Tagged: money money money

Contraception … in … SPAAAAAAAAAAAAACE

No, not quite.

The good news: NuvaRing is in New Zealand! YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY

The bad news: $75 for a three month supply!  BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO

More information on the Family Planning website.

Sometimes our glorious socialised healthcare really drops the ball, and this is one of those times.  A number of the most effective, least side-effect-y contraceptive methods aren’t subsidised the way the good old Pill or Jab are, so it’s bloody prohibitively expensive, especially for long-term use – and a lot of people will spend a huge proportion of their life using contraception.

Of course there’s the cost of research and development and production and all that jazz, but I think there’s another really obvious reason for the good shit being expensive: the manufacturers know that their customers will pay for the good shit.  Because contraception is vital for a lot of people.  It could be the difference between getting through university and having a better-paid job before starting to have a family … or not.  The difference between protecting your mental health by avoiding the physical and psychological costs of pregnancy, childbirth, and parenthood … or not.  The difference between having a comfortable life raising your three kids … or struggling to feed six.  The difference between learning to live with violent mood swings, irregular or even constant bleeding, nausea and cramping because it’s worth it not to get pregnant … or not.

Access to sustainable, affordable contraception is a huge part in allowing people, especially women, to take control of their lives.  It pays back huge dividends to society.  In our current capitalist model, of course someone’s going to try to make a buck from that, and in New Zealand we do already take steps to mitigate that for some forms of contraception.  I just wish we did more.

Related: Positive Women highlights the major costs involved for users of female condoms.

Self-righteous foodies make mockery of actual poverty. News at 6.

I’ve got a real thing about “live below the line” challenges.  The key point is that taking a week out of your “normal” life to “experience poverty” can never even come close to the grinding, wearying shittiness of poverty.  And plenty of things are manageable when you know there’s a finish line.  Poor people don’t get a finish line.

Fuck, even American Dad! managed to do a half-assed job showing this.

But we’ve hit a new low.  And that low is Ella Rose and rEvolution of Waiheke Island’s particularly shitty, preachy, profiteering spin on the matter.

While highlighting the plight of the world’s poor is a top priority, Rose says the challenge for her is about much more than starving yourself for a charity.
“We live in a world where the numbers of obese people now are greater than the number of people starving, a world where over a billion people are barely surviving on less than NZ$2.25 a day, and where 70% of the extreme poor are women and children,” she said. “I see the challenge as an opportunity for me to make intelligent food choices and to reflect deeply on our relationship to health, nutrition, and our global food production and distribution systems.”

The point of this challenge, however flawed, is not to pat yourself on the fucking back for knowing people who will sell you fucking hipster organic juice for wholesale prices.  It is not about setting yourself up as an example to prove to the stupid poor people that their children will do just fine with kale chips which are totally affordable on a per-chip basis.

If only the Global Poverty Project team had bothered to explain this to Ella Rose before publishing her self-promoting bullshit for her.

~

s.e. smith has written a great post on the general topic of bullshit poverty challenges; The Little Pakeha beat me to the line posting about this specific example:

I can only imagine she’s making some very intelligent food choices to be able to afford any of what she listed. The juice bar she’s partnered with, rEvolution, sells a medium juice for $5.50 – making two medium juices her entire food supply for the week with 25c left over. Presumably she has access to their wholesale supplier’s prices, which will really help her to be empathic about the everyday struggles of poverty.

Have National’s asset sales officially cost more than they’ll earn?

In a previous post at The Standard I did a wee bit of math and came to the conclusion that National has already made $5.26 billion worth of spending promises out of the Future Investment Fund, the not-actually-a-fund chunk of cash they plan to make from selling taxpayer-built infrastructure to their mates.

Things have developed.

First, there’s this post from James, noting that the sales process itself has already cost $124 million.  And this estimate from the Greens of the cost of the Government’s interest-free loans to Meridian investors.

And then there’s this acknowledgement from John Key that the original five-to-seven billion dollar estimate for the profits from the sales are pretty much shot to hell.

So now we’re left with:

  • Maybe $5 billion in income – only 2.1 billion of which has come in so far
  • $5.26 billion in promised spending
  • $124 million in process costs
  • $55 million in bribes to investors

Costs we’re still not including:

  • National’s promise to reduce our debt by $6 billion
  • Ongoing loss of profits to the Crown, as outlined in James’ post
  • The ongoing maintenance of all the projects they’re promising to fund – because shit needs to be staffed, maintained, cleaned and managed after you’ve built it or it’s a complete waste of time.

