Author(s): Max Harris
By any measure, New Zealand must confront some monumental issues in the years ahead. From the future of work to climate change, geopolitical upheaval to housing affordability, wealth inequality to new populism - these challenges are complex and even unprecedented in their scope. Yet why, as Max Harris argues in this far-sighted book, does New Zealand's political thinking and discussion often seem so diminished? Do we even possess the political means and imagination to match the enormity of these issues? And why is this gap particularly apparent to young New Zealanders?In this bold and enlivening work, Harris's attempt to find answers to these questions evolves into his own 'New Zealand project'. The book represents, from the perspective of a brilliant young New Zealander, a vision for how this country and all of its people can best overcome and prosper from the challenges ahead. It calls for a centring of values-based politics: in particular, a politics grounded in care, community, and creativity. Unashamedly idealistic, The New Zealand Project ultimately does not seek to prescribe a new future but instead kick-start a fresh and bigger conversation about how to improve the country - and the world - we all inhabit now.
At a time when we face unprecedented challenges - climate change, rising inequality, economic uncertainties, a rapidly changing concept of ‘work', just to mention a few - we are also seeing an increased disillusionment and more pointedly a dissociation with politics and a lack of discourse (even in an election year). Why is it that many don’t vote, and why is it that political conversation doesn’t happen around every dining room table? We have seen a gradual decline in involvement in politics on either a small, local scale or a grander scale in recent decades, particularly in the face of neoliberalism over the last 40 years or so, accelerated by the accusation of governments being more in cahoots with big business and their own social groupings than with people they claim to represent. There are exceptions, for instance Obama’s successful presidential campaign (yet once in ‘power’, it’s debatable whether much really changed) that harnessed swathes of America and gained the attention worldwide.The economic collapses of 2007-8 could have made a difference in the way that people viewed and made use of political tools, yet, despite the 1% movement and other similar protest movements, the banks were rescued, a few figureheads went to jail and the world carried on in that boom/crash manner of capitalism. The phenomena of Bernie Sanders in the US and Jeremy Corbyn in the UK have given us a glimpse, though, of what might be achieved when people feel engaged with the political system. But sitting right along side this is Brexit (a vote which harnessed the will of disgruntled and disenfranchised) and likewise Trump for similar reasons. Max Harris’s book, The New Zealand Project, isn’t looking at what has been, so much as at what can be: an optimistic discussion about where we are, and a suggestion of new way forward. Harris is an Examination Fellow at All Souls College, Oxford, and this Project is part of his work on political systems and the need to change the principles at the core of these systems. In The New Zealand Project, Harris is interested in values, a ‘politics of love’, and how the ideas of community, care and creativity can make a difference in building a better society. These three elements are the anchor stones for talking about inequality, economic structures, foreign policy, decolonisation, social infrastructure (health, education and housing), climate change and a politics that engages people and their power to play a positive role in their political lives. Harris is unashamedly idealistic, something which I also noted in Chloe Swarbrick’s address at a recent event in Nelson, and this positivity has also grabbed the attention of the public in the rise of Jacinda Ardern. It’s refreshing and, while I probably fall into the cynic camp when it comes to politics, I can’t help but feel buoyed by the fact that there are new ideas and energy on the horizon, ideas that don’t necessarily come from traditional left/right paradigm. Talking in terms of positivity and values or 'love politics' might give you the wrong impression. The New Zealand Project is a serious, intelligent and thoughtful vision that challenges our preconceptions, tackles the tough questions, and gives us a framework on which to think about New Zealand’s political future and how changes in political concepts are vital to creating a better society for all. It is incredibly detailed, given the breadth of its content, and while reading it I wanted my post-it notes handy so I could come back to intriguing ideas, questions raised and thoughts triggered. Max Harris wants a discussion - he wants people to ask questions and debate concepts. This is a book that should be read, absorbed and discussed.
Max Harris is currently an Examination Fellow at All Souls College in Oxford. He completed a Master of Public Policy and Bachelor of Civil Law at the University of Oxford while on a New Zealand Rhodes Scholarship from 2012-2014, and a Law/Arts conjoint degree (with Honours in Law) at the University of Auckland from 2006-2010. Harris worked at the Supreme Court of New Zealand as a clerk for Chief Justice Elias in 2011-2012. He has also completed short stints of work at the South Australian Department of Premier and Cabinet (in early 2008, as a speechwriting intern), the law firm Russell McVeagh (in late 2008-2009), the Australian National University in Canberra (as a summer scholar, in late 2009-2010), the American Civil Liberties Union in New York (late 2010-2011), and Helen Clark's Executive Office at the United Nations Development Programme (in July-August 2014).
1. The New Zealand Project2. Winds From the North, South, West and East: Global Forces and Frictions Shaping New Zealand Politics3. New Zealand and the World4. A New Framework for Economic Policy5. On Decolonisation, Constitutions and 'Race Relations'6. Social Infrastructure in Aotearoa New Zealand: Health, Education and Housing7. Justice Means More than Revenge8. The Politics of Love - and the Changing World of Work9. 'Clean and Green'? - Environmental Politics and Policy10. Genders, Masculinities and Sexualities in Aotearoa New Zealand11. People Power12. Taking the New Zealand Project Forward