Poverty and Progress in New Zealand: thoughts on WB Sutch’s work in historical and intellectual context, Malcolm McKinnon, 24 April 2024

In collaboration with the Stout Research Centre for New Zealand Studies and the Adam Art Gallery, this series takes a fresh look at some major Aotearoa cultural works on poverty. Across six weeks historians, curators, researchers, writers, and performers ‘re-read’ books, plays, novels, songs, and academic analyses from across the 20th century shedding light on the historic trajectories of poverty in our country. In looking back this series invites an evaluation of our contemporary situation, providing context for current issues such as inequality, our low wage economy, beneficiary shaming, gendered poverty and the long-lasting effects of colonisation.

Seminar 1Malcolm McKinnon
Poverty and Progress in New Zealand: thoughts on WB Sutch’s work in historical and intellectual context.

Wednesday 24 April 2024 at 4.10pm
Te Pātaka Toi Adam Art Gallery
Kelburn Campus, Te Herenga Waka Victoria University of Wellington


1941 the economist, public servant and intellectual W B Sutch published Poverty and Progress in New Zealand and in 1969 Poverty and Progress in New Zealand: a re-assessment. In the preface to the latter Sutch explained that because in part of an ‘unwelcome retreat from welfare and equality’, it was decided to update the work and broaden its scope: that produced a book about triple the length of the original (which was described in 1969 as ‘a short social history for secondary school pupils’).

In an aside in the 1969 publication Sutch noted that his title acknowledged Henry George’s immensely influential Progress and Poverty (1879) and hinted ‘that George’s ideas were defeated in New Zealand’. In this talk I will examine and compare the conceptions of and remedies for poverty in these works and also touch on Keynes’ 1930 essay Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren, in he which foresaw poverty being banished within two generations.  


Malcolm McKinnon is an historian and adjunct research associate in the School of History, Philosophy, Political Science and International Relations at Te Herenga Waka Victoria University of Wellington. He is the author, among other works, of Treasury: a history of the New Zealand Treasury (Auckland University Press 2003) and The broken decade: prosperity, depression and recovery in New Zealand 1928-39 (Otago University Press 2016).