Tagged: Bill English

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.

This is why we need a living wage

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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%.

On worshipping money and thanking the rich for being rich

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Just when I was thinking corporate media was starting to say some good things about inequality, I saw this infuriating defense of inequality from Damien Grant.

Grant writes off Max Rashbooke’s book, and indeed all concern about inequality, as “the zero-sum fallacy; the idea that there is a set amount of cash in the economy.”

This is one of the worst straw man attacks I’ve seen in a while.

In fact, Rashbrooke et al understand better than our government that money is a relative measure, only meaningful insofar as it represents access to wealth/resources. It doesn’t matter how much total cash there is in the economy… what matters is:

a) how much resources/wealth there are in the economy, because that’s what determines how big the pie is.
b) how much cash you have in relation to others, because that’s what determines how big or small your slice of the pie is.

Total cash doesn’t affect the pie at all (if it did, Zimbabwe would be the richest country in the world).

Total cash and total resources are not ‘zero-sum’ phenomena. But percentage of access to cash and resources is (that’s the whole point of a percentage – it always sums to 100).

Rashbrooke (and, like, actual evidence and stuff) are concerned with inequality because when one person’s percentage of cash goes up, someone else’s ability to access available resources necessarily decreases. And when that’s too unequal (even when the pie’s huge) it causes numerous health and social problems across the whole society.

Grant is the one guilty of a fallacy: the idea that money is an absolute, not just a relative measure; so if there’s more total money in an economy, that automatically means there’s more wealth/resources available to people. This is more than just a fallacy, it’s a properly religious phenomenon – idolisation of money.

Post-script – extra responses to a few of Grant’s stupidest comments

“There’s no evidence that rising social and health problems are a result of income disparities.”

I’m actually astonished to see this much wilful blindness, even in corporate media. Huge amounts of research – very widely available – offer compelling evidence that inequality causes many social/health problems – from murder to community breakdown to high teen pregnancy rates. A journalist doing their job would acknowledge this evidence even if they disagree with its analysis. Grant doesn’t indicate whether he disagrees, whether he’s ignoring it, or whether he doesn’t know it exists … he simply says there’s “no evidence.”

The fact that the next sentence peddles an evidence-free stereotype (“Poor people get diabetes because they eat junk food, not because Sir Peter Jackson is rich.”) is the icing on the bullshit cake.

“Key to the inequality fantasy is that New Zealand is a neo-liberal rich-man’s paradise but the facts do not support this. Bill English said… [bla bla bla] Half the population are net beneficiaries.”

He goes on to uncritically parrot Bill English’s dishonest press release that I addressed a couple of blogs ago. If Grant was doing his job as a journalist and applying some critical thinking, he’d realise English’s figures show the opposite of what he claims.

Grant thinks workers should be grateful for being “net beneficiaries” of state assistance… grateful for a situation where their subhuman wages mean they don’t contribute much to the tax coffers, let alone to their own families, and Working for Families subsidises their employers to keep paying these sub-human wages. How much more grateful should the rich be for being “net beneficiaries” of a system that facilitates and supports such grossly unequal wealth?

“Economic growth is driven by innovative entrepreneurs adding to the total economy. They sometimes become rich by retaining some of the extra wealth they created.”

I don’t even know where to start with this statement, except to note that it’s pure ideology. He equates economic growth with ‘wealth,’ ignoring the fact that economic (GDP) growth doesn’t just include productive, wealth-producing activities, but destructive ones like crime, pollution and credit card debt. And he simplistically suggests ‘wealth’ is created by “innovative entrepreneurs,” rather than by the contributions of all workers; those who’re given the opportunity to utilise their creative/innovative skills, and those who aren’t.

The next sentence, where he uses a doctor as his archetypical example of a rich wealth-creating entrepreneur, reveals his ideological assumption that the rich become rich by doing good for the world. A better example of the very highest income earners would be a currency trader who makes much more than a doctor by producing nothing, just manipulating pieces of paper and numbers on computer screens.

Later in the article he again waxes lyrical about how much wealth the rich create, and how grateful we should be for their work. He also mentions how hard-working they are – predictably failing to provide any statistics linking hard work to high income. In fact, income and wealth distributions are way out of proportion to how hard people work… (unless the richest 1% percent work 10-16 times as hard as the average NZer).

“Poverty has many causes, welfare dependency amongst them, but blaming the hard-working for the failings of the indigent is not a solution.”

Grant is doing even worse – blaming the hard-working poor (like people working two jobs cleaning toilets on minimum wage to feed their families) for their own poverty. Despicable.

Inequality is equality

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Well, I didn’t intend two blogs about Bill English in a row, until I saw this press release, where he cynically manipulates statistics to try and show that inequality is equality. English claims the tax system has become “more progressive” since National’s 2010 tax changes, because a higher proportion of income tax revenue is coming from the richest earners.

He’s ignoring one rather important point about income tax: You pay a lot of income tax if you earn a lot of income.

It’s not surprising that the top 12% of households (and 6% of individuals) are paying proportionately more income tax than they were in 2008, because they’re earning proportionally a lot more money. (The above graph shows the top 10%’s incomes rose from about $85,000 to $100,000 from 2008-2011, while the median income stagnated at about $30,000).

Simply put, the rich are contributing a bigger slice of the tax pie because they’re earning a bigger slice of the income cheesecake. This is not something to be happy about, and certainly doesn’t mean taxes are more “progressive.”

Let’s go back to high school for a sec: A progressive tax system partially offsets inequality by taxing higher incomes proportionally more than lower incomes. Income taxes are typically progressive (e.g. Bill English’s $297,400/yr is mostly taxed at 33%, while his toilet cleaner’s $14/hr is mostly taxed at 17.5%). Sales taxes like GST are flat (15% across the board), but in practice regressive, because they take up more of the poor’s incomes than the rich’s.

National’s 2010 tax changes made tax more regressive – the lowest income tax band (under $14,000) dropped 2%, while the top band (over $70,000) dropped 5%. Company and investment tax dropped too, but GST increased. Basically, in a time when tax needs to get more progressive to help combat inequality, National gave tax cuts to the rich instead.

Nothing about NZ’s rapid slide to inequality, this pro-inequality government‘s policies, or the statistics English misuses can possibly be called “progressive.”

Possibly the stupidest thing our deputy prime minister has said

Labour and Greens hurt share float, says English (Audrey Young, Herald, 24/10/2013)

Finance Minister Bill English conceded that the Government would like to have had more New Zealand investors than the 62,000 and a higher share price than $1.50.

But he blamed in no small part Labour and Greens’ energy policy, accusing them of scaring off mum and dad investors from Mighty River Power and Meridian because of their policy to control wholesale power prices.

“They set out to sabotage lower income New Zealanders doing it. Unfortunately they’ve had some effect.”

So Bill English (yes, that’s the deputy prime minister, not your ignorant workmate) thinks poor NZers can afford to buy shares, and the only reason they aren’t buying shares in what we used to own together is that Labour and the Greens “sabotaged” their investment plans by “scaring them off.”

The most obvious explanation is that he’s trying to contort the embarrassing failure of the asset sales into being somehow the opposition’s fault.

A more worrying possibility is that he actually believes what he’s saying. This is, after all, the man who wrote off child poverty as merely “relative.”

70% of National supporters don’t know anyone who’s unemployed, so what are the odds the National deputy leader knows any “low income New Zealanders”?

As Robert McAfee Brown put it: “who we listen to determines what we hear; where we stand determines what we see.”

(Re. the title: I’m happy to be corrected)