One of the bohemian types with whom I keep company was quite astonished after I told her that John Key made his millions as an employee of a company. I admit it does seem quite peculiar. One always thinks of millionaires as entrepreneurs who invent and market some useful product or who build a successful business by providing a service like no other. Self-made millionaires traditionally were people who risk their own capital, while employees worked for their pay cheques. But Mr Key worked in the world of currency trading, risking the capital of his employers and being paid very handsomely for not losing it but delivering a substantial return on their investment. I suppose everybody was happy. Quite what good the buying and selling of currency does for the world is another matter, one which escapes my understanding.
I thought of the bohemian girl yesterday when I was listening to a conversation between three men who were sitting next to me in a food court. Two of them asked the third, who they obviously regarded as an expert on such matters, what he thought of the stoush between Mr Key and Dr Michael Cullen in the House on the previous day. The expert, who was also a crashing bore, delivered an oratory of some length, that of an average lunchtime. To summarise, in his opinion Mr Key was obviously a much more intelligent man than Dr Cullen, because Mr Key had made millions while Dr Cullen had not. Moreover, Mr Key had achieved the lofty heights of head of currency trading at Merrill Lynch, while Dr Cullen held the lowly post of Minister of Finance.
Looking at my rather modest meal, I feared the expert would think of me as a cretin. His method of estimating intelligence by wealth is an unusual one, although at least it does not require the subject to fit shapes together and say what is the next number in a sequence; a simple bank statement will do. But at least it made me think. Leaving aside the fact that many obviously intelligent people have no desire for wealth, I ask myself an important question: are forex dealers necessarily intelligent? The requirements for the job would seem to be a faculty with numbers and an insatiable desire to be rich. Thereafter it is, I suspect, all about cunning and that essential of modern business, Drive. I will admit that one former currency trader, M. Paul Gauguin, was at least smart enough to invent Post-Impressionism and find himself an island paradise filled with dusky and bare-breasted beauties. Other than him, however, I know of no other dealer who has excelled elsewhere; please do not mention Jeff Koons to me.
Now, you know me as a Labour Party chap and so some of you will read what I am going to say next and say "he would say that, wouldn't he?" But I will say it anyway, since you have read so far: what Dr Cullen has in abundance and Mr Key seems to lack is wit. It has long been my ambition to be Dr Cullen's gag-writer, but it seems he writes all his own material. On the other hand, I have never heard Mr Key say anything that was remotely funny. He seems quite affable but humour apparently is not his gift. Now, again you are going to think I would say this anyway, but I think humour is a sign of intelligence. Another sign might be an ability to recognise a tune, or at least to notice when one has been copied from another.
Speaking, as we were, of crashing bores, I have recently abandoned the New Zealand Herald in favour of the Dominion Post. The Herald has assumed the stance of one of those regular callers to talkback radio, who phone every day to say "Leighton, it's about this Electoral Finance Bill," before lunging into a tirade. Each morning the Herald spills much red ink on the subject of the Bill. It shouts at its readers, whom it appears to regard as ammunition. The actions that prompted the Bill are ignored, although fortunately we have Mr Key to remind us: only a few days ago he once again condemned Mr Hager's book, which published the emails that Mr Key wrote to the Exclusive Brethren. Evidently, prudence is not part of his skill set.
In contrast to the Herald's relentless assault, the Dom Post is an oasis of calm, as well as a revelation. There is so much else going on. While the Herald fills up the spaces between its Electoral Finance rants with stories about medical procedures, the Dom Post has a real health story: the appalling mess which is the Kapiti and Coast District Health Board.
However, the Dom Post is not without its faults. In one story, about a man who fell to his death through a gap in a handrail on a steep and slippery pathway, it makes much of the source of the slipperiness (something called a toby; don't ask me what it is) while failing to ask why there was a gap in the handrail. Interestingly enough, though, the deceased worked in foreign exchange.