I must say, I’m a little surprised at Simon Bridges’ response to the Government’s Covid-19 package.
Not because it’s petty opposition-for-the-sake-of-
But rather due to the main thrust of his attack: that the Government’s response-package is hopelessly ‘ideological’. Because it includes a not insignificant amount of money for beneficiaries, and he feels that this means ‘medium-sized Kiwi businesses’ have been shut out.
In fact, the Government is provisioning exactly the same amount of money for beneficiaries – $2.8 billion – that it is for changes to business tax. Perhaps this is what Bridges is alluding to when he calls the Government’s response a case of “confuse priorities” – attempting to do two things at once (and more besides – such as the $5.1 billion in wage subsidies to affected employers) in a bid to look after both business and those no longer employed by same, rather than only corporates of an appropriately middling-and-up magnitude.
Now, there are two reasons I find it perplexing that Bridges is castigating this as “ideologically” oriented.
The first is that it’s pretty non-ideological to look at a situation of sustained global economic turmoil, featuring specific impairments for industries and nations whose activity is primarily contingent upon long-distance travel and/or tourism … and conclude that this is going to lead to job-losses. You don’t even have to think about it as a theoretical. You just have to read the news going back over the past several weeks and follow the headlines. Three thousand jobs from Air New Zealand just a few days ago, haemorrhaging work-crews from the primary sector employers like forestry for some time before that. A situation which has already persisted, and is inordinately likely to persist, for some time.
That axiomatically means there are GOING to be greater numbers of New Zealanders who are not just out of work for the moment, but are likely to be out of work for the reasonable, and perhaps even foreseeable future. Because it’s the nature of this kind of crisis. It doesn’t just take out one employer or one industry – it affects, directly or otherwise, almost everything. It’s pointless (in the short and potentially medium term) expecting newly-unemployed Kiwis to just go off and find a job somewhere else or retrain for vacancies that haven’t come back yet.
Even despite the aforementioned multi-billion dollar package for employers – both in terms of tax-code alterations, and direct subsidies to keep people in work – that have already been announced, we are quite simply going to have thousands more Kiwis unemployed. They must be provisioned for.
What would be “ideological” in this situation, I suspect, would be pretending that this isn’t going to occur; or, as was done during Ruthanasia and its aftermath, ratcheting down benefits and their accessibility in a futile bid to force New Zealanders to go out and get into employment that simply wasn’t there (and, in the process, further weakening those remaining domestic operations that DID still have some viability by removing the income-streams of much of their clientele).
What would also be “ideological”, would be insisting upon putting as much Corona money as possible into already-reasonably sized businesses and then hoping that the benefits would trickle down to those who’ll otherwise now be on benefits. Various experiences with bailouts and absolutely cyclopean-scale interventions by governments overseas during times of recession, have amply demonstrated that this doesn’t tend to either especially work, or be particularly good value-for-money.
I also think it would be rather “ideological” to be demanding significant further subsidies for private sector entities – which doesn’t mean I’m intrinsically opposed to this in all cases – just that after so much apparently empty rhetoric about “picking winners” and “Polish ship-yards” and “corporate welfare”, it seems a bit curious that all that, and ONLY that, has ceased having the ring of truth to it for National’s speechwriters.
But the second reason I find it a bit perplexing that Bridges is seeking to attack as “ideological” the Government for putting cash in the hands of ordinary people rather than just their corporate overlords … is due to the lack of issue other (right-wing) political entities which Bridges usually quite likes have had with doing exactly the same thing. Providing payments to now-unemployed workers, I mean – not the incendiary claims of “ideological” non-responses for doing so, that is. Strange times, eh?
In fact, the measures that’ve been put into force by each of Australia’s Scott Morrison-lead Government, and the Trump-presided-upon Republican Party of America, are actually, if anything, more generous than what we’ve seen put forward thus far under Labour here. Perhaps, as the old political illumination/rummination has it, “Only Nixon Could Go To China.”
Now I certainly think that ScoMo and the Notorious GoP act with “confused priorities that do not deal, non-ideologically, with the issues” of their respective countries, on a basis so regular that you can’t set your watch by it because it’s a present-continuous now. I.e. ALL THE TIME. [Trump, for what it’s worth, I don’t think really acts ideologically – but instead, slathers himself with an ideological-like substance as he feels like, to present a false veneer of consistency or coherency to … whatever somebody told him to do that morning, up to and including authorizing missile-strikes on Syria because of a photo his daughter saw on Twitter]. But that’s not the point.
It’s also not the case that simply because several other countries do something, that somehow makes it ‘non-ideological’. It may just mean that it’s a new ideological consensus. Which is not necessarily a good or a bad thing, either. If compassion and greater economic self-reliance are some kind of new ideological trend, then it’s one that should heartily be encouraged. We might even get a sort of post-modern Post-War Economic Consensus out of this. Somehow.
Yet the idea that the Jacinda-lead government (we really are all operating on a first-name basis these days in Kiwi politics) is committing some sort of cardinal sin of “IDEOLOGY” [*sniff*] because it’s proposed to look after those who are soon to be jobless, as well as those who had formerly employed them … rather than focusing more exclusively upon corporations and hoping that all shall be well …
It isn’t even “let them eat cake”. It’s “let their bosses eat cake, how DARE we have a community food-bank!”
We’re in an Election Year, and it is often alleged that parties engage in a lolly-scramble to attempt to buy themselves a constituency and consequent support. National’s attack upon Labour is that. Both in terms of the nature of the charge – which comes with the familiar smack of “Labour bribes beneficiaries for their support” and somehow extorts the business and upper classes to do so.
But also with the implicit promise that under National, things would be the other way around – i.e. if you’re from a sector of society that feels it’s under-served by several billion dollars of corporate tax code alterations and could do with Tiwai Point Rio Tinto levels of Government support for your medium (and up) sized business, then blow Blue.
Yet in times such as these, I don’t think it’s a “lolly-scramble” to try and support either business or beneficiaries. Or, as Labour/NZF/Greens have done – attempt to support both groups, and keep thousands more still in work as well.
I think it’s those rare combinations of virtues in politics – compassion, consideration, and vision.
It’s incredibly unfortunate that it takes a crisis and the shadow of looming, oncoming disaster to afford space for some ‘rebalancing’ of our economy and our society toward something potentially more just.
But if each Election is something of a referendum upon the direction of our ship of nation, and a plebiscite upon the values which we wish to see represented in our government and its leadership … then a response-package to a calamity which emphasizes compassion, care, and comprehension – well, taking that into account when we vote later this year isn’t being bribed.
It’s declaring what ethos we see in ourselves, in our society as it could and should be, and as we want it to be lead by on into our post-2020 future.
But, then, maybe I’m being “Ideological”.