Taxes, greed and David Seymour

Fleshing out one of my recent Twitter rants, kicked off by this tragic bit of capitalist propaganda from the “leader” of the ACT “Party”:

Here’s the thing about taxes. Taxes are schools. Taxes are hospitals. Taxes are protecting our natural environment and biosecurity at our borders. Taxes support small business. Taxes support tourism. Taxes pay for the inspectors who keep our food safe and protect our export industries.

Taxes do all the important things “the market” won’t do because there’s no profit in it.

Parties like ACT exist to funnel money away from those important things via tax cuts, privatisation, and diverting public money to funding private organisations like charter schools.

That’s why they want you to think of tax as a burden, not the contribution we all make to keeping our society healthy and just. They want to pretend that “taxes” and “public services” aren’t one and the same thing. That’s why we have to change the frame on taxes. Not as a burden we need relief from, and not as the price that we begrudgingly pay for social stability and decent public services. Taxes are the way we all chip in to take care of the basics. Taxes are how we all share in building a stronger, happier, healthier, fairer country.

I’m a “net taxpayer”. And I love paying taxes.


And here’s the thing about the way David Seymour and the right glorify “net taxpayers”: it’s the clearest demonstration you need that what they truly value, in their hearts, is greed. They represent, and promote the interests of, people who already have plenty – have more than enough to live good lives – and who resent the contribution they have to make to society (because, as I had to explain to a “taxation is theft!!!” troll, we have democracy. We elect governments to pass laws, and you don’t get to opt out of them just because you’re selfish and narrow-minded.)

But this simply isn’t how the vast majority of human beings work. Look at the way lower/middle-income people give higher proportions of their income to charities, or give up their time to help local organisations. Look at the cultural importance we place on welcoming people, on hospitality, on caring for those who are more vulnerable. It’s not a bland calculation of disbursing surplus resources to guarantee returns. Many people who give their time and money to charity are struggling themselves, but are driven by wanting to support and care for others in even worse positions.

In contrast, politicians like David Seymour (who really has no grounds to complain about “net taxpayers” given where his pay comes from) belong to a bizarre fringe group who treat all human interactions as a cut-throat business negotiation: “what am I getting out of this? Where is the return on investment for this small talk?” This is not normal.

He must be great fun on dates.

People like Seymour don’t understand what a community is, so they refuse to see the benefits we all reap from supporting each other. They look at it like: I don’t have kids. Why should my taxpayer dollars go towards schools?

Because a well-educated population is happier and healthier and more stable and less likely to fall into goddamned fascism, that’s why.

That’s what betrays them as defenders of greed. It’s not ~enlightened self-interest~ or whatever marketing slogan they’re using these days. A strong civil society is in everyone’s self-interest! Whatever “extra” or “net” tax I pay is being returned to me in the ability to turn on my tap and drink clean water, or have proper roads for the bus to drive on to get me to work in the morning, or know that the food I buy for lunch is safe to eat.

It’s no surprise a lot of people buy into the idea that ~greed is good~ – that’s what decades of capitalist/neoliberal propaganda will do to you. But if there is a “natural state” of humanity, it is not the cold, jealous, suspicious attitude which the David Seymours of the world hold up as an ideal.

The right know this. That’s one of the reasons the ACT Party is still alive, aside from allowing National to distort the rightwing vote share in Parliament to hold on to power. ACT provide an excuse to National to bring in policies of greed like charter schools or letting property developers build slums on conservation land (just not in Epsom, because #epsomvalues). National knows it has to pretend to be friendly and relaxed and “just like Labour, only with a few tax cuts!”, because not even 1% of people vote for greed when it’s marketed honestly.

Tax is awesome. Greed is ugly. Let’s make that the conversation for 2017.

Advertisements

Who is the left’s Rodney Hide?

I had some thoughts on Rodney Hide’s latest column in the Herald on Sunday:

And they kept developing so I figured I had the makings of a blog post there!

