Gross Domestic Product has been the indicator of choice as a measure of the ‘success’ of an economy and a country, what I like about this report is that it looks beyond that purely economic measure and looks at overall wellbeing.

It paints a picture of an egalitarian society that is cohesive, relatively prosperous with real opportunities for all, irrespective of background, but which also confirms what we always advise people – it ain’t paradise and it does have problems. But as a client from South Africa once told me the big difference between countries like mine and his (that he was leaving) is having lived in New Zealand for a while this little country of ours has no problems it cannot solve.

What is interesting is that we have achieved this top ranked status through a mix of open economy, strong and transparent democracy along with the socialising of three sacred pillars of our society – tax payer funded education, healthcare and social security.

What struck me is that we rank 25th in the world for per capita GDP proving there are 24 countries where people are wealthier but none are better off.

It also identified some things which at first glance appear at odds with a county where everyone looks out for everyone else – we have a relatively high rate of death through pregnancy, we come mid-table for suicide and we are getting very fat…

A closer examination of this explains these apparent anomalies.

With 15 deaths of pregnant women per 100,000 we rank 76th yet experts in New Zealand explain that this is because New Zealand captures the deaths of all pregnant women for many reasons other than death during childbirth (a rate which is actually extremely small) and captures those that die of pre-existing conditions and heart failure for example.

On suicides New Zealand is known for examining all ‘suspicious’ deaths through referral to the Coroner and where most countries will not call the death a suicide, New Zealand does. So it is not so much that New Zealanders are jumping off buildings in greater numbers, so much as we investigate deaths and if the conclusion is suicide we call it as it is. Most countries, including highly developed ones, do not. We are statistics and accuracy freaks.

There is no denying New Zealand has an obesity epidemic and that is very real, dragging us down the ‘progress’ ladder. I have to say given what you put in your mouth is individual choice there is possibly not a whole lot that can be done about it. Except educate and try and change behaviour.

So why are we doing so well?

I am convinced it is our history. The early settlers in New Zealand were determined to establish a (relatively) classless society where ‘Jack is as good as his Master’. I often speak to this at seminars and how deeply this egalitarian ideology runs in our DNA.

Simply put, we give a damn about one another and look after each other. It serves us all very well.

How did we achieve this?

  • A progressive but fair taxation system.
  • Tax payer funded healthcare, education and pensions for retirees.

The report in many ways explains our success but equally points out fairly where we can do better and where challenges remain (Maori, for example, make up 15% of the population yet represent over 50% of all prison inmates).

New Zealand is not perfect but we seem to be doing an awful lot right.

This helps to explain why I wouldn’t want to raise a family or live anywhere else. I urge you to read it (click here to download the report) if you are thinking of joining us in New Zealand (particularly pages 47-49). I could not sum up the essence of New Zealand better.

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