New Zealanders like to think their democratic system is one of the least corrupt in the world. But the system has a massive blind spot when it comes to political finance and inequality. Wealth has become increasingly concentrated in New Zealand since the 1980s – yet there are no meaningful curbs on political donations, allowing major imbalances in access to politicians and influence over decisions. Meanwhile there are growing concerns about foreign interference in New Zealand elections.
In this public lecture hosted and brought to Tauranga by Mackenzie Elvin Law, Auckland University’s Timothy Kuhner and Victoria University’s Max Rashbrooke will discuss their research into economic inequality and its threat to both democracy and the wider functioning of our society. This election-week lecture is set amidst multiple SFO investigations into political financing in New Zealand, affecting both major parties and New Zealand First. Meanwhile the continuing revelations by Professor Anne-Marie Brady of Canterbury University and others have raised concerns about the influence of the Communist Party of China and other foreign actors on our democratic system.
Tim’s work explores the nexus between rising inequality and political corruption. “When it comes to combating the undue influence of concentrated wealth over law and policy,” he says, “New Zealand’s electoral and parliamentary framework does not reflect a love of fairness. It reflects, rather, a love of inequality. And the laws and policies produced within this framework are likely to prioritise the private interest over the public good.” He adds: “I have reason to believe that New Zealand’s reputation for being corruption-free and its sense of wellbeing don’t fully align with reality.”
Max has written extensively about inequality and the need for democratic renewal in New Zealand. His recent Guardian article, ‘New Zealand’s Astounding Wealth Gap Challenges our “Fair Go” Identity’, attracted widespread media attention while showing that the wealthiest 10% of the country has 60% of all assets. “Such findings are challenging to New Zealand’s self-identity,” he writes. “The country’s egalitarian image was once memorably described by the historian Melanie Nolan as ‘a rich amalgam of truth and myth’. These new wealth figures suggest that the latter increasingly predominates.” Max is also the editor of the key work Inequality: A New Zealand Crisis.
Together, Tim and Max will explain the issues and offer ideas for renewing our democracy and making the “good society” that we claim as our “Kiwi way” more reality than myth.
Copies of books by Tim and Max will be available for purchase after the lecture cincluding Tim’s just released book:
Tyranny of Greed: Trump, Corruption and the Revolution to Come
published by Stanford University Press
About the Presenters
Tim Kuhner is associate professor at the University of Auckland Faculty of Law. He is the author of Capitalism v. Democracy: Money in Politics and the Free Market Constitution (Stanford University Press, 2014), a book that received acclaim from the Harvard Law Review and Thomas Piketty. He is the co-editor of Democracy by the People (Cambridge University Press, 2018), an edited volume on campaign finance reform featuring a number of the world’s leading experts on democratic integrity. Tim has spoken about issues of corruption and political finance at major venues across Europe and North America, including the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and Transparency International UK.
Max Rashbrooke is a Wellington-based writer with twin interests in economic inequality and democratic renewal, and is currently the 2020 J. D. Stout Fellow at Victoria University of Wellington. He is the author of Government for the Public Good: The Surprising Science of Large-Scale Collective Action, published by Bridget Williams Books (BWB) in September 2018. He is also the author of Wealth and New Zealand, and edited the best-selling work Inequality: A New Zealand Crisis. He is a senior associate of the Institute for Governance and Policy Studies at Victoria University of Wellington, his work appears in outlets such as the Guardian and Prospect magazine, and he is a regular commentator in the New Zealand media.
About Mackenzie Elvin Law
The Founding Partner of Mackenzie Elvin, Dr Fiona Mackenzie, completed her PhD in Law in 2016. She and the other partners of the firm have a longstanding commitment to the Academy and its critical role in society. With the opening of the Waikato University Campus at Tauranga, Mackenzie Elvin Law felt it was appropriate to actively support that role in Tauranga Moana. As a firm, Mackenzie Elvin see a need beyond their general obligation as lawyers to ensure that the critical importance of the rule of law to our freedoms and way of life is neither diminished nor lost between generations. They see public lectures such as this as fulfilling both those objectives.