Wednesday, January 11, 2012

"The national interest"

So, having failed to smear Ports of Auckland's workers as greedy, lazy, and overpaid, the right have turned to a different argument: apparently it's "in the national interest" to casualise them and cut their pay:

If the Maritime Union didn't see this one coming, then they haven't been paying much attention to the Ministry of Transport report on container productivity at New Zealand ports. Nor has the union been paying attention to the Productivity Commission which estimates exporters and importers spend upwards of $5 billion a year on freight and has forecasted annual trade could be boosted by $1.25 billion if transport costs were shaved by 10 per cent. There is a national interest issue at stake here.
As usual, "the national interest" is just code for the interests of the rich. Who will benefit from that supposed $1.25 billion boost in trade? Not ordinary people. In a National economy, with high unemployment, low wages and tax cuts for the rich, only people at the very top benefit from growth. (Don't believe me? Take it from Statistics New Zealand). Meanwhile, ordinary people, in the form of wharfies and their families, will bear the costs. What O'Sullivan is hiding behind her grand talk of the "national interest" is the usual story of impoverishing the many for the enrichment of the few. Which isn't in our interests at all.

(This applies generally, BTW. Where economic growth results in costs (e.g. environmental destruction, lower wages, reduced government services, greater inequality) but no benefits for most people, then we have no reason to support it. If the rich want us to buy their rhetoric of "growing the cake", they need to actually share it with us).

But besides the distributional argument, there's an inconsistency here. If the shoe were on the other foot, and we were talking about taking half a billion a year off the ultra-rich in order to produce a larger social benefit (say, by applying their own logic to them and cutting their outrageous CEO salaries to make them work harder so that our business sector would be more efficient), O'Sullivan would be squealing about private property rights, theft, and the need for compensation. But what's good for the goose is good for the gander. If you believe rich people shouldn't be made worse off for the benefit of others (or be compensated if they are), then you must believe it for poor people too. Anything less is simply rank hypocrisy.