• Making Charitable Gifts and Paying Taxes

    The Christmas festive session is traditionally the time for charitable giving, when many of us recognise the need to ensure that the hungry can enjoy a Christmas dinner and that Father Christmas can bring presents on Christmas morning for kiddies who would otherwise go without.

    We should all give thanks for the efforts of those – like the Salvation Army and the City Missions – who think of others in this season of goodwill and who depend on donations from the public for the excellent work they do. The charitable impulse should never be under-valued; we are all better off as a society for the generosity of caring people.

    But we should also recognise the limitations of private charity. Giving and receiving is of value to both donors and recipients and has its own special and irreplaceable part to play; and there are of course those major benefactions from very wealthy people which fund valuable undertakings that would not otherwise get off the ground.

    Charitable giving, though, is not – as is sometimes suggested – an alternative to funding from the public purse; it cannot possibly meet the funding needs of major services like health care, education, income support and public housing. The sums raised are just too small and are too uncertain and unfocused to enable the planning and organisation that are required to guarantee basic standards in essential services – not just for the needy but for all of us – across such a wide front and over such a long period.

    If the public services on which so many in a civilised society now depend are to be properly funded, that funding has to be raised by a means that is much more systematic than that offered by sausage sizzles or rattling a collection box or random cold calling. The voluntary sector does much valuable work and needs constant support but cannot be expected to bear the whole burden.

    If we are truly concerned for the welfare of our fellow-citizens, and not just at Christmas time, we need to be sure that the funds are there to provide for the necessities of life; and we need to recognise that there is only one completely reliable source of those essential funds, and that is us – each one of us – and there is only way for us to be sure that those funds are systematically made available, and that is through paying our taxes.

    It simply does not make sense on the one hand to object to or resent paying taxes, and to seek to avoid doing so, and on the other, to try to salve our consciences by making occasional charitable donations. We may succeed in fooling ourselves that we are doing our bit through such attitudes, but those responsible for delivering public services and investing in our economic infrastructure know better.

    The good and kind heart that is evidenced as we donate to good causes should also manifest itself as we pay our taxes. A charitable impulse is of course highly commendable, but even more commendable is that sense of social responsibility and solidarity that leads us to pay our taxes willingly and supportively.

    This simple message is of course not directed just to individuals. It is even more pointed and pertinent when addressed to major (and often international) corporations, many of whom seem to spend a great deal of time and energy in avoiding their obligations to pay taxes on the huge profits they make. We should never forget that, behind the facade, the veil of incorporation, of each of these corporations, stand individuals, often very wealthy individual shareholders, who become even wealthier by avoiding the tax that they and their companies should be paying.

    The Christmas message should be clear. Many of us will make generous gifts to help those less well-off than ourselves and to allow small children to enjoy to the full a valuable part of their childhood. But if we are serious and genuine about wishing to help those in need to enjoy Christmas, we should recognise our responsibility tp ensure that our society as a whole makes proper provision to meet the needs of all of our fellow citizens – not just at Christmas but throughout the year.

    Bryan Gould
    4 December 2018

     

  • What is the Point of Education?

    I have been involved with education, in one way or another, for most of my life. First as a schoolboy, then as a university student (in both New Zealand and England), a brief spell as a secondary school teacher, then as an Oxford law don and finally as a university Vice-Chancellor, I have seen education from a variety of different angles.

    Not surprisingly, perhaps, I have from time to time asked myself the question – what is the point of education? Looked at from the viewpoint of the individual, the answer may seem straightforward enough; a good education may seem to be the key to a good job and a life of fulfilment. But what about the wider question – why should society invest in education and what do we expect to get out of it?

    Again, the answer may seem comparatively simple. An educated population will, it is assumed, be more productive and will allow us all to enjoy a higher standard of living. But even this fails to capture, I believe, the real point.

    Education is about more than equipping the individual to operate effectively as a unit of production. Yes, the economy is important, but we should hope and expect that an educated population will produce a greater range of benefits than just a statistical boost to the GDP figures.

