Don’t wait for the finance minister and millionaires to save us
A week before Grant Robertson unveiled his hefty election-year budget, dozens of wealthy Kiwis made a plea for the government to tax them more. Given the timing, some pundits questioned their motives.
I question their optimism.
Why not promote a sure bet?
Look at spending on any government service and try to spot a correlation between more money and better outcomes. Start with education, law and order or healthcare. They’re case studies for the law of diminishing returns, not robust investments that you’d expect these savvy Kiwis to be backing.
Why not promote a sure bet? As our many charitable citizens could tell them, community organisations are already supporting people in outstanding ways, and they need all the help they can get. Most are small and under the radar—New Zealand has more than 28,000 registered charities—but they have an outsized impact.
It’s likely people at a local marae or church are addressing that, and there’s sure to be a charity that is.
Individually we can’t do anything to improve infrastructure, say, or defence. But in any arena where people care for the minds and bodies of other people, we don’t have to wait for politicians to solve our problems.
Operations like these are often primarily—sometimes solely—funded by people and trusts with a unified vision. Flip through their annual reports. Chat with the CEO or meet people who benefit from their services. Accountability levels are high wherever funding follows results, and there are plenty of ways to verify which charities should be grown or replicated.
But we don’t improve them by simply spending more.
On a local Facebook group dedicated to frugal living, people often ask for budgeting advice or help to get out of debt. The most enthusiastic recommendations are for services like Christians Against Poverty, even if they’re prefaced (as one was): “Don’t let the name put you off …”.
To ensure I wasn’t overlooking endorsements for centralised services, I searched that group for mentions of “WINZ.” The first comment I found—quoting directly—was, “Never ever count on WINZ.”
Don’t get me wrong; we need a better WINZ, a better Ministry of Education, and a better health system. But we don’t improve them by simply spending more.
We can accomplish a lot more with a lot less when people put their hands and feet where their heart is.
See, here’s the magic of grass-roots organisations: the work is led by people who care about and know the people they’re helping. This kind of leadership you can’t buy and you can’t fake.
Centralised engines work best with predictable inputs and outputs, with operations that become less expensive at scale. People-to-people services do not scale well because we are neither uniform nor predictable. Systems that act like we are will be ineffective, wasteful, or both.
The eternal debates about fair tax rates and pieces of the budget pie rage on. The winners may prove that their answer to a better New Zealand was correct, or (more likely) we’ll be back here having the same conversation in 2026.
This, on the other hand, is guaranteed: we can accomplish a lot more with a lot less when people put their hands and feet where their heart is.go back