POLITICS : From the Edge of the World; Calling All Budding Innovators and Thinkers. New Zealand Needs You Now

Article excerpt

Byline: Colin James

New Zealand as a think tank? We're 4.4 million at the bottom of the world specialising in exporting much of our best talent to more interesting and rewarding places.

We're inventive. But our inventors mostly sell out to live the triple-B life plus offshore comforts. Governments have kept research funding below the OECD government average, thinking that they mustn't pick winners (except for Sir Peter Jackson), that the point is early commercial wins, that this country is too small and that voters want the money spent on other things.

So we do cows and R&R. The wages aren't great, but it's a great place to bring up kids (then export them to where the wages are great).

Apply this thinking to 18th-century Scotland, backward, poor, small, on the outer fringe of Europe, dominated by next-door England -- and home to David Hume, described as "the most important philosopher ever to write in English", and Adam Smith, founder of modern economics, who between them created a better version of the Enlightenment than the populous, continental French.

Try small fifth-century BC Athens where Socrates, Plato and Aristotle revolutionised philosophy and Thucydides wrote the first serious history.

Now note today's big global shift: the transformational combination of digital technology and globalisation, with nanotechnology and genetics starting to open wide new opportunities; the over-reach and collapse of much of the rich world's finance sectors; the success (so far) of Chinese state-led capitalism and its growing military and political power; the pressure on water, food, oil and mineral resources; the looming end to the "population bonus" which part-fuelled the past six decades' spectacular global economic growth.

Only with innovative analyses, theories and policy prescriptions will we make sense of and manage the resultant, very different, "new normal".

There is a nascent library of books and articles on those points. None yet matches Smith or Lord Keynes or even Milton Friedman in economics, or Hume and Karl Marx in politics, as creators of new thinking for new times. …