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Nationalism, foreign takeovers and emigrants

  • April 1st, 2008

I’m a nationalist. I love living in Wellington, New Zealand. When overseas, the letters N and Z leap at me out of newsprint pages. Only 4 weeks of my OE years were spent in the UK, but not to avoid antipodean company. Foreign friends were fascinating, and the months without compatriot company were absorbing, but even then I knew that the best times were in the easy familiarity of people who laugh at the same things (admitting that includes Aussies).

For me to live elsewhere without plans for return would be punishment. The smell of foreign forest litter makes me homesick for the New Zealand bush. I feel sorry for the economic refugees from this country, though they may not not feel sorry for themselves. One of my drivers toward politics is the determination to restore our aspirations, so our children can stay without fearing they’ll spend frustrating careers among people who settle for low achievement.

I’ve always been irked by those who despise the ordinary person’s instinctive fear of foreign control. To me suspicion of “selling the silver” and foreign takeovers is entirely rational. Sure – asset sales or getting in hock to foreigners are inevitable for a people who’ve chosen to spend more than we earn for 40 years. So we should turn that suspicion on those who pander to our fecklessness. But ownership matters. Control matters. Ordinary people are rightly trying to judge the loyalty of those who would be their leaders. It is rational to be suspicious of would-be leaders who mock those fears, who do not share nationalism. People without that shared loyalty could more easily sell followers down the road.

So I like the unashamed nationalism of the National Party. And I was delighted to come across some research support for that instinct. Here is NCPA’s summary:

“In 1995 and 2003, the Norway-based International Social Survey Programme (ISSP) carried out surveys of national identity across 23 and  34 countries respectively, ranging for established democracies like Australia and the United States to younger ones such as the Czech Republic and Slovakia.  In the polls people were asked about the degree to which they agreed that their country is better than most.  The stronger this sense of national superiority, the higher  the level of nationalism, writes Gustavo de las Casas in Foreign Policy.

Across the board, countries with a higher average level of nationalism were consistently wealthier:

    o   Contrary to the conventional wisdom, poorer countries such as Latvia and Slovenia are actually among the least nationalistic.

    o   And the rich Western countries, such as Australia, Canada and the United States, score as the most nationalistic.

The virtues of nationalism also transcend citizens’ bank accounts, says de las Casas.  For example, consider the problem of corruption:

    o   According to the World Bank, corruption is consistently lower in countries with higher levels of nationalism.

    o   Like parties to a business transaction, public servants who contemplate corruption face an unsavoury trade-off: to profit at the expense of fellow nationals.

    o   So, if bureaucrats are highly nationalistic, they are also more sensitive to any damage to society, and less prone to abuse public office.

Nationalism also changes the mindset of those affected by corruption:

    o   A nationalistic public is less likely to accept government corruption and simply look the other way.

   o   But a nationalistic citizenry gauges the effect of corruption on the entire nation, and this greater concern for potential abuse triggers the collective response that keeps corruption in check.

 For all nationalism’s supposed faults, it is incredibly — and  consistently — associated with things we value in economics, politics and society, says de las Casas.

Source: Gustavo de las Casas, “Is Nationalism Good For You?”  Foreign Policy, March/April 2008.

I listen without argument to friends who head off for time in Sydney or London or the Gold Coast because the weather is better, or they will make more money, or can take exotic holidays more easily, but that would not be enough for me. 18 years ago I rejected an offer to triple my income in Sydney, because it would necessarily have been open-ended.

I understand the need to test oneself against the best in career terms. I wish all the best to escapees from the feeble ambition, defeatism and political correctness inculcated in young New Zealanders.  I know I could let inertia turn months into years and years into decades, until overseas connections were stronger than residual connections here, and be happy.

But when friends cold-bloodedly plan to live permanently elsewhere I wonder if I really know them. The idea is so alien to me I have to suppress a feeling that I’ve missed something suspect about them.



You miss the point that some leave *because* they love NZ. They go to countries with similar problems but they don’t have to feel the bitter disappointment and anger when those countries do nothing to address those problems. There is an emotional disconnect and it is a relief to them. Personally I would rather stay and fight what is wrong here, but I can sympathise with those who don’t, especially Maori. Home is where the heart is, and the heart is usually where family and friends are. Many follow them to other countries. Something “suspect” about them? I don’t think so.

  • Daniel
  • April 1st, 2008
  • 1:12 pm

With multiculturalism, bi-culturalism,
and the dissconect with the vision of where New Zealand is heading there is little to hold New Zealanders in their own country. The economic trajectory since 1956 has been downwards.
The industry productivity and optimism of Australia stems in part from a pride in their country and an ethos of endeavour.

If you can’t build transmission gully you can’t build a country.

If you can’t celebrate the National day without rancour and division you are not
a place that people take too much pride in.

People prefer to belong to places that are going places.


“I wish all the best to escapees from the feeble ambition, defeatism and political correctness inculcated in young New Zealanders.”
“But when friends cold-bloodedly plan to live permanently elsewhere I wonder if I really know them. The idea is so alien to me I have to suppress a feeling that I’ve missed something suspect about them.”

Nah, you know exactly what motivates so many of us into self-exile.

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