GUEST BLOG: John Stroh – TOP’s unconditional basic income – an unequivocal game changer?

By   /   March 15, 2017  /   3 Comments

I went to last night’s ‘town hall meeting’ with Gareth Morgan with some questions around the viability of his play for a more permanent role in New Zealand Politics. I came away with a sense of hope for New Zealand’s future and some good answers.

So is TOP’s strategy to achieve not just the 3% or 5% of the vote that will get them into Parliament, but say 15%, at all realistic? According to Morgan he’ll leave the next three years to his B(uild) Team if TOP isn’t able to acquire a significant mandate, say ten to fifteen percent. But at these higher numbers, he will himself go back to the full time grindstone, saying goodbye to his Vespas and Harleys and jaunts around the country with ‘rich prick’ tourists for a while. And I sincerely hope that happens.
Here is roughly how I think the 15% or more will come about: 5% from the Greens, 5% from new voters or those who haven’t voted in recent elections for various good reasons and at least 5% from the thoughtful protest vote in the mainstream parties. That includes those people who sit comfortably at the top end of the ‘Genghis-Khan-empathy-and-social-responsibility-void-index’ as well as the normal people in the Winston/Seymour camps.

And here is why I think this can happen:

Firstly there’s the switching Green Party vote. By Gareth’s own admission (I spoke with him briefly after the event) there isn’t that much difference between the Green and TOP platforms in intention and direction of six of the seven TOP policies, just in the proposed delivery mechanisms. The Greens won’t buy the Tax policy up front as it’s far too radical for them and it’ll take time for them to get their head around it. The thing to understand here is that the articulation of the thinking behind policies 2 to 7 (see below) is far more sophisticated and significantly more compelling, effective and workable than anything the Greens have been able to offer.

Most importantly the TOP policies are fiscally neutral. Even if not all of the Green Party electorate currently comprehends the meaning of fiscal neutrality and why it is important, it would be easy to understand a significant shift in party allegiance well before the Election for this reason alone. The TOP economic and fiscal platform is as solid as it gets, having been architected by one of the best and most successful Economists New Zealand calls its own. The policies (more on them later) are cohesive and readily form the basis for the desperately needed radical change in the way our society works… together and not in a divisive race for polar opposites, the simplistic populist approach that promotes the growing gulf between rich and poor and the elitist, partisan programs that stand in the way of cohesive community. TOP seems to be outlining a safe way forward in ways that do not involve existential risk to individuals or financial risk to the economy as a whole.

Then there are the ‘new’ voters. Having registered as a volunteer for the Christchurch TOP event last night and armed with a TOP badge on a lanyard I got to talk with several groups of young people after the event. This target segment of ‘new’ voters, students as well as professionals in their thirties and forties had two thing in common: a certain disregard for politics and politicians but also a realisation that TOP was offering something radically different with an agenda that has energised them and can bring the political sleepers amongst us back out into the open. Of those I spoke with, some had either been alerted by various cursory media coverage and delved deeper for themselves on the internet or had attended one of the voter segment targeted meetings organised by the TOP team and now wanted more. It is not unimaginable to see a Bernie Sanders like wave of political awakening happening here for the right reasons and TOP is offering an agenda that is both thought-stimulating and pragmatic; an agenda that is the antithesis of conventional political mantra and that is driven by sound moral principles. TOP represents that breath of fresh air that many of us have been waiting for a long time.
And the potentially largest source of TOP vote will come from those with an urgent need to protest against political establishment. I don’t know much about what happened to Paul on his way to Damascus but from what I have heard, I think I had a similarly enlightening experience last night immediately after the event as I turned to the person in the seat next to me and asked him what he thought about it all. The sensation is best described as seeing a light in the distance at sea, at night, in a small boat with a storm gathering on the horizon, a light that marks the entrance to the harbour, a safe place to head for. I have been there before. I listened patiently to this Trump supporter who explained to me why he thought Trump was good for America and the World and by the end of his explanation (one I didn’t actually follow that well) I really didn’t care why he and his group of peers were going to vote for TOP. They just want change. I hasten to add that I quietly respect this man who is obviously politically active in environmental politics. I sense that his analysis of the Trump phenomenon is driven by a scientific mind that understands human nature at a more substantive level than most. What is intriguing to me is that it is possible to laud the Trump protest vote without necessarily supporting Trumpet values. This is the demographic profile of at least one segment of the voting public that will vote TOP.

The vast majority of the traditional mainstream party voters who will vote for TOP in protest will probably not be Trump advocates but they will vote for a platform that delivers fundamental change. They will include those who can see the evidence before them, that we are very close to a political and economic dead end and that we need to start adapting fast to the ever increasing and changing forces of economic and social reality. Technology and more particularly robotics in its various guises are the drivers and their devastating impact on personal income and full time employment is accelerating at enormous pace. I fear there is still a majority of voters out there in denial over this. For me it’s a little easier to understand, I have a Masters degree in Economics and worked in Information Technology for IBM and in my own companies for most of my career.

The protest vote may indeed turn out to be significantly larger than 5%. Of course, I have no empirical evidence based on polling data for any of these indicative assertions regarding the numbers and they serve only as a hypothesis that will be duly tested.

