While working on a submission on the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) proposed Fair Pay Agreement Discussion paper, the reality of dealing with one small, obscure detail in this Government’s disastrous public policy program becomes a bit frustrating because it isn’t the sole issue by itself. A bit like saving the life of a lung cancer patient who refuses to give up chain smoking with a lung transplant, there is a wider philosophical issue at hand. Until that philosophical debate is concluded, those of us who advocate for the small government side of debate are doomed to deal with one poorly constructed regulatory tedium after another.
When I look back at the legislative patterns of both National and Labour governments since 1999, I see a pattern of unhelpful public policy implementation. A fault or injustice, real or perceived, will be identified with just one solution determined; that the Government do something about it.
It is rare that new legislation solves a real or perceived problem. The problem may not be a problem at all, such as equal financial outcomes for men and women, existing only in the eye of the beholder. It could present itself due to a faulty means of measurement such as applying an income level proportionate to median income as a measure of poverty. That is an inequality of outcome measure and using it would show poverty doesn’t exist if we were to destroy all wealth.
The most common problems which feed demand for government action are those which are symptomatic of previous government interference, such as skyrocketing land prices caused by planning processes artificially reducing land available for development. That has spawned greater restrictions on foreign purchases (which we probably need to fund more developments), a failed government construction plan, significant increases in the minimum wage and greater interference in the labour market.
What problem is the Government trying to solve with increased labour market regulation? Minister Ian Lees-Galloway has identified several in the proposed FPA system discussion.
“For a number of decades we have experienced increasing levels of inequality and poverty. Too many hard working New Zealanders are struggling, too many children are living in poverty. Too many parents tell us they are working more than one job to get by and aren’t getting enough time with their children.”
That is vague election rhetoric that appeals to most moderate voters for whom the solution to any problem is “the Government must fix this.” What is ‘too many hard working New Zealanders?’ Without being given an acceptable number of hard working New Zealanders, that is impossible to define. I don’t think anyone would be comfortable in declaring the number of hard working New Zealanders struggling that is appropriate. It becomes an undefined problem that will always exist, can never be solved and writes more regulation on top of existing regulations that have failed to fix the unfixable.
It also includes the irredeemable failures of collectivism, the ultimate of which is that you and I are not groups. With the exception of individuals that have voluntarily joined together into organisations, with founding documentation or an agreement or constitution, nobody is a group. ‘Too many hard working New Zealanders’ exists in the imagination of Ian Lees-Galloway. Individual people have unlimited reasons for succeeding and failing. Some individuals succeed or fail, in the eyes of an outsider, when there is no ‘fair’ reason for how they got to their station in life. That station in life is commonly ‘dead.’ Fortunately, in a free western liberal democracy, those aberrations are the exception.
Individuals can find themselves in a tough spot financially as the result of infinite variations that could commence with having a terrible upbringing in a poor region. Infinite variations on countless choices they make at different stages of their life can rightly or wrongly lead to them being hardworking and struggling. I’m not saying that people choose to be poor. I’m saying that the choices they make will have the greatest impact on their situation in life over the long-term.
Life is tough. It is tough for everyone to varying degrees. All of us will have it extremely difficult at some times whether we have made poor choices for the right reasons or the best choices in every situation. If you do achieve success in whatever way you perceive it, life doesn’t simply become easy. The problems you struggle with become different problems. The stress of trying to pay your bills when extremely poor or the stress of being the highly-paid CEO of an enormous corporation, is still stress. It can still be crippling.
The solution to the difficulties of millions of different individuals, resulting from infinite situations and choices made, creating a further infinite variation of consequences, will never be fixed by ‘the government must do something.’ Identifying parents working more than one job as a problem doesn’t give a reason for each parent being in this situation or what they have done to change it. If it isn’t possible to know that, then how is it possible to know the solution and determine that that solution is more Government?
