Tuesday, October 08, 2019

"Surplus" again

Another year, and the government has announced another enormous government "surplus". And just like last year, its nothing of the sort. When we have people homeless and sick and hungry, when we have schools and hospitals still falling down, when we have underpaid public servants and infrastucture unmaintained or unbuilt, its not a "surplus". Instead, its a crime, a theft from the public of the services and infrastructure the government should have provided with it. It's also a real reminder that every time the government cried "but we don't have the money" in the last year - to striking teachers, to those demanding beneficiaries be allowed to live in dignity, to those wanting their medical needs met - they were outright lying. They did have the money - and in fact they had billions and billions more, just sitting there, doing nothing useful whatsoever.

But its not just a lie - it is also a mistake. The government runs these massive surpluses because they feel that as a nominally-left wing party, they need to "prove themselves" to business. But business will never be satisfied, no matter how "fiscally responsible" the government is: they never voted Labour, and never will. Meanwhile running a surplus lets the opposition run a narrative of the government stealing from "hard working" millionaires and promise to "give the money back" - something the government has made painless, because there's a pile of cash there, which frees the opposition from the political cost of having to be honest about its priorities and what it would cut. At least when you spend money, you get something for it. All piling it up like this does is waste it.

Meanwhile, I'm thinking of all the things this could have done. How much would it cost to restore benefits to pre-Richardson levels and let the sick and the unemployed live in dignity? How many state houses could be built with it? How many wind turbines and solar panels? How many trees? Except I know the answers to those questions: a couple of billion, ~15,000, ~7,500 MW, and ~7.5 billion (storing 6 billion tons of carbon when grown, or the next hundred years gross emissions). Those answers should make you very, very angry at the opportunities the government has squandered in the name of chasing the unachievable and pointless approval of the rich.