No Minister

Transformation: its sad and mystified devotees

with 5 comments

So much time and energy is spent criticising the Labour government here at No Minister and other Rightish NZ blogs that it’s easy to forget the criticism of them coming from the Left.

But it’s there, and not just in the form of endless, brain-dead moaning from the dwindling Trotter brigade about why this government has not re-created the glories of the First Labour Government, which is just a rinse and repeat of their 2000’s sadness over Clarke and Cullen.

Instead there are actually more intelligent, forward-looking Left wing criticisms that go into the specifics of why Labour have failed to really do anything for what is supposed to be one of their primary goals: looking after the poor.

First up is John Campbell with a piece that is not just the breathy, emotive, shallow crap he’s so well known for: Restoring Dignity, The Politics of Too Hard. Of course it would not be Campbell without some gushy stuff about Ardern at the start, a guilt-ridden visit to Otara in the middle, and the Single Tear Upon The Cheek ending about some little boy enjoying his school lunch of hot spaghetti and tomato sauce.

But in between it’s pretty meaty as Campbell focuses on a group that this government set up to advise it on how to help the poor, the Welfare Expert Advisory Group (WEAG), and it’s 42 recommendations:

When the WEAG’s report was made public, three years ago now, it felt like it would be a turning point in the country’s response to child poverty.  

It is a rigorous, intelligent and aspirational piece of work. The experts themselves were indeed expert, and also deeply committed to making a difference. The report was exhaustive and persuasive. And, as we’ve seen, the mandate they received (and honoured) from the minister was almost strident in its advocacy of “dignity”.

It felt transformative. It was intended to be.

Long story short: after interviewing a stack of NGO’s that focus on poverty, such as the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG), it turns out that none of the recommendations have been implemented, despite government claims that 22 have been.

This will come as no surprise to anybody on the Right, who have observed that the primary mark of this Labour government is their uselessness, but it seems to come as a surprise to Campbell.

He does laud them for increasing benefits and welfare spending in general and the minimum wage. Of of course he would not be a Lefty unless he missed the overwhelming economic consensus that a higher minimum wage means fewer such jobs, itself based on the basic principle that making something more expensive reduces demand for it – something the Left clearly do understand when they talk of pricing fossil fuels out of existence.

But he also shows, via the likes of Bernard Hickey, that all that extra spending has created inflation that has nullified welfare and wage increases and even made them go backwards, as well as vastly increasing the wealth of asset owners (something also seen globally: The world’s 10 richest men more than doubled their fortunes from $700 billion to $1.5 trillion), which in the case of NZ has screwed the housing market for young people, likely for a generation.

As we say on the Right: “well duuuhhhh!”

Meantime over at the 21st Century’s online answer to The ListenerThe Spinoff – Danyl Mclauchlan (of Dimpost satire fame), makes other criticisms of all that spending, When Labour turns on the money hose, who gets drenched?

Some of us are more drenched than others. 

There’s just under three billion going into the Emissions Reduction Plan to transition us to a low carbon economy, and it’ll be many years before we know whether this is money well spent. The agriculture and forestry sectors get $710 million over the next four years. The energy sector gets a billion. and I think it’s worth comparing that to the $70 million a year to solo parents I talked about earlier. It’s a shame they can’t all club together and hire themselves a lobbyist.

Like Campbell he briefly references the resulting inflation and its negative affects on helping people. However he also points to a bit of problem that happens with all this increased spending – sorry, “investment” – in the beloved Public Sector:

And the modern day public sector is very far from the one Michael Joseph Savage built, or even the walk-shorts and glide time stereotypes of the 1970s. It’s an amalgam of public and private entities: departments and ministries and commissions co-existing with law firms, consultancies, public relations companies, NGOs, corporations and other private sector providers. It’s carefully optimised to redirect vast amounts of public spending into private hands, and this is a problem this government struggles to confront.

This is an implication that veers close to Trotter’s reactionary utopia, even though Mclauchlan has often made fun of him as a stodgy Old Lefty – but he does not make Trotter’s specific recommendation, or any recommendation, on how to fix it.

