Tagged: privilege

Averages, intentions and inequality: more Key trickery

median vs mean

Graph from latest Household Incomes in New Zealand report; yellow and pink annotations are mine

John Key is being a Spurious George again. In explaining why he’d love to cut taxes for (mostly) the rich, but just can’t afford to yet…

Key pointedly said that when National took office the average wage was $47,000 a year but had risen to around $55,000 today, and was expected to climb to $62,000 by 2017. This was creeping towards the top tax bracket, where salary earners pay 33c in the dollar for earnings over $70,000.

“I don’t think it was anyone’s intention that someone on the average wage would be paying the highest marginal tax rate in New Zealand,” he said, echoing arguments National has been making in private for months.

Well, Mr. Key, it also wasn’t anyone’s intention for the incomes of the rich to rise so much faster than those of the poor, pushing up the average (mean) income to a level less than 30% of people reach. (Actually it was some people’s intention: right-wingers who think inequality is a good thing)

Key is trying to give the impression that the average (mean) income is the income earned by the person in the middle. But mean doesn’t measure the middle of the people, but the middle of the money; and of course the money is weighted towards wealthy outliers at Mr. Key’s end of the spectrum, who push the average up with their exponentially higher incomes.

A far more useful statistic is the median income: the amount that half the people earn more than, and the other half earn less than. This truly represents the average Kiwi. The median individual income is almost exactly $30,000 p.a. – just under the middle of the third-to-top tax rate band.

It’s actually getting more and more misleading to portray average income as a reflection of middle-income earners: As inequality worsens, the “middle of the money” (average income) is moving further and further from the “middle of the people” (median income). My eye makes it less than 10% difference in 1980, up to about 25% now:

Mean and median over time

Graph from latest Household Incomes in New Zealand report; yellow and pink annotations are mine

It’s also worth noting that the increased average income Key mentions has accrued almost entirely to above-median earners:

income changes recession and recovery

Graph from latest Household Incomes in New Zealand report; yellow and pink annotations are mine

Another problem with mean income figures is they hide inequalities like these and portray a boon for the rich as a boon for everyone.

I do agree in principle with indexing tax-rate thresholds (in fact, all thresholds… *cough*student loan repayments*cough*) for inflation, but Key’s trying to use that principle as a smokescreen for more tax cuts to the rich, spinning this as a release for the average NZer from crippling over-taxation, which is not true on any level whatsoever. Taxpayers between the median and mean incomes actually pay the lowest proportional tax:

Salmond Fig 8-2-01

Graph from Rob Salmond; yellow and pink annotations are mine

And in the context of a supposedly progressive tax system it’s the rich who are really best off:

“At very low incomes, New Zealand’s taxes are a little above the OECD average … But for high incomes, our overall “tax wedge” … is the lowest in the developed world.

Our tax system asks too much of those with little, and too little of those with much.”

This would only get worse under National’s proposed 2017 tax cuts.

In any case, if Key is really worried about too many NZers in the top tax bracket, there’s an obvious solution: Implement a new top tax rate(s) for the super-rich, like most similar countries have:

income taxes NZ aust
income tax UK france
income tax US

Soooooooooo: whatever people’s intention about who should be on the top tax rate, it’s clear John Key’s intention in referring to the mean income, rather than the median, is to mislead (or perhaps he simplify misunderstood statistics in a conveniently misleading way, as with child poverty at the last debate). Sadly he’ll probably largely achieve that intention.


Student politics + evidence vs. inequality

SPD U Can be part of the solution

I’m somewhat embarrassed to say that 5 1/2 years after graduating from the University of Canterbury, I’ve got myself embroiled in student media/politics again. But this time, instead of contributing to Pun Network News or trying (unsuccessfully) to bring down the UCSA status quo, I’ve responded to a face-palm-worthy Canta article defending inequality. I take aim at all-too-common, evidence-free, essentially religious arguments for inequality and capitalism. You can read it here.

