Wednesday 19 October 2016

Buying Civilisation – With Higher Taxes

Jam Tomorrow - Maybe: Last Thursday morning (13/10/16) Finance Minister, Bill English told reporters that the unexpectedly large projected government surplus of $1.8 billion “means we have a few choices we didn’t have in the past”. He did not rule out tax cuts.
“THERE’S NEVER A BAD TIME FOR TAX CUTS”, was Rodney Hide’s message to Radio Live’s listeners last Thursday afternoon. The Finance Minister, Bill English, appeared to agree. At least, he didn’t rule them out.
On Thursday morning, English told reporters that the unexpectedly large projected government surplus of $1.8 billion “means we have a few choices we didn’t have in the past”.
Not that the National Party-led government’s fiscal goals: “reduced debt, infrastructure investment, reduced taxes for lower and middle income families”, were about to change. On the contrary, the Finance Minister remained firmly wedded to the view that the best means of achieving his government’s fiscal objectives were “expenditure control and a growing economy.”
Civil society’s reaction was swift and unequivocal. The very idea of deliberately reducing state revenue, when additional government spending on crucial social services is needed so urgently, was greeted with dismay.
“The government has left, over the last eight years or so, a social deficit, which we are now seeing literally on the streets of Auckland and elsewhere”, was how the Salvation Army’s policy analyst, Alan Johnson, responded to English’s announcement. Adding bitterly that “it doesn't appear to be interested in bridging that deficit.”
The NZ Council of Trade Unions’ economist, Bill Rosenberg, was equally aghast at what he identified as the National Government’s strategy of deliberate procrastination and deferral: “You can’t put off dealing with child poverty indefinitely. You can’t put off dealing with a struggling health system indefinitely.”
Compelling evidence that the Government’s fiscal stinginess is generating a measurable electoral backlash would lend a deadly cutting edge to Johnson’s and Rosenberg’s criticisms. Unfortunately for the institutions they represent, no such evidence exists.
David Farrar, the owner of the National Party’s indefatigable polling agency, Curia Research, averages-out the major polls for his Kiwiblog blogsite. His latest calculations give National 44.3 percent of the Party Vote, to the Labour-Greens’ 42.7 percent. Widespread public revulsion at National’s fiscal strategies would see a Labour-Green government-in-waiting positioned well ahead of its centre-right opponents. It isn’t.
If an angry electorate is out there, then the best that can be said is that it’s very well hidden.
Clearly, there is a very large constituency for the views on poverty expressed recently by the Police Minister, Judith Collins.
Asked how her government proposed to address the link between gangs and childhood poverty, Collins asserted that there was always sufficient money available for New Zealanders in need. What she saw in poor households, she said, was something quite different from material deprivation: “I see a poverty of ideas, a poverty of parental responsibility, a poverty of love, a poverty of caring.”
Collins’ remarks were roundly criticised by experts on social deprivation, who dismissed them waspishly as a “middle-class New Zealand myth”.
“Forty per cent of children in poverty are in households in paid work”, observed Associate-Professor Mike O’Brien on behalf of the Child Poverty Action Group. “Are we saying there’s a large chunk of parents who are working who are inadequate? That’s hard to sustain. This is not about behaviour. It’s about access to resources, the way we distribute opportunity.”
“In some ways [and] at the risk of being simplistic”, said O’Brien, “it’s easier to blame parents rather than doing something about the social and economic setting.”
The Associate-Professor is right: it is easier. Which is, presumably, why the National Government goes on doing it.
Bill English could inform the country that his surplus is unavailable for tax cuts. That, instead, the extra revenue will be spent on raising benefits, housing the homeless, and refilling the coffers of New Zealand’s cash-strapped health and education services. He could commend to voters the words of the celebrated American jurist, Oliver Wendell Holmes Jnr, who said: “I like to pay taxes. With them, I buy civilization”. But, if he did, how would “middle-class New Zealand” react?
Political parties tailor their policies to meet the interests and prejudices of the people who vote for them. As an explanation for poverty, “poor parenting” may infuriate the experts as a “middle-class New Zealand myth”. But, since it is overwhelmingly the New Zealand middle-class that turns out to vote in local and national elections – it’s a myth that counts.
On the subject of voting, it is very tempting to paraphrase Judith Collins:
“Poverty’s not the problem, it’s people who don’t understand the role of voting in ending poverty, that’s the problem. Poverty persists because these people no longer vote in elections, or even think they should vote in elections.”
Poverty plummeted in New Zealand when the working-class poor organised themselves  industrially and politically to end exploitation on the job and deprivation in the home. For their own shot at civilisation, they happily voted for higher taxes. It’s an historical lesson today’s working poor could help themselves enormously by re-learning.
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 18 October 2016.


