Political Currency: Though they’ll never admit it, the logical consequence of the Taxpayers’ Union’s policies is indistinguishable from that of every other “taxation is theft” outfit: expanding the domain of public pain by deliberately reducing the opportunities for its concerted public amelioration. Like the far-Right American lobbyist, Grover Norquist, they are determined to get the state down to “the size where we can drown it in the bathtub”.
“THIS IS THE WEEK tax cuts introduced in 2017 would have come into effect.”
In reminding us of this fact, Taxpayers’ Union spokesperson, Lois Houlbrooke, laments the Labour-NZF-Green government’s decision to spend money that would otherwise have been returned to “working New Zealanders” on undeserving students and superannuitants.
“It’s as though the New Zealanders doing the most to keep the Government afloat are held in its lowest esteem.”
These “working New Zealanders” (the stock right-wing description of taxpayers as “hard-working” appears to have been discarded) are invited by Mr Houlbrooke to “mourn” the loss of their well-deserved windfalls.
A few years ago, Mr Houlbrooke’s words would have fallen on a host of receptive ears. Today, I’m not so sure. In the months since their new centre-left government was sworn-in New Zealanders have begun to realise what happens when insufficient revenue is collected and insufficient public resources expended on the things that make for a civilised society.
The scandalous condition of the Counties Manukau District Health Board’s facilities, shocking enough in themselves, have raised questions in the minds of citizens throughout New Zealand about their own DHBs. How much urgent remedial work to local health infrastructure has been deferred out of fear of ministerial rebuke? Are Middlemore Hospital’s walls the only ones filled with toxic mould? How many other DHB’s are hiding leaking sewerage pipes?
These “bricks and mortar” problems pale into insignificance, however, when we are confronted with the ongoing crisis in New Zealand’s mental health services. With roughly one in every five Kiwis afflicted with mental illness at some stage of their lives, there are close to a million people out there in need of help which, assuming it can be accessed at all, will (in all but the most acute cases) be intermittent and inadequate. The pain and suffering, not only of the mentally ill, but also of their families and friends, is immense and unending.
The British political philosopher, Maurice Glassman, in his book, Unnecessary Suffering, observes: “The distinction between necessary and unnecessary suffering defines the limits of political rationality. In delineating a domain of pain which is amenable to concerted public amelioration from a sphere of grief that is immutable, it defines the power of society to respond to the miseries of life.”
Though they’ll never admit it, the logical consequence of the Taxpayers’ Union’s policies is indistinguishable from that of every other “taxation is theft” outfit: expanding the domain of public pain by deliberately reducing the opportunities for its concerted public amelioration. Like the far-Right American lobbyist, Grover Norquist, they are determined to get the state down to “the size where we can drown it in the bathtub”.
It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that many in these groups would happily see 99 percent of humanity drowning in there with it, providing the heads of the dominant 1 percent could be kept safely above water.
Seldom has the Labour Party and its ideological allies been presented with a better opportunity to expose the National Party’s propensity to short-change the electorate. Under the rubric of “responsible economic management” (whose discredited mantras Simon Bridges has reiterated all week without shame) money that should have been spent on keeping New Zealand’s social infrastructure fit-for-purpose, was instead presented to the electorate as a financial “surplus” – fit only to be returned to the pockets of “working New Zealanders”.
As one commentator observed: “That’s like putting your household accounts into a healthy surplus by refusing to feed your kids!”
If ever there was a time for Jacinda Ardern and her Finance Minister to walk away from the “responsible economic management” falsehood – it is right now. What New Zealand has been subjected to for the past nine years does not merit the word management; had precious little to do with rational economics; and most certainly wasn’t responsible.
In its place, the Labour-NZF-Green government should pledge to govern New Zealand justly and fairly by raising the taxes required to reduce – swiftly and substantially – the unnecessary pain and suffering of its citizens.
If it didn’t sound so Orwellian, I’d favour the “Tax Heroes” meme contributed to The Spinoff by IRD: “Tax is Love”. Because, in essence, that’s what progressive taxation is all about. Healing our sick. Teaching our young. Helping our poor. Sharing our wealth.
The alternative? The procurement of private advantage through public squalor.
This essay was originally published in The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 6 April 2018.