25 August 2005

Tax cuts: stuff and nonsense

Iona, the author of You are a china shop, I am a bull sums up the electioneering frenzy over tax cuts. “Couldn't we vote based on who has the best policies, rather than who will give each of us the most money? Pleeeeease?” she says.

Well said, Iona, although you need to consider the likelihood the policy promises will be kept. I also suspect the hullabaloo is based on the assumption that what we value most is money and having more of it. Money, of course is just (or should be) a proxy for what we truly value: a mechanism for procuring what we really want, but even viewed from that perspective, the fight about whose tax package is best is on shaky ground.

First, tax cuts are clearly directed at individual benefit—for example, National's proposal1 would allow you an extra pizza ($13) a week2 if you're on $35,000 p.a. or an extra weekly bottle of Pauillac 4th growth Bordeaux3 ($91) if you're on $100,000 p.a.4 But what if, as Iona points out, you need emergency treatment at A&E? How much of your tax cut would you voluntarily pay to your local hospital to ensure you're looked after if you contract rabies when bitten by a politician? Or, in general, to help the people at the bottom of the heap?

Second ... well, the assumption is simply wrong. At least, I hope it is. Certainly, it's wrong in my case. Ask your partner what she or he values most; ask your friends what they consider most important: I bet you won't often hear, “money, and having lots of it”. Sure you might hear mention of material things like a comfortable home, but you'll hear more about things like being happy; about your kids; about looking after and enjoying the environment. Stuff like that. Non-material things. Sometimes money can make those things easier to achieve; sometimes it doesn't; and sometimes, I suspect, it makes it harder. I know it's low on my list of values—if it's there at all.

Consequently, I trust my vote won't be influenced by having my personal greed pandered to. Instead, and after a reasonable amount of thought, I decided on a process for choosing a party to vote for (my electorate vote is useless here). First, I identified the broad issues most important to me; then I considered how closely the various parties aligned with my views on those issues. It sounds basic, but I wonder how many people are using this sort of process instead of, or as well as, relying on ad hoc responses to political statements.

The issues I consider most important might be grouped under the broad heading, “Human rights, justice, peace, social fairness, etc.” Given the recent treatment of Maori by National and to a lesser extent Labour, and Winston Peters' appalling and selective xenophobia, I thought about identifying “Race relations” as an additional, similarly important issue. However, the distinction doesn't matter when assessing the parties' attitudes to these issues—in my view, the ranking remains the same. Next in importance is concern for the world we're part of (a.k.a. “the environment”), and I suppose I'd have to admit that a bungled economy won't do much to improve the top two categories, so I'd better say “economic management” as number three. But that one serves the first two, not the other way round.

Those are the big things, but feel free to suggest things I might have forgotten. If you're wondering about the usual election issues—health, education, social welfare, law and order, transport, tax cuts, the private lives of political opponents and so on—well, those are mostly specific cases of my top categories or are less important from my perspective.

So how do the parties rank? This is where it gets easy for me, but I'll leave you to make your own assessments, using your own categories of values/importance. Use mine if you wish, but the value of the exercise is that it encourages you to think; to reflect on what's important; to view the election not as about one or two issues like greed tax cuts or hospital waiting lists but from a wider perspective. This world is the only one we have, and we share it with a lot of other people. I'll be voting for whichever party I think will best look after it, and us. All of us.

1 Have a closer look at what National's proposal means, here. Note that as a percentage of income, those who would benefit most are people on $100,000 p.a. Someone on the minimum wage ($380 per week) would get about a 3% increase; the person on $100,000 p.a. ($1923 per week) would get about a 4.8% increase.

3 The example is a 2001 Chateau Duhart-Milon. (A wine I've never tried, and probably never will. Especially on my income. Even after a tax cut. Probably wouldn't be able to afford an extra grating of cheese on my pizza).

4 If I seem to pick on National, it's because I'm irritated by an apparent double standard. It seems ironic that National, the party that has hammered the line that support should be based on need is offering the largest tax cuts to those who need it least—the rich—while remonstrating with Labour about tax relief targetted at families. (See footnote 1).

Photo and words copyright 2005 Pete McGregor

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