Brian Edwards Media

Reflections On Not Caring In Hawaii

Sunday Star Times

Sunday Star Times

I seem to recall reading somewhere that ethicists recognise five levels of moral development in human beings, from absolute selfishness, lack of conscience and indifference to the welfare of others at Level 1, to pure altruism, a highly developed moral sense and deep concern for the wellbeing and happiness of others at Level 5.

I suspect that most of us hover between Levels 3 and 4. We’re reasonably honest and caring, but if it comes to them or us, we’ll probably put ourselves or our families first. Few of us are saints and few of us are monsters.

We may also exhibit different levels of moral development in different areas of our life, what you might call the ‘Hitler was fond of animals’ syndrome. It’s the phenomenon that allows us to rip off the insurance company or cheat on our taxes, but be horrified at the idea of stealing money from a blind beggar’s cup. We distinguish between doing close-up personal harm and long-distance impersonal harm, between child abuse and dropping a bomb on Hiroshima.

My mind was drawn to this concept of people being at different levels of moral development when I read the front page story in this morning’s Sunday Star Times headed Inside Hotchin’s Hawaiian Hideaway. Just above the headline was a photograph of Mark Hotchin’s wife Amanda with the quote: ‘We don’t have to justify where we get our money or what it’s spent on, to anyone. I don’t care what anyone says.’ 

The story revisited the now familiar evidence of conspicuous consumption by Mark Hotchin – the $30 million unfinished mansion in Paratai Drive, the $13.8 million holiday home on Waiheke, the $43 thousand a month ‘luxury hideaway’ in Hawaii where the paper discovered the couple ‘lying in each other’s arms by the pool’. It noted that John Key was familiar with the property and quoted him as saying, ‘It’s very flash there, very nice. That’s where the dolphins are, I hear.’ And then there was the nanny and the two maids ‘busily sweeping’ in the garage’. How the other .001 percent live! 

It was a kind of sleazy story really, an exercise in high-minded voyeurism, complete with a peek through the tropical foliage at Hotchin lying on a lounger in the sun reading a book. Bonfire of the Vanities perhaps.

But the point of the story, made in virtually every media outlet in the country, is essentially correct. The contrast between the Hotchins’ current lifestyle and the current lifestyles of the thousands of Hanover investors who have lost not merely huge sums of money but their happiness and peace of mind as a result of Hotchin’s and Watson’s greed and, by the most generous interpretation, mismanagement of the their investments – that contrast is simply obscene.

Most ordinary Kiwis can see that. It must be evident to anyone who has reached even Level 3 in terms of moral development. But neither Eric Watson nor Mark nor Amanda Hotchin seems able to see it. ‘We don’t have to justify where we get our money or what it’s spent on, to anyone. I don’t care what anyone says.’

It really is quite an extraordinary statement, exemplifying as it does all the characteristics of Level 1 moral development – absolute selfishness, lack of conscience and indifference to the welfare of others. I don’t doubt for a moment that these people love their children and are kind to animals. But the misery which their actions have brought to thousands of ‘mum and dad’ investors seems for them to fall into the category of ‘long-distance impersonal harm’, all the more distant from a lounger by the pool in Hawaii.  

I have nothing but contempt for most of the finance company shysters, whether on Wall Street or Queen Street, who have wreaked such havoc in the lives of those who put their trust in them. But really my contempt is wasted. They don’t care. And it is their not caring that is the unforgivable crime.

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27 Comments:

  1. Brian,
    No, not quite the Wolfe-ian or Fitzgerald-ian journalism it could have been, but it had an element of that to it, which justifies what in another context would have been voyuerism. The scene tells the true story, gets to its heart…

    In reply to Mrs Hotchin’s quote, I was left thinking, “yes you do actually. You have to justify yourselves to the courts”.

  2. My immediate reaction to reading that quote this morning was “there goes a woman completely lacking in class”.

  3. Well said Brian.

  4. Your story reminds me of a conversation I had with a psychologist friend many years ago. She was describing that she had, to her horror, discovered only a month or two after the event that she had married a psychopath. The way she described him I remember as being something the same as your words “absolute selfishness, lack of conscience and indifference to the welfare of others”. She had to leave him as there was no possibility of him changing. BTW – he was a lecturer in psychology at a well known overseas university – a bit frightening!