So at the most generous estimate?

We’re already in the hole for four hundred and thirty-nine million dollars.  Taking the promised spending and costs to date away from the actual funds received?

Three point three billion dollars in the red.

That’s the sound fiscal management of the National Party.

Greens attack stupid spending, rattle Key

Julie-Anne Genter of the Greens has been doing some stellar work on public transport, including this exposure last night of the utter fiasco that is “Drive Social”:

The website is called Drive Social. It’s described as a “unique online experience that lets people see who they share the road with”. There’s a flash TV campaign to go with it.

But the Greens say it’s all an enormous waste of money.

The campaign has so far cost $1.6 million and 9500 people have signed up. That’s a rough cost of $174 per person.

As a bus user in Wellington, I was always suspicious of the Drive Social campaign because they kept putting ads in bus shelters.  Guess what?  Probably not going to find your target audience there, peeps.

Anyway.  What really struck me was that Key immediately lashed out with an over-the-top “well the Greens just think everyone should cycle everywhere” – which just makes you look silly when the next minute (and all over Twitter) Genter is being the calm, sensible voice of reason.

And even more so when, you know, you’ve spent $174 per person on a website with no tangible or even measurable results (and $40 per YouTube view of your very expensive video.)

Is this another example of the right drinking their own Kool-Aid?  Does Key really think he can just brush off obviously-ridiculous expenditure like Drive Social by saying “but they’re hippies, they don’t know anything”?

Is he shooting from the hip, unprepared, caught off-guard (he’s obviously answering TV3′s questions next to an elevator) and letting the happy she’ll-be-right facade slip for a moment?

Or is he just looking a bit tired?

Fuck the bludgers

Following a piece in the Herald on “high-wealth individuals” who pay fuck-all tax, John Minto has declared at The Daily Blog that he’s had a gutsful of low-life bludgers.  And I think he makes a bloody good point.

Wage and salary earners pay tax on every dollar we earn and every dollar we spend but these layabouts hide their money in trusts, overseas bank accounts and tax havens of all kinds and leave the rest of us to keep the country running. Most of them have never done an honest day’s work in their lives. Miserable pricks.

But let’s just look back at that Herald article, shall we?  At the multiple quotes given to act like people worth over $50 million paying less tax than a construction site foreman in Auckland is somehow not a problem:

“They do it because if there’s a way you can pay less tax, why wouldn’t you? I think they are a small minority though. The average person has got relatively little opportunity to avoid tax other than by reducing their liability, for example buying duty free.”

Oh, it’s okay because they’re a small minority!  A small minority whose combined wealth is worth at least eight billion dollars.  And note the assumption – made by a fucking academic at the University of Auckland – that everyone would pay less tax if they could, and thus it can’t be a bad thing.

Or how about Andrew Ryan – yes, it’s almost too perfect, isn’t it? – who thinks that actually  rich people – people who have the resources to arrange their wealth into nearly two hundred separate legal entities – are totally paying their fair share of tax:

“These high-net-wealth individuals will most probably be paying more GST than most individuals. In order to get a true reflection of the tax paid by the wealthiest individuals, it is necessary to include the tax paid by their companies and trusts.

“Not paying personal tax on income at the top tax rate does not mean that an individual is not paying a fair share of tax, once tax paid by their associates is factored in.”

Gee.  Wouldn’t it be nice if you or I could be arm-twisted into “paying more GST” because we’ve hidden our incomes and have lots of lolly to spend on super-yachts and designer clothing?  What a terrible burden rich people bear.

It’s simple logic:  if there were no financial benefit to fiddling with their income, rich people would’t have lawyers from Minter Ellison Rudd Watts on standby to fiddle with their income for them.  Of course they’re not “paying their fair share”.

Let’s be fucking blunt here, shall we?  We have an income tax to tax income.  If you’re deliberately obfuscating your income in complex financial and legal arrangements so you pay less of that tax than a person on standard PAYE?  You’re fucking scum.  You’re a cheating, lying, dishonest, unethical shitheel.  Sure, the law may draw fancy lines between “avoidance” and “evasion” and our political masters may continue to prop up a really complex tax system to help you on your way, but at the end of the day, you are profiting off New Zealand and refusing to pay your fair share.