    An educated society will be one that is fully aware of who we are, where we have come from and what truly matters to us. We will understand our own history and the great riches and subtleties of our language and will take pleasure in using it properly. We will recognise the things we have in common and that bind us together. We will observe the rules that allow our society to function well, and we will reject those who invite us to ignore the principles that make for a good and well functioning society.

    The first purpose of education is not, in other words, just the accumulation of knowledge – of facts and figures; it is to teach children that there is a world beyond the family. The school, as an institution, is as important as the teaching that happens there; it is a social environment where children learn that they are not the centre of the universe and that things go better for them if they learn to take account of the interests of others.

    An educated person is more than someone who has passed exams and gained formal qualifications; and education is best delivered by teaching rather than constant testing. The pressure to obtain top grades – so often seen as the essence of education at school level – serves the interests of schools, not pupils.

    There is a good deal of anxiety at present, right across the globe, at what is described as the rise of “illiberal” or “populist” democracy. Commentators lament the tendency of the democratic process to reflect the views of those who are assumed to know little and to vote in line with prejudices based on ignorance.

    The classic instance of this phenomenon was, it is suggested, Donald Trump’s victory in the 2016 presidential election. Trump gained his support, so the argument runs, by persuading his “base” that they should not hold against him – on the ground that they did not really matter – his tendencies to lie, to defy normal moral standards, to disrespect women and racial and sexual minorities, to attack a free press and to pay little regard to the rule of law.

    It is certainly true that an educated electorate would have paid more attention to these failings and would have recognised the threat they pose to a good and decent society. The price being paid by the US (and the world) for an electorate that has trouble in understanding the significance of, for example, the rule of law – the principle that even presidents are subject to the law – is hard to overstate.

    The case for education is, it turns out, an easy one to make. Education equips our citizens to play a full part in developing a good society. If we want a properly functioning democracy, we need an electorate that has the understanding and abIlity to make good and informed judgments about important issues and to hold their elected representatives to account. A democracy works well, in other words, only with an educated electorate.

    Bryan Gould
    20 November 2018

     

     

  • What Makes the All Blacks So Good?

    Both in the run-up to and during the aftermath of the All Blacks’ narrow victory over England at Twickenham, the world’s rugby media posed a frequently asked question – how can a small country with a population of only 4 million produce not only the All Blacks (who have dominated world rugby for most of the last century) but also women’s teams and age-grade teams who have been similarly successful in all forms of rugby.

    The question is not lightly asked – it reflects a genuine puzzlement.  It is assumed that the answer lies in some secret ingredient, an insight or a technique, that could readily be copied by other teams if only they knew what it was.

    The bad news for the inquirers is that there is nothing mysterious about New Zealand’s rugby pre-eminence.  The simple truth is that Kiwis are just better attuned to the game, understand it better and accordingly are usually able to play it better than others.

    For those who know New Zealand’s history and culture, there is nothing surprising about this.  Rugby was the game that could have been invented specifically for New Zealand – and they have returned the compliment by influencing its development so that it now reflects the way they play it.

    Rugby was first introduced at a time when modern New Zealand was in the early stages of development in the mid-nineteenth century.  The remote islands in the south Pacific were settled by “get-up-and-goers” from Britain and Ireland – those who got up and went, because they saw the opportunities offered by a new life in a new country.

    Developing that new country demanded two main characteristics – on the one hand, a huge degree of self-reliance and hard work, supplemented by the determination never to be defeated by by an apparently insoluble problem, and on the other, an understanding of the great value of teamwork and a willingness to trust and rely on one’s neighbours and comrades.

    Miraculously, these new settlers (the pakeha) discovered in the indigenous population – the Maori – similar attitudes and values.  These shared attitudes – a healthy individualism combined with an instinctive readiness to work as a team – helped greatly in the creation of a bicultural society; and they found their most immediate expression on the rugby field.  Maori and pakeha found that rugby offered them the chance to play and learn together and to appreciate the qualities that each brought to the game.

