Ben Kepes is a Canterbury-based entrepreneur and professional board member.

OPINION: Recently I’ve written a few posts about the sociopolitical climate here in New Zealand. In my posts, I have posited that we don’t live in a communist or socialist state but rather in a social democracy where community values (social safety net, public health, accessible education, etc) are woven into the fabric of society.

I naively assumed it would be a fairly benign position to take – more fool me.

It’s been fascinating seeing the responses to my posts – one thing about having so many connections on social media platforms such as LinkedIn is that I get really good reach and get comments from people from all walks of life and many different geographies.

Part of that commentary group is a significant selection of fairly right-wing (and, yes, right-wing is a relative term) US commentators who have spent generations being brought up in sheer terror of some kind of descent into a socialistic morass.

An example of one of these comments goes like this: “I don’t want the government to ‘keep me safe’ I want them to assure my freedom, that is their job. I need the government to stay out of my way so I can run my business, provide for my family, etc. Anyone saying they are trying to keep you safe is out to control you.”

That’s a fairly typical reaction from the libertarian demographic who have lived their entire lives in a country without the things we in New Zealand take for granted (those aforementioned social benefits) and who have grown accustomed to having to pay for a decent education and health service.

Some of my friends would suggest that the perspective articulated in those comments are those of an entitled class who haven’t got any real lived experience from the “other side of the tracks”. Those people can therefore afford decent healthcare and education and rail at the thought of having to “subsidise” those things for others.

Notably absent from the comments are the voices of the others. Those who, through an accident of birth or lack of opportunity, don’t enjoy those same benefits and hence only dream of high-quality education and healthcare.

I was thinking about this factor recently when I had a conversation with a friend of mine, someone who is a decent and genuine human being, way smarter than I will ever be and with experience living both here and in the US. That person was reflecting on the relative merits of the New Zealand and the US system, specifically as it related to healthcare.

As they wrote to me: “When your kid is sick you don’t give a s… about equity, you just care about fixing your kid. What’s very frustrating as a rich American is that even money does not fix it as the specialist services just don’t exist in the first place. New Zealand, unfortunately, puts equity ahead of excellence in both education and healthcare. We are fair but mediocre. Not a cause for pride.”

Now I absolutely accept that, as a parent, we are sometimes blinded by our love and care for our offspring. If my child is sick, I too want the very best medical care and attention for them. At that time, the fact that it is my wealth and privileged position that makes that care available to me matters not. My only concern is getting that care. It’s not a selfish perspective (well, perhaps it is but not maliciously so) but it is very much a case of self-preservation.

But that’s where my friend and I differ. I understand the imperative of education and healthcare here and how and why it drives actions within the context of self-preservation. But there is, in my view, a much broader perspective on self-preservation that we, the entitled demographic, ignore at our peril. As things currently stand, society has far greater inequity than at any time in the past few generations. An increasingly tiny proportion of a global elite hold an increasingly large proportion of global wealth.

Not only are the poor growing poorer, but the huge middle ground, those middle classes who fuelled the economic growth of the 1950s and 60s, see their spending power, their autonomy and their voice, rapidly losing ground. Not only are the poor getting poorer, but the average working woman or man is increasingly, in relative terms, poorer than their parents.

And this is where self-preservation comes in. While the elite can afford the very best for themselves and their progeny, to do so absent any thought to creating a more equitable society is dangerous. In a world where there are increasing income, wealth and value gaps in society, we run the risk of also eroding the values that withhold the rule of law and the respect for authority. If we go down that path, we invite the poor and newly poor to revolt – whether it is with force or by seizing the power structures ruled by those elites.

Of course, I can just hear my libertarian friends write me off as some kind of crazy left-wing agitator. But that’s not what this is about. I fully recognise my own privilege and the fact that my fortunate position is, at least in part, the result of social and economic inequities. It would be stupid, indeed dangerous, of me to not give thought to those inequities. History is rife with once powerful people who mistakenly assumed that their power would be eternal.

If, through the creation of a more equitable society, I can avoid insurrection utterly destroying my quality of life, I’d be stupid not to. To put it another way I have two choices – to give some of what I have to others and to enjoy a still-charmed, albeit slightly less so, life. The other option is to play Russian roulette with an increasingly large and increasingly angry part of society. Russian roulette doesn’t appeal at all.

Ben Kepes has never been a gambler, and roulette, let alone Russian roulette, doesn’t appeal at all.

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.