Who'll boss the kiss – NZI or the Roundtable?

As a former business journalist, I’m used to the word ‘merger’ being used to cloud on-the-ground realities for a new organisation.

The merger is a public show of a marriage of equals, but usually it’s no such thing.

So who’s going to boss the Business Roundtable-New Zealand Institute think tank merger announced last week?

The answer matters a lot, as much for what it will signify as anything else.

Both organisations are run, and largely funded, by large businesses and business leaders.

But they have almost polar opposite views on what ails the economy and how those ailments should be remedied.

Which camp emerges victorious is important because when the two think tanks join forces in April next year, that’ll be it for New Zealand business think tanks – just the one yet-to-be named organisation.

The media release announcing the merger tries to paper over the wide cracks in world views of the two organisations – “…[they] shared common missions…”, but the reality is they have very different ideas about how to fulfill that mission.

For me, the Institute’s world view somehow clicked. The BRT? Not so much.

While the former has been willing to reach out as it sought to identify the country’s economic ailments and identify remedies, the BRT has too often been stuck in a sterile late 20th century rut. The Institute has been more alive to the realities and possibilities of the early 21st century.

Not that the BRT is dead wrong, but its instinct is to treat a patient only for a cold when the patient has in fact more serious, complicated and harder to treat illnesses.

To give you an idea of the differences, here’s a selection of key words from each organisation’s “About us” pieces.

- “Its major concern is with the quality of New Zealand’s public institutions and policies…” (They talk in the third person).

- “It supports the concepts of individual responsibility and choice, competition, entrepreneurship and risk-taking as vital to achieving economic and social progress.”

- “…[is] committed to generating ideas, debate and solutions that will improve economic prosperity, social well-being, environmental quality and environmental productivity.”

“[NZ’s] challenges won’t be met by recycling the same old solutions. We need new solutions and new ideas. We need a new generation of thinking.”

Hence the BRT’s current projects include: education reform (notably school choice), welfare reform, support for privatisation and regulatory reform.

The NZI’s include: improving social outcomes, global engagement, the weightless economy, innovation and climate change.

Chalk and cheese.

It could be argued the new organisation could carry doing all these pieces of work, but they flow from fundamentally different views of the world so it’s hard to see how it would work.

Who’s going to boss the kiss?

Mike Booker blogs at BigCake.

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