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We need to talk about wealth

Max Rashbrooke's Wealth and New Zealand (BWB Texts) paints a portrait of huge wealth inequality.

Wealth matters and particularly so in education, says Max Rashbrooke. Yet for a government that likes data, the numbers available on wealth in New Zealand are fairly sketchy.

Rashbrooke usefully fills this gap at the same time as running a strong argument on why we need to understand it.

His earlier book, Inequality: A New Zealand Crisis, helped kick start the poverty debate here, and this new one is a surprisingly light dance through some weighty issues of our culture, history and assets.

“The poorer end of the spectrum understandably arouses the most concern and anger … but if we think about the causes of things, we start to understand why affluence matters.”

In education, he says, “the tendency for wealthy households to congregate together, combined with schools’ ability to set their own enrolment zones, means the makeup of ‘desirable’ schools is dominated by the children of more affluent families.”

This segregation has profound implications. For one, Rashbrooke’s book exposes the hollowness of the argument that the consequences of inequity for children can be fixed by teachers, the advantages of wealth being so very great.

More hopefully, a later section counters the spectre of Victorian era levels of inequity and fractured communities, with practical governmental solutions. Anyone listening?

If there is one book you read this year on economics, then this is it. It demystifies the strangely hallowed discourse of the economist and brings home a few truths about why we need to talk about wealth.