Who’s the left’s Rodney Hide? I submit we don’t have one. Many people have equally-extreme leftwing views, but not a weekly column in the Herald on Sunday. Hide is a commentator – not a blogger. There’s a lot of authority in that distinction, and a lot more influence.

We have some great progressive commentators – like Michele A’Court, Dr Susan St John, Deborah Russell. They get some column space and a few TV spots. But they’re usually talking about real issues. (Shocking!) Rodney Hide talks in narratives. Like redefining the word “industrious” to mean “people with a lot of money”. Or reinforcing the idea that the only good thing is economic value, and the only proper frame for deciding what’s right and wrong is profit and loss.

He’s not discussing a real issue or a concrete policy. He’s tearing down a reverend who dared to say money isn’t everything, and people’s lives are more important than one man’s wealth. The rightwing narrative is so entrenched that we don’t even notice that he’s basically arguing against everything Jesus ever said.

There are staunch left commentators – like Helen Kelly and Robert Reid – who get op eds and panel seats on The Nation or Q&A. But they aren’t the equivalent of Rodney Hide, because they’re not actually extreme. They talk about fairness and decent working conditions, not, say, the immediate need for compulsory unionism and the renationalisation of all private property.

And some people who get to comment “from the left” are significantly to the right of Labour.

daenerys fire

Across the Anglo world, we’ve seen rightwing parties get into power and stay in power, despite passing harmful, often unpopular policies, because (in part) they’ve got a loud voice on their right making them look reasonable by comparison. The UK Tories have UKIP, National have ACT, the US Republicans have the Tea Party.

(They’ve also got a lot more money and convinced us all that economics is a hard science, but baby steps!)

The respective Labour/Democratic parties have chased the ever-moving-rightwards centre – conceding the basic argument that the economy is more important than people. Not only that, they’ve usually been the most vigorous opposers of their own left flank.

leo west wing what are you doing
This plays out every time Young Labour put forward a remit on, well, anything. Instead of rolling out MPs to say “no, that’s stupid”, these are opportunities for Labour to go “well it’s a bit extreme, but” then re-affirm its leftwing principles and announce a toned-down version as reasonable, progressive policy.

That is, do what National do when their right flank calls for total privatisation of state assets – “oh no, but what about selling off 49% of the shares in them?” – or a flat tax – “oh, that’s too far, but what about slashing the top rate?”

Expand the frame of available, credible opinions and declare yourself in the middle.

It may seem difficult in practice, because anyone from the left is automatically “less credible” than a taxpayer-rorting ex-MP like Rodney Hide. But our media are crying out for a drawcard, in this age of falling ad revenue and social media distractions. They want drama.

Look at the Goff vs Collins segment on Stuff: the idea (however well you think it’s executed) is to get a bit of argy-bargy going, post something which will simultaneously outrage the lefties and the righties, and voila: more eyeballs on product. Consider Radio NZ’s Panel, which gets a lot more buzz among the #nzpol blogosphere when it’s not Matthew Hooton vs Mike “I agree with Matthew” Williams. Want to get the left and the right tuning in? Have a real argument. That means having real differences of opinion.

gladiator entertained

I think there’s space for a few more staunch, out-there leftwing voices in our discourse. But there’s a final wrinkle: it only works if Labour wants it to. Only if we want to be the party which puts people first, and isn’t afraid of doing the right thing even when the high priests of the economy scream the sky will fall, which refuses to play the right’s game on their terms.

Find the right people. Put them up there. Shift the centre. Or it’s just going to be two more years of Rodney Hide making it easier and easier for National to get that fourth term.

Repost: A rightwing fairytale about Labour Day

(Originally posted at On The Left.)

I was casting about for something to write today, and that’s when the Internet gave me a gift: a column from Rodney Hide, conveniently timed, which decries the role of unions and even the very history of Labour Day:

Tomorrow is Labour Day. Once again we will endure the annual claptrap that unions are great and won for us the eight-hour day. Without unions we would be working 24/7. It’s nonsense.

