put-the-politicians-on-minimum-wage-and-watch-how-fast-things-change

The parties and the facts on minimum wage

put-the-politicians-on-minimum-wage-and-watch-how-fast-things-change

I’m a huge fan of minimum wage laws, which were introduced in NZ before any other nation-state, in 1894. Along with a good welfare safety net (remember when we had one of those? I don’t), they ensure employers can’t take advantage of prospective workers’ desperation to exploit their labour while paying them barely enough to survive, like upper classes have done for most of history and most of the world. They also put more money in the pockets of lower-income earners, which means more money circulating in the local economy, rather than the ‘trickle-down’ approach that directs more money to Swiss banks and Hawaiian holiday homes. All this is good for all workers, and good for society. As a Christian, I can’t help but agree that minimum wage laws as a necessary (though not sufficient) response to James 5:4-5, and enactment of Luke 6:20-21.

Employers and right-wingers often respond to the minimum wage (or proposed increases to it) in the same way they did to the abolition of slavery: countering that minimum wage laws end up hurting the people they mean to help, by making jobs unaffordable for employers, and therefore increasing unemployment. However, as the Melbourne Age reports, most economists now agree that reasonable increases in the minimum wage don’t increase unemployment, and may even decrease it. They’ve found room in their theories to explain this, by observing that reality is more complex than their older models.

The Age also offers plenty of real-life examples of minimum wage increases not increasing unemployment. New Zealand’s Treasury and our history corroborate this, as does this very rich man. The Living Wage movement adds evidence of employers actually getting more value for each wage dollar by paying employees better, as their staff are healthier, less likely to need long hours or second jobs, more loyal to their workplaces, better-motivated and often more productive. New Zealand has notoriously low productivity, so higher wages may help improve this.

If the old, baseless myths of minimum wages harming workers and employers are cast aside, there remains no economic or ethical justification for a minimum wage below a living wage, “the income necessary to provide workers and their families with the basic necessities of life” and “enable workers to live with dignity and to participate as active citizens in society.” The living wage is currently calculated at $18.80 per hour.

I thought it would be useful to survey the various political parties’ policies and past records on the minimum wage and/or Living Wage, to see what each of them may do if in power after September the 20th.

There’s some quite significant differences, which I’ve roughly quantified in scores out of ten for the sake of TL;DR readers who probably haven’t read this far anyway.

The parties on minimum wage

Alongside the below, please note that Bryan Bruce recently asked all parties “whether they would or would not support in principle the introduction of a living wage rather than a minimum wage.”  “The Green Party, Labour, Mana, Maori Party. Alliance and Internet Party said Yes they would. ACT, United Future, Conservative Party, Democrats For Social Credit said No. NZ First gave no answer, while Bill English for National refused to answer saying the question was hypothetical.”

National 2/10: No policy; presumably status quo

Policy: National typically don’t campaign on policy, and they have barely have any policy on their website compared to every other party – including nothing on the minimum wage. We can assume current trends will continue.

Past record: The 1990s National-led government was famously committed to lowering, not raising wages, due to similar beliefs to the minimum wage myths discussed above. They let it stagnate except when NZ First forced them to increase it in 1997. The current National-led government have done a bit better; they’ve increased the minimum wage gradually, though much slower than the last Labour-led government - 18.75% in six years (just above inflation) compared to 71.43% in nine years (considerably above inflation; they also introduced Working for Families – see below). If this continues, it will further increase inequality, because it’s well out of step with economic growth.

National also re-introduced lower minimum wages for young and new employees, because of the minimum wage myth that would increase youth employment. This bill passed with the support of ACT and United Future, with all other parties opposing. National promote their most recent increase to $14.25 a lot in their media releases.

Labour 7/10: $15 at first, then further increases; Living wage ($18.80) for public jobs 

Policy: Labour have a clear (albeit somewhat out-of-date in its numbers) policy to “lift the minimum wage to $15 in our first 100 days in Government, followed by another rise in 2015.” The second amount is due to be announced “late this month,” and Andrew Little expects it will be to about $16. They also intend to reform employment law to be more in the interests of workers, and create jobs.

They will also “ensure that the Living Wage is paid to every person first working in the core public service,” and “As we can afford, within a programme of responsible fiscal management … seek to extend the Living Wage across crown entities including the health system and the aged care sector.” The latter would be great for our huge numbers of hard-working, poorly-paid aged-care workers. Anecdotally, I’ve heard that government subsidies are currently not enough for rest homes to pay their staff a living wage.

