While a group of wealthy New Zealanders might want to pay more tax, it is unlikely that they will ever have to under our present economic arrangements.

WHILE IT MADE the headlines for a news cycle or two, the Oxfam and Tax Justice campaign that suggests that many of New Zealand's wealthiest people really want to pay more tax would be politically significant if it was true. It isn't. The list of prosperous ninety-three New Zealanders who want to pay more tax is conspicuous for who isn't on it and that includes the country's top ten wealthiest people. The country's richest individual, Graham Hawkins (net worth $13 billion), is among those obviously not all that keen about any sending more of their dough to the government. Even film maker Peter Jackson (worth a mere $2.1 billion) is not on the list.

The signatories to the letter might acknowledge that they lead 'financially comfortable lives' but they cannot be described as having their hands around the levers that control the means of production. They are not Big Capitalists, rather they are mostly those who have grown wealthy under capitalism, or specifically, its neoliberal variant. They are public servants, academics, entertainers, union officials, politicians and other functionaries. On the list are two former Labour politicians - Marion Hobbs, a former cabinet minister and David Cunliffe, a former leader of the Labour Party. 

This list could alternatively be titled 'Wealthy Liberals Who support Labour'. One of the few business suits on the list, Phillip Mills, is one of Labour's biggest financial donors. It also includes the unpleasant Rob Campbell, a man who betrayed his union roots to become a prominent supporter of Rogernomics. It now seems that Campbell, having made his pile, now wants to soften the edges of an economic creed he has always firmly supported. Hypocrisy - thy name is Rob Campbell.

Although the signatories to the letter want to rein in the excesses of capitalism, New Zealand's capitalist class are happy with things just the way they are. Only some of its functionaries - who have served it so well over the past three decades - are now having doubts. 

We do need to remind ourselves that the country already has enough wealth and resources to provide a decent standard for living for everyone. The problem is the wealth and resources are concentrated in just a few hands. Yes, taxing the rich might help to ameliorate the problem of deepening economic inequality but it will not solve it. To solve this crisis we need a fundamentally different way of distributing wealth. That cannot be done under our present economic arrangements.

But for the ninety-three wealthy New Zealanders that would be a step too far. They are only interested in tinkering with our present economic system rather than discarding it altogether. This is also the view of the Labour Party. Even a wealth tax is beyond a Labour Government that represents the interests of those who own and control the New Zealand economy. The signatories to this letter might be well-intentioned but they are indulging in wishful thinking. 

It is predictable that the liberalism of the ninety-three wealthy New Zealanders prevents them from describing capitalism as irredeemable but as the conservative Financial Times noted just two years ago:

'Groups left behind by economic change are increasingly concluding that those in charge do not care about their predicament - or worse, have rigged the economy for their own benefit against those on the margins. Slowly but surely, that is putting capitalism and democracy in tension with one another...it is just a matter of time before the pitchforks come out for capitalism itself, and for the wealth of those who benefit from it.'


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