Friday, May 17, 2013

National: Turning ex-pats into exiles

Once upon a time, when National Party Ministers were young, being a student was easy. You'd go to university, get an education, and get a decent job as a result. And because the state believed in the social benefits of education, it cost next to nothing.

Enter Roger Douglas and Phil Goff. Education became a "private benefit", which people had to borrow to pay for (Lockwood Smith simply applied the DHB scam to it so fees were charged by perpetually underfunded universities rather than government). But thanks to degree inflation and an austerity-induced recession, that benefit was rather less than what people were expected to pay for it (and its not as if they could "choose" not to pay: middle-class expectation and qualification inflation meant it was a life of debt or a life flipping burgers). For some, the gamble of education failed: either university was too much for them, or the promised decent job failed to materialise at the end of it, or simply life happened, and so they ended up burdened by unrepayable debt. Inevitably, due to the long tradition of the kiwi OE and the sudden incentive to exploit the exchange rate to repay education debt, some of those people were overseas.

Labour's interest-free policy made things easier for those still in New Zealand - at least their debts wouldn't grow. But those overseas were left out. And since then National has increased foreign repayment obligations, making them even more unrepayable and creating a stronger incentive to ignore the loan and get on with your life. And now, they've gone a step further, proposing to arrest student loan debtors at the border.

National thinks this will encourage those debtors to come home, or better yet, encourage them never to leave in the first place. I think it will do the opposite. While people may go overseas on a lark, they don't stay there for trivial reasons. These overseas borrowers will have lives, jobs, and families where they are - anchors overseas which keep them from coming home. And what National's policy will do is make sure they can never come home ever again. They can't come home for christmas, because they'll be arrested. If a New Zealand family member gets sick, they'll have to choose between their family and their freedom. They won't be able to come home for funerals. All of that is inhumane, vindictive and punitive, but it gets worse: they won't be able to do business here, because they'll be arrested. And they won't even be able to move back home, because if they come back for a job interview, the government will throw them in jail.

National likes to talk up the value of our ex-pats. But this stupid, inhumane, vindictive policy will turn them into permanent exiles. Way to go, National.