Past record: As mentioned, the last Labour-led government raised the minimum wage much faster than inflation, and much faster than the current National-led government. They also introduced Working for Families to top up sub-living wages with government subsidies – John Key called this “communism by stealth” at the time but now supports maintaining it rather than making employers pay more. They also passed a diluted version of Sue Bradford’s bill for youth to receive the same minimum wage as older adults, which National have essentially reversed (see above).

Green    9/10: 2/3 of average wage ($17-$20)

Policy: The Greens’ policy is to “increase the minimum wage and ensure it cannot fall below 66% of the average wage.” 66% of the average would translate to $17.16 as of a year ago, but as a friend pointed out, raising the minimum wage would also raise the average, so the final figure would be higher than that – it would take a smarter statistical mind than mine to give you a firm figure. The advantage of a relative measure is it deals with the material, absolute effects of inequality, as well as the material effects of poverty. Superannuation is indexed to average wages, and I think it’s a good idea for the minimum wage to be also. The Greens also say they are “committed to full employment with dignity and a living income, and reject[] the idea that economic stability requires either a significant level of unemployment or a low level of protection for those in the paid workforce.”

Past record: Former Green MP Sue Bradford led the charge for youth to receive the same minimum wage as adults, and the Labour-led government passed a version of this. Contrary to what right-wing bloggers and politicians say, it didn’t cause any adverse affect to youth employment; in fact it decreased youth inactivity.

NZF    6.5/10: $16 at first; hinting at possible further increases

Policy: Their policy is to raise the minimum wage to $16 “in the first instance.” It’s not clear what would happen next; Winston Peters has previously said that after an initial raise they will “then add margins for skill and good service,” which isn’t particularly clear either. This lack of clarity means I’ve given them a score slightly below Labour’s, despite the initial increase being higher. They’ll also make employment law better for workers, and reverse National’s policy of lower minimum wages for young workers, preferring a more constructive policy of “subsidizing wages for employers who take on young, unemployed people for trade training and skills programmes.”

Past record: In their confidence and supply agreement with Labour in 2005, they asked Labour to “continue the practice of annually increasing the minimum wage, with a view to it being set at $12.00 per hour by the end of 2008,” which happened. Also, the only significant increase to the minimum wage in the 1990s National-led government was prompted by NZ First. All their media releases on the minimum wage advocate for raising it (or oppose reintroducing the youth rate), and in a speech to the Combined Trade Unions Peters boasts that “New Zealand First has supported every increase in the minimum wage.”

Maori    9/10: Raise minimum wage to living wage ($18.80)

Policy: The policy section of their website hasn’t been updated for this election, and suggests raising the minimum wage to $16 as of 2011. More recently, they announced a policy of raising the minimum wage to the calculated living wage of $18.80. The Living Wage movement’s figure, which is updated each year, is based mostly on absolute measures. The advantage of this is that it deals with the material necessities of living a full life in society, can’t be written off as “merely relative” – though of course this writing-off misses the point spectacularly.

Past record: They haven’t let their role in National-led government blunt their criticism of its slow increases in the minimum wage, saying “The Government should be ashamed of themselves” for raising it a mere 25c to $13.75 in 2013. In the same release, they described “the increase in income inequality over the last 25 years as a major threat to our economic well-being and social cohesion,” and said “The Government should focus on reducing wage inequality by targeting high wages of excessively high income earners” as well as increasing the minimum wage.

Mana     10/10: Living Wage ($18.80) and no lower than 66% of average wage ($17-20)

Policy: Mana’s policy is to “Increase the minimum wage to $18.80 per hour (a living wage) and index it at 66% of the average wage to ensure it remains a living wage.” This combines the advantages of the Māori party policy (combating material deprivation by adopting a living wage) and the Green Party policy (combating the material affects of inequality and relative poverty by ensuring the minimum wage never goes below 66% of the average wage). Their economic justice, livelihoods and social wellbeing policies also include many other ways to “Raise the incomes of low-income earners,” including better protection for workers, working towards full employment by creating community service jobs for the unemployed, reversing National’s lower minimum wages for youth, finally increasing welfare support from the poverty-level it’s been at since 1991, abolishing GST which disproportionately impacts on the poor, and working towards a Universal Basic Income, as recommended by Gareth Morgan.

