Another obvious lie too many National supporters believe is that Labour are bad for employment (because they raise the minimum wage too fast), and National have “solved unemployment” (because they’ve made it harder to maintain benefits):
Now, it is true that Labour raise the minimum wage much faster, and that National cut welfare (in a recession!). But the unemployment rates have been more like the other way around,* and anyone suggesting National are better than Labour at keeping unemployment down is either believing or promoting a lie.
Actually, it’s a couple of lies… but they’re both obviously bollocks to anyone who’s spent five minutes looking into them:
“Raisng the minimum wage reduces jobs”
As usual, Gordon Campbell says it best:
If, as Key claims, Treasury has done research that shows major job losses would result from gradual increases in the minimum wage, then this amazing information would be world news – because the vast weight of academic research around the world ever since the groundbreaking David Card/Alan Krueger work in the US fast food industry 20 years ago, is that it would do no such thing.
“National have solved unemployment by making it harder to get the benefit”
I’ve covered this before, and so have many others. Basically, kicking people off the dole (or DPB/invalid’s/sickness benefit) doesn’t magically put them into jobs; it just increases the number of people lacking either work or welfare (which has hit a record 110,000 since National’s bennie-bashing “reforms”). Creating a desperate unemployed person doesn’t create a job for them to go into.
This confusion arises from a basic failure to understand the difference between individual problems/solutions and socio-economic problems/solutions, as sociologist C. Wright Mills pointed out 55 years ago:
* It started to get bad under the Lange (& Douglas) Labour government, which was actually more like a Bolger/Key National government than a Labour one. Of course, just like with debt, things are more complicated than one graph could show.
PS: Graph and truncated y-axis from tradingeconomics.com; annotations mine.
My preferred candidate…
1. I’m hearing a narrative from a few friends about Shearer being a nice guy betrayed by his MPs. I think this has it partly right but is largely missing the point. Shearer was betrayed first and foremost by the faction in caucus who put him in power – commonly known as the ABC (Anyone But Cunliffe) clique. They knew the wider party membership and affiliated unions wanted to move the party back to the left, and overwhelmingly supported Cunliffe. But they rallied behind the obscure and inexperienced Shearer instead.
It would take a charismatic political genius with a compelling vision to win over a party when you’ve been made their leader as a big fat F-you to its members. And it would take the same qualities to be a real match for Key. Shearer may be a nice guy but he’s certainly not a charismatic political genius with a compelling vision. Whatever truth there is to media speculations about Cunliffe and/or Robertson undermining Shearer, I don’t blame Labour MPs for being frustrated as Shearer mumbled and stumbled and bumbled for the last 20 months.
Fortunately, at last year’s party conference the
grassroots members party successfully voted in a more democratic method of electing the leader – 40% current MPs, 40% party members, 20% affiliated union members (the ABC clique, not surprisingly, opposed this). It’s currently being implemented for the first time. So whoever the next leader is, he (they’re all hes) will have one major advantage over Shearer – the perception that he was chosen by the whole party. (This is also why Shearer should have called for an election on the new system directly after the conference… coming off his successful housing speech and showing courage and respect for the members, he just might have won his job back and a proper mandate to go with it).
2. The other narrative about Labour being crippled by infighting and struggling desperately in the polls is also quite misleading I think. Gordon Campbell and Frank Macskasy point out that division is normal for a major party in opposition and National’s in no position to judge. It’s worth comparing Labour now to National’s last era in opposition – note also election results and methods of changing leaders…
3. I support Cunliffe for the leadership. If Labour et al want to defeat Key in 2014, they’ll need to do exactly what Shearer couldn’t do: Articulate a coherent and attractive vision, clearly point out how the Key government is failing New Zealand, and offer a genuine and compelling alternative. While Robertson, Jones and Cunliffe are all more charismatic and articulate than Shearer (and probably have better music taste), Cunliffe has the edge on coherent vision and genuine alternative. Of the three, Cunliffe has been the most clear about returning the party to its Labour roots, and opposing the shameful slide to inequality that all our governments since the 80s have tolerated (Clark) or actively promoted (Lange, Bolger, Key).
