Not everyone views the release of the National Business Review's Rich List as our annual chance to celebrate the success of New Zealand business people. Those who frown upon the uber-wealthy among us predictably trot out the findings about the societal perils of economic inequality - as if stripping these people of their millions or billions would instantly sort out the problems of our well-documented underclass.

Proponents of the whole the-rich-get-richer-while-the-poor-get-poorer line would be appalled to learn that the 2011 Rich Listers' combined estimated worth has risen eighteen per cent since last year.

This - coupled with reports in January 2010 that a Tax Working Group discovered that out of a sample of 100 of our wealthiest people only about half were paying the highest tax rate on their income - would surely stick in the craw of many. It's an unfortunate truth that having multiple companies, intricate ownership structures and complicated business arrangements enable efficient tax situations that those working for wages or salaries can only dream of.

Yet a perusal of the Rich List is worthwhile for its inspirational value alone. It's a lesson to all of us that with a great idea, an entrepreneurial spirit, lashings of hard work and more than a modicum of good luck we too could maybe, just maybe, make our fortunes.


Luxury villas in Phuket, island retreats, super yachts, $22-million homes and other trappings of high-net-worth types may be anathema to some, but what caught my eye this year was the scope of the philanthropic work undertaken by many of these individuals and families.

Aged care, animal welfare, the arts, child health and welfare, conservation, education, the environment, families, hospitals, medical research, mental health and rescue helicopters all benefited from the largesse of this group.

And, of course, it's these Rich Listers' family members and other halves who frequently become involved with charity work.

Tireless fundraiser Dame Rosie Horton was recently honoured for her services to philanthropy. Roxane Horton chaired the Friends of the Liggins Institute committee for several years. Graeme Hart's daughter, Gretchen Hawkesby, currently heads the Friends of Starship. Far from being ladies who lunch, these are savvy women who use their networks to embark on fundraising projects and organise charity events for worthy causes.

Years ago I attended a fundraising auction for Counties Manukau's Kidz First hospital where guests were enthusiastically bidding for items to raise funds for this new children's hospital. Often they'd pay well over the face value of the goods or services on offer because the money was going to such a good cause.

Although not on the Rich List, the guests were, broadly speaking, well-heeled - and many of these people were benefiting the New Zealand health system in three separate ways.

Firstly, they paid taxes which funded public healthcare.

Secondly, the majority of them would likely have opted to pay for private healthcare (either directly or through insurance) for themselves and their families thus easing the burden on the public system.


And, thirdly, this same group of people regularly purchased tables at or made significant donations to fundraising events such as the Kidz First one.

The fact that certain sectors of society are effectively contributing financially on three different levels is not an oft reported fact. It doesn't sit well with the belief peddled by those who subscribe to the so called 'politics of envy' that the wealthy are greedy, selfish and irresponsible.

Yet surely without those folk from the Rich List and other fiscally fortunate groups New Zealand would be poorer in more ways than one.