He cites the story of Samuel Parnell, considered the father of the eight-hour working day. Conventional history will tell you that, in a terribly union-y fashion, Parnell organised his fellow tradesmen in Wellington to refuse to work more than an eight-hour day. Rodney tells it a little differently:

Hence was born the eight-hour day. The practice caught on. For more than 100 years we have celebrated the eight-hour day as a victory for trade unionism. We know it as Labour Day which, on the fourth Monday of every October, is a public holiday.

It’s a myth. The so-called victory had nothing to do with unions. It was simple supply and demand. The demand for skilled labour was high in the new and growing settlement. The supply was low.

Parnell could have negotiated more pay. But he chose fewer hours. That was his choice. That was the free market.

The myths are actually all on Rodney’s side. The myth that good business practices just “catch on”, like a fashion trend – when the reality is that unions almost always lead the way in securing better wages and conditions for workers, which non-unionised businesses then have to keep up with – unless of course you’ve spent a few decades dismantling workers’ rights and entrenching the power of employers, so they can do things like refuse to offer frontline workers a basic guaranteed number of hours while your CEO earns $11,000 a day.

The myth that the concept of unionism can’t have been involved in Parnell’s victory, because “it was just about supply and demand”. Yes, this was a unique circumstance – in 1840 Wellington there were literally three carpenters. You couldn’t hire one from London and pop them on the next plane over.

But that doesn’t change the fact that the eight-hour victory came down to collective action. If Parnell had said “nope, only working eight hours, soz” and the other two carpenters had said “sweet, we’ll take the job” there would be no history to remember on Labour Day.

The difference is that today, very few workers are in a position to say “well there’s only three of us you can hire, so you have to take our terms.” These days, thousands of people will queue for 150 supermarket jobs. People are living in cars. They don’t have the luxury of leveraging their specialised skills in a remote corner of the world.

And thirdly, the myth that unions have never achieved anything, ever. It’s a standard rightwing line. It relies on people taking a lot of things for granted – like equal pay for women, having four weeks’ annual leave, getting sick leave, having basic health and safety protocols in the workplace.

The greatest achievement is this, though: if you’re in a union, the chances are your pay is keeping up with, or even staying ahead of, inflation. This is an old graph from a 2012 post at The Standard, but it makes the point pretty clearly:

wages graph

In the year to June 2014, 98% of workers on a collective agreement got a payrise – compared to only 48% of workers on individual agreements.

I think that’s an achievement which a lot of workers can feel pretty happy about. Because they stood together. Because they leveraged their collective power into getting real gains for themselves and their fellow workers.

One important thing to note is this. It’s easy to roll your eyes at Hide’s bizarre re-writing of history. It’s easy to insult his intelligence or imply he’s out of touch with reality. But Rodney Hide isn’t a stupid man. Rodney Hide isn’t unable to see the ridiculousness of his words.

This is why the rightwing narrative has dominated NZ political discussion for years: because they decide what story they want to tell and they push it through every avenue they have. They drown out dissent and academic arguments about what really happened or how the economy really works in practice.

Let’s not read Rodney Hide’s column as a ludicrous piece of near-satire. Let’s take it for what it is: a cynical, deliberate attempt to erase the importance of unionism from New Zealand history and perpetuate the fantasy that workers and employers are on a level playing field.

And let’s celebrate Labour Day, and the power of our unions.

What kind of government would National lead?

The choice for NZ voters is becoming clearer in the last days of the 2014 election. The irony is that after John Key’s persistent scaremongering about the “five-headed monster” of the centre-left, the two most likely options we have are a three-headed coalition of natural allies versus a five-or-six headed hydra of extremists and sworn enemies.

David Cunliffe has signalled today that he only sees three parties around the Cabinet table in his government: Labour, the Greens, and NZ First. All three parties have a good number of policies set out, with obvious overlaps – there are clear differences of opinion, but coming to a mature compromise is a key part of how MMP is meant to work.

