Equality, Equity & The Great Race Of Life

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THE WORD “EQUITY” is appearing more and more frequently in New Zealand’s political conversations. It is the new “go to” word for activists, journalists and, inevitably, politicians. It peppers political speeches, media releases, newspaper articles, television interviews and, naturally, it’s all over social media.

For many – perhaps most – people, the word ‘equity” is a synonym for the word “equality”. And, to be fair, this is very often the way politicians expect the word to be understood. But the assumption that “equity” and “equality” mean roughly the same thing could not be more wrong. The difference between these two words is as important as the difference between “reform” and “revolution”.

Most New Zealanders believe in and expect to enjoy “equality of opportunity”. They recoil from the idea of people receiving preferential treatment. Everybody is expected to line-up straight behind the start-line before the starter’s pistol sets them off and running in the great race of life. Very few people, however, expect the runners to cross the finish line at the same time. Most accept that in a contest someone comes first and someone last. A race in which everyone crosses the finish-line at exactly the same moment is not a race – it’s a jack-up.

But “jacking-up” the race is precisely what the proponents of “equity” believe in. What they are seeking is not “equality of opportunity”, but “equality of outcome”. If there are people in the race who have had the advantage of professional coaching, then those denied that advantage need to be advanced several metres ahead of the start-line. If there are runners who have enjoyed excellent nutrition all their lives, then those who have been poorly nourished since childhood must be similarly advanced along the track. If there are competitors who, on account of their ethnicity, enjoy a greater measure of confidence in their ability to win the race than those whose ethnicity has accustomed them to coming last, then those so afflicted also deserve advancement. Calculate these handicaps correctly and every runner should cross the finish-line simultaneously. Hey Presto! – Equality of Outcome!

Except, of course, that’s not the way it would go – not unless the people calculating the handicaps had guns. What sort of seasoned runners are going to consent to seeing others positioned so far ahead of themselves? Rather than compete on such terms, many athletes would simply walk away from the contest altogether. Those awarded handicaps in the name of equity would then have to be reassessed and assigned a new handicap. How else could everybody be guaranteed to cross the line together? Not that anyone would be there to applaud them when they did. If the outcome of a contest has already been thoroughly engineered, why would anyone turn up to see it? Life is uncertain. So is sport. That’s why people watch.

The partisans of equity insist that their only goal is “fairness”: all they are seeking is a society in which everyone gets to enjoy life’s bounties; a society without “winners” and “losers”; a society in which the very idea of some people being allowed to “succeed” while others “fail” is regarded as obscene.

“Team Equity” will always get a hearing in New Zealand, where “fairness” is celebrated as the Prince of Virtues. What they will not find so easy to sell, however, is the idea that fairness requires people to be treated differently. That’s because Kiwis understand “fairness” to mean everybody being treated the same. Just watch what happens to someone who tries to jump a queue in New Zealand, or is given more than others are getting. Those responsible will be told in no uncertain terms that while everyone is entitled to a “fair go”, that does not mean they’re entitled to receive special favours from people who don’t know the meaning of the words.

This is where the propensity of New Zealanders to treat equity and equality as synonyms leaves Team Equity facing an enormous problem. In regard to Māori-Pakeha relations particularly, the argument has shifted well beyond the generally accepted notion that the indigenous people and the beneficiaries of colonisation were guaranteed, and continue to receive, equal treatment. But, “Equal treatment”, in this context, can only mean that all the advantages accruing to the destroyers of Māori sovereignty must be left untouched, while the tangata whenua, stripped of their autonomy by “the imperial project”, are condemned to play a never-ending game of catch-up. Team Equity is demanding a solution considerably “fairer” than that.

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What that fairer solution might look like is set out in the He Puapua Report. Its authors have come up with a twenty-year plan to give effect to what they see as the promises of equity (not equality) embodied in Te Tiriti o Waitangi. Essentially, they see Māori and Non-Māori running in the same race, but on separate tracks, until such time as both sets of runners become genuinely competitive. And the handicap? Well, that will come in the form of a more “equitable” distribution of the New Zealand state’s fiscal resources, achieved by the construction of a new, and more equitable, te Tiriti-based constitution. He Puapua is not a blueprint for reform, it’s a road-map to revolution.

An exciting plan, then, but the chances of selling it to Pakeha New Zealand are as slim as the chances selling the idea of some runners being advanced ahead of others on the great racetrack of life. Its only possibility of success lies in selling equity as equality – which was the great achievement of the First Labour Government. How did they do it? Not by saying they were going to advance the interests of exploited working-class New Zealanders ahead of privileged middle-class New Zealanders, but by promising to build a nation in which everybody had the same access to a job, a home, universal public healthcare, and an education system which gave every citizen the best possible start in life. How did they pay for it? By handicapping the rich through progressive taxation. What did they call it? Equality of Opportunity!

