Wednesday's Top 10 with NZ Mint: The rich get richer while the poor get poorer; Ralph Norris' pay cut; JPMorgan's 'sack of sh.."; Dilbert

Wednesday's Top 10 with NZ Mint: The rich get richer while the poor get poorer; Ralph Norris' pay cut; JPMorgan's 'sack of sh.."; Dilbert

Here are my Top 10 links from around the Internet at 10 past 10 am (yes!), brought to you in association with New Zealand Mint for your reading pleasure.

I welcome your additions and comments below, or please send suggestions for tomorrow's Top 10 at 10 via email to

I'll pop any surplus suggestions I get into the comment stream.

1. The focus on inequality - Phil Goff is onto a winner when he focuses on income and wealth inequality.

It will be the central meme of our age as the realisation sets in that unfettered capitalism drives wealth uphill and the Global Financial Crisis was at least partly caused by this inequality.

New Zealand voters are starting to work out that the tax shuffle last year simply delivered a big tax break to the wealthiest while the poor and middle classes are paying higher food and petrol costs, not to mention higher GST rates.

Tax rates rose through the 1940s and 1950s in the wake of the depression. It was one of the most prosperous times for the developed world.

What's so wrong with high tax rates for the wealthy?

The same move to higher income tax rates for the super wealthy is inevitable around the world as the voting populace work out that the super rich got incredibly rich during the boom and have refused to acknowledge their role in the boom and bust.

The continued huge bonuses for bankers is obscene and is politically unsustainable.

Inequality is even the theme at the big Davos shindig put on by the World Economic Forum where all the masters of the universe chat about how to improve the world.

Here the Forum says in its Global Risks report for 2011 that inequality is the major challenge for the world.

James Ledbetter at Reuters has a nice summary:

This year’s report makes a big deal about “economic disparity,” which it helpfully defines as “wealth and income disparities, both within countries and between countries.” We used to call this “inequality.”

The WEF report rightly points to OECD data indicating real income growth of the top income quintiles in wealthy countries (Finland, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy and the United States) was twice as large as that of the bottom quintiles between the mid-1980s to mid-2000s. The poor may not be getting poorer, but the rich are getting richer at a much faster pace than everyone else.

That situation is not only immoral, but dangerous, as it can lead to open conflict between nations and internal political turmoil. But wait — why is this happening? The WEF report cites “the erosion of employment culture, the decline of organized labor, and failures of education systems to keep pace with the increasing demands of the workplace.”

That all sounds plausible, but the time frame cited marks the heyday of the very global governance institutions the WEF seeks to support. You don’t have to accept a causal relationship — though it certainly suggests itself — but at a minimum, global governance institutions have been demonstrably ineffective in addressing the economic structural issues that the WEF now worries about.

2. Solutions to combat inequality - The Economist has a useful and sobre piece here ahead of Davos on how governments can attack inequality.

Rules and institutions are often rigged in ways that limit competition and favour insiders at the expense both of growth and equality. The rules can be blatantly unfair: witness China’s limits to migration, which keep the poor in the countryside. Or they can involve more subtle distortions: look at the way that powerful teachers’ unions have stopped poorer Americans getting a good education, or the implicit “too big to fail” system that encouraged bankers to be reckless and left the rest with the tab. These are very different problems, but they all lead to wider inequality, fewer rungs in the ladder and lower growth.

Viewed from this perspective, the right way to combat inequality and increase mobility is clear. First, governments need to keep their focus on pushing up the bottom and middle rather than dragging down the top: investing in (and removing barriers to) education, abolishing rules that prevent the able from getting ahead and refocusing government spending on those that need it most.

Oddly, the urgency of these kinds of reform is greatest in rich countries, where prospects for the less-skilled are stagnant or falling. Second, governments should get rid of rigged rules and subsidies that favour specific industries or insiders. Forcing banks to hold more capital and pay for their implicit government safety-net is the best way to slim Wall Street’s chubbier felines. In the emerging world there should be a far more vigorous assault on monopolies and a renewed commitment to reducing global trade barriers—for nothing boosts competition and loosens social barriers better than freer commerce.

