ECONOMICS Nepotism & Kinship

Arguments about nepotism were among the by-products of the furore over Te Wananga o Aotearoa, the Te Awamutu-based tertiary educational institution with huge appetite for public money.
Whereas Education Minister Trevor Mallard said being Maori was not an excuse for giving contracts to mates, Maori Party co-leader Tariana Turia told National Radio: “It’s not an unusual thing for us to employ our own people… our relationships are much wider than [those of] non-Maori.”
Turia was elaborating on her statement to newspapers that nepotism is not word used by Maori. “We see it more as whanau-ngatanga [kinship],” she had said.
Because Maori organisations came under great deal of scrutiny, Maori tended to employ relatives who could do the job because they knew and trusted them. But “you certainly wouldn’t put relative of yours into job you knew they couldn’t do”.
It can’t be said that “kinship” is never given expression in non-Maori enterprises. Publishing and broadcasting mogul Rupert Murdoch’s kids have landed themselves plum jobs in the company he heads and its subsidiaries, for example, and it’s fair bet they owe their positions as much to dad as to their management prowess. But investors who disapprove of appointments in listed companies can sell their shares or refrain from investing in the company in the first place.
More obviously, the owners of dairy, fish and chip shop or whatever can hire who they like to run the store (within the constraints of the Human Rights Act). If owners prefer family as staff and their businesses go belly up, so be it.
Nepotism is different matter in the state sector, however, because public money is at stake. Taxpayers can’t stop paying taxes in protest at the way the Government is spending or investing their money.
But the view of nepotism given us by Turia raises much more important issue: culture and its influence on economic behaviour.
At the same time as news media were rejoicing in keeping us informed about the wananga and its contentious operations, Maori leaders were gathered in Wellington for Hui Taumata 2005, to talk about Maori economic development over the next 20 years or so. discussion paper prepared for the hui says: “Maori economic development will be the portal for Maori economic well-being, and will bring with it improvements in social and cultural well-being.” The development of the Maori economy is expected to help strengthen Maori society and culture, in other words.
There is an obverse consideration: to what extent does Maori society and culture foster the economic development of Maori assets? Or hamper it?
Economist Gareth Morgan in March last year published provocative article entitled “Getting the Maori Economy Moving”. Cultural and social considerations were fundamental to his arguments.
“The failure of marae-centred, tribal organisations to deliver sufficient improvement in social and economic performance indicators for the constituents, is astounding,” he wrote. If Maori were going to preserve and develop what’s best about their culture as well as extract maximum benefit from the secular market economy, “then they’ll have to throw off the shackles that tribal collectivism imposes on the economic aspirations of individual Maori”.
Dr Morgan had been prompted to write his article by criticisms among Ngati Porou iwi of their tribe’s leadership for failing to deliver satisfactory results for them. The iwi dissidents claimed usurpation of fishing quota, nepotism and corruption were drivers of the traditional tribal hierarchy.
Whether we denounce it as “nepotism” or admire it as “kinship”, the critical question must be whether it is positive economic force or negative one. The same goes for other cultural influences on the way Maori do business.
According to the literature on culture and development, cultural factors affect economic behaviour in several ways: for example, through its impact on organisation and production, through attitudes towards consumption and work, through the ability to create and manage institutions, and through the creation of social networks.
There is some recognition of these social and cultural dimensions in the Hui Taumata discussion papers. paper entitled “Developing Enterprise”, for example, refers to enterprise occurring in cultural context and being product of attitudes and social settings.
These social and cultural considerations become much more important when basic question for development economists is considered: “Why do some economies generate tremendous wealth and prosperity while others persist in poverty?”
The answer to that question must include the norms or social values that promote exchange, savings and investment. Whether we have proper understanding of these values in Maoridom and their economic consequences is moot point.

Bob Edlin is regular contributor to Management.

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