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.

We can fight this horrible darkness

Something a bit more inspiring for your Monday: images from the weekend’s airport protests across the United States, where hundreds of ordinary people turned out to voice their opposition to the Trump administration’s brutal, unfair immigration ban:

refugee-airport-protest

More at The Guardian; further reporting from Al Jazeera. Unfortunately some organisations like Uber chose to be on the wrong side of the resistance – and their subsequent backdown shows they know it.

Together, we can resist this. Ordinary people coming together and making a scene and standing up to the powerful and donating what time and resources and spoons we can and remembering to look out for each other. Love trumps hate. Trite but true.

The other war of the polls

The Dominion Post has been given access to two polls telling slightly different stories about the Wellington mayoral race:

Two polls conducted in the past week have revealed Wellington’s mayoral race to be a three-way dogfight between Justin Lester, Nick Leggett and Jo Coughlan – but both polls tell different tales of how the election may play out.

Methodology nerds, sharpen your pencils, I guess?

Lester’s poll targeted “likely voters” – people who voted in the past two elections and would likely do so again this year. The poll commissioned by Leggett’s team quizzed eligible voters.

Leggett’s poll was conducted by Curia, David Farrar’s outfit. I’d assume they deliberately left the net wide to deliver the result their client wanted – I’ve eyerolled at more than enough of the surveys they’ve done for Family First, with questions quite clearly worded to deliver the kinds of “sex is terrible, gay people are evil, bring back draconian morality laws” headlines Bob McCoskrie likes to put on his press releases.

Lester’s poll could be equally flawe. But the ultimate conclusion – that it’s all going to come down to second and third preferences – means things are running as intended. That’s what I like about a preferential voting system. You don’t always get your perfect choice for candidate, but the collective, together, get the choice that pleases the most people overall.

Phil Goff probably wouldn’t be looking so secure of the Auckland mayoralty if Aucklanders weren’t burdened with good old First Past the Post – and because I’m a democrat, I have to say I think that would be a good thing, even though with the current field it would probably mean the Right would triumph with their stable of terrible, incoherent candidates.

If there’s a weakness in the current lineup of Wellington likelies, it’s that the odds seem stacked against outsiders. Practically everyone running for mayor is either currently on council or has been. The front-runners are the current Deputy Mayor, who has a major party behind him; a sitting Councillor, who unofficially has an even bigger political party behind her; and the Mayor of a neighbouring city, with a warchest big enough to have his face plastered onto every available surface in the CBD (though apparently not enough to get humble hoardings out to the northern suburbs?)

I long for a Chlöe Swarbrick kind of run – and in Wellington she’d have a much better shot. Maybe in 2019 …

Voting papers get delivered shortly. If you want to support some local campaigns that could make a real difference, might I suggest signing up to Our Democracy at together.org.nz?

Nobody is entitled to votes

I caught the tail-end of a conversation on Twitter yesterday about the presidential primaries in the US, and the mathematical impossibility of Bernie Sanders winning the Democratic nomination.

The case was being made (by New Zealanders, though I’m sure the same conversation was happening bigger and louder in the States) that given Bernie “cannot” win at this point, he should withdraw and instruct his supporters to back Clinton.

I don’t think it’s coincidence that the people saying this were Clinton supporters. And I doubt they’d be saying the same of her if the situation were reversed. And it’s possible this wouldn’t bug me as much if I weren’t a fan of Sanders myself.

But it does bug me. Not because I dislike Clinton and not (only) because I support Sanders: because it speaks to a ridiculous, undemocratic sense of entitlement from some people of the left which I’ve seen far too often.

I get where it comes from. We all fervently believe we’re on the side of good, we all have a firm conviction that if we ran the world things would be rainbows and sunshine every day. And god it’s frustrating to see things go bad because the other team are in power instead. It feels like if there were any justice in the world, our team would always win every election in a landslide.

But to be a real democrat, to believe that democracy is the best way to choose who leads our government, requires a degree of humility. Knowing that you have to put the work in. You have to convince others of the merits of your case. You don’t make the decision: they do. Sometimes it’s not the one you want.

It’s not just about the principle. When politicians start thinking they deserve votes – from women, or union members, or people of colour, or young people – when they take that support for granted, everyone suffers. When a progressive party starts to assume, e.g. “we’ve always been good for women”, and stops actually being good for women, women aren’t obliged to keep voting for a party that’s harming them. And they may find it insulting to be told, “don’t you understand we’re your only option, because back in the day we did good things for you?”

To be a real progressive is to understand progress requires momentum. We can’t rest on our laurels and expect people to ignore present-day oppression and focus on historic victories, unless we are actively building on those victories.

We are not entitled to anyone’s vote. And if we aren’t giving people a reason to vote for us, it’s not their fault. It’s ours. This applies as much to Hillary having to go into a contested convention as it does to the UK Labour Party’s routing in Scotland or the continued “missing million” thorn in the side of the New Zealand left or any number of other examples.

