"You’re from New Zealand? I’ve been there - it’s so beautiful.” It took me years to hear this as an insult.

Yep, an insult. Let's flip it: “You’re from Germany? I’ve been there - it’s so beautiful. The chalk cliffs of Rügen! The undulating Sauerland! The Mecklenburg Lakes, the...” Stop, already. You sound like you're missing a cog. No one goes to Germany to see lakes or the Sauerland. Ask anyone who's been there what they saw, and they'll mention a string of attractions: Marburg’s cobbled streets, Bavarian castles, and the way Heidelberg nestles around the river Neckar. The half-timbered houses that sweep north, changing in pattern from village to village; the Rococo acid trip offered by the Wies church near Steingarden; Berlin’s Museum Island, and, of course, the Oktoberfest.

What do all these things have in common? They were created - none of them would exist without human intervention. But, in the Rough Guide’s top-ten collection of things to see here, the only entries created by human hand are the Taieri Gorge Railway and the Otago Rail Trail - both of which are beaten out, in the ranking, by tree ferns.

Attractions aside, what is Germany known for? (Don't mention the....) The Germans are niche specialists: manufacturers, not just of machines, but of the machines that make other machines. We know them for high technology: semiconductors, precision engineering, and cars; before that, chemicals. (Those three groups make up 42% of Germany’s exports by value; primary products, listed by the Federal Statistics Office, fall under “other”.) These are high-knowledge industries, and high margin. Whereas seven out of every ten of our export dollars come from primary products, in Germany, that figure flips: fewer than one out of every ten euros earned from exports comes from primary products.

But the 100% Pure rep pushes tourism and our primary food exports more than anything else, and that’s a problem: as the Productivity Commission has said, tourism has low productivity, meaning that we use a lot of time and effort, and don’t get a lot back for it, and the same goes for agriculture and fisheries. However, both industries absorb a lot of people - about 190K of us for agriculture, forestry and fishing (.xls), according to Stats NZ, and another 170 K in tourism. That's about one in six of us working in a minimally productive field.

On the other hand, electricity and gas are very productive, as is mining, which contributes sixteen times as much per hour paid to GDP as accommodation and retail, one of the pillars on which tourism rests. Less controversial industries are productive too: media, telecommunications and financial services also have above-average productivity. It's probably not a coincidence that those are IT-heavy industries: if you live on the edge of the world, IT is one thing that helps make distance vanish.

So do we really want to identify, to ourselves and to the world, as 100% pure? Or should we admit that there may be even more value in what we create than in what we show our tourists, or what we reap and ship abroad? If we could adulterate that purity a little, mixing in a little application and ingenuity, we'd have a really intoxicating - a really productive - combination. Let's be a bastard blend. Purity will only get in our way.

Posted
AuthorNicola Rowe