NZ POLITICS DAILY: Anger and debate over inequality

Are you angry about the widening gap between rich and poor? Or are you sceptical about the stats? Either way, rising concerns about inequality could fuel radicalism in New Zealand politics

Are you angry about the widening gap between rich and poor? Or are you sceptical about the stats? Either way, rising concerns about inequality could fuel radicalism in New Zealand politics.

Anger and concern about economic inequality has been building up in New Zealand over the last few years. This has, of course, been happening all over the world since the global financial crisis, and is widely recognised as a key aspect in the rise of radicalism and populism everywhere. Hence, last week, political scientist Jennifer Lees-Marshment said that the growth of inequality was fuelling discontent with politicians and the status quo. She said people “like the idea of a man standing up and talking about threatening the system, changing the system and going in and sorting it out”, and that could happen here – see Newshub’s Expert warns inequality could breed NZ's own Donald Trump

In the Weekend Herald, Lizzie Marvelly also wrote about how anger might potentially fuel the rise of political radicalism in this country: “There will be a group of landowners that sees no problem with the status quo. To them I'd like to mention two terrifying phenomena: Brexit and Donald Trump. While we comfort ourselves imagining that both Brexit and Trump's ascension happened in countries vastly different to ours, we are missing the signs in our own society of deep social unrest. Disenfranchised renters may be apathetic and depressed at the moment, but it wouldn't take much for a demagogue promising to "make New Zealand great again", or simply to give them a fair wage and a realistic pathway to home ownership to amass a horde of impassioned supporters” – see: Save the Kiwi dream before it's too late

Marvelly sees the outcome of the anger over inequality as leading to a very negative politics – especially the risk of it spawning political scapegoats such as some aspects of the debate over immigration. Therefore, she suggests that we “acknowledge and address the unrest and dissent emerging in our communities before it mutates into a Trump-like situation. We need to save the Kiwi dream before it's too late.”

Inequality anger focused on immigration

Economist Shamubeel Eaqub also sees the growing debate about immigration as a proxy for anger produced by economic changes. He argued last week that political polarisation is growing because this growing inequality “provides the visible catalyst. Much like the vote for Brexit, or support for Trump, society is polarised across different divides: young vs old; urban vs rural; educated vs uneducated; men vs women” – see: Immigration an emotionally charged topic

Currently the politician most likely to be able to exploit that discontent is the populist Winston Peters, and he’s proved quite capable of connecting inequality with immigration. The NBR’s Rob Hosking says: Winston’s hour is coming (paywalled) and that “The New Zealand First leader was made for these times.”

In his article, Hosking explains why the rising concern about inequality is more likely to suit a conservative populist than a leftwing populist: “Yes, inequality – in all its forms and however sloppily defined – is being discussed far more as part of the political discourse. But it is being discussed in a different way, in a way that is being subsumed by other themes. It is often discussed in almost nationalistic terms – “this is not us” or “this is not New Zealand.” You will hear similar themes overseas – usually with greater virulence and nastiness. As noted here last week, it is fashionable to describe this sentiment as a rage against the elites, and essentially xenophobic if not downright racist and, while that is there, it is not the sole aspect of it. This rage is partly driven by fear and economic pressures but it is also driven by a loss of a sense of community and of nationality. This is not the ground of socialist parties – rather, it is more the ground of traditional conservative ones.”

Awareness and politicisation of inequality

Inequality continues to be the most important political issue for the New Zealand public. The UMR 2016 Mood of the Nation report gives further evidence of this, showing that inequality and poverty is cited by 21 per cent of the public as the most important issue (compared to 15 per cent for the economy; 10 per cent for unemployment and jobs). 

Such public awareness mirrors the media’s increasing use of the word inequality, with a huge rise in the number of news stories and opinion pieces about inequality since the year 2000. I have previously measured how often newspapers have been using this term, as well as many others such as: poverty, gender, feminism, capitalism, racism, and ethnicity – see: Increase in radicalism in New Zealand political/media discourse

What this rising use of the term inequality represents is open to question. NBR editor Nevil Gibson has analysed my figures, and suggests “this radical resurgence must have some basis in real conditions and this is supplied from an unexpected source – the establishment media and its antipathy to the National-led government” – see: Reality rebuts rising radicalism (paywalled). 

