Nearly 50 years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called for a revolution in priorities and vision and a transfer of power from rich to poor. In other words: proportionality; a fairer spread of the wealth and resources. Dr. King’s foundational message is as relevant now as it was then. He was asking us to think about what a fair society looks like and then make it happen.
Today, New Zealand is not a fair society. We need a revolution in priorities, in vision and in a transfer of power away from the rich and toward the benefit of ordinary working, and poor people. We need to require politicians to stop compromising for the benefit of a few and start making social and economic justice the main priority. This means at the most elementary level reviewing and reordering the way things are done: including policies, processes and practices and restructuring a taxation system that works first and foremost, to the advantage of poor people and low-income workers.
Social and economic justice should come easy to New Zealand. Our population is tiny. Our standard of living could be represented by the best of our unique indigenous heritage, alongside something akin to the contemporary, Nordic social democratic experience. And yet, we remain cursed by unaccountable governments and largely flaky parliamentarians that seem to settle for short-term, often insensitive ad-hoc reactions, as opposed to policies focused on long-term solutions. Whether dominated by Labour or National governments here have generally performed more like “Nanny State” style administration systems rather than democratic governments.
Those of us who work in community development or welfare organisations know that successive governments, at least since the mid-1980s have shown to be wasteful and overly-controlling with inept practices born by poorly conceived ideas and policies that essentially blame and punish ordinary people as their systems continue to fail. E.g, Paula Bennett’s recent child abuse green paper will probably prioritise “narking”, as opposed to addressing the long-term needs of babies, children and whanau.
In New Zealand, the average hourly wage per hour is $24-$26, but how many of us make that much? In terms of the cost of living, I was better off as a kitchen-hand in 1990 ($9ph, $40 a week rent) than a McDonald’s crew worker is in 2011 ($13ph, $180 a week rent). Then in 1991 the damn Employment Contracts Act came along and destroyed most of the country – only the rich got richer and they continued to – to obscene levels in 2011.
About 70% of New Zealanders are on low to below average incomes, yet big businesses have no restriction on their greed and political influence.
According to the World Bank (2010), New Zealand is the easiest country in the world to do business in because the workforce is largely compliant and easily kept in place. The very rich can easily dodge tax and pay the lowest wages. New Zealand is seen as a good economy because in government and in business it focuses on quick fixes, where quantity not quality matters, profits rule and people are disposable.
All of this is deeply immoral. Many of these inequalities would not exist if it weren’t for the economic direction of the last 25 years started by the Fourth Labour Government in 1984.
Since that economic experiment of Rogernomics started to take effect, New Zealand has become one of the most unequal and unjust democratic countries in the world. Most of us know this. We experience it daily. There’s plenty written about it, but not much has changed.
While New Zealand government is stuck in the 1980s, still addicted to the bland Rogernomics ideology, in the 21st Century, the likes of the UK Prime Minister David Cameron and US President Barack Obama, Warren Buffett (worth $50 billion) and re-known economists such as Joseph Stiglitz and James K. Galbraith are calling for a halt to the excesses of the rich and the powerful. In New Zealand, a growing number of economists are calling on the government to re-think taxes, incomes and systems toward a fairer redistribution of wealth and resources.
The National government mocked him. Similarly, Phillip Mills, of Les Mills fame, and a “Rich Lister”, stated that he was very concerned about the growing gap between rich and poor, and advocated taxes for the rich should be higher.
Currently New Zealand remains a free and prosperous land for multinational corporations, advertisers, booze barons, speculators, property developers, unaccountable tribal capitalists and various governmental parasites that allow them to continue their exploitation. The welfare system in this country is absolutely thriving alright, but the “bludgers” are the wealthiest individuals and their corporations.
In light of the above, I believe any future worth living needs to emphasise the importance of solidarity. Friendship can be very radical – closer ties to family, good friends and diverse communities. Focused and brave people-power needs to flourish to effect change. That’s you and I taking action on social, economic, cultural and legal injustice as it happens: and making the decision to do something to change things in a practical way. We know what it is that allows injustice to prosper in this country. We know what needs to change. Let’s stand tall and be resolute as individuals, friends and colleagues, as families and communities.
Dr Martin Luther King Jr. was right. We need to shift priorities, have a more generous vision for this amazing country and a revolution in how power and wealth is shared. That means a decent standard of living, flexible, focused and generous opportunities, full access to competent, publicly funded health and education from birth to death, and properly paid useful work. If we get this right, our whole society and economy will flourish. Surely these basics are a priority in a progressive democratic society?
People who are paid more need to pay their fair share.
People in New Zealand with bigger incomes, large inheritances, more financial good luck; those who live off large interest payments from investment and speculation, those with multiple property ownership and, importantly, those of the unproductive rich – many who don’t work for their wealth – those who make money from nothing – need to pay their fair share. The ability to live and work in a free and democratic society is their reward.
Ngati Tuwharetoa, Ngati Raukawa ki te tonga