Higher earnings for all are untenable when small business margins are tight and employers would go broke.

Like barristers, I hand write everything: it enables clearer expression. It's a life-long habit which I enjoy in a tactile sense. Consequently, having my typing done takes me to the office a couple of afternoons each week, there to confront mail from all and sundry to be dealt with. Naturally, while there I ask the managers whether anything interesting is happening and occasionally discuss issues, otherwise I'm long retired from active involvement.

All sorts of people come in throughout the day and, given my low boredom threshold, particularly if they're corporate types, I stay well clear but with one exception. That's if a retailer should visit to discuss some issue or other. After their meeting, I drag them in to my office for drinks so as to grill them about their activity. Given we own more Wellington CBD shops than any other entity, this is a common occurrence. The reason I do this is simply fascination.

I have a million questions. How do you cope with buggers occupying key tables for two hours over a single cup of coffee? This to the ubiquitous coffee-shop owners, which elicits either despairing hand wringing or, with female owners, a firm but polite request to them to bugger off.

Which dresses are selling, the shoplifting problem, what children's books are hot, the internet threat, how do you compete with the perfectly good $2 spectacles now available, what do you pay your shop assistants, and so on.


When I was young, High Street shop owners represented our affluent commercial class, usually owning their building and residing in top suburbs, but those days are long gone. Most specialist retailers today are driven primarily by the appeal of self-employment but few get rich while many struggle to survive, ever optimistic and experimental. I take my hat off to them. A month ago, one such chap provided a fascinating three hours as I regaled and asked him questions. Through hard work, he and his wife have built a nationwide airport and CBD lunch retail operation with more than 100 stores, supplied by his Wellington factory working through the night, its output flown out early in the morning across the land. They have about 400, mainly retail, staff.

What staggered me most, given its scale, is how marginal this operation is. Some stores do well, others badly, while many just break even in this intensely competitive field. Raise your prices, I suggested, inducing a derisive laugh. The owner told me regulars making the same daily purchase comprise a large component of their business. Apparently, even the most minor increase elicits outrage and the loss of their custom.

My inquiry as to the best employees brought an unsurprising answer - new immigrants by a country mile. What particularly interested me was the salaries for what's essentially menial work. In most cases they're on the minimum wage. Any more and they're out of business, he said, and I believe him.

I mention all of this in the context of the absurdly titled living wage clamour, the noise invariably coming from leftish critics not employing anyone, nor ever likely to. There are exceptions. Two leftie Wellington city councillors, respective owners of small city retail food businesses, led the charge recently for menial task council employees to be paid the so-called living wage. Inquiry however, revealed their own employees were on the minimum wage.

"We'd go broke," they wailed when their hypocrisy was exposed. It was classic left do as I say, not as I do, double standards. Everyone benefits from a high wage economy as it increases spending power and thus the economy. But it also necessarily increases prices which no one wants to meet, thus shop assistants are the lowest paid sector in the work force, despite being one of the largest.

The answer is elementary. If you want the $18.50 "living wage" or better, choose employment paying it, rather than complain. That requires initial sacrifice, whether by studying for a professional career or accepting temporary low-paid trade or other specialist training.

It's that simple and is the path followed by the vast majority of people, depending on their personal ambitions. Yet for that initial sacrifice, they're taxed - in diverse forms, be it housing, healthcare and much more - to supplement top-up survivability for those unwilling to make that effort, this constituting fairness in the eyes of the Cunliffes of our society. Theft would be more accurate.

A few months ago, I suggested kids should be encouraged with the catch-cry, "learn and earn". In fact, most teens have the wit to work this out for themselves and such preaching is probably unnecessary. But let's end the fashionable clamour from some quarters that there's something essentially unfair about the inevitable outcome of the absolutely accurate biblical "reap what you sow" aphorism.