Meanwhile, John Key has been forced into opening the door to Colin Craig’s Conservative Party thanks to the abysmal polling of his preferred ally, ACT.

Colin Craig is talking a softer game as he sees his poll results edge closer and closer to the magical 5% threshold. But neither he nor Jamie Whyte are men built to compromise their passionately-held extremist beliefs. So what will each of them demand?

Is Colin going to get binding referenda? Or the abolition of parole? Or a curfew for the “most promiscuous” young women in the world?

Is Jamie going to get his wish of scrapping the RMA and OIO so overseas investors can buy up our land and poison our rivers, or abolishing all school zones except the one around Auckland Boys’ Grammar (and all building regulations except the ones that keep Epsom leafy)?

And how can any of this possibly be workable with middle-of-the-road Peter Dunne (if he wins Ōhāriu, and that’s not guaranteed), with “not crazy”-conservative Winston Peters (who can’t stand Whyte or Craig) and with the Māori Party (who may have a thing or two to say about ACT and Craig’s anti-Treaty ways)?

If NZ First and the Conservatives both get over 5%, it’s going to be impossible for National to get its long-dreamed-of governing-alone 50%. They’d have to pull together four or five coalition partners who hate each other, and their closest ideological friends are frankly bizarre.

As that becomes clearer it’s got to be a huge turn-off for the moderate voters who have bulked out National’s support for the past six years – and a Labour-Green-Winston coalition is looking rock-solid-stable in comparison.

The opening addresses of Election 2014

(Updated: more links to videos for your viewing pleasure)

Last night the opening party political addresses were broadcast on TV One, simultaneous with an All Blacks match and a live-tweeted crowd viewing of Labyrinth. So if you missed out (and don’t follow my every thought on Twitter), here’s my reaction!

(Screenshots nicked and cropped from Asher Goldman on Twitter.)

National: so corporate. Much artificial. John Key in a staged “interview” blathering about goals and targets and not changing horses midstream but really without any kind of concrete policy, while an increasingly-irritating Eminem ripoff plays. And lots of rowing. And a very clunky “Oh Bill English is a great asset FYI” line thrown in which makes me suspect succession signalling is underway.

National’s full video doesn’t seem to be available online but if you just watch the short version a few dozen times it has much the same effect. is now online here.

Labour: I loved this one. Yes, I’m biased. But the idea of getting the caucus out to do a community project, taking turns to discuss their own policy areas with real Kiwis, was genius. It was a huge contrast to National’s corporate one-man-band routine. And there were real, solid policies to work on, which is a bit of a bugbear of mine.

I actually want to help out at a community centre if it involves Andrew Little and Carol Beaumont making me cheese scones. They even got David Parker out of his suit.

You can watch Labour’s video here.

Greens: Didn’t grab me as much as Labour’s. Their focus was strongly and naturally environmental, Metiria and Russel did a great job of injecting their own stories and personality into it, but there wasn’t a strong narrative as there was with Labour’s.

You can watch the Greens’ video here.

nzfirstNZ First: Winston doing his best General Patton in front of a terribly CG’d New Zealand flag, and a diverse range of people asking rhetorical questions to camera. You may note Winston’s tie is red and black, so read into that what you will.

conservativesConservatives: Colin Craig hitting his usual talking points about binding referenda to a room of silent, bored-looking white people. He really is a charisma-free zone.

actACT: If you did not watch this, find it. Now online! Watch it! It’s the funniest thing broadcast this year and may have actually been made using Windows MovieMaker, it’s that budget.

internetInternetMana: cartoon futuristic hovercats. Enough said, really. You can watch it here.

dunnePeter Dunne: a few minutes of Dunne talking to camera about how reasonable and middle-of-the-road he is, while parroting Key’s lines about staying the course. Lacking his characteristic bow tie, which may bode poorly for him.

ALCP: Rate a mention because their video was approximately a hundred times more professional-looking than ACT’s.

Focus, Social Credit, and Brendan Horan’s outfit: Shrug.