Category: low wages

I don’t fully know how to feel so here’s some graphs

The day after the election I said “I’d be extremely surprised if it doesn’t turn out to be National-NZ First.” Well, I have the pleasure (I think?) of being able to say again: I was wrong.

I’m not entirely sure how I feel yet.
(I guess I’m happy? We’ll have to wait and see the content of the agreement and what the govt actually does. I hope the Greens demanded a lot and got it (this looks promising but we don’t have details or confirmation yet), and that Winston emphasised the 1/3 of him that’s like Sanders rather than the 2/3 of him that’s like Trump. There is real hope of climate action, more paid parental leave, faster minimum wage increases, reversal of the step-backwards pay equity law, adequate funding for health especially mental health, more support for students and some free education, repeal of national standards and charter schools, more affordable housing even if limited crackdown on speculation, adequately funding a full superannuation system in the future with the taxes future retirees are paying now, less poverty in families where adults are in paid work, and maybe even some benefit rises/humanisation.)

So instead of reactions or analysis I thought I’d do what I do best and make a couple of graphs.

Here’s the first one. It compares the votes received by the parties that ended up making up the government with the votes received by other parties who (a) managed to make it into Government and (b) plausibly might have banded together to form a government.1

votes for govt bloc vs alternative blocs

The takeaway from this is:

  • The 2017 government represents a majority of votes as well as a majority of seats. Under FPP, the government hadn’t represented the majority of votes since 1951. And even under MMP, governments don’t represent a majority of party votes every time (five times out of eight so far).
  • The alternative bloc (National & NZ First) would have been an even bigger majority: it got 1.29% more party votes than the bloc that formed the government. But this isn’t new. In 1996, the alternative bloc (Labour & NZ First & Alliance) got 4.42% more party votes than the bloc that formed the government. Both times NZ First chose what they thought was the best government bloc, not the biggest government bloc.
  • As I argued in my last blog, MMP creates monarch-maker situations more often than FPP because it more accurately reflects how people vote. As Winston pointed out in his reveal speech, neither National nor the Labour-Green MOU succeeded in winning a majority and king/queenmaking themselves. This left NZF able to make up a majority with either side. A lot of people don’t like kingmakers—especially when they’re people we don’t like, and especially when they don’t choose how we’d like. And I get it. But First Past the Post was worse. It artificially advantaged major parties and leads to disproportionate situations like 1978, 1981, 1984, and 1993 where the opposition bloc won more votes (often substantially more votes) than the government bloc but didn’t get the all-important majority of seats.

Here’s the second graph:

govt gender makeup

The takeaway from this one is pretty obvious.

Footnotes

  1. This means I’ve excluded other parties who might have liked to be part of a government bloc but they didn’t make it into Parliament (TOP, Conservatives, Christian Coalition, Legalise Cannabis, Values, sometimes Social Credit, sometimes NZ First, etc.). I’ve also excluded parties where it’s not plausible that they might have worked together: e.g. ACT with National and NZ First this time (they wouldn’t have been needed or wanted). I dunno if it’s plausible that Social Credit might have gone with Labour in 1978 and 1981 and National in 1984 because I don’t really know anything about Social Credit, but I’ve erred on the side of “who knows—maybe”. If we removed Social Credit from the numbers, the opposition blocs would be reduced. But still, in ’78 and ’81, Labour won the popular vote but National won a majority of seats. 
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The “teal deal” is not going to happen, and it’s not the Greens’ fault

“National and the Greens should work together” sentiment seems to have reached an all-time high. This is not because the two parties have moved closer together in policy or philosophy. It’s because after the election, this is the only way—short of a Nat-Lab grand coalition—to lock Winston Peters out of any role in government.1

I can’t be bothered to list examples because I’m sure you’ve all seen or heard people calling for a blue-green government arrangement (or “teal deal” if you will). Perhaps you’ve even suggested it yourself.2

What I want to talk about is the suggestion that usually comes after “National and the Greens should work together”. This is how former National PM Jim Bolger puts it:

“the Greens might be quietly reflecting on whether they, unique in the world of Green parties, should only link themselves to left-wing politics, whereas the environment is neither left wing or right wing, frankly. The environment is the environment; it’s Mother Earth we’re talking about.”

