Sunday, March 9, 2014

Wealth and Citizenship

Over at No Right Turn, the price of honour has been revealed. It is $165,000. Tony Astle, ONZM donated heavily to the National Party and then received the honours - Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit, for services as a chef.  When we go to vote, all of us Kiwis have the same power. We get two votes. Two ticks and in that we are all equal. We can all sleep easy that our votes are the same as the rich and the famous. But votes do not equal influence. Sometimes I wonder if our votes are just a rubber stamp on a decision that has already been made. 

Much is made of campaign donations in the United States where the elections spending is higher than what’s budgeted for many public programmes. Top fundraisers even get to be Ambassadors in comfortable countries (the U.S. amabassador to New Zealand and Samoa raised $1.2 million for Obama and has NO Foreign Service experience) by-passing those who have dedicated their lives to public service. What an insult to those people. 

Income inequality is the issue of our time both in upcoming NZ elections and in the dialogue here in the US. But as many people have pointed out, it is not just income inequality. It is inequality of access – access to prime education, health services, and perhaps more importantly - the decision makers. Money buys you relationships with those who govern. What good are those two ticks when there are some who can have an actual conversation with the Prime Minister? Yesterday there was this tweet: 
On New Zealand Herald, about a week ago, Liam Dann wrote about the importance getting the stamp of approval from the business community. Labour shouldn't do anything (public policy-wise) to scare off those pesky business leaders he says. What an astounding article. He says "Drop that economic experiment and convince the business community that your election wouldn't be an absolute disaster for the country". Because only business can innovate and solve problems. Government should do as they are told by businesses.

Let’s remind ourselves of one thing. Democracy is supposed to guarantee equal participation FOR CITIZENS. Elected representatives represent the votes of the people, the humans not the business entity. Corporate and individual campaign donations’ only aim is to by-pass the democratic “rule of the people”. Businesses cannot approve of public policy because business aims are to make profit and public policy aims are to serve the public. They are inherently at odds with each other. Governments cannot be run like a business. Governments make law and they regulate businesses to protect citizens. We have come to accept businesses at the superior beings of our society because they have the money and they create the jobs. But we continuously forget that they exploit and manipulate public resources and human capital to get there. The minimum wage and workplace safety standards would not be necessary if markets didn't fail people. The need for these public policies are because of markets’ failure to provide those protections for citizens.

By saying that certain professions (let’s say business owners) deserve more government attention, we are creating a new caste system in the western world where your career position determines your level of citizenship. Currently, if you are wealthy you can apply for a special residency like Kim Dotcom did. You can get have easier visa processing to come gamble your millions in New Zealand casinos. You can be appointed to the board of an agency because of close ties to a political party. You can even get special treatment and get laws changed for your business like the SkyCity deal. 

As I have heard so many times on the radio now – 'we’ll never be royals'. But that does not mean that we don’t deserve the same rights. I suppose I should be glad that Tony Astle wasn’t named ambassador. Yet.

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