Monday, 28 May 2012

The problem is violent greed

Not for the first time, the genius of Jacky Fleming shows how skewed our world becomes when we focus on the wrong end of power and oppression:

Since coming into power, this National government has been near obsessed with blaming beneficiaries and the poor in general for all manner of wrong-doing.  Apparently cutting benefits is the "kick in the pants" some need to take responsibility for ​other taxpayers ​ (my emphasis). Paula Bennett has been quick to tell people claiming benefits - even ones she previously accessed herself - that "the dream is over."  If you have to visit a food bank to have enough to feed yourself and your family, it's because you've made "poor choices."

And step out of line if you dare, because Paula Bennett will release your personal details to the media as “a bit of a lesson for what happens if you go out there and put your story,” even if that does breach Privacy Commission ideas of fair practise to the tune of $15,000.  Nope, it's beneficiary bashing all the way, thanks.

You could be forgiven for assuming beneficiaries and the poor are sucking up resources unfairly, completely to blame for our economy stalling and many New Zealanders feeling frightened and even so hungry they eat pig scraps.

But what happens if we focus on the wealthy?

Firstly, they are doing pretty well under National, as this handy graphic from the Green Party shows:

And they are doing pretty well at the expense of everyone else.  Just 9% of New Zealanders are in the top tax bracket, so those tax cuts really were just for a few of us.  And while our median income is falling, our average income is increasing, which is just maths geekery for saying rich people are getting richer even in these belt-tightening times.

We don't spend enough time talking about greed in this country, because National has us bashing people with very little.  It is greedy to make sure those with lots of resources have the chance to create more and more and more, without thinking of ​other taxpayers ​(my emphasis).

If we focussed more on stopping those determined to create unnecessary wealth at the expense of everyone and everything else - the greedy 1% - and less on judging and punishing those with very little, our world would be a very different place.

Now I just need Jacky Fleming to write a cartoon about it.  Oh look, she has.


Lindsay Mitchell said...

Strange then that far more than 10% voted for National in 2011. Perhaps they don't feel worse off. Or perhaps they think their economic circumstances would be even worse under a Labour/Green government.

Cat said...

Or perhaps (based on a conversation I had with an otherwise educated and smart friend who shocked me by admitting that she voted National, a couple of days ago) they simply turned on the telly the night of the debate, decided National sounded like they knew what they were talking about & Labour didn't, never even looked at the minor parties or the Greens... and now heartily regrets it.

LudditeJourno said...

Indeed Cat. Or Lindsay, perhaps media failures to pay attention to what is actually happening economically in New Zealand means most New Zealanders still do not realise while they are worse off and tightening their belts, the 1% are doing fine, thanks very much.

Simond said...

"If we focussed more on stopping those determined to create unnecessary wealth at the expense of everyone and everything else"

The congnitive dissonance on display in this post is striking. Ultimately the creation of wealth benefits everyone as it is the main source of job growth. Put more simply without a large pool of capital, high paying job creation becomes very difficult. Unfortunately (short of Marx making a reappearance from the grave) the world has moved into a socioeconomic phase that strongly favours the capital factor of production and consequently a degree of inequality will have to be tolerated.

Anonymous said...

Or, alternatively, we could realise that real world economics is more complex than simple cartoon-ish thinking of "rich people bad, beneficiaries noble".

Any government - including a future Green government - will need to consider our options as a country when facing a world where, for example:
* In an increasingly knowledge based world the number of people with true high-value knowledge is very small (cartoon ... "the 1%");
* So those people with the high-value knowledge are increasingly well remunerated, and have a lot of options as to which country they choose to live & work in;
* Meanwhile the global labour force has recently had to absorb the workforces of Eastern Europe, China, the rest of Asia and India ... pushing down the relative value of unskilled and low skilled jobs;
* But that globalised economy has also delivered historically cheap prices for goods like clothing and shoes, improving the living standards of the poor.

These are complex and multi-dimensional problems, and simple cartoons about National "only in it for their rich mates" aren't accurate and aren't helpful.


LudditeJourno said...

Simond - is the "creation of wealth benefiting everyone"? Really? Or is almost the entire western, neo-liberal capitalist world in chaos because most people do not benefit from how the "creation of wealth" currently happens?
virtualmark - I'm not claiming "rich people bad, beneficiaries noble". I'm claiming the reverse claims of this National government are farcical - see the quotes above.
And where do those who care for children, or the elderly, or sick people fit in your "high-value knowledge" way of deciding who should be well-renumerated? Or do we not need those people?
Read No Logo to hear more about how the living conditions of the poor who make cheap clothing and shoes has improved under the global economy.
It's really complex alright - and yet we still can show that rich people are doing better under National while the poor get the bash - metaphorically and practically. That's the bit that isn't complicated.

