A Canterbury couple this morning will be echoing John Key's frank warning to Wellington (that it is dying). They are Wellingtonistas. They stay with Cathy and [me] for up to a week for every International Arts Festival. They come for regular mental health breaks.
And last week after a few days here they told us they thought Wellington was sick. They noticed a lack of energy among the friends they usually visit. Their friends here in business seemed worried. We talked about apparent lack of reaction from anyone in leadership in Wellington to Jeremy Moon moving his creative team to Auckland. They mentioned empty buildings and the lack of construction. They were sorry for us.
I knew they were right. It chimed with what I have been noticing for a year or so. And it is not just the necessary downsizing of the government workforce here. Much more telling is the desperate enthusiasm of people who are important to Wellington, about amalgamating the region's councils.
I think they are misguided. They could well succeed, though rearranging local government tatty deckchairs could make our predicament worse (more on this later). But when challenged they react with real anger. The reasoning not logical. But they see a desperate need to "do something", so amalgamation it is, to feel that 'something' is happening.
We should therefore be grateful to the PM for saying openly what many in business have been saying sotto voce for several years.
I'm concerned that the problem is hard to fix partly because of our success, and what we love about living here. The concentration of high earners, administrators, academics, professionals, journalists and other artistic types who like living here is exactly what Richard Florida prescribed. But Florida has had to admit that his key thesis is wrong. It does not necessarily trickle down to benefit all. Many creatives (and officials and academics) rely on scraping taxes and self reliant initiative off boring commerce and its workers. Control workers get their incomes and their satisfaction from second-guessing others and ordering them around. But as Florida has acknowledged, even creatives do not necessarily repay those who pay them, let alone bureacrats and academics. Instead they may despise vigour as crassness, and irreverence as ignorance. More importantly they vote for people like them, who will promise to maintain whatever is the status quo.
Many creatives' ignorance of business and what business actually needs and seeks (basically for officials to get out of their way) leads to an unwelcoming hostility to change – and unwillingness to accept mistakes and to move on in optimism. All are the essence of successful business cultures. Wellington's pathetic inner city by-pass is a case in point, flowing into doing nothing around the Basin Reserve. For nearly three decades politically active Wellington has been faffing around trying to find costless solutions that offend no-one, and in particular the precious types who find reasons to hate all change. We could have built the covered trench, or the open one 20 years ago. And in a dynamically growing city where commerce finds transport frictionless, if we did not like what we had, we'd have torn up the bits we did not like and rebuilt them. Instead, we've prevaricated and got the worst of all possible compromise solutions – a bypass that is not.
Creatives and control workers think they know how to make a city thrive. Curiously it is by taxing others and 'fostering' themselves. They want to run events, and to subsidise favoured businesses opening. But never anything as boring as just getting out of the road of business people and would be home and apartment builders and developers who are already here, and want to stay, but can't because collectively the disadvantages are coming to outweigh our advantages.
Businesses leave as our living attractions cease to outweigh factors like small market size and a too small runway, and night curfews for planes, and the cost of housing and commercial space. As fewer and fewer business people remain, the delicate balance with the 'creatives' and control workers may have tipped. Our local politics now favours the decision paralysis that suits those who love consultation and other political processes. Can-do types steer clear of local democracy. A lack of humility in those who win office creates a climate uncongenial to those who must toil in more ordinary productive businesses. All around the world the left elite look down on money-making from risk, and those who must do it.
Can it be reversed? I think so, though just how is unclear at the moment. On our side is the fact that thousands of our creatives are now unavoidably involved in making money. They have to appreciate risk taking under uncertainty. They want to be facilitated, not directed. If we can mobilise them alongside our residual leaders who understand business we should be able to revive our animal spirits. So thank you John Key for your frankness.