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