Money Talks: Chlöe Swarbrick – Why she’s never had a credit card … and how to change the world

Auckland Central MP Chloe Swarbrick talks to Liam Dann for the Money Talks Podcast. Photo / NZME

From gangster-rap and Pulp Fiction to French economist Thomas Piketty and the reinvention of modern economics … to describe a discussion with Green MP Chlöe Swarbrick as intense is something of an understatement.

When you throw ‘money’ into the mix as the theme of that conversation it only gets more intense.

“I was quite a nerd when I was a kid,” says Swarbrick on the latest episode of the Money Talks Podcast,

She says her pocket money mostly went on video games or building her own customised PC.

Swarbrick’s first online purchase was less nerdy.

“I was 15 or 16 and I bought the wallet from Pulp Fiction, the BMF [look it up] Wallet that Samuel L Jackson has and it’s still the wallet I have to this day.”

As a public figure well known for her left-leaning economics, it is interesting how much of her time outside of politics has been tied up with running or investing in small business.

She opened her first business in her teens – a New Zealand-made fashion label called The Lucid Collective, with Alex Bartley Catt.

She’s been editor, and an owner of a fashion magazine What’s Good.

In 2016, Swarbrick and Bartley Catt started a digital consultancy and artist management agency called TIPS.

BMF: Samuel L Jackson in the 1994 film Pulp Fiction - the inspiration for Chlöe Swarbrick's wallet. Photo / Supplied
BMF: Samuel L Jackson in the 1994 film Pulp Fiction – the inspiration for Chlöe Swarbrick’s wallet. Photo / Supplied

Since her high profile mayoral campaign that year, followed by entering Parliament as a Green MP in 2017, politics has been her primary focus.

With that came a regular pay cheque that she says provided her with opportunity to support her family and to invest in businesses and art projects of her friends.

“I’ve always seen money as a tool in that respect,” she says.

In a business sense money provided a way to solve problems when things went wrong.

But it also allowed a bit more leeway on personal spending.

“The position I’m in now, and subsequent to being elected, meant that I was able to buy new clothes,” she says.

People commented that she looked like she had a uniform in her white T-shirt and work pants through the 2016 campaign.

But that was literally all she could afford “to get out of my band T-shirts and jeans I bought three white T-shirts and a pair of pants and circulated those throughout the mayoral campaign.”

When it comes to her personal finance style, Swarbrick says she is a saver.

On a personal level at least she is not a fan of debt.

That’s something she suggests might stem from growing up through the Global Financial crisis which hit her father very hard financially.

“The only debt that I’ve ever had is my student loan.”

It seems like quite an austere line for someone on the progressive left, where high levels of Government debt and spending are generally well tolerated.

But Swarbrick is quick to make the point that sovereign debt is very different to personal debt.

And that she has never really applied an ideological lens to personal finance.

“It’s probably more, if I’m being completely honest, a lack of organisation,” she says. “And being focused on how do I get through tomorrow. When you are struggling to get by on a day to day basis it’s very hard to set yourself rules or a strategy or tactics to get ahead.”

“When I was in that space the only really hard and fast rule I could follow was don’t get a credit card.”

Not surprisingly she is a fan of ethical finance and says she is learning more about green and ethical investing options.

“That’s something that flows through into my parliamentary work.”

Swarbrick – born in 1994 – describes herself as a child of neo-liberalism.

But she is in no doubt about where there roots of poverty and inequality lie.

“Distribution,” she says.

Swarbrick argues that many of the so-called economic truths that drive creation and distribution of wealth are ultimately just social constructs.

But she’s not a classic-Marxist, preferring instead nuanced modern interpretations of socialism as described by French economist Thomas Piketty and the “donut economics” Kate Raworth.

French economist Thomas Piketty. Photo / Supplied
French economist Thomas Piketty. Photo / Supplied

“Of course I’m not an advocate for complete state control,” she says. “I do not consider myself a communist, if anything I’m more of a social democrat … or a democratic socialist.”

She is wary of the polarisation that politics drives and describes extremes of social media as completely alien.

“Having got into the position I have through falling down this mad rabbit-hole, I have seen that our parliamentarians, our politicians are just people trying the best they can with the resources they have,” she says.

“Of course, they don’t know everything and often times they are making it up on the fly. What that to me demonstrates, is the power of everyday people to change the mandate that’s in front of those politicians they are able to make different decisions.”

Money Talks

The Money Talks podcast series isn’t about personal finance and isn’t about economics, it’s just well-known New Zealanders talking about money and sharing some stories about the impact it’s had on their lives and how it has shaped them.

You can find new episodes in the Herald, or subscribe on iHeart Radio, or wherever you get podcasts.

Previous guest include: Kerre McIvor, Sir Michael Cullen, Shane Te Pou, Sharon Zollner and Theresa Gattung, and Matt Heath

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