The Northern Imposed Imbalance
(or: ‘Why Is My Life Getting More Expensive?’)
By Scott Ewing, 8th September 2009
I was on my way to work when it hit me – something went, like a fan belt snapping or the crack of a hip bone.
My life is getting more expensive.
People know a personal truth when they hear it or think it, and this was one of them.
This little realization happened just as I was catching a morning ferry to Auckland.
As someone clicked one of the two boxes printed on my $32 dollar return trip ticket (Fullers), my ugly little truth sank in a little more
and I walked onboard with everyone else feeling a little more blinky and vulnerable than I usually am at this hour.
The ferry pulled away and, as we were chugging past Motutapu Island, I bought a latte and went outside and sat up top in the wind to clear my head and think things over.
The coffee on this ferry –blows-, by the way.
Ahead in the distance, the Auckland Central Business District glinted dully in the sun – like smokers teeth stuck on a horizon.
Where was my money going? And were people taking more from me? Or was I giving more to them?
I would have to find answers to questions like these – before things got increasingly dire for my bank balance.
My life is getting more expensive and I had to find out why – and the next time you are stumbling out of the supermarket door into the bright car-park squinting in disbelief and rage at the sales docket only to drive home to another bill crouched in your letterbox from an energy company accompanied by a nicely worded letter informing you of another double digit price hike
– then I would suggest that you might want to find out, too.
I once had the definition of ‘recession’ explained to me as a ‘wealth transfer’.
It’s not like people are standing around setting fire to tall piles of dollar bills and then turning around shrugging and saying
“wow … the money it’s … it’s all gone … ”
Like a phone or internet banking transaction – a recession is a wealth transfer
– just on a really, really, really, big scale.
If true, it’s a nice definition, but it doesn’t really tell me -why- its happening.
“The more you have – the easier it is to make”,
as the saying goes.
“My first million was the hardest”,
as I read or heard somewhere.
‘You have to spend money to make money”,
must have been exhumed by some 80’s stockbroker guy at least once in a crowded Parnell restaurant at one point or another.
Some rich guy told me once that the paying of taxes generally falls to the ‘man in the street’ – I guess because – among other reasons – the more money you have – the more affordable it is to pay someone (like an accountant) to help you keep it.
For everyone else, the old (and fairly simple-minded) adage of hard work for a fair days pay
– is now continuously failing to apply.
Case in point :
I read recently about an American single mother who – despite working three jobs – can’t earn enough money to pay her bills.
Let alone be home at all to raise her kids.
Is she not working hard enough to support herself within the wealthiest country in the world?
What’s going on?
Off the bow of the ferry, the Auckland Central Business District was coming closer – its skyscrapers towering thirds and sevenths over what had stood in its place even thirty years ago – and the sun was burning away the last of the night’s fog from around the buildings.
‘My life was getting more expensive’ came the thought back.
And its not just prices of food and ferry tickets going up – it’s also everything else as well.
The costs of petrol, telecommunications, banking, shelter, medical care (including dentistry & optometry), transportation,
brightly coloured sports drinks, education, etc, have all continued to rise in opposition to people’s incomes.
People’s incomes are either generally stagnant or (as they age or are ‘downsized’) these incomes move into decline.
So where’s all the money going? If we are in a ‘recession’, then where is all the money ‘receeding’ itself to?
If the baby boomers are even now starting to feel it in their own investment portfolios – then hopefully they will have the personal insight to be inquisitive enough as to just where their wealth is being transferred to.
My favorite headline ever, quoted from the business press – is from Singapore sometime in 2007 and it reads:
“Economy Booms At Expense Of Job Losses.”
I love that one.
Fisher and Paykel – recently sent a ton of jobs overseas somewhere when they closed their factories in New Zealand.
In their rational mind, they’re only goal as a business was to make more and more money in any way possible.
If it took cutting jobs, or sending them overseas, then so be it.
While I’m finishing my naff latte, the ferry is sailing past the container docks where massive cranes are pulling cheap junk from China off huge boats.
This cheap junk arrives in New Zealand for a brief stint in a consumer’s house, before quickly ending its life in a local land fill.
Every country has their own versions of Wal-mart.
As we draw nearer, Auckland city’s buildings are getting higher in the sky
(and I am able to imagine a jumbo jet flying into the side of one of them).
I spot one of the corporate logos on one of the skyscrapers – as the ferry slows down to navigate the inner harbor.
The logo on the skyscraper says Fonterra – at last glance, the countries biggest company – and the people that work at Fonterra won’t be happy until they are the only dairy company in the country.
In cases like this, once market dominance is established – under the rational imperatives of continuous growth – they will then begin to streamline, downsize, and dismiss some of their workers.
So that the company can continue to … um … grow.
Wealth flows will continue to centralize as the employees that have been ‘de-employed’ by the downsizing company apply for the unemployment benefit and poor people are less and less able to loophole themselves out of paying their taxes.
A wealth divide widens, and a form of imbalance – tips further.
As the ferry approaches the wharf, I’m scanning the corporate logo fest happening at a roof top level on the skyscrapers in down town Auckland and noticing the brands of companies that concern themselves with things like finance, insurance, law, advertising, investment, caffeinated carbonated sugar water, and telecommunications.
