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NBR RICH LIST 2012: Lessons in wealth

After more than a quarter of a century, the NBR Rich List 2012 still draws a variety of strong reactions, many of them negative.

My description last year that we should treat those successful in business as “national treasures” was especially controversial.

It would appear many New Zealanders – probably even a majority – object to wealth, even though by world standards this country’s levels of prosperity are modest indeed.

The campaign against the government’s decision to sell part of its shareholding in a few power stations has been framed as a debate between selling “our assets” to the wealthy few – and even foreigners, to boot.

But this discounts the phenomenal success of KiwiSaver and the high level of investments and savings by the vast majority of households.

So is this antipathy to wealth only generated by a hardcore minority, who reflect the opinions of those on the political left, abetted by the media and academia?

The answer would appear to be positive, given the lack of understanding of how wealth is generated and the role of private enterprise in the economy.

The Rich List provides insights into what one group of New Zealanders – and some foreigners who have invested here – have achieved. This has been at a time when many have lost the bulk of their savings with unwise investments in finance companies.

The lucky ones were bailed out by other taxpayers, through government guarantees, at the cost of more than a billion dollars and more debt for future generations.

The government is now committed to programmes in financial literacy. The Rich List has already provided this over 26 years, through booms and busts.

More by Nevil Gibson

Comments and questions

I agree with you, these people are national treasures from whom we could all learn. As the sign of why the West is eating itself, now, however, the only thing government is interested in learning from your list, is where to send the auditors.

Sounds rather collectivist from you, Mark.

Describing them as 'national treasures' to me has more connotations of the use of wealthy people as a source of net tax revenue to fund national (i.e. state) activities than appreciation for their skill in management, business or investment.

Oh, so now the only other capitalist on the boards nit picks over semantics :) Yes, David, I, no doubt like Nevil, mean 'national treasures' exactly as you have described it, not in any collectivist sense (which would have been obvious if you'd read my post).

Actually, here's the best way to think of the 'national treasure' notion, David. You'll easily get one person in three to march to protect the supposed national treasures of our national parks from being mined, but you could search for a year, including amongst the readers of this business publication, and you won't find, anymore, other than a handful of people who understand the philosophical and economic damage being done by giving a government the (im)moral authority to mine private individuals for their private wealth.

Now, to prove my point, queue the dislikes ...

Of course my comments are not to suggest that there isn't a positive connotation of wealthy people as national treasures: national in the sense of the people of a country rather than a state, and treasure in the sense of benefactor through capital accumulation and mutually beneficial voluntary trade. It just that the other connotation can't be dismissed, given how some people see others only as sources of plunder rather than as entitled to respect as individuals in our community.

I try not to nit pick although I'm probably guilty of it at times.

Another concern is the distinction between wealth that is derived from deft manipulation of government coercion and wealth that is derived from mutually beneficial voluntary trade. In a mixed economy, everyone's wealth and income is derived from both sources, one cannot easily operate and prosper by opting out of various artificial and unjust institutions imposed on us with penalties for non-compliance and benefits granted or protected through compliance. This point should give pause to celebrating the currently wealthy in our mixed (and mixed up) society. Any celebration of the wealthy must necessarily be a qualified generalisation.

Yes, true: we need a Western Spring - the voluntary society.

Goodness, silly me. A 'peaceful' Western Spring. Of course. In people's minds.

Dreck - the people on this list are about as relevant to the man on the street as the man in the moon is.

Suiccess should always be celebrated and embraced. Financial success is no exception.

Spam alert - Mark Hubbard is throwing links into his pap again.

My links are always on topic, unlike this one of your's. And NBR are free to exercise their right to delete them.

I've always thought having Likes and Dislikes on these posts a trifling nonsense: but I'm starting to understand how in them, we see how NZ, and the West, has fallen. It's a problem of philosophy, that won't be fixed in my lifetime, as we lurch down the road to serfdom.

Watch the dislikes. And that's how the majority of Kiwis think of the rich listers. We are all beholden to the worst tyranny of all, in our social democracies: each other. I'm unsure now whether the society we've ended with is Orwell's 1984, or whether we're living in Golding's Lord of the Flies.

Up until the late eighties successful businesspersons were respected, but after the wealth that was created from the deregulation after this period which was often achieved via money manipulation and connections or inside knowledge, the wealthy lost allot of respected. Unfortunately, now the majority of wealthy are not respected even those who have obtained their wealth via successful enterprise, which contributed to the wealth of the nation.

Give the Rich Listers a break, can't you? It's their day, and the sun is shining in Auckland - which is all that matters...

There are certainly some national treasures on the list.