Again: “well duuuhhhh!”

Perhaps that’s a cheap shot, given that both of these men really do seem to be compassionate and non-combative about helping the poor, although Campbell does takes shots at National and implies, via reference to a clip of Ruthless Ruth in her Mother Of All Budgets speech, that they haven’t moved very far beyond that.

But here’s the four points they just don’t accept about vast increases in government spending, including welfare spending, even as they see them with their own eyes:

  • It gets swallowed up by a vast increase in the size of State bureaucracy.
  • That bureaucracy delivers only a small proportion to the people who need it (truly trickle down economics).
  • It often just creates inflation, which screws the whole process of helping the poor. (admittedly these two men did note that, but most of their side won’t)
  • It makes the rich much richer and faster than when the Evil Right is in power.

Hell, if I based my vote purely on the massive increases in the value of my real estate assets I’d just vote Labour all the time; the Bob Jones approach.

There’s also a cyclical failure to all this, in that Labour’s Big Spending approach inevitably leads to the next National government tightening the reins, which can also hurt the poor, and which leads to the next Labour government massively increasing spending and on and on.

As both writers point out, the problems of poverty are tough, complex and hard to solve – although they make no reference to the poverty problems faced by the First Labour government which I bet the Anderton/Trotter brigade would argue were just as tough and complex then and were easily solved by all those wonderful ideas like the nationalisation of industries that the modern Labour Party and its modern supporters like Cambell and Mclauchlan are not willing to return to.

But in breaking this cycle it’s clear that it has to start with the economy and not just in the grand macro ways which have been done over the last forty years but in the micro-aspect of getting people into work – which was the argument of the First Labour government but for which nationalisation methods won’t work in the modern world.

As such I will once again suggest Germany’s response in 1948: A different economic starter motor.

Written by Tom Hunter

May 24, 2022 at 4:58 pm

5 Responses

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  1. True.


    May 24, 2022 at 5:16 pm

  2. Interesting article, Tom, thank you. Labour commissions a study from a group of people who formed their views years ago and do not let any facts change them then wonders why the resulting recommendations are hopelessly impracticable but they can’t actually say so. So they’ve got to pretend to be adopting them without actually doing so. What a bugger’s muddle.


    May 24, 2022 at 5:57 pm

    • I must admit that my post was more about Campbell’s reactions to the politics of the situation and failure to implement those recommendations, together with Danyl’s similar lament, than it was about the recommendations themselves.

      You’re probably correct about them but I’ve not read the report (200 pages I think), it’s not my area of interest and somebody like Lindsay Mitchell would be the one to comment. Perhaps we should run a search for it on her blog.

      Tom Hunter

      May 24, 2022 at 6:09 pm

  3. Although Lindsay has not responded to my specific question about WEAD it seems that she has done some analysis of them and has already exposed one of their “facts” – “Over 50% of Maori children are growing up in households receiving a main benefit” – as having no supporting evidence that can be found.

    If you’ve got a claim that’s as big and bold as that one but with no evidence then it doesn’t give a lot of faith in the recommendations based on such “facts”.

    I’d bet that John Campbell doesn’t know, and likely doesn’t care to know this.

    Tom Hunter

    May 24, 2022 at 11:42 pm

  4. I addressed a few of the recommendations in this one, Another working group waste of time

    Quite a number of the recommendations were implemented.

    Off the top of my head (certainly not an exhaustive list):

    1/ abolishing the penalty for not naming the father of a child reliant
    on a benefit (usually sole parent support)

    2/ indexing benefits to wage inflation

    3/ passing on child support to parent instead of keeping it to offset
    the benefit (usually sole parent support)

    4/ scrapping the ‘additional child’ conditions National imposed – ie
    work-testing the mother who adds a child to an existing benefit when
    that child turns one.

    5/ lifting abatement rates to allow beneficiaries to earn more without
    losing benefit

    I disagree with all of these moves and can argue why.

    The Left should be bloody grateful

    Lindsay Mitchell

    May 25, 2022 at 10:25 am

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