Anonymous said...

LudditeJourno ... disappointing but not surprising to see my comment at 5pm has been moderated away.

If you feel you have to censor dissenting opinions then that suggests your argument is pretty shakey.


LudditeJourno said...

Virtualmark - no comment from you appeared here - I've just checked the "backroom" and it's not even been misfiled by Blogger which I think can happen sometimes.
I NEVER feel I have to censor dissenting opinions (though sometimes abusive ones) - so please make your comment again - and I'll see if I can muster an argument if needed :-)

Hugh said...

I agree with the thrust of your argument, that only a small group of wealthy are getting wealthier, but I don't think the problem is greed, per se.

I'm not really comfortable talking about greed precisely because it is so imprecise but it is not something that the wealthy have a monopoly on, as an emotion or an aspiration. It's greedy for a millionaire to want a holiday home in Hawaii or a third swimming pool but it's also greedy for somebody on the minimum wage to want a TV. Neither of them needs it, neither is motivated by any form of altruism, neither of them is thinking about others.

At the risk of repeating myself again I don't disagree that things are seriously wrong but I think there are better ways to talk about it.

LudditeJourno said...

Thanks Hugh, that's an interesting point. I guess my point is that if domestic violence we talk about "abused women" as the "problem" and with wealth inequality we talk about "poverty". In both situations our solutions would look really different if we focused on those benefiting. I do think greed is useful, and this post was prompted by reading about the mining billionaire in Aussie who was making $2 million an hour, every hour of every day.
While that's an extreme example, when the tax cuts for the rich were announced I noticed that John Key's tax cut was more than my salary - and I don't consider myself poor - so the greed inherent in that feels problematic too. Will keep thinking on this, ta for the input.

AnneE said...

Great post, thank you, and wonderful cartoons. I completely agree that we should be looking at who is getting more, how, and why, rather than continually focusing on those getting the least and trying to work out ways to take even the little they have away from them, and of course their kids - including the ones with paper rounds...

anarkaytie said...

Well put, my friend LJ, and something I have been thinking but can't put into words right now - thanks for doing the brain-work on it!

I feel as if I have been ranting about the ideologically impure WINZ policy changes for months now, there is no honour in MP's who ram through this type of treasonous legislation - yes, treasonous, because it is destroying the fabric of the caring society we once had, that we were proud to call 'kiwi'; that was different to the class-obsessed rubbish that happened in the UK in the 80's.
*breathing heavily* argh!

Anonymous said...

The rich pay the vast majority of taxes. Check out the stats in U.S.A in particular - the rich pay the lion's share of taxes by a mile.

Re the first cartoon: the police don't turn up when homes are burgled anyway (i know from experience, and i'm not rich, far from it); local rates pay for rubbish removal, not general taxation; and St John Ambulance is a charity, nothing to do with taxes no matter who pays them. Stuart L.

Anonymous said...

I agree with your overall point LJ, but it's important to distinguish between "relatively well off" and "rich". Obviously everyone in the top tax bracket is relatively well off, but there is a huge difference in the living standards of households in the top 20% or the top 10% and the top 5% or 1%. The statement that "just 9% of New Zealanders are in the top tax bracket" is true but misleading - household income (which was used to create the Green party image) presents a far more complete picture of income distribution. The top tax bracket is not a proxy for "rich". For one thing, "tax payers" includes all tax payers, not just full-time earners. The stats are therefore heavily skewed downwards by the inclusion of tax payers who are not participating in the labour force (especially superannuitants), or participating at a low level (e.g. students with part-time jobs). Excluding these groups, around 17% of full time workers are in the top tax bracket (based on 2010 data from IRD). A single earner family with one stay at home parent caring for young children and one full-time earner on a salary of $80,000 is top tax bracket material, but hardly a case of unnecessary wealth or exploitative greed. It's really important to make these distinctions because they show just how far ahead the very rich truly are. The income differential between the top 20% and the bottom 20% is only about 2.5 (MSD, 2010)- but there is a long tail of poverty at the bottom and there is a small group of very rich at the top.

- Elley