Guerilla Surgeon said...

Ah.... Experts. As far as politicians are concerned, people to be deferred to only if they agree with your innate prejudices – otherwise to be ignored or castigated if they dare to disagree. But assuming that many people do agree with the minister about bad parenting, (and to be honest I'm not sure that it's a huge number that would agree with it) it just shows the mean streak that runs through New Zealand society that I have so often railed about. Which has been nurtured and exacerbated by 30 odd years of social engineering by right-wing governments. Another nail in the coffin of the easy-going caring society.

Mark Hubbard said...

Why are the Left so concerned with their privacy (a noble, wise thing) against the spy agencies, yet quite happy to sacrifice mine to IRD and the (S)tate? You've not once considered the philosophical issues around the tax *surveillance* state, and that civilisation is the move toward privacy, not the taxing state where we are forced to live the lives of others. It's barbarity humans force on each other over and over. Your society based on need is the worst damned gutter, Chris.

And besides that, you're still wrong on the level of reality where it is the forces of capitalism (voluntarism) that have solved poverty in the long run (always). On a similar theme, namely, the dependence you'd use tax on tax on tax to create, I'll simply quote a paragraph from my final blog post last December:

"Sadly the huge welfare states we've emoted through the voting booth foster a crippling dependency by subsidising (allowing) dreadful life-long choices which have destroyed family ties and, upon that, community. If Progressives had been correct, the growth of welfare states would have led to cohesive society and community; but the opposite has happened. I cringe when I see deluded, albeit well-intentioned, people blame the increasing atomisation of society on neoliberal (a term that has no meaningful meaning) individualism, when the reality is the opposite: big brother states that sacrifice individuals to a welfare system which destroys relationships between individuals, starting with familial bonds of love and affection. And then destroys economies."

pat said...

...because the alternative doesn't bear thinking about.

Cracker said...

Collins' poverty remarks remind me of the Dunedin mayoress (Mrs Black?) during the Depression in 1932.

She would stand at the St Andrew St 'Relief Depot' and hand out food for the 'deserving'.

The reality was the queues were so big and slow a riot delevoped and she 'feared for her life'.

No fucking kidding lady! No fucking kidding!

Chris Trotter said...


The solution to your problem, Mark, is very simple.

If you don't like the obligations that interacting with other human-beings impose, then leave society.

Fill your pack, oil your rifle, load your ammunition and head for the bush. A lonely and dangerous life, I'll grant you, but the only alternative to becoming a parasitic free-rider on all those other human-beings who acknowledge and honour the mutual obligations of civilised living.

Taxes are like language, if you wish to communicate you have to obey the rules of your mother tongue; if you want to walk on well-lit streets, drink clean water, be protected from contagious diseases, and generally enjoy easy social intercourse with well-educated and civilised human-beings, then you have to PAY YOUR FUCKING TAXES!

End of story.

Mark Hubbard said...

I love living in the village I JUST DON'T THINK THE FUCKING VILLAGE OWNS ME Chris. All those things you mention are provided better by free markets.

