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  • rmacculloch

The NZ Herald confuses Inequality with Poverty

One of the lead articles in the Herald today, entitled "Beggars Belief: Pursuing NZ's Richest Earners - would a wealth tax work?" opens with the lines:

"In August 2014, a two-year-old girl from South Auckland .. died of a brain haemorrhage after being admitted to Starship Hospital. The coroner's report determined that damp, cold conditions of the girl's home, owned by Housing NZ, the government agency now rebranded as Kāinga Ora, may have contributed .. In a 2021 paper co-authored by epidemiologist Michael Baker, researchers found damp & mouldy housing accounted for a "substantial proportion of the burden of disease in NZ" .. These are deaths of inequality. Children from middle-class or wealthy families are unlikely to be hospitalized for rheumatic fever or bronchopneumonia, the illness that led to [the above] death" (Underline added).

What the article describes is not a "death of inequality". It is a death due to poverty. Poverty measures absolute living standards - how the folks at the bottom are doing. In a poor nation with no inequality, where everyone is living in the same damp, cold housing conditions as those described above, death rates would be higher. So in this sense, describing the above situation as a death due to inequality is incorrect.

The Herald article's confusion gets worse. It states, "the promise of neoliberalism was that it would deliver phenomenal economic growth. Once we freed the wealthy from the crippling burdens of taxation & regulation, the rising tide of innovation & prosperity would lift everyone's boats. Unfortunately, none of these predictions came true. Instead, the opposite happened & the past 30 years has seen anaemic growth and increased inequality. The wealthy have more, while everyone else's boat is slowly sinking".

Not true. The past 30 years have seen unprecedented falls in poverty across the world. Whereas 35% of the world lived in poverty in 1987, now the figure is only 10%. In East Asia and the Pacific it has fallen from 60% to about 5%. The Vox article below reports that not only has extreme poverty fallen, but hunger is also falling, child labor is declining, child mortality is down, life expectancy is rising and more people are going to school for longer.

The Herald's attempts to stoke class warfare by publishing a prominent article on the front of its website that blames high earners for causing children to die - arguing inequality is at fault when it is poverty - and where low quality State - not private - accommodation was a contributor - makes me wonder what the paper wants to achieve.



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