  5. I assume Amanda is spending too much time in Fantasyland, it is unlikely she would ever have to try to pick up the pieces from a parents shattered dreams.I’d rather hoped it was that she was deluded or complete love and devotion to her husband had clouded her senses. I never did like that song “stand by your man.” My feeling now is a lack of empathy from them both that has created their “successful” lifestyle. There must be more secrets about their climb to the top/gutter

  6. Another issue, discussed among colleagues last night. If Hotchin, or someone like him, offered you a “nice gig” and flew you to Hawaii, where that gig was to take place, for three months would you take it? I know I couldn’t. No matter how enticing it was, I would know that the money I was being paid for performing very pleasant duties was money that should be going to desperate people.

    I believe the Hotchins are not the only ones at the low end of the ethical scale here.

  7. These people are business psychopaths and need to be legislated against.This isnt nanny state politics but the reality of fairness which these people do not care for.This isnt the tall poppy syndrome just equal justice for all,something they also do not care for.At least make examples of them not consider that this lifestyle is acceptable as John Key would have us believe.

  8. Your last paragraph sums it up. What’s the point in wasting perfectly good vitriol on such people. One can only hope that the man (and his wife) gets their comeuppance, at which time there will be sounds of raucous laughter around the country. In the meantime perhaps some piranha in their swimmming pool…

  9. It occurs to me that it is worth comparing Hotchins with Alan Hubbard of SCF. The latter has shunned the limelight and ostentation. When SCF hit rough water he used his own money to support it, although there was no legal requirement to do so. Here is a man close to level 5 on your morality scale and a man who has earned the respect of all New Zealanders. I hope he is rewarded by seeing SCF survive and grow.

    I do not envy Hotchin’s wealth, but I envy the reputation of Alan Hubbard.

  10. Amanda Hotchin’s retort was rather cute. The effrontery, in being confronted by a lowly reporter who travelled (economy class) to Hawaii, to ask such an impertinent question. Especially, when the answer is a no-brainer. “Our luxury lifestyle is being funded by the Hanover investors”.

    She has the empathy of a Marie Antoinette, the modest tastes of an Imelda Marcos, and the heartfelt compassion of a Mrs Robert Mugabe.

  11. By contrast look at the Morgan family. They seem to be saying you only need this much to live and we have heaps more than that so, like Ed Hilary they act on where the need is and that includes some very obscure countries.
    How about that Bob Parker, Mayor of Christchurch, being photographed (smile and wave?) “giving”parasitically $2000 of ratepayers money, to that wonderful low wage earner, Mr Chan (?)who has been sharing his meagre means with the destitute in Christchurch? Parker is a selfish man using the good works of a good man. Moral Level?

  12. I cringe at a small personal irony every time I hear the phrase “Mum & Dad investors”.

    A lovely couple I know are struggling with infertility and were saving for IVF treatment. They invested their savings with Hanover. They lost all their money and as a direct result will never have the chance to be a Mum or a Dad.

    Yes, Amanda Hotchin, you do owe investors an explanation about where ‘your’ money came from. And you owe them much, much more than that.

    • I cringe at a small personal irony every time I hear the phrase “Mum & Dad investors”.

      You’re right. I rarely use the term myself, because some of those investors were quite well off and ultimately motivated by greed.

  13. Interesting to note that John Key had refused to comment on whether the Hotchin’s holiday was a good look. What level does that place him on the moral development scale?

  14. As usual Brian, spot on!

  15. Stories of excess in the upper ranks of the financial sector – and the inevitable suffering their reckless and indeed criminal behaviour causes on the other end of the scale – never fail to make me mad and sad. ‘Mad’, because of the systemic structure that permits such vampiric behaviour yet seems incapable of (or unwilling to?) effectively addressing it; despite being designed to fundamentally have our best interests at heart. And ‘sad’, because as a society we all play a role, however insignificant, in feeding the social egos of the Amanda & Mark Hotchins of this world.
    But unfortunately we tend to worship financial success above all else. When combined with other ingredients, such as the celebrity cult/industry this makes for a nasty recipe.

    Maybe I’m just becoming a grumpy old fart, but sometimes it takes a lot of strength to have faith in humanity.

    • Maybe I’m just becoming a grumpy old fart, but sometimes it takes a lot of strength to have faith in humanity.

      Don’t apologise for being a grumpy old fart. They (we) are frequently the only rational people around.

  16. From the Kids Can Charitable Trust website:

    Amanda Hotchin became a trustee of KidsCan StandTall in April 2008; with a background in Marketing Management Amanda saw this opportunity as a chance to truly make a difference. Before becoming a Trustee Amanda volunteered her time to KidsCan assisting with the distribution of raincoats and food for children in the low decile schools we support. Having kids of her own makes it all the more real and she feels a passion for being involved with a charity that is making a difference for kids in her own backyard.

