Is this thing on?
Rachel Smalley accidentally broadcast herself saying that New Zealand women were “a bunch of lardos” in response to a news item about weight. This “insanely talented” woman making such Beavis-esque analysis is newsworthy in itself, but it also tells us a lot about context, apologies, health, body policing and the media. Mostly what it tells us in that NZ is shite at all this. Are society’s vice police operating with honest science, honest concern, honest intent?
Also the Ukraine, a topic which we have no hope of covering nor understanding. But here is some stuff that we at least kind of know – history.
On the opening eponymous track of Aimee’s most recent album, we meet a character who at first impression comes across as a real swell guy. But upon further inspection? Hell-o!
John Key’s brand of personality politics has been crucial in establishing an air of popular, everyman anti-politician. The blokey, no-nonsense guy who you could really have a beer with plays so well with a world-weary electorate, keener on the simpler things. “Brand Key” is so firmly established that its effect has become a New Zealand political truism, even able to explain things which aren’t actually there.
But just sometimes Brand Key slips, and we get a glimpse of the real man behind the mask. Occasions such as that week where he complained that all he gets is grief and told a class of schoolchildren that they could have his job. Or when he answered a question with the cowardly mercantile “I know the answer, but just wait until my book“. Or, I dunno, the time he blamed the opposition benches for a man attempting to throw himself into the debating chamber, following it up with a mimed throat-slit before excusing himself from the room. The picture emerges of a man who is one skipped nespresso away from chucking it in.
This charmer may be all smiles up front, but when the pressure comes on we get a dose of the real character. And a third term will certainly be a pressure on Brand Key. This man who played his cards early, riding high on the mocking of Clark’s 2008 campaign photoshop and Goff’s 2011 dye job, may well end up taking his alleged hair into a 2017 campaign after 9 years of 5-hours-a-night sleep. One shudders to think.
One of the slow-burning policy disasters this National government has landed us with is the Roads of National Significance project. This pet highway projects would see billions of dollars poured into new motorways and regional roads. For a species which is supposed to be cutting back on the cars, this politics direction doesn’t exactly scream sensible. The stated purpose of many of these projects is to aid road freight and therefore the economy, but cost-benefit ratio studies have shown roads in the Wellington region will return less than $1 to the economy for every $1 spent, thereby actually hurting the very economy the projects purport to serve. Auckland’s new motorway systems will be a “blight on the city - pushing urban development out to 85km north of Auckland’s CBD over coming decades“.
So while high cost-benefit projects like the Auckland Rail Loop take pulling teeth and public outcry to get green-lit, why do the RONS get pushed ahead with alarming alacrity – even to the point where the lower-value work is getting done first? Surely these roads which open new land up to subdivision and lowered commute times into the soon-unlivable city centres aren’t raising the value of that land for a cabal of secret property-owning MPs, the same way irrigation doesn’t. Surely the increased (public) infrastructure cost of urban sprawl in return for the raised (private) value of already unobtainable property isn’t a wealth transfer on par with asset sales. Speaking of which…
3: You Could Make a Killing
We’re in an odd time in political history right now. The four commonwealth nations with which we have, for better or worse, the most in common (white, OECD members, white, relatively well off, white, speak English, white) all have centre-right governments. Canada elected Harper’s Conservatives first in 2006. Our Key and Nats followed close in 2008. 2010 saw the beginning of Cameron’s Britain. And, finally, tardy Australia hiffed up Tony Abbott and his merry band of boat-hating Liberals just last year. Because we share a language we can all read each other’s newspapers. And because as white patriarchal societies we find one another incredibly important, we do.
And when we do, patterns emerge. In the UK the Royal Mail was sold for perhaps £6billion less than it was worth, the NHS is under constant erosion into saleable bundles of pay-to-not-die business interests, and truly-get-this-right-or-there’ll-really-likely-be-trouble services such as probation services – I say again PROBATION SERVICES – are looking likely to go under the hammer and pass into private, profit seeking hands. Faced with lobbying by firms to the south, Canada is considering prison privatisation, on top of selling municipal water and waste services. In Australia Tony Abbott is wasting no time catching up, with Medibank to be sold at a time when even the USA is waking up to the moral need for public health insurance. Australia Post and state-owned energy companies appear to be up next. Abbott plans around $130billion AUD in privatisation.
Sound familiar? It is. New Zealand is currently governed by this same economic bent. No, not the genuine if naive faith that private companies are innately more efficient than public entities (and for this fiscal fundamentalist position to even approach true it requires market forces which a captive, sparse population of 4 million are unable to collectively provide). What we are governed by is the belief that privatisation will make a killing.
And it does – if you can afford it. The UK government sold Royal Mail shares far too low, meaning that people who bought them for ~30p each suddenly had shares worth ~50p each. Whoopsie! What an accident! Except, NZ did the same thing with selling undervalued Genesis shares AND threw in FREE SHARES as part of the deal. The sale of Meridian lost the government $422 million fucking dollars. How does this keep happening!?
