OPINION: About 12 years ago, I discovered a collectible book website called the American Book Exchange.
There were literally thousands and thousands of secondhand book stores from throughout the world with their inventory accessible via this site.
I have always loved books and as my interest in history grew, I avidly scoured through auction catalogues and delved into the local history and Maori sections of secondhand bookstores whenever I had the chance.
I ended up gathering a reasonable collection from local sources, but many choice items remained elusive or ridiculously expensive. As luck would have it, I managed to discover this website soon after it was launched, which meant that the market hadn't sorted itself out.
It was not an auction site, but everything was advertised based on what the seller thought the books were worth.
This proved interesting as many of the books that had great local value were considered nearly worthless in another country. During the first year, I managed to purchase some amazing books at a fraction of their local value as well as discovering maps and manuscripts that I would never have known existed if it was not for the internet.
For that early period, it was quite addictive but then things started to change. Sales were monitored and bargains were less and less easier to find.
Where there may have been as much as a few thousand dollars in the price difference between certain books at the out set, as the competition levelled the gap was usually just a couple of percent difference between identical books. This was a sure sign that the market had corrected itself. Prices had found their own level based on supply and demand.
It was an interesting lesson for me as, although I knew about certain economic theories, this micro study had played out before me. There was enough data and sophistication in the market that pricing sorted itself out.
At the other end of the spectrum, a little like the early months of the American Book Exchange website, when we were in Bali everything seemed to be worth exactly what someone was prepared to pay for it. The unregulated bargaining economy of street hawkers could see the same item sell for $100 or $1 entirely dependent on the consumer.
This is what I find quite perplexing about the land sale issue. Perhaps I am over it because I can see the irony of an argument against selling land to foreigners from a population of New Zealanders who settled the country based entirely on the construction of a multi-layered, often deceitful land access regime.
The primary sector economy is built upon that private ownership model while Maori land was treated much differently, not allowing the true value of their land assets to be realised.
Now it seems we want to secure the property rights of those that happen to be here now and deny others the same opportunity. In a country so young, this absolutely smacks of hypocrisy and even racism.
Some of the pundits like to claim they expect any land ownership rules to be applied evenly but I have no doubt that impetus for backlash is entirely in reaction to the threat of Asian investment.
Politicians are now engaging in the despicable. References to and arguments about foreign ownership are drawing heavily on a form of mass prejudice.
I found the leaders' debate the other night quite bizarre. It was stated that land shouldn't be exposed to genuine market forces because it isn't fair to locals who want to get in to the business of farming. The short-sightedness of such an overtly politically-driven statement flabbergasts me.
INTERNATIONAL PARTNERS NEEDED
We have been at the forefront of international free market economic reforms and although one might argue that we are selling our God-given rights (that belong to our grandchildren) to the highest bidder, which gods are they talking about? The one they brought with them or the ones that were already here?
We are a country that dismally fails to live within its means. Our personal investment plans focus around ownership of a modest piece of real estate that we can sell off when retirement comes around.
Our national economy is not dissimilar. Most of our book wealth is tied up in land and this coupled with a small labour force, low-tech orientation and minimal investment in research and development means that we are shackled to a predominantly, primary sector economy.
The one thing that will transform our economy is significant investment and we cannot afford to do that alone.
It just adds up to more debt. We need international partners. We need to be more strategic about where those funds are coming from. We don't need to shoot politically motivated claptrap from the hip.
- The Press