    (It depends on the size of your backyard.)
    http://www.kidscan.org.nz/trusteesAndStaff.html

  17. I note, that Mike Hosking has become a screaming apologist for the Hotchins. You can only guess, his thinking is as befuddled as his hairdo.

    Hotchin and Watson went about to rinse as many gullible investors as possible. Even going so far as to — cleverly — re-branding Elders Finance into “Hanover”. That very name connotes a kind of venerable Germanic Royalty; a financial institution to be trusted.

    These honchos cooked up their massive dividends by capitalising the interest into the loans of the borrowers, and treating it as revenue; they went about revaluing the assets by way of fanciful extrapolation on the basis of a never-ending appreciating real estate market. Worse still, much of the loans involved undisclosed related-party lending; essentially, using Hanover as their private piggy bank.

    There was simply no limits to their duplicity and cynicism. When it became clear that Hanover was collapsing — because of their toxic loan book — these two White Knights made the “magnanimous” gesture to the jittery investors, by saying that they would buffer them, by pumping in cash and their own assets.

    What they were able to do, was to jettison their over-leveraged worthless junk into this miasmic pool. The deception was further perpetuated by the way Hotchin was able to cajole the investors into granting the moratorium, undertaking full repayment sans interest.

    Now, that Allied Farmers have taken over the Hanover’s loan book, the value has been further slashed by more than $100 million. These investors have been screwed every way, posible — upside-down, back-to-front and doggy etc.

    And Mike Hosking calls it “tall-poppy” syndrome!? The Hotchins — and Watson — are living high on the Hanover hog, it’s just that a certain idiot talkback host sees it quite differently.

    • I note, that Mike Hosking has become a screaming apologist for the Hotchins. You can only guess, his thinking is as befuddled as his hairdo.

      I think Mike is somewhat preoccupied with people he regards as stalkers.

  18. Mrs Hotchins appears to have a brain the size of a pea. To make such a comment only reinforces the ignorance of her supposed pedigree.
    I hope that fate deals to her, the way it has done to many a woman, who feels she is above the people who invested in her husband and provide her with the lifestyle she morally cannot sustain. Shame on her.

  19. Good on the Sunday Star Times for keeping on the back of this scum who have ruined the lives of many people who have helped to grow this country.

    Hoskin’s Tall Poppy syndrome is so far off the mark for people who have effectively stollen the savings of many New Zealanders.

    I hope that everyone keeps the pressure on this pair so that they are driven out of the country for good.

  20. “I think Mike is somewhat preoccupied with people he regards as stalkers”.

    You mean, wannabes are hounding him, to get the brand-name of his hair gel? Or, are you referring — some years ago — to his kids and the women’s magazine bizzo? If it’s the latter — hell, that was just Mike parlaying his conceit vis-à-vis the twins. He dreams of being chased by paparazzi, but that’s never going to happen.

  21. Andrew: “I hope that everyone keeps the pressure on this pair so that they are driven out of the country for good.”

    Better still, freeze their assets and deliver justice for the wronged investors. Next stop – Fay Richwhite Inc.

  22. nice article Brian.

    just a couple of musings.

    Yesterday when I was at the Warehouse, the woman ahead of me in line was purchasing a new winter jacket. It was a pretty horrible Wellington day, cold, wet, windy. The jacket was $100, and she could afford a $25 deposit on it. When I got home I switched all the heaters on for the whole day, even knowing that our power bill has been monstrous recently but relieved to know that I could afford the bill. I thought about the people who had lost all their savings and how awful it must be to not afford basic things, like a new jacket or to turn the heater on.

    Mark and Amanda willingly seal themselves off from the reality of daily struggle. It really disgusts me that they seem to have no awareness at all, just don’t care. I wonder if Amanda is going to continue to be on the board of Breast Cancer foundation or others? what sort of representative is an uncaring socialite with no moral development?

  23. Well, Mrs Hotchins – your thoughtless comments place you squarely with Mrs Marcos.

    ALL of your money came from ordinary Kiwis. Ripped off. You and your husband have made your name to be spit upon in this country.

  24. Having read that Hotchin & Watson are receiving another $5 million as part of the Allied deal I decided to have another look at Brian’s column. If anything it is more valid ever as are the many comments made. There is no morality involved here & one can only hope that one day that the old saying that ‘what goes around comes around’ will come to pass. My vision is one of the Hotchins pictured in a rented one bedroom unit in Mt Wellington (with apologies to the good people of Mt Wellington) on a wet Sunday afternoon. In the meantime they have to live with what they have done. I wonder what it is like to be an object of odium in your own country.