Gareth Morgan’s three-word response to why people should support his policies


Gareth Morgan’s knees are hurting. I can tell because he keeps bending down to rub them- and it is no wonder, he has been on his feet since 4pm and it is close to 9pm before he gets a chance to sit down and sink his teeth into a burger at Christchurch’s Smash Palace.

Morgan is here as part of a roadshow to win hearts and minds- well maybe just minds, as he does not seem to do the hearts bit very well.

His approach is: here’s what I think, take it or leave it. No passion, no fire, no galvanizing, no sleek speeches, no appeal to organizing, no sense of urgency, no…nothing.

Part of me thinks that is okay because people are tired of showmanship and spectacle and Morgan’s unrefined and laid-back style is actually quite endearing.

Morgan’s first stop in Christchurch was at The Piano where 250 people gathered to listen to him talk mostly about his newly announced UBI policy, the last of The Opportunities Party’s (TOP) seven policies.

It is of course not surprising that Morgan has saved the best to last.

TOP’s UBI policy is likely to be popular and is easy to understand (unconditional basic income to all families with children under 3 years of age).

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Contrast this policy with his likely-to-be-unpopular Tax policy that he introduced first.

TOP’s Tax policy requires people to understand, amongst other things, that when they live in their own homes, they are in effect their own landlords- and that, not paying tax on their “imputed rent”, is an unfair advantage that favours homeowners and shifts investment away from productive assets.

The social harm arising from policies that encourage speculative investment is, of course, real but is not an easy concept to understand, or sympathized with, especially when it is explained by a multi-millionaire who has no reason to panic at the thought of more money disappearing from his pockets.

Most people see TOP’s Tax policy as a policy that will cost them money, despite Morgan’s reassurances that 80% of them will get their money back in the form of lower income tax. As for the other 20%, Morgan says they can afford it and should pay.

As part of his argument, Morgan keeps telling people that they have to care for New Zealand more than they care for themselves and their immediate families, forgetting that the two are not exclusively mutual.  

Research evidence shows a fairer, more equal society, delivers better social outcomes for ALL (greater life expectancy, better health, lower levels of stress, etc.).

So, by caring about a fairer, more equal New Zealand, we are indeed caring for ourselves and our families.  This is an important message that TOP needs to make clear to their potential voters.  

Another issue worth mentioning is Morgan’s response to my question around the sustainability of a growth-based economy.

Morgan seems to think that a growth-based economy is sustainable if it was coupled with the right ecological investments.

This view is at odds with the opinion of Professor Tim Jackson who, only last month, stood on the same stage to deliver a lecture on prosperity without growth.

Professor of Sustainable Development at the University of Surrey, Jackson refers to Morgan’s idea about the sustainability of a growth-based economy, as “wishful” and “magical” thinking.

Jackson explains “prosperity isn’t just about earning more and having more, it consists in our ability to participate meaningfully in the life of society.”  

To be fair, TOP’s chief of staff, Geoff Simmons, hinted at better ways of measuring growth than just looking at the GDP but what is clearly missing from Morgan’s suit of policies is a policy directed at social psychology of consumption.

Just as deliberate policies have directed us towards destructive speculative investments, some deliberate policies have persuaded us towards destructive consumption- destructive, not only to our physical and mental health, but crucially to our planet.

As Professor Jackson put it we have been persuaded “to spend money we don’t have on things we don’t need to create impressions that won’t last on people that we don’t care about”. This sad story of status-seeking consumption has also been narrated by plenty of artists through contemporary art. For good examples see Banksy – Jesus Christ with Shopping Bags, 2005 and Barbara Kruger – Untitled (I Shop Therefore I Am), 1987.

Clearly, we need policies around responsible advertising, social investment, development of public spaces (a missed opportunity in Christchurch) etc., to move us closer towards a new vision of prosperity.

After his talk at The Piano, Morgan came to Smash Palace to visit us at the Tuesday Club- my favourite intelligentsia hub in Christchurch run by the former mayor Garry Moore.    

There at the club, an attendee asked Morgan to describe, in 5 words only, what he had that would make us vote for his party on the election day.

