Rosemary McLeod: There is no trickle down, it does not happen
OPINION: Your definition of obscenity may be what Donald Trump is accused of getting up to in a hotel in Russia. Mine is about the money he's worth, which is more obscene than any random combination of adult orifices could be.
I don't hold with billionaires. The news this week that two New Zealanders are worth as much as the poorest 30 per cent of adults here is, then, not thrilling news to me. We're told that Graeme Hart is worth $9 billion and Richard Chandler $3.8 billion, and Finance Minister Steven Joyce seems to think that's a good thing. Just so long as everyone gets the chance to get that rich, he says, there's nothing to worry about; besides which, lots of people are motivated by such trailblazers.
Oh really. Tell that to the families living in cars and garages while landlords hike up rents. Tell it to sick kids in poor families who can't get them to the doctor, and to all the kids who go without food. You don't hear billionaires offering solutions to that. You hear about their superyachts, and the pretty girlfriends they woo with their wallets.
We are right in fashion with our economic dysfunction, as if that's a comfort. Eight billionaires now have as much combined wealth as the poorer half of the whole world, Oxfam says. Its British chief executive, Mark Goldring, calls that beyond grotesque, and that's an understatement.
Yes, some people will be motivated by the sight of an ugly superyacht moored in their harbour, and will aspire to own something even bigger and uglier. Half of them will be rewarded with jail sentences, and the other half are likely to have been well educated, well fed, and comfortably housed from birth, with family money to back them if they stumble, and good connections to jolly them along if they falter. They will not be among the one in five New Zealanders who live in poverty, and are as likely to get rich as I, who don't play chess, am to become a grand master.
The Harts and Chandlers of this world are not an inspiration to the bottom 30 per cent. They neither know nor care about them. They'd like simple things like a job with fair pay that can support their family, and a home to call their own, but they have a fat chance of that, with home ownership shrinking at an alarming rate while property values soar.
The moderately rich farm the less rich as tenants, who live in their investments without the benefit of rent control, and with minimal security of tenure. If that's emulating billionaires it shows how socially irresponsible the rich are.
As Oxfam says in its report this week, big businesses are "structured to dodge taxes, drive down workers' wages and squeeze producers instead of contributing to an economy that benefits everyone".
I'm old enough to remember trade unions, and belonged to one. Now the only unions I notice footing it with employers are white collar – police, junior doctors, and teachers. Meanwhile, people on welfare who can't work face ritual humiliations to get an income that Hart and Chandler would fritter away over a single lunch, call it work, and write off to expenses. And Joyce suggests they're role models.
Hart and Chandler are immune to our social problems because they live overseas. Their nostrils never recoil from the smell of poverty because they never get close enough. They could never spend their wealth if they worked at it full-time for the rest of their lives.
A few very rich people – Bill Gates, Warren Buffett – willingly share their riches. The rest call avoiding tax good business practice. I've heard Donald Trump, another billionaire, on that theme, and can only marvel at the suckers who voted for him believing that somehow his wealth will trickle down on them.
There is no trickle down. It does not happen. The very rich are too mean to share their sandwiches, let alone their dollars, as my family's experience with the merely moderately well-off would suggest.
My great-grandmother was a dairy maid on a colonial station. She had no diamonds. Her daughter, my grandmother, was a servant to various families, one of which memorably gave her a set of weird white Wedgewood stuff of no discernible use as a parting gift. It had "rejected wedding present" written all over it. As for my mother, who worked as a housekeeper for a while, I remember her being given a pair of white slip-on shoes that the daughter of one house had grown out of. Such largesse, and they were too small for either of us.
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- The Dominion Post