(32 of you fucks aren’t even filing tax returns!)

You’re a dick.  And please, please fuck off to somewhere where it’s “easier to do business”.  You ain’t going to be missed.

And this brings me back to That Roofpainting Anecdote.  Because sure, if you, as a party/leader of the left, want to try to adopt the inherently-individualistic Personal Responsibility message, go right ahead.  But can’t you at least be consistent?  Yeah, side with Random Guy Who Totally Exists about his evil bludging beneficiary neighbour.  But then maybe you could also say something like,

Last year before the election, I was chatting to a guy in my electorate who had just got home from work. In the middle of the conversation, he stopped and pointed across the road to his neighbour.

He said: “see that guy over there, he’s a multi-millionaire, yet he pays less tax than I do.  That’s not bloody fair. Do you guys support him?”

From what he told me, he was right, it wasn’t bloody fair, and I said so. I have little tolerance for people who don’t give back to the society which has provided them and their business huge amounts of support like tax breaks, investment incentives, infrastructure, and basic law and order and social welfare which may not go directly in their pockets, but is integral to being able to operate a business secure in the knowledge mobs of disaffected starving peasants aren’t burning your Auckland head office down.

When the right is failing even in terms of their own rhetoric

I really, really hate the phrase “NZ Inc” and would not be said to see all those who use it uncritically fired into the heart of the sun.

We’re not a corporation.  We’re a fucking sovereign nation.

(Damn, that should be the chorus line of an epic anti-neoliberal rap.  If only I were vaguely talented in that particular oeuvre.)

But the thing about the classic righty propaganda about “balancing a budget being just like balancing a chequebook” is that it says so much when they can’t even measure up to their own framing.

Anyway, Russel Norman said it better in a piece over at RadioLive.  Warning for the obnoxious use of black background/white text.

If the New Zealand economy was a business; the management team that has a business plan to increase losses to $17 billion a year while selling some of our best earning assets would be treated as rogue traders.

And yet that is what the National Government is doing to the New Zealand economy.

Through the efforts of its highly paid spin doctors and friends with vested interests, it manages to portray itself as “sound economic managers”.

But the facts just don’t back that up.

Finance Minister Bill English is depicted as predictable and safe. Yet the CFO of NZ Inc has been recklessly borrowing money. He started borrowing the minute he took on the job and hasn’t stopped since.

On top of this National gave pay rises (tax cuts) to the wealthy. NZ Inc couldn’t afford this dividend to wealthy investors at this time. It was seriously bad management.

The only fly in the ointment, and the truly depressing thing about all this, is that this is pretty normal business practice in many parts of the NZ private sector.  Look at Solid “oh shit, where did all this debt come from?” Energy.  Look at every collapsed, taking-out-your-life-savings-with-them finance company.

So I guess that the Nats really are running government the way they would run a business.  We just should have double-checked what kind of business.

This is why I hate the market

Look, we all know that the concept of the free market as some kind of glorious objective rational manager of all facets of human life is bullshit, right?

What utterly bugs me is how the Powers That Be – and I’m looking at you too, Labour – treat the vagaries and whims of the market like opinion polls:  ignore them (often on very well-argued grounds) when they’re not good for your argument, embrace them when they are.

Latest case in point:  the reaction of The Market to the NZ Power announcement.  Contact’s shares promptly dropped (a little), leading the right to scream that the end times were nigh and this was proof that the Labour/Greens joint policy announcement was going to cost it the election.

But overall the NZX was up, so Grant Robertson goes declaring that this means there’s no risk of the policy causing capital flight.

It’s the same ludicrous situation we see every time The Market is made the centre of a news story.  For the drop in Contact shares to be meaningful we have to simultaneously accept that The Market has made an instantaneous judgement on the future implications of the NZ Power policy … but also isn’t aware that we’re a year out from an election, that policy takes a while to implement, that there’s always the option of NZ First storming in, seizing the balance of power and refusing to do anything until we have a referendum on it.

For the rise in the NZX to be meaningful we have to believe that trading on the share market is dominated by any impulses other than whim, Chicken Little syndrome, rumours, lies, espionage, counter-espionage, and hopefully-educated guesses about the real value and future profitability of things which do not exist in concrete form.