Such reforms would not narrow all income disparities: in a freer world skill and intellect would still be rewarded, in some cases magnificently well. But the reforms would strike at the most pernicious, unfair sorts of income disparity and allow more people to move upwards. They would also boost growth and leave the world economy more stable. If the Davos elites are worried about the gap between the rich and the rest, this is the route they should follow.  

3. Poor Ralph - New Zealand's highest paid executive, Ralph Norris, may not get paid so much this year because Commonwealth Bank of Australia customer satisfaction slumped after he put up mortgage rates by more than the rise in the Australian cash rate, BusinessDay reports.

With his remuneration package linked to customer satisfaction ratings, it could be an expensive survey for Mr Norris. Roy Morgan Research found that Commonwealth Bank home loan customers' satisfaction rates fell to their lowest in five years in November and December, outstripping the falls of its three major competitors.  

4. JP Morgan's 'sack of shit' - It's worth watching the various legal actions around the big US banks mortgage securitisation. There is a risk it blows up in everyone's face again if widespread fraud is proven.

Here's FTAlphaville with the latest installment on whether the big US banks get done for fraud over the slicing and dicing of toxic debt. Ambac and JP Morgan are at loggerheads. Discovery is always a fun process.

Materials produced in discovery have confirmed that EMC’s representations about the Mortgage Loans are false, but have also revealed that EMC and its affiliates, including JP Morgan, knew that those representations were false and knowingly made numerous, material false statements and omitted material information in pre-contractual communications in order to induce Ambac to issue the Policies.

This evidence – obtained for the first time through discovery – demonstrates that at the same time that JP Morgan and EMC were touting to Ambac the quality of the Mortgage Loans and the rigorous procedures for verifying their quality, JP Morgan personnel understood that the loans underlying the transactions were in fact – to use one JP Morgan employee’s unequivocal if impolite words – a “sack of shit.”  

5. Full steam ahead - Even though the US economy seems to be showing some signs of life and the initial round of money printing just pushed up (!) long term interest rates, the US Federal Reserve is set to announce its full steam ahead for QE II this week, Bloomberg reports.

Bernanke and his fellow policy makers will probably note improvements in the economy such as higher consumer spending in a statement to be released tomorrow, former Fed governor Lyle Gramley said.

Encouraging signs like firmer bank credit are unlikely to prompt a reduction in stimulus so long as growth remains weak and unemployment persists near 10 percent, he said.

“The Fed is not ready to let up on its accelerator,” said Gramley, senior economic adviser for Potomac Research Group in Washington. “They are going to be impressed with the fact the economy has gained some momentum, but there are still strong headwinds to growth, and bank lending is quite modest.”

6. Food riots to return - The rising prices of commodities and oil is taking its toll on social stability in many countries. The latest riots in Egypt are no doubt partly linked to this pressure.

Bloomberg reports the World Food Programme is warning about the impact of rising food prices.

Risks of global instability are rising as governments cut subsidies that help the poor cope with surging food and fuel costs to ease budget crunches, the head of the United Nations’ World Food Program said.

“We’re in an era where the world and nations ignore the food issue at their peril,” Josette Sheeran said in an interview yesterday at the agency’s Rome headquarters. The global recession has eroded government aid that helped people in poorer countries afford bread, cooking oils and other staples. The trend raises the odds of unrest even though prices have improved in many nations from 2007-2009, Sheeran said.

During that period, more than 60 food riots occurred worldwide, according to the U.S. State Department.

7. And Chocolate prices will rise too - The price of cocoa hit its highest levels since 1979 yesterday, in part due to political unrest in the Cote d'Ivoire, Bloomberg reports.

Cocoa has jumped 9.1 percent this month, the biggest gain after cotton among the 19 commodities tracked by the Thomson/Reuters Jefferies CRB Index. Cargill Inc., the largest closely held U.S. company, said yesterday it temporarily suspended bean purchases in Ivory Coast.

Climbing prices may mean higher costs for Hershey Co., Mars Inc., Barry Callebaut AG, the world’s biggest maker of bulk chocolate.