    Rugby became not only the most obvious expression of what were seen as the essential New Zealand virtues but also provided a kind of lens through which Maori and pakeha could see each other.  The game became one of the most important formative influences in the evolution of the new nation.

    When New Zealand teams take the field, their Polynesian players (both Maori and Pasifika) with all their great talents are not expensively imported from far-away countries but have grown up with rugby in their own country.  The game is woven into the fabric of their lives – one that both Maori and pakeha instinctively understand and relate to, and that in part defines them.

    Yes, of course New Zealand rugby teams enjoy an advantage over their rivals.  They grow up in a society that lives and breathes rugby; many of the country’s best athletes opt to play rugby because that is where they can best shine, and where the best sporting brains focus on the game and how to play it better.

    It was somehow appropriate that the Twickenham test was played on the eve of the centenary of Armistice Day – an opportunity to acknowledge the sacrifice made by – amongst others – young New Zealand soldiers who volunteered to travel half way round the world to fight at Gallipoli and on the western front.  A huge percentage of the small New Zealand population went to that war and there was scarcely a family that was not affected by the bereavement and injury of loved ones.

    Those soldiers showed on the battle field many of the qualities that the All Blacks bring to the rugby field.  War, like rugby, was the other great formative influence in the development of the New Zealand identity.

    Our feel for and appreciation of rugby should help us not only to celebrate an All Blacks victory but also to understand the disappointment felt by England supporters who saw victory snatched from them by a contentious (but probably correct) refereeing decision.

    But we should also recognise that, if the try had been allowed, the All Blacks would then have had a few minutes to score the converted try that would have won the game for them – and who would have bet against them doing just that?

  • The All Blacks Aren’t Done Yet

    The All Blacks may have retained the Bledisloe Cup, won the Rugby Championship with a game to spare, and beaten both the Wallabies and the Pumas twice in a row, but their single loss to the Springboks and their dramatic last-minute, come-from-behind win in the second match against the Boks has, predictably enough, sparked speculation in the northern hemisphere rugby press that the end of the All Blacks’ dominance of world rugby is now in sight. And even their narrow win over the Boks, according to the critics, was achieved only because they scored more points!

    As Steve Hansen remarked, there is no shortage of those who want to see the All Blacks fall from the top of the tree. But those of us who have followed the All Blacks for a lifetime and who can therefore take a longer view might advise that any celebration of the All Blacks’ impending demise is premature.

    I was brought up to celebrate All Black victories, and those victories have come with impressive regularity over a period of more than 110 years. But that should not obscure the fact that over that long period of pre-eminence, spanning virtually the whole of the history of modern rugby, there have been peaks but, comparatively speaking, troughs as well, from all of which the All Blacks have aways re-asserted themselves as the world’s leading and most successful team.

    Inevitably, it is the troughs that make the greater impact and that stick in the memory. My first recollection of test rugby is of 1949, when a brilliant All Blacks team toured South Africa and lost the series 4-0, courtesy of a Springbok forward called Okey Geffin who took advantage of some home-town refereeing and kicked goals from all parts of the park.

    The Springboks visited New Zealand in 1956 and I recall sleeping out on the Wellington pavement to get tickets for the second test. The All Blacks lost that test but won the series 3-1. Proper order was restored.

    Despite the current fancy that the Wallabies are our major rivals, I have alway believed that it is the Springboks who are our most dangerous challengers – a view borne out by their beating us in the 1995 World Cup final, and by years such as 2009 when they beat us three times in a row.

    It is worth making the point that these reverses did little to change the overwhelming reality that the All Blacks remained for virtually the whole of the period the world’s pre-eminent team. Neither our occasional and painful losses to the Springboks and our even more infrequent defeats by other teams like Ireland – in Chicago, on a rare occasion when the All Black management took a match too lightly and paid the price – did anything to dent the All Blacks’ record of superiority.

