False Prophet – False Economy

Almost an Obituary

New Zealand’s opposition leader and former short-time Prime Minister and long-time  Minister of Finance Bill English is resigning from Parliament.

Prime_Minister_Bill_EnglishMost of the comments read almost like an obituary even if English is in his fifties and will have another career ahead of him.  “De mortuis nihil nisi bonum”  (“Of the dead, [say] nothing but good”).
Simon Wilson in yesterday’s NZ Herald was a very commendable exception when he found English wanting as “the National party leader who wasn’t”.

The Prime Minister has her famous positivity as an excuse to find kind words for her former opponent. She treats him as – at least politically – deceased and sticks to the above social norm to say nothing but good about the dead. At this time of ‘mourning’ with the  parliamentary valedictory speech ritual still to unfold she wisely does not want to rain on his parade. She might sense correctly that the country does not want to be reminded that it was English who less than half a year ago almost successfully derailed her electi0n campaign with a bare faced lie about a twelve billion dollar hole in Labour’s budget plans. 44 % of voters didn’t seem to mind blatant lying either as long as it was done by the Tories who see themselves as  born to rule (see Bryan Gould in the same edition of the NZ Herald).

However I must admit that it always irks me when people/politicians who have created an image of themselves as down to earth honest “Southern Men” lie, cheat and deceive like the rest of them. It is called hypocrisy. And it especially irks me when the mainstream (neo-liberal) media, which seem to be part of the same tribe, perpetuate the false image of the honest catholic boy and Southern family man against all the evidence. These commentators and editorials conveniently forget that it was English who over years fleeced the taxpayer out of tens of thousands of dollars claiming accommodation benefits he was not entitled to and had to pay it back.
And then there was the affair around the successor in his old Southland electorate Todd Barclay. English still backed him when he knew about his despicable criminal actions and paid a substantial six figure amount of taxpayers’ dollars as hush money.
And there is under his leadership the classical Tory dirty trick of illegally leaking potentially damaging information about a political opponent at the height of the election campaign. The leaking of Winston Peters’ superannuation overpayment killed any prospect of English hanging on to the premiership right there.

I do not take pleasure of kicking someone who is down or at least has thrown in the towel. English if he is not the lying, cheating, deceiving politician otherwise seems to be a nice enough bloke with a wonderful family and I wish him well. My issue is with the media and their bias.

False Prophet – False Economy

Where the media coverage gets really irksome and dangerous is their perpetuation of the myth of the great helmsman of the economy. He allegedly steered the country successfully through the dangerous economic storm of the global financial crises of  2008 onwards with a steady hand.

First let’s not forget that English came into politics from treasury as a disciple and false prophet of the new dogma . The ideas he preached and practised were responsible for the global financial crisis in the first place.

As far as his steady hands are concerned they were shaking when the whole neo-liberal dogma collapsed around him in 2008. It was exposed as the legendary emperor’s new clothes. To give his hand the appearance of being steady he had to sit on them, which he did for his tenure as Minister of Finance.
The only thing he did was to bail out his rich South Island farmer mates to the tune of over one billion dollars of taxpayers’ money when the government accepted South Canterbury Finance into a deposit protection scheme at a time when they shouldn’t have as the company was already on very shaky grounds.

Now let’s look at English’s track record over nine years of the National Party government.
They inherited a very healthy balance sheet from Labour,which had produced nine years of surpluses plus substantial contributions to the (Cullen) retirement fund.
When the global financial crisis hit in 2008 New Zealand was in the very fortunate position that its effects were relatively small as our banking/finance system was sound with only minor exceptions as the before mentioned South Canterbury Finance. However our neo-liberal media still accept the global financial crisis as an excuse for all the National government’s problems.
Since it took office contributions to the retirement fund and the incentives to the Kiwi Saver scheme stopped. The government debt increased from about 20 to over 60 billion dollars. They managed their first surplus only in their last year in office by grossly underfunding health, education and social welfare to name only a few. Increased spending only went into the prison industry including a failed privatisation project.

Don’t mention child poverty, environmental degradation, Auckland traffic gridlock and the housing crisis, which English could not even bring himself to acknowledge.

The much touted growth in GDP, which is a really silly measure of the economic and other well-being of a country, was only achieved by injecting increasing numbers of immigrants into the economy. This works like a drug addiction. We cannot stop as long as we are fixated on growth.

In the meantime under neo-liberal policies we slid down into a low wage economy where people work two or three jobs and still rely on food banks. Last year the handing out of food parcels increased by 12% while landlords and utilities and their shareholders are creaming it. This led to no discernible growth in productivity the real measure of economic health.

All the while the wealth and income gap between the top 1% and the rest has increased exponentially.

neo IThe handling of the aftermath of the Christchurch earthquake is also mention as one of his achievements. Just don’t talk to the people of Christchurch who after seven years are still struggling to have their claims sorted.

Bill English claims as his main achievement fiscal prudence and a small surplus at the end. He got it by underfunding. Not paying teachers enough to keep them in the profession and risking the education of the next generation, not paying enough in the health sector or for infrastructure to name only a few.

Then I read today’s letter to the editor viewing “Bill’s tenure as the most beneficial and caring for the average taxpayer and the county’s economy as a whole of any finance minister of the past 20 years“. That person might be a well to do taxpayer but obviously has no children at school, doesn’t like to swim safely in our rivers, never needs hospital treatment nor tries to get into Auckland staying put enjoying the view in Muriwai.

Bill’s recipe is akin to not maintaining your house or having your car serviced but pay heaps more for repairs later. My grandfather would have called that False Economy.

by Dr Hans B. Grueber

PS: Is there hope under the new government ? I am afraid very little. We have another neo-liberal finance minister.  He put on the “straitjacket” (Shamubeel Eaqup as quoted by Brian Rudman) of the Labour/Green self imposed fiscal responsibility rules. They require the government to stay in surplus. We are seeing a caretaker government for, wait for it, Neo-liberalism.

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