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Spoilt for choice


As a kid I enjoyed drinking milk. It was just as well because kids in my day had little choice and we were seldom called upon to make decisions. A half pint was provided at school courtesy of a functioning welfare state. The private sector was however not excluded. A subsidised pint could be bought at any local dairy with four cents and a replacement bottle. I didn’t mind whether it was homogenised or pasteurised, they both tasted pretty good to me. It had to be one or the other because that was all there was. The country with the highest per capita dairy output in the world got by pretty well with a limited selection of two types of milk.

Culture shock is common these days, even amongst many in their own culture. I first experienced it buying milk in a Californian supermarket. I was faced with an amazing array to choose from. There was milk with added calcium, milk with added vitamin D, there was trim milk, slim milk, low fat milk, no fat milk and some that I suspected to be no milk milk. Some American milks were stretching the marketing concept even back then. They were, I believe, water with some added milk. I never did find one that was just milk and they were all inferior to the Kiwi product I had come to know and love. The ice cream too was disappointing. I eventually worked out why when I came upon an upmarket ice cream parlour whose advertising banner proclaimed ‘We use real cream’.

Television was likewise. I left New Zealand’s two channel state run broadcasting system to find myself faced with a choice of over 50 channels. I became a late night addict with remote in hand muttering the perennial cry of the Sky subscriber, ‘How come with this many channels there’s still nothing worth watching?’

This was back in the 1980s and proved even then that greater choice and increased competition doesn’t necessarily translate into better service or higher standards.

Once we had no choice of phone company, there was but one. The only decision was, can we afford a phone? The answer was usually yes. The service then was comparatively cheap and extended to 99 percent of New Zealanders. Those on party lines or connected to manual exchanges risked having a local busybody listen in to their call. These days we can choose between several private phone companies who share much of our original taxpayer funded infrastructure. They vary little in their service and collectively serve a lower percentage of Kiwis than the old Post Office system did. There are no party lines or manual exchanges any more but any and all calls can be and are monitored by the busybodies of state. Not just our state either. At least the old style busybody listened in their own time and at their own expense whereas modern surveillance is, like practically everything else, taxpayer funded.

In days gone by there was only the fish and chip shop or the burger bar. Both invariably owned by individuals, but today’s city dweller has a difficult choice in takeaways. Dozens of fast food franchises have flourished since KFC’s Colonel Sanders first fried fowl. When the globally pervasive McDonald’s, first opened in New Zealand I illustrated a prevailing propensity for underestimating the gullibility of the New Zealand public by saying to all who would listen: ‘Nah, they won’t do well here. The standard Kiwi burger is far too good for people to want to buy McDonalds‘. I was wrong. I can see no reason why the nutritious well-balanced meal that New Zealand burgers once were should have been usurped by the over-processed packages of sugar, salt, trans-fats and monosodium glutamate provided by McDonalds. Maybe it was the little plastic toys?

There is choice aplenty but we settle for watery milk and plastic hamburgers and a government that funds research to determine the cause of increasing obesity.

We were told that free market economics, privatisation of government services, competition and greater choice would improve our lives. We were lied to – again. There has been no trickle down. Most services are less comprehensive and cost more as government has divested itself of revenue

sources like Telecom, Air NZ, and more recently our power companies. Tax rates have predictably increased.

Our media, our energy generation our communications network, are ours no longer but have been sold to private ownership. Once it was necessary to wage a war in order to gain control of a country’s vital infrastructure. These days it is sufficient only to vote National then wait for the share issue. Spoilt for choice we were robbed whilst trying to decide what it was we wanted. Now the time to choose has passed us by as we realise that although there may have been less choice in the old New Zealand of the past – there was more quality.

The Mangawhai Focus is the only 'Mangawhai' community Newspaper and is the paper of choice within the local area.

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