For the drop in Contact shares combined with the rise in the NZX to be meaningful, we have to believe that The Market – at least, the bits of it that aren’t selling off Contact shares – understands the longterm implications of the policy and has judged it good.  Or they’ve remembered there’s no election until 2014.  Or they don’t believe Labour and the Greens will win and have the numbers and have the consistency and have the will to implement the policy in anything short of four years.

It’s like reading fucking chicken entrails, and yet it’s treated with reverence, like those guys must know something we peons don’t because they’ve got the money to play with so that makes them better than us – even when they buy so much into their own bullshit that they routinely throughout history fuck over entire societies.

I realise that rejecting The Market as the font of all wisdom would basically involve rewiring our entire political system, but … can we at least stop reacting to its every sniffle like it’s a signed affidavit?

A bit of nitpicking/clarification on KiwiBuild

I’ve been working over in my head just what it is about Labour’s KiwiBuild policy that bugs me so much.  As many of its defenders and supporters say, Labour does have time to iron out any issues of costing, it’s not meant to be the panacea to all housing ills, there is more they can do to focus on the needs of non-middle-class families.

Of course, all that requires you to believe that David Shearer and his team didn’t think it was important to get all that stuff sorted before  the Speech That Will Prove Shearer Is Our New Left God Emperor, but that’s not something that would really surprise me.

My lightbulb moment struck while listening to The Egonomist, wherein rather nice things were said about me.  It’s about this bit in the information sheet put out to explain KiwiBuild:

No household type will receive preference over any other household type. Nor will there be any income restrictions. On the whole, people will ‘self-select’, with those who can afford to move up the property ladder excluding themselves

I’ve already had a wee rant about how obnoxious it is for a supposedly left-wing party to talk big about “affordable” housing and “hardworking Kiwis” and then not actually bother to ensure that hardworking Kiwis who are on, say, the median wage will actually be able to afford those homes.

But that’s not actually the biggest problem.

The biggest problem is that KiwiBuild supporters are sitting there saying “we have time to tie off the loose ends, this isn’t the complete policy” … but it’s complete enough that senior people in the Labour Party have already had the conversation about income levels.  They’ve already designed a key message to explain why there are no barriers to very, very well-off people getting into these houses.

They’ve happily left a gigantic hole in the policy about how long you’ll have to own the house before you can flip it – because I guess it was too hard to pluck a number out of the air – but they’ve explicitly decided, and tried to excuse, not excluding the wealthy from KiwiBuild.

That’s a fucking worry.

If there were just no mention of income levels, you could say “hey, they haven’t said how they’ll make sure this doesn’t get exploited by wealthy people!  Silly Labour, work that shit out before pinning your leader’s career to it!”

But in a policy where the numbers are clearly wonky (because no one could even be bothered figuring out how much land costs in Auckland) and important conditions haven’t be determined (5 years?  10?) and right after trying to sell the whole thing as a return to the great public building projects of old, Shearer’s had to explain that actually the whole thing is dependent on the private sector … they still had the time to spell out that wealthy people can just be trusted not to rort the system.  They still prioritised that as something that needed to be explained in their literature.  

So it’s not just that the policy is open to exploitation by the wealthy.  It’s that this has already been signed off as not being a problem.  Not being something that needs to be addressed.

So who the fuck are these houses being built for again?

Shearer’s conference speech: was that all?

Events have obviously overtaken this post, but I’m keeping it anyway because it’s nice to be able to come back to these things five years down the track and remind myself that I was right all along. /hubris

Disclaimer:  Yes, I’m a Shearer-hater.  Yes, I was probably never going to be completely impressed by what he said, because it would have required a complete personality transplant and 180-degree turnaround of the entire party’s approach since Clark left.

So if that discredits my opinion, by all means go read other posts on the subject.  Plenty of other people think Shearer’s speech was the second coming of “I have a dream to fight them on the beaches”.

This is an Ideologically-Impure only post because after the weekend I’m well out of energy to have pointless circular arguments against people who oppose actually arguing with what I actually say.  Bitchy but true.

Here’s the first three-quarters or so of David Shearer’s speech in bullet points:

  • National bad
  • Labour != National
  • New direction needed

It’s thrilling stuff, really.  And a few faux-policy announcements:

  • Manufacturers good, controlling exchange rates good (unspecific)
  • R&D good (unspecific)
  • Capital gains tax (dear God, an actual concrete policy!  But details unspecified)
  • Compulsory KiwiSaver good, primarily for stock market (concrete policy to support the stock market!  Yay!)
  • Productivity good, minimum wage going up good (unspecified)
  • Local procurement good (where it’s good)
  • New approach to education (unspecified)
  • Helping Christchurch good (unspecified)

So, yeah.  Nice headlines (except for compulsory KiwiSaver, but that’s something for another post) but very little concrete policy.  Which is probably OK, because all of that was building to

~KIWIBUILD~

A policy apparently largely designed around someone coming up with a cool name.