It’s also the topic of much research. Last week, the Bruce Jesson Foundation published the video of the recent lecture: Are we all equal in New Zealand? This is by Victoria University of Wellington’s Lisa Marriot, who looks at the following questions: “Why are those less advantaged in New Zealand society treated differently from those who are in relatively privileged positions? Why are white-collar tax evaders treated differently to welfare fraudsters?” You can also download a copy of her lecture slides

And it’s hardly just leftwing academics and journalists focusing on the rich-poor gap. For example, last month the Herald reported a leading CEO pointing to the problem – see: Mood of the Boardroom: Inequality big problem for NZ: Air NZ chief. Likewise, the conversion of elites to the inequality agenda includes former National Party Prime Minister Jim Bolger. According to a recent column by Rob Hosking, Bolger “spoke in Christchurch last week, and among the many points he made was that long-term, wide, inequality is damaging to a society. There was a scurry of comments, mostly by academics and left-wing activists, to the effect that Mr Bolger has become a bit of a liberal in his old age” – see: Kiwi conservatism and caricatures (paywalled). 

Scepticism about the assumptions on inequality

The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. Well that's the repeated message in New Zealand politics, especially from the political left. But is it really true? 

Last week the New Zealand Initiative think tank released their report The Inequality paradox: Why inequality matters even though it has barely changed, which is written by Bryce Wilkinson and Jenesa Jeram. This is an important contribution to the debate and our understanding of inequality and politics.

Part of the report relates to my measurement of the media’s increased usage of the term “inequality”. The other side of the report is the contention that economic inequality is not actually worsening at the moment. And this is why it’s labelled a “paradox” by the Institute – because they believe we are increasingly talking about inequality at the very time that income inequality is not actually worsening, and is arguably even improving. 

The root cause, the report contends, is the lack of affordable housing. With house and rental prices increasingly so significantly, the report argues it’s not incomes that are fuelling discontent, but housing costs – see TVNZ’s New Zealand afflicted by 'housing crisis' rather than 'inequality crisis', report finds. (Incidentally, the Ministry of Social Development recently came to a similar conclusion – see Isaac Davison’s Rising housing costs driving inequality, Govt reports show). 

The think tank authors also point to other factors, including the decline of the two-parent family, and the fact that campaigners here have imported inequality rhetoric from other countries in which worsening inequality is indeed a significant problem. This is all covered very well in Rob Stock’s article, Income inequality: Is it getting worse, or isn't it?

Stock has followed this up with an article featuring more comments on the report by inequality author Max Rashbrooke – see: NZ inequality about more than just housing, anti-poverty campaigner says. In this, Rashbrooke’s own explanation for the supposed paradox is given, suggesting that contemporary concerns about inequality are a type of delayed reaction to the skyrocketing growth of inequality that happened earlier: “He said the huge rise in income inequality in the 1980s and 1990s was not just a historical event. Its social impact continued to this day, and people were increasingly recognising the damage that poverty was doing.” Rashbrooke also elaborates on his critique in the blog post, The New Zealand Initiative’s new report on inequality.

For other comments on the report, see Bryce Wilkinson’s Exposing the inequality scam (paywalled) and Gareth Morgan’s Inequality, Housing and Economic Growth – In Perspective

So is there really a crisis of inequality, or even the likelihood of a “NZ Trump” looming? Liam Hehir thinks we should be wary of crisis-mongering, and draws attention to the “now routine overheating of political coverage”, including the increased number of crises we’re experiencing: “Looking back through the news this year, we have seen the proclamation of a manufacturing crisis, an agriculture crisis, a regional economy crisis, a trust in politicians crisis, a healthcare budget crisis, a mental health crisis, an income inequality crisis, a wealth inequality crisis, an obesity crisis, a teacher recruitment crisis, a log-supply crisis, a water crisis and a casual racism crisis” – see: No crisis here. Move along please

And Danyl Mclauchlan ponders whether rising inequality really does lead to political instability – see: A heretical question about inequality

Finally, ‘If you’re not angry, what kind of person are you?’ That’s what British film director Ken Loach has recently said about economic inequality in society. This is in relation to the release of his film, I, Daniel Blake, which opened a few days ago in New Zealand cinemas. It’s a harrowing tale of inequality and the plight of the working class trying to get by. The reviews in New Zealand so far are incredibly positive. For example, the Herald’s Russell Baillie gives it 4.5 stars. James Croot gives it five stars, along with Kate Rodger, who says It's unforgettable cinema and may haunt the recesses of your mind, your heart and your conscience for years”. But Shawn Moodie looks at the main character and says the film describes “a situation that is all too familiar to us here in New Zealand” where “he faces a system in which technicalities rather than compassion determine one’s fate” together with a secondary character: “a single mother who has been priced out of London (a plot point that could have easily been replicated in Auckland).” So will I, Daniel Blake resonate in New Zealand? On Twitter, Helen Lehndorf (‏@helen_lehndorf) has suggested “We should do a Crowdfunding campaign to get Ken Loach to come here & do a film about housing crisis, damp homes & food banks.” 