But I’m not getting my hopes too high. Cunliffe’s not the messiah, and sometimes he’s a naughty boy. He’s still only centre-left (if that) while Key is hard right. Plus, if he’s leader he still has to deal with a caucus full of dead wood, many of whom seem happy with the neo-liberal consensus, even though it’s crippling NZ’s health and their party’s credibility. And he’d have to find a finance minister who’s competent and on the same page (preferably Russell Norman).
I’ll still probably vote Mana as I want to support more radical critiques of the capitalist status quo. But if the next Labour government can end this National one, shift the centre slightly back towards equality, and do something about our horrendous child poverty problem, I think that’s a good thing.
PS: Best source of info and the range of opinion about all of this: Bryce Edwards’ political round-ups.
Photo by Greg Presland
The spectre of a possible leadership challenge in Labour isn’t going away as long as David Shearer remains incoherent, visionless and powerless against John Key. A lot of good stuff has been said about this whole mess by The Standard, Tumeke, Chris Trotter, Gordon Campbell, Brian Edwards etc, but I want to highlight one sad result of the ongoing dominance of the caucus by the old guard, anti-democratic, right-leaning, “Anyone but Cunliffe” clique.
The main feature of the recent Labour rankings reshuffle is promotions of Shearer supporters and opponents of the democratisation of the party, and demotions of Cunliffe and democratisation supporters (note also Charles Chauvel’s recent resignation).
Most notable among these demotions is Lianne Dalziel, who goes from list rank 14 to the unranked back benches with Cunliffe and most of his other supporters. This is a slap in the face to Dalziel who has been a tireless advocate for Christchurch, and an advocate for the East and the people against Brownlee’s support of big business in the recovery. Unfortunately for her, she has also been an advocate for the democratisation of the Labour party and for a return to its left-wing roots. The only two Canterbury-based MPs in Labour’s top 20 now are Clayton Cosgrove (who has no earthquake-related portfolios) and Megan Woods (who moves off the back benches to number 20).
Of course, the lack of Christchurch representation in Labour isn’t new. Christchurch people, who tend to be more working class than Auckland or Wellington, are more left than liberal; that is, they seem to be more attracted to a classic left politics of economic justice, as embodied by the last great Christchurch prime minister Norman Kirk, rather than the liberal identity politics that Labour has turned to since Kirk’s time. I’m a lot more supportive of Mana and the Greens than what Labour have become, but I’d still hope that Labour would prioritise the Canterbury region at the moment. If they really want to win back the city, they should be articulating a powerful people-first alternative to Brownlee’s way of doing things – not to mention to school closures and the steamrolling of ECAN.
I’ve remarked before that “Anyone but Cunliffe” should apparently be taken in its full possible meaning: “Key rather than Cunliffe”. It’s very sad that it apparently also means “Brownlee rather than Dalziel”.
Here’s the full numbers for the reshuffle; list and portfolios are here, I’ve noted promotions, demotions, locations and (suspected) factions/cliques. Sue Moroney is the only exception to the general pattern.
‘Cunliffe’ supporters are taken from TV3’s Patrick Gower, so should be taken with a massive grain of salt. ‘Old Guard’ are taken from bloggers Chris Trotter and The Standard, who seem to have have been a lot more honest on these matters than the mainstream media (please note this conflates various groups that don’t necessarily fit together neatly: the ‘old guard’, opponents of democratisation, neo-liberals or those fearful of returning to the left, and supporters of Shearer). The rest all most likely support Shearer, but have been less vocal about it.
