Santa's little helpers – the credit cards – ran red hot again this year, at one point clocking up about 600,000 transactions per hour. Not too bad for a population of barely five million.

It might seem the economy's booming. Even if only on the plastic, it betokened confidence the piper could be paid later.

Banks set new records, too — but not such good news when it's Christmas food banks doing cracking business. Wherever various missions set up shop, long queues of grateful recipients soon followed.

Yet all this food bank action could also signal a healthy economy.

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While obviously servicing real community need, the social agencies are heavily reliant on community support, requiring volunteers to help out, substantial cash and hard goods donations ... and so on. These reflect availability of disposable time and resources – surpluses, perhaps, derived from a buoyant broader economy.

But other factors may be at play.

Is it, for example, just a predictable outcome of the age-old dynamic of demand swelling to meet expanding supply? We all know the new motorway is going to be chocka a month or two after opening for business, simply because it creates its own incentive for use.

Some years ago, Denmark introduced a new social security benefit – that of "partial disability". If an existing employee could demonstrate some sort of physical impediment hindering capacity to work, the individual was compensated for reducing their working week proportionate to the degree of disability.

It was all highly commendable cutting edge social welfare legislation.

In fact, it was so good pretty soon about two thirds of the entire working population discovered they had just such a disability, and an extra few days at home was the very ticket. Needless to say the cost nearly bankrupted the country, and the new entitlement had to be vigorously reined in.

This is not to say there's no shortage of deserving cases. Charity has thankfully always been with us, and thankfully always will, as it's a relative commodity.

But often the main beneficiaries of state charity are those least obviously in need.

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Through tax concessions or straight-out cash injections, corporate welfare is a regular feature of the landscape, as with the movie or America's Cup industries, or the once-treasured farmers' Supplementary Minimum Payments.

This is always done in a context of supposedly stimulating business, but makes for rather cynical reading if a "market" economy is meant to be the model.

By omission, most governments also welfarise the white collar sector by failing to pursue its tax defaulters with anything like the same vigour they pursue welfare miscreants at the nether end.

Corporate tax evasion constitutes by far the lion's share of theft to the wider economy, but powers-that-be don't want to scare the business world's horses too much, and so incentivise the massaging of the books.

Meanwhile, the trans-nationals – the Googles, Amazons and Facebooks – with Machiavellian tax avoidance strategies make prize chumps out of not only national governments but every single Joan Blow taxpayer.

And the other banks – the non-food ones – are also pumping it. Record numbers of Tiny Tims are out on the street, but the King Scrooges are creaming it.

Aussie-owned ANZ New Zealand skimmed off more profit than our other top five or six companies combined – a stonking couple of billion.

ANZ Oz is now chaired by our ex-prime minister John Key. Once a jolly Kiwi camped by a cabbage tree – down came the troopers, one, two, Key! Obviously, wrangling electronic pulses beats peddling milk, lamb, logs or hairy berries hands down.

Of course, Aussie-based banks operating here gratefully suck up the huge interest payments our indebted farmers and home mortgage holders remit back to them every minute of every day — probably at about the same rate we racked up pre-Xmas spending. For the banks, the fat bearded man visits daily ... with bells on!

Gee, this all looks a bit like the evil colonialism we foolishly thought we were shrugging off. Talk about the serfs and the barons, and yet we're the suckers who volunteer to be the serfs.
Just as well Santa's little helpers will keep us ticking over till next Christmas.