I really like what I see of our NZ Prime Minister John and his wife Bronagh Key. They seem extraordinarily pleasant, open, transparent people with the best interests of New Zealanders at heart. If you have time watch this lovely interview by John Campbell as he meets and eats with the Keys as part of a series on our political leaders at home.
Just before readers who do not like John Key and/or detest his policies switch off, I will be trying to bring you further instalments of John Campbell's series,**** so some fairness to all leaders is experienced here. Further, I don't think I am particularly biased towards National Party PMs: from the past (within my lifetime) I have admired Norman Kirk and Bill Rowling, detested Rob Muldoon and his style of politics, and looked in awe at the talents of David Lange. Though not when they were PM, I have met and much liked Mike Moore and Geoffrey Palmer. I was once enthralled to have a two minute conversation with Helen Clark when she was Leader of the Opposition: she is one of our greatest Kiwis. I was at primary school with David Parker (current Deputy Leader of the Labour Party) and have had a couple of occasions of meeting him during his career in politics: as nice a bloke now as he was a school friend then.
Possibly only Norman Kirk of those named above came from as hard a family upbringing as John Key had. My admiration for John Key partly stems from the fact that (unbeknown to me) he was growing up about 800m from where I lived in Bryndwr. My street was as middle class as any street in NZ. John lived in a tough state housing street that I steered clear of. He was brought up by a single mother. By all accounts there was not a lot of money. His life story, of moving from a poor upbringing to becoming one of NZ's richest men (prior to politics) and now to being our Prime Minister, is a genuine story illustrating the possibilities of betterment in a capitalist democracy (both here and in other countries where he made his fortune such as the UK and the USA).
But as we contemplate such things today we find ourselves matching present day economic conditions with the politics of Jesus which includes valuing of economic equality as an expression of equality of persons entering the kingdom of God as equal bearers of the divine image (Genesis 1), equal as sinners needing salvation ('all have sinned'), and equal as recipients of God's merciful love ('God so loved the world). What does the politics of Jesus mean for Christians working out which economic future to vote for?
Cutting to the chase, within the capitalist sphere of the world, Christians along with others consider the possibility of Communism as a system and (in my understanding) quickly reject it as proven not to work (Cf. failure of Soviet Russia and Communist China, both now (state-guided) capitalist economies) and also as destructive of basic human freedoms as it was imposed (mass starvations, ethnic cleansing, labour camps). That appears to leave some form of capitalism as the only option for the method of economic activity in the world and (again, cutting to the chase) presents as with the agony of supporting a system that poses equality of economic opportunity versus equality of outcomes: the former can be implemented consistent with human freedom, the latter cannot be done without dictatorship.
The story of John Key rising from poverty in Bryndwr to wealth in Parnell (especially via the key 'opportunity' means of education) is the perfect illustration of equality of economic opportunity on this scenario. When he was at Burnside High School (then NZ's largest secondary school), 2000 pupils from a mixture of socio-economic backgrounds, according to the narrative of modern capitalism, all had equal opportunity, if chosen and pursued, to become "John Key." Less trumpeted, of course, is the simple mathematical fact that if 2000 pupils are at one secondary school being educated for success, no economy can support all 2000 becoming extraordinarily wealthy: someone has to make their wealth at the expense of others. If one, say, rises to own and manage a supermarket, others are needed to stock the shelves and run the checkouts, one can realise capital advancement out of the business, the rest settle for wages.
Are these the only alternatives, opportunity versus outcome? Does equality for people within capitalism (which can only sustain equality of opportunity) boil down to inequality of outcomes? These days there is a twist to the question: are we also doomed to have a system which offers increasing inequality rather than some kind of inequality in a settled state? Are we doomed to a situation in which the rich get richer and the poor get poorer and nothing can be done about the ever-widening gap?
As I best understand the following article, 'Capitalism simply isn't working' about economist Thomas Piketty's book Capital in the Twenty-First Century, there is another way forward, a way which has been followed previously in the twentieth century, in which governments through taxation (we might even say 'actual, effective taxation') attempt to ameliorate the gap between rich and poor. (The cynic might say, 'At least revive the prospects of the squeezed middle-class'). This is undoubtedly attractive as taxation as an imposed redistribution of wealth is a very long way from the totalitarian methods of Soviet Russia and Communist China. Yet the point remains in the article that the globalization of economic conditions means that country A changing its taxation system does not present the advantages to that country which prevailed in, say, the 1930s or 1950s so long as countries B to Z refuse to change their tax rates.
Our election in NZ is not an election of a 'one world government'. It is just for the government of an incredibly tiny percentage of the world's population. What are we to do for the equal benefit of all NZers in a world where our economy depends as much on wage/tax rates in China as it does on (say) America's attempts to assist income for its farmers via subsidies?
**** I now note that David Cunliffe is going to be a no show for this particular series of interviews:
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As a bit of a postscript and so I do not lose sight of the link, I note John Pilger's plaintive cry of the heart about twenty years of economic life in post-apartheid South Africa. His article illustrates the dilemma we seem to face re choices. On the one hand his characterization of the control of the post-apartheid economy by the same forces that controlled it beforehand is troubling. In theological terms, Mammon's rule over the kingdom has been both unchanged and unchallenged. On the other hand his own recipe for an alternative, essentially widespread nationalization of industries and massive control via state intervention in economic activity is a recipe for failure. South Africans might be more equal today in their share of wealth as a result but their non-participation in the usual trading conditions of the world (e.g they would have been battered by the banking system on Pilger's approach) but that wealth would be much diminished. But particularly poor (in my view) is Pilger's failure to acknowledge the likelihood that a government controlled economy creates enormous opportunity for cronyism: the operators approved by such government, from Cabinet ministers downwards becomes the new rich. To truly change the system one needs to change the individuals ...