A Land of No Milk and No Honey: A Reply to No Right Turn
New Zealand political blogger, No Right Turn, is a particular type of Leftist. Not my sort of Leftist, but it takes all sorts to make a world. His fixation on the Official Information Act 1982 can be both interesting and charming. Some of the other stuff he comes out with… well, that can raise the occasional eyebrow.
Today, he came out with something that was so eyebrow raising, I actually felt the need to discuss it more fully… the suggestion that (in the interests of reducing New Zealand’s carbon and methane emissions), New Zealand could realistically shut down its domestic food production, and simply import our food instead.
In fairness, he himself says that he does not actually support such a measure, but the fact that he could even write such a thing with a straight face demonstrates a divergence from reality that beggars belief.
And as for “cheap food”, they export 95% of what they produce, and our domestic prices are set by what they can get overseas – meaning that while we pay the full environmental costs of their business, we get no real benefit for that. We could shut them all down tomorrow, import all our food, and it would make no economic difference to consumers, while making us all better off from the reduced pollution. I don’t think we should actually do that, but it does illustrate how the costs and benefits stack up for the rest of Aotearoa, and how parasitic this dirty industry is. It also illustrates that we could make quite radical cuts to farm production without affecting our food supply in the slightest (and if farmers would rather export than feed us, that’s what export controls are for).
My immediate thought: “does this fellow even know how New Zealand earns its living internationally?” We are basically a dairy farm with a country attached!
But let’s run with No Right Turn’s little thought experiment. Let’s vanish New Zealand’s domestic food production into the aether. And let’s ignore (1) the effects this will have on the international supply of meat, eggs, and dairy products – specifically, what this does to the ability of the rest of the world to feed itself, and (2) the concept of exporting emissions. It’s not as if that imported food doesn’t also come with pollution costs at the global level. But we live in an age where New Zealand closes its own coal mines so we can import dirtier coal from Indonesia, a phenomenon that makes the likes of No Right Turn so proud that we are doing our bit for the planet.
Let’s begin with Gross Domestic Product. In the year to June 2022, New Zealand’s GDP at current local prices was $360 billion. In the same period, New Zealand’s food and fibre exports accounted for $52.2 billion (yes, unfortunately wool gets lumped in there too, but No Right Turn was talking about eliminating farmers altogether, so let’s run with that).
Translating that into $US at Purchasing Power Parity turns that into $250 billion and $36.25 billion.
So eliminating food and fibre exports takes that down to $213.75 billion, at US PPP. Which puts us down to $41,715 per capita. Beneath Portugal, for those keeping count.
But we’re just getting started. This is merely the elimination of food and fibre exports… an overnight collapse of 14.5% of New Zealand GDP. Unfortunately, the remaining data doesn’t neatly line up in terms of time period, so I am not going to crunch further numbers, but No Right Turn’s hypothetical would also require substantial import increase. As of 2019, New Zealand was importing only about 19.5% of its food, so one can understand the extra expense there. Goodness knows how No Right Turn envisages how the country will actually pay for any of this.
And then come two additional kickers, which send us down the road to Hell:
- The Keynesian multiplier effect. By literally destroying one seventh of the New Zealand economy overnight, those on the receiving end would no longer be able to pay their bills or at least spend as much on other local goods and services. Rural service towns would disappear, of course, but they would not be the only ones. Anyone producing those other goods and services also suffer. Which then would have a snowballing effect throughout the rest of the economy, leading to bankruptcies, mass unemployment, and devastation.
- The collapse of New Zealand food exports, and the sudden reliance on food imports would collapse the New Zealand dollar. Imports would become prohibitively expensive. Cue rampant inflation, impacting back on food prices. Never mind petrol costs.
To put it bluntly, No Right Turn’s idle musing would literally turn New Zealand into a Third World country. People might well starve because they would have no means of paying for the necessary food. Government ability to fund infrastructure, education, and health services would disappear too, and any attempt to plug the gap via deficit spending would simply fuel the runaway inflation.
I have previously referred to No Right Turn and his ilk as Green Thatcherites, callously dancing on the grave of New Zealand industry in pursuit of their ideological agenda. But this? This is madness. Quite apart from the aforementioned irony that in global terms, this idiocy might well make emissions worse. No Right Turn would make us into a desert, and call it Green.
Maybe I’m misunderstanding the far left, being the simple and airheaded social democrat that I am, but I would think anarchists would rather favor local self-sufficiency and socialists would bark at having to rely on bourgeois imperialists for their daily bread.
Self-sufficiency isn’t the issue here. New Zealand produces more food than it can eat many times over. It’s just that ending that in order to reduce local pollution would be utterly daft.
The land of no milk and no honey: force feeding in Israel