Tapu Misa on current affairs

Tapu Misa is a Herald columnist focussing on Pacific affairs

Tapu Misa: Idolise wealth creators? That's rich

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Graeme Hart is on the Rich List. Photo / Herald on Sunday
Graeme Hart is on the Rich List. Photo / Herald on Sunday

Let's not be mean to the rich.

In fact, let's not even call them "rich" any more. Rich is such a divisive, envy-inducing, tall-poppy-bashing kind of word. Instead, let's agree with the compilers of the annual National Business Review (NBR) Rich List that these fine "wealth creators" are "national treasures".

Well, it's true. At the rate they're going they'll soon own most of our national treasures.

We could learn a lot from the Americans when it comes to being duly reverential of our rich. In the United States, the Republicans have started referring to their super wealthy as "job creators". It's genius how they've managed to convince so many ordinary Americans that it's un-American to ask the very rich to pay more taxes on, say, their private jets, rather than cut programmes for the poor.

Indeed, only the most churlish socialist would ask, "Where are the jobs, then?" Obviously, the jobs are in India and China, where the poor know how to be grateful and don't whine about needing a living wage.

The odd senator might well rant about how the Republicans represent the wealthy, the powerful and the multinational corporations (like that's a bad thing), but as the conservative think tank the Heritage Foundation points out, it's not as if poor people in America are really all that poor.

Apparently, 99.6 per cent of the so-called poor can afford to have a refrigerator, and 87 per cent have a microwave.

As the comedian Stephen Colbert puts it: "A refrigerator AND a microwave? They can preserve AND heat food? Ooh la la! I guess the poor are too good for mould and trichinosis."

Colbert says the report proves that "poor people are just not living down to our expectations. If you still have the strength to brush the flies off your eyeballs, you're not really poor". Even the ones who are officially poor "are probably way richer than you think ... so we don't need to give the poor assistance because they're not poor thanks to the assistance we give them".

"These Great Society poverty programmes are like a dam that we built to hold back the river of poverty, and it worked. So let's tear down the dam. I'm sure the river will stay put."

The Heritage Foundation also disputed the "lie" that 12 per cent of American children went to bed hungry, saying it was more like 2 per cent, which is "the perfect amount", Colbert noted. "There's about 150 of us in this room. If 3 of us were hungry children, I think we'd feel pretty good about that."

NBR thinks we should feel pretty good that the wealthiest 151 New Zealanders increased their wealth by $7 billion or 20 per cent in the past year, to take their combined total to $45.2 billion - the biggest accumulation in a year.

NBR news editor Ellen Read urges us to celebrate, not derogate our National Treasures. Indeed, they need our help.

It's true that our business-friendly environment and tax system, lacking a comprehensive capital gains tax or death duties, already helps them accumulate money without having to break into a sweat.

But some of them feel we could show more love by eliminating "excessive regulation", freeing them up to create even more wealth.

Of course, there are some class traitors who let the side down. In the US, it's billionaire Warren Buffett. Here, it's the likes of Trade Me founder Sam Morgan ($305 million), whose over-developed social conscience saw him blabbing about how little tax he's had to pay, and Phillip Mills, of Les Mills International ($90 million), who told 3News last week that the wealthiest should pay higher taxes over the next few years to get the economy back on track, and that making cuts to health, welfare and education "is just crazy" and will create "horrible social ills".

What a buzz kill.

As John Key ($55 million) pointed out last week, income inequality has actually fallen in recent years, according to the just released Ministry of Social Development's Household Incomes report.

The report said this was mainly because of Labour's Working For Families, which Key once called "communism by stealth", and a 2-3 per cent fall in top-level incomes as a result of the global financial crisis.

The MSD report didn't take into account National's October 2010 tax cuts, which gave $2.5 billion a year (more than $1000 a week) to the top 10 per cent of earners, and the GST hike that's pushed food costs up by 7 per cent and inflation to 5.3 per cent. As well, a Business Herald survey in April found bosses of New Zealand's biggest listed firms and state-owned enterprises received an average pay rise of 14 per cent in the 2010 financial year, from $1.4 million to $1.6 million. Meanwhile, the average New Zealand wage went up 1.9 per cent in the year to March.

As NBR's Rich List underscores, things are looking up again for the rich. Don't hate them for it.

- NZ Herald

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