Deborah Coddington

Deborah Coddington is a Herald on Sunday columnist

Deborah Coddington: Let's help everyone to top - not drag down wealthy

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Some would handicap the likes of  Kiri Te Kanawa. Photo / APN
Some would handicap the likes of Kiri Te Kanawa. Photo / APN

It's election year and this year's panacea is to close the gap between rich and poor. Expect more of this zeitgeist because some Kiwi journalists have just caught up with a silly book published in Britain two years ago called The Spirit Level.

Actually I have no problem with closing the gaps. I think that's an admirable objective, but I suspect my aspirations are vastly different from those of some of my colleagues.

Because when most people talk about closing gaps between rich and poor, they want to drag the successful down to the level of the lowest, whereas I'd lift everyone up to the top, if I could. I've been poor and I've been wealthy, and I know which I prefer.

And that's why the spirit level is a stupid analogy. At what level would authors Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson (epidemiologists, both of them) dictate society's members be content to sit?

The level of Joan Nathan from McGehan Close who has bred six kids on the DPB and doesn't mind that her eldest, Aroha, is now in care because it's a better life than she could provide? Who calls the Prime Minister an "arsehole" because he won't close the gap using Other People's Money? While she, and the arsehole father of the kids, takes no responsibility?

This is the vile politics of envy, illustrated in an article last week, "10 election promises we want to hear". One of these included a Parliamentary Commissar - sorry, Commissioner - for Equality, who would report each year to Government on how the country had progressed on equality between rich and poor, then get politicians to say what they would do about it.

A good start would be to take a blowtorch to the bureaucratic red tape and petty form-filling on which everyone, from school principals through retailers to big business employers, is forced to waste time and money. Then they would be more productive, hire more staff, borrow less money, make more profits and start closing gaps.

But that's not what spirit-levellers want. They would take money off the successful (the "rich", as they prefer to spit at them) and give it to those they call the "vulnerable".

Another gimme on the wish-list of the spirit-levellers is that old chestnut, capital gains tax.

"Why should a tycoon make a tax-free profit by selling one of his townhouses while a wage-slave pays a quarter of her income in tax?" the Sunday Star-Times article whined.

To begin with, writer Anthony Hubbard obviously hasn't caught up with current property markets because profits are few and far between.

Secondly, capital gains is not a fair tax; quite the opposite. So far, everyone who has posited this tax has been light on detail, but generally it's paid before the profit is realised, unlike the "wage slave".

Furthermore, said wage slave will have even further difficulty finding a flat to rent if capital gains tax is introduced.

But if we're reducing everyone to the same level, why single out income as the only measure of fairness in society when it is our intelligence, our skills, our capacity for hard work which enables us to generate a good income?

If the gaps are really to be closed, spirit-levellers would have to go further and place handicaps on successful people to ensure they don't find ways to break the mould.

Clever brains like Sam Morgan's, for instance, which enabled him to come up with Trade Me, would have to be dulled with drugs.

Fashion designers like Denise L'Estrange Corbet, who sees beauty where I see bolts of cloth, would have to be blinded. Cut out Kiri Te Kanawa's voice box - I think you get my drift.

I'm not a fan of the saying, "celebrate our differences", but in this context it seems appropriate to trot it out. And why can't we aspire to something higher than the middle common denominator?

It's about time someone started championing the rich and successful in this country - they're a persecuted minority.

As Oscar Wilde said, "We are all lying in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars."

- Herald on Sunday

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