Anybody could be forgiven for looking at the books and deciding that the only end this plan serves is that if you have some money you don’t need right now, you can buy something that everybody needs to use, and have their money too. Those people now get to not see any of the excess money that service may have generated because they don’t own it (or as much of it) anymore, you do. What’s more, the friendly government of the day will go hundreds of millions of (taxpayer) dollars out of their way to reduce (not remove, that would defeat the point) barriers to you taking as much and making as much money as you can – so long as you have the seed money in the first place (you may have this lying around due to the government disproportionately cutting your tax). The other economic arguments, however long they last in the news, never seem to add up. But that one does. Big time. What is being sold when a public service is privatised? It’s the people.
And this is a problem, because with the power generating assets we once all owned now at least partially in private hands, they are locked to the profit motive which saw them desirable in the first place. This is what is meant by the loss of strategic control. Basically, our old companies can’t give power away or drop the price to take a hit even if doing so would save us all money down the line in the form of healthier homes and lowered business overheads. We can’t even decide to pay more for our power if it means being generated in carbon-neautral, sustainable ways which would provide less profit to the owners. Profit becomes the only lever on the box. And that’s not efficiency – that’s target fixation.
Another reason this is a problem is that rates of power disconnections have quadrupled since National took power. Everybody can have the argument that power prices went up more under this government or that government, but people don’t consume electricity in a vacuum. These disconnections will each be a combination of power prices, wages, employment, health, and cost of living factors each in their own unique way becoming unmanageable. That they are spiking is of real concern. If the country must have its tough times, it’d be nice to be able to ensure that whether a refrigerator stays on or not isn’t a decision left up to the bottom line. Privatisation is a backwards step.
And theft too, basically.
4: Real Bad News
The motives and motivations behind the government’s rushing through of wide reaching, draconian surveillance law while refusing to engage on the definition of key terms has been done to death. What I want to talk about his how shit an intelligence boss John Key actually is.
Was “disrupt our relationship with Hungary” on your “Things Key Will Bungle” bingo card? Of course not, but somehow he did it with his insinuation that their timid, party-loving troops got ours killed – an allegation as difficult to shrug off as it is to understand. He suggested we go to war on the Korean peninsula. He accidentally promised military assistance to the US in any number of unspecified future conflicts. He might have broken the law by cancelling passports ad-hoc of New Zealanders heading to Syria. How about the time he put himself at the centre of a potential scandal by claiming to not have even heard of Kim Dotcom before a certain date, and then took weeks to quash the subsequent rumour that he had actually been videoed BY HIS OWN SPIES WITHIN HIS OWN AGENCY contradicting that claim? That takes some doing. Speaking of Dotcom, Key has so far claimed that the GCSB never deletes anything ever, that the GCSB actually does delete material held on targets all the time but WOULD archive an internally shot videotape for all time should one have ever existed, and finally that everybody is wrong and the question is idiotic, despite being technically correct.
I realise surveillance and intelligence is part of what a government does, and within the bounds of an honest mission of protection I don’t expect the hands which manipulate this state machinery to be perfectly clean. But I do expect them to be steady and decisive. John Key isn’t those things when he’s in this chair. The last one was. He isn’t. At best it’s a source of embarrassment, at worst it’s incompetence at the wheel of the country’s destiny. I’m not sure whether the appointment of his old, unqualified secret friend to the director’s role in the GCSB is to be read as a symptom or a cause. I do wonder if they’re still friends.
5: Borrowing Time
Something that left, Labour-flavour governments get told off about is spending tax money. Something right, National-flavour governments get hassled over is cutting services. In this morally relativistic universe there’s the idea that somewhere between the two a harmonious balance is to be met. Get the tax take juuuuust right and spend only what you reeeeeaaallly need and things will be tickety-boo.
That’s crap. For one, it assumes an economic management skill set which the politics of self-interest, for oh I don’t know what the reason could be, can never deliver. For two, what we decide we reeeeaaaally need to spend on and where we relax or tighten the tax take generally gets influenced by prejudice and pork barrel, not sound economics. But now we’re getting into economic philosophical areas which I’m not going to go into here because there isn’t an appropriate Aimee Mann song for that.
What I want to talk about is borrowing. Specifically, the idea that tax-and-spend leftist governments get us into debt, and the stern fatherly rightist government get out the spreadsheets, cut up the credit cards and get us back to surplus.
That’s also crap. Let’s just find the right font for this….
Government debt has reached $60 billion, having climbed $27 million a day since John Key became prime minister – and forecasts show it will rise for years to come
How did this happen, saints in heaven? Economic management is what National governments are for.
