'We don't have to justify our money to anyone'... or do they?

The Hotchins are on holiday in Hawaii and the newspapers are feasting on their oppulent lifestyle. Their disconnect from ordinary New Zealanders is positively Gatsbyian

The white on black headline and the giant pull quote made it look more like a British red-top tabloid than a quality broadsheet, but the Sunday Star Times' front page had an element of old-school journalism about it that would have impressed Tom Wolfe or even F. Scott Fitzgerald.

"Inside Hotchin's Hawaiian hideaway", the banner screamed. The by-line belonged to Jonathan Marhsall, New Zealand's tackiest, hackiest hack. He'd been sent all the way to Honolulu to "door-stop" the Hotchins. The poor old Herald on Sunday had a similiar report, but was limited to phone calls and quoting comments on Facebook by the Hotchins' (presumed) trainer.

So what was the guts of the story? That the man who co-owned Hanover Finance and convinced 16,000 New Zealanders to back investments that have since turned to dust is living it up in Hawaii. While his investors have lost life savings (or got Allied Farmers shares currently worth mere cents), he's on a three month holiday in a $43,000 per month rented home, playing tennis every day and learning to surf.

Such stories have always sold newspapers; they've always captured the public's imagination and channelled their anger. The sad thing is that these days the stories are written like advertising copy, rather than reportage. Imagine how a Fitzgerald or Wolfe might have told the story of excess, greed and disconnect. Sigh.

If you really want to understand what's going on here, read The Great Gadsby or The Beautiful and the Damned or Bonfire of the Vanities.

On the other hand, the good thing is that these stories are still being told, because they capture the financial zeitgeist and they tell the story of what extreme wealth does to a person.

Marshall's trip to Hawaii elicited a single quote, and that from Mark Hotchin's wife, Amanda. But what a 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 psychology and sociology of that comment could keep university students in essay topics for years. But let me offer a few thoughts...

It shows how money divides people, how extreme wealth skews a person's sense of reality,community and compassion (and tens of millions counts as extreme wealth in a world where it's estimated that almost half of all people live on less than a dollar a day). There's no sense of obligation to others in Mrs Hotchin's words, no empathy, no understanding that her husband's business relied on the collective faith and cash of thousands of investors. That quote says 'Bugger John Donne; actually some men are islands, and luxury resort islands at that'.

"We don't have to justify where we get our money or what it's spent on, to anyone..."

That's something that could never be said in a village; something that could never be said if Mrs Hotchin had sat with those who lost their life savings and heard their griefs and woes. They are the words of someone who has got used to living in a bubble of privilege. They are pitiful words that show no pity.

Further, it claims a powerlessness that says "shit happens". Or as Hotchin himself has said, "it's a different world". Hey, what can one man do when the world changes? Not my fault, just bad luck, eh? Never mind.

There is another side to this story, however; there's a defence for the Hotchins and it's two-fold: First, any investment involves risk and sometimes money is lost. Second, he is just one of around 200 finance company directors who failed their investors. So why pick on him? I can't help but feel a little sorry for someone who has actually fronted up to media and investors.

Until, that is, I remember how he spoke of his "passion" to return 100 cents in the dollar to those who had lost their money with him. That was, it seems, a fickle and temparary ardour.

Boy oh boy, what a quote. It will stick. But at the end of the day, it's false, incorrect.

Mrs Hotchin, ultimately you do have to justify your money to yourself and, with a Securities Commission investigation continuing, you may yet have to justify your spending to the courts. Even after the luxury holiday with its private beaches, six bathrooms and tennis lessons, there is always a day of reckoning.