Why Gareth Morgan's no Donald Trump

3:34 pm on 4 November 2016

Opinion - There's a natural temptation when a high profile businessman and non-politician launches a political party to compare him to Donald Trump.

07062016 Photo: Radio NZ/Rebekah Parsons-King.Gareth Morgan, Economist.

Gareth Morgan, the founder of the newly-minted The Opportunities Party Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

Gareth Morgan's plan to launch The Opportunities Party (TOP), announced today, appears on the face of it to have a few similarities.

Mr Morgan is an outspoken and controversial figure with high name recognition and a proven ability to pull and rark up a crowd.

His town hall meetings up and down the country over the years were never dry and droning events and he has been a regular face on our TV screens for years.

Similar to Mr Trump, Mr Morgan has spent decades building up a public profile well beyond his immediate field of expertise.

Despite being an economist, he is as well known for his views on the environment, health and tax policy as he is for his polarising views on cats and his philanthropy.

Never shy of getting in front of a camera or rubbing a politician up the wrong way, Mr Morgan has a similar ability to enthuse just as many people as he irritates.

Mr Morgan will also be tapping into a rich seam of frustration with the way New Zealand's political system caters for the status quo and seems dominated by particularly wealthy interest groups - the main one being mostly elderly property owners sitting on $1 trillion worth of untaxed houses and land.

Wellington is not nearly as gridlocked as Washington, but MMP has driven politicians and political discourse to a very narrow set of policies that don't upset the apple cart, and don't address some fundamental problems such as child poverty, housing unaffordability and rising obesity.

But that's where the similarities end because Mr Morgan is no Donald Trump in all the ways that matter.

Donald Trump

Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump Photo: AFP

For a start, Mr Morgan has actually built several very large and successful businesses that have made many people rich in a sustainable and legitimate way.

He personally built Infometrics and Gareth Morgan Investments from the ground up and they are strong and respected businesses with good governance and happy customers, even after he left them.

Morgan's significant and active investments in Trade Me and Xero helped create companies with over 2000 highly paid staff generating over $500 million a year in revenues from millions of customers.

These companies are both listed on public markets and are worth $4.2 billion to thousands of shareholders.

These details have to be mentioned because they're conspicuously absent in Mr Trump's business track record. The casino and hotel owner has left a trail of angry contractors, creditors and customers in his wake, citing unpaid bills, defaulted debts and outright fraud.

Mr Trump faces a fraud trial over his Trump University dealings 20 days after the US presidential election, along with 75 other lawsuits over his business dealings.

Banks won't deal with Mr Trump anymore and none of his businesses are on publicly listed stock markets because investors don't trust him. About the only things Mr Trump can sell in public these days are Chinese-made T-shirts and a cologne called "Success by Trump".

Then there's the issue of actual policies and political theory.

Mr Trump's views on a range of things are contradictory, incoherent and have repeatedly changed over a number of years.

His policies on trade, immigration, defence and tax reform would hurt the people he purports to represent and benefit few except the very rich. The books published under his own name have been ghost-written and are about him, not policy.

Tony Schwartz, the ghost writer of Mr Trump's biggest selling book The Art of the Deal, spoke about Mr Trump's insatiable appetite for public attention, his narcissism and his inability to concentrate to the point where Mr Schwartz doubts Mr Trump has ever read any book from cover to cover.

Mr Morgan has written or co-written five lively and detailed books with policy prescriptions and analysis on topics ranging from tax reform (The Big Kahuna), to climate change (Poles Apart), healthcare (Health Cheque), food quality (Appetite for Destruction) and the fishing industry (Hook, Line and Blinkers).

Mr Morgan and his family have also built philanthropic foundations and donated heavily to projects here and around the world. The Washington Post reported this week that Mr Trump has boasted of connections to 420 charities, but it could only prove one donation of $US10,000 since 2008.

Mr Morgan may well be just as much of a non-politician with a populist touch as Donald Trump, but he is clearly a far better businessman, public policy thinker and philanthropist than the braggart from Manhattan.

Bernard Hickey is the publisher of Hive News and a regular contributor to a number of media outlets on matters concerning economics, business and politics.

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