48 COMMENTS

  1. If rich countries need to cut emissions more severely than developing countries because they benefitted should boomers not be required to cut their emissions more than the young? Afterall, they caused this mess whilst enjoying excess and enriching themselves. Green tax should be increased for the boomers who are generally much richer anyhow so it will be less of a burden to them.

    • Us boomers would have been a hell of a lot richer if we hadn’t spent so much of our money supporting the young.

      • Perhaps thats why so many boomers are now actively trying to destroy younger peoples futures because they hold a real grudge at having to use their own money to bring up their own kids?

        • Young people have had their future mortgaged to the hilt, and will spend much of their lives trying to pay off debt, both financial & environmental. However on an individual basis, children cost an awful lot of money to raise & can continue to be a financial burden well in to adulthood. Not having children is better for you financially, as well as being less of a strain on the environment. Obviously there are some problems if everyone follows this plan.

      • That might be true @ Robbie. Even though I’m not into martyrdom, I always felt it was my duty to ensure my offspring were, and are due a better life than me – as did my parents. And having passed on my worldly goods before I kark it, so far my offspring have reciprocated in supporting me as my dotage approaches.
        Maybe you shouldn’t have had kuds – they’re not compulsory

  2. Equidy is something to do with horses, isn’t it? Do zebras have equidy too? What about donkeys and wild asses? Are some equids more equidable than others? And should Winston Peters be the Minister of Equidy?

  3. Why will the best runners stay here in NZ to run their race of life, to continue the foot race analogy?

    Stay in NZ and be explicitly handicapped or go elsewhere and have an equal start in a race where their talent and efforts can really pay off?.

      • But at least you will have money when you come back to NZ after working overseas, unlike working in NZ with our low wage, cash labour system, growing.

        • Unless you are an exploiter, crime pays, especially labour crime and people/visa trafficking. Just think of the 30 Chinese builders who paid $50k to come to NZ, 1.5 million, tax free, not to be sneezed at. Then you moneylaunder the cash into NZ assets. The millions of cash in rubbish bags, with millions of cigarettes found, no duty, etc… NZ has some of the highest profits in the world for drugs and very little penalty, in fact you get compassionate leave to stay in NZ as a drugs smuggler, because you are afraid to go back to the EU! That’s how pathetic and a soft touch NZ is.

        • Finally wages are going up, to something reasonably decent and this has everything to do with Covid19 and closing the damn border to cheap immigrant workers. Ex pats coming home all cashed up are causing problems for 1st home buyers and lower end house purchase for kiwi battlers. Soon as they can they will leave again. No loyalty to NZ just worship the money gods.

      • How many of the ones who tried to come home were just doing the OE tour of backpacking & bartending, verses those who had made a successful life in Aus/US or UK?

        It is a great conceit of NZers that this place is the only good enough place is the world.

        • And how many are newly minted ‘Kiwis’ from the past 15 years…. nobody knows the exact make up of ‘kiwis’ coming into NZ, because NZ doesn’t bother measuring much, like pre- payment for MIQ which 30% don’t pay, too lazy and woke to keep real statistics on who is arriving in and out of NZ in real detail, and don’t want to know the facts to boot. All would be pathetically easy for most countries to measure.

  4. Another great post Chris. Thanks!

    Too often equity isn’t as shown in the illustration above. Instead of putting the short kid on the box, the tall kid gets his legs cut out from under him. Such is the case with boys in the state education system. The Ministry have for the last 30 years been focused on advancing girls in the education stakes and have succeeded, but they’ve done this removing high stakes exams that boys generally excel at, expurgating the contents of the syllabus of anything of interest to boys, filling the staff rooms with women and demeaning males at every turn. The net result is that we’ve fallen behind other nations in our overall standard of education.

    This is what will happen with He Puapua. It might elevate some brown people but overall as a nation we will worse off. Equity is tyrannical.

    • Yes Andrew, put another way; equity requires enforcement, a tyranny to implement. That certainly appears to be the case, The Red Terror anyone?
      “We are not fighting against single individuals. We are exterminating the bourgeoisie as a class. Do not look in the file of incriminating evidence to see whether or not the accused rose up against the Soviets with arms or words. Ask him instead to which class he belongs, what is his background, his education, his profession. These are the questions that will determine the fate of the accused. That is the meaning and essence of the Red Terror.”