Mt Roskill by-election

Jane Patterson (RNZ): Goff pushes back on Auckland paying for light rail

Vernon Small (Stuff): The unmistakable sound of by-election bribes crackling in the air

Vernon Small (Stuff): Labour promises to fast-track light rail in first salvo of Mt Roskill by-election in Auckland

Isaac Davison (Herald): Buses, not light rail, could be solution for Auckland traffic – Key

Dan Satherley (Newshub): Mt Roskill's light rail likely to have a cost blowout – Key

Herald: National says Labour's $680m Auckland light rail policy 'pork barrel politics'

Greg Presland (Standard): Labour’s Auckland light rail announcement

Jason Walls (NBR): Sparks fly in Mount Roskill by-election debate (paywalled)

Isobel Ewing (Newshub): Labour wants light rail through Auckland CBD

RNZ: Labour pledges to speed up Auckland light rail

Bernard Orsman (Herald): Labour to fund early start on light rail in Auckland

David Farrar (Kiwiblog): Labour’s $1.4 billion by-election bribe

Andrew Dickens (Newstalk ZB): Wrong time for Labour to make light rail pledge

Helen Kelly

Jo Moir (Stuff):John Key agrees with not awarding New Zealander of the Year posthumously

Dan Satherley (Newshub):'Huge respect', but no honour for Helen Kelly – PM

John-Michael Swannix (Newshub): NZer of the Year organisers drop Helen Kelly from list of nominees 

Martin Bradbury (Waatea News): Saying goodbye to Helen - The Helen Kelly memorial service

Martyn Bradbury (Daily Blog): If KiwiBank won’t do the right thing by Helen Kelly – then we should! Let’s start the ‘Real Kiwi of the Year’

RNZ: Helen Kelly ineligible for NZer of the Year

John Edens (Stuff): Helen Kelly ineligible for the New Zealander of the Year award category

Kirsty Wynn (Herald): Helen Kelly no longer eligible for New Zealander of Year

Claire Trevett (Herald): Vale Helen Kelly - 'she cut through the bullshit.'

RNZ: NZ unionist remembered as a fighter for Pacific rights

Damian George (Stuff): Tributes paid to former trade union boss Helen Kelly at memorial service


Patrick O’Meara (RNZ): Housing strife not baby boomers' fault – economist

Stephanie Arthur-Worsop (Rotorua Daily Post): Rental market still 'dreadful' tenant says

Russell Brown (Public Address): Meth houses and stigma

Jane Bowron (Stuff): P evictions show up state landlord's cavalier attitude

Newshub: Twyford demands explanation over P homes

Isaac Davision (Herald): Housing NZ on the defensive over meth testing as it says just five state house tenants have been evicted over P use

Sam Sachdeva (Stuff): Labour: Housing NZ must account for 'financial and human cost' of meth testing flaws

Catherine Harris (Stuff): Government kicks off another 1350 homes for Drury

Michael Reddell (Croaking Cassandra): Housing reform, the Corn Laws and possibilities for New Zealand

Herald: Home ownership and property values on Elm Sts not such a nightmare

Maori Party

The Nation: Lisa Owen interviews Maiki Sherman, Ella Henry, and Chris Wikaira (transcript)

Newshub: Social media could influence election – academic

Claire Trevett (Herald): Maori Party hopes former Kiwis star Howie Tamati will boost its vote

Catherine Groenestein (Taranaki Daily News): Howie Tamati named as Maori Party candidate for Te Tai Hauauru seat

Newshub: Howie Tamati to contest Te Tai Hauāuru for Māori party

Mei Heron (RNZ): Māori Party names Te Tai Hauāuru candidate

Martyn Bradbury (Daily Blog): Why Labour need to lose the Maori electorates if a progressive Government is to have a chance


Herald Editorial: Police checkpoint strategy to gather details of euthanasia supporters defies belief

Heather du Plessis-Allan: Crossing the thin blue line

RNZ: Euthanasia plea: 'Don't take that choice from me'

RNZ: Assisted dying advocate charged with drug importation

Newstalk ZB, Herald: Woman who sparked controversial police investigation into euthanasia supporters identified as Annemarie Treadwell

John Weekes, Matt Stewart (Stuff): Wellington woman Annemarie Treadwell's death trigger for Police euthanasia furore

Stuff: Charges laid over importing euthanasia drug

Andrew Gunn (Press): Targeting the real killers

Paul Henry controversy

Greg Bruce (Herald): Paul Henry reveals why he hates people

Herald: Paul Henry contrite as Brian Edwards slams his foul-mouthed Canvas interview

Stuff: Paul Henry: 'I meant no harm or offence'

Simon Collins (Stuff): 'Gutted' Louise Nicholas says Paul Henry needs more education about sexist behaviour

