Wouldn't it be great if New Zealand's uber-rich aped Twitter boss Jack Dorsey and put their cash behind New Zealand businesses' survival efforts?
There's a huge amount of private wealth in this country which lies waiting to be tapped to help fund New Zealand's economic recovery.
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Businessman Rob Fyfe was a quick mover, activating key entrepreneurs to use their networks and cash to get gear to fight Covid-19 and source cutting-edge technologies from the US to track, trace and test for the virus in a world where there is now cut-throat competition for resources.
Two weeks ago, the former executive chair of Icebreaker, who is also a former CEO of Air New Zealand, was appointed by Jacinda Ardern to act as a liaison between government and business for the duration of the Covid-19 crisis.
It's impressive how quickly key entrepreneurs like The Warehouse' Sir Stephen Tindall, Trade Me founder Sam Morgan and Zuru Toys' Nick, Mat and Anna Mowbray have swung into action.
Tindall and Morgan ordered 50 intensive care ventilators at $60,000 each and also brought in seven planeloads of personal protective clothing and equipment from China.
The Mowbrays have been active on social media, matching dollar-for-dollar public donations to fund additional demand on the Salvation Army's food banks.
But this trio holds a mere fraction of the private wealth in New Zealand.
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Others like Rod Drury, Rod Duke and Graeme Hart — to name just three — are publicly invisible. Although to be fair, they may be helping behind scenes.
The NBR Rich List has long been established as the bible for private wealth in New Zealand.
Some 255 New Zealanders, ranked on last year's list, had a combined estimated wealth of $90 billion.
Of the 20 new names on the 2019 list, only four were involved in businesses that were not based directly or indirectly on property ownership.
But what's remarkable is that just 15 Rich Listers among them held 43 per cent of the $90b total.
Investor Graeme Hart topped the list with an estimated total wealth of $10b as at July 2019. Others in the "billion-plus club" include: Peter Thiel — the US tech billionaire who was famously granted New Zealand citizenship in June 2011 in quick-smart time in a tradeoff for plugging NZ to Silicon Valley investors — and is rated as having a $4b fortune; the Todd family, which is invested in energy, at $4b; Richard Chandler — banking, healthcare and aviation — $3b; the Mowbray family — toy manufacturing — $3b; the Goodman family — property — $2.4b; Ric Kayne — property/investment — $1.9b; Sir Michael Friedlander — investment/property — $1.85b; Lynette Erceg — liquor — $1.8b; Chris Chandler — property — $1.5b; Stephen Jennings — investment — $1.3b; the Drury family — technology — $1.2b; the late John Spencer's family — manufacturing — $1.1b; Sir Robert Jones — property — $1b; and the Pye family — agribusiness — $1b.
In total, these 15 Kiwis and families alone were said to have mustered a combined estimated wealth of $39.05b by the time last year's Rich List was compiled.
But of that billion-dollar-plus group, just the Mowbrays have (so far) stepped up publicly.
It's inevitable that many of these businesspeople will take a haircut on their total wealth as asset values and returns are impacted worldwide amid the upcoming domestic and global recessions.
But it's also to be hoped — and knowing many, I would expect this to be the case — that they will want to step up and assist the country that has given them so many advantages. And many may already be doing so.
But even if Treasury's prediction comes to pass, that in the June quarter we are facing the deepest economic contraction in New Zealand's recent history, the Rich Listers won't be left with chump change in the long run.
Fyfe has said some businesspeople who are helping behind the scenes do not want to make their contributions public.
But this is a crisis that calls for transparency at both public and private level.
The Prime Minister is ideally placed to issue a public call to wealthy businesspeople to step up and plough back more of their wealth into sustaining New Zealand companies.
Ardern only needs to look at the actions of one of her American "besties" for a role model.
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey is donating US$1.6b (NZ$2.6b, almost a third of his wealth) to fund global coronavirus relief and other charitable endeavours.
In a Twitter post, Dorsey said the funds would come from some of his equity in payments company Square. He has set up Start Small, to distribute grants to causes and has issued a public spreadsheet that lists where each donation is going.
"Why the transparency?" he wrote. "It's important to show my work so I and others can learn ... Life is too short, so let's do everything we can today to help people now."
It's also time that Fyfe fronts the parliamentary epidemic committee so that he can be quizzed on his role and achievements.
Across the Tasman, Pro Bono Australia has recommended philanthropists offer untied funding and/or remove restrictions to organisations working on the front line to address the Covid-19 crisis. It also recommends investing in capacity building and suggests (as with Tindall and Morgan) funding much-needed medical equipment such as ventilators.
Australian mining magnate Andrew Forrest's Minderoo Foundation has pledged $160 million to fly in specialist medical supplies from China.
Macquarie Group has allocated $20 million to the Macquarie Group Foundation to build a fund to help organisations working to combat Covid-19.
Some 30 prominent philanthropic funders have signed a public "Call to Action" to assist the not-for-profit sector help those affected.
The most useful recommendation was to use business' power and influence to help community stakeholders, business leaders, and public sector leaders collaborate in a way that ensures a co-ordinated and comprehensive response to the virus. But it's not simply New Zealand's Rich Listers who should step up.
Those Americans who pulled out their chequebooks to invest in New Zealand and secure a bolthole in what was internationally spruiked as a safe haven (the Switzerland of the South Pacific) by former National Prime Minister Sir John Key also have connections which Fyfe will want to tap.
In recent years, far more wealthy Chinese than any other nationality came into New Zealand through the Investor Migrant scheme.
That investment has tapered off. But in February 2017, of a total $5.3b which was said to be in the global investment pipeline (via the scheme), $3.33b had either already come into New Zealand or was on the way from Chinese investors. Some 55 investors had invested $10 million to qualify for entry to New Zealand under the Investor Plus category.
That is a huge vote of confidence by wealthy Chinese in the New Zealand economy.
At the time, I wrote that much of that investment, while clearly within the rules, was basically lazy cash, with far too much placed in Government bonds.
Surely, private investors who achieved permanent residency — and this includes Thiel — could also be persuaded to assist New Zealand with connections, cash and business knowhow rather than simply view this country as a pleasant place to fly in and out of on private planes as a break from the pandemic?
Here's an interesting comparison.
The Government has so far indicated it will borrow $25b to cover Covid-19 costs. It is expected to go much higher.
That $90b in private wealth has been unmolested by capital gains taxes.
I'm not suggesting the Coalition imposes swingeing wealth taxes on New Zealanders. But it's inevitable that capital gains taxes will again be up for discussion if the Coalition is returned after the election, and it seeks to raise sufficient tax revenue to underwrite the Covid-19 debt and maintain the welfare state. Might it be better to pay it forward now?
But it is more than just cash that NZ needs from its uber-rich. As US entrepreneur Naveen Jain observes: "True philanthropy requires a disruptive mindset, innovative thinking and a philosophy driven by entrepreneurial insights and creative opportunities."
There is a vacuum for critical thinking and it will require concentrated effort to rebuild New Zealand.
In case there is any doubt, this column is not about "soaking the rich".
It is about the rich standing up and being counted. If there is any time your country needs you, it is now.