Degrees of Separation


zombies1How most National Party voters living in their gated worlds view the rest of NZ
Occasionally a standard news story will, inadvertently, reveal a deeper truth.

Two weeks ago I fixed upon the following Sunday Star Times headline- `Times tough but not for nat`s friends`. This judgement emerged from a set of Ipsos/Fairfax polling questions on unemployment. Seventy per cent of the National voters surveyed knew of no one who was out of work. Their families and friends were all gainfully employed and/or financially secure.

By contrast, 57 percent of Pasifika respondents and 42 per cent of Maori respondents associated with friends and family members who were unemployed. Ipsos pollster Duncan Stuart reportedly stated that he did not expect such a stark difference in a small country `where everyone is two or three degrees of separation apart`.

Personally, I`m not surprised at all. Degrees of social separation correlate with degrees of inequality and polarisation not population size. In New Zealand the correlation began twenty years ago.

In 1998 economists Srikanta Chatterjee and Nripesh Podder found that wealthy New Zealanders had substantially increased their share of national income. In 1983-84 New Zealand`s top income decile received 25.6 per cent of the national `cake`. In 1995-96 they received 29.6 per cent. The top 5 per cent increased their national share from 15.2 per cent to 19 per cent over the same period.

The lowest decile received 2 per cent of national income in 1983-84 and 1.7 per cent in 1995-96. The bottom eight deciles all suffered some loss of income. Chatterjee and Podder concluded that `New Zealand`s economic reform programme over the period 1984-96 saw the very rich becoming ever richer while the bulk of the rest of the population became poorer in relative terms, with the poorest faring worst`.

As this occurred, the rich secluded themselves and ostracised the poor. The results of this strategy are all around us. In Wellington and Auckland, downtown offices and apartments electronically insulate the professional classes from the unwashed. Gentrified inner suburbs are financially ranked as speculators make a killing. Further out, poorer homeowners fall off the property ladder into over priced and over crowded rental accommodation. Similarly, rural and wilderness locations contain tranquil enclaves for wealthy visitors as small rural towns experience structural unemployment, falling incomes and net youth migration.

These geographies of separation cut across national boundaries. Corporate executives, upper level managers, PR/marketing experts, lawyers, accountants, successful sportspeople and cultural producers interconnect globally as the lower deciles cling to disintergrating localities.

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The ostracised poor burgle middle/upper middle class householders who are forced to pay more for insurance, electronic alarms and private security. Politicians and talkback hosts feed the growing clamour for hardline policing and harsher sentences. To escape detection criminals become increasingly ruthless and better organised. Those who succeed may forge contacts within respectable society for legal and financial purposes. Criminals who fail seethe with resentment inside over crowded and cash strapped prisons.

Some New Zealanders live anxiously between these two worlds. They know people who are struggling and those who have made it. Desparate for economic security, anxious middle New Zealanders face a choice. Should they stay in `Godzone` or join the Kiwi diaspora in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and cities further afield? The latter option looks promising, especially for those who are uneasy about New Zealand`s changing demographics.

If this scenario eventuates fully, Ipos pollsters might be in for a further surprise; domiciled New Zealanders who are nationally circumscribed by two or three degrees of separation may become a statistical minority in their own country.


  1. Those at the top thrash education and schooling, except their own exclusive version of it as they seek to lay blame for any hint of lack of perfection in the society they live in. The ones in the middle panic at the possibility of being stranded with those at the bottom as they see the richest sailing away and so add their angst to the rich-stirred discontent.

    So things like National Standards, charter schools and the great bandage of food in schools come about .

    And the top one percenters like Key and Banks with their hideous grasp of humanity and the reality of life in New Zealand as presented here, treat it all as playing with toys from the toy box.

  2. I suspect you are not completely correct
    Most who vote National would like those rewards and see
    their reward for supporting the Nats as a justification for
    doing so
    They may not overtly wish the poorer among us as those
    like Key may
    However that’s the reality
    With Key et al we shall all be poorer as a country and society.

  3. NZ has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the developer world. It’s economy is performing better than mist other Western nations. Even Australia is now slipping as a result if the mining sector declining from the highs of a few years ago. Yet you seem to think NZ is doing badly. Badly compared to who exactly?

    • That depends how you measure that unemployment, Gosman. A Roy Morgan poll in August 2012 had our unemployment much higher than the official rate, at 9.1%.

      And even the “fall” in unemployment seems predicated on people giving up in a tight job market;

      Even Australia is now slipping as a result if the mining sector declining from the highs of a few years ago.

      Which proves that the Greens were right all along? Mining is not a sustainable enterprise. Destroying our environment (which impacts on our long term tourism interests) is a short-term gain only.

      • A Roy Morgan poll isn’t how we measure unemployment. Regardless of that is that other nations would STILL have a higher unemployment rate than us even if we did.

        • So Gossman, in the race to the bottom, you are suggesting other nations are further down the gurgler than NZ.

          I feel so much better knowing that.

    • Saying that NZ has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the developed world is not saying very much when those rates are historically very high.