Simon Collins (Herald): Lizzie Marvelly boycotts Paul Henry Show over breast comments

Stuff: Paul Henry's most shocking quotes

Brian Edwards: Suicide Note from a Deranged Narcissist

Martyn Bradbury (Daily Blog): Paul Henry’s dickhead privilege vs Max Key’s dickhead privilege isn’t news

Herald Spy: Hilary Barry's Paul Henry dig

Inequality and poverty

Lizzie Marvelly (Herald): Save the Kiwi dream before it's too late

Dita DeBoni (TVNZ): Let them eat pain au chocolat

Brendon Harre (Interest): To become a fairer society, we should learn the lessons from earlier struggles

John Edens (Stuff): Kiwis are facing a 'double squeeze' from increasing food costs and housing pressure

Max Rashbrooke: The New Zealand Initiative’s new report on inequality


Guy Williams: Why are we still listening to Winston Peters?

Martin van Beynen (Stuff): Gird your loins for the immigration debate

Bernard Hickey (NBR): A tough tap to turn off (paywalled)

Elections and voting

Colin Peacock (RNZ) Mediawatch: Brace yourself for multimedia political persuasion

Spinoff: Head to head: two software experts duke it out on the merits of online voting

Police and Justice

Mihingarangi Forbes (RNZ):Top Māori cop to review Tūhoe woman's case

Press Editorial: Tasers a useful tool in the fight against crime but must be used responsibly

Jono Edwards (ODT): Alleged poaching by police to be investigated by Independent Police Conduct Authority

Tony Wall (Stuff):Moko's mum complains to IPCA over her treatment

Ruby Joy (Daily Blog): Media’s Robin Hood portrayal of gang leaders dangerous and irresponsible

Hamish McNeilly (Stuff): Did judge donate $250 to David Bain's Givealittle campaign?

Dairy Farming

Sue O’Dowd (Stuff):MP Chester Borrows says hidden camera footage threatens New Zealand's economy

Gerard Hutching (Stuff): Numbers of bobby calf deaths fall this season

Libby Wilson (Stuff): Bobby calf cruelty home detention sentence hangs in the balance

Christine Rose (Daily Blog): Dairy farm animal abuse part of the economic model

Funding Joseph Parker fight

Sam Sachdeva (Stuff): Analysis: Was Joseph Parker's heavyweight bout 'political dynamite' for MPs?

Andrew Gourdie (Radio Live): Opinion: Parker vs Ruiz - a missed opportunity

Duncan Garner (Stuff): Government's claim to reward enterprise rings a bit hollow on Parker

John Roughan (Herald): Boxing is not another national 'showcase'


Herald: Great Walks 'important part of people's lives'

Herald Editorial: Turnstiles on wilderness is not the answer

Adriana Weber (RNZ): Ross Sea sanctuary: 'There's got to be some real penalties'

No Right Turn: A victory for the environment?

RNZ: WWF urges new bycatch solutions

No Right Turn: Climate change: The purpose of the ETS

Jaqueline Rowarth (NBR): Heartland: Grass is greenest for environment

The Press Editorial: Marine report should be catalyst for robust environmental leadership

Max Key

Bryan Gould (Herald): Max Key suggests we are spawning a generation of Trumps

Steve Braunias (Herald): Secret diary of Max Key crisis

Andrew Owen (Taranaki Daily News): Editorial: What to do with a wayward son

Nadine Chalmers-Ross (Stuff): Max Key lives at home - what does he know about ‘real’ men

US elections

Tracy Watkins (Stuff): The US presidential race: Like the rest of New Zealand, I can't stop watching

Liam Dann (Herald): Trumpled: why it's bad news for NZ if he wins

RNZ: NZ's economic growth could get 'Trumpled'

Felix Marwick (Newstalk ZB): MMP is a paradise compared to the political duopoly in the US

TVNZ: Mike Moore: Hillary Clinton 'understands New Zealand'


Chris Trotter (Stuff): New Zealand’s only Middle Eastern exit strategy – leave now

Richard Harman (Politik): ANZAC Ministers agree to take on the world (and Trump)

Rob Hosking (NBR): Political entropy versus rejuvenation (paywalled)

Dave Rees (NBR): Management: Let workplaces show power of diversity (paywalled)

Rodney Hide (NBR): PM’s whim holds key to cabinet (paywalled)

Jim Rose (NBR): Too many state-owned zombies (paywalled)

Eileen Goodwin (ODT): Extra orthopaedic operations sought

Gisborne Herald: You won't believe what Hekia Parata will do next

Duncan Greive (The Spinoff): The New Economy: why The Spinoff teamed up with Kiwibank to ask some tough questions

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