Monday, May 19, 2014

The Politics of Jesus (19 May 2014)

Two more John Campbell profiles of our political leaders, thanks Caleb!:

Russell Norman and David Cunliffe. I don't think I am doing anyone a disservice if I point out (as others have done) that the star of the second video is Karen Price, David's wife.

One of the odd things about politics, as these profiles are making plain, is that the best interests of ordinary New Zealanders are served by having extraordinary New Zealanders in charge of the country. No one is going to be Prime Minister these days who has merely average abilities. Key has a fortune, Cunliffe has several degrees, Norman has a doctorate, Harawira has prophetic vision. (I suppose we will get to Winston Peters one day - he has extraordinary abilities in wiliness but will never be Prime Minister). Thus, in a funny way, our leaders have to pretend to understand our needs while not experiencing those needs themselves (except perhaps some years back in a different time and era when they may have been poor or at least much poorer than they are today).

One of the points David Cunliffe makes in the video interview, as he acknowledges that he has done well in life, is that the state helped him get there, especially in terms of education.

On the whole NZ likes its government to provide a helping hand in life. Much of our politics is an argument about how much the hand should help. Last week's budget - Bill English's sixth budget - is a fascinating example of an ostensibly 'right-wing' government revealing its true 'centre-right' colours with some offerings that steal ideas from the 'centre-left': financially astute and politically adept. Once you extend paid parental leave, for example, by a number of weeks but less weeks than what the centre-left is proposing, the argument is about details and not about the concept itself. When, to give another example, a government finds funds to extend the age for which free visits to the doctor for children apply, there is no doubt that a subscription is being paid to the idea that governments in NZ exist to give a helping hand.

Interestingly there is always a price to pay for the hand to help, whether through rising taxes, borrowing, diminishing investment in things which generate less inspiring headlines but a re good for the country in the long run, or all the above. Unsurprisingly, Rod Oram points out some hard truths about this year's budget here.

So, what about the politics of Jesus and our situation in Aotearoa New Zealand? Would Jesus be happy with this year's budget as a kind of 'best we can do, given the situation re global economy, local tax take, needs of people, all balanced with not borrowing to the nth degree' budget?

I suggest Jesus would be pretty happy as an ordinary citizen of the land. After all, there are signs in the gospel that he made no particular criticism of the overall programme of Roman rule in so far as it imposed taxes and provided law and order. Further, I think Jesus was a realist: he would know that this year's budget is a budget of the people for the people since it is the budget - more or less - any government of any stripe would propose in order to express their will in anticipation of its expression in the polling booth.

But what the politics of Jesus proposes is a new way for people to be people (and thus for governments to be different as the people change). In the upside down kingdom of God, attitudes to material achievement in life is or should be different to the values outside the kingdom. How this might change a budget in Aotearoa New Zealand is an interesting speculation to make. It has never been tried here before.


Michael Reddell said...

We benefit from extraordinary people? Perhaps - although I'm not sure any of the current crop are particularly extraordinary - but don't forget William Buckley's line:

"I'd rather entrust the government of the United States to the first 400 people listed in the Boston telephone directory than to the faculty of Harvard University."

Peter Carrell said...

OK, Michael, how would "above average" do?


Father Ron Smith said...

In a country that has far to many 'professionals' and very few artisans, the cost of supporting higher education for lawyers, doctors, and other high-earning pros could be one of the areas in which government could exercise a little more discretion.

The number of post-grad students still expecting the government to support them throughout their long period of post-grad. studies may seem just a wee bit bothersome - in the circumstances where there is not enough incentive for people to learn a trade, which might be more helpful to the community.

Bryden Black said...

Curiously Ron I more or less agree with you. When so-called ‘apprentice trainees’ were told and encouraged to get ‘degrees’ (of one form or another), we actually demeaned their status and their qualifications, making “intellectual” sound as if it were applicable to only one form of rational processing. Being involved on the land all my life, and so being surrounded by PhD agronomists on the one hand, and shearers on the other (to say nothing of subsistence farming types in Africa), and all sorts in between, I’ve had the good pleasure to meet and converse with a wide variety of dear folk - the intelligent, the witty, and the plain dumb.

True artisans and all those from the yeoman class form the back-bone of many a society. One of the really significant things about a number of western countries is the shrinking in number of this social category due to direct political engineering. Germany for example is now more dependant upon migrant labour than ever before. I sense we might rue the day ...

Father Ron Smith said...

Thanks, Bryden. I do have a real interest in this subject, having served a trade apprenticeship in the U.K. as a toolmaker before migrating to New Zealand in 1953. However, there was too little respect for the skills I had painfully acquired, so I left the industry.

My own education was hard-won, so I am keen for students to learn the hard way - by self-funding.

Jean said...

Hi all,

Actually while I agree with the intelligence involved in and importance of trade work, actually I wish I had had the opportunity to do woodwork at school (I had to be resigned rather unsuccessfully to the sewing classes).

I think the landscape though is changing...

The government having realised its fault through a lack of tradespeople - apprenticeships are now readily offered, and polytechnics offer introductory courses to a lot of practical subjects, and even universities are including practical placements OMGosh. They have acccess to student loans or allowances as well as a basic living wage.

However, having known a few doctor and dentistry students it isn't an easy ride. You are looking at $25 000 in fees per year for six years with tough competition. Another six years, two on a low salary with extraordinary hours, to qualify for specialising. Then you can be a specialist unless of course you work with eyes then you have to do a doctorate and qualify for entry into that field. Many doctors are then being drawn overseas because of the pay rates and better work conditions alongside frustration at the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff situation as a lot of health money is chanelled into management, hence our lack of medical professionals.

Anyone I was actually going to share a good quote:

The House of Commons starts its proceeding with a prayer. The Chaplain looks at the assembled members with their varied intelligence and then prays for the country - Lord Denning

Caleb said...

You won't be surprised to hear that I don't think it's a "'best we can do, given the situation re global economy, local tax take, needs of people, all balanced with not borrowing to the nth degree' budget."

To name just one issue, this budget has pretty much ignored the housing affordability crisis. The OECD recently said NZ's rents are the most over-valued in the world, and our house prices are one of the most over-valued. John Key, of course, said on Morning Report that he "doesn't agree" with the OECD and that the price rises are due to more people entering the "property market" (he manages to spin this as a positive by saying it's due to the returning strength of the economy).

Key has identified the problem well, but he doesn't acknowledge it as a problem. Property speculators are "entering the market" because they can get risk-free, tax-free passive income that way. But this is unproductive investment, and it makes housing more affordable for those who don't see it as an investment but somewhere to live. A capital gains tax is badly needed to solve both these problems.

Housing affordability is especially pertinent in Chch where rents will reach Auckland levels in January if they continue to rise at the current rate - and of course our average incomes are lower than those in Auckland (though I haven't seen data on incomes of people living in rental accommodation specifically). But Brownlee has always denied and downplayed the housing crisis.

The budget also added insult to injury for Chch by cutting rebuild funding and refusing to do anything about the flooding.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Caleb
Has a capital gains tax kept house prices in Sydney down?

Caleb said...

A capital gains tax is not a cure-all (nothing is) but it is possibly part of the solution, and it is just. It's not just nor useful to let passive (arguably parasitic) rental property income go untaxed.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Caleb
There are (IMHO) excellent arguments for a capital gains tax because all means of income should be taxed ... what I don't like hearing is people claiming that a capital gains tax will solve problems with rising house prices. The evidence does not appear to support CGT as a means of constraining prices.