The idea is that the Greens would be more effective in pushing environmental policy if they stuck to that, and got rid of their insistence on left-wing socio-economic policy. This way, it is suggested, they would have a better chance of being able to find room for compromise and cooperation with National. Other Green parties in countries like Germany have been willing to form coalition governments with right-wing parties.

The Greens’ usual response is to give reasons why environmental justice and socio-economic justice (or environmental sustainability and socio-economic sustainability) are inextricably linked. Ever since they were the Values Party they’ve pushed both, and they don’t intend to stop now.

Another response could be to say that New Zealand is not Germany. Germany has a democratic socialist party called The Left which pushes left-wing policy even if the centre-left parties (the Greens and the SDP) don’t—even if they form grand coalitions with the centre-right. In New Zealand, the Alliance and Mana have disappeared as left voices in Parliament. Moreover, Labour kickstarted neo-liberalism and haven’t really repented from it. Until Labour make a significant change from Clark/Blair-esque compromise to Corbyn-esque social democracy, the Greens are the only party significantly trying to push New Zealand in a leftward direction.

However, both of these responses to the challenge accept the terms of the challenge (like Labour accepted the terms of National’s “dead cat” “fiscal hole” challenge). These responses accept the assumption that it’s the Greens’ left-wing socio-economic stance that blocks them from working with National, and that they’d be able to find common ground on the environment.

However, I don’t think this is correct. Certainly the Greens’ socio-economic stances—making welfare more of a livable UBI and less of a punitive control mechanism; raising tax on the rich and introducing it for property investors; returning the minimum wage to 2/3 of the average wage; reducing imprisonment—are all basically the opposite of what the Key-English government have done. However, I think Bill English is actually more likely to accept these policies than to accept Greens’ environmental policies. If Bill could be convinced these socio-economic policies are good “social investment”, he could get behind them. Of course, he won’t. (This is largely because National’s vision of “social investment” is so limited by a pathologically individualist mindset, and so tantamount to Minority Report in its instinct to control the risk factors rather than healing the determinants.) But it’s not outside the realms of possibility.

The Greens’ environmental policies, on the other hand, would require National to actually seriously challenge farm owners, drilling/mining companies, and other capitalists. Currently the costs of these capitalists’ activities are largely falling on the environment, and therefore on the present and future public. The Greens want to stop these business activities destroying our shared home by preventing and internalising these external costs. They’ll ban some unjustifiably polluting business activities, such as drilling or mining or exploring for more fossil fuels at a time when even burning the fossil fuels already dug up will make the Paris target impossible. They’ll tax other business activities for their pollution—making those who produce the costs pay the costs, instead of externalising them. And they’ll use the tax revenue to clean up the damage and to subsidise farmers and other businesses moving to more sustainable ways of doing business.

Do you really see National doing that? The party whose base is farm owners and other capitalists? The party that think climate change is only an issue for “elites”, and that it’s not a “pressing concern”, and that we should adapt to climate change rather than mitigating it? The party who scaremongered on a small water tax for some big farms that are currently destroying the quality of Aotearoa’s awa and wai?3

So how should the Greens respond to this “helpful suggestion” to the Greens—and this implicit congratulation of National for their supposed hypothetical willingness to “green up”?

Well, I wonder if they should make an offer to National this election: If you let us have our way with the environment, we’ll give you confidence and supply to do everything else you want to do as the Government for the next three years. We’d pass a zero carbon act and introduce the Greens’ policies for actually getting to zero carbon. We’d follow the Greens’ ideas to clean up our rivers instead of pretending National and the “hard-working farmers4 already have the issue under control. We’d build sustainable transport instead of roads, roads, and more roads.

And maybe we’d have to tax the rich at least a little more to pay for some of this—and/or take slightly longer to repay the Key-era debt. Bill’s choice.

National would refuse this offer. And then maybe people would stop trying to make the teal deal happen. Or at least realise it’s not Green stubbornness stopping it happening. It’s National’s near-total lack of concern for the environment.

Footnotes

  1. Special votes are extremely unlikely to change the basic possibilities. 
  2. Someone who can always be bothered finding, listing and summarising examples is my hero Bryce Edwards who has subsequently done one of his legendary political round-ups on the teal deal. 
  3. These points I’m making are not new—here‘s basically the same point made three years ago on the No Right Turn blog. 
  4. It was shrewd of National to portray criticism of National’s record on rivers as criticism of farmers who are working hard to clean up rivers, because it’s deeply ingrained in the NZ psyche to pretend we’re really farmers at heart. We all lie about being the rural type. 