8. Hidden subsidies to banks - UCLA economics professor Axel Leijonhufvud has written a fascinating piece at VoxEu saying zero interest rate policies in the Northern Hemisphere are effectively delivering a huge subsidy to banks at the expense of the taxpayer. He also attacks the independence of central banks...

The shell game is a roadside con as old as civilisation. This column argues that the same swindle is being performed on a massive scale at the expense of the unsuspecting taxpayer. It says that, with their near zero interest rates, central banks are effectively subsidising the banking sector – with barely a pea passed on to the public.

For the last 20 or 30 years, political independence of central banks has been a popular idea among academic economists and, of course, heartily endorsed by central bankers. Such independence has not been much in evidence in the recent crisis. But central banks would very much like to restore their independence. The independence doctrine, however, is predicated on the distributional neutrality of their policies.

Once it is realised that monetary policy can have all sorts of distributional effects, the independence doctrine becomes impossible to defend in a democratic society.

9. The ageing West needs immigrants - The Economist makes the obvious but still important point in this piece that one of the ways for the ageing west to cope is to import lots of young labour.

As the American population ages, the unpleasant question will have to be answered: what to do with the Baby Boomers as they age and can no longer care for themselves? The typical Baby Boomer can not afford a private nurse or comfortable retirement homes. Without immigration the market does not provide many affordable and dignified long-term care options.

Restricting immigration will probably result in more illegal immigrants providing care. This leaves the migrant and the elderly person they care for vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. More legal immigration also increases the tax base which takes some of the edge off of the burden of entitlement spending on current earners. Increased immigration of workers of all skills levels will help allow retirees to age and die with dignity.

10. Totally relevant video - Economist Martin Jacques speaks here at TED Salon in London about the rise of China. Fascinating. HT Adam via email.

We welcome your help to improve our coverage of this issue. Any examples or experiences to relate? Any links to other news, data or research to shed more light on this? Any insight or views on what might happen next or what should happen next? Any errors to correct?

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Here is one totaly out of topic: Do you know how many socialist governments are left in Europe after England and Hungary's elections ?... Spain, Portugal and Greece... Ireland posibly joining the bridge table.


All of them are still "socialist" ie they still have a social care system..


Yes...the two points from above that need thinking about are firstly... the exposure of the RBNZ as a toad to service the banks as they strip mine the economy...hence the cheaper for longer and the covered bond about face....the second is the hint that greater immigration will bring growth and help pay the bills...anyone else smell what's coming for NZ from govt..regardless of colour!


I find it funny that CNBC and most of the American Banking Carte is doing everything they can to insist that there is no inflation…and yet there are food riots around the world because the US’s current #1 export is price inflation!!

Compare apples with apples.

I would start with considering that developed countries CPI / inflation is way different to developing in developed countries there is a huge market for toys which seem to be in massive decline in terms of price, which effects inflation, imports if you will V the developing countries where there is no or little spare money for toys, its going on survival, one of the essentials is food...and energy.....

It also depends on what discusion you are having, in the USA the core infaltion is used by economists as a way to look at how the economy is doing by taking out volitile items like fuel....this is heading down ie dis-inflation into deflation which suggests another steep recession is coming....and even higher un-employment.





Welcome to the Fourth Turning!

Re. #1 inequality

To address inequality, you need to understand the key causes.

The view that increases in taxes in the 1940's and 1950's was the reason for the prosperity of that period is wrong. The key reasons for the growth during that period was reconstruction after WWII, a shortage of manual labour which drove up the wages, general optomisim in the Western world and most importantly, a flood of wonderful new technologies and innovations coming out the US.

The growing inequality of today is driven by 3 factors:

1. Technology which has eliminated vast numbers of unskilled jobs and seriously reduced the value of unskilled labour. On the other side of the coin, those who create the world changing technology (such as Bill Gates) will earn large amounts for their innovation.

2. Globalisation which has added large numbers of workers to the global work pool. This has put downward pressure of lower and semi skilled jobs which can be outsourced.

3. Government policies which increase inequality. A visionary government would have understood the above two drivers and would have enacted policies to transition its economy and society. It would have focused on upskilling its population base to survive and prosper in the new world. It would have enacted policies to retain and attract the best innovators to its country. It would have had policies to limit the population as fewer manual workers are required and to reduce the pressure on dimishing natural resources.