If you believe in democracy, you do not fear a fairly contested election. So if you’re a (d)emocrat and you’re advocating that Bernie should just give up now, I have one question: what are you afraid of?

The response is often “it’ll hurt her campaign against Trump because something something BernieBros.” This is the hard bit about holding democratic principles: if people vote Trump because they’re bitter about losing the nomination, or just sexist douchebags, that’s awful. But we don’t disenfranchise people for being bitter, sexist douchebags.

Besides, Donald Trump is a repugnant human being who trades on fear and bigotry, so that’s another question: why would it not be easy for Clinton, if she’s such a good candidate, the demographics favour her, and her record is so strong, to defeat him?

Sanders has won huge support, even if it’s not enough, despite being a terrifying radical (at least in the US context). And I see a lot of overlap between the Clinton fans who want an uncontested convention and the “centrists” who so frequently say we need to meet people where they are or find out voters want in order to appeal to them. So I have another question: why doesn’t that apply when “where the people are” is a step to your left?

~

A note on “fairly contested elections”: no system is perfect, but let’s be really honest here, there is very little fairness in US elections or primaries. Let’s talk about voter registration, voter ID laws, or the fact that the superdelegate system which guarantees a Clinton victory was created specifically to stymie the will of the ordinary Democratic Party member, loooooooooong before we complain that Bernie Sanders has the gall to keep campaigning.

Living in a bubble

This was going to be a tweet, or probably a series of tweets, but you all know how I get.

It’s been going on for a while, but especially after the results of the first flag referendum, I’ve seen various comments along the lines of:

HAHAHA, sucks to be YOU, Red Peak fans, looks like you’re not so cool after all! You and your stupid Twitter bubble are powerless! More like Red PIQUE am I right? Stop thinking you’re so important because you never get anything done and your flag is stupid! Neener neener neener, you lost, BOW BEFORE ZOD!!!!

I paraphrase.

The thing is, I’m a Red Peak fan. I even spend time on Twitter, and I live in Wellington. I’m exactly the kind of person I think that kind of person is addressing their scorn to.

I’m also very aware of the fact my social circle, like everyone’s social circle, is a bubble. Even in the internet age, the people I “hang out with” are usually going to be a lot like me – from similar backgrounds, with similar tastes, and yes, similar positions on the political spectrum (make your own “some of my best friends are rightwingers” joke here).

This is true of everyone. We all hang out with people we have a lot in common with: work, geography, faith, fandom – whether that’s sci fi or sports. And even the most ardent Highlanders fan can acknowledge (probably through gritted teeth – I may be an Auckland-Wellington transplant but I know Highlanders fans) that not everyone in New Zealand is a Highlanders fan.

The people I most often see slamming the Twitterati/Red Peak Clique/Thorndon Bubble’s belief that we represent the entirety of New Zealand opinion and are the only people worth listening to … are people who are really invested in describing, and decrying, the Twitterati/Red Peak Clique/Thorndon Bubble. People – individuals – who need to push the idea that there’s a difference between a community of people with like minds and an interest in discussing political matters, on a social media platform designed to create such communities, and … well, whatever Borg-esque hivemind they’re railing against.

borg assimilation

Resistance is futile.

I haven’t seen many people say “yeah, Red Peak should be our flag because Twitter likes it!” I’ve seen people joyously post pictures of the Red Peak flag “seen in the wild”. I’ve seen people discuss what it means to them and whether it resonates with them (for some, even in my bubble, it doesn’t.) I saw Red Peak’s designer and supporters run a really savvy campaign to raise its profile online.

But ultimately Red Peak lost, this time. That’s how democracy works. (And that’s also how it’ll work if the second referendum goes to our current flag, you folk who think it’s unfair for us to vote “no” to your awful blue Lockwood logo.) People are disappointed, and tweeting about it. That’s how Twitter, and being a human being, works.

There are undoubtedly people within the liberal/Pākehā/Twittering/lefty population who do overestimate how much their opinions are shared by the New Zealand population as a whole. Because there are people like that in every single political group. Brian Tamaki thinks he’s representative. ACT Party leader after ACT Party leader has convinced themselves there was a massive silent voter base just waiting for them to come along. On the other end of the spectrum, there were the massively inflated predictions for Internet/MANA in 2014.

It’s pretty much a fundamental point of human ego to assume that our subjective, flawed, self-contradicting beliefs are normal, rational, and widely-accepted.

But just because you saw a few people on Twitter rejoicing that Red Peak made it onto the ballot, or now you’re seeing a few people on Twitter feeling grumpy because that blue Lockwood design is bloody awful … it doesn’t mean there’s some special, extra-presumptuous, extra-unrealistic groupthink going on.

It probably just means a bunch of people on Twitter liked Red Peak.

red peak