  5. The part or piece of our society Maori and Pacifica are included in, is their “equity” in our society. It’s supposed to grow and improve as time passes, just like our ownership of a house does as we pay off the mortgage. A good analogy when we look at the lack of ownership of good housing for Maori. The He Puapua idea is good in that it gives those who feel excluded a chance to feel included and do things their way. I get that. There are a couple of issues I have that make me doubt it will happen. Firstly Chris talks of the difficulty of selling this idea to the rich pakeha but of course there are plenty of Maori that are doing ok, have jobs and paying their mortgage just like there are plenty of Pakeha that will never own their own home in the current situation. Although we are talking large numbers of disenfranchised Maori, our social problems are not just racial. The other issue I have with the report is it will be hugely expensive. Parallel systems. Can we afford that when we could easily tax our wealthy a little more and wisely use that money to make all our systems fairer and more inclusive. As a comfortably retired pakeha my opinion might be canceled because I just don’t get it, but what I do get is that NZ has a very small population that can barely pay for its needs now let alone run an expensive social experiment with no guarantee of a successful outcome. In my opinion we do need to make our society more inclusive and part of that is improving our systems the other part improving the low wages. Just how we do that I’m not sure.

    • The problem I have is in your statement, “The He Puapua idea is good in that it gives those who feel excluded a chance to feel included and do things their way.”

      How do you set policy for feelings? Ask any tax payer and they would probably tell you that they ‘feel’ that their tax is being spent wastefully. So should their ‘feelings’ be considered as well?

      Facts don’t care about feelings

      • BG. My thoughts are that the idea behind the report is that for the Maori and Pacifica to buy into any Government strategy they will have to feel included. There is a feel good factor I’m sure. However as my comments went on to say I don’t see the report being implemented anyway. I’m sure the Government would try to drip feed the idea eg. starting with our health system, but if you take the idea through all the ministries it would not only be inefficient but also unaffordable.

      • You are both missing the point that under the white system the brown communities are not getting their fair suck of the sav mates. It’s not working so something needs to change. It’s about freedom, understanding and control. And yes, there is enough money, the government is not run like some household budget.

        • lone Comet. You say we have enough money. We’re living off borrowed money now. So I say BS. We haven’t enough money to run one system let alone two. We either run a system for the “brown communities “ as you put it, and let the white community access it or we build one system that everyone is happy with.

        • ‘Freedom’ and ‘control’ are completely opposite concepts.
          The more control by one group, the less freedom for others.

        • If you think we have enough money, you are dreaming. The little money we have gets pissed away by wasteful policies and ideological, ineffective governance by the ever growing Wellington Clipboarders. I you really want to know what ‘enough money’ looks like, and how to make such money, take a look at this – a country exactly the same size as NZ. High tax rates, high state ownership of services. Take note of how they make their big dollars. Hint…it’s not by a bit of selling lamb or cheese.
          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economy_of_Norway

  6. Equity is also lowering standards.

    Apparently instead of giving doctors and nurses a pay rise, they are putting in less qualified ‘heath workers’ to do their jobs who for ever reason are unable to qualify higher, and paying them more instead.

    Lowering of medical standards continue!

    Same for education in NZ. Now everyone is supposed to pay for an expensive degree. Whether you are in the trades or not. Whether you speak the language, have comprehension and capable of passing the course or not. Everyone is expected to pass.

    Our previous system which had world class health workers, professionals and no shortages of trade workers who knew what they were doing, has been abandoned for the neoliberal ‘equity’.

    Equity is not equality.

    Equity means that someone who is unlikely to be qualified, are building your house and nursing your parents and the profits siphoned off to business interests.

  7. Chris
    I googled EQUITY just for fun. Two definitions came up. 1 Fairness, fair play. 2. Value of shares. I found the synonyms for ‘value of shares’ interesting: ownership, rights, proprietorship. Isn’t that what the whole thing is about…ownership? If so, what fair price on ‘shares’ so those who seek ownership get what they want. Shares could be sold, or maybe should simply be assigned without purchase. Deciding who should have how many shares in what, that will be the big challenge for this country. It seems to me that your preferred system is that of the 1st Labour Govt – nobody/everybody owns all the shares and everyone can universally access/enjoy dividends (services) as and when required. So why should we then have two health systems as proposed, instead of big universal one? As for same access to the jobs, is there some sort of law these days that has changed that concept? And as for education system giving every citizen the best possible start in life, I think in NZ it’s all there for the taking, there’s plenty education to be had. I have no problem with progressive taxation of the rich to pay for it all. But there are only so many ‘rich’ to tax, so at some stage you may want to think about the govt trading for profit with other countries (oil for example). Then there is the other worry – the changing attitudes in NZ. Not everyone wants ‘ownership’ in a prosperous NZ, not everyone sees value in education or striving hard to get ahead, or going after opportunities. After all, the system has been evolved so highly, that it’s now designed to carry all of us – forever. It is so expensive now and gobbles up so much of that ‘rich tax’ money, there’s hardly anything left for the good things your 1st Labour Govt set out to achieve. Did they set out for NZ to be a welfare state? Maybe, but it doesn’t sound like it.

