A good read from Ann Salmond, anthropologist and author weighing into the debate on inequality in the NZ Herald yesterday.
The international rating agencies have done all New Zealanders a favour. The double downgrade of the country’s credit rating makes it clear that the policies and philosophies promoted by successive governments are not working.
The “invisible hand” of the market, first conceived in the Enlightenment but coupled at that time with notions of justice, human dignity and “the rights of man”, has failed to deliver prosperity and happiness, in New Zealand as elsewhere.
The problem, it seems, is a loss of balance. In the pursuit of profit, everything in the world – the earth itself, other species, knowledge and indeed, other people – has been turned into a “resource” to be exploited, often without care or conscience.
In the process, ideas of justice, truth and the common good have been undermined. Without these bulwarks, democracy falters, capitalism fails to share wealth and the distribution of income shifts dangerously out of kilter.
Since the 1990s, income inequality in New Zealand has soared. In the midst of successive financial crises, the hand of the market still harvests wealth for the wealthy. While the richest avoid taxation, billions can be found to shore up the corporate sector, but not to deal with child poverty, third-world diseases, high rates of youth incarceration and suicide, and other indicators of suffering and failure.
The philosophies that persuaded many Kiwis to betray their own best values are bankrupt, and our future is at risk. A nation that does not care for its children has a death wish. A society that destroys the environment that sustains it will fail.
She questions why people support policies that are not in their own interests, or of future generations.
Some suggest this is because the middle 40 per cent of income earners aspires to join the top 10 per cent and does not want the bottom 50 per cent to displace them. This may help to explain the rise in consumerism and household debt, but it is only part of the story.
People also have to be persuaded that there is no alternative to the policies that beset them, or that external factors are to blame, or the likely impacts on their lives are misrepresented. Here, the freedom of the press is vital. If the independence of the media is compromised, the flow of information is in danger and independent voices are silenced. The press becomes a tool in the politics of diversion, with stories about celebrities and scandals displacing reporting on serious issues.
Even in economic life, when collective values collapse, failure is likely. In New Zealand, recent research indicates that arrogant, greedy and unilateral styles of management result in loss of productivity and profits, as good employees leave for other businesses or countries.
Salmond concludes by saying that more than a change of government is needed. What is needed in New Zealand is a change of heart.