Award-winning writer and journalist Max Rashbrooke
Inequality: the defining issue of our time
The growing inequality gap between the rich and the ‘rest’ has become one of the key political issues of 2014. It’s a topic that award-winning author and journalist Max Rashbrooke will address at a free public lecture on the Albany campus on July 2.
Lecturer in politics Dr Damien Rogers says it’s time New Zealanders stopped passively watching the changes taking place in our society.
“There are many problems facing the world today and the growing gap between rich and poor ranks among the most urgent. Inequality is literally ripping humanity apart. Max Rashbrooke is one of the few public intellectuals who, recognising the dangers as they relate to New Zealand, explains this man-made problem in everyday language so that we can all better understand the enormous stakes involved. We should all heed his call to arms.”
Over the last 30 years, the divide between New Zealand’s poorest and wealthiest inhabitants has widened alarmingly, with differences in income growing faster than in most other developed countries. As a country that has traditionally regarded itself as egalitarian, those increased inequalities of wealth are somewhat troubling. There is strong evidence that these inequalities lead to lower social cohesion, an unequal political system, higher rates of health problems and increasingly unequal opportunities.
It’s a complex situation, requiring a wider community conversation on the best actions to take to reduce inequality. Mr Rashbrooke says potential solutions include mechanisms to boost collective bargaining, pay ratios and an unconditional basic income. “How we think about income gaps, and how we decide to address them will do much to alter New Zealand’s levels of inequality in the years to come,” he says.
Mr Rashbrooke says any potential solution brings with it both costs and wider benefits. “Nothing alters the need to address an issue that goes to the heart of what kind of country New Zealand wants to be.
"In the last few years, inequality has rocketed past traditional concerns like 'the economy' and unemployment to become the issue New Zealanders say bothers them most. That's because they're increasingly realising what has happened in the last 30 years - which is that the fruits of our economy have very largely gone to those at the top, while people at the bottom have hardly benefited.
"What I'll be doing in my lecture is painting a picture of how inequality has changed New Zealand radically in recent decades, why we should worried about it, and what the options are for reducing income gaps and becoming a more equal society."
Mr Rashbrooke is editor of Inequality: A New Zealand Crisis published by Bridget Williams Books in June 2013. He was the recipient of the 2011 Bruce Jesson Senior Journalism Award, and has written for national newspapers in New Zealand and Britain, including the Guardian, NBR and Metro magazine.