There’s a global conversation raging over the massive growth in inequality and poverty. At home, that conversation is being led by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern who has seized on this agenda. Part of that national conversation is under way, via the Child Poverty Bill presently before Parliament.
It is sobering to reflect on New Zealand and what the once great promise of an egalitarian society has finally come to look like and represent. It has all happened in the last 30 years.
Many of the Kiwi folk who make up our rich list did not make their money simply by being sharp and clever innovators or entrepreneurs.
The richest man in New Zealand, Graeme Hart, gained his boarding pass to becoming the country’s richest man in some respects by being in the right place at the right time when the New Zealand Printing Office was privatised.
We all know the story of the merchant bankers Michael Fay and David Richwhite, and one-time transport tycoons Alan Gibbs and Trevor Farmer, who made their money in part by being well positioned around deregulation — therefore privatisation.
Even the recently retired National Party politician Steven Joyce made his money before politics out of privatised radio bandwidths which were previously owned in the Government estate.
If you look into the background of many of our richest, you’ll find they were born from a cooperative society, a society where they achieved total and absolute free education from early childhood through to university degree courses.
You’ll no doubt find that a number of them were beneficiaries of state-built housing, of state advance loans to buy that housing, of child family benefit payments to support their mother in feeding them and that they ultimately never wanted for a job when they left education because the great egalitarian government ensured that there was virtually full employment.
I suffer no envy over the massive wealth they possess, but nor do I suffer from amnesia just because they are now uber rich and well-connected.
The startling thing about any discussion around inequality or poverty in New Zealand is that it seems to me many of those who acquired all this wealth have suddenly also suffered amnesia about how they obtained it.
The rules have changed, the game has changed and while they were able to climb the ladder to great wealth and prosperity, that ladder was lifted making it difficult for others to.
The great society that produced these great and wealthy uber rich is no more.
As you will note in the graphic, 10 per cent of New Zealanders own 50 per cent of the country’s wealth. In fact, Hart and Richard Chandler, both born into New Zealand as a social welfare state, own more than the combined wealth of the poorest 30 per cent of the adult population.
So how do so few get to control so much?
How can the poor actually make a go of it when some businesses in this country would prefer to import cheap labour and pay low wages, rather than share the excess with their own workers and their own communities?
Some of our richest Kiwis give to charity and have philanthropic intent, but many don’t. It’s unclear why that is.
It is very easy to blame the bottom 30 per cent of society for all its ills because we are all born equal aren’t we?
We’ve all got an equal right to buy a house in Auckland haven’t we?
We can all jump a plane and go on that wonderful holiday that we all deserve, can’t we?
We can all afford now to live in gated leafy communities, drive our children to gated leafed private schools in our SUVs and pretend they are part of the New Zealand community and society.
These are the new values for the new rich in this country called New Zealand. These children are disconnected globalists.
Between 2015 and 2016, Kiwis worth more than $50 million jumped from 212 to 252.
That’s a great outcome on one level, but bizarrely in 2016, according to an Oxfam report, more than one third of these extremely rich individuals declared income of less than $70,000, which is where the top tax rate kicks in.
So before we get into any conversation into inequality and poverty, we must embark on a national conversation on what are the values that we hold dear as a collective in our community and our country.
Do we continue to demonise the poor and pretend that every rich person you see is a productive, innovative citizen in their own country? Or are they rorting us by not paying their (fair) share of tax like one third of our super wealthy appears to be doing? It may be legal but it’s certainly not fair. Hopefully Sir Michael Cullen’s Tax Group will sort this lot out
What sort of values are they teaching their children and grandchildren? I guarantee their grandparents will be rolling in their graves watching what has become of the great cooperative society where Michael Joseph Savage promised equal rights for every Kiwi child to receive the same education, the same health care, the same housing and a liveable wage on a 40-hour week for all Kiwis.
This conversation isn’t a look back into time and nostalgia — it’s about knowing that with enough of us asserting the same values, we can overpower the greedy and support our needy.
That we change the conversation to attack the causation of poverty, rather than attacking the impoverished.
That the rich start to pull their weight, rather than pretend they are a better class than the poor underclass — as former Prime Minister John Key described the poor.