Cheer up: As a Nation, we are better than what we think

Alexander Gillespie
Hamilton, December 21, 2022

It is that time of year when school and university students eagerly (or nervously) await their end-of-year results. It is also an opportunity to see where the country in general might have passed or failed.

Although international and domestic indices and rankings should be read with a degree of caution – measurements and metrics only tell us so much, after all –it is still possible to trace the nation’s ups and downs relative to past years.

Alexander Gillespie
Professor Law, University of Waikato

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Good global rankings

Overall, New Zealand held its own internationally when it came to democratic values and standards. Transparency International ranked us top, equal with Denmark and Finland, for being relatively corruption-free.

The Global Peace Index placed New Zealand second best in the world for safety and security, low domestic and international conflict, and degree of militarisation. And human rights and civil liberties watchdog Freedom House again scored New Zealand 99 out of 100 – three Scandinavian countries scored a perfect 100.

On the Index of Moral Freedom (a libertarian think tank that benchmarks countries’ levels of individual freedom regarding ethics and morality), New Zealand moved to 14th, up five places compared to the figures released in 2020.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Global Gender Gap Report recorded New Zealand holding its position as the fourth-most-gender-equal country. New Zealand stayed in seventh place in the World Justice Project’s Rule of Law Index. We went up one spot to 13th on the Human Development Index of life expectancy, education and income.

New Zealand also remained the sixth best for internet affordability, availability, readiness and relevance, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit. And on the Global Innovation Index, we came in at 24th out of 132 economies – two spots better than last year.

Freedom and Happiness

On the other side of the ledger, New Zealand’s rankings fell in a variety of political, economic and health indices.

The Index for Economic Freedom, for instance, which covers everything from property rights to financial freedom, placed us fifth, three spots below last year. And we fell three places to 11th in the Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index.

New Zealanders, it seems, are not as happy as they were. We fell a place in the World Happiness Report to tenth-cheeriest place, although we are still a bit happier than Australia.

The Social Progress Index had us fall from 12th to 15th position, and we dropped 11 spots in the 2022 Global Competitiveness Report, down to 31.

A little surprisingly, New Zealand placed 41st on the Global Terrorism Index, apparently worse than Russia at 44. Although New Zealand recently reduced its terror threat level from medium to low, the 2021 supermarket attack in Auckland and the ongoing fallout from the Christchurch attacks will have affected our ranking.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The environmental struggle

Also maybe surprisingly, Bloomberg’s Covid resilience index, which ranks the ‘The best and worst places to be as the world enters the next Covid phase,’ placed New Zealand at 35. This was possibly due to the Omicron wave and increase in deaths since reopening borders, rather than a verdict on the country’s overall response.

New Zealand continues to struggle environmentally, falling from 19th to 26th on the 2022 Yale Environmental Performance Index, which measures environmental health and ecosystem vitality.

While our overall assessment on the Climate Action Tracker (which measures progress on meeting agreed global warming targets) hasn’t changed, it’s still categorised as “highly insufficient.” The Climate Change Performance Index is a little more generous, pegging New Zealand at 33rd, up two spots from last year.

Mixed news on the home front

Domestically, New Zealand recorded better-than-expected results on four fronts: (1) Unemployment hit a very low 3.3% in September, better than most comparable OECD countries (2) Median weekly earnings from wages and salaries rose by 8.8% to $1189, the largest increase recorded since records began in 1998 (3) Suicides decreased in the year to June to 538, down from 607 the year before and significantly lower than the average rate over the past 13 years and (4) Incarceration rates continued to fall, with a prisoner population of 7,728 (as of June), well down on the near 10,000 figure from 2020.

On the other hand, inflation is rising. While lower than October’s OECD average, an annual rate of 7.2% is still high by recent standards. Related to this, and either good or bad news according to your perspective, annual average house price growth slowed to 5.5% in the year to June.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Real prices are expected to drop considerably from their 2021 peak, however.

Those falls do not necessarily make houses affordable for many people, although the stock of public housing continues to increase by over 500 dwellings each year to a recent total of 76,834. Even so, the demand for social housing is still growing. Recent research suggests that one in six New Zealanders has been homeless, and about 41,000 do not have adequate access to housing.

The Rich and the Poor

New Zealand’s poverty rate compares poorly with other OECD countries and child poverty remains a critical challenge. However, in the year to June 2021, the percentage of children living in poor households had declined since 2018.

At the other end of the scale, the wealthy continue to hold the lion’s share of assets. The top 10% of households hold about 50% of the nation’s total household net worth (the value of a household’s assets, such as real estate, retirement savings and shares, less its debts). Conversely, the lowest 20% hold just 1% of total household assets, but 11% of total liabilities.

In short, while New Zealand can claim some bragging rights in many important areas and is making modest progress in others, which is far from the whole picture.

Any progress we make should not be taken for granted.

The final verdict: A good effort, but room for improvement.

Alexander Gillespie is Professor of Law at the University of Waikato. The above article has been published under Creative Common Licence.

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