Tuesday, 8 August 2017

"Nobody should steal from taxpayers"

Rachel Stewart weighed into the Metiria Turei debate today : 

"For me, it comes down to this. Dress it up as a morality play all you like. Rich, poor, rightwing, leftwing, tax evasion, benefit fibs. Nobody should steal from taxpayers. And no amount of diversion tactics changes that fact. Turning Turei's voluntary pronouncement into some virtuous act of heroism is so far off the mark, the Greens have ended up shooting themselves in the foot. Which may explain why they are limping."

"Nobody should steal from taxpayers."   

There we have it - the classic knee jerk juxtaposition of 'taxpayers versus non-taxpayers’  which lies at the heart of all the moralising claptrap posing as rational argument and political analysis.

The divide between tax-payer and non-taxpayer is an ideological weapon - fashioned and wielded by people with a powerful ideological agenda.  

There is no simple divide between tax-payers and non-tax-payers but there is a simplistic one which is very active in the hearts and minds of those who want to demonise the poor and keep them in their place.  

The fact is that in NZ everyone’s a tax payer. The poor pay a higher proportion of their income in tax than the affluent because they have to spend every penny they receive - whether in benefits or wages - and just about everything in this country is subjected to GST.  

'Ah, but beneficiaries are paid out of what hardworking tax payers earn."

As are politicians and the police and army and teachers and medical staff and civil servants....

A lot of beneficiaries will have paid tax in the past on what they earned - and would no doubt be happy to pay tax again if there were jobs for them which paid a living wage.  Many of them will have working parents and other family members who pay tax.

Tax is a contribution to a social fund which is a vital part of the social contract that binds a society together - which enables it to function. The vast majority of tax payers get far more value from their tax than the simple sum of what they pay as individuals.

A corollary of the simplistic tax-payers versus non-taxpayers argument is that the more tax you pay, the greater the say you should have in how it is spent - which would mean that big business, as the largest contributor, should have the power to dictate social policy.  

The fact that the poorest and most marginalised in our society attract both the greatest attention and receive the most vitriol says a lot about the health of our social contract - and none of it good. 

Businesses which hide their profits off-shore; rich people who tuck assets away in family trusts so they can be eligible for the $50k+ a year aged care subsidy;  people who employ accountants to minimise family income so that their kids qualify for state assistance while at college; landlords who price gouge when rents are being paid by the state; people who avoid GST by working for cash .... they may all be said to be stealing from the public purse but that sort of conduct is accepted as legitimate or even praised for being smart.

There is a deep vein of cavilling mean-spiritedness in NZ which is the bedmate of the irrational belief that the current social order is meritocratic. 

It’s a combination that results in some seriously unpleasant conduct - which is never more on display than when someone like Metiria Turei is in the frame.

The awful fact is that a disturbingly large number of Kiwis’ reaction has been to want to give her a kicking - and make no mistake, some of them would like that be a literal kicking. 

I happen to think that Metiria made a strategic error in admitting she'd lied to WINZ. She should have anticipated the backlash and the fact that it would be used to divert attention away from the Right's delinquency.  I believe her motives were genuine - she wanted to reach out to the people she knows are hurting under the harsh regime that's been imposed by another working class Mãori woman with a similar back story to hers.   I don't subscribe to the notion that she was looking for affirmation or whatever other pop psych explanations columnists can dredge up. Perhaps she wanted to follow Helen Kelly who openly admitted breaking the law in order to highlight its iniquities. 

Whatever, if you don't get the fact that this both exemplifies and exposes the class divide which the politics of the past 30 years has been all about both opening and obfuscating, then you are a fool or an ideologue - or in the case of David Seymour, both. 

So Rachel, for me it comes down to this : you are very clever, very articulate and now very influential and you just helped put the boot into a Mãori woman who came from a working class background, and who is an environmentalist with a strong belief in social justice.  

Way to go.

1 comment:

  1. I don't like the "Metiria Turei is no worse than Bill English" argument. I understand why everyone is making it - deflection. But he should definitely have been sacked for rorting the taxpayer. It's not a flattering comparison.