      Would you care to address the substantive points raised here; NZ’s massive income inequality and attendant social marginalisation and segregation?

    • … It’s economy is performing better than mist other Western nations.

      Better? Better for whom?! Once again, you’ve failed to take in what Martyn was pointing out.

      What do you think Martyn was trying to tell you, Gosman?

      • Better for the vast majority of people who have jobs. Certainly better than people in other developed nations with much worse social and economic problems.

    • Gosman you are changing the subject, which as I read it is about the increasing depth of inequality in this country. Unemployment is a factor in this, but it is far from being the only factor. “How healthy can it be to have one half of the population playing landlord to the other half?,” Chris Trotter asked a few days ago.

      This too is a factor. If “doing well” means having house prices climb while manufacturing languishes and precarious, low-paid jobs proliferate, then saying that we are “doing well” does not address the inequality problem, but rather endorses at least some of the conditions that contribute to it.

    • Using the education analogy again, Banks and others wail about the ‘underachievers’ and that term as a excuse to make drastic changes in schooling.

      Banks lies about 20% leaving school illiterate. When those in education say the system isn’t broke, we are doing exceedingly well, there are cries about how bad everything is in schooling because of the underachievers.

      When commentators like Wayne Hope speak of underachievers in an economic and social sense we get the types of claims you make about how brilliantly we’re doing. Are you Bill English?

      You can’t have it both ways. John Key can’t have it both ways. Banks can’t have it both ways. Maybe it’s this type of ignorance, arrogance and megalomania Russel Norman senses which saw him suggest a similarity between Muldoon and Key.

  4. Yes, and what has happened, is resembling a social structure, getting closer to what is also so widespread in much of the US.

    New Zealand has followed the economic dogma and ideology based on the Chicago school of economic thought, propagated by Friedman and his followers.

    It is therefore not surprising, that with the adoption of the neo liberal capitalist policies, introduced under Roger Douglas and further “enhanced” under Ruth Richardson, of the late 1980s and early 1990s, we have a similar outcome.

    Professionals, entrepreneurs, asset wealthy and a few others experiencing exponential growth in incomes and wealth, while many jobs that used to be held by a broader middle class have vanished, and while a low skilled or unskilled lower class has grown and become yet poorer in comparison.

    It is as simple as straight forward mathematics, and some warned against this, as I recall, but “change” seems to be a contageous word, no matter what it gets associated with. So many fall for that and allow things to turn out the way they have.

    Sadly there are still too many adhering to the same “solutions”, being prepared to continue to divide society even further. Fear is part of the agenda now, so as suggested, many try to keep up with the better off Joneses, and if that gets impossible, it is off to the airport on a one way ticket out.

    • Why don’t you look at a western country that didn’t follow neoliberal policies. France is a good example. How did traditional left wing economic policies play out there?

      • Do you actually believe the tosh that you write, or are you living in a fantasy world?

        I suppose next you’ll be telling us France doesn’t use Fractional Reserve Banking and that is doesn’t use petrol/diesel to run its vehicles.

        • Which country doesn’t use those two things?

          Fractional Reserve banking has been with us for hundreds of years. It is the basis of the economic system which has dragged billions of people out of poverty.

          You think it is fundamentally flawed but no other system has provided such a growth in wealth for such a large number of people.

          Your views are also not supported by the majority of the world’s economists or policy makers. Not one major political party in NZ or in other developed nations that I am aware of is pushing any alternative.

          Your issue is you are a doom monger of the highest order and doom mongers have a track record of being wrong far more than they are ever right.

      • Gosman, Where’s your evidence regarding the style of recent French policy, and what outcomes are you adducing, to what purpose? Go off and do your own research you lazy sod, and take your question-instead of-argument with you.

        • I posted lots of links to articles o this just recently. If you chose not to read them that is your issue.

          If you disagree about France being in a worst situation why do you do so?

          • My problem bro – is your happy with the mediocre. The little, the just enough – if we have to be happy with bugger all – we should all vote labour and be done with it.

            What pisses me off about your posts Gosman is that there are many alternatives, many different views – why the hell do you have to keep returning your arguments to the narrow field of neo-liberalism? I know it worked for a while – and the oil and gold that fouled that rush was great for a few. But ideas push the boundaries, ideas are the basis of solutions. Burke was wrong, conservatism is not what people are naturally drawn to – conservatism is the bastion of those with a lack of imagination and those who fear the wonderful.

      • Why don’t you look at a western country that didn’t follow neoliberal policies. France is a good example. How did traditional left wing economic policies play out there?

        Gosman – like the United States? United Kingdowm?

        How have those two free markets fared?

        Higher unemployment.

        Douple dip recession.

        Printing money.

        Massive sovereign debt.

        Billion dollar bailouts.

        Oh yeah. Those free markets have done real well.

        Try looking at the whole picture instead of constantly pointing elsewhere.

        By the way, do you know that our private debt is now reaching Greece-like proporitions?

        By you’ll ignore that and deflect somewhere else no doubt. Or ask twenty unrelated questions…

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