Past record: Mana is only three years old as a party, so their main past record has been advocating for the last three years for a higher minimum wage, and opposing the reduction of the minimum wage for young and new workers.

ACT    0/10: Scrap the minimum wage

Policy: If ACT had their way, minimum wage laws would be “gone by lunchtime” (to quote their former leader on NZ’s nuclear-free stance). This is part of their welfare [or lack thereof] policy, which they note would be a continuation of the current government’s approach to welfare. It’s interesting that even though the minimum wage is not about benefits, but work, ACT lump it under welfare policy – presumably because it goes to poor people, not rich people.

Past record: All their releases on the minimum wage advocate for lowering it, oppose raising it, or oppose it altogether. They successfully lobbied National to have it lowered for young and new workers. They frequently repeat the minimum wage myths discussed above; that minimum wages are a “barrier to unemployment,” and that a “myth that minimum wages protect the poor.”

UF    2/10: Seems to support the status quo, whatever that might be

Policy: The policy section of their website is in progress, and mostly still lists 2011 policy. I can’t find anything on their 2011 policy or even their media releases on minimum wage, except for saying they’d require “foreign charter vessels … compl[y] with New Zealand minimum wage laws and labour conditions,” which is a good and much-needed policy.

Past record: United Future have been confidence and supply partners of both the last National government and the last Labour government, and from what I can tell, they’ve supported what both their big sisters have done, despite the contradictions. This news report clarifies what I couldn’t find in their 2011 policy: they didn’t support a higher minimum wage last election (not sure about since). Last year, Peter Dunne’s one vote allowed National’s lower minimum wage for young and new workers to pass.

Internet    ?/10: No policy so far

Policy: Their policies are still in progress, and I can find barely anything even being discussed on their policy forum - I found a few comments here, which aren’t too encouraging. Ironically, their media releases lack the basic internet feature of a search function, so I’m finding it hard to see if they’ve even mentioned the minimum wage anywhere (except for this release from Hone Harawira on behalf of Internet Mana). Perhaps the most solid statements they’ve made are one-off responses to questions: their affirmative response to Bryan Bruce’s Living Wage question above, Bruce’s other questions and Miriam Pierard’s strong response to bFM on inequality.

Past record: Since they don’t even have policy yet, they certainly don’t have a past record. I suppose Kim Dotcom’s past record is worth mentioning; though here’s another perspective on it. In any case, while Dotcom does have a largely undefined “oversight” role, there are plenty of others involved in shaping policy: candidates, members and even to some extent the Mana party.

Conservative    4/10: $20,000 tax-free threshold instead of raising minimum wage

Policy: I only found one thing about the minimum wage on their website; it’s an undated response from Colin Craig to a reader’s question about the living wage and unions. Craig’s answer shows he believes in minimum wage myths as much as “tough on crime” myths, but it also clarifies his policy, which is to “increase the [non-existent] tax free threshold to $25,000″ [now $20,000, and with an undefined flat tax after that] instead of raising the minimum wage.

A tax-free threshold would be great for low-income earners (and is one of the few policies the Conservatives have in common with Mana), but isn’t really a substitute for fairer wages. Quick calculations show if there was flat tax of 20% above $20,000, a minimum wage worker would end up with the equivalent of about $15.50 per hour on current tax rates (though presumably less public services). If it was 30% flat tax, they’d end up with the equivalent of $15/hr on current tax rates. If it was 40% (unlikely, given their low tax rhetoric), they’d end up with basically the same net wages as now.

Past record: I can’t find anything apart from the above.

Scores/10 according to me:

Mana: 10
Māori: 9
Green: 9
Labour: 7
NZ First: 6.5
Conservative: 4
National: 2
United Future: 2
ACT: 0
Internet: ?

In case you need any more convincing …

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NZers like to think our mainstream media are “balanced” and “neutral,” unlike in the UK or US. That’s becoming less and less credible. New Zealand print media is basically owned by two companies: Fairfax (Stuff, Press, Dominion etc) and APN (Herald). I’ve written about Fairfax a few times before; they have a major crush on the personality of John Key and a banal pro-National way of framing things (compare this headline with this one, for example; though the articles themselves are more balanced).

I haven’t mentioned the Herald so much – they usually seem not quite as bad as Stuff. But it’s worth reviewing what they’ve been up to over the last few weeks, in case you need any more convincing that our corporate newspapers are biased towards the corporate party.