On the ethic, change the narrative point of view. My ethic requires nothing of you other than you go about your life pursuing your happiness (I have no business in your life). Your ethic like every Left tyranny bathed in the blood of innocents, involves the forced sacrifice of complete strangers, their goals and aspirations all curtailed and confined, to your needs. And those who don't bow down to your needs are punished by the State. Whose selfish? Whose the monster? Re-look at history, don't just cherry pick.

Taxes are language? Yeah, war is peace; freedom is slavery.

Re Collins - whose anti-money laundering legislation is the police state, no argument, by the by - Martin van Beynen wrote a great piece last week; I'll simply post the end of it:

'Lots of people in New Zealand are hard-up. They might be going from benefit day to benefit day or pay packet to pay packet, but that doesn't mean their children go to school without a lunch and don't get care and affection.

All the longitudinal studies show some people are predisposed to not getting along in their communities. In other words some are born awful but most achieve awfulness through their upbringing. Add a couple of ingredients like poor parenting, a chaotic household, moving around a lot and Mum having lots of boyfriends and you have the recipe for disaster.

That's not to say lack of money has no influence on the already dysfunctional family. It will cause stress and stress causes some people to go off the rails.

But to attack Collins for stating the bleeding obvious is to absolve people of responsibility and divert attention from the real problem.

Of course there will be hard-up families with both parents working hard and not smoking or drinking and going to church on Sundays. There's probably about two of them in the whole country. And don't forget they get Working for Families benefits and accommodation supplements. Their children get free education, no-one is going to charge them for hospital visits and medical treatment if required and they might be eligible for other benefits as well.

They might be poor compared to a wealthy doctor living in Remuera in Auckland but on a world poverty scale they are in clover.

The trouble with the do-gooders is this. Because they exaggerate the problem, blame the system and label everyone who disagrees with them as ignorant and middle class, they have lost middle New Zealand.

Because the advocates have made such a mess of it, there are now no votes in the child poverty issue. Middle NZ has switched off and the politicians know it.'


greywarbler said...

Chris you have found the splinter in my finger but you haven't been able to pull it out. Still just finding it is a start. I am sure that someone with a different set of tweezers will be able to use them accurately and helpfully. I'm waiting, and looking around in hope. If I knew for sure that would happen I could bear the pain better.

Mark Hubbard said...

One thing more. Because the tax surveillance state is by its own logic, the snitch state ( ) I need to add a disclaimer: I have always paid my taxes conservatively, more than I need to if I was aggressive, and I've done that because you can't beat the taxing state, and I have no desire to be fighting pointless battles in tax courts. Life's too short. I'm scared witless of the state, as wise people have always been in every state tyranny, so I don't invite it to destroy me (because you bet it will oblige). I just want to be left alone (albeit I do ignore, completely, nanny state laws re what plants I can grow, et al. Noting that, along with no civilised euthanasia law, etc, is part and parcel of your tyranny state where morality is dictated by an idiot majoritarianism.)

Brendan said...

The solution to your problem, Mark, is very simple.If you don't like the obligations that interacting with other human-beings impose, then leave society."

Why, Chris, is this addressed to only Mark Hubbard? I doubt Mark is one of society's "takers".

If this statement was addressed to every person in NZ it would have a lot of merit. The solution to everybody's problems lies with themselves. ( with notable exceptions)

Chris Trotter said...

"Idiot majoritarianism" eh Mark? As opposed to what? Rule by Philosopher King Mark I? Yeah, that's be tried - with results that make "idiot majoritarianism" look pretty good by comparison. Reckon I'll keep on voting for the least objectionable idiots.

Mark Hubbard said...

Constitutional republican minarchy Chris.

We have 1800 beds in prisons filled on drugs charges. Get rid of this moronic war on drugs and state can save a billion bucks right there on the coming prison spend and people whose lives have been destroyed for criminal records regarding a harmless plant, can get their lives back and live like adults. Legalising cannabis makes huge sense, but morality is voted.

