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Yesterdaze: The fleecing of the masses

New Zealand's sheep-to-person ratio is shrinking at breakneck glacial pace, some scary economic calculations and the latest on Destiny Church. James Elliott covers it all. 

While PM Jacinda Ardern was overseas this week meeting the Big Orange in the Big Apple, the 2018 census results were released. New Zealand’s population is now 4.7 million and is predicted to hit 5 million some time in 2020. For some, myself included, those numbers take a bit of getting used to. When I was young the statistic that all New Zealanders knew and were required by law to recite dutifully on their OEs was that New Zealand was a nation of 3 million people and 70 million sheep. In 2019 both those numbers have changed. The people population has been growing rapidly but the sheep population not so much. In fact the sheep population has been moving at a glacial pace, noting that in 2019 “glacial pace” no longer means advancing slowly, it now means going backwards, fast.

Our sheep numbers peaked at 70 million in 1982, or 22 sheep per New Zealander. Now there are only 27.3 million sheep, or 5.6 sheep per person, which is problematic because it’s going to get messy giving everyone .6 of a sheep.             

Getting back to the people numbers, most (okay all) economists point out that our population growth is causing problems because of the lack of infrastructure to support those soon-to-be 5 million people. I think they’re overlooking the upside of that number. A population of 5 million means that 5 is an easy number to divide by for the economic modelling and calculations that show just how dire our infrastructure is and how alarming our infrastructure needs are. For example, the Treasury predicts that we need to spend $129 billion on infrastructure over the next 10 years. So if you divide that $129 billion by the easy-to-use 5 million you get - actually it doesn’t matter what you get – the point is we need to spend $129 billion on infrastructure over the next 10 years.       

Tamaki described the 1772 figure as “ludicrous” and “laughable”, which are incidentally words that lots of other people use to describe the Destiny Church. 

That 5 million population denominator also has its uses in other areas. For example, this week Fonterra announced a loss of $605m. While the little “m” in a dollar amount like $605m might be space-saving shorthand it also minimises the magnitude of the loss. I think it’s more meaningful to show that Fonterra just announced a loss of $605,000,000.00. Now, if you make sure you’ve counted all the zeroes properly and then divide by 5 that means we can get Fonterra back to even if every one of the 5 million of us chips in $121.00 each. No doubt you’re thinking that’s a highly unrealistic scenario and you’re right - it doesn’t take into account Fonterra’s loss of $196,000,000.00 in the previous year. So let’s just call it an even $160.00 per person to help out Fonterra and move on.   

Unfortunately there’s another problem with that calculation. It doesn’t take into account the 1772 members of the Destiny Church as counted in the Census. It’s probably unfair to ask them to contribute to Fonterra on top of the tithing they already give to the Church. Also, the 1772 figure has been challenged by Brian Tamaki because of course it has. Tamaki described the 1772 figure as “ludicrous” and “laughable”, which are incidentally words that lots of other people use to describe the Destiny Church. Tamaki claims that Destiny Church has 6000 members and if so maybe former Fonterra CEO Theo Spierings can cover the Fonterra contributions for all 6000 of them. In fact, given that Spierings was on an $8,000.000.00 annual salary package, by my reckoning in any given year he could cover the $160.00 Fonterra contribution for 43,750 New Zealanders and still have a cool $1m to get by on for the year.     

ACC says apparently there’s nothing to worry about because the $8,700,000.000.00 loss is “just on paper”. Phew, that’s a huge relief. The next time you get hassled by the bank about your overdraft tell them not to worry because it’s “just on paper”.

That’s the thing about numbers, they always need a context. Brian Tamaki’s claim that there are 6000 Destiny Church members is more plausible when you look at the context of the Church’s finances. Not that we get to look at those finances, ever, but going off the general impression conveyed by the properties, overseas trips, motorbikes, leathers, jewellery and hair product the Church looks like it’s well-off. That would be an awful lot of tithing for just 1772 members to support so the 6000 makes more sense, as does describing it as the fleecing of the 6000.

Also in context, even if you accept that 6000 figure, there are still 3.4 census-counted Jedi believers in New Zealand for every Destiny Church member. Laughable out loud that is.                   

Not so laughable was the $8,700,000,000.00 deficit announced this week by the Accident Compensation Corporation. ACC Chair Dame Paula Rebstock said that $8,700,000,000.00 might appear to be a scary number. She’s right. It does. For those lost in the zeroes it’s $8.7 billion. If that’s a fall-off-your-chair scary number then just make sure you get your ACC claim in, pronto.

The ACC says it has more than enough funds to cover and support people injured in accidents. And, apparently there’s nothing to worry about because the $8,700,000.000.00 loss is “just on paper”. Phew, that’s a huge relief. The next time you get hassled by the bank about your overdraft tell them not to worry because it’s “just on paper”. Let me know how you get on.     

Have a peaceful weekend.        

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