The New Zealand Herald and its reporters:

You could say the media just love a good political scandal, whoever’s the target, and it just happens that Labour’s the target this time (and often an easy target); and that sometimes the press get it wrong, and it just happens they were wrong this time. That’s basically how they’re defending themselves. But what precedent is there for major media outlets doing similar things to these for the other side? When Labour were in government, Labour were the press’s main target (notwithstanding Brethren, and certainly since Key’s ascendancy); now, in opposition, they still are (notwithstanding teapots).

Anyway, I can’t for the life of me work out what all this has to do with one in four children living in poverty, skyrocketing inequality, skyrocketing housing costs, climate change, the last 55 Maui’s dolphins, our native forests, a floundering Christchurch rebuild, educationeconomic policy, the end of our independent foreign policy, war, NSA spying, pro-corporate/anti-democratic trade agreements, corporate dominance of NZ, democracy for Canterbury’s regional council, democracy in general, or any other issues that actually matter to NZ and this election.

Post-script (Fri 4 July):

Armstrong’s at it again. David Slack says it all.

Post-script (Mon 14 July):

Here’s another example of how the Herald report when a senior National MP does something (genuinely) wrong.

Post-script (Mon 21 July):

Good points made here; another example of “Cunliffe does essentially nothing wrong; Key doing far worse not acknowledged.”

Student politics + evidence vs. inequality

SPD U Can be part of the solution

I’m somewhat embarrassed to say that 5 1/2 years after graduating from the University of Canterbury, I’ve got myself embroiled in student media/politics again. But this time, instead of contributing to Pun Network News or trying (unsuccessfully) to bring down the UCSA status quo, I’ve responded to a face-palm-worthy Canta article defending inequality. I take aim at all-too-common, evidence-free, essentially religious arguments for inequality and capitalism. You can read it here.

I’m not embarrassed to have my article appear in a new alternative publication, Counta, set up by a group of students fed up with the anti-intellectualism and political illiteracy of mainstream student politics/media at Canterbury at the moment. Counta were happy to publish the response when Canta declined.

I’m also not embarrassed to say I was inspired to respond by a lot of evidence and research suggested by friends in MarxSoc, which enabled me to put together a well-researched response I’m pretty happy with.

So, although there’s plenty of disturbing, disappointing and depressing stuff happening in student politics at Canterbury, there’s also some encouraging signs in informed student resistance, and awesome groups like Students for Participatory Democracy, FemSoc, MarxSoc and UC POLS. These groups make me want to get embroiled in student politics again. If you’re at Canterbury (as a student or a staff member, like me), I recommend you check them out.

MMP strategy and the big parties: Self-interest, hypocrisy and anti-democracy

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National: Self-interest

In the last few days, many have noted National’s blatant self-interest in ignoring the Electoral Commission and maintaining the MMP status quo. The Commission suggested lowering the threshold to 4% and removing the “coat-tailing” exception, but National refused to do so because they wanted to continue having cups of tea with John Banks, Peter Dunne and (if needs be) Colin Craig. And now their chickens are coming home to roost with the Internet Mana strategic alliance. (In theory, the Conservatives and ACT could follow suit – but I’d argue there’s less common ground between Jamie Whyte and Colin Craig than between Kim Dotcom and Hone Harawira)

Labour: Hypocrisy

Certain Labour members (edit: though not Louisa Wall) are taking a far more critical view of coat-tailing and strategic use thereof. Many have (rightly) criticised Labour for being anti-strategic, anti-small-parties and anti-anyone-further-left-than-them. Some have also (wrongly) suggested they’re hypocrites for not consistently criticising “coat-tailers” on the left and right. In fact, they are consistently criticising coat-tailers – condemning both Epsom and the Internet Mana alliance as “rort[s] of the system,” “ruse[s]” and “scam[s],” and proposing to get rid of the rule that allows them.

So they’re not being inconsistent. But they are being hypocritical, by condemning coat-tailers in the first place – for at least four reasons.

Firstly, because until Jim Anderton retired, they happily let him win Wigram for another party, and received him and any coat-tail buddies he could bring with him into the Clark governments.

They’ll no doubt say the difference is voters “genuinely liked” Jim Anderton (and their ex-buddy Peter Dunne), whereas Epsom voters only vote for the ACT candidate because they want to see his party represented. Perhaps this is true. But under First Past the Post, millions of voters across the country voted for Labour candidates not because they liked the candidate, but because they wanted to see the party represented. And still under MMP, many Green/Mana/etc supporters vote for Labour local candidates because they prefer a Labour local MP to the only other realistic alternative.

