Friday, 10 June 2011

The Hillside proposition

Does the announcement that Hillside Engineering will be laying off staff, following the loss of yet another contract overseas, mean it is of it time to consider a New Zealand version of Harman's Law (1)?

Harman's Law was a proposal by the last Labour government in Britain, requiring public bodies to work towards reducing economic inequality (2). It was facetiously dubbed "Socialism in a single clause," which might be going a bit far, but it is hard to see how it is a bad thing that local authorities should be asked to think of more than just the economic bottom line in their decision making.

There are social and environmental considerations as well. Social, because it's a social good to protect workers and jobs - ideas, I admit, that may be a bit strange to John Key - and the communities that they belong to. As a Scot, I know what happened to the working class communities of the Glasgow-Clydeside conurbation, once the shipyards started closing, and the mining communities when the pits were closed. The same things happened in New Zealand in the 80-s and 90s, but it seems John Key thinks enough damage was not done.

And there are surely environmental considerations as well. I don't think it can be possible to make rolling stock in China at less of an environmental cost than in New Zealand. True, shipping manufacturing - and thus emissions - to China is an established way that the West look less environmentally irresponsible than they really are. But environmental pollution is something that catches up with all of us. Our power and our practices must be less polluting than the Chinese alternative. That should be a consideration as well.

There's a moral dimension as well, since the PRC isn't renowned for its regard for human rights. But I don't suppose Phil Goff will have the chutzpah to argue that line, given it was he who signed off the infamous Free Trade Deal with the bastards of Beijing (3).

Finally, I'm not even sure there's an economic case to be made for sending manufacturing work overseas. After all, if we send $500 million of work to China, that's $500 million dollars vanished forever. If we spend it here, even if it is somewhat more expensive, the money is recycled through local businesses and communities. It goes to New Zealanders, and is spent again and again in New Zealand. I'm guessing there won't be much money being spent Hillside way any time soon.

So it is time for The Hillside Proposition? A statutory requirement that public entities and money is spent with a triple - or even quadruple - bottom line, where economic, social, environmental and moral considerations are weighed up?
1 - "Hillside's 'kick in the guts' ," by Matthew Haggart. Published in The Otago Daily Times, 10th of June 2011. (http://www.odt.co.nz/news/dunedin/164215/hillsides-kick-guts)
2 - As described previously on lefthandpalm: http://lefthandpalm.blogspot.com/2010/11/breaking-harmans-law.html
3 - As described previously on lefthandpalm: http://lefthandpalm.blogspot.com/2008/02/new-zealand-secures-infamous-first-fta.html

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