1 David Shearer (no change) – Auckland
2 Grant Robertson (no change) – Wellington – OLD GUARD
3 David Parker (no change) – Dunedin
4 Jacinda Ardern – (no change) – Auckland – OLD GUARD
5 Clayton Cosgrove (little change) – North Canterbury (office in Kaiapoi) (no earthquake-related portfolios)
6 Annette King (PROMOTION) – Wellington – OLD GUARD
7 Shane Jones (no change) – Whangarei
8 Phil Twyford (promotion) – Auckland – OLD GUARD
9 Maryan Street (no change) – Nelson
10 Chris Hipkins (PROMOTION) – Wellington – OLD GUARD
11 Nanaia Mahuta (demotion) – Waikato-Hauraki (offices in Hamilton and Auckland) – CUNLIFFE
12 David Clark (PROMOTION) – Dunedin
13 Sue Moroney (PROMOTION) – Hamilton – CUNLIFFE
14 Su’a William Sio (demotion) – Auckland – CUNLIFFE
15 Phil Goff (little change) – Auckland – OLD GUARD
16 Darien Fenton (promotion) – Auckland – OLD GUARD
17 Damien O’Connor (promotion) – South Island West Coast (offices in Motueka, Westport and Greymouth)
18 Clare Curran (promotion) – Dunedin – OLD GUARD
19 Andrew Little (promotion) – New Plymouth – OLD GUARD
20 Megan Woods (promotion) – Christchurch (Christchurch Transport Issues Spokesperson) – OLD GUARD
Remainder of Caucus listed by length of time in the House
Trevor Mallard (DEMOTION but lined up for Speaker) – Wellington – OLD GUARD
Lianne Dalziel (DEMOTION) – Christchurch (Earthquake Recovery Spokesperson, EQC Spokesperson, Civil Defence and Emergency Management spokeperson) – CUNLIFFE
Ruth Dyson (no change) – Christchurch (no earthquake-related portfolios)
David Cunliffe (DEMOTED last year) – Auckland – CUNLIFFE
Parekura Horomia (no change) – North Island East Coast (Office in Hastings) – CUNLIFFE
Moana Mackey (no change) – Gisborne – CUNLIFFE
Iain Lees-Galloway (no change) – Palmerston North
Raymond Huo (no change) – Auckland – CUNLIFFE
Rajen Prasad (no change) – Auckland? – CUNLIFFE
Kris Faafoi (no change) – Wellington – OLD GUARD
Carol Beaumont (promotion – brought into Parliament as Chauvel leaves) – Auckland
Louisa Wall (no change) – Auckland – CUNLIFFE
Rino Tirikatene (no change) South Island (offices in Invercargill, Christchurch, Nelson, Wellington) – CUNLIFFE
Ross Robertson (no change) – Auckland
(This is part two of a two-part series on the current “welfare reform” policy – part one is here)
I have a friend who says that Paula Bennett‘s welfare policy is fine, and it’s not beneficiary-bashing, because if you (only) look at the individual policies, they’re not really as bad as they first appear; some of them are quite reasonable and even potentially helpful.
I think this is quite generous. There may be things that can be done on an individual level to help beneficiaries and reduce their reliance on welfare, but these aren’t constructive or intelligent measures; I take issue with how hypocritical, worryingly controlling, contrived and just plain stupid they are, the effects on children in poverty, and the fact that overall they add up to welfare cuts.
But these specific policy effects are only part of the picture of welfare reform. We need to look at the entirety of what is being communicated if we want to understand “welfare reform” and its relationship to the phenomenon of “benny-bashing”.
The essential message of “welfare reform” is: The problem is with beneficiaries themselves. If someone can’t get a job it’s because they don’t have the right skills or attributes, not because there aren’t enough jobs to go around; if they’re not in paid work on top of raising a family and running a home, they’re leeching off the system, not making a choice mothers with partners are allowed to make; and if they don’t want to do a certain job it’s because they don’t have the right attitude, not because that job is dehumanising or abusive.
Of course, this message is a lot more subtle than the populist sentiments simmering just beneath the surface of the rich, the working poor and anyone who hasn’t had to rely on welfare themselves. Rather than saying beneficiaries are lazy, incompetent, drug-addicted, child-abusive, over-breeding criminals who think the government owes them a living, Bennett talks of an “investment approach” to welfare and unveils special new rules for beneficiaries only, to make sure they’re not taking drugs, opting out of optional early childhood education, having any more children, or refusing any job offer whatsoever.
It is indeed true that the actual policies are slightly gentler than the shriekings of talkback radio and internet comments. But the policy announcements still have the effect of dog-whistling support for these populist sentiments. In fact, she’ll often back down from earlier extreme statements; a shrewd strategy that allows her to satisfy our benny-bashing instincts, but then also satisfy our more reasonable natures that the policy isn’t going to be quite so harsh as it seemed.
So it’s clever politics, in that it allows National to affirm its identity as smart and careful with money, and tough but fair when it comes to the dole-bludging strawmen who are the main target of New Zealand’s two minutes’ hate.