Instead Governments (and ours in particular), enacted policies to subsidise the lower skilled people, who were now either unemployed or in very low wage jobs to breed more people which the economy, society and most importantly, the planet, could not sustain. It also encouraged low cost credit to create a illusionary bubble.

Goff;s policies are clearing wrong as they solve none of the issues and will only make them worse.

Good to see that a large % of NZ'ers have enough connected brain cells to see through his failed policies. According to stuff, 70% of voters do not agree with the proposed  tax changes.

70% of stuff are right the straw poll is meaningless.

The failed policy is thirty years of Maggie T and Ronald R voodoo economics...


I see it looks like Mark Weldon will get to live another day....

Unfettered capitalism drives wealth uphill ? .......... Where do you get this dribble from , Bernard .

For one , we've never had unfettered capitalism . As GG says , governments have always had their hands on the tillers , and have made the poor poorer , by cack-handed attempts at re-distribution .

.......... Currently 67 % of all tax-payers stump up just 22 % of the total tax take .......... and the 33 % above them ( gross earnings of $ 40 000 or above ) pay 78 % of all taxes collected . ............ So where's the rationale  for slugging " the rich " even more ?

Government re-distributionary policies are failing " the poor " , as they always have .

GBH can you break those figures down a little further and tell me what percentage of those earning between 40k and 100k pay how much of the 78%? 

You see the problem I have is that so many people jump up and down over taxing the wealthy, but someone earning 40k is not wealthy.  In fact, people earning under 100k are not wealthy.

Its those that are the ones who are paying the bulk of the tax, and those who have more than that, a lot more than that, generally are the ones engaging in tax avoidance when they are the ones who could most afford to pay their share.  And that is what I call inequality.


Hello Cleo : Sorry for delay , been in the city buying Thai fruit tree seedlings  !


Gross Income Bracket              % of all Tax-Payers        % of all Tax taken

$ 0 - 40 000                                          67                                            22

$ 40 000 - 100 000                              28                                            49

 above $ 100 000                                   5                                            29


[ I stuffed-up yesterday , saying that the top 5 % pay 22 % , they do in-fact , pay 29 % of the total tax collected ]

Cheers : Gummster

Lots of nice real data.....


@Bernard, you asked: "What's so wrong with high tax rates for the wealthy?".

Let me ask the same question in a different way:

"What's so wrong with the forceable confiscation of peoples money who worked hard to earn it?"

1: Not everyone of them did 'work hard to earn it'

2: Financial inequality is VERY dangerous

3: It's about the greater good

4: People get rich off the backs of others, i.e. wealth is not created in a vacuum so the liability of"payback" to the community you profit from IS paramount.

5: Economies where only being rich matters are vacuous and ultimately destined to failure via normally quite violent means.

There is the concept of society and social responsibility.  Which is what allows us to be educated and have free healthcare.

Didnt you mean "whats so right"?

Short answer is this is the cost of the society you choose to live in, if you dont want to pay tax, move to a country that meets your aspirations.


#1 "What's so wrong with high tax rates for the wealthy?" - the definition of "wealthy"? Maybe the threshold for the top tax rate should be 200K rather than 70K? There'd be less of a disincentive for people to try and get into higher but also more stressful and more demanding positions?

#7 This has to be the worst news of the day, make that week actually.

Not worth worrying about Elley..the socialists are gearing up for an internal party slaughter of the old ewes...only Goofy Klinger and Cunny don't know it yet. There will be an end to Labour as a main party. They are destined to be discarded by voters and history. The remnant will be a loud and funny unionist party...UP. 

#1....more stressful for more pay? I wish...I have yet to see any meaningful correlation between pay and demanding work and stress....

The whole point for me with the finanical crisis goes back to a comment on Goldman Sach, the "vampire squid" ie financal capital is killing the business sector and, so far Steve Keen's work seems spot on.....and the worry is this last occured in the 1920s.....and the result was the Great Depression....from that it was learned that regulation was needed....that regulation stayed in place until Ronald R...../ A. Greenspan....then it "wasnt needed" i think this will prove wrong, badly and us the PAYE's will pay for it.