So they’re also hypocritical because they’re happy for Labour voters in Wigram or Green voters in Wellington Central to vote strategically for another party’s candidate, but not National voters in Epsom (or Labour voters in Te Tai Tokerau, for that matter).

Thirdly, they’re hypocritical because they call the “cup of tea” strategy a “rort” and in the very same press release endorse their own “reverse cup of tea” strategy: Labour voters voting for National’s Paul Goldsmith in Epsom. The only way this can possibly be ethically coherent is if they see all local seats as “rightfully” belonging to the same party that won the most party votes in that electorate (ie, always either National or Labour)… but in that case they’d have to give up most of their 22 electorate seats from the last election (some examples). And, of course, it would be pointless having a two-tick system if that was how it worked.

Lastly, they’re hypocritical because what is a political party but a strategic alliance of disparate factions and individuals, with some common purposes, banding together to pursue those purposes in elections and government? There’s at least as much diversity of views within Labour or National as there is between the Internet Party and Mana, and considerably more in-fighting (so far). But Labour have inherited a respectable and safe “major party” status that will never be described as an unholy “rort,” due the historical accident of being descended from a party that once represented the labour movement. This means that by condemning Internet Mana, they’re condemning a “sin” they’re not “tempted” by. Like National but unlike anyone else, they’ve never had to work doubly-hard for each vote, by first convincing potential voters a vote for them won’t be wasted. They’ve never had to resort to creative MMP strategies to provide this assurance. Blinding themselves to the privilege the system gives them, they blame the parties the system doesn’t privilege for taking the opportunities available to them.

Fixing the real problem

These days, Anderton is representing a dead fake building instead of Wigram, and Dunne is serving casinos instead of Clark… there’s no small parties left Labour actually likes. So, very nobly, they’re proposing to enact the Electoral Commission’s suggestions if elected.

But these high-minded condemnations and proposed solutions misdiagnose the problem entirely. The problem is that the threshold built into our MMP system stops it being truly proportional. It stacks the system against small and new parties, threatening to waste their votes and making them work far harder for them… thus creating the need and incentive for the so-called “rort” strategies.

That won’t change by getting rid of the coat-tailing exception, or even by lowering the threshold from 5% to 4%. We’d still have small parties banding together – only they’d be doing it to get across the 5% (or 4%) threshold, like the original Alliance. And we’d still have artificially skewed results – like the Labour voters who vote NZ First to make sure they get above 5% (or 4%), or the voters who shy away from small parties because they’re worried they won’t reach 5% (or 4%), often leading to a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The only way to stop disadvantaging small parties and incentivising “dodgy deals” is something neither National, Labour or the Electoral Commission suggest, but the most evidence-based/least reactionary submittersinternational experts and bloggers across the political spectrum do: make MMP fully and straightforwardly proportional, by eradicating the threshold system that causes these problems in the first place. 1% of the votes, 1% of the seats – end of story. No need for the controversial coat-tailing exception, nobody’s vote robbed of effect because the party wasn’t big enough, and no need for creative strategies to negotiate coat-tailing versus wastage.

The Electoral Commission acknowledge that lowering or abolishing the threshold “would be a solution more consistent with the principle of proportionality that underpins the MMP system”… the only reason they won’t do it is because of a fear of a “proliferation of small parties.” Yes; you read that right; a supposedly independent commission are biased towards large parties, considering them “safer” than small parties; even though there’s no evidence high thresholds or few parties brings stability. And, of course, both big parties agree with them – neither of them suggest lowering the threshold below 4%.

The stupid thing is, at the moment we do have a proliferation of small parties; but we also have a proliferation of the strategies Labour condemns, because that’s basically the only way small and new parties can get in. If the Electoral Commission get their way, there may be less opportunities for small parties and their strategies, but (as they admit!) this would come at the cost of true proportionality. Is this anti-democratic knee-jerk response and anti-proportional threshold rule really worth it?

I’m (tentatively) happy about Internet Mana

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InternetManatweet

The Mana Movement and the Internet Party have made their unlikely strategic alliance official – the full agreement is here. It will be a new party for electoral purposes, with a combined list for the party vote, but both parties will retain their own separate identities, policies and leaders.

My first reaction was sort of like Sue Bradford’s, but unlike her, I’ve rethought it and I’m now (tentatively) for it. I could change my mind, but I’m quite likely to vote for them in September.