If a person responds to the claims of poverty or inequality with the application of logic, they risk putting themselves into a very uncomfortable position indeed. By not accepting a persons moot without question, you will be attacked for being uncaring, having no empathy or held up as an example to others as a horrible human being.
An example that comes easily to mind was seeing a tweet from Chloe Swarbruck describing walking down the street holding her female partner’s hand and getting “the look.” To her that was unassailable proof of common homophobia. To me there were countless points to consider before determining her first instinctive thought was unquestionably correct and ‘the government must do something.’ The response to my questioning was rapid, numerous and vicious.
To the left, being seen to care is more important than any other response, including determining whether there is a problem to fix or actually producing a solution.
The previous National government was criticised in its final term for shortages presenting in the social housing system. This led to the Ministry of Social Development paying for motel rooms for families to keep a roof over their head while the family waited for social housing accommodation to become available. Labour attacked National for this scandalous mismanagement of the social housing sector while in opposition. Now in Government, has Labour improved the situation?
The social housing waiting list reached a new record in July 2019, with 12,644 people on the list. This was an increase on June’s record figure of 12,311. The number of grants being approved for emergency accommodation motel stays in July 2019 was 3316, up from 1797 the previous year. In that month 768 households had been permanently housed but half of those households had waited at least 126 days for that home. The list continues to grow however, with 2005 families being added that month.
Is there actually a problem to be fixed by building more social housing? The build rate of public housing is 9 times what it was in 2016. Minister Kris Faafoi is remarkably candid in replying, “The Government is showing a clear commitment to fix the neglect of the previous government and people are responding to that by coming forward asking for help, which is partly reflected in these figures.”
This Christmas, the queues for food and gifts outside Auckland’s City Mission will reach record lengths, beating the previous year’s record which itself beat the record set the year prior. This will be presented as evidence of worsening poverty levels, reinforced by Government statistics intended to measure poverty that actually measure equality.
I was tasked with doing the research for Act’s health policy in 2017. What I discovered in doing so was very surprising, and somewhat frustrating, while looking for what could be done better. Health funding has gone up, on a per head of population basis, every year since 2009. The number of doctors per head of population, 3 per 1000 was also at record levels. The number of mental health beds in 2017 were double the level in 2009. Major factors considered, the public health system at the time wasn’t a catastrophe. Despite all of this, patient satisfaction with public health was at a 10 year low.
Labour claimed National had cut health funding; a blatant lie. They used graphs showing that health funding as a percentage of GDP had reduced. That’s a very different and quite irrelevant way of measuring health funding. If the country experiences an explosion in economic growth greater than the increase in per head funding, that measure is completely useless. Their other tactic is to claim health has been underfunded by National for 9 years. That is the entirety of the claim.
Labour has never defined what a fully funded health system is. They’ve never produced a figure that represents 100% of the health system being funded. They’ve never defined every single need that the public health system should satisfy. Dental care is largely a private sector service, Labour hasn’t made free dental care for all a policy platform, nor have they promised laser eye surgery, ending the need to wear glasses be fully funded. I’m not saying they should but glasses are the result of their wearer having eyes that don’t work to their full potential. So, just like “too many kiwis struggling” the claim that “health is underfunded” is immeasurable because fully funded public health can’t be defined. It is a perpetual and unfixable ‘problem’ that suits opposition politicians until they become government politicians that will always fail to fix it.
A turn of phrase I don’t use because it is unimaginative but generally true, is that we can’t “just keep throwing money at a problem.” Economic principles around supply and demand show what happens to the demand for product when the price is zero. Demand lifts to levels that cannot be satisfied because sufficient supply can never be produced.
Globally, life has never been better. Real deprivation (living on less than US$1.90 a day) internationally has dropped from 40% of the population in 1980 to just 8%. The number of individuals living in real poverty now is lower than at any time in human history despite the global population being higher than any time in human history. Infant mortality has never been lower. Life expectancy has never been higher. This makes me wonder, is the solution to the problem that “Government must do something” or is “Government must do something” the actual problem?