Less incentive, you assume $ is what drives ppl....some ppl sure, others want more out of life than a coffin full of $, once we get past getting enough $ to survive that is.

What strikes me here and in other sites I read is the fixation of some that Govn is the cause of and the problem, if Steve Keen / Minsky / Pual Krugman are correct that is not the case.....

Fortunately I think this fixation is a tiny fundimentalist minority, most ppl are far more rational, up to a point anyway.


#7 Only for females....oh wait Im married to one.....oh hell....





Well, generally speaking there's a correlation between the amount of responsibility you have and the paycheck you get. My dad was in charge of 5000 people and I can assure you there were strings attached to the company car, laptop (working 10pm-2am daily after work) and cellphone (mum had to be on the beach holding it when he went windsurfing due to him being on call most of his little "free" time). Huge responsibilities came with the job, including potential personal liability if things went wrong, being held responsible for the company losing millions of dollars if a deadline got missed and being in good part responsible for all these people to remain employed. I don't agree with obscenely high salaries but people who complain of top executives getting paid a lot more than them make me laugh. They just don't have a clue what it's like (usually).

I agree with you that $ is not the only thing that drives people. But you have to admit that if a pay rise gets mostly eaten through taxes, there's little point in trying to get it even if it means not progressing in one's career. It's not all bad mind you. Part-time is great to avoid going over the threshold too much and fantastic for family time. Just not sure it's the best in terms of productivity.


How much responsibility does a nurse have?  Does s/he get paid for the level of responsibility s/he has, when they are managing a ward and have a number of peoples lives depending on them being alert?

Again I think people are getting confused with the wealthy and those being included in the top tax bracket.  For a lot of people what they earn may well get eaten away in taxes, but once you get to earning over $500,000 do you think its going to be a disincentive to progressing your career and end up earning $1mil?  If you are earning $40k and looking to go up to $50k the difference may not be much$70k.  But as I have said before, you aint earning much at that level and shouldnt be being classed as wealthy and in the top tax bracket.


"Again I think people are getting confused with the wealthy and those being included in the top tax bracket.  " Couldn't agree more. And when I was talking about disincentive I was specifically thinking about people around the 70-120K mark. Not those with obscene salaries, hence why I said above that the threshold for the top tax rate should be somewhere around 200K rather than 70K. My personal experience:

Choice A: Work full-time + pay nearly 40% tax on the top quarter of my salary + pay a heck of a lot in childcare due to working full-time + not be entitled to any subsidy

Choice B: Work part-time + pay a lot less tax + compensate the loss of income by being not only "entitled" to WFF but also not having to pay anywhere near as much childcare = nearly same net income and getting to spend lots of time with my family.

Which one do you think I chose?

What I'm saying is, I don't feel the current system is encouraging high achievers/performance/productivity but rather the opposite. Not saying I'm right, just what I feel.

Easy answer, Elley. How important are your childen to you? How did your Mum bring you up to be the succesful young woman you are today? How times, and social priorites, have changed. But then. I don't have the flexibility of choice. I have to work to support  a family. I can't do either or both. My options remain the same/unchanged.

Yes Nic, it was a very easy answer.  Hubby and I had decided long ago that our careers would take the back seat once we had kids regardless of the impact on our income and we both switched to 3-4 days a week when it happened.

We did/do have to work to support a family. But what I'm saying is that the choice we had was to earn $X and spend little time with our children, or earn... the same amount $X and have a lot of time with our children. That's what I find amazing. Personnally I think it is great that parents are in a way encouraged to spend time with their children but then again, I'm kinda old-fashioned and although I think it's great that women can have a good career if that's what they want, I'm not really what you'd call a hard-core feminist :) I sure don't see the point of having kids to have them raised by a nanny. Oh, and my mum (and dad) are fantastic people. And thanks for the compliment (but 35 doesn't feel that young lol!).


China is planning to create the world's biggest mega city by merging nine cities to create a metropolis twice the size of Wales with a population of 42 million.

