So the Greens co-leader James Shaw recently made a mistake. In his role as Associate Finance Minister approving funding for “shovel-ready” projects, he fought hard for a private “Green school” to get funding to expand their buildings and, therefore, their student capacity. There are many problems with what he did: forgetting to oppose private schools as per Green policy; supporting an approach to environmentalism based on individual education of wealthy elites’ children, rather than systemic change; finally showing some spine around the cabinet table and for this; being so out of touch with his party’s kaupapa and membership that he actually thought his actions would be seen as a “win” for the Greens. It was a big mistake and it doesn’t say anything good about Shaw’s political judgment.
But here’s what happened next: the Greens’ membership, supporters, and former MPs flipped out. They rightly criticised what Shaw did, instead of sycophantically defending his actions because he’s the party leader. And Shaw called an emergency meeting with members, admitted it was a mistake, apologised unreservedly, and tried to do whatever he could do to reverse his actions.
Meanwhile, Grant Robertson, Shaw’s fellow Wellington Central-based MP and carpool buddy*, was working on an announcement of his own. Robertson is also effectively the second most important leader of his party, and he’s also a Finance Minister… and not just an associate one, but the proper one.
Robertson’s announcement was that his party, Labour, are finally going to increase tax on the rich. First, they’ve brought in a new top income tax rate of 39% on income above $180,000. And second… there is no second. That’s it. In this country of notoriously low taxes on the rich, in the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression, their revenue policy is: Bringing back the Helen Clark/Michael Cullen top income tax rate of 39c, but to qualify for that top tax rate you have to earn as much as someone working 183 hours and 10 minutes per week on the minimum wage. No wealth taxes, just a small income tax change that even right-wingers think is too low. Australia, the UK, and other OECD countries have higher income tax on the rich, lower taxes on the poor, and of course capital gains taxes, even before the COVID recession… but Labour’s pathetic approach is literally lower taxes on the rich than what Don Brash proposed as National leader in 2005.
So what happened next after Robertson’s announcement? Well, there was dismay and anger from the left and from the centre (this example from No Right Turn is characteristically concise and well-reasoned: If not now, when?). But did Labour’s membership and supporters revolt? Did Robertson, like Shaw, call an emergency members’ meeting, apologise profusely for his massive misjudgment, and do everything in his power to rectify his mistake? Nope. None of that. The leader of the country’s biggest union, the PSA, even welcomed the announcement. The policy stands, and will probably become government policy after the election, unless polls change and the Greens get some leverage. Yet another opportunity for Ardern’s and Robertson’s promised “transformational change” has been wasted.
And therein lies the difference between the Green and Labour parties.
* “carpool buddy”: My partner saw Robertson giving someone a ride in his Labour car during the 2017 election campaign, and she’s like 76% sure it was Shaw.
Nestlé, the world’s biggest food company, are the epitome of what John Key, Steven Joyce etc. think the world needs more of – competitiveness, innovation, profit maximisation.
To this end, Nestlé have been tireless advocates for water being treated as a commodity, not a human right. Not coincidentally, they’re one of the biggest sellers of bottled water in the world (along with Coke and Pepsi).
These companies are notorious for dodgy arrangements with local authorities to pollute local water sources and/or monopolise public water, so people can’t get safe water for free, they have to buy their own water back in bottles.
This is great for profitability but horrible for people. Access to clean, safe water is one of the main reasons infant mortality and life expectancy in the West have improved so dramatically over the last few hundred years. Nestlé are only interested in providing clean water for the rest of the world if it’s in one of their bottles, with the appropriate market value.
Let’s not forget the sinister combination of dirty water with aggressive marketing of infant formula in place of breast-feeding: Mothers who want the best for their kids aren’t educated enough to know the Nestlé marketing people aren’t the best source of that knowledge. So they buy formula they can’t afford, mix it with dirty water, and 1.5 million babies die needlessly every year (I’m guessing these figures don’t appear in Nestlé’s annual reports).
This is why I think Nestlé are the best argument against free-market capitalism. The theory is that when people have needs, someone will realise they can make a profit off meeting needs, so they’ll meet people’s needs and make their profit… win-win. The reality is companies like Nestlé have discovered you can make more profit selling a temporary solution (bottled water, infant formula) than a sustainable permanent solution (free public water, breast-feeding). And it’s even more profitable to create a ‘need’ you can sell a temporary solution to (a.k.a. ‘marketing’). Basically, psychopathy is more profitable than philanthropy.
This is just one way capitalism under-develops the world.
SumOfUs are running an online petition against Nestlé destroying Pakistan’s natural resources and stealing their water. The petition text, describing what they’re doing to Pakistan, is shocking, yet well-referenced and unsurprising for this company. Please read and sign. SumOfUs have had some wins before – but so have Nestlé.