The ‘Super-Rich’ in New Zealand are getting extraordinarily richer, and they want government to help them become even wealthier. That’s the message from the NBR’s 2011 Rich List (which is accessible here: http://www.nbr.co.nz/rich-list-2011). The massive increase in the wealth of New Zealand’s elite is made obvious by the 18% annual increase in the collective wealth of those at the top of the capitalist class – they’ve gone from owning $38bn to $45bn in just one year. This is well covered in the articles by Michael Dickison: Rich Listers enjoy 20pc increase in wealth and by Dan Satherley: NBR Rich List 2011 - NZ's wealthy doing just fine.
If you’ve been following the Rich List over the last decade or more, you’ll know that the general trend is for ever increasing concentration of wealth at the top end of NZ society. Throughout even the Clark Labour Government years of 1999-2008, there was a huge explosion of wealth expansion at the top end of New Zealand society. It was these years that saw the emergence of a Super-Rich in New Zealand. Much of this went unnoticed by the general public, media and observers because it was a time of significant economic growth – in general everyone was doing a bit better so the rich-poor gap was not so political. But when the economic recession kicked in, the standards of living for a large part of society has dropped, yet the financial health of most of the wealthy has continued to improve (apart from a brief decline in 2009-10). And we can see many examples of that continued enrichment in the 2011 list. To see this enrichment in a graphical form, the NBR has produced a striking chart showing the explosion of wealth at the top end since the late 1990s – click on the chart here.
From a political point of view, the NBR Rich List needs to be contextualised within the current social setting of New Zealand society where there is significant poverty and economic suffering. So it's the gap between the rich and poor that the NBR Rich List really signifies. And there's an important electoral connection to all of this. For many years, the issue of economic inequality has not been on the political agenda. There is plenty of survey evidence to show that the public hasn't been particularly concerned about inequality since the 1980s. And political parties have reflected that lack of concern, by not really pushing policies to reverse the increasing economic inequality. But since the onset of the latest economic slump that's changing, and suddenly issues of economic inequality are at the forefront of public debate in this election year. We see this particularly in the politics and campaigning of opposition parties – which appear to be trying to capitalise on this growing concern. What's more there are actually now plenty of rich people that are publicly stating their discomfort with the huge income and wealth gaps. People like Gareth Morgan (and today, Rich Lister, Phillip Mills) are saying that they think people such as themselves should be paying more tax – listen for example to this RNZ item. This is quite an extraordinary development - and it reflects a significant shift in the politics of inequality in NZ.
Of course, the NBR – and much of the media and ‘Establishment’ – see the NBR Rich List as very much a celebration of ‘wealth creation’, whereby instead it’s possible to argue that virtually all the wealth ‘created’ by those in the Rich List actually comes from the hard work of their many employees. Essentially the Super-Rich in New Zealand are profiting from the hard work of ordinary New Zealanders through the extraction of super profits while keeping wages and salaries low. [Continue reading below for a full list of the highlights of NZ Politics Daily]