What’s your day job?
I'm the 2020 JD Stout fellow at Victoria University.
What’s your connection to Vic Books?
Customer and supplier both!
You're a Fellow at the Stout Centre here on campus. Tell us a little about your latest research project.
I'm looking at wealth inequality: who owns what, and how it is that some people own so much more than others. In New Zealand, the wealthiest 1% – around 40,000 people – own more than one fifth of all the assets, while the poorest half – around 2 million people – own about 2%. That's a very high level of inequality. It raises questions about who exercises power, how such a distribution is justified, what it means that so many people have so little stake in their society, and how much your parents' wealth influences your future.
Tell us a little about your favourite writing and research project so far.
One thing I've especially enjoyed creating– in collaboration with Keith Ng– is the Inequality Calculator. It takes the fruits of my writing and research, which has contributed to various books on inequality published by BWB, and turns them into an interactive tool in which you put in your income and it tells you how much you earn relative to other New Zealanders. It's simple but powerful, because it stops people from thinking that inequality (by which they often mean poverty) is something that happens to other people. Instead, it puts them right into that story, and forces them to confront their position.
What's life at level 2 like for you and your work?
Happily I'm able to return to the Stout! As with the rest of the University, I was unable to be on campus during the lockdown. The whole point of the fellowship is to be in a community of scholars, so it's a real pleasure seeing that come back to life.
As a journalist, what do you make of the challenges covering the Coronavirus pandemic?
To be honest, I don't do much of what I consider real journalism – detailed investigations and reporting – any more. My only connection to journalism is commentary. My main observation there is just how much the pandemic has renewed interest in ideas; and although it hasn't led to enormous change as yet, in terms of our social and political structures, it certainly is provoking much-needed debate.
What are you reading at the moment?
Having read Wolf Hall years ago, I've just started Bring up the Bodies.
Are you enjoying it? Why?
Enormously. Hilary Mantel is such a wonderful writer – not just because of the character insights, but the quality of the prose, so sinewy, so arresting, but also so balanced and beautiful.
Which literary character do you most identify with and why?
I'm not sure I've ever identified strongly with a literary character, at least not since I read Catcher in the Rye as a teenager. (And I don't think it would have that effect now!) But I've always admired Anne Elliot in Persuasion, and her ability to remain (cautiously) optimistic in the face of disappointment.
Paperback or Hardback?
Best thing about working from home (if you are)?
As above, I'm very happy to be back at the Stout and not working from home!
Black or white coffee? What kind of milk?
Although people find this hard to believe from someone born and bred in Wellington, I don't actually like coffee.