A few days ago New Zealand went from zero to hero when it surprisingly jumped to the top of an index it had never previously appeared on. The Social Progress Imperative ranked New Zealand first in its social progress index.
Before you emigrate or invest in New Zealand, because you’re one of those people that want to accept these indexes at face value, we’d like to draw your attention to an article in the NZ Herald newspaper by Alan Gamlen: “Inequality drives many to quit NZ: To be worse off among peers at home hurts more than being worse off abroad.” As you can see there is not much sign of social progress towards equality in New Zealand, otherwise why do so many leave? Over a quarter of the country’s population lives abroad, most of them in Australia.
Emigration is driven not only by opportunities, but also by inequalities. The OECD has issued alarming advice for governments to take “urgent action to tackle rising inequality and social divisions”. New Zealand has left these issues unaddressed for too long, and we need to acknowledge it is one of the reasons why our people keep leaving…
Why are people leaving? At least since the 1980s, the conventional wisdom has been that, despite heroic government efforts, we can do little to stop higher wages and better weather pulling opportunistic New Zealanders across the Tasman.
But this explanation ignores the fact that emigration is driven not only by opportunities for enrichment but also by inequalities and exploitation…
In recent years, international migration research had relied less on classical ideas about foreign wage levels, and more on the “new economics of labour migration”. According to this school of thought, migration is driven not by wage differences between origin and destination countries, but by “relative deprivation“.
In other words, being worse off than one’s peers at home hurts more than being worse off than strangers living abroad. Rather than just inequalities between countries, current theory says, migration is also driven by inequalities within origin countries.
Migrants may not have perfect information about wages in a far-off region or about the costs of getting there. But they can and do respond to an acute awareness of their place in the pecking order at home.
If they are poor enough to feel excluded from their own society, but not too poor to escape, they will try to do so.
Inequality in New Zealand has widened markedly since the 1980s, and in addition to a much-lamented “underclass” of unskilled New Zealanders without employment prospects, we have also seen the emergence of a “squeezed middle” of educated but debt-ridden people nearing middle-age, for whom there are no jobs worthy of their costly skills, and who feel no hope of ever affording their own homes…
If inequality matters as an emigration driver, why do we only hear about higher overseas wages? One reason is political. Opposition parties score points by blaming incumbent governments for emigration, while governments blame emigration on inherited long-term problems, like wage differences.
This is a set game rigged to end in stalemate. What the public sees as a pitched political battle over emigration is often more of a ritualised bloodsport. Politicians have even taken to simply recycling each other’s stunts – such as being photographed with an empty stadium symbolising the impact of emigration.
This game obscures the bigger picture that emigration matters, both because we are “losing” people, and because the “lost” people are participating in our society to an extent that was not possible a generation ago. The recent founding of a New Zealand Expatriate political party is only one sign of this…” read the full article here
Dr Alan Gamlen is a senior lecturer at New Zealand’s Victoria University and research associate at Oxford University. He is editor-in-chief of the journal Migration Studies published by Oxford University Press.