  8. Your cartoon was missing the frame showing the standard neoliberal model, a 3m high concrete wall topped with razor wire, because only the sponsors in the corporate boxes watch for free (with complementary food & drink of course).

  9. ‘What that fairer solution might look like is set out in the He Puapua Report. Its authors have come up with a twenty-year plan to give effect to what they see as the promises of equity (not equality) embodied in Te Tiriti o Waitangi. ‘

    This is just more delusional nonsense on the path to extinction via collapse and starvation that has been delivered by people in privileged positions of power or influence who are actually ignorant fools (or well-paid liars)..

    There is no ‘twenty years’.

    That has been very clear for a long time, and has been vividly emphasised by latest report on fossil fuels -which this mad society is 100% dependent on.

    ‘Vast majority of fossil fuels ‘must stay in ground’ to stem climate crisis

    Analysis shows future is bleak for fossil fuel industry with trillions of dollars of assets at stake

    Damian Carrington Environment editor
    @dpcarrington
    Wed 8 Sep 2021 16.00 BST

    The vast majority of fossil fuel reserves owned today by countries and companies must remain in the ground if the climate crisis is to be ended, an analysis has found.

    The research found 90% of coal and 60% of oil and gas reserves could not be extracted if there was to be even a 50% chance of keeping global heating below 1.5C, the temperature beyond which the worst climate impacts hit.

    The scientific study is the first such assessment and lays bare the huge disconnect between the Paris agreement’s climate goals and the expansion plans of the fossil fuel industry. The researchers described the situation as “absolutely desperate”.

    https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/sep/08/climate-crisis-fossil-fuels-ground

    Of course, even that commentary indicating we can no longer continue using fossil fuels is actually bullshit because even if we stopped using them today the effects of past emissions continue to overheat the Earth.

    That said, we already know that insanity has become fully institutionalised and the crimals/clowns that set policy will advocate continued ‘economic growth’ and other such bullshit that is completely detached from reality in a world that is well past peak oil and undergoing accelerating meltdown.

    As I pointed out to my local council just a couple of months ago when challenging their bullshit about “Finding a Fair Way”, what could be more unfair that eliminating all prospects of a full lifespan for the children of the district because the council refuses to accept reality?

    The same bullshit is delivered by the regional council, whose ‘plans’ for the next 10 years include ‘growth of population’ and expanded use of fossil fuels.

    As I said, insanity has become fully institututonalised and the system is riddled with incompetent fools who haven’t got any idea what they are talking about, and who refuse to do any research.

    It is SO INTERESTING to live in these times of institutionalised lunacy.

    As for equity and equality, well we are going to find out all about them in the next year or two, as the system collapses a but more.

    Gail Tverberg, always on the ball but always guarded in her comments, points out that we are sliding down the energy curve right now, and its going to get a lot worse.

    https://ourfiniteworld.com/2021/08/30/the-afghanistan-fiasco-and-todays-high-level-of-conflict-reflect-an-energy-problem/

    But ALL proper analysis get ignored (of course0 by the clowns and criminals that constitute the political body, and they continue to make everything that matters worse whilst keeping the masses utterly deluded about the future.

    As CB has pointed out on numerous occasions, as I have, it’s the money system and the banks that are at the heart of most of our problems.

    What could be more unfair or more inequitable than one sector of society being allowed to conjure money out of thin air and then charge interest on that money conjured out of thin air?

    • What locks the current energy system is place is not the banks or the politicians but that the great majority of voters don’t want to give up the cheap and convenient energy in fossil fuels. It fuels our lifestyles very easily and cheaply.

      No reduction in living standards or an increase in the cost of living is acceptable to the majority of adults. Also, the necessary changes will hit the poorest the hardest.

      The political class knows this. And it doesn’t vote for career suicide.

  10. Equity may be the new buzz word but its been around for a bit. I thought I knew what it meant. But clearly more nuanced than I thought.

