Is it wrong to be ‘too’ successful?

by TFM Admin


Sep 12, 2022

There’s a lot to celebrate about living in New Zealand. We enjoy a great quality of life and, generally, a high standard of living – and we live in a nation where it’s still possible to be successful in your chosen field or endeavour, regardless of whether that success is defined by career, lifestyle, achievements or even money.

But while success is at the fingertips of those who want it – we’ve also, as a nation, developed a strange (and unhealthy) tendency to put a cap on how much success we’re prepared to allow our fellow kiwis to achieve before we start attacking that success.

Seventy years ago, in 1952, New Zealander Bill Pearson published an essay called ‘Fretful Sleepers’, a piece he had largely completed in the previous year while undertaking his Doctoral studies, in London. 

The essay was a frank and cutting assessment of Pearson’s fellow New Zealanders and describes kiwis as a compliant lot who prefer to delegate authority and responsibility to others; who have a love/hate relationship with social status (in that they reject it in others but quite like it when it happens to them); and who crave the praise of strangers to their shores and are offended when visitors don’t gush over how wonderful their country is. 

Pearson’s uncompromising bluntness, in the essay, is often portrayed as an attack on his fellow kiwis – but the fact that he returned to New Zealand and devoted himself to a career in his home country in 1954, suggests that his ultimate motivation was to improve his country.

He also proved to be remarkably accurate in many of his predictions, particularly the one in which he suggested that the traits he had identified may one day lead us to wake up and find a dictator in charge. This proved eerily accurate 23 years later, with the election of Rob Muldoon in 1975 – and some might even say that history repeated itself in 2017, but I digress.

But it’s Pearson’s insight into our propensity, as a people, to attack those who have ‘done well for themselves’ to which I want to turn my attention in this article. It’s a trait we see all too often in every sphere of our society: a preparedness to allow our fellows to rise up only so far, before we turn on them in an act of mob brutality in which we seek to ‘bring them down’ or delight in their demise at the hands of the media. We even have a name for it – Tall Poppy Syndrome – in which we celebrate this tendency toward collective bullying as some sort of national virtue, when in reality its simply boorish thuggery born of small-mindedness and envy and amplified in the age of social media.

Over the past few decades it’s also a tendency we’ve seen increasingly directed toward those who have done well for themselves financially – with the attacks even coming from the very top. In 2007, the late Michael Cullen, in his then role as Finance Minister, referred to the wealthy as ‘rich pricks’ and to ex PM John Key as a ‘scumbag’ for being wealthy. 

Sadly, this mob encouragement has only become worse over the past 15 years and, while the current Finance Minister hasn’t yet resorted to such colourful language, there’s no doubt that he shares the same worldview and he has made no secret of his disdain for one group in particular: Property Investors – a group which has been under relentless attack, by this Government, since they first came to power in 2017.

Precisely why Property Investors (and, to a lesser degree, all property owners) deserve such derision is never adequately explained. The claim that such people have closed others out of the market is disproved by the reality that our home ownership rates have actually stayed remarkably stable for almost one hundred years. Similarly, the claim that property ownership and investment adds nothing to the economy can be easily dismissed and the reality is that property is, in fact, our biggest generator of economic activity. Indeed, in a very real sense, the kiwi obsession with real estate is the foundation of our national wealth and, literally, the basis of all other economic activity.

For me, the overwhelming logical approach to property ownership is to do exactly the opposite of what the current Government and some in the National Party would do. Instead of demonising property owners and seeking to pull them down to the lowest common denominator through capital gains taxes, punitive legislation, and hare-brained monetary policy – we should be celebrating those who have done well from property and setting about to put in place policies and programs which will make the same thing possible for others who also want to own property. 

Perhaps Pearson was right and a tendency to begrudge the success of others is an aspect of the kiwi psyche that we’ll never overcome – but I prefer to think that we can be better than that. 

DISCLAIMER: The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s and shouldn’t be taken as financial advice, or a recommendation of any financial product. To understand more about how you can find success through the property, please contact us on 0800 386 362.

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