I have made my annual salary of my day job over the past few weeks as the NZ stock exchange reached new heights. Such gains are not taxed in New Zealand as opposed to my day job as a teacher where I actually do some work. Not too much mind. I am a winner in our modern version of casino capitalism. I am a captain of commerce. A paragon of modern finance. Someone that others should aspire to emulate. I am a WINNER just like that Trump guy. What a strange distorted world we live in.
But something doesn’t feel right. I am a winner in the financial sense. There are numbers in my portfolio on the computer screen that tell me that. But there are several things that undermine my immense feeling of success. I was born into the right family and I was born at the right time. I won the lottery of birth. I am extremely grateful for that.
The modern free market myth says that all of us can be winners so long as we have the right work ethic and attitude. Our former Prime Minister Sir John Key is a great example of this. He was raised by a single mother and lived in a state house in Christchurch. If he can do it, anyone can. But Sir John is likely a representative of a statistical concept called survivor bias. For every young person in New Zealand raised by a single mother in a state house in the 1970’s, Sir John is a rare exception. He is a statistical anomaly.
So back to me as a winner. I am a partially sighted, fuller figured, middle aged bachelor. I did a Commerce degree around the same time Sir John did his commerce degree. Instead of entering the world of finance at that time I eventually went teaching. I wanted to do a job that gave a sense of meaning. I am certainly not a Saint but the thought of a life stuck in an office in front of a computer for purely monetary gain seemed a sad waste. I wanted a sense of giving service. Bit of a dumb bugger really. Yet I don’t regret that sentiment. I have come to realise that such a sentiment is regarded with distain by many captains of finance and political leaders who embrace modern capitalism.
Twenty years ago I realised genetics were catching up with me. I was losing my sight. I lost the ability to drive. Like most staunch kiwi males I ignored the reality until I had a serious breakdown.
My biggest fear was not being able to earn a living. Especially as this country has become brutal for those unable to earn a living due to disabilities of any type. My nightmare was being a blind beneficiary in a grotty state flat in a grotty suburb. At the time the Shipley government was promoting the “dob a bludger” campaign which didn’t help my state of mind. I became a money maker by necessity. I read all I could on investing. I became a self-taught expert on equities in New Zealand and abroad. I became a winner in the casino economy. Yet I feel little sense of pride or accomplishment in the paper profits I have achieved. My teaching has provided huge satisfaction over my unspectacular career. My paper profits have provided little except a vague feeling of financial security. I don’t drive a flash car for obvious reasons.
I still teach part time. I work with young staff with young families and huge mortgages. Their lives are constrained and fraught with money worries. Much more than their parents at the same age, who are my generation. They are lectured by my generation on how tough it was back then. They are told to stop dining on smashed avocados and lattes. This shows a remarkable lack of perspective. They have paid excessive prices for average houses in average suburbs that have become speculative assets. Some have had parental help which eases their burden but others don’t have that random luxury. They are less blessed by birth. This is a huge bias in the era of casino capitalism. Trump was not born into poverty.
I now regard teaching in New Zealand as almost a form of charity work given what teachers are paid. This government’s budget surplus has been built on the corrosion of public services. I make my money from investing. That is a really sad indictment on our education system and economy when the gains from financial shenanigans outstrip the gains from real work. Yet it is real work that is taxed. But that is the nature of casino capitalism that has evolved here and abroad over the past few decades. Where good hard working folk who want to own a house and do the best by their children are left behind by those who are best able to play the game of casino capitalism. What a crappy system. We can do better as a society.
Peter Lyons Teaches Economics at Saint Peters College in Epsom.