Notes for our grandchildren

Sir Paul CallaghanNew eyes to see

A few years ago I met a great New Zealander, Professor Paul Callaghan. He opened my eyes to new ways of looking at our world. It was a mixed blessing; he condemned me to a future of enlightenment on the one hand, and frustration, anger, and despair on the other. Dr Callaghan, a physicist from Wellington’s Victoria University, had recently been made a Fellow of the Royal Society. When he hopped on the plane to return to New Zealand after picking up the award, he also picked up a book called “The Undercover Economist”. In doing so, he changed the direction of his life. Mine too. I’ve talked about Paul and his must-see presentation “Beyond the Theme park and the Farm Gate” here. Although it’s about New Zealand’s economic decline; why it’s happening, and how to reverse it, his conclusions are relevant to non-Kiwis, anyone who wants to understand the requirements for prosperity in an economy.

Dr Callaghan was knighted not long after I met him; then he was made New Zealander of the year in 2011; and the Labour Party had him as keynote speaker at their annual talkfest. He was a great New Zealander who understood where our country is going wrong; why 500,000 of us live in Australia; and what’s required to fix the problem. New Zealand isn’t awash with people I have great respect for. Sir Paul was definitely one.

I was enlisted to help him set up a website to promote his message, but he lost his battle with cancer and died, far too soon, in 2012.

Our politicians of all stripes thought enough of Sir Paul’s work to honour him, but they’ve never acted upon it. He motivated me to learn as much as I could about what’s going wrong in our country and on our planet. Here’s some of it:

When the world was young…

One of my earliest memories is of the VJ day parade in Dunedin, a celebration of the surrender of Japan and the end of World War II. I stood outside Whitcombe and Tombes on George Street listening to the bagpipes and watching someone in the parade pushing a hand cart which carried an effigy of Hitler’s body sans arms, legs and head. I was 4 years old but 70 years later I can still see it clearly. At that age children don’t usually understand much about political events, but the time between the start of World War I, the terrible influenza epidemic, and the end of World War II (with the catastrophe of the Great Depression squeezed in between) was so cataclysmic and all-pervasive that even small children probably had an inkling of what was going on, and well knew who Hitler was.

VJ day in DunedinMy generation’s childhood was dominated by that war long after it was over. Most adult men were veterans of at least one war; my best friends Onno and Ingrid were refugees from a devastated Europe and their parents told of wonderful things like eating rats and cats to survive; in those pre-TV days the movies, the news, and even the comics were about “The War”: the Dam Busters, Rockfist Rogan, Nazis, Tommies, Yanks, and Japs. Winston Churchill and Hitler, Berlin, London, and Hiroshima all loomed large in our young lives. Meat and butter were rationed so that we could send vast quantities of produce “Home” to England.

At the end of it all we had a new United Nations, a booming world economy, unbounded optimism and the general idea that we’d learned our lesson. The age of war was over.

Yeah, right.

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