There’s significant information available about the destructive impact of high levels of income inequalities, on people’s lives and democratic processes. Many Kiwis feel its impact. How can the public be better informed about the causes of, and remedies for income inequalities and related differences in access to power.
Nearly three-quarters of New Zealanders believe the gap between rich and poor has increased under six years of National Government and almost two-thirds feel they are no better off or have gone backwards, a Herald-DigiPoll survey suggests.
Forty four per cent of the 750 New Zealanders surveyed this month said the gap between the rich and poor had got a lot bigger over the past six years.
Bill English hilariously tries a glass-half-full response to the poll:
Through a spokesman, Deputy Prime Minister Bill English said the fact the poll showed most New Zealanders felt better off or the same about their situation “is encouraging given they have been through a large recession and the global financial crisis in the past six years”.
Auckland Action Against Poverty has a piece of action planned for next Saturday evening outside the Young Nats’ Ball in Auckland:
John Key & Paula Bennett are preparing to have a ball with their Young Nats. We’re hosting an alternative party for those left out in the cold by Nationals war on the poor.
Beneficiaries, low paid workers and young New Zealanders see little reason to celebrate after 6 years under National.
Let’s remind the Nats their champagne celebrations will not go unchallenged while so many of us are pushed further into poverty as a result of their policies.
6.30pm Saturday 5th April outside Rendezvous Hotel, 71 Mayoral Drive, Auckland
It is good that there is some coverage in the mainstream media of the issue of the inequality gap. However, far more needs to be done politically and in policy development and public discourse. This is needed in order to identify specific problems and causal factors, and to develop effective policies to improve the situation.
Statistics NZ provides useful data
Statistics NZ provides some useful background on the last few decades of income inequality in NZ, and how NZ compares internationally. Basically, inequality in NZ rose markedly in the late 1980s, started to decrease under the last Labour led government, then began to increase again under the current National led government. It is still well above the early to mid 1980s level.
Sociological research & public knowledge & understanding
For those interested in gaining a more in depth grasp of the issues of income inequalities and social class differences, a special issue of The Journal the Sociological Association of New Zealand, 2013 (v28:3) is worth a look. The editorial outlines the various ways of understanding the linkages between class and income inequality. It argues that these linkages are overdue an up-dating for the current NZ context. Factors that need to be considered are the impact on people’s lives of the interaction between income inequality and social and cultural capital. These also interact with other inequalities like those of gender and ethnicity
The editorial by Charles Crothers mentions that a more Marxist approach takes into account issues of power and domination (an important factor not to be overlooked). There is reference to Erik Olin Wright’s (2009) discussion of this and other approaches. Crothers then provides a general outline of the US context (but relevant to NZ) arising from various sociological approaches:
– At the top, an extremely rich capitalist class and corporate managerial class,[…]
– An historically large and relatively stable middle class, […]
– A working class which once was characterised by a relatively large unionized segment […]
– A poor and precarious segment of the working class, […]
– A marginalised, impoverished part of the population, […]
Brian Easton analyses Bryan Perry and Max Rashbrooke’s books on income inequalities, which he finds useful, but limited in scope, and with some flawed elements. He ends by concluding that policies require a considered mix of redistribution and predistribution.
Peter Skilling argues that argues that many of the claims in books by Rashbrooke and Stiglitz are not very new (e.g. “that a meaningful policy response to inequality might not be compatible with the continuation of free markets”).
Economic power & the media
More importantly Skilling concludes that neither book provides strategies to counter the wider understandings and values that currently dominate the public sphere – and particularly that there is a need to look more in depth at the ways that economic power, and the MSM dominate general discourse.
In this more practical vein, both Stiglitz and (in the Rashbrooke volume) Wade call for greater control over the financing of politicians and political parties. But it is worth recalling that the last attempt in New Zealand to regulate political party electoral financing resulted in a media outcry, led by the New Zealand Herald’s ‘Democracy under Attack’ campaign (New Zealand Herald, 2007).
Skilling notes that there has been no similar campaign in the MSM against the way inequalities undermine democracy. He ends by saying that there needs to be more consideration of the ways the mass media and social media networks can contribute towards “developing a public consensus to address inequality. ”