New Zealand is a country of four million people that was regarded as the world's social laboratory for the first half of the 20th century. It pioneered many social and political innovations, including universal suffrage, state pensions and social welfare. But visitors would visit and discover the NZers didn't really have much of a theory about what we were doing, and tended to be kind of smug an insular. Living standards were very, very high, but variety was elusive and, despite having the world's finest natural ingredients, tended to boil all food to death.
By the early 170s, it was unravelling. We couldn't sell all our meat and wool to Briatin any more, oil shocks were crippling, national debt was astronomical and the economy was the most regulated in the western world. A disastrous cente-right government didn't act (but entrenched the problems) and it wasn't until a Labour government came in in 1984 and radically reformed the place along neo-liberal lines that things changed, as they had to. Unfortunately, unemployment soared, cowboys got hold of the markets and various other bad things happened.
Two other things happened in the early 80s. One was the tour by the South African rugby team, the Springboks, which split the country down the middle, challenging the sanctity of the national game. Tens of thousands protested in the streets, got beat up by cops, etc. It was an ugly time and most NZers now regard the tour as having been A Bad Thing. We got over it.
Another controversial but necessary event was the 1984 Labour government giving teeth to the tribunal that oversees the Treaty of Waitangi, the 1840 agreement between the British Crown and the native people, the Maori, which granted British subjects the right to live in NZ and saw the tribes swear allegiance to the Queen. Unfortunately, many of the rights and most of the property guaranteed in the Treaty were removed over the next 60 years, and the Maori predicament became worse with the drift to the citys. It was a simple matter of legal redress, which has been conducted without blood spilling in the streets, but it does remain a hot-button issue in politics.
These days, NZ has a remarkably unregulated economy (Top 5, Heritage Foundation Freedom Index; no.1 country in the world to do business in according to the World Bank; reliable Top 3 placing in Transparency International's annual non-corruption index) but has never recovered the prosperity of the mid-20th century). This is a constant source of fretting and anxious comparisons with Australia.
At one point recently, women held the posts of Prime Minister, Chief Justice, Solictor General and CEO of Telecom New Zealand. NZ women are staunch. Civil unions were passed into law last year and prostitution is legal and regulated; both on conscience votes in Parliament. The respective sides of the prostitution debate insist that things have either gotten better or worse since the law change.
Social indicators vary. Child abuse rates, especially among Maori, are terrible, but there may also be more reporting going on here. Youth suicide rates are globally bad, but have been steadily falling. High incidence of petty property crimes, low incidence of sexual offending (compared to Australia, Us, UK, etc). For many years we were the world champion per-capita consumers of LSD, and we still like a toke. Methamphetamine (smoked as "P") has been a serious problem in recent years.
New Zealanders, much as they ever have, function best at the apex of practicality and creativity. We're the roadies rather than the rock stars; and late, the directors rather than the movie stars. We still like rugby. But we eat and drink to a standard our parents never knew. Fresh food is remarkably good, the wine is sometimes sensational (and generally cheap) and you can get a decent coffee almost everywhere. New Zealanders are big on coffee (it's one of the things we hang out for away from home) and can't understand why no one else in the world makes our special coffee called a flat white.
Schools have a great degree of self-governance than those in similar countries, and the best of them are excellent. NZ kids repeatedly feature at the top of world rankings for maths and literacy - unfortunately, there's also a largely non-white cohort that regularly features near the bottom of those rankings. We're not such an egalitarian place as we used to be.
The land, sea and sky are wonderful. NZers have never been great church-goers, but most of us feel something mystical about the land, especially if we've been away from it. We get out and about a lot.
Worst thing about New Zealand? Annoying whiners who blather on about "political correctness" but can never really say what they mean, and insist on making cringeing, unfavourable comparisons with Australia. But I guess we have to own them too. They have doubt. Doubt is what distinguishes New Zealanders from Australians. They're all brash and confident - they're also *way* more racist than New Zealanders, but we do like them anyway.
Some of our best art, most notably that of Colin McCahon, is riven by doubt. And thus the greatest line ever uttered in a NZ movie (Goodbye Pork Pie - 1980?) is reproduced here (the characters were smoking pot on a road trip at the time):
"There's only one thing certain in life, Blondini, and that's doubt .. I think."
Doubt is what distinguishes the inhabitants of New Zealand from those of Australia.
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