    Back when tertiary education was all about widening participation the number of enrolments shot up hugely but for two groups, brown of skin, success eluded them. Measured in pass rates and course completions success for brown people was well lower than the average, in a few well-published instances, abysmally low. But in fairness, those cases were more a reflection of the providers than the students. The focus then shifted from putting bums on seats to achieving student success, both at Ministry and intuitional levels. In some high-stakes programmes institutions were accused of affirmative action by having a targeted quota but for those working at the front line achieving student success meant putting into place support for those who needed it. Resources were provided. At risk students were identified and high-achieving tuakana were identified who could provide good role models. And that experience and responsibly gave them more confidence too. It didn’t work for all because success in a tertiary context is complex, not only what the institution can provide in terms of support and what the student brings in terms of social capital and cognitive abilities, but also the existence of a curriculum that attempts to affirm the prior knowledge and identities of others, and a host of outside factors that the institution has no control over. Intergenerational poverty and the need to work beyond what most students do, for instance. So student success is not straightforward and never guaranteed.

    Did it work? For some, very much so. Did pass rates improve? In some cases, yes, in some cases no. But without the focus on equity, as I knew it, future opportunities may not have opened up for a good many. Selling it to most staff was not easy, I suspect a parallel to selling He Puapua to Pakeha New Zealand.

  11. The (slightly left leaning) Brookings Institute in the USA studied the problems of poverty at length and concluded that a child born in a ghetto had to do three things in order to automatically gain entry into the middle class. Those three things were:

    1. Finish high school
    2. Don’t get pregnant
    3. Don’t commit crime

    I’m sure it’s the same situation here. Unemployment is very low and companies are crying out for staff at all levels. A kid who kept his/her nose clean and left school with decent literacy and numeracy at just 16 would easily slot into a trade apprenticeship and within 5 years be earning more than his teacher. In ten years would be earning more than the school principle.

    It’s really not that hard!

    • Brilliant! Short and sharp! Andrew, of course now you’ll get the apologists coming at you with venom. Be ready!

      • Nope. Andrew is doing the Ostrich thing again. If it’s “not so hard” then why did hundreds of thousand kiwis leave NZ? Shit money, shit jobs, shit bosses, absolutely sfa prospect of advancement, ridiculous levels of competition, grind it out with old worn out equipment, the list of shit is endless. Piece of cake have a spoonful of cement.

    • I think theDunedin study showed that good self control as early as 3 years old predicted life outcomes and good self control also predicted who avoided drugs, teenage pregnancy and criminal behaviour. Good self control (think emotion regulation plus) can be taught. A little too much permissive parenting going on. In saying that I don’t mean authoritarian parenting style Is ok at all.

      By the way some good research has shown that the effects of poverty in childhood leave lasting impacts, such as poor physical health, even if the child grows up and moves into the middle class

  12. Rather than highlighting the difference between the meaning of “equity” and “equality” as being stumbling blocks on the road to a more just society, we should instead compare “democracy” with “Democracy” – small “d” big “D”. As long as we allow Capitalism to rule the roost, as we do, and not require that its power be tempered by the principles of Democratic Socialism, neither “equity” or “equality’ will ever be achieved.

  13. The only way the govt can get the recommendations of He Puapua past the NZ public is by repeatedly denying they are being implemented. And it can only achieve this with the active collaboration of the media.
    The mainstream media have reliably shouted down politicians — most notably Collins and Seymour — whenever they have questioned its implementation.
    A classic of the genre is this interview in May by Tova O’Brien of David Seymour (which recalls the disastrous encounter between the BBC’s Cathy Newman and Jordan Peterson).
    O’Brien asks Seymour about He Puapua at the 7:44 mark:
    https://www.newshub.co.nz/home/politics/2021/05/david-seymour-wants-four-year-parliamentary-terms-but-with-a-catch.html

  14. If at first you don’t succeed try,try and try again used to be a saying which is now replaced with “If at first you don’t succeed blame someone else.”

  15. Fantastic column Chris – ‘cut’s to the chase’ of a simple decision – a way of thinking, that will determine the fate of our country long term, much more so than housing or emissions or our many other media obsessions ever will. My vote will always be with ‘Equality’ – even though we have not acheived it yet – it is a concept well worth striving (and paying taxes) for, and it will bring this country closer together. Pursuit of ‘Equity’ on the other hand, will tear this country apart.

  16. I will say that what fairness is depends entirely on an individual’s definition of the term.

    For one person, fairness might be equal ethnic representation of Pakeha and Maori in Parliament, 6,000 Scholarships for Maori students each year, a holiday home in the Bahamas for the PM which is owned by a State corporate entity and leased out to existing PM’s for private use at a below market rate, and fuel prices which are double their current prices.

    For another person, fairness might mean that no MP’s salary exceeds $70,000 a year, that 20,000 new state houses are built each year, that people earning $35,000 and less are only taxed at eight percent, and that Inheritance Tax is introduced on all assets at a flat rate of 25 percent.

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