I remember my first ever lecture at University. It was a course in Microeconomics. I remember clearly the very first lesson I learnt from that lecture: One of the main reasons why economics exists is to research how we can maximise utility with a given amount of resources. To put it simply, it is about how we, as a society, can be fully satisfied with our livelihoods.
What does this mean though?
Are we fully satisfied if we maximise our income or business profits at the expense of others?Are we fully satisfied if we extract resources for consumer products at the expense of the environment and future generations?
Many interpret the sole purpose of economics to be of monetary maximisation. And yes, money matters when it comes to putting food on the table, but to a certain extent, having this mindset can be detrimental especially for future rangatahi Māori. Unhealthy individual ambitions driven by money leads to an extreme competitive culture that praises the strong and punishes the disadvantaged. This attitude permeates in almost every part of our society, especially within our education system. And with the upcoming recession triggered by COVID-19, it only compounds the current structural barriers that future rangatahi face.
How can we thrive as a society if a major portion of it is left in the dust?
We will be facing an unprecedented economic crisis of a generation. The only way we can recover is by uplifting all sectors of society, especially rangatahi Māori. In the next 20 years, Māori will make up a larger proportion of the workforce while Pākeha will make up a smaller proportion. This means, now is the time, more than ever to invest in future rangatahi so we end up with an educated workforce that can navigate an increasingly complicated and automated economy.
Investing in future rangatahi Māori doesn’t mean proposinga single targeted policy that marginally promotes Tikanga Māori in classrooms. It requires more than a single intervention. It actually requires a collective approach that includes all participants in the economy, not just policymakers. One such example is reforming the current streaming system in classrooms. A government mandate will not be enough to overhaul this system. It will require messaging and communication with parents, teachers and principals. A collective push by all stakeholders involved are needed to promote an alternative system. Enthusiastic participation by everyone will result in both Māori and Non-Māori achieving and making it through the education system to the job market.
Approaching problems as a collective is the only way we can rewire the economy so that future rangatahi Māori can thrive. Businesses, iwi, community leaders, politicians and other stakeholders have to realise that they do not operate in their separate spaces. The work that they do impacts rangatahi Māori in different areas of society. If all these entities came together and pushed for a similar goal, (such as a higher rate of Māori employed in software engineering firms) it would not only be more efficient but also effective. Complex problems can only be solved by having at our disposal a diverse range of expertise and experiences from different groups.
Today, we are seeing a gradual change in mindset of how our economy should work. This is seen in the government as they prioritise a budget based on well-being measures rather than on GDP growth. It is seen in the private and public sector where more are promoting tikanga Māori and Māori representation in their workforces. However, “gradual” change isn’t enough. With a major disruption in our economy, it is important now more than ever to push for an economy that works for rangatahi Māori. Through a collective impact approach, we can create an innovative, culturally indigenous economy that empowers rangatahi Māori and non-Māori. Maybe our idea of monetary maximisation can be replaced by meaningful wellbeing maximisation. Maybe an unhealthy competitive environment can be replaced with a healthy co-operative environment. I’m confident that if there’s a will, there’s a way. The future is a world of opportunity despite the upcoming recession, and it only requires different stakeholders working together for the collective good. (Thinking back on it now, maybe that microeconomics course was useful after all!)