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Sunday, 23 August 2015

The problem with memes

Jerome Mika, a former Labour candidate posted this meme on Facebook... I don't even know where to begin. This emphasises the problems with memes...

For starters, great as Michael Joseph Savage was, the New Zealand economy was in recovery mode by the time the first Labour Government was elected in 1935 (the nadir of the Great Depression, in terms of economic and employment growth, was 1932). We certainly didn't come out of the Great Depression with "no debt" - although we did have the Reserve Bank and State Advances Corporation, both creations of the United-Reform Coalition which preceded the first Labour Government (a fact strangely forgotten).

Savage's Government did introduce free milk in schools from 1937 to improve nutrition, but certainly didn't introduce free school meals. The greatest achievement of the Savage Government was the Social Security Act 1938, but strangely that gets no mention. In terms of giving hope, that wasn't too hard to do after the tough years of the great depression. Labour's own version of New Zealand's history feeds its own wonky recollection of this time exactly because of its ability to claim credit for the post depression recovery. No-one recalls, for example, that Labour actually initially supported the United Party in government from 1928-30...

Secondly, there's the statement on John Key; of course this is the negative contrast with Michael Joseph Savage. Well, straight away the claim that New Zealand now has the "biggest debt on record" is nonsense. That award (in terms of public debt to GDP) goes to the Lange Government in 1987:


Since then New Zealand's public debt to GDP has tracked downwards, although did tick upwards again post Global Financial Crisis and Christchurch Earthquakes. I'm pretty sure no-one in Labour would seriously argue the Key government shouldn't have spent up post GFC or earthquakes; in fact the opposite is true - for all their complaints about public debt, they wanted to spend even more than this government did, irrespective of the outcomes.

Now it is true that there are homeless people in New Zealand. A recent parliamentary research paper notes the plethora of statistics on the issue - it's not clear if homelessness is getting worse or better. What is clear though is that there's plenty of statistics on poverty; what's interesting though is that the numbers in "absolute" poverty, according to recent Ministry of Social Development reports, is falling. However, relative poverty - i.e. the number of children growing up in homes below the medium income - is apparently increasing.

Then there's free school meals. In this case, the Key government has actually gone further than the Savage government did through the Kickstart Breakfast programme. Sure, the Government voted down the "Feed the Kids" Bill, but that was bad law and would only have helped disadvantaged children if they went to a school within particular decile bands, and helped kids who didn't need it but happened to go to lower decile schools. I would much rather we increased the family tax credit and benefits so that families could afford to feed their children in the first place - you know, as the government did in the 2015 budget just passed.

Then there's the tax switch. The "tax cuts for the rich" meme is a well-worn canard. But the fact is one-third of all income tax comes from the top 6% of taxpayers. And anyway, at the same time as reducing income tax, the current government got rid of a whole host of income tax exemptions, such as depreciation on property and abolished Loss-Attributing Qualifying Companies (LAQCs) which means it's harder for wealthy New Zealanders to reduce their income tax. Unfortunately the centre-left is obsessed with the top tax rate rather than actual tax policy that's equitable.

As for hope under this government - I'll let voters decide.