NZ Money via Getty
NZ Money via Getty

Peter Williams: Is making money a bad thing?

Peter Williams 04/05/2021

OPINION: Getting rich and being rich. Is that such a bad thing? 

I raise this question because the National Business Review (NBR), these days an online publication which we keep on being told is on its last legs, has decided it will no longer publish “The Rich List”, but instead just call it “The List”. 

The editor of The List, Maria Slade, has taken it on herself to make a bold declaration - celebrating wealth for wealth’s sake is inappropriate for the times and the Rich List has had its day. Which is just pure socialist woke dribble. 

So now the NBR wants to put what they say is equal focus on profit and purpose, and look at businesses holistically, how enterprises are being built and how they’re giving back to the country. Which is all touchy-feely stuff. 

So those who have accumulated vast holdings through property, but apparently don’t do anything with the property, are not on the list anymore. Except that Bob Jones, who has made his fortune just through property - that is buying, leasing and sometimes selling commercial property - is on the list at number 8.

The Sumunovich family of fishing fame doesn’t make the list anymore because they do most of their business overseas. Yet, so does Graeme Hart, the Mowbrays, and the Goodmans. 

A quick glance of who’s in and who’s out reveals a rather selective and moralistic approach as to who makes the list. That’s just fine. That is NBR’s absolute privilege, but some of the reasoning to me seems just a bit skewered and inconsistent. But it does raise the question: how important are rich people and how much should they be celebrated? 

There was a line in a story I read on Stuff - which came originally from RNZ, so no surprises there - but it said the wealth of people like Graeme Hart, the Todds, the Goodmans, and the Mowbrays is at a level that most of struggle to comprehend and might see as morally indefensible. Really? Can any level of wealth ever be called morally indefensible? 

New Zealand’s wealthy are just mere chump change to the world’s richest but do you really get upset about people taking risks and becoming wealthy? Isn’t wealth creation and the business and employment creation that goes with it the basis of how we exist on the planet? 

Do you really resent Jeff Bezos being worth 188 billion? Don’t you just enjoy the products and services he has made available to you to make your life that little bit more comfortable and convenient? It’s the same with Bill Gates. He might just own one percent of Microsoft these days, but the company’s products make life so much easier. I guess now he’ll only own half one percent now that he and Melinda are splitting. But that’s still half of one percent of 1.8 trillion which is what Microsoft is worth. 

So what do you think about wealth, and more importantly is being wealthy a big deal in your life? Have you set out in life to become wealthy and did you succeed or fail? Has doing a job well or having a career that you enjoy been a more important part of what you live for? But what is wealthy these days? Is it having assets worth a million, or five million, or 10 million? 

NBR says they had to put some controls on their list because finding people who had $50 million in assets was a pretty easy thing to do. If you have become wealthy - and by the wealth standards of the past, it frankly hasn’t been that hard in the last 10 years if you own a house, and maybe a second one. 

Do we just have to accept that relative wealth and relative poverty have always been and will always be part of life? Or do we have to take more of the wealth off the rich and give it to those at the bottom of the list? Should we ever think that making money is a bad thing? 

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