We have police raiding the elderly in anti-euthanasia busts (FFS) confiscating their helium balloons because we don't have the simple and basic right of a civilised euthanasia. And I suspect we won't have this for decades now Key has fobbed the issue off by allowing seminary trained Catholic priest Simon O'Connor to take the debate over and ensure it never gets to Parliament.

A constitution which seeks to only protect the smallest minority, an individual, and their right to do what they like so long as do no harm is observed. A society where busy body socialists and Catholics don't get any say at all in how I live.

That's what I want.

You have the heart of a bully Chris. As do all socialists.

greywarbler said...

Mark Hubbard
You seem to live in a state of detestation of the state. I don't know why you should say it is the base for all things likely to strip away your rights. After all the concept of rights is something thought up by man and so is the state.

I suggest you base more of your life and thoughts on the good things that come from and around a positive state of being, and feel not destestation but ecstatic. The state can do more things for the individual when he or she get others together to build a better society that doesn't have static individuals in power, appealing to other individuals with static tendencies (Google - lacking in movement, action, or change, especially in an undesirable or uninteresting way.)

Unknown said...

And Chris, I sincerely hope that you do not vote for the current lot of objectionable idiots.

Tax cut promises and elections, does Key, English and cohorts think the electorates are that stupid..

Well, maybe they do, but I for one will not be that stupid.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"If Progressives had been correct, the growth of welfare states would have led to cohesive society and community; but the opposite has happened. "

Er.... No, firstly the welfare state is not necessarily to promote cohesive society and community, but to some extent compensate for the fact that society becomes less cohesive and community oriented the larger it gets. Because people on the whole don't like to contribute money to people they don't immediately know.

And in fact as usual with libertarians, you ignore the fact that there is more than one contributor towards cohesiveness and community. It's not just about the money in other words.

"I just want to be left alone"

Fine, then tear up that road that I probably helped pay for in front of your house, tear down the electricity lines that presumably provide power to your house, tear up whatever qualifications you got from state run organisations, and promise never to use the state subsidised medical system, even when you are old. Something which Ayn Rand did in her old age of course, but...

"All the longitudinal studies show some people are predisposed to not getting along in their communities. In other words some are born awful but most achieve awfulness through their upbringing. Add a couple of ingredients like poor parenting, a chaotic household, moving around a lot and Mum having lots of boyfriends and you have the recipe for disaster."
Anyway it sought of seems to ignore the social conditions that cause bad decisions to have really bad outcomes. But even so, the studies I've read show that poor peoples' behaviour differs very little from well off people's behaviour. And as Jonathan Boston says (someone I tend to believe rather than you, why is poverty so much worse in the US than it is in Scandinavia? It seems to suggest that people in the US are stupider than those in Scandinavia.

The way society is rigged at the moment inevitably produces winners and losers. As far as I'm concerned, it's our duty and moral obligation to help those people who lose. Particularly as the research I've read shows that luck is the overwhelming factor that distinguishes between poor people and well off people. Starting I might add by being lucky enough to be born too well off parents.

Research I have read suggests that social mobility has pretty much come to a halt in the USA. You'd think that if it was just down to choices, and perhaps a bit of native intelligence that they would be a lot of social mobility. Trump and Trump's kids would probably be poor as church mice for instance. But it's not down to choices, it's not that obvious, and I'll leave you with this thought.

“There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old’s life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs."

The real world of course involves working together to create a society rather than a collection of individuals. That is why there has never been a place or a time that libertarianism has been tried and worked. Which is funny, because if it was so good you think everybody would be onto it right? It must be a conspiracy.

Anonymous said...

Nicely put Mr Trotter. Good luck dealing with the trolls, rather you than me...

David Stone said...

