Hooton on poverty and income inequality

writes in NBR:

Since then, activists and academics have emphasised inequality. 

In New Zealand, the Child Action Group says 270,000 children – half of them Maori or Pasifika – live in , around a quarter of the total.

Otago University says 400,000 New Zealanders suffer fuel poverty.

Depending on the measure, the welfare industry tells us that around 760,000 New Zealanders live in poverty.  Our is said to be a bit better than the hellhole of Canada but a bit worse than the paradise of Greece.

So the aim of the left is to have us more like Greece, and less like Canada!

In reality, all these measures are mere statistical constructs.

If every New Zealander’s income immediately doubled (ignore for the sake of argument any inflation effect) so-called poverty in New Zealand would remain unchanged.

If dairy farmers and tourism operators have a good year, more children would be said to live in poverty because the median income would rise.

Similarly, cut middle-class salaries, or slash the value of the Rich List’s portfolios, and child poverty apparently falls.

This is very true, and those numbers quoted are near meaningless. The far better measure of hardship is the survey done by eithers Stats and/or MSD every few years asking a representative set of households what items or services they do not have, that they wish to have.

This is nonsense and confirms Margaret Thatcher’s famous assertion that the left would rather have the poor poorer provided the rich were less rich.

That case was made just last week by Dr Geoff Bertram – the architect of the Labour/Green electricity nationalisation to combat “fuel poverty” – when he proposed chief executive salaries should be no more than three times that of a company’s lowest-paid worker.

If Fonterra employed even one factory hand on, say, $20/hour, its chief executive would be limited to a salary of about $125,000 a year.  It is impossible to see how that would help even one of the 760,000 New Zealanders apparently living in poverty.  It is a proposal solely motivated by the politics of hate.

Dr Bertram is the architect of Labour’s and Green’s power policy.

Could you imagine Fonterra being unable to pay any staff member over $125,000 a year?

There is an argument that, at a certain point, inequality can become harmful because it can become a barrier to economic growth.

In a system of pure feudalism, where all new wealth that is created is confiscated by the rich, or a system of pure communism where all wealth is redistributed, no one would have an incentive to do anything, with economic collapse following.

The question, though, is whether there is the slightest evidence that New Zealand is remotely approaching either extreme.  If there is, it would surely be towards the latter.

Under the current tax system, including Working for Families which John Key rightly described as “communism by stealth” but has kept in place, the top 3% of New Zealand households pay a third of all net income tax.

The top 5% of households pay half and the top 12% pay three-quarters.

In net terms, the 44% of households earning under $50,000 pay no income tax at all.  Their true net tax rates are below zero.

Even when taking into account GST, fuel taxes and tobacco and alcohol excise, the redistributive effects of the current system are overwhelming.  Just 12% of indirect taxes are paid by the poorest 20% of households and a third by the wealthiest 20% of households.

The current economy is one that is growing, where unemployment is falling, wages are rising, inflation is below 1% and even the constructed measure of inequality is marginally narrowing.

It is also a country where someone like Rod Drury can turn an idea into a $2 billion company, including quite a few hundred million for himself.

We should return to the values of the 1980s and celebrate him and all those who have made it honestly onto this year’s list.

They create wealth and opportunities for New Zealanders.  It is a lie to say they make children poor.

A great column.

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