Posted by: scribe9 | September 29, 2010

Not quite North Dakota

Minnesotans joke that North Dakota isn’t the end of the world, but you can see it from there. The far Far North of New Zealand isn’t the end of the world either, even though in some ways–remoteness, vast watery expanses on almost all sides–it seems that way. Unlike North Dakota, it has the mildest climate in the country.

We stayed up in the Far North for Rick’s last stint at the hospital. Some people are there because their family’s been there forever, but a certain number of people go to get away from it all.

We met a retired Irish caddie who worked all over the world and admires the Bandon and Sunriver courses, although his golfing days are over. When he retired seven years ago, he bought a place overlooking the beach, built a tee (the waves carry the balls back to shore), and now supports himself by selling wooden items made on the lathe in his garage. New Zealand has some unusual kinds of wood, such as the swamp kauri–massive trees that have been beautifully preserved in swamps for the last 20-50,000 years–and contemporary natives, out of which he makes bowls, trivets, pens and coasters, decorated with the wide variety of local shells.

There are other retirees who no longer need to work, like the Englishman who came for nine months, felt homesick so went back to England, and then realized he’d rather be in New Zealand for the duration–much cheaper, much less crowded, much easier place to live.

But there are lots of poor people around, too. Yesterday Rick brought home a small jam jar, full of chocolate-and-cinnamon coated peanuts (yum!), that he bought from an elderly woman who’s saving up for hearing aids, which national health insurance doesn’t cover. One patient finally found a quit-smoking regimen that works: spending everything on things other than tobacco. Some people simply grow their own.

Rick also sees patients from all over with terrible teeth who have never seen a dentist because it’s not covered by the national health plan. Lots of New Zealanders have missing or bad teeth; dentistry simply hasn’t been much of a concern until the last 30 years, but at least dental care is now provided by the government for those under 18.

The poor won’t be made better off this Friday (halfway through the tax year) when new tax rates go into effect. The income tax rates are dropping, the GST (Goods and Services Tax, the national sales tax) is going up. According to the party in power (National–like Republican), it will help spur savings and investment, and move interest away from the real estate bubble. Sure it will, when National refused to even consider a capital gains tax, claiming it would be too complicated. As for the GST, there is no food exemption, although the Labour Party (like Democrats) plans to push to exempt fresh fruits and vegetables, with an increase in the tobacco tax to offset the loss in tax revenues.

So the divide between rich and poor widens, but it isn’t nearly as high as in North Dakota or any other US state (North Dakota, at 39, follows South Dakota; the lowest, the 50th, is Utah).


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