The Herald reports some interesting comments made by prominent scientist, Sir Paul Callaghan:
Kiwis choose to be poor, laments top scientist
Kiwis are poor because they choose to be, says Sir Paul Callaghan, one of the country’s top scientists. This assertion was part of a series of attacks he has directed at the Government’s plans to develop the economy.
“The choice is as simple and as stark as this: New Zealanders like to work in low-wage activities. Tourism is a classic example. Or people thinking about growing wine and look it’s great, it’s a nice lifestyle, but frankly, the revenue per job is poor,” he said. …
However, Callaghan said the Government did not seem interested in boosting technology and innovation. “There is no political leadership around this. One of the sad things about the Budget is the signal the Government sends about innovation is that it’s actually one of Bill English’s like-to-haves, not a must-have. I’m not expecting us to ramp it up to OECD levels overnight in a time like this, but [the Budget] doesn’t gel with a Government that says ‘we want to lift per capita GDP’,” he said. …
Unsurprisingly, I agree with Callaghan’s assessment of the useless political leadership that we currently “enjoy”. The Nats are cutting everything, investing in nothing, and still expect some pixie-dust fuelled growth explosion to magically occur. It’s a cycle way to nowhere.
But what of the assertion that we’re choosing to be poor? Choosing to work in low wage activities such as tourism? Matter of fact I agree again. We do choose to be poor. But I suspect that Callaghan and I have very different reasons. The problem is not that we’re choosing to work in the “wrong” activities – what’s wrong with tourism? The problem is that our expectations are too low. We choose to be poor because we accept low wages.
Case in point, unions. Unions exist to take care of the ordinary worker. Most unionised workers are still getting pay rises, while most non unionised workers are not. And yet the rate of union membership in the workforce as a whole is less than 20% and falling. People, you’re choosing to be poor.
On a larger scale, governments. Left wing governments exist to take care of the ordinary people. Under Labour unemployment fell, wages (especially minimum wages) rose, and the gap between rich and poor began to narrow for the first time in decades. Children were being lifted out of poverty. The gender pay gap was narrowing. Health inequalities were narrowing. But in 2008 we vacuously decided, nah, it’s time for a change. And now the indicators are getting worse again. Voting for right wing governments? That’s just choosing to be poor.
On a cultural scale, bread and circuses. We are well managed and distracted by infotainment and advertising, conditioned to accept our lot. The “American Dream” has it that we should none of us worry about poverty, because all of us have the opportunity to strike it rich one day. What nonsense. There isn’t much social mobility about, even less as inequality systematically rises. Grinding your life away for nothing but illusions? In so many ways that’s choosing to be poor.
Ultimately we choose to be poor because we let too much money “trickle up”. We let wealth and power concentrate in too few hands at the top of the pile. If we had any guts we’d rise up, and chase the money lenders out of the temple.