NorthNew Zealand has become the main destination for the world’s wealthy elite. Their relocation could have to do with the country’s famous landscape and quality of life, but it could also be that the pandemic has renewed people’s interest in New Zealand as supposedly the the best place in the world to survive the global social collapse.
It is true, as a recent study observes, that New Zealand is a collection of isolated islands with renewable energy resources and temperate climate. However, there is also a long history, intertwined with the colonization of the country, of New Zealand seen as a blank slate or an empty land, open to the taking. This false image served to justify the colonial settlement in the past. Now it is being used again to prepare the ground for further settlement of the super-rich.
Before European colonization, the Maori had been living in the country for at least 800 years. In 1839, the colonial office educated the first British Governor of New Zealand, William Hobson, to establish a system to secure “unpopulated lands.” The following year, Hobson claimed sovereignty over the North Island on the basis of a treaty, the Treaty of Waitangi. But he claimed sovereignty over the South Island on the basis of no man’s land, Latin term that means “no man’s land”. The South Island was far from empty, and had been busy for a long time by Maori.
In the early 1870s, British writer Samuel Butler wrote the novel Erewhon (the word “nowhere” backwards), based in part on his years of work in New Zealand. In the first chapter, Badlands, Butler describes the colony as “previously uninhabited.”
This was a persistent idea. In 1877, a New Zealand court ruled that the Treaty of Waitangi itself had no legal force, because all of New Zealand was legally empty before the European arrival. He claimed that indigenous peoples did not have an “established legal system” at the time of the colony’s founding. The decision was overturned by the New Zealand courts, and there is widespread evidence of legal traditions developed in Maori communities before European colonization.
Together, these colonial ideas formed part of a “doctrine of discovery,” which was applied in all settler colonial states such as Canada and the United States of America. This legal framework stated that the colonizers could claim land because they supposedly discovered it. What Tina ngata and Jacinta Ruru and others As I have pointed out, the doctrine is not a bygone historical relic; it still influences thinking today.
This doctrine of discovery has shaped not only New Zealand, but also the entire Pacific region, including Australia. It has shaped the actions of France, which carried out nuclear weapons tests in and around Pacific Islands from the 1960s to the 1990s. (France has compensated 63 of the 110,000 people contaminated by nuclear tests on Mā’ohi Nui, islands still controlled by France, despite renewed calls this year for repairs and independence.)
A straight line can be drawn from colonial descriptions of New Zealand as an empty land, demographically and legally, to the avalanche of comments that see the country as the best place to be when society collapses. They both see the land as to take it.
The super-rich may also be drawn to the prospect of being a “cheap nobody” in the country. New Zealand laws isolate wealth from scrutiny and redistribution. There is no public registry of trusts in New Zealand, which are widely used to house wealth and property. New Zealand does not have capital gains or inheritance taxes, and does not tax existing wealth or financial transactions. There is little public scrutiny over ownership of property by the company. Tax authorities only last year accepted the need for greater scrutiny of cryptocurrency holdings.
New Zealand governments have taken steps in recent years to improve financial transparency. In 2018, the Labor-led government banned property ownership by non-residents. Laws against money laundering have been tightened since 2009.
But New Zealand laws still cover the tracks of the rich. So it is understandable that the super-rich, encouraged by the New Zealand government border waivers for investors: it would identify the country as a prime destination to avoid attention and accountability. One crypto investor even said last year chose New Zealand after doing a “billionaire hunt” to “find out where all the people in Silicon Valley would be.”
New Zealand is not a blank slate, empty land or “off the grid”, and it never has been. New Zealand does not sit on the sidelines of the world’s ills, as much as people like to build an image of the country as a source of hope in dark times.
It is a country that, due to colonization, is well integrated into the global circuits of capital, imperialism and power. Wealthy investor visa waivers are designed to attract capital. New Zealand remains a member of Five Eyes, the security and intelligence network comprising the United Kingdom and three other white-majority colonial states: Australia, Canada and the United States.
Going off the grid may seem like a way for people to avoid the crises we face as a balloon. But the only way to collectively overcome these crises is to change the web, the very web of colonial capitalism that has shaped the idea of New Zealand as a safe haven from the apocalypse.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism