Tagged: socialism

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. 
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Let’s get one thing clear

NZ’s political parties at the 2011 election now updated for the 2014 election, according to PoliticalCompass.org

“It’s actually a very clear decision for New Zealanders. It’s sort of centre-right versus the far left.” – John Key today

Coming from the most right-wing prime minister in NZ’s history, this is the height of dishonesty and hypocrisy.

At most, Cunliffe et al will take NZ as far left as the Kirk government (1972-1975), which was the last government that didn’t make a total mockery of our claims to be an egalitarian country.

More likely, the next Labour government will be centrist or centre-left… still considerably to the right of traditional Labour values yet hopefully a genuine alternative to the neo-liberal inequality consensus of the last four Labour/National governments. Cunliffe has gone on record acknowledging that this neo-liberal inequality experiment has failed our economies and our people.

Meanwhile, Key, a long-time architect of this failure, is still drinking the neo-liberal Kool-Aid… dogmatically pushing National’s far-right, anti-democratic, economically idiotic, ultra-capitalist inequality ideology as far as we let him get away with.

Key, with his loyal servants in the corporate media, will attempt to claim the ‘centrist high ground’ and whip up McCarthy-esque hysteria about Cunliffe. For the second time in Cut Your Hair history, I’m advising: set your bullshit detectors to maximum.

Where is Canterbury in the Labour reshuffle?

shearer mt albert firstPhoto 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 StandardTumeke, 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.

Shadow Cabinet

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

Brownlee’s latest emission

brownlee

This blog is intended to be read whilst listening to the below song.  The above picture made sense in my head, if nowhere else.

Generally speaking, I think it’s a pretty good idea to internalise externalities, by taxing activities and products that impose a social or environmental cost on the rest of the world, and subsidising those that deliver a social or environmental benefit.  So I support petrol taxes, mostly as a way to off-set the environmental damages of burning oil (particularly if the tax income is used for that purpose), and as a way of bringing the price of petrol as close as possible to the real cost (personal, social, environmental; past, present, future).  This will hopefully reduce the use of petrol, as people who have to pay for the full consequences of their transport choices will be more likely to use public transport, cycle, carpool, etc.

So the latest petrol tax increase may have some accidental environmental benefits.  Emphasis on ‘accidental’, because Gerry Brownlee doesn’t mention it in his announcement.   He openly admits what Julie Anne Genter from the Greens exposed last month; that this tax rise is primarily about covering the $1.7 billion short-fall for the so-called “Roads of National Significance” plan.  This is why the Greens oppose this tax increase; it’s not about reducing petrol use, but encouraging petrol use by sinking $14 billion dollars into un-needed, uneconomical highways.

Brownlee probably knows better than to spin this as an environmental measure, because it would illustrate a stark double standard: it would be the opposite of their stance towards business and agriculture.  For these other major polluters (and National’s main backers), they’ve shown compassion in these tough economic times, and given them longer before they have to start paying for the social and environmental costs of their emissions.  The taxpayer can pick up the tab for a bit longer.

There’s another double-standard whereby this government, who “want to cut taxes, not raise taxes” according to the John Key quote in the above Home Brew song, are relatively trigger-happy when it comes to increasing GST and other sales taxes.  Some of these do off-set (or over-compensate for) external costs of harmful substances.  But if they’re just income-gathering measures like in this case, it’s worrying that they’d rather earn income this way than by putting income tax back up, or by introducing capital gains or financial transactions taxes.  Sales taxes tend to be regressive; disproportionately hitting the poor, while the latter are progressive; disproportionately hitting those with disproportionately high incomes and wealth.

IrishBill at The Standard points out another double standard, particularly pertinent to Brownlee; they’re happy to levy the ordinary motorist to pay for their idiotic motorway plans, but they’re not willing to implement a temporary, progressive levy for the Christchurch rebuild (because of the fragile economic climate, of course… not because of their priorities, choices and philosophies).

Actually, all of these double standards reveal a lot about the political philosophy underlying this government… Ordinary people are able to tighten their belts, while the rich need financial assistance.  We all have to make sacrifices, apparently, but on a religious level, these are sacrifices to the gods of the neo-liberal market capitalism, and on a material level, they’re sacrifices to the rich.  “Socialism for the rich, capitalism for the poor” indeed.

Let them eat liver, or: It’s the inequality, stupid, or: A short note on poverty not existing

When I wrote my last blog on child poverty, I was planning to follow it up with a critique of ousted ACT leader Rodney Hide’s Herald column where he made the bold claim that there is no child poverty in New Zealand.

