Sunday, August 03, 2008

National's fundamental problem

Now as regular readers to this blog will know, I'm fairly merciless against the National Party. The reasons being fairly clear:
- Most of its policies are at best a limp-wristed one step better than Labour's;
- Most of its policies are more leftwing than what National implemented when it was last in government in the 1990s, even when it was in coalition with NZ First;
- It obfuscates when asked perfectly reasonable questions such as "how can you fund more spending in some areas of government and bigger tax cuts without cutting government spending in others?".

The response of some of my readers is simple. They essentially believe that what matters is that Labour is ousted from power as it is worse, and when National is in power then the more politically difficult issues can be confronted, such as what spending to cut. Some think National MUST be better, and given their loathing of Labour they see National as the only credible alternative government. Within all of this is a more fundamental political and cultural problem in New Zealand, and this needs to be conquered and fought more than the Labour party.

So when National rejects privatisation, why is that? Is it a belt of xenophobia of the kind both Winston Peters and Jim Anderton built their snivelling little envy milking careers on? Well in part. New Zealanders don't reject foreign investment, but it would be fair to say a majority have the feeling (and it is feelings not thoughts) that a foreign company buying what was once a New Zealand operation is somehow "taking something away", that it will "rip you off" or underinvest. It is no more or less true than a NZ company doing so, and more importantly no more or less true than the state doing so. The state has taking over a billion dollars from taxpayers for the railways and you've seen next to nothing for it. It's just taken another NZ$690 million to buy it back, and most New Zealanders don't really mind.

Why do NZers buy the Labour view that Air NZ's renationalisation was due to it being badly run by the private sector, rather than the more honest truth that Labour stopped Singapore Airlines from bailing it out? It's because National finds the argument too complicated, and because the mainstream media prefers simplicity. The argument requires effort and National doesn't want to take the effort.

Let's go further. Why do NZers prefer that the government tax $1.5 billion of their taxes to spend on telecommunications rather than get out of the way of the private sector to roll it out? Why wont the Nats point to how Vodafone transformed BellSouth into being a mobile phone network to easily rival Telecom, without ANY government involvement? Why wont the Nats points to how under their administration, TelstraClear rolled out a new broadband network to virtually all of residential Christchurch and Wellington/Hutt Valley, again without any government involvement? Why wont they point out that a main reason why this didn't happen in Auckland is because Auckland City Council used the RMA to stop extra cables being strung along overhead poles, and subsequently the change of government saw Labour let Telstra Clear use Telecom's network - then complained Telecom wasn't investing enough in its network.

Again, the Nats wont make the "complicated" argument, easier to say "we'll spend your money".

New Zealanders WANT the government to take charge, take money off them and pick winners - even though the evidence of doing this well is pretty appalling. Most of you may have forgotten than Jim Anderton set up an organisation now known as NZ Trade and Enterprise to subsidy businesses - pick winners. Noticed which of them has taken off and been a roaring success thanks to you being forced to pay for them? No.

So the Nats wont argue for capitalism, for private enterprise, they aren't prepared to say - look it worked before, we just need to get out of the way with lower taxes and abolishing the RMA, because Labour will talk of the "failed policies of the 1990s". What about the "failed policies since 1999"? Instead the Nats will argue for government spending, government ownership, government plans. They want to be seen to be doing something, instead of reiterating the simple truth that was learnt (and forgotten) from the 1980s and 1990s, that the government isn't smart enough to do anything well, often enough to risk taxpayers' money being diverted to those risks.

What incentives do the Nats have to get it right? The same Jim Anderton has had. He has had nine years of spending around $100 million a year and nothing much to show for it - why don't the Nats point THAT out?

No, apparently simpler to say spend money instead of giving it back to you. Yes, really.

Let's not even talk about roads. It's become the new pork for government, when at one time New Zealand governments proudly had moved away from picking winners on roads too - when once the Nats led ground breaking policy that essentially said roads should be run like businesses - not as political porkbarrel games.

So what about social policy? Again, the Nats can't even join the political mainstream of UK and US politics that have seen centre-LEFT governments (Labour and Clinton) reform welfare, and be tough on it. They have embraced the middle class welfare of "Working for Families", unwilling to put together a tax cut package that would be as good as or better for most recipients, and argue that government shouldn't be about welfare. However, they wont say welfare will be tougher.

Then health care. Could the Nats ever argue that it would be better to choose an option based on insurance rather like Australia and Germany, that means you pay more if you live an unhealthy lifestyle? No, if they said "insurance" or "private sector", the rabid left would say "Americanisation" and "Profit" and most New Zealanders would ignore the failure of the state run system, and the Nats just wont argue.

I could go on, but it is something endemic to the New Zealand psyche. It was seen in 2002 when Laila Harre was talking on TV with the "worm" and the "worm" rose when she talked about the government spending a lot more on health and education, and dropped when she talked about higher taxes.

You see people expect government to do things well, and can't accept that it can't do many things that well. People go through a state education system and can't think that it is that bad. The vested interests in state health, education and welfare are loud in their protestations that everything is ok, but there isn't enough money. The railways once said the same, as did the post office, and the Ministry of Energy, farmers argued for more subsidies, once. The truth is that those running and providing government services have little incentive to radically change them so they are under more pressure to perform and deliver what consumers want, rather than what they think is good for them.

That's the fundamental point. New Zealanders trust government too much. They trust it to spend their money, to tell them what to do, to buy their health and education, to buy their pensions and protect them in the event of accident. They damn governments when this doesn't meet their expectations, but can't connect that sometimes governments CAN'T meet their expectations, that government can make things worse, government forces people to pay for poor service, and people get paid for poor service.

That, is basically, why the National Party doesn't offer anything new. That, and its inherent lack of courage and conservatism. That is inexcusable that it wont argue for part privatisation of power companies to attract new capital and investment, it wont argue for funding roads on the basis of best quality of spend, not ones of "national importance", it wont argue that competition for the ACC employer account was good when it was in power and is good now, and it wont argue that the top tax rate was bad in 2000 so is bad now. That gutlessness to not even roll back what Labour has done to National policy in 1999 is an abysmal success for mediocrity.

However if the majority of the population didn't like that mediocrity, wasn't happy with a change in people rather than policies, the Nats wouldn't be doing well in the polls now would they? AND do you really believe after three years of government National will have radically improved health and education, cut people on welfare, cut crime and grown the economy beyond the mediocre 2-3% NZ is used to? You'll be happy that your taxes will have been cut down so there is virtually no waste?


Jackie said...

The problem, essentially, is that kiwis, by and large, love being told what to do. Why else would the majority of them continue to elect big government enthusiasts?

john-ston said...

I don't think that it is Kiwi's being loved to be told what to do, but it was due to our history. Remember who most of the European settlers were; they were either the Irish or the urban poor and they came here to set up a new society that would be like England but without its social ills. That idea carried on to the foundation of the welfare state (which came very early here), and I believe is still true today - they don't want us to turn into the United States which has shall we say, replaced Britain as the example of a nation with social ills.

I suspect that New Zealanders would by in large prefer if we became more like a European nation than the United States.

Jackie said...

That would be the Europeans who also like being told what to do? The Europeans who believe that the rights of the whole outweigh the summed rights of all the individuals who constitute that whole? The Europeans who took fascism and state control to previously unprecedented levels? The Europeans who are confronting economic stagnation and seem to have absolutely no idea of the multiple benefits of western civilisation? Yep, aspiring to be like them is a super idea.