Morgan said he would say it in 3 words: “A Business Case.”

I wish he had used his 5 words and said: A Social Case For Change.


  1. Some 24 hrs out of the box and TOPs UBI policy has largley survived a vicious interlectual assualt with those criticising this policy looking weak and uneducated. Any party that doesn’t a UBI policy, i question you

  2. Like many very intelligent people, Gareth Morgan relies too completely in his own enthusiastic analysis.

    His appeal to rationality over the imputed value of rental within house ownership seems possible on the surface, but in fact it is nonsense as the accommodation enjoyed is a replacement for interest in the money the owner has invested in the house.

    The UBI is equally useless, being set, as he declares at around $250 and so being an unhelpful extra level for those both at the bottom and those at the top.

    The TOP key aim, when it comes to taxation is to establish the concept of a flat tax. And miraculously those who will actually profit most from that will be….you guessed, the ultra rich.

    In this context, any UBI will have to be predominantly financed by the middle class, since people with the highest incomes will, in a flat tax environment receive a tax cut. And the UBI as well! So middle income people would receive a tax hike, while superannuants would see their income reduced to the UBI. A poverty reminiscent of thew situation before Universal Super was introduced. And while that might appeal to some Gen Y or Millenials, they will be less enthusiastic later in life.

    Morgan is an intellectual gadfly. I suspect he is, or his knees are, already sick of the drudge political activism can turn into. Look for the TOP party also having the life expectancy of a gadfly.

    • “His appeal to rationality over the imputed value of rental within house ownership seems possible on the surface, but in fact it is nonsense as the accommodation enjoyed is a replacement for interest in the money the owner has invested in the house.”

      Not so. Regardless of how much one might deplore the necessity of paying interest it is actually a borrowing cost, ie part of the cost of acquiring a house, not a payment for the accommodation service the house provides.

      “The TOP key aim, when it comes to taxation is to establish the concept of a flat tax. And miraculously those who will actually profit most from that will be….you guessed, the ultra rich.”

      Not so. If the flat rate was set at 33% (the current top rate), anyone earning $70,000 pa (the current cut in) would be be paying an extra $9,200 tax per year.
      In fact a flat tax combined with a UBI provides us with the equivalent of a progressive tax system, with negative rates of tax at the bottom end of the income scale.

      How progressive of course would depend on the amount of the UBI and the tax rate we decided on.

  3. Tempting as it can be, I don’t think it’s necessary or appropriate to obsess about the personality of Gareth Morgan any more than it is to obsess about the personalities of Andrew Little, Jacinda Adern, John Key, Bill English, Winston Peters, Hone Harawira, Kim Doctom, Willie Jackson, or any other MP or candidate. What’s important is not personalities but policies. While TOP policies may or may not be the right ones for NZ, I appreciate that TOP are putting their policy front and centre in their campaign, and I challenge the rest of the opposition parties to do the same.

    An election campaign centred on a robust debate about policy is one the NatACTs are much less likely to win than the US-style, personality-focused campaigns that worked so well for them under Key. I presume the “left” want to not only defeat the current regime, but to replace them with a government that has some chance of acting for the good of the whole population of (human and otherwise), rather than just the wealthiest 1% and their lapdogs. If I’m right, we must resist the temptation to be drawn into the personalized slagging matches and gossip so typical of current “political reporting” in the commercial media, and keep our public comments about parliamentary politics focused on policy, policy, policy. Not only so an opposition coalition can win, but so that we know what we want them to do when that happens.

    • Mind you , Strypey ,- I was impressed with the way Morgan front footed it with that right wing clown Paul Henry .

      I couldn’t believe it ! He just wasn’t going to take any garbage from Henry and told him exactly what he thought of him AND his Obermeister’s.

      Very impressive and was quite informative in itself of the coming type of policy’s Morgan would be proposing.

  4. I’m voting Green. Otherwise, Morgan’s party *might* be appealing because of his straight talking and UBI policy. Morgan shows just how much Labour has fallen by the side in offering new ideas and solutions to our most pressing problems. Even something as innocuous and widely-supported as the Capital Gains Tax was dumped by Labour because they got spooked by the Right and Big Finance. So, it’s Green Party for me this year.