" When Poverty walks in the door love flies out the window" ; but "man does not live by bread alone''.
When Rogernomics was getting started the underlying philosophy was looked into by opponents, One of the little publicised tenets of the doctrine was/ is that a 5% or6% unemployment level should be maintained to inspire a suitable work ethic in the working class population. When first facilitated that change in N Z society undoubtably had the effect of motivating people who had worked all their lives, and didn't know anyone who hadn't, to a desperate state of shame , and prepared to work at anything for almost nothing. Some committed suicide , not understanding that their situation was deliberately contrived. More than a generation on however we inevitably now have a population that has known nothing else but the unemployment of their whole social network. And the desperation has given way to a sullen resentment of a society that offers them no opportunity to participate, excludes them, resents them, and lets them know through the comments of politicians , the media in countless ways , and pointedly at every interaction with the social welfare outlets that met out their rations. Its invertible that many people in this situation have low self respect.
We need to reassess who the economy is being managed for .But maybe no country in the world can do what they need to do for their population until America has a change of philosophy. The neoliberals probably don't recognise it but they have destroyed capitalism.
Cheers David J S

jh said...

expenditure control and a growing economy
But population growth outstrips gdp?

Mark Hubbard said...

To Gorilla.

Quote: 'it's not just about the money.'

Yep, my point. So we don't need more tax and the intrusive surveillance state to extort it.

Not one person on thsi thread - or ever from the Left - will deal with the philosophical issue of the surveillance state that is the tax state. (Yet how many of you make a big to-do over surveillance by GCSB? Hypocrites.)

Is no one even prepared to admit the cost?

Guerilla Surgeon said...

More names? All that means is that someone has insulted your cherished beliefs and you got nothing.
But you don't even tell us what you mean by the "tax state". You just go on and on repeating the words. As far as I can tell, the income tax people only want to know how much I earn. They're not interested in me growing weed, as long as I don't sell it and earn money, they don't care if I surf the net for porn, and more importantly they're not really interested in my political opinions. So if you think they are doing something else, please give us some specific examples. Otherwise I'm happy with them knowing how much money I make, so I can pay my taxes which pay for the roads and sewage systems, hospitals and schools that make the country a better place. And which I might say, you either use or have used in the past. Are you suggesting you shouldn't have to pay for them? In which case get off my damn roads.

And please, please, please give me some specific examples of where or when unregulated capitalism has solved the problem of poverty. If it's anything like your specific examples of the success of unregulated capitalism in raising wages, maybe you shouldn't bother. But it would be nice if you actually told us what the hell you are talking about.

The market occasionally solves problems – usually to do with price and demand. But often solves them too late, particularly when dealing with scarce resources. The last tuna for instance will be sold for millions of dollars to some rich twat who wants to impress his friends. Yes, tell us how capitalism will solve overfishing. Then I might start to take you seriously.

greywarbler said...

I don't what all this libertarian crap is about. Sounds like science fiction 101 to me. Total freedom and all that, that's for the people who have enough to live on or know how to tweek the system. For the rest of us, we live in communities and at some level all acknowledge this. As Bob Dylan says:

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody

You may be a state trooper, you might be a young Turk
You may be the head of some big TV network
You may be rich or poor, you may be blind or lame
You may be living in another country under another name

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed

Apparently John Lennon didn't agree. But whether you do or not you are at the mercy of others in the world, or at the inexorable, unarguable machinations of nature, so you will get your comeuppance either from nature or human nature. John Lennon got shot by a warped human.

cbmilne33 said...

It is my belief that we should have compulsory voting rather than voter bribery to people voting.I have noted that the Tory member employers and landlords are deliberately cutting wages and raising accommodation prices to deny the poor voters from having a residence to be a registered voter which is another way of rigging elections.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Funny how conservatives are often struck dumb when asked for specifics. That's the sixth one this week.

Brutus Iscariot said...

I think there's a big difference between the working class of the 1930s and today's "feral class" which is the main manifestation of alleged poverty. Back then material poverty, in the vast majority of cases, wasn't coincident with an utter rejection or failure to meet basic standards of human behaviour.

Not that i'm saying the way society has been structured has been blameless. There was no Nia Glassie case in the 1930s.