Monday, February 22, 2010

The triumph of mediocrity over aspiration

Although I did not vote for National, or any of the parties keeping the National led government in power, I did have some optimism that there would be a positive change. I knew it would barely be a fraction of what I wanted, and that it would be overlaid with the sort of folksy platitudes that patronise the vast majority of the population, most of whom are too uninterested to seriously challenge it.

However, there were, at least, two reasons to smile after the 2008 election. Firstly, Helen Clark and her government of control freaks was ousted. Nine years of government that believed it almost always had a role, to spend other people's money on things, to regulate, to set up strategies and inquiries, was finally at an end. Secondly, John Key is, at least, a self-made man. He at least in part represents the dream of many, so at least there would be some belief that the incoming administration would be in support of business, and would be sceptical about government providing solutions. Enough rhetoric had been thrown about by some in the National Party that there could be some hope of less spending, less government and less taxes, albeit at a fairly glacial pace.

This has proven to be, by and large, a delusion. Even the low expectations of optimism I had, are being frittered away.

The recent proposals to engage in the Roger Douglas style tax reform of the 1980s, again, by hiking GST and dropping some income tax, smack of the triumph of mediocrity over aspiration. National apparently believes that all of the bureaucracies that current exist have merit. It believes that the current levels of welfare dependency and the structures of both individual and corporate welfare set up by Labour, should largely remain intact. Indeed, the belief in the role of the state is such that National is embarking on road building plans that under the evaluation criteria it once stood by, are not worth it.

The arguments in favour of consumption taxes over income taxes may be quite solid, but the impact of this sort of reshuffling will be minor. It wont make a smidgen of difference to get New Zealand to be more productive, dynamic and innovative. It still smacks of the low value commodity based economy terrified its exchange rate would actually be worth enough to import high value goods from the rest of the world.

Why? Because National has demonstrated, once again, that it is not a party of serious change, a party that will shrink the role of the state and grant tax cuts as a result. It is a party to reshuffle the deck, a party too terrified to contemplate the sort of education policies even the British Conservative Party is gleefully waltzing into an election with. It is terrified of saying the word privatisation, as much as it did when it should have been confronting the economic retards of Winston Peters and Jim Anderton, though who really thinks that the state owning three competing power generation and retail companies is a serious long term strategy for the energy sector?

It is true to form, and sadly ACT is not making anything of this when it could and should. It could, positively, be arguing for things to go further, and National could give it free rein to make the sort of arguments it knows Labour never could - whilst remaining aloof from them (the implication being obvious - Labour would never advocate less government).

What will punish National the most is the simple fact that the increase in GST will fall most hard on those on lowest incomes. If you wanted to hand some rhetoric and a rallying cry for the left on a plate, increasing GST does it. For it not only hurts those who spend most of their earnings, but it also encourages the growth in a black market, a growth in trading via TradeMe to help avoid GST (and other taxes). The most recent TVNZ Colmar Brunton poll should, if Key was doing a Helen Clark, give room to pause. National was never elected to INCREASE ANY taxes, and the sleight of hand that it demonstrates is not fooling many.

Of course, given this is partly the brainchild of Bill English - the man who delivered National its most crushing defeat in 2002, because he couldn't confront Helen Clark's forceful (and believable) commitment to her principles, despite that government having legislated over private contracts with ACC and forcing Air NZ into a crisis because of its own dithering and nationalism.

However, maybe I'm wrong. Maybe New Zealanders just like governments that look like they are "doing something".


Melissa said...

Contrary to your post ACT is trying to push National to do more. It was ACT that pushed National into opening up the ACC's work account to competition.

Sir Roger Douglas has been saying since the idea of increasing GST was first floated, that raising it is unnecessary and that the Government should cut Government waste instead.

ACT wants to see the Government get rid of Departments such as the Charities Commission, Families Commission, Youth Affairs .....the list could go on.

There are plenty of savings to be made which would save New Zealanders from the need to increase GST.

Anonymous said...

Yes John Key is a self-made man, but he is only one man in the National Party, and that leopard never changes its spots. If someone as half decent as Don Brash couldn't get through the wall of "advisors" and "focus groups" then a John Key has no chance. This is the party of Bill English, Tony Ryall, Nick Smith!

One huge mistake Labour made during the election, understandable as they had seen off several National leaders, was to focus on John Key. The three above are odious enough to give any undecided National voter pause for thought.

Never trust the National Party.

Libertyscott said...

Melissa, excellent stuff though it has become abundantly clear that ACT is now divided. Sir Roger Douglas is fighting the good fight, whereas Rodney appears absent, correct me if I am wrong. Maybe ACT needs to be louder in expressing its view?

Lollyscramble: Quite, the bizarrely named "Brat Pack" are so incredibly weasley and insubstantial that it is remarkable how they are tolerated.

I'd argue never trust a politician.