Firstly, one important issue economists study is social and economic wellbeing and progress. One of the widely recognised world authorities on how to define wellbeing and progress is a Nobel-Prize winning economist Amartya Sen.
We have used Sen’s ideas as a starting point to assess what NZ is doing with the Treaty and whether it is likely to add to wellbeing. Another whose ideas we have applied is political scientist Robert Putnam who has shown that social capital (connectedness, trust, reciprocity) drives social and economic outcomes.
It is possible to show that constitutional design (as influenced by the Treaty in NZ) effects social capital and that effects social and economic progress, hence our interest in this topic.
Secondly, economists are used to identifying and analysing the effects of property rights. It does not seem to be widely understood that the Treaty conferred property rights in natural resources upon Maori. The natural resource co-governance models that have been used to settle Treaty grievances are a form of property right, not an example of sharing political power as many politicians and others seem to think. There seems to be a poor understanding of both the property rights conferred on Maori and what it means to confer unique political rights.
Thirdly, one Maori aspiration is to address socio-economic disadvantage experienced by Maori. People look to economists to come up with policies that reduce disadvantage.
Fourthly, the analytical technique economists use is to abstract from the minute details and noise in a situation and identify the underlying forces that are driving what is happening. That means looking at who makes meaningful decisions, what motivates their decisions (incentives), what constrains their decisions, and what outcomes are likely when all the players interact. This general technique can be applied beyond the complex arrangements that make up an economy.
When it comes to the Treaty there is noise that needs to be set aside, but more importantly the people making the key decisions aren’t necessarily very visible or transparent about their decisions or their rationale. The drivers of change, the key players and their motives can be identified and analysed, just as they can for complex economies.