Before last evenings TOP event at The Piano, Christchurch’s immaculately presented new concert hall on Armagh Street, I had been lamenting the fact that TOP had chosen fairness and opportunity as their battle cry. I have lived long enough and in enough countries to have seen similar political slogans recycled a thousand times around the globe. I had been looking for something more fundamental, something like ‘cohesive community’ to stroke my political feathers. I now think I was wrong to think that would work. The many people, perhaps the majority of swing voters who will register their protest vote at the election this year aren’t primarily thinking about outcomes for society as a whole. Their switch of political party allegiance will be driven by the very real, everyday circumstance they live with: callous unfairness and no opportunity to fix the situation. TOP offers a credible escape route for them.

If you now believe that 15% for TOP may indeed be achievable as outlined and you haven’t had time to have a closer look at TOP’s seven platform policies, there’s more on the website at but here they are in a nutshell (paraphrased from the TOP brochure that is titled “A thinking person’s guide to a fair and prosperous New Zealand”):

Policy #1 – A fairer tax system that delivers reduced inequality, 30% reduction in tax rates with 80% of people better off as a result of the tax policy itself as well as raises in productivity and wages; Improved housing affordability, a boost in savings across the board and even more importantly a return to investment in local business.

Policy #2 – Smarter Immigration programs that reduce the number and increase the quality of immigrants thereby lifting the incomes of New Zealanders and maintaining the refugee intake at levels that reflect the international consensus of what is acceptable.

Policy #3 – TOP’s Our Environment policy is based on a philosophy that each generation should leave the environment in no worse condition (and preferably better) than it inherited. Polluters must pay for the damage they do, while businesses that improve the environment should be rewarded.

Policy #4 – A Democracy Reset policy is necessary to ensure Government acts in the interest of all, not just some New Zealanders. TOP will hand more power back to the people and its communities, increase transparency of Government and ensure the public service returns to its role of serving the public.

Policy #5 – Education will require another one of these fundamental shifts in our thinking to adapt to emerging economic realities: Less testing and more teaching based on a trust that high quality teachers can do the job of helping our kids succeed. Out with the 3 R’s and in with the 4 C’s – communication, critical thinking, creativity and collaboration.

Policy #6 – Climate Change is the most threatening of all global risks. We emit more greenhouse gases per person in New Zealand than the global average. Moving away from fossil fuels is necessary, will create business opportunities and will save money. TOP will introduce processes to provide attractive incentives to farming, industry and households to reduce greenhouse gases.

Policy #7 – The Unconditional Basic Income and Struggling Families policy is the cornerstone of TOP’s path for all towards more empathy and social responsibility. The Policy is designed to help everyone reach their full potential, even those families struggling to put food on the table. The first step is to provide for our poorest families with young children.

Make no mistake, TOP is not a personality cult centred on Gareth Morgan, a man who happens to be extraordinarily capable and is bringing his ideas on how to address the severe problems we are facing as a country into the open. It is for us all to carry these ideas forward in whatever way we can. TOP brings new thinking to our small island nation. Much of this thinking is tried and tested in other countries. It is not off-the-wall as some of the old guard is suggesting and it will bring fresh approaches to seemingly unsolvable problems. If we are looking for more empathy and socially responsible politics in New Zealand TOP is showing us the way forward with these seven policies.



About John Stroh
Following a professional and management career with IBM in New Zealand and overseas, John owned and managed small companies in IT, niche market food exports to Japan and business consultancy. After his first wife, Annie, died in 2010, John ‘retired’ and spent several years in the remote outer Sounds. Now a Gold Card holder, he has remarried, has a husband & wife landscaping business and lives in an old farm homestead near Christchurch.

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  1. Strypey says:

    Ghandi famously said “first they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win”. What I find most fascinating as present about the TOP phenomenon is the way some commentators seem so threatened by it that they have already moved from ignoring TOP to laughing at it, and in some cases fighting it. The partisans of the “left” are determined to cast Morgan as a rich neo-liberal and TOP as the new ACT. The partisans of the “right” are determined to cast Morgan as this election’s DotCom, and TOP as the new Internet-Mana.

    The people involved with TOP are likely uninterested in media strategy advice frorm obscure blog commentators, but I’ll offer some anyway. Talk about policy. Policy, policy, policy. Refuse to be drawn into attack politics, gossip, and speculation. Get into robust and respectful policy debates with the other parties. That way, whether you get over the 5% threshold or not, you will have made an important contribution to our political process, the public will be much more familiar with your policy proposals, and they’re much more likely to be adopted in some form by a post-neoliberal government.

  2. Lois Griffiths says:

    Re: “Policy #6 – Climate Change is the most threatening of all global risks.”
    Noam Chomsky writes of 2 most threatening global risks.
    Nuclear war and climate change.

    Should NZ quietly remain part of the American military hegemony or should NZ play a different role in world affairs? Isn’t it time to say NO to nuclear weapons, NO to drone attacks, NO to militarism, NO to war..?
    There are peace movements in the US who would thank us.