I knew it was a big ask.
Simon Collins’ provocative Herald series on inequality was closing with “Bridging the Wealth Gap“. Would it rail against the changes to our tax and workplace laws that have driven the widening gap? Would cry from the heart like “Ill Fares The Land”?
Would it call for a fundamental change of direction? Would it unpick the platitudes around “equality of opportunity”?
Instead it levers off the new Auckland Council’s Spatial Plan, including targets to reduce inequality. Worthy, sure. Right track? Undoubtedly. Sufficient condition for change? No way.
Collins explains ” how we got there” by condensing modern economic history into one sentence:
“The driving forces have been both technological changes, which have strengthened the power of the skilled at the expense of the unskilled; and policy changes, which have weakened unions, opened markets to free trade, cut taxes on the rich and imposed new taxes on spending that bear most heavily on the poor.”
Although the outcome is “not immutable”, neoliberalism dodges the bullet.
The genial Michael Barnett and the earnest Allan Johnston represent the “competitiveness” vs “compassion” debate.
But has Collins not read The Spirit Level? There is a strong case that more equal societies do better. Including economically. If so, fairness ain’t just compassion, it’s common sense.
The bottom line is that rampant inequality is driven by the combination of unfettered capitalism and neoliberal government policy.
So if Kiwis want a change they will need to vote for it at national as well as council levels.
Yet voter turnout was the lowest in decades this last election, despite inequality being at its worst.
We have more to do to make a reasoned case for a clear alternative.
We have made a good start: capital gains tax, tax free zone at the bottom (which could be abated over a certain income level like Working for Families), raising the top tax rate, decile weighted education investment, and public health and housing programmes to promote healthy families and kids. There will be more to come.
We have to balance this with a clear narrative, based on sound strategy, for growing the pie for all. That means encouraging Kiwi businesses. Helping markets when they work well. And sorting out the mess when they don’t. I will be blogging more about economic growth, as it must partner efforts to reducing inequality by raising income levels for all.
And we need to expose the tricks this Government uses to lull hard working Kiwis into apathy or submission; the smile and wave routine; their dog whistles that turn Kiwis against their neighbours; their sly deals and cronyism to maintain control.
So reversing inequality will take more than a newspaper series, it will take winning the country for a new direction for us all.