I’m not embarrassed to have my article appear in a new alternative publication, Counta, set up by a group of students fed up with the anti-intellectualism and political illiteracy of mainstream student politics/media at Canterbury at the moment. Counta were happy to publish the response when Canta declined.

I’m also not embarrassed to say I was inspired to respond by a lot of evidence and research suggested by friends in MarxSoc, which enabled me to put together a well-researched response I’m pretty happy with.

So, although there’s plenty of disturbing, disappointing and depressing stuff happening in student politics at Canterbury, there’s also some encouraging signs in informed student resistance, and awesome groups like Students for Participatory Democracy, FemSoc, MarxSoc and UC POLS. These groups make me want to get embroiled in student politics again. If you’re at Canterbury (as a student or a staff member, like me), I recommend you check them out.

[trigger warning] Sad reminders of how sexist and violent NZ still is


Men haven’t been very good to women in NZ lately.

The list of men who have used and abused Bevan Chuang in the course of the Brown-Chuang-Wewege-Cook-Slater-Palino affair is long and getting longer. Some were apparently motivated by mid-life crises and delusions of grandeur, others by attempts at pharisaical political smear campaigns… but they’ve all used a person’s life for their own ends (and apparently they’ve all lied about it). I don’t think I trust any of these men with high political office or media profile. Chuang herself doesn’t seem to have acted particularly well, but nobody deserves what she’s been through.

Meanwhile, Labour’s decision to phase in a rule ensuring 50% female MPs was met with the predictable panic that men are losing some of their privilege. This was typified by Patrick Gower, TV3’s gutter-journalist political editor who feigned alarm about demotions of male MPs (note this excellent critique he pretty much ignored). His numbers actually only show that IF Labour’s party vote is as low in 2017 as it was in 2008, and IF no male MPs other than Ross Robertson retire before then, TWO male MPs may have to leave Parliament so Labour can achieve gender equality (if any male MPs would object to that, good riddance).

Worse than Gower’s shoddy maths is his implication that political parties are male-dominated because of ‘merit’ rather than structural injustice. And his suggestion that 50% women in Labour is a problem but 75% men in National presumably isn’t. And his leaping to the defence of poor, persecuted privileged male MPs instead of highlighting the systemic gender inequity Labour’s quotas are designed to address.

But the worst, of course, is the Roast Busters rape club.

The existence of such a group is abhorrent. As is their ability to publicly boast about it.

As is police traumatising, blaming and ultimately ignoring complainants. As is their inaction after 2 years, 4 complaints, and ample opportunities for evidence. (Compare this to their shoot-first-sort-out-legality-later approach to shutting down people criticising them). As is the way they lied and blamed their inaction on victims not being “brave enough” to lodge proper complaints. As is the fact that their only accountability is an “independent” group of ex-cops who inevitably understand and sympathise with police. As is the fact that we’ve known for years the police have a rape problem and they’ve repeatedly failed to address it.

As is media personalities’ victim-blaming and collusion with rape myths (and passing them on to their kids as well as their radio audience).

As are politicians’ halfhearted responses and John Key equivocating about whether it’s really rape or just immature behaviour “that’s, in my view, totally unacceptable.”

As is their school’s inaction.

As is media/public figures calling it under-age sex or group sex or mischief or immoral or silly instead of what it is – rape.

Worst of all is our ubiquitous rape culture that allows all this to happen. It’s part of the same patriarchy that leads to Len Brown and Cameron Slater et al using Bevan Chuang, and Patrick Gower complaining that men are losing their privilege. We can’t just blame the direct protagonists. All of us, especially middle-class educated white Western heterosexual cisgender Christian men like me, have to accept responsibility for the ways we’ve contributed to a kyriarchal culture that dominates, discriminates, dehumanises and, ultimately, rapes.

The only positive to come out of all of this is are the small signs of hope that rape culture may be starting to change. This could be a vital tipping point in awareness that we have a problem. But the work of addressing it is just beginning.