HT Adam


And another one to watch out for in the next couple of months is whether Congresss lifts the US debt ceiling as the new Republicans get all shirty.

That would stop the US borrowing and throw a big spnner in the works of the world's largest economy.

Could America default on its debt in the next couple of weeks? Even US Treasury officials are talking about it as a possibility.

Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner said Jan. 6 that lawmakers must raise the federal borrowing ceiling in the first quarter or risk a default on U.S. debt and a loss of access to credit markets.

The Treasury will provide a borrowing strategy update on Feb. 2, when it announces the amount of securities it will sell under what’s become known as its quarterly refunding.

The Treasury chief also said his department’s toolkit of emergency measures, such as tapping government retirement funds and suspending some types of intergovernmental lending, would delay a debt ceiling breach “by several weeks.” At that point, he said, “no remaining legal and prudent measures” would be available and the U.S. would start to default.

Timmy the Rat should give the Irish Reserve Bank a phone call...they will tell him how to get over the problem of not having any money...surely there are some old Gestetners in the cellars at the US Treasury...a little ink and some new toilet worries.

Dim Sum bonds anyone? The Chinese want to replace the US dollar as the global currency of choice. HT Gertraud via email.

China's recent moves to internationalise the yuan are expected to result in a huge demand for fund-raising through yuan denominated debts or the so called ‘dim sum bonds'.

Analysts say the rising yuan liquidity through Hong Kong will see yuan emerging as the currency of choice for fund-raising for both Chinese and International firms that have business interests in China.

Following China's announcement earlier this month that the country's qualified enterprises could conduct direct investment overseas using yuan, bankers said it will open flood gates of yuan liquidity making it an important currency as the dollar in the international trade and investment.

Oh dear...I can see US CEOs who opt to buy Dim Sums booking themselves a long stay in a federal holiday camp!

A wee comment today in Money Morning from across the ditch....

 "A quick note on Australia’s overpriced housing.  Yesterday we wrote:

“In their world house prices either go up, plateau or become more affordable… but they never go down.”

Yesterday afternoon we noticed an article on The Age website headlined, “House prices to ease in 2011: NAB survey”.

In mainstream journalism speak, “ease” is another way of saying “faaaaaaaaaaaaaaall”

The banks are panicking.  The mainstream is on the ropes.  And Alan Oster, chief economist at NAB told the paper:

“There has… been a significant downward revision in house price expectations over the next 12 months.”

He goes on:

“The house price expectations of our survey respondents have been downgraded significantly from our previous survey.”

I can almost see you salivating from here Wolly!

That was the Pork sausage...speaking of Pork...any idea what else Goofy will drag out from his hat. I reckon it'll be a cash rebate for low income mortgage holders because they need Labours help.... because it's not fair that rich pricks get to live in mansions on Parasite drive.

The survey I saw , said Oz house prices will " ease "   1 - 4 %   in major capital cities in 2011 ............ They make it sound smooth and luxurious ............ an " ease "  ........ Sad deluded fools !


"Cities and counties don't have to consult with unions before deciding to lay off workers to save money, the state Supreme Court ruled Monday.

The court unanimously upheld Richmond's decision to eliminate 18 of its 90 firefighting jobs in 2003, when the city said it faced potential bankruptcy.

The International Association of Fire Fighters argued that the city could have avoided layoffs by cutting costs in other areas, and filed a complaint with the state Public Employment Relations Board.

The board said decisions to cut the workforce for financial reasons are not subject to collective bargaining, and the court agreed"

Read in the news that B&T have had an increase of inquiry from China on residential houses for sale in NZ. When will the government step into curb this? I have no problem with Chinese people, I do have a problem with houses prices being out of reach from me and other kiwi's. I'm not sure how to curb this as putting a tax on foreign residential housing investment will be ripe with loop holes.

Exactly, this is a no brainer, it would be easy to slow right down with a targeted tax.
They will just be dumping money here because there is just about no where else for it to go, and they're worried about inflation.
But as you say it doesn't help us at all, because it just pushes our already overpriced houses even higher.

Nonsense. Alzheimers. Third time repeat. It's money laundering.