Thursday, February 14, 2008

Not just about tax

In the Dominion Post today, Vernon Small points out a rarely-expressed fact of our political landscape: despite it utterly dominating the media narrative, some of us don't give a rat's arse about tax:

Living inside a political beltway where tax cuts loom so large on the agenda, it is easy to forget that for Labour's foot soldiers – if not its core constituency – other things may crank their handles.

Like social services and spending. Like the plight of the worst off. Like the upbringing and education their kids are getting.

But this isn't just true of Labour supporters, but of New Zealand as a whole. To point out an inconvenient truth, the vast majority of New Zealanders are completely unaffected by the top tax rate. Hell, the majority of us aren't even affected by the middle one. We pay 19.5% (or nothing, thanks to Working For Families), and the difference a tax cut would make to our lives is far less than the difference made by free schools, free hospitals, superannuation, and the security provided by a social welfare system. Our sole interest in the tax system is whether it collects enough revenue to fund the public services which insure all New Zealanders, rich and poor alike, against the vagaries of life. And we regard it as only fair that those with greater means pay more.

To us, tax cuts are an explicit threat to government revenue, and an explicit threat to the core public services we depend upon. And given that those services still have not been fully restored since the 90's (hospitals still have long waiting lists, schools want higher and higher "donations", benefits, while adjusted for inflation, are still at the sub-subsistence levels set by Ruth Richardson), cutting that revenue seems to be a fundamentally stupid idea. Instead, if anything, we should be raising taxes on the rich, not lowering them.

Against this, Labour's promise of tax cuts seems like a betrayal, a pandering to the rich which actively undermines its core principles and the interests of its core voters. But then, when the media reflects only the views of the rich, and refuse to acknowledge that most of us even exist, it's no wonder they have a distorted picture of electoral demand.