Opinion: I spent most of this past week discussing strategic issues in the business world. Some quite broad-ranging. Often with some quite senior leaders. (No, it did not turn me into an Act voter. And don’t worry, those I was with, no names.) There are some reflections to share.

I did not hear tax issues raised once. Neither did I hear “cost of living” in anything other than a passing manner and then as it affected lower income families. I barely heard “separatism” or divisive Te Tiriti matters, other than when I raised them. Not a snippet about potholes, motorways or tunnels. One might wonder if the election campaign was even happening. You know, when all the really big issues get debated and resolved. Yeah, right.

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So when business is discussing what it really needs to deal with, not with its political hats on but with its day job hats on, the topics are different. This column is to report on that. Because I think that is what politicians and voters should consider. Not the headline fodder of business but the brain food.

When the cheerleaders of commerce have taken their pills and gone quiet.

I think division and conflict is a major force for change – we need to change the old order and it will be messy

The overwhelming concern is one affecting both major parties – that there is no real leadership or strategy on economic prosperity coming from them. There is more framing of this in terms of GDP growth than I would share, but to overemphasise that would be unfair. Economic growth was not seen as a goal in itself but rather as the key enabler of creating and sustaining the levels of social and physical infrastructure we need for social wellbeing. It was this rather than a simplistic “trickle down” theory that I was hearing.

Business is used to defining a goal and then developing a strategy to reach that goal. Not everything in business translates to government. Far from it. But this basic element of how to get things done is consistent across economic and social action of many kinds. What I was hearing was the absence of this, and I agree. What the main parties throw at us is a melange of tactics, various pieces of a puzzle. Whatever they think will get voting clicks like someone trying to be popular on Instagram. 

The second universal thing I was hearing was certainty. Business will adapt to challenges. But the idea that business left to itself will forge a successful country is nonsense, and business knows it. Its cheerleaders do not say it enough because they are paid to promote separate vested interests within business as a whole. Most decent-sized and lasting business is an outcome of legal frameworks created and maintained by governments, and serious thinkers in business know this.

What business really needs to invest and to operate at a cost of capital (risk) is certainty. And consistency. Constant tinkering with laws and regulations, taxes and subsidies is a major negative. But the noise from the major parties promotes uncertainty rather than what is needed.

The other major common concern was social cohesion. I am less concerned about this than many because I think division and conflict is a major force for change – we need to change the old order and it will be messy.

But I don’t kid myself that my views are mainstream in business. I am intrigued, even heartened though, by how I hear this desire for social cohesion being expressed. It is not, at least not dominantly, expressed as a desire to maintain the social status quo. Other than quite limited and obvious individual vested interests, I don’t hear resistance to major shifts in energy source and use; none to expansion of Māori economic activity; none to other environmental protection and enhancement.

Maybe my cynicism on environmental, social, and governance policies is too negative. I even heard quite a bit of concern about inequity – and not all simply about avoiding the pitchforks.

I’m not a naïve person. I don’t think we can all hold hands, sing Tutira Mai, and stroll off together happily. But I do think at least the major parties are missing the point. They both spend a lot of time pandering to what they think are business interests. But they are both misinterpreting those interests.

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