Tax and love

What Kiwis are missing about tax, love and charity

This is my recent column in the New Zealand Herald, which is published in the digital edition every Thursday…

If recently you took the time to click through to the Kiwibank Facebook page and add the “I am Hope” frame to your Facebook profile, thank you. And thank you Kiwibank, too, for the $100,000 dollars it contributed to the Gumboot Friday counselling fund for young New Zealanders.

That’s about 1000 hours of counselling. We will never know for sure, but it will likely save lives.

In part, that’s why I find conversations about the relative merit of companies giving money to charities and its impact on their “brand” – whether it’s “slacktivism” to change your Facebook profile and feel good about it, or whether we should reject such tactics as simply cynical marketing – so confusing.

Are your morals and intellectual arguments more important than young people’s lives?

Charity is a strange thing. Somehow in the last half of the 20th century we bought the idea that tax is theft, but charity is virtuous. How is giving money to others via the government so different to giving it via a charity?

I would love to live in a New Zealand where all our health services are fully funded, where there are no waitlists and we can all get what we need, when we need it. But try telling that to those still quibbling about how much Capital Gains Tax they should pay on their rental properties.

New Zealand Economist Shamubeel Eaqub recently suggested we need to reframe the tax debate to see that “tax is love”. In many ways, this is true. Tax is not just the price we pay for a society’s basics that we all share. It also recognises that those that have more give a bit more to help those that have less.

An act of love.

So, is it more or less loving to give generously, when you don’t have to? More to the point, can a company do something loving?

Well, to the young person (and their family) receiving the counselling they desperately need I doubt it will matter one iota where the money comes from. And nor should it.

In the same way Kiwibank gets credit for the money it raised, and *gasp* some advertising, we should all feel good when we give our money, our time, or our support to a cause we believe in.

Wear that T-shirt with pride. Make that humblebrag Facebook post. Share that petition link.

Because the only thing that will ultimately get us out of the mess we’re in is being brave enough to care for each other, be proud of it, and in doing so be willing to share what we have with others.

Gumboot Friday will give us all ample opportunities to do just that. But there are opportunities to exercise that kindness every day, that many of us walk past.

And if it takes large companies to show us how to do it, then so be it. But remember that when you begrudge the tax you pay, when you make protecting what you have your priority, you do that at the cost of someone else’s wellbeing.

So by all means feel good about every cent you give to charity. But maybe ask yourself why we don’t have a fully funded health system. Why can’t we afford to pay – as a country – for free counselling for everyone?

In the short term, I don’t care where the money comes from. We just need to save lives. But over time we also need to change the idea that good mental health care is a luxury, or a “nice to have”.

Ultimately efforts like Gumboot Friday show us that Kiwis do care. They just need to be given the oppurtunity to show it.

• Kyle is a trustee on the Key to Life Charitable Trust, the charity behind Mike King, the “I am Hope” and Gumboot Friday campaigns.

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