A fair go

Tax lecturer, blogger and Labour candidate Deborah Russell says we all deserve a fair go:

In New Zealand. . .  Our big shared value is fairness. We think that everyone ought to have a fair go, a fair chance at getting ahead and a fair opportunity to participate in our society. We’ll hear politicians talking about fairness a lot this year in the lead-up to the election.

But what exactly is fairness? . .

Our attitude to tax shows that when New Zealanders talk about fairness they are concerned about outcomes. We can’t make the outcomes identical for everyone but we do try to even out at least some of the biggest differences.

Think of it like this. Imagine three people wanting to look over a fence to see a parade: a short person, a middling person and a tall person. If we find a box of exactly the same size for each of them to stand on, then the short person still can’t see over the fence, and the tall person has a great view. That’s “fair” because we made sure each of them had the same size box — but the short person is left staring at the fence.

Then imagine if we gave two boxes to the short person, and the tall person just stood on the ground. Each person could see the parade because we made sure that we took their individual needs into account. That’s being fair, too.

So which sort of fairness is best? Treating everyone exactly the same or treating people according to their needs? The right of politics prefers people to be treated the same. The left thinks we ought to take some account of individual needs so everyone can get a fair go. . .

Pete George has another story which shows the flaws in this reasoning:

. . . What if there were three people are of similar height?

One got up early, went and cut up a log and made three boxes and stacked them so they could see a parade over a fence.

The second person got up late and stood behind the fence complaining they couldn’t see over it.

The third person came along and took one box of the first person and gave it to the second person. Now they both weren’t high enough to see over the fence. And the third person took the third box for themselves so they could rest their feet on it when they watched their leader’s parade from a balcony. . .

The right doesn’t think people should always be treated the same.

Only those devoid of compassion don’t accept that some people need more help than others.

Where the right and left usually diverge is in the difference between equality of opportunity and outcome.

It is fair for those who have fewer or poorer opportunities to be given a bigger hand up than those who have more and better ones.

What isn’t fair is for people who help themselves to be penalised to help others who could help themselves but don’t.

15 Responses to A fair go

  1. chris says:

    Why didn’t the short person bring a ladder?


  2. JC says:

    If you’ve got three people standing on boxes, or the tall guy on the ground and just the other two on boxes then nobody behind them can see the parade anyway.

    So you fixed Shorty’s and the mid sized guy’s problem but you disadvantaged 10 or 20 people standing behind them.. very USSR.



  3. Dave Kennedy says:

    Another view is to celebrate difference and try and ensure all can contribute to society based on their skills and attributes and value their contribution. A small section of society can now earn incomes many times greater than others and the justification for this does not appear rational. The current NZ CEO of the BNZ earns $2 million a year and yet he himself pointed out the problems related to a low wage economy.

    We have people now doing valuable work that was once paid but now is done by volunteers and many who work long hours and can’t earn a living wage. There are many examples of CEOs (Don Elder, Tony Marryatt) who clearly failed in their role but received incredibly large salaries and were provided huge redundancies.

    The collapse of financial institutions that caused the recession revealed exorbitant salaries and well paid directors who provided very poor oversight. The capture of the world’s wealth by a few has meant a few individuals control more money and assets than many countries. In New Zealand 1% of our population controls 16% of our country’s wealth while 50% of our population have 5% to share between them.

    The book ‘Capital’ may prove to be the canary in the economic coal mine.



  4. Gravedodger says:

    “What isn’t fair is for people who help themselves to be penalised to help others who could help themselves but don’t.”

    Reasonable summary of two things.
    The failure of socialism as predicted by Baroness Thatcher when as Margaret she dismantled the suffocating effects of union dominated UK and put a little of the “Great” back into “Great Britain”.
    “Socialism will only last while there is Other Peoples Money to fund it”.

    Secondly the inherent structural failure of welfare as it continues to morph from a safetynet to a lifestyle option.

    Remember all those who chose to watch games at Carisbrook from the adjoining Railway Embankment known as “The Scotsmans Grandstand”, remove the socialistic welfare component and cultivate the entrepreneurial spirit within the makeup of every human being.

    Then stand back and watch solutions to problems being created before your very eyes and not a bureaucrat, MP or any other trougher in sight.


  5. Dave Kennedy says:

    Gravedodger, it’s always good have actual examples to support an ideology. Currently it is the countries that have higher levels of investment in welfare, health and education that have been the most resilient. Those that have followed the libertarian route have high levels of debt and huge inequity. New Zealand has followed a neoliberal economic philosophy and now join the US, Poland, Italy and the UK as the most unequal countries in the OECD. The countries that have the highest level of equality have fewer social problems and the lowest level of private debt.


    We also have the 3rd worst current account balance in the OECD, joining the UK, US, Turkey and Mexico for spending and borrowing beyond our means:



  6. Ray says:

    “The current NZ CEO of the BNZ earns $2 million a year”
    Envy….. adds nothing to the argument.
    Get over it.
    Nobody is poor because I am rich.


  7. Dave Kennedy says:

    “Envy….. adds nothing to the argument.”

    I totally agree, it’s a good thing that it wasn’t a factor in my thinking. My own circumstances are very comfortable thank you. I just find extreme wealth existing while 27% of our children live in poverty and 17% of them don’t have their basic needs met (healthy home, essential clothing, regular meals…) is difficult to justify.


  8. Goldie says:

    A dissappointing article by Deborah Russell. It is what you expect a 6th Former to write: “Most of my students are more comfortable with asking people who earn more to pay a higher proportion of tax.”.
    Wow – I am shocked. Poor students think it is OK to tax the rich. But what about the people who have actually earned that pay – are they also “comfortable” about having the fruits of their labour being confiscated by those students?