Well, part of the issue is that we have had a global economic crisis in 2008, and several devastating quakes in Christchurch since. However, National inherited a position of zero government debt in 2008, and were partly elected on the claim that John Key could sort the local effects of the crisis out with his business acumen. The Christchurch earthquake has been said to have had little macroeconomic effect on the rest of the nation, and the government has scarcely mentioned the rebuild without also claiming how amazing the building boom will be for the economy.
So what went wrong? Turns out cutting tax and spending doesn’t just change the economy – it fundamentally rebalances it. National cut taxes to the rich, for the no-more-conspiratorial reason than they voted them in. That left us short of money, so we had to borrow, and raise GST to cover some of the shortfall. And sell assets to pay off debt that wasn’t there prior to National getting in (if that’s even still the reason we’re selling those assets…).
Also, anybody who says running a country is like running a business, or a household budget, shouldn’t be left in charge of any of those things. It’s simply small minded to take such a stance. Money on a national scale is a circulatory system. Cut spending and you stop pumping it. Cut taxes and you allow it to pool. In NZ that means people with excess money will look to our unnaturally attractive, unproductive housing industry because skimming the rest of the system for rent from people who can’t get afford to get into that racket themselves pays more than being an industrious and entrepreneurial human being. Or they’ll pay off more of the debt it took them to buy a house in the first place. Shit stops moving. Spending in an economy is that economy. You’ve got to be reasonable and not just throw good money after bad, but so long as you value your outcomes correctly (i.e.: spending money on an addiction service which shows no return itself, but influences the economic health of the communities in which it operates is very likely returning on its investment) and chose your spending wisely you’re right as rain. There’s little to suggest the previous government didn’t have this on lock.
Some of the spending that was cut was the government contributions to the “Cullen Fund”- a sovereign investment fund set up by the previous Labour government to invest and collect dividends internationally to ensure a future fund of superannuation. Despite not having been contributed to since National took power, last year the Cullen Fund returned more in dividends, interest and capital gains than the entire asset sales program put together. Had we put more seed money in we’d have seen more of a return. We lost money by cutting spending. We lost billions.
Key and Bill English have staked their record of economic management on getting us “back to surplus”. That doesn’t mean out of debt – that means we will apparently, at some time that keeps getting pushed forward into the future and by a margin which keeps shrinking, stop spending more than we’re taking in. In other words, if you dislike tax-and-spend, runaway-expenditure governments, you’re shooting your foot off voting National.
6: Save Me
The fact is there are countless individual reasons to want this government gone. It could be their steadfast refusal to act on climate change. Their ugly eagerness for offshore drilling to the point of not bothering to even read impact and risk assessments or to negotiate a decent royalty rate on the oil we get to take but once out of the ocean. Their calculated and deliberate attacks on beneficiaries, knowing that the complex causes of unemployment can be dumbed into ignorant soundbites, ruined lives and a bump in the polls. Do it for the privatisation-by-stealth of our waterways, where no money changes hands but somehow we all end up paying the costs of cleanup which originated upriver. Do it for the thousands of New Zealanders who may be able to make the jump to owning their own home rather than being lifelong renters. I’m actually going to say this: Do it for the kids. It’s their lights that go out, their heaters that get turned off, their meals that get skipped, their home lives disrupted by moving, cohabiting, fleeing whenever we get it in ourselves to economically punish their parents or communities to which they belong but cannot answer for. Do it for teachers getting paid correctly, and being allowed to be teachers – not some quiz score aggregators.
Also, frankly, I want you to imagine the Egonomist after a third National term. We record about a hundred episodes each year, mostly talking about some crap that lot have gotten up to. Can you picture it?
Do it for me, kiddos. Come on and save me.
Please enjoy episode number three with guest Stephanie sitting in, in which we set out to cover off every single article of news not covered in the prior two.
The title of this blog is taken from the title of Stephanie’s Politics blog, which is great, and made even better by being able to be read without Dan or Dave butting in over the top of her.
Hey! Joining us today is Stephanie who blogs a lot: Boots Theory being her politics blog. (for her other topics see recapsinhindsight.wordpress.com for Star Trek and largepinkwoman.wordpress.com for fashion).
A recent blog post on the treatment metered out by Work and Income NZ made waves, not simply because of how awful the organisation’s behaviour was to the writer, but also because of how common an occurrence this appears to be. Is WINZ deliberately awful, or accidentally awful? What does the response tell us about our cultural views on sickness, unemployment, and work itself?
Also some Napier idiot with a stretched Hummer made the courts news.
Thank you very much for your kind donation! The flag, Royals (monarchal institution, not the song), the media, Shane Jones, Edward Snowden and the NZ connection, Novopay, Asbestos trains, Pike River. It’s an election year lolly-scramble, but with the lollies replaced with shit.
But first, an oral history of getting into clubs underage.
Judith Collins fools nobody. Amy Adams follows the letter of the law, but the spirit? And power bills are set to rise, especially if you’re running a methamphetamine lab out of your inner city apartment.