    However good the All Blacks are, however, international rugby is, as it should be, highly competitive and the slightest stumble from their high standards by the All Blacks can mean defeat. That is why each All Blacks victory is worth so much and is so much to be celebrated. These victories are hard-won and their regularity is testament to the immensely high standards achieved by the team, decade after decade.

    Is there really any sign that the All Blacks’ dominance is about to end? I think not. Yes, there are challenges, not so much on as off the field, where the lure of high salaries paid in the northern hemisphere could mean a haemorrhage of top players from the New Zealand game.

    But the New Zealand conveyor belt that delivers new and talented players to the game every year, the structure of the game and the prestige of the All Blacks, and the fact that we have the best coaches and thinkers in the game all continue to function and to keep us ahead of the pack.

    Let our rivals and critics take what comfort they can from our occasional reverse. The history of the past 110 years should give us the confidence to believe that the strengths and virtues of All Blacks rugby will endure. Our opponents should concentrate on trying to catch up. The time for them to celebrate will be when, and if, they do.

    Bryan Gould
    9 October 2018

     

  • Life Jackets Are Needed

    As we sit on our deck in the spring sunshine at Ohiwa and enjoy the warmer temperatures, we notice each day another unmistakable sign that spring is upon us. There is a large and growing number of small boats out in the bay – some, presumably, fishing, others just “messing about in boats”.

    Sadly, it reminds us that we will no doubt soon hear another rash of stories about lives lost at sea – many of those casualties involving those who should have, but weren’t, wearing life jackets.

    The constant urgings that people going to sea in small boats should wear life jackets seem to make little impression on those macho guys who think that it is “sissy” to take such precautions or on those who complain about the “nanny state” and say that it should be left to individual choice.

    The debate, such as it is, is reminiscent of the arguments when the law requiring seat belts was introduced. The same tired old objections were trotted out then – we should be allowed to make our own decisions and “a seat belt won’t help, but will make it more difficult to escape from a burning car”.

    But, with the carnage on our roads refusing to reduce and the undeniable evidence that the injuries suffered by those not wearing seat belts are greater than they need be, that debate seems now pretty much resolved.

    But was there ever any substance in the argument that the decision on whether or not to wear seat belts (or life jackets) should be left to individual choice? Is it really the case that it is no one else’s business and that there is no wider interest in trying to bring down the drowning toll?

    The first point to make is that the owner or skipper of the boat is usually not the only one involved. There will almost always be others on board and they will usually do what the skipper tells them or at least follow his example. If they are children, or inexperienced abut being at sea, the skipper has a special responsibility to them and their families to set the right example.

    And that is to say nothing of those, professionals or volunteers, who might be required to risk their own lives to save those whose lives are threatened because they couldn’t be bothered to look after themselves.

    But the consequences of setting the wrong example, with the result that lives are unnecessarily lost, go wider than that. Every life lost at sea will impact on others and will have consequences that society as a whole will often have to deal with. As the poet John Donne famously said, “No man is an island unto himself”. A family member who drowns will leave behind not just a sense of loss and grief for the bereaved family but perhaps, as well, dependants who will need to be supported – and such burdens will often become the responsibility of the wider society.

    We all have an interest, in other words, in trying to save lives through such small, practical (and surely not difficult) measures as wearing seat belts or installing smoke alarms or getting a Warrant of Fitness for our cars or, let us be clear, wearing life jackets. There is nothing very macho about not using your common sense and putting the lives of others unnecessarily at risk.

    From our vantage point above the great Pacific Ocean as it rolls in inexorably and on to our beach, we have on memorable and tragic occasions watched as boats have got into trouble and have foundered on the rocks further along the coast, with – inevitably – some loss of life. We have no wish to bear witness to similar tragedies in future, especially if they turn out to have been avoidable if only the simplest of precautions had been taken.

    Bryan Gould
    12 September 2018