  5. I’m not sure why Green and Labour can’t start a campaign for a referendum on a UBI… not committing to anything, but not ruling it out either, and letting democracy decide…

    • I’ve been told by at least one Labour MP that they think the UBI is a good solution, but they don’t believe the electorate will be willing to vote for a party that advocates it in the short term. It’s the classic electoral dichotomy, do you say what people want to hear so that you can get your hands on the wheels of power, or do you advocate for the right policy even when it’s unpopular? Without power, it’s hard to turn policy into law, but parties promising one thing and doing another in government is how we ended up with neo-liberalism.

  6. I think Gareth has been good for politics because he has new ideas and doesn’t care about image. You have to give him the thumbs up for that.

    BUT…. it’s likely he will partner with National if he gets 5%, he’s not really a Greenie for the right reasons – more from a point to point analysis on profit vs environmental impact AKA right wing, RMA style, and he seems to believe the right wing myth’s that free trade really is about free trade…

    And when we look at other partners to National, The Maori Party, ACT and United Future, they are just poodles propping up the Natz agenda with a few bribes thrown in… Gareth is no match for the Natz machine of brain washing partners to believe it will all be ok in the end… really you are not selling out… sarc.

    Labour and Greens should have a look at his policies through because there are some good ideas, but Kiwis are not tax experts, have been ripped off constantly for years by snake selling sales politicians selling Rogernomics, neoliberalism and so forth, so I think any radical tax changes will be looked on with great fear and with good reason given NZ history.

    I’m not ready for neoliberalism lite from Gareth, and would prefer a Proper U turn. The environment needs to have some sort of advocate, not just how it can benefit as many people as possible for unlimited growth of people.

    Sadly I think the Greens need to think about that too. Because they are starting to do a Labour from the last decade, lose focus on core issues (aka environment) and then rush around on personal campaigns on marginal issues or issues that many other parties also have. AKA website has Trains for the Shore/TE REO for all.

    Hope for the environments sake the Greens get back on track, because Gareth seems to understand that stealing and polluting water is not OK and is able to communicate that as well as an immigration policy that is a start, in terms of sustainability.

  7. A means-tested Universal/Unconditional Basic Income isn’t actually Universal. I always thought Morgan was a crank but supported UBI, now he’s not even advocating a true UBI.

    • Morgan’s UBI is not means tested, only any top-ups that might be required in specific cases such as National Super.

      • It’s a basic income (BI) for parents of children under the age of three (Which is a good idea) but that’s not U – universal in any sense of the word.
        It is also an effective income cut for those over 65. Yes I know they can go to WINZ for top ups.
        Anybody who has been at the mercy of WINZ won’t be happy with that option.

        A targeted benefit swiftly means the recipients become targeted… with screeds of paper work, ridiculous demands, abuse by WINZ staff and the public in general.

        The end result of this is that poorer New Zealanders will be forced to continue to work into their old age.

        If anyone thinks this wont happen remember the 55+ benefit (at rate of the dole but without onerous work obligations) removed by Bennett and her cronies. This was bought in after the pension was raised to 65 as the then government promised that older people would not be penalized if they were unable to get work in these pre-pension years due to ill health, lack of work experience (women who had worked at home most of their lives) or ageism amongst employers.

        If you go down to WINZ you can watch older people 55-65 being abused by WINZ staff, often leaving the building in tears, any day of the week.

        I’m of the opinion older people would serve themselves and their communities far better by doing voluntary work or caring for their grandchildren (not every working parent thinks day care is the best option) or perhaps studying or doing creative work that they’ve had to put off during their working years. This is what a lot of people on the 55+ benefit were doing but now they have to spend their days applying for jobs they’ll never be considered for and being humiliated at WINZ.

        No Gareth, just no.

        • None of that is actually Morgan’s fault, but means tested top-ups are a good idea in principle. And while his “UBI” will not be universal initially, he intends that it should become so eventually.

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