Saturday, 12 March 2005

Gloomocracy II: Gloomocrats United

Before I launch into my main rant, check out this classic Gloomocrat front page headline from the New Zealand Herald yesterday:


Let's be clear: no-one has detected any sign of the Asian bird flu in New Zealand. Furthermore, NZ has about the best biosecurity of any country in the world, aided by the fact that it's a thousand miles to the nearest land mass. So why is this the most important news of the day? Beats me. Next week, STUDY WARNS OF GRIM TOLL IF VOLCANIC EXPLOSION DESTROYS AUCKLAND.

Now on to the main topic. New Zealand has record low unemployment, the lowest in the Western world, and has a shortage of skilled workers. The Government announced they plan to recruit NZ expatriates to come home to help fill the gap. Naturally, this provoked a storm of derision from NZers who cannot see why any expatriates would want to come back.

Some of the letters to the editor were genuinely absurd. One writer complained of "constant rain, wind and cold", apparently unaware that over the last two months all but a few days have been pleasantly warm and sunny (but not too hot or humid, mind you). Others complain about soaring house prices without realizing that it's actually returning expats who are contributing to those prices. And no-one bothered to point out that large numbers of expats have indeed been coming back and continue to do so. Every single person in the Novell Auckland office is a returned expat or recent immigrant. And while in the late 90s most of my friends from university were overseas, now most of those have already returned.

I wrote a letter to the editor pointing all this out, but I expect it's not negative enough for publication.

The Herald did a clever thing and attached an online question form to the online version of the article about the government's plan, to canvas expats for their reactions to the proposal. Here are the questions:

  1. How long have you been overseas?
  2. Do you intend to return to NZ definitely soon/definitely
    eventually/possibly/never? Why?
  3. If you're in the "possibly" category, what are the key factors you
    will consider in deciding whether to return?
  4. How important are NZ pay rates as a factor in your decision?
  5. How do your current income and living costs compare with your
    potential income and living costs in NZ?
  6. Would a 5 per cent general pay increase in NZ this year, and perhaps further increases in future years, make a difference to your decision?

Note that the questions about specifics are focused on financial issues, which are definitely not New Zealand's strongest suit. That's a nice Gloomocratic slant.

Here are the related articles that appeared today:

Pretty much what you'd expect given the slant --- mostly money complaints. Of course no-one mentions the horrendous cost of living in New York or London, or the limited recreational options in London, Hong Kong or Singapore, or the terrible weather in all of those places. In each case the best aspect of some other place is pitted against the corresponding aspect of New Zealand, and all other issues are ignored.

The first article "Quarter of NZ's brightest are gone" is especially deceptive. How does the number of NZ grads living overseas compare to historical numbers --- is it rising or falling? How many grads eventually come back vs non-grads? How many of the 77% of expats in Australia are from that graduate population? (I think these numbers may conflate two large groups: graduates who leave NZ and go all over the world and are quite likely to come back, and unskilled people who emigrate to Australia.) And of course the blunt phrasing of the headline suggests that none come back (and the whole article ignores the talented immigrants coming into this country).

And check out this quote from "Kiwi, please come home":
But the size of the wage gap makes most expatriates scoff. Only 21 per cent of those who answered a question about it said the 5 per cent pay rise would affect their decision to return, 6 per cent said "maybe" and 72 per cent said "no".

Collins implies that 72 per cent are "scoffing" at the wage gap, but in fact those "no" votes include every expat for whom NZ wage rates are not a problem (either because they're high enough or because the expat would be financially independent --- in my experience there's lots of both). Collins either made a slip or is deliberately misrepresenting the facts.

I would be interested in seeing a real study like this: sample X% of surviving graduates who graduated in each year 1970-2000 and answer the following questions:

  • How many are currently in New Zealand?
  • For those in New Zealand, what is the distribution of the # of years they have been out of New Zealand?
  • For those who left New Zealand and came back, why did they come back?
  • How many returned to New Zealand have subsequently left again, and why?

Seeing how these numbers shift across graduation years would be especially interesting.

[Yes, I know this blog entry is a meta-whine. Sorry.]

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