This is why we need a living wage

we_told_them_the_wealth_would_trickle_down

More free healthcare for kids and extended parental leave are both great ideas in the Budgetstolen from Labour of course but I’m still glad they’re doing them.

Nonetheless, this can’t seriously be called a “family focussed” budget while they’re still doing next to nothing about the housing affordability crisis, the jobs crisis, child poverty and inequality.

Perhaps (though only perhaps) it’s more fair to say that they’re not ignoring these issues; they just have faith in the magical power of the market to solve them all.

But their own numbers show that’s working about as well as Brownlee’s “let the market sort it out” worked for the Christchurch housing crisis. Yes, the economy is growing again, but that growth isn’t making its way into the pockets of ordinary workers. From 2014-2018, they’re forecasting 14.2% GDP growth, but only 4% wage growth.

In fact, this supports Thomas Piketty’s inequality thesis quite nicely: the natural and inevitable movement of capitalism is for wealth to accrue to the already-wealthy. In other words, you can’t solve inequality and poverty just by growing the economy. You need more radical interventions, as Piketty suggests. Mana’s tax policy – shifting the tax burden from poor and middle-income earners to the unproductive, untaxed income of the 1% – is a good start. Another much-needed policy is a minimum wage that allows people to live with dignity in society – the calculated Living Wage. This would mitigate against inequality across the board and end working poverty.

We can no longer use tough economic times as an excuse. We can afford these measures; we just need to decide to prioritise them, instead of letting our economic growth accrue to the unproductive parasite 1%.

Hone and Johnny

Harawira and Key

John Campbell has started a series of interviews with party leaders and their partners in their homes. The first two were with John and Bronagh Key and Hone Harawira and Hilda Halkyard-Harawira.

Both couples feed John a meal and talk about their lives and their political involvements – that’s about where the similarities end. Hone has photos on his wall from the Springbok tour protests. John famously can’t remember his stance on that issue, but he vividly remembers when he first wanted to be Prime Minister a few years earlier.

This is a good illustration of the main difference between Key’s and Harawira’s interviews, and indeed their overall political personas: Harawira’s interview is far more about politics and real issues, while Key’s is far more about superficiality, personality and content-free generalities like “making a difference” and “economic management” (Ha!).

Key does talk about “vulnerable people” and kids in poverty after Campbell observes the extreme wealth of their context. But for him these “vulnerable people” are an abstraction – they’re completely absent from his life.

Harawira’s concern for the marginalised is far more real. His biggest achievements are sacrifices he’s made for real live vulnerable people – be it Māori, the poor, South Africans suffering under apartheid, or his grumpy father-in-law. Mana’s policies are primarily motivated by real justice for those who most need it.

Moreover, Key’s claimed concern for kids growing up on welfare belies the fact that his government has kept benefit rates at 1991 levels. 1991, you may recall, was the year National deliberately set benefits to only cover 80% of minimum nutritional needs. This was an attempt to incentivise people into accepting the new low-wage jobs – or at least, those lucky enough to find jobs. They also encouraged a certain level of unemployment to drive wages down and again incentivise these poverty-wage jobs. This shows individual incentivisation may fill low-wage jobs, but it can’t cure unemployment: that requires broader socio-economic changes. These policies were and are sacrifices of the poor to support rich poverty-wage employers.

Two things have changed since then: One, poverty dropped slightly among working families (see p.47 here) since the last Labour government’s third-way policy, Working for Families. Key called WFF “communism by stealth” at the time, but he’s kept it, and praises it in the video for how it subsidises low wages. Two, National’s rhetoric is all anti-unemployment these days.

But three things still speak volumes: One, Key’s more willing to use taxpayer money to subsidise poverty-wage employers than make them pay living wages. Two, he sees no problem with WFF’s exclusion of beneficiary children from assistance, even though he notes they’re the majority of kids in poverty. Three, Key looks no further than individual solutions to the societal issue of unemployment.

Meanwhile, the real-life vulnerable people who miss out on the limited number of subsidised jobs offered by this “economic management” suffer now more than ever. Key thinks leftover Labour policies and welfare scapegoating is enough to help them. Harawira does not. I know which one I’d rather vote for.