Rising inequality has been the norm in most developed countries, but few have seen it increase by as much as New Zealand. Income inequality is either at the highest level it has been since records began in 1982, or is very close to that level. It has also risen sharply in both the last two years.
In 2004 the wealthiest five per cent of New Zealanders collectively had seven times more wealth than the poorest 50 per cent. This survey also showed that the wealthiest one per cent of Kiwis owned three times more than the poorest 50 per cent. The 2015 National Business Review's rich list shows the wealthiest one percent of people now own 17 percent of all wealth in New Zealand. But the poorest half (50 percent) of the country own just 5 percent.
The number of Kiwi children in relative poverty has jumped over 300,000 for the first time since 2010. In percentage terms, 29 per cent of Kiwi children are now in relative poverty, up from 24 per cent in 2013 and only a fraction below the 2010 peak of 30 per cent.
National Business Review's rich list shows the global financial crisis has ended for the wealthiest, but ordinary New Zealanders are still struggling, inequality researcher Max Rashbrooke, said. New Zealand’s economy was a "trickle-up" one. The total wealth of the top 184 earners in New Zealand now tops $55 billion. Graeme Hart tops the list with a total value of $9 billion.
The super-rich like Hart may well be the only folk who can afford Intercontinental Wellington’s $350 burger which is actually three burgers, not one, as if $166 was a much more sensible price for some meat and sauce in two toasted buns. The first burger is crayfish, with truffle mayonnaise. Crayfish is an annual, only-at-Christmas treat for many. The food comes with an ice-cold vodka martini, made with upper tier Absolut slow-dripped through kaffir lime and sprinkled with gold leaf. The buns are not made of gold, but they’re brioche — the gold standard for any sort of burger.
After a lemon sorbet refresher, topped with Krug Champagne, comes burger number two: simple groper topped with Beluga caviar. Salty and fishy, the tiny caviar bubbles are something of an acquired taste and they’re served with another generous pour of Champagne. The next burger was slow-poached paua with king crab hollandaise. Was it worth $350? Not the point. This is food for people who don’t lie awake at night wondering if that last dinner bill will stop them paying rent this week.
Lee White, CEO of Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand, looks at the issue of trust writes:
“The Socialist Party of Great Britain's recent paper, ‘World Without Accountants’, painted a bleak future, saying accountants would be made redundant in a socialist society where common ownership and production for use (rather than for market sale) was the norm. Although the likelihood of New Zealanders abandoning private ownership in the near future is non-existent”
Despite the glaring facts and figures of inequality this observation of Lee White’s is unfortunately only too true. The companion party and co-founders of the World Socialist Movement the World Socialist Party (New Zealand) has endeavoured to argue that only by replacing capitalism with socialism can poverty and inequality be ended. Those miseries will remain as long as capitalism and its insane priorities continue. We can't hope to end poverty and inequality until we get rid of production of wealth for the exclusive profit of a few who order $350 burgers at exclusive hotel restaurants.
What is often missing from media coverage of poverty is a real understanding of its cause and of its solution. The fundamental cause is the way that society is organised, with a small minority owning the means of production and the overwhelming majority forced to sell their labour power for a wage in order to survive. We, as workers, are forced to attempt to sell our labour power, since there will not always be a capitalist in a position to exploit a worker and therefore willing to employ us. Workers may sometimes be able to maintain a reasonable standard of living, while at other times they may be excluded from what is by any criterion a basically acceptable way of life. But we are always excluded from true empowerment over our lives and those of our families – and that is not something that can be achieved under the present social system. Ending poverty would of course be very worthwhile, but capitalism cannot achieve this. Proposals for ‘ending poverty’ are effectively put forward in a vacuum, unencumbered by the existence of a world dominated by a small number of super-powerful corporations and a tiny minority of super-rich capitalists.
The WSP(NZ) does not oppose attempts of our fellow workers to improve their status under capitalism. But we do know the limitations of these attempts. It is one thing to say that socialists should not oppose the non-socialists fighting for reforms, and quite another to state that socialists should place themselves in a position of trying to make capitalism work in the interests of the workers, when all along they know it cannot. There are so – called “socialist” organizations which seek to gain leadership over the workers by aiding them to improve their position under the present order, at the same time they know this is a futile struggle. We should not be confused with these “socialists.” It is inconsistent, in the WSP(NZ) opinion, for socialists to seek to solve problems for the workers under a system which they say cannot solve these problems, but in a practical sense, such a twin-directional approach would never bring about socialism. Suppose the WSP(NZ) were to embark on a campaign to obtain better housing, hospitals, roads, and so forth. Perhaps we would get a lot of people to join our organisation. On what basis would they join? The same basis on which we appealed to them. We would in the end have an organisation consisting of workers who were seeking continual improvement under capitalist methods of production and distribution, under a price, profit, and wage economy. What happens when such an organization is voted into political power as a majority? It merely uses the power of the state to carry on capitalism under different forms state- ownership or ‘nationalisation. It cannot use the control of the state to abolish capitalism, because its own members who joined on a reform basis, would be in opposition to it. The Party would have to carry out reform of capitalism, or lose its members to another organization which advocated remedial measures. We could cite example after example where a party calling itself “socialist,” but advocating immediate demands now and “socialism in the future” came into political power, and instead of abolishing exploitation, merely altered the form of it.
The WSP(NZ) appeals for members on the one issue of obtaining state power for the purpose of abolishing capitalism. Whereas, if elected to office, we would not oppose social reforms, at the same time we would not advocate them. By the same token, by putting forth a programme of immediate demands, we would not be educating any workers to the necessity for socialism. We would instead be educating on the need to get all they can under the capitalist system. This latter type of education has never produced socialists from among the workers. The WSP(NZ) does not spurn the day-to-day struggle. By the very nature of the fact that they are workers they participate in the fight for better wages and working conditions. But with an important qualification, which arise from the fact that they are socialists first, and members of unions second. First, socialists understand that this economic struggle against the capitalists is merely a defensive struggle, to keep capital from beating the working class living standards down. For this reason they couple their struggle on the economic front with political education of workers. They point out the limitations of wage increases. So socialists are involved in the economic struggle by the fact that they are members of the working class which naturally resists capital. But this is not the same thing as stating that the World Socialist Party engages in activity for higher wages and better conditions. This is not the function of the socialist party. Its task is to fight for socialism, and the method it employs is education of the majority. The socialist party is not concerned with reforms under capitalism.
It is not true that we ignore daily struggle and think only of the future in heaven. Rather it is those who postpone socialism to the unlimited generations ahead who are spurning everyday life. By this we mean that socialism today is a practical proposition. It is the profit system which prevents workers from obtaining decent homes, clothes, education. Those who call themselves realists, and call the socialists dreamers and utopians, are in truth unrealistic themselves in believing they can gain the good things of life under capitalism. By the way, if the latter be true, then why fight for socialism at all? Only if people see the need for socialism, and work actively for it, will we ever obtain socialism. On the other hand, if everyone who reaches a socialist understanding comes to the conclusion that socialism will never come about in his lifetime, this is this the best guarantee that we will never see socialism.