Of the commentary surrounding this week’s budget the most genuinely funny statement was included in this, from David Slack:

This is Tax Cut day. The islanders are standing on the deserted airstrip, waiting for the cargo.

I laughed. Loud.

If you’re not familiar with the term, a cargo cult is a peculiar type of religion that sprang up in the Pacific in the early Twentieth Century, and particularly around the Second World War. The gist is that the islanders saw all this amazing stuff being unloaded off boats or falling out of the sky under parachutes, and were awed. Obviously all this food and all these goods actually belonged to them, and not the greedy Europeans who had possession of them.

These were tribal, subsistence peoples with no understanding of how or where these things were produced, but were smart enough to know they wanted more. So they built their own airstrips, marched around like soldiers, and waited for the cargo to magically appear. And that, I fear, is the human condition.

I find this all fascinating, not because of the tax cut element, but because of the cult of entitlement that New Zealanders seem to thrive on. It’s odd, because on one hand Kiwis love to trumpet their “No.8 Wire”, DIY culture, but on the other hand are very quick to throw up their hands and shout “the Gubbermint” has to do something!!.

And example is farmers. I’ve grown up listening to farmers banging on about ‘townies’, and ‘bludgers’. Then, as soon as some type of natural disaster occurs, they’re first in line asking for a hand-out to see them through the rough patch. So:

  • Losing your job under massive restructures and going on the dole? Not a rough patch.
  • Chopping down too many trees and experiencing floods and erosion? Rough patch.

The justification for this type of logic is that farmers work hard for the good of the nation, and are therefore entitled to support when they need it. Now, they do have a point. I produce very little to enrich the nation, while farmers actually export things. And that’s what New Zealand actually needs. Not more construction workers or office drones. That said, the hypocrisy that has always aggravated me.

In general though the culture of entitlement seems to run hand in hand with a default position of “blame the gubbermint”. Perhaps it’s the fact that successive governments have supplied or built most of the countries infrastructure, or that we’re only 20 years removed from a “cradle to the grave” socio-economic model, but “the gubbermint” is always considered the driver in our economy.

But petrol prices and high commodity prices are something “the gubbermint” has no power over. Whether Labour or National are in power will have absolutely zero effect on the rising prices we’ve being experiencing. ‘Market forces’ means just that, the market drives prices. You’re paying more for your petrol or food because someone, somewhere, is willing to pay more than you, and that pushes up what you have to pay.

For some reason though, people behave as if they’re entitled to low prices. And as if they’re entitled to over-capitalise on their homes and then be rescued from their own folly. And when something goes wrong, something like interest rates climbing in response to limited international credit and inflation, or commodity prices rising on the strength of economies we export to, then that sense of entitlement manifests itself as anger at “the gubbermint”.

And that’s why the cargo cult reference is so damn funny. Because people look at their pay packet and see that less than a third of their pay disappears in taxes they immediately default to “I’d be better off if I had that money.” But most people wouldn’t. If they had that extra money their mortgage would just be a third bigger… and they’d be suffering even more under the credit crunch.

But still they line up, looking at the heavens, and expect someone else to rescue them from the situation their choices have put them in.

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