Wednesday, September 09, 2020

If not now, when?

I'm grappling with my sheer fucking anger over Labour's pathetic tax policy. Yes, it utterly contradicts their pretence of being a "centre-left" party and shows that they have no interest whatsoever in fixing any of the problems facing New Zealand. Yes, its self-inflicted helplessness, which will allow them to cry "we have no money" for another three years in response to every call to fix our rotting schools and hospitals. But more than that, its the sheer wasted opportunity.

The government keeps telling us we are living in an unprecedented, once-in-a-hundred-years crisis. It has compared that crisis to a world war, and they're not wrong in that. And like the world wars, it is borrowing tens of billions of dollars to pay for it, in this case by keeping us all afloat and housed and fed. In the past, these sorts of crises has led to the conscription of wealth: the First World War saw the top income tax rate rise from 6.67% (income taxes not really being a thing then) to 43.75%, while the second saw it increase to 90%. And these increases were widely supported because people recognised the crisis, understood the need to pay for it, and knew we were all in it together.

In his speech announcing the policy, Grant Robertson said it was about all of us "pitching in". Except we're not. Backbench MPs, some of the highest earners in the country, will not pay a cent more in tax. So, in this unprecedented, once-in-a-hundred-years crisis, we clearly are not all in it together. The poor will continue to pay taxes on every dollar we earn, just as we always have. But most of the rich won't be expected to contribute anything extra, and they certainly won't be expected to pay anything on their untaxed wealth, land, or capital gains. And its telling that backbench MPs, some of the highest earners in the country, won't pay a cent more under Labour's policy. Because perish the thought that the political elite contribute in any way to the country.

Like climate change, its a massive disjoint between rhetoric and policy. But its also a huge wasted opportunity. The public understands we are in a crisis, we know it comes with huge costs, and we understand the need for shared sacrifice. Which means this is also an unprecedented opportunity to reshape New Zealand, to start undoing the damage done by 30 years of NeoLiberalism, to put us on a sounder, more equal footing. Labour is wasting this opportunity, claiming that the time isn't right for change. But if not now, when?