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Penny Jamieson:

Not meeting
the gold standard


  Over the summer break there has been the usual round of high-profile summer sports to keep us well entertained.

This year there was a new,  quite possibly one-off,  attraction.   Tiger Woods arrived in his private jet to play in the New Zealand Golf Open.   Not that there was much golf.   The weather was a shocker and,  when the play did get going,  Tiger's performance was not all that spectacular.

But I was impressed at both the attention that he gave to young players and the courteous and surprisingly laid-back way in which he handled the intrusive adulation of the media.   For down here,  in this very isolated bottom right-hand corner of the world,  we rarely have an opportunity to see a player of Woods' calibre and reputation and so,  when we do,  we tend to lose our sense of proportion.

Nowhere more so than in the small matter of the fee he received:  well over $4 million,  many times the size of the cheque the winner earned.   What is more,  we were told,  this was the regular fee Woods would expect to receive and,  moreover,  he was worth it.   But the amount was off the planet in comparison with New Zealand values.   We just do not generate that amount of money in any regular way.   Indeed,  local councils were getting themselves into some trouble for secretly underwriting the event,  so uncertain were the organizers that the New Zealand golfing public and the local economy would rise to the challenge.

Quite simply,  we are dealing here with two worlds,  two economies.   The domestic economy of New Zealand and the domestic economy of the United States are simply not comparable.   A sum of money that is regular,  expected and understood in the US is just beyond comprehension in relation to the values we normally experience.   Four million dollars might be usual and acceptable in Woods' own country,  but not here.


But the globalized culture we live in draws us together in the culture of the mass media,  masks these boundaries and gives us a spirit of expectation if not of entitlement.   We fool ourselves.

Others are similarly fooled.   All over the world,  within the "western" ambit and beyond,  countries look to the culture of the United States as the gold standard.   Most fail to meet it.   We have heard the cries of Argentina over the past few months.

Moreover,  that "gold standard" is itself very suspect.   The current debacle over Enron clearly shows that all that glitters is not gold.   There are many economies and they form a continuum,  a very long one.   Poverty is relative to where an individual or a country stands on that continuum.   While New Zealand languishes somewhat towards the middle to lower end of the league table of developed countries,  we do well to remember that there are many,  many other bitterly poor countries that sit much,  much further down the list than we do.

The "gold standard" is driven ever up by hungry consumer-oriented materialism,  which continues to feed off the culture of discontent so that a long list of countries,  of other economies,  experience themselves as poor.   There are inevitably more losers than winners in the race and many of these nations are indeed living in poverty.

Perhaps it is encouraging that the World Economic Forum meeting last week in New York identified the rapidly growing gap between rich and poor nations as a cause of concern.   However,  since the new US military budget of $US379 billion is enough to end all the primary causes of poverty in the world,  I do not see a convincing commitment to the poor of the world.   But then,  perhaps war is just a bit less frivolous than golf.

When will the cries of the poor be heard?


This article was first published in the Otago Daily Times of February 12,  2002.
The Right Rev Dr Penny Jamieson is the Anglican Bishop of Dunedin.

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