Stop being selfish, NZ

Last updated 05:30 05/03/2014
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Fairfax NZ
HAND OUT: How can we change New Zealand's selfish attitude? asks Rory McCarthy.

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Looking back on New Zealand's glory days in the 1960s, things have changed drastically with how we look upon our fellow man - and definitely not for the better.

Was there some tipping point where we decided as a society that we would no longer care for our fellows? I think so.

We used to seek out the least-privileged and try to help them out.

New Zealand had one of the strongest economies and with it an extremely strong welfare state.

Now any move to help these people is echoed by a chorus of voices crying out "But who's going to pay for that?" and

"Don't have kids if you can't pay for them!".

We now selfishly believe that we will all be better off in society if we fend for ourselves. This is fundamentally flawed concept.

Modern economic practices have driven us to live-buy-consume-die, and shifted our focus to having things instead of meaningful relationships with each other. We care more about the concept of the economy than any statistical measure of how people are actually doing in society.

Children regularly go hungry and the attitude is "well their not my children, therefore it's not my problem".

So why this change in attitude and what can be done about it?

During the 1980s a worldwide idea of giving money to wealth creators so that the money could trickle down became popular.

Deregulation of industries became common practice, taking power away from the Government to make sure these industries were acting in good faith toward us all and putting that power in the hands of private businesses.

Taxes for the upper tax income brackets were slashed.

In 1988 the top New Zealand tax rate dropped from 67 per cent to 33 per cent. We made up this tax burden through GST at 10 per cent, then 12.5 per cent, and now 15 per cent, just to fund those at the top.

Of course this meant that we couldn't afford to provide all those pesky services for individuals that would help them get ahead in life - things like free tertiary education and comprehensive health care. State-owned assets needed to go, you would now need to pay for these as an individual.

The story was laid out that we needed to sell the silver so that we could create more jobs and to fix our debt problem.

The 1987 stock market crash had caused a wide-scale panic and unions were painted as the enemy in stalling this economic growth.

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Unemployment had risen from 3.6 per cent to 11 per cent between 1986 and 1992.

Within the space of 15 years, successive Labour and National governments turned us from a nation that worked together to a nation that works alone. Our services were no longer shared. The concept of "mine" was given new meaning.

The results were that New Zealand's economic and social climate took a turn for the worst.

The worst thing to come out of all this in my opinion was the denial of our existence as a social species. We have been sold the idea that individually if we strive to do our best, things will work out.

Thousands of years of evolution had led to us giving each other the proverbial finger to one another to clamber over each other in the hopes of success.

So how can we change things ?

1. Stop being selfish: Are you really going to be that upset when some of your money goes to feed a kid whose parents are unable to afford food? Really? Have we grown so disconnected from our social existence that we would punish children for their parents' mistakes?

2. Stop listening to rhetoric by the financial sector about the economy: An economy is only as strong as its people. It's not some mythical entity that needs to be revered, it's something that should be working for us, not we for it.

3. Think long term: Short-term benefits are generally not good for us in the long run. A policy of selling the silver to pay off debt just results in more debt down the line. The only change is this is shifted from government debt and turned into personal debt.

4. If you struggle to understand how helping people can be beneficial, fake it till you make it: If you even just pretend to do something nice, soon enough the positive effect will rub off on you.

5. Get involved in politics: I don't care who you vote for, but you have a democratic responsibility as a member of this nation to take an active interest in where we are headed. Putting it in the "what's the point?" basket is a foolish attitude which only goes to serve the status quo. 

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