Our socialist streak: why Key was right

Last updated 11:47 14/09/2011

A fortnight ago John Key acknowledged making a comment attributed to him in a leaked cable, that New Zealanders have a socialist streak.

John KeyFrom the Stuff article: "A US diplomatic cable from mid-2007 said he met with charge d'affaire Glyn Davies and told him National could not adopt conservative policies because a 'socialist streak' runs through all New Zealanders."

I read this and thought to myself: "I could not agree more with you, Mr Prime Minister, if you flew over, took me out to dinner, and hired someone to feed me grapes while you explained this to me."

I know that "socialism" as used in that way is a crude approximation of the word; it indicates New Zealanders' national acceptance of government regulation, higher tax rates and a wide, secure net of social services. 

As a politically minded and interested New Zealander (as a disclaimer, I will make no political endorsements on Voyages in America and wish for Voyages in America to be politically neutral), I am forever finding myself more than a few steps to the Left of the middle opinion in America on things where I would be in consensus with the vast majority of New Zealanders.

For instance:


During the recent debt-crisis debate, Barack Obama proposed ending a tax break for corporate jet owners and increasing tax-rates for those who earn over $200,000 a year. He was subsequently accused of class warfare in different arenas.

Americans pay less tax than they ever have before in history, at a time when government debt is almost at World War II levels. It is tantamount to trying to pay off a credit card at the same time as accepting a pay cut. We have the same top individual tax rate (33 per cent) but in the USA it kicks in at $174,000 compared with $70,000 in New Zealand.

I believe New Zealanders fundamentally think - to some extent - that the heavier burdens in paying for a society should fall on those who earn the most money. That idea gets paid lip-service in America, where there is a persisting belief that when you pour money into the pockets of the richest members of society, the money inevitably finds its way down to the bottom.

In what other country would you find the third richest man in the world, Warren Buffett, coming off the sidelines to publish an article imploring his own government to stop coddling the rich?


If there's one word I hope to never hear again after the 2012 election it is Obamacare. America has problems with healthcare, but really doesn't want the government to interfere.

In New Zealand we have a public-private mix of healthcare. This allows those who can afford it to seek out higher quality services, but leaves the safety net in place. It makes going to the doctor more affordable. Last month I had a hepatitis B shot and it cost me $80. In New Zealand it was free; it keeps the market away from the mercy of insurance companies. New Zealand spends one-third as much per capita as the United States on healthcare; 77 per cent of the cost of this is met by New Zealand's government.   

Despite the documented disadvantages of having no public healthcare, a suspicion lingers in the US that public healthcare removes freedom of choice from American consumers.


Homicide was the 15th leading cause of death in America in 2007. Gun deaths accounted for 75 per cent of this. Out of every 100 people to die in 2005, one had been murdered. The issue disproportionately affected 15- to 35-year-old men.

Rick Perry

Gun laws blow my mind in this country. For instance, in New Hampshire you don't need a licence to buy a gun, you just need to be a resident of the state. But if you can't prove you're a resident, you just have to go to the Town Clerk and sign a form in front of them swearing that you are a resident of the state.

This is anathema to my sensibilities as a New Zealander. I'm a little shocked when I see police with guns in America. I don't know anyone in New Zealand, bar hunters, who owns a gun. I'm happy for stiff government controls of weapons.

And I could go on... climate regulation... welfare...

It is also a situation of rhetoric in general. I don't think that leading Republican primary candidate Rick Perry (pictured, right) would be a credible candidate in New Zealand; he's publicly welcomed more extreme political rhetoric, called Social Security (the American pension scheme) a Ponzi scheme, denied climate change and suggested the chairman of the Federal Reserve was guilty of treason.

Obama himself is cutting some taxes. He is scrapping environmental regulation.

In living in an America that has shifted to the Right, I have had an opportunity to see just how centrist I am by design as a New Zealander. And by comparison that feels very, very left-wing at the moment.

I've even started prefacing things I say facetiously with this may be my socialist New Zealand upbringing, but...

So were you disgusted by John Key's remarks? Did you approve? Agree? Ambivalent? 