    As useful as idiots who pontificate about “neoliberal economics”, “inequality” or “poverty” without realising that these are ideological terms that actually don’t help at all to devise policy. And this is sadly where the Labour Party are at – spouting meaningless ideological slogans and not coming up with policy.


  9. Dave Kennedy says:

    Goldie, the Greens’ schools as hubs policy is a very practical way of dealing with child health and supporting struggling families. Investing in early interventions with children has been shown to save millions later on. A few hundred dollars spent on a child when they are young may save $100,000 a year to keep them in prison. We definitely have solid and costed policies 🙂


  10. Gravedodger says:

    Dave, you are an educated man, please relate those 27% of New Zealand children who you describe as “living in Poverty” to the millions in Africa, Asia, South America and the Pacific who exist on around a dollar US a day.

    So much of what you and the others who pursue the echochamber of garbage that portrays children in NZ who are accessing welfare at around 100 times the dollar value of that which those in real poverty exist in, destroys any credible argument you may think you have to predicate your politics of envy on.

    For all that is holy find another descriptive to describe New Zealand children who are in a domestic situation so far removed from the historical situation widely accepted as “poverty”.
    I dont have such a word and have no wish to engage in the politics of the half empty glass but such children can in all probability enjoy a far more rewarding, enjoyable, creative, and character building environment than so many of those in a home of what may be thought privilege. They in all likely hood are impoverished to a far greater extent in becoming well rounded and successful persons than many of those in more straightened circumstances.

    Your idol John Key, inherited a solo parent, was from immigrant stock, a statehouse in what was in those days “a nappy alley”, attended a developing state school, and he turned out OK so far.

    Equality is impossible, read a bible about the prodigal son, didn’t do that flash with his gifted talents, yet turned out alright in the final washup.

    Learning to be grateful for your lot, working hard to make a better life, helping others are often what satisfies many but taxing success and gifting to the indolent will not create a single dollar of wealth and advancement as such policy is counter productive to achieving excellence.

    Read again the tale of the ten men who met for lunch and shared the cost according to ability to pay and how it all blew up when the restaurant owner gave a discount.
    Plus the parable on the ants and the grasshoppers.

    Then recite again Margaret Thatchers now so revealing words on the life cycle of socialism while thinking Greece, Portugal, Spain, Italy, all countries founded in want that progressed to plenty and are now basket cases economically. Yes we are an indebted nation but we have a still growing productive base and potential untapped mineral wealth, waiting until the ruling class truly discover how to mine drill and extract while such riches have value.
    Then again we could hold off until our need to survive overcomes the luddite mentality over wealth creation and the great welfare trap and just as Solid Energy assets have become relatively valueless much of our real wealth could suffer a similar devaluation.

    Being in the care of drug addled misfit breeders and not attending Auckland Grammar is not freakin Poverty.

    Not having a ace 4 smartphone, an ipad, an ipod, an iphone, sky TV, and eating at an upmarket restaurant every night is not poverty it is something to aim for and aspire to.

    Then again we could all be equally impoverished in spirit and ability to dream, daily I am thankful it is not yet so.


  11. Dave Kennedy says:

    Gravedodger, I guess it comes down to what level of poverty you are prepared to tolerate in an affluent country that is relatively under populated and resource rich. We currently have children with delayed development and third world diseases because of the levels of poverty that they are forced to endure. If you are saying that poverty doesn’t exist here because we have no children with stick limbs, extended bellies and no clothing then that is a little sad. Even in economic terms 270,000 children living in ‘relative’ costs us billions each year in health and remedial education costs. It doesn’t make sense in a humanitarian sense or an economic one. It is just depleting the value of our economic capital and continues to support a low wage economy.


  12. Dave Kennedy says:

    Should have read ‘relative’ poverty above.


  13. Gravedodger says:

    So Dave we have established there appears to be no one word so you now qualify the word “poverty” with “relative”.
    Like to now attempt to find a collective noun for the half arsed incompetent breeders who deny their spawn the necessities of life by syphoning off money intended to benefit their children for their own selfish ends and then explain how giving them more money will solve the problem you identify.

    Is it not remotely possible that if you gave them a thousand dollars a week per child there would be no benefit to the child but boy would the parent and their current squeeze live the life of Riley.

    If welfare was truly the solution it would have worked by now, sadly welfare is the problem and raising the sum on offer only increases the magnitude of what you are pretending to solve as a perceived problem.


  14. JC says:

    Poverty is indeed relative. If we apply the NZ standard of poverty being under 60% of the median wage then 100s of millions in the world earn less than 60 cents per day. We should insist the other 40% pay at least 50% tax to reduce inequality.

    Meanwhile back here, we find that the two dominant characteristics of poverty are 1. Being Maori, and 2. a solo parent family. Increasing inequality follows the rise in these two characteristics quite closely.

    A study by Treasury and Otago University found that across all deciles just 6% of people live in “persistent hardship”.. the rest report they get by or something better than that.

    And there’s a third point.. courtesy of Lindsay Mitchell, she gives a graph that shows in the highest decile just 7% smoke and 30% in the lowest decile. On the standard weekly DPB of $299 a pack of smokes a day will consume 63% of that same DPB.

    *Thats how you get inequality, being solo parent families, being Maori and smoking a pack a day. Being Maori means over 60% are functionally illiterate and therefore capable of doing only the simplest or back breaking jobs.. and mainly jobs that have increasingly disappeared over the last 30 years.



  15. Andrei says:

    Concern and compassion lead to action, which turns those remote and unknown to us into our neighbours.

    Community and society – these words share the same root (1). You cannot increase solidarity without mutual help and support

    His Holiness Kirill I
    Patriarch of Moscow and all the Rus

    (1) сообщество (soobshchestvo) – Community
    общество ( obshchestvo) – Society


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