I was going to make all sorts of jolly yet incisive points about how I’m actually quite fond of Rodney (something I can’t say about more recent ACT leaders), but that he’s revealed an embarrassingly out-of-touch and simplistic understanding of poverty as a mere lack of money (“All kids are poor. Children typically don’t own much beyond a few toys”, “Poverty can’t be the cause … Liver … costs 70c a serve”).

I was going to point out that not everyone has grown up in the Protestant-work-ethic-Northern-European-stockpiling-rationalising-individualising tradition that he and I have, but that the economic system that’s been imposed here is set up to favour people with these values and shaft everyone (and everything) else.

I was even going to say that, despite all that, I’m considering trying out his suggestion of boiling up bones and getting a stew going for my lunches.  Anyway, I didn’t get around to writing this blog, and now Hide’s “let them eat liver” column is old news.

Still, I think it’s worthwhile to address the most important point – the idea that poverty in New Zealand is ‘only’ ‘relative’ poverty and therefore isn’t ‘real’ poverty.  Hide points to one common measure of poverty: living on less than 60% of the median wage.  In Hide’s mind, all child poverty statistics can be summarily ignored, because this measure doesn’t measure what (supposedly) really matters: how much money the country has overall.

I suppose this poo-pooing of statistics is what enables Hide to state with a straight face that it’s the welfare state’s fault that kids go hungry, despite the fact that the child poverty figures began to skyrocket precisely when his friend Roger Douglas began to roll back the welfare state in the 1980s.

But this idea isn’t just touted by extremists living in a libertarian fantasy world; deputy prime minister Bill English used this very notion as an excuse to dismiss the Child Poverty Expert Advisory Group’s recommendation to set child poverty reduction targets, claiming that “such a relative poverty measure made no sense as it did not show how rich or poor people were in absolute terms”.

But hold on a second.  Even if we go along with Hide and English and ignore the Advisory Group’s other poverty measures such as material deprivation or access to GDP growth, there’s something pretty fishy about such an easy dismissal of relative poverty, a.k.a. inequality.

This ignores a whole host of research showing that ‘relative’ inequality absolutely does matter.  The book The Spirit Level compiles some of this research to show that unequal societies with high ‘relative poverty’ like New Zealand have significantly worse statistics for life expectancy, literacy and numeracy, infant mortality, homicide, imprisonment, teenage births, obesity, mental illness and social mobility than more equal societies – across the whole society, not just for the ‘relatively’ poor.  Even though inequality or relative poverty is relative, it causes real, solid, objective, material, absolute damage.

The truth is that we’re relational beings, so it shouldn’t be surprising that how we’re doing relative to each other affects us – but neo-liberals indoctrinated into the “no such thing as society” philosophy seem to forget this.

Hide and English assume that what really matters is the ‘absolute’ matter of how much money people have.  But since when was money ‘absolute’?  Money only has meaning insofar as we give it meaning to represent the value of goods and services, and to say that this person can access this much goods and services, while that person can only access that much.  In other words, it’s only meaningful as a relative measure; relative to real stuff and real power in the real world, and relative to how much stuff and power others have.

So, when Rodney Hide licks his lips about a “windfall that doubled all incomes” but “wouldn’t budge the child “poverty” figure”, that’s exactly the point.  Doubling all incomes wouldn’t change what those incomes are relative to; it wouldn’t create any more resources.  Inflation would soon ensure that each dollar was only worth half as much, so nothing would have changed at all.  Poverty and affluence would be exactly the same as before.

Of course, if this ‘windfall’ was localised in New Zealand, it would give us relatively more access to resources than other countries; and that’s what National mouthpiece David Farrar, who endorsed Hide’s column, says we should be aiming for: “In these times of huge global economic uncertainty, the focus needs to be on economic growth, not [equality, which Farrar conflates with] increasing tax and welfare.”

But The Spirit Level shows that internal economic equality is far more important than economic growth for improving conditions in developed societies.  Perhaps it’s because we care more about how we’re doing relative to people around us than about being even more relatively rich on a global scale than we already are.

So the fatal flaw of this spurious neo-liberal argument is that it absolutises the relative; money, while relativising the absolute; inequality.

Bill English and his government are repeating this error with devastating consequences by calling the real suffering of real children ‘merely relative’ while treating economic growth as the absolute to which all else must be sacrificed (and it isn’t even working).