And can anyone identify with my sentiments of feeling like a great big socialist while out in the world?   

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ashenz   #1   12:03 pm Sep 14 2011

Rick Perry is barely a viable candidate in the US. The more he speaks, the more mainstream America will get to see him. And it's ugly. Very ugly.

I think that most people who throw around the word "socialist" as a pejorative don't have a good understanding of what that word actually means.

Tom B   #2   12:07 pm Sep 14 2011

Whether or not he was right, clearly Key doesn't share the socialist streak.

He has raised GST - hitting low earners hardest to finance large tax cuts to the top few per cent of earners, and he opposes a capital gains tax which would make the whole tax system fairer.

Time for a change. Already.

Eric   #3   12:07 pm Sep 14 2011

Only John Key knows what he was talking about when he said NZ has a socialist streak. He then clarified, after it became public knowledge, that it was because of our caring nature. Considering he's beginning to show his colours as a spin artist that could rival Helen Clark, I have my doubts whether that is what he truly meant.

As for being "socialist" compared to the US - America "the free" is what capitalists hold themsleves against when trying to sell their free market ideals. It's a no brainer that you would be considered centrist having a more Oceanic/Euro-centric background.

Anna   #4   12:10 pm Sep 14 2011

As a fellow Kiwi living in the US, I totally agree with everything you have said. I was recently reading a textbook for my college courses talking about socialism, and thought how much it all sounded very much like NZ - a place I had never before thought of as being socialist-leaning. Similarly, I am horrified by the money-making scheme that is healthcare in this country, and the constant pushing of drugs to hide the symptoms, rather than a cure for the problem. And the gun laws - well, it scares me a LOT!!! Interesting to stumble across this blog now, when this is a topic that has crossed my mind a few times recently! Enjoying your stories, opinions and updates.

Tim   #5   12:13 pm Sep 14 2011

Just to make what should be an obvious point that one doesn't need progressive tax rates to ensure that the better off pay more taxes. a flat tax rate or even a regressive tax rate has the same result because tax is paid on every dollar earned. Therefore the more you earn the more you pay. My greater concern is to ensure all of one's earnings are taxable rather than the rate at which it is taxed. Even Warren Buffet paid something above $7 million in tax in the last financial year, a small proportion of his income for sure but no one could argue that he didn't bear a greater share of the cost of running society than his secretary. Rather the argument is about how much greater it should be.

The Saint   #6   12:15 pm Sep 14 2011

Re: Gun Laws.

Guns are used 60 times more often to save lives than take them in the US, and although gun ownership has steadily risen in the US since 1970, the overall rate of homicide and suicide has not. 75-80% of homicides are caused by people with prior arrests for violence. Accrding to the UN Scotland is the most violent country in the developed world, with you having three times the chances of being assaulted, and finally there is no study anywhere that has found a relationship between the total number of legally held firearms in a society and the rate of armed crime.

Thought you should know. :>)

David in Chch   #7   12:17 pm Sep 14 2011

Canada, where I was born and raised, is the same. Where in Canada, as in New Zealand, I would be in the centre, even centre-left, in the US, you and I would be most comfortable in the left wing of the Democratic Party, and even there we would be at the extreme.

I do not understand why the citizens of the USA think providing some basic healthcare for all is so bad. It actually ends up costing _less_ in so many ways. It just seems so odd to me.

Sam   #8   12:17 pm Sep 14 2011

My guess is that when he was referring to 'socialist streak' he was mainly referring to a distrust of the private sector.

I think New Zealanders prefer the Government to have control because then they feel that they have some control over it as well. If things don't work out in their favour they can complain until something is done about it.

Me   #9   12:20 pm Sep 14 2011

Yeah I agree with that statement, however I have a sneaky suspision that John Key meant it as a negative.

jillyfran   #10   12:26 pm Sep 14 2011

John Key's socialist remark struck me as it brought back a comment made by my American aunt during her visit to New Zealand 35 years ago. She commented how on how socialist New Zealand was. It rankled with me at the time and I disagreed viogorously. But now in the ocntext of our services which are universally available I can see what my aunt meant.

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