Here’s the main pros and cons hesitations as far as I see them.

Pros

Strategy

The anti-democratic thresholds in our MMP system place very high barriers of entry to small and new parties. It’s a vicious circle – in order to cross one of the thresholds you have to assure voters their votes won’t be wasted, and to do that you have to guarantee you can cross one of the thresholds. Thus, small parties (and their larger allies) usually need to make use of various strategies like the cup of tea, the reverse cup of tea, specialist targeting of Māori seats, and – yes – the strategic alliance.

The right-of-NZ First parties have been much better at these strategies than the left-of-NZ-First parties. If it wasn’t for these strategies last election, we could have avoided asset sales and the GCSB bill, and passed Feed the Kids. iPredict thinks both ACT and United Future‘s cups of tea will remain successful this year, and National has another cup up their sleeve if they’re desperate – Colin Craig. This election is looking even more tight than the last, and the relatively-left bloc need to get better at using MMP strategically (this is welcome news from a strategic perspective, despite the hypocrisy; let’s hope the Greens join in).

The alliance strategy was used fruitfully in the aptly-named Alliance party for about three elections, almost-fruitfully by the Christian Coalition in 1996 and semi-fruitfully by United Future, Outdoor Recreation and WIN in 2005.

The beauty of an electoral alliance rather than a merger is that it enables both parties to maintain separate identities. Under the Internet Mana alliance, the parties have separate policies and policy spokespeople, separate leaders and very clear identities. It even allows the same people to be list candidates for Internet Mana and electoral candidates for their individual parties (are they allowed to do this? Apparently yes). They also have an exit clause - the current agreement will expire six weeks after the election, and they’ll re-assess after the election.

However, as long as they’re aligned they’ll pool resources, campaign together for the party vote, run a Get Out the Vote campaign and develop a shared policy platform of stuff they both agree on and they’ll all vote for.

Mana

I’m a Mana supporter – I voted for Mana in 2011 and was probably going to vote for them again. Mana seem to be the most (arguably the only) genuinely left-wing party in Parliament, and one of the parties who care most about the most vulnerable. I like what Mana bring to this alliance and to Parliament – whether in government, keeping Labour accountable to the poor and Māori, or in opposition as a prophetic voice. And I’d love to see John Minto in Parliament.

This alliance should make that more likely – it’s a great deal for Mana, giving them positions 1, 3 and 4 on the combined party list and an IP leader at #2 who’s another classic NZ leftist from way back (see below). The pooling of financial/human resources means Mana will also benefit from Kim Dotcom’s $$$, which has led to accusations of “selling out” etc. That’s a bit rich given Mana, more than any other party, have stood up for their principles even when they’re unpopular and non-utilitarian. Harawira, Sykes and Minto would not have agreed to this deal if they felt it compromised their principles. Just like with rich amateur sportspeople criticising poor professionals, it’s easy for the party who doesn’t need to “sell out” to criticise those who do make strategic use of offered resources for mutual benefit.

Internet Party

I’m not really a fan of Kim Dotcom, but I like some things about the Internet Party – they’ll be more radical than any other party on certain issues such as spying, intellectual property and (perhaps) free tertiary education. Free tertiary education is normal where Kim Dotcom is from, and was received by most NZ MPs older than about Metiria Turei’s age, but is too “far left” for any other party at the moment.

I’d (tentatively) like to see the Internet Party in Parliament (but see “Hesitations” below). If the rumours are true, it’d be good to see Laila Harré back in Parliament too (see below).

I probably wouldn’t vote for them ahead of Mana or the Greens, but the same goes for Labour, and I’d still want Mana and the Greens to work with them after the election. Why not work with the Internet Party before the election too, if it could get more representation for both parties, inspire apathetic people to vote and avoid wasted anti-John-Key votes?

Common ground

I don’t agree that the two parties have “practically nothing in common.” They have at least as much in common as the unionists and neo-liberals in Labour, or the urban liberal businesspeople and rural conservative farmers in National, or the eco-socialists and eco-capitalists in the Greens, or the libertarians and fascists in ACT.

The central thing Māori, leftists and Kim Dotcom fans have in common is not wanting empires raiding their homes, controlling their lives and oppressing them. None of these groups are fans of US military dominance of our privacy and policy, or capitalist dominance of trade and intellectual property. The spirit of the internet is the spirit of freedom, consensus and self-determination – the opposite of the spirit of colonisation, corporate dominance and inequality.