Repossession companies are there, too – and so are all of the Australian banks that operate in this country.
As the boat docks – rooms of glass and steel tower above us and people around me began to get to their feet – as many of them have come here today to pay mortgages – which is interest paid on money borrowed that was created out of thin air with a keyboard and someone’s fingers.
I don’t like banks much – and I have never understood the wisdom of charging people late fees for not having money
– when they don’t have any money…
It widens a wealth gap and tips an imbalance even further.
Arab banks don’t charge interest, apparently.
And given that – I have no idea what their business model is.
It was Tuesday, and it was nice to see that many of the people clumped on the wharf behind a crowd barrier waiting to make the return trip to the island – were mostly more elderly folks.
Many were holding their shiny gold card doles – which, I suppose, makes it more affordable to get out of the house.
The ferry staff tied knots, the gates opened, and a wave of solemn black clad Tuesday-itus spilled out onto the dock.
As we walked to Queen St, I saw that the giant Kiwibank billboard with the moving numbers on it that showed the amount of money flowing every hour from New Zealand into Australian Banks and their Parent Corporations – had been taken down.
Pity, I thought that ad was clever.
A friend of mine stated recently (& correctly, in my opinion) that burglaries and crime rates are higher when there is greater imbalance between incomes within a society – like say in South Africa – where home invasion is as common as going shopping – or in Mexico City, where kidnapping and ransoming the tubby offspring of rich people is a thriving growth industry with many opportunities.
Ditch the practice of charging interest (or usury) and the wealth gap starts to narrow, an imbalance starts to right itself,
and our country instantly becomes a slightly nicer place to live. Tomorrow.
Well, the crime rate goes down anyway… (and who doesn’t want that).
Maximizing profit is great – but only if it does not outweigh the societal cost of doing so.
And with your face stuck down in the bowels of 4th quarter ledgers and market dominance strategies
– you are likely to be unobservant of any systemic downstream consequences of your actions or policies.
Like how just much poorer people seem to be getting, all of a sudden.
Banks are just one example.
At the skyscrapers that stretched up the main street ahead, the younger folks were already arriving at work climbing up into the rooms in the buildings to battle themselves away on the floor – for what was theirs, for what they could still afford with it – and for what schools they could send their kids to – so that things might continue to run their course.
The bulk of the western human race gets out of bed everyday – quite collectively ignorant of the idea that their hunting and gathering has been slowly transformed into doing their level best to take money or resources – in one form or another – off other members of the human race.
People who have spent all day learning how to sell themselves and to manipulate others are in no position to form lasting friendships or intimate relationships.
Many (but not all) Westerners hunger for a different kind of society – one where ethical and spiritual sensitivities, exist more at the societal level. Their need for meaning is just as intense as their need for economic security.
Soon, the government will be forced by overseas groups with international interests, to sell off additional infrastructure, including roads, prisons, Kiwibank, and whatever else is left.
This is a monumentally stupid idea.
People promoting the idea will claim, as they always did, that the sold asset will now be run more effectively and efficiently under the rational imperatives of continued growth.
But it never ends there.
There is of course the profit motive to consider – as the increases in your phone bill since the late eighties – relative to income – will attest.
We will be increasingly charged by privatized utilities
– think Enron –
– think ‘whoever owns the Waiwera tunnels’ –
for what was once regulated and subsidized, and the needs of the shareholders will always trump the public service role. Every. Time.
Other countries don’t actually ‘invest’ in New Zealand – they instead set up an infrastructure, designed to drain wealth from the region and centralize it in other points of the globe – channeled to places like parts of Europe and parts of the United States.
We live in a world where the CEO of a large American company can earn 10,000 times more than the guy working in the mail room does.
This concentration of money and power creates a tremendous crisis in our society.
In addition to nutrition and life expectancy – also affected will be burglary and domestic violence rates, levels of escapist drug abuse, suicide – just because some rich guy needs a bigger boat or to feel more ‘important’ – and he has no qualms about actively
(with every breath and every choice)
aiding the process of draining the antipodean region of any wealth that it may try to generate for itself.
He will also have no problems with viewing his compatriots as a resource to that end.
If that is how things are, we are diminishing as a ‘civilised’ society – and all bets are off for this country.
Think “Sleeping Dogs”.
Think ‘fusion of government and big business’ with the interests of both being paramount, when it comes to policy decisions.
Not a pretty picture.
The 4 Square food-mart on the island has stopped externalizing the cost of its plastic bags to the public, because people didn’t like it. People also know that bags don’t cost 5 cents each to make, and – every time they buy one – it was a reminder of another nail in the foot of people’s ability to continuously afford their lives.
Nothing adds to mental illness quite like the pressure felt from not being able to pay the bills – we are all shrouded in a loaded game – as slaves to some process that we don’t quite understand, and we hate it.
Wondering where money for the next power or phone bill is going to come from doesn’t exactly equate to happiness – or even contentment – and it certainly doesn’t equate to gratitude.
Our lives are getting more expensive because they are out of balance – and the imbalance stems from the North.