I’ve been talking to people quite a lot recently about equity and wealth distribution. As I write this, we are only a couple of days out from the election and the past week has been full of claim and counterclaim about wealth taxes. In all of the noise around will she/won’t she and can she be trusted, we’ve lost sight of the core issue here which is one of equity.

Now I have to stand up and give a hearty mea culpa and accept that me, and people like me, are well and truly part of the problem. I’m white and male and, despite the fact that my parents came to New Zealand as refugees only 60 or so years ago, my siblings and I have profited greatly from our parents’ adopted country – we all own our own homes and have profited out of investment into business and property.

There’s no private jets or holidays homes, we don’t drive flash cars and we (well at least my brother and I) dress more like homeless people than we do the monied classes, but, in the scheme of things we’d be considered to be in the 1%, I guess. I don’t say that in any way to brag, but rather to illustrate that in addition to some hard work, we have been lucky to have benefitted from a system that favours people like us.

A few years ago an American venture capitalist, Nick Hanauer wrote an article entitled “The Pitchforks Are Coming.” Hanauer is on the seriously wealthy end of the spectrum – he owns his own jet. He and his buddies own a bank and, I suspect, he doesn’t dress anything like a homeless person. Hanauer has benefitted massively from a system that skews towards the already lucky. But, while his net worth is probably many thousand times that of mine, if you were to put all of society on a continuum, he and I probably wouldn’t be too far apart.

So it’s a fair assumption to think that Hanauer would be advocating for reduced taxes, a perpetuation of the trickle-down, neoliberalist view of economics that has been prevalent for the past thirty or so years and the kind of attitude that screams “it’s just because they’re lazy that they’re poor, don’t criticize me for being rich!”

But here’s the interesting thing. In his article, Hanauer actually advocated for a more equitable system, not for fairness reasons, but rather ones of self-interest. Basically, his thesis goes that we live in a time that mimics France in the 1780s and, much like the angry mobs who stormed the Bastille as they stood up against inequity and oppression, so too will the 99% of people do similarly unless we fundamentally change the models under which we live. As he wrote, specifically about the US but more generally about global inequity:

Our country is rapidly becoming less a capitalist society and more a feudal society. Unless our policies change dramatically, the middle class will disappear, and we will be back to late 18th-century France. Before the revolution.

If we don’t do something to fix the glaring inequities in this economy, the pitchforks are going to come for us. No society can sustain this kind of rising inequality. In fact, there is no example in human history where wealth accumulated like this and the pitchforks didn’t eventually come out. You show me a highly unequal society, and I will show you a police state. Or an uprising. There are no counterexamples. None. It’s not if, it’s when.

Which brings us back to the discussions around a change of the taxation system, whether by way of a wealth tax or some kind of capital gains tax. My governance mentor has given me guidance not to talk about politics publicly since it might reduce the number of board positions available to me. But that’s the thing. This isn’t about politics, this is simply about fairness and good sense.

Sir Stephen Tindall, founder of The Warehouse is a man I greatly admire. Sir Stephen has personally profited hugely from commercial activity, and himself called for an increase in taxation for the wealthy. As he and some of his wealthy associated wrote:

Our interconnectedness has never been more clear. We must rebalance our world before it is too late. There will not be another chance to get this right.

So, about the claim and counterclaim around the wealth tax. I’m not suggesting that Green co-leader Marama Davidson was right when she stated that “tax is love.” It’s far more simple than that, for those who are faced with paying more tax through these different taxation models, tax is more than love, it’s survival.

Those pitchforks are sharp. And unless we address these issues, they’ll be coming for us.



Ben Kepes

Ben Kepes is a technology evangelist, an investor, a commentator and a business adviser. Ben covers the convergence of technology, mobile, ubiquity and agility, all enabled by the Cloud. His areas of interest extend to enterprise software, software integration, financial/accounting software, platforms and infrastructure as well as articulating technology simply for everyday users.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.