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Economic progress and puzzles : Long-term structural change in the New Zealand economy, 1953-2006


  • Lattimore, Ralph

    (New Zealand Institute of Economic Research)

  • Le, Trinh

    (New Zealand Institute of Economic Research)

  • Claus, Iris

    (Inland Revenue Department)

  • Stroombergen, Adolf



As we emerge from a deep and long recession, the debate must shift again to how New Zealand can lift its productivity growth rate. New Zealand has already done much work in getting the economic environment right for business growth. The reforms of the 1980s and early 1990s removed many of the structural barriers to the efficient allocation of resources across the economy. Even so, New Zealands growth rate has been disappointing. Growth in the last decade has exceeded the average of the OECD. But it has lagged that of Australia. Furthermore, growth has come off the back of working more hours, not more output per hour. This way of growing the economy has its limits. There is no single explanation for New Zealands disappointing growth performance, but reasons identified in an earlier NZIER public good research paper were : (1) geographical distance and small scale although there is conflicting data on the true role and relevance of the former as an issue; (2) relatively low capital per worker possibly linked to the shallow domestic capital market and low savings out of income, and so a hefty current account deficit, which raise the cost of capital; (3) low export growth seemingly due to the dominance of the primary sector where expansion is much constrained by available land. The problem definition is still being debated, and a consensus on the best way to address the issues is further away. However, one argument that seems to be readily accepted by most is that there is a need to get our export sector humming by producing and selling more goods and services to our key offshore markets. Lifting export revenue comes about through higher volumes or higher prices, or a combination of both. So we either need to boost productivity and lift volumes, or create price premia. This can be done by moving up the value chain and focusing our efforts on selling differentiated products, rather than sticking with the tried and tested, homogenous commodity exports for which we are famous. Reciting these platitudes is easy. Making it happen is much more difficult. There are some encouraging and oft-cited examples of dynamic New Zealand firms who are out there selling innovative goods and services to overseas markets. But effecting policy changes to incentivise some degree of structural change is a challenge.

Suggested Citation

  • Lattimore, Ralph & Le, Trinh & Claus, Iris & Stroombergen, Adolf, 2009. "Economic progress and puzzles : Long-term structural change in the New Zealand economy, 1953-2006," NZIER Working Paper 2009/6, New Zealand Institute of Economic Research.
  • Handle: RePEc:ris:nzierw:2009_006

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Daniel Lederman & William F. Maloney, 2007. "Natural Resources : Neither Curse nor Destiny," World Bank Publications, The World Bank, number 7183.
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    3. Lewis Evans & Arthur Grimes & Bryce Wilkinson, 1996. "Economic Reform in New Zealand 1984-95: The Pursuit of Efficiency," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 34(4), pages 1856-1902, December.
    4. Michael Reddell & Cath, Sleeman, 2008. "Some perspectives on past recessions," Reserve Bank of New Zealand Bulletin, Reserve Bank of New Zealand, vol. 71, June.
    5. Iris Claus, 2002. "Inter industry linkages in New Zealand," Treasury Working Paper Series 02/09, New Zealand Treasury.
    6. Iris Claus, 2009. "New Zealand's economic reforms and changes in production structure," Journal of Economic Policy Reform, Taylor and Francis Journals, vol. 12(2), pages 133-143.
    7. Iris Claus & Kathy Li, 2003. "New Zealand’s Production Structure: An International Comparison," Treasury Working Paper Series 03/16, New Zealand Treasury.
    8. Anderson, Kym & Lattimore, Ralph G. & Lloyd, Peter J. & MacLaren, Donald, 2007. "Distortions to Agricultural Incentives in Australia and New Zealand," 2007 Conference (51st), February 13-16, 2007, Queenstown, New Zealand 10407, Australian Agricultural and Resource Economics Society.
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    10. Daniel Lederman & William F. Maloney, 2007. "Natural Resources : Neither Curse nor Destiny," World Bank Publications, The World Bank, number 7183, September.
      • Anthony J. Venables & William Maloney & Ari Kokko & Claudio Bravo Ortega & Daniel Lederman & Roberto Rigobón & José De Gregorio & Jesse Czelusta & Shamila A. Jayasuriya & Magnus Blomström & L. Colin X, 2007. "Natural Resources: Neither Curse nor Destiny," IDB Publications (Books), Inter-American Development Bank, number 59538 edited by William Maloney & Daniel Lederman, February.
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    More about this item


    productivity; economic growth; New Zealand;

    JEL classification:

    • O47 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Growth and Aggregate Productivity - - - Empirical Studies of Economic Growth; Aggregate Productivity; Cross-Country Output Convergence


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