Either way, it’s still repeating the essential message that it’s the beneficiaries who have the problem. But this is simply insufficient to explain why four years ago unemployment was the lowest in decades, and now it’s rapidly approaching 80s and 90s highs.
Sociologist C. Wright Mills used high unemployment rates as an example of something that cannot be properly understood or solved on a purely individual level; instead a “sociological imagination” is needed to connect personal problems with public issues.
The most obvious “public issue” at play here is the global financial crisis and recession. Our worst periods of unemployment since at least the 80s have all followed periods of negative economic growth; compare this with this.
Paula Bennett actually admitted in April that there simply aren’t enough jobs in the current economic climate. Bill English certainly knows this, and is trying to get us back to economic growth by following the dubious neo-liberal formula.
Of course, this will only be a temporary solution until the next recession brings another wave of unemployment. A more long-term solution would be to address the economic system itself; to change the way the economy operates so that it doesn’t rely on periodic bouts of recession and unemployment. As Mills put it; “In so far as an economy is so arranged that slumps occur, the problem of unemployment becomes incapable of personal solution.”
Unfortunately, this government is not about to challenge the basic shape of the capitalist system, or even its recent neo-liberal form. In fact, the current National party are the ideological progeny of the neo-liberals who argued in the 80s and 90s that unemployment is good, because it keeps wages low, which is great for business. They might not make such bold statements nowadays, but they still believe that an underpaid and desperate workforce is what we need to bring about the utopia of economic growth.
To really solve unemployment would require the government to re-think their entire philosophy that says that unbridled capitalism is our lord and saviour – not the cause of problems like unemployment.
So they do what dominant groups have done throughout history when they don’t want to address societal issues in a way that might challenge their way of running things… They scapegoat marginal individuals for the problems of the whole society, and consolidate power by uniting the majority against these scapegoats; in this case beneficiaries.
It makes perfect sense why they’d do this; it’s the best way for National to gain politically out of the situation, even if nobody else does. But with rising unemployment, record inequality and obscene child poverty, blaming and punishing the victims is not the kind of welfare “reform” we need right now.
(This is part one of a two-part series on the current “welfare reform” policy; part two is here)
Although Paula Bennett won’t bother measuring child poverty, she’s measured how much her welfare “reforms” are going to save: $1.6 billion. Contrary to Bill English’s assurances, this is the expected follow-up to an obscure and expensive statistic about the “lifetime cost” of beneficiaries, whatever that means ($78 billion, if you’re interested – and only 5% of that is for unemployment beneficiaries, but that distinction will be obscured by the new categories).
Saving money on welfare would be great if it meant people were rising above the social safety net rather than having it pulled out from under them. If the economy was working and everyone was holding down good jobs, we could save on welfare, like we did four years ago when unemployment was at its lowest in decades.
But we can’t fix the economy by cutting welfare – that’s confusing cause and effect. When unemployment is high and getting higher, inequality is at record highs and we have 270,000 children living in poverty, mostly from beneficiary families, we’re going to have to spend more on the safety net if we want to be humane, not less.
Current government policy basically amounts to: lots of people relying on welfare –> push more people off welfare into paid work –> make a crowded job market even more crowded –> lots of people relying on welfare. This vicious circle does nothing to acknowledge that there are problems with the economy and the workforce as well as problems with beneficiaries – and it certainly does nothing to fix these wider issues. Pleading with employers to hire boot camp graduates, and keeping the minimum wage low based on a discredited neo-liberal premise, is not a sufficient job-creation strategy; and sacrificing to the gods of neo-liberal capitalism until economic growth comes back is not working so far.
So I find it rather disturbing that Bennett is boasting about cutting welfare as if that’s the answer to poverty and unemployment.
Of course, welfare reform isn’t all about saving money – $1.6 billion isn’t that much to a government who spent the same amount bailing out South Canterbury Finance, and some of the changes will cost more than they save.
But this does confirm that what we’re basically talking about with “welfare reform” is welfare cuts. The fact that Bennett can portray welfare cuts at this time as a good thing is a symptom of the deep-set benny-bashing sentiments of the general population – which I’ll discuss in my next blog, on the basic message of “welfare reform”.