What's so wrong with success?


I'm a very proud Kiwi. Whenever I travel overseas I sing the virtues of this country. I love our countryside, diversity of landscapes, relative isolation, ease of doing business and I could really go on all day. On the whole, I even love the people. But there's something that really, really, really annoys me about this country.

It's our pervasive attitude that it's not really ok to do well financially. You know, the keep your head down, tall poppy, unsung hero thing.

A great example of this was The New Zealand Herald the other day shouting about the number of MP’s who had property portfolios over $10m in value like it was a bad thing - what!?! Whilst being careful not to overtly call them out for being scrooge like hoarders, the undertone was very strong. The headline made me mad, so I thought I'd stoke the fire and read the article. If I had a blood pressure issue this would've been a bad thing I'm sure as I was rope-able by the end of it! Clearly the people profiled had not made a fortune from politics, as public servants’ salaries are available for all to see and whilst certain roles will provide a comfortable living, they won't make you rich!

Personally I respect people that have gone out in the world and realised their value and worth as key (ahem) employees (like John Key), have built successful businesses and prospered (John Banks), or reached the top of professional sports like Manny Pacquiao (no NZ example as clearly David Tua hasn't gone into politics yet).

These people either had an aspiration to be in politics or at some point realised that their wealth was made, and could now contribute to the country. So they ran for office. Good on you sir.

I don't necessarily follow and subscribe to any of the aforementioned folks’ policies, but I'm making a point. And yet as a country it's somehow wrong to have succeeded and built up some form of a fortune. Really? Provided you share your wealth, even the Bible says building wealth and contributing to others and goodness is a fine thing.

Ill gotten gains aside (I think those who profit from others’ miseries, crime or fraud are weak scum), creating a worthy and profitable venture is a noble thing.

Achieving this is difficult, tends to involve taking people on a journey and can even create a legacy. Yet it's almost frowned upon as it's best not to do well in this country - by some people.

Look at all the great things people have achieved when money is plentiful; they can run countries, create wonderful art, give their time and money to philanthropic causes, and conduct deep thinking and scientific advances. In Bill Bryson’s second seminal title “At Home” (the first being “A short history of nearly everything”) - if you haven't read it, stop reading this blog and go buy a copy!), Bill Bryson tells us about the societal benefits created by the English clergy system, which left certain young men with a healthy income and no responsibilities during the 18th and 19th century: “Never in history have a group of people engaged in a broader range of creditable activities for which they were not in any sense actually employed”. Rather than being villianised these people were left to create wonderful things.

I work within the hi-tech industry, and largely with business owners. As such, I've met a number of wealthy people - they are good, honest, hard-working Kiwis who extol the virtues of this country and what we stand for. They are pioneers and risk takers, creating economic wealth for many. Where's the bad in this?

Personally, I can see no benefit from this tall poppy attitude. Why not do well?