Shaky silver linings

Dr Rachel Hodder
Insights Newsletter
18 November, 2016

It was an odd sense of déjà vu this week as someone who lived in Christchurch until recently. The earthquake was hugely destructive and distressing for many. But while it would be easy to despair, there are more things than just a few rescued cows for which New Zealand can be grateful.

It is worth reflecting on the difference it makes living in a wealthy country. For an earthquake that quite literally shook the whole country, the death toll is remarkably low. Many countries could not withstand such a large quake without a toll in the thousands. As highlighted in the Initiative’s report The Case for Economic Growth, wealthier countries can afford more resilient buildings.

The timing of the earthquake was possibly the best we could hope for too. It would be hard to find a time when more people would be at home than on a Sunday night. The damage to Statistics House would have been unthinkably tragic had the earthquake happened during the work day.

Another fortunate aspect of the timing is that the Government is in a good fiscal position to respond. On the back of the robust economy, the Government had a larger than expected budget surplus. It is a relief that we know we have an expensive repair bill coming before the surplus is committed to a wish list of election promises.

It also comes at a time when large net migration numbers have been raising concerns. The ‘problem’ was New Zealand was just too darn attractive. Both foreigners and Kiwis had been increasingly reluctant to leave and more likely to want to arrive/return. The shaky isles may look less appealing now.

This will be a relief to those unhappy about the perceived and real effects of sudden increases in population. However, fixing the damage from this quake is going to be a huge job, for which New Zealand is going to need people. It is opportune that the quake happened before major policy changes have been implemented that could have hampered our ability to get people in.

All considered, things could have been much worse. It pays to keep that in mind for the future. We never know exactly what is around the corner, but by thinking ahead and being prepared, New Zealand can cope if the worst was to occur.

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