Of course, there are differences between the groups. That’s obvious. But I don’t think there’s anything in the Internet Party’s policies signalled so far that a Mana voter should oppose. This guy powerfully shows the appeal of the Internet Party idea to a certain constituency, and it definitely sounds like something a Mana supporter get behind. I think the two parties can learn a lot from each other, and (in true Internet spirit) they’re maintaining a lot of autonomy for where they disagree.

The IP are kind of a single-issue party (well: they have about four single issues), so perhaps they could basically provide policy on their specialist areas and let Mana provide the rest – so long as they’ll accept that. I also think it’d be good to get the literal single-issue party, Legalise Cannabis, on board - I think a lot of Mana and Internet Party voters would be sympathetic to their cause. Perhaps they wouldn’t provide candidates, but they’d join the alliance in exchange for a promise that those elected would work towards decriminalisation and eventually legalisation… though maybe that’s too much to ask this time around.

Hesitations

IP People

No Internet Party candidates have been named yet. It won’t be confirmed until 2pm tomorrow, but it’s been leaked that the Internet Party leader will be former Alliance leader Laila Harré. This is an interesting choice – I’m not sure what her internet credentials are, but she’s definitely someone I’d be happy to vote for. It’s likely their leader she will make it into Parliament – they’d only need 1.2% of the party vote, or 2% if Annette Sykes wins Waiariki. The IP leader will be announced tomorrow - it will be someone with name recognition, whom Mana are “extremely happy” with. My money would have been on Martyn Bradbury, given his previous suggestions, but apparently he’s been ruled out. iPredict has no bets on - I expect it’s all too sudden.

It’s possible other IP candidates will be elected too (though they’d need about 3.6%). These candidates are being chosen over the next few weeks - we’ll have to wait and see who they are.

IP Policies

Internet Party policies are similarly “in progress.” Kim Dotcom has signalled support for various policies like better & cheaper internet, opposition to the GCSB and TPPA, combating inequality and free tertiary education, but the actual policies are being developed via online forum. There’s a lot of uncertainty what they’ll eventually look like, and (I expect) a danger of policy being shaped with a post-modern “my opinion is as valuable as yours” mind-set, rather than decent research. I’m not sure how the Internet Mana joint policies will be decided on.

Nonetheless, the strategic alliance strategy works in theory even without any shared policy platform – so long as you don’t hate each other’s policy enough that you’d rather disadvantage your own side’s policy than advantage the other’s.

Te Tai Tokerau

The whole plan is predicated on Hone Harawira having a safe seat to bring in others on his coat-tails; but it might not be as safe as it seems, despite his having won it for the Māori Party, as an independent, and for Mana. Labour’s usual philosophy is to oppose anyone further left than them, and they’re certainly not offering Harawira any cups of tea to keep the seat. Their candidate Kelvin Davis is a strong candidate who’s just made it back into Parliament after Shane Jones’ retirement. He slashed Harawira’s majority in the seat in the last two elections, and he’s hoping to take it off him this time. There’s a danger the whole plan could massively backfire if Harawira’s constituency don’t approve of the alliance, and he loses his seat (of course, Annette Sykes could still take Waiariki off Te Ururoa Flavell).

Voters

This leads into my last hesitation – voters. Other potential voters might not be so supportive of a strategic alliance. While I don’t think Mana and Internet Party policies are really opposed to each other, their voters are another story. Mana voters could be morally opposed to voting for billionaire businesspeople who donated money to John Banks. And the Pākehā cynical/apathetic torrent/Reddit lovers who (I imagine) form many of the Internet Party’s prospective voters might be swayed by the mainstream media demonisation of Harawira. So, again, the strategy could back-fire if it costs more votes than it gains. Time and polls will tell.

