New Zealand – a playground for the rich?

A couple of years ago, at the New Zealand writer’s festival in Christchurch, famous author Keri Hulme resigned from her remote home in Okarito. A very, very small place down south at the west coast used to be a tight-knit community of locals that shared the same values. These values are shattered now. That’s why Keri Hulme said, she will move to the East Coast, looking for another retreat. What happened in Okarito?

New Zealanders are living on a remote island which is prone to nature’s disasters. Life can be rough, especially down south-west. Communal life is a cornerstone of society where your neighbours are no strangers and, at best, friends. One needs each other as natural events are humbling reminders of human’s place in the world.

The small islands in the southern hemisphere seemed quite isolated from the world’s issues. However, it just seems this way. Over the recent years, whilst trying to keep up with the OECD standards and a neoliberal agenda of “the markets”, New Zealand has become an export country for clean natural products. At the same time, it became a safe haven for a certain kind of refugees: The rich ones.

When Keri Hulme explained what made up her mind, she described how helicopters would land with people coming for a few weeks to spend their holidays and act as if they don’t need anyone around. As a consequence, Okarito became a dishevelled community, non-functioning and foreign. If you think about it: People land in helicopters, get all necessities shipped in, do not need to involve into the towns issues and therefore build little islands within the community that are no more part of it. Those people do not need the community to sustain and hence create a social void. Something a small community cannot take for too long, as each inhabitant does rely on a grown network of resources like shops, garages, social events etc.

What happened to Okarito is happening all over the place. Not only the Auckland housing crisis has fired up the discussion but a New Zealand Herald article (“Is New Zealand the new haven for the super rich?“). The (super) rich do not need communal resources but bring their own. Hence they create an economic and social imbalance by introducing foreign wealth that out of relation to local economics. The consequences are observable: People living in garages or cars, in a few years the rate of New Zealanders owning a house will drop below 30% (from over 90!) and ultimately Kiwis will live in the hamster wheel economy.

Imagine when you have to work 30-odd years to afford a two-bedroom house (or just the rent), trying to keep your head above water, moving to places that your job demands and not your lifestyle. This is anything but Kiwi. A devastated social structure is what current economics leave behind and while the rest of the developed world is moving to the right because of this. The global “neoliberal revolution” has twisted people’s minds to believe everything can be solved with money – which can buy resources that are seemingly endless. To state the obvious: They are not and people realised. That’s one reason why rich people leave the sinking ship, trying to anchor somewhere safe and nice.

New Zealand has a welcoming culture and should well keep it. However, I’d say even the rich are welcome, if they leave their wealth behind and integrate. Work hard, play hard: That’s the Kiwi way.

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