Ko Ranginui e tū iho nei
Ko Papatūānuku e takoto nei
( From a speech first prepared for Toastmasters meeting online 2 April 2020).
Perhaps like many of you, I’ve been thinking this week of what New Zealand could look like post-lockdown. I’m sure we all heard the British Prime Minister talking about ‘Jenny from New Zealand’ but this week its Sir Keir Starmer, newly elected UK Labour Party leader, that echoes my thoughts:
“When we do get through this, we cannot go back to business as usual, this virus has exposed the fragility of our society…. We know in our hearts, things are going to have to change. …we can see so clearly now who the key workers really are… for too long they have been taken for granted…”
I’m want to share 3 areas this morning ripe for change: our taxes, the structure of business itself, and the way we work; and also why as a Baby Boomer I have an important role to play. But first, a story…
A decade ago I meet 2 elderly women acquaintances outside New World. “We’re off to China on a ‘SKI’ holiday’.
“Skiing?” I enquire.
“Spending the Kid’s inheritance,” they reply gleefully!
It’s the first time I heard that acronym , ‘SKI’ for ‘Spending the Kid’s Inheritance’ and I’m shocked ! Yet it wasn’t long before I realised that although I thought differently about my own family assets, my own lifestyle was ‘SKI’. Along with my peers, haven’t I been a role model for pushing the earth way past its regenerative limits? I may have personally advocated for reduction of rubbish and the protection of nature, but what we baby boomers had set in motion and i was clearly still part of seemed set on a roll to destruction whether I liked it or not.
The progressive economist Kate Raworth, author of ‘Doughnut Economics’ is clear how economies need to function – as a ‘safe and just operating space for all of humanity’. When my first grandchild, Harry was born 6 years ago, that safe and just operating space for all humanity was not apparent across my district, let alone my nation and the globe. Yet I felt so powerless.
Now though, the ‘Pause Button’ has been pressed on that pre-lockdown life: the question is, ‘What happens when the pause button comes off?’
I seem to have two choices:
I can press ‘Replay’ and encourage the return to how things were, knowing my years are short and it won’t be me that takes the biggest hit.
I can join others who choose to press ‘Reset’ and use my lifetime of experience and connections to support systemic change in my neighbourhood, my district and nationally. This may come at a cost to my dreamed of retirement lifestyle but I’m with progressive thinker, Charles Eisenstein: out there is ‘The More Beautiful World our Hearts Know is Possible’.
The first change I support is taxes. Its becoming ever clearer what a vast hole this pandemic has dug in the government’s books, but more borrowing – as i know from personal experience – just makes it harder down track and will create restrictive austerity measures for my children, grandchildren and their peers. No, we must raise taxes and the burden must fall on those who can most afford it, those with bigger incomes and those with more assets.
The top income tax rate is 45% in the UK and Australia, and in Sweden, the top marginal tax rate of 56.9 percent applies to all income over 1.5 times the average. Its time to raise the top rate in NZ – its only 33%.
And NZ is one of few developed countries with no wealth tax. Gareth Morgan proposed a comprehensive Capital Income Tax in 2016, similar to that in the Netherlands and South Korea. I own rental property so this tax on assets is not in my favour. But if it creates a less divided society for my grandsons and their peers, that’s more important at this stage.
Its time to reframe business too. Kate Raworth’s ‘safe and just operating space for all humanity’ means we need to tweak company law to uphold Stakeholder legislation. Its not just shareholders that directors need to be accountable to, its ALL stakeholders. That means directors being answerable to communities, employees, and to human guardians providing a voice both for the natural world and for children yet unborn.
And businesses-with-a- mission, Social Enterprises such as Eat my Lunch need better support. This model where an entrepreneur earns a good salary but retains his soul by using residual profit for social or environmental good, must be encouraged in NZ. Like in the UK, Canada and France, New Zealand needs to provide a separate supoportive legal structure.
And while an ‘Unconditional Basic Income’ for all adults, once seemed like a pipe dream of ‘lefties’ around the world ( and in NZ another wacky idea of the ‘cat man, Gareth Morgan), this week 40% of Kiwis are receiving something very similar – ‘wage subsidies’. Even right-wing governments such as Australia, the UK and the US are doing the same! At what stage did we lose the realisation that we all contribute to sustaining our society? A home-based caregiver looking after their elderly parent, a flax weaver, a mother home-schooling her child, which of these lacks importance? Understanding who have greatest worth in society needs another look as we learn of poorly-paid bus drivers and care workers losing their lives in service to the rest of us. The judgement on who merits a basic income can no longer be a special longevity award for superannuitants: its not just us that are special!
Finally, looking out for today’s children means their parents need to find meaning and dignity in work but balance that with time for family and their community too. Surely it’s a no-brainer to reset the workforce with a ban on non-essential Sunday trading and legislate for a 4-day working week?
As a Baby Boomer, I’ve had a good innings. To keep the cricket analogy, now is no time for an umpire role or a seat on the sidelines. Pre-lockdown I may have been part of a ‘SKI’ generation’, but a ‘Replay’ is not an option. It’s time to use my amassed lifetime experience and connections to seek out friends, local leaders, national politicians. No doubt increased taxes, tighter company law and changes to the working week will get pushback – for some the pre-lockdown tatus quo was seriously comfortable. So while as a Baby Boomer, I may have had a good innings, the need for a ‘reset’ calls me to head back out onto the pitch.
He waka eke noa.