Housing crises are great for Brownlee’s net worth

10041146Graph from The Press

A quick recap on the NZ and Christchurch housing affordability crises:
- 80s-present: NZ housing affordability worsens throughout the neo-liberal era (p. 13-14, 68-70).
- 24/1/2011: Auckland, Christchurch, Wellington and Tauranga house prices assessed as “severely unaffordable.”
- 2010-2012: Canterbury earthquakes reduce housing supply and increase rental housing demand.
- 20/3/2012: National and Gerry Brownlee decide to leave the market to sort out the Christchurch housing crisis.
- 18/6/2012: Brownlee suggests rent rises in Christchurch aren’t “astronomical” compared to other cities.
- 7/7/2012: Brownlee says he can only see positives in Christchurch’s skyrocketing rents.
- 29/10/2012: John Key rules out a capital gains tax like most countries have, simultaneously showing just how out of touch he is.
- 27/8/2013: Housing is now less affordable in Christchurch than Wellington.
- 14/5/2014: Christchurch rents projected to hit Auckland levels in January 2015. Housing Minister Nick Smith suggests “the real problem” is not enough rental accommodation for tourists.
- 15/5/2014: The Budget offers a pittance and cuts for housing, and worse for Chch.
- 19/5/2014: An OECD report finds New Zealand has the most over-valued houses in the developed world. Key, true to form, disagrees with the OECD, and tries to spin the news as a positive as more people are entering the “housing market.”

A consistent theme emerges in the current government’s attitude to these developments: (a) there’s no crisis – if anything it’s a good thing, (b) if there is a crisis, the market will sort it out by itself (because dog-eat-dog individual selfishness systems are great for the vulnerable, eh).

It’s tempting to say they’re simply idiots, but it’s better to ask which groups in society are they representing, and which aren’t they?

For most groups in society, the above information amounts to a housing crisis nationwide, and particularly in Christchurch. But for one group, rapidly rising rent and house prices doesn’t amount to a crisis, but an opportunity for increased profit. This is the group that treats housing as an investment, not somewhere to live: rental property investors.

Gerry Brownlee and many other National MPs are in this group of people. Most of Brownlee’s rental properties are in his own Ilam electorate, where rents in one suburb (Aorangi) rose by 51% in a year. I think this is a pretty important conflict of interest at the best of times, but even more so amid the housing crisis Brownlee and his party are determined to ignore.

I recently wrote to Brownlee, essentially asking him to clarify the question I asked in an earlier blog:

How much passive income does Brownlee get for his properties, and how much has it gone up since 2010 and him subsequently “letting the market sort out” the housing crisis?

If you’re interested, here’s Brownlee’s response. My attempt to name-drop the Official Information Act backfired – it turns out this info isn’t available under the OIA because it’s not government info. So the public don’t get any more detail than what’s listed on the register of pecuniary interests. I asked if he’d answer my questions anyway, as a goodwill gesture to one of his constituents… I’ll let you know if he replies.

If National win this year’s election, it will be because of personality and PR. If they lose, it will be because of housing. It’s the biggest issue in Brownlee’s electorate and the country. While National are denying, blaming and doing nothing, Labour are making supply-side and demand-side action on the housing crisis the centre of their campaign.

A quick word on tax cuts

coma cartoonNational has announced their first budget surplus, after plunging us into debt for the last five years.

They’ve also hinted that at some stage before or after the election campaign, they may announce what makes all our hearts instinctively leap, at least before we think about it: tax cuts. This would mark the first changes to tax since 2010, when they shifted the tax burden from the rich onto poor and middle-income earners.

Mana’s John Minto has an interesting reaction. He says tax cuts are a great idea, and suggests shifting the tax burden back again: abolishing GST and tax on the first $27,000 of income, and paying for this by finally taxing the unproductive untaxed income of the 1% – capital gains and financial transactions.

Something tells me a party of property magnates and investment bankers is not going to propose those kind of tax changes – any recovery-era tax cuts will presumedly be along similar lines to their recession-era tax cuts.

Does this strike anyone else as a little strange? Not just because they’re promising tikka masala before the chickens have hatched (the surplus is tiny, and only a projection based on fudged numbers, disguised cuts and abandoning Christchurch).

The main reason it’s strange is that when we were heading into rough financial times, they thought the appropriate thing to do was to cut taxes on the rich. And now in healthier financial times, they again think the appropriate thing to do is to cut taxes (presumedly again on the rich). Never mind the fact that they haven’t paid off their debt from the last tax cuts and tough economic times yet.

The truth is that they’re not responding to the economic climate at all. In tough times or healthy times, they’re pushing a philosophical agenda to let the rich continue getting richer while paying lower taxes, and reduce the social safety net to pay for it. Bill English recently let this agenda slip in a recent speech to the party’s Southern Region conference. They’ve already let public goods and services drop from 35% of GDP to 30% – one of the lowest rates in the OECD – and they intend to reduce that even further, to 26% over the next six or seven years. This is not what NZers want.

The obvious solution is not to let them rule for the next six or seven (or three) years.