The bullet points here are superficially awesome:

  • Put 100,000 families into their first home!
  • Building programme to grow economy!
  • Kiwi dream!

(Oh, and a Healthy Homes policy copy-pasted from the previous Green Party election manifesto.)

Unfortunately, KIWIBUILD looks a hell of  a lot less impressive when you examine the details.

Cost

From the much-vaunted factsheet:  “Estimates of the cost of a modest entry-level home suggest they can be built for less than $300,000, especially when building is undertaken on a large scale”

The price of the homes will be set at a rate sufficient to fully cover the Crown’s costs, including land, construction and finance costs.

A small 1% margin on top of the Crown’s cost of borrowing is sufficient to ensure the programme is self-funding over the long term, while still keeping the homes as affordable as possible.

So, that’s $300,000 just in construction, plus the cost of land, plus cost of financing, plus 1%.  Let’s call it around $350,000 all up for the 1/3 of the houses which aren’t being built in Auckland, and you’re looking at a 10% deposit of $35,000, 5% deposit of $17,500.

That looks totally affordable for someone on the median wage of $29k.  Why, in a double-income household on the median wage, that 5% deposit is only 30% of your pay before tax!

Eligibility

This is the big one for me, especially since you would think Labour had learnt something from the lack of top-end limits on Working for Families.

Factsheet again:

No household type will receive preference over any other household type. Nor will there be any income restrictions. On the whole, people will ‘self-select’, with those who can afford to move up the property ladder excluding themselves

Yep, you read that right.  There is no income limitation on this scheme.  This programme to change our nation’s direction and help hard-working, struggling Kiwis realise the dream of home ownership … and there’s nothing to stop those houses going to rich pricks.  Nothing to stop the 1% subsidising their kids into first homes care of the taxpayer.

I’ve been told that this isn’t a problem because rich people only want to live in mansions.  Which I can only assume means there are no problems with rich people using public healthcare when they can afford private, no problems with rich people sending their kids to public schools when they can afford private, and no problems at all with rich people hiding their income in trusts because hey, why would they when they can afford to pay higher taxes?

Oh, and there’s a currently-undefined (because why would you nail down the details of your cornerstone policy before announcing it at the biggest event your party has all year?) time limit for people to stay in those houses or suffer some currently-undefined penalty.  That’ll weed out the people looking for a government-subsidised investment for sure!

Language

There’s also the problem of rhetoric:  as much as this is about ~the Kiwi dream~ it’s satured with phrases like “entry-level home” and “housing ladder”.  What’s wrong with just owning a house?  Why is it automatically a stepping-stone to Robert Kiyosaki fantasies of massive wealth?  Isn’t that approach to property kind of a big part of the problem?

Finding a consistent message amongst the soundbites

Someone find me the speechwriter responsible for this, please, I’d just like five minutes alone with them in a room.  And maybe a pin.

We’ve always been a creative, innovative people with a ‘can do’ attitude.

Respected and admired across the globe.

Down to earth. Willing to give it a go.

We need that new direction now more than ever.

So … the “new direction” is the same as the “old direction”?  We need a new direction which is the same as the direction we used to go in but now don’t even though our reputation has remained relatively constant?

The upshot

Labour’s big sexy policy which has apparently instantly rejuvenated Shearer’s leadership is  full of rightwing rhetoric about property.  It’s not going to help people who are actually on low incomes and it’s hugely vulnerable to exploitation by the people who don’t need it.  Meanwhile, we’re meant to just take it on Shearer’s word that there’s some exciting policies about education, research and development, manufacturing, fiscal policy, coming any day now (drink!)

Sure, he managed to speak well, by all accounts.  But am I on fire for Labour – am I inspired by this speech?  Compared to other things coming out of conference, like an increased voice for the membership, some strong policy remits on schools and civics and marriage equality (though that one could get a little problematic)?  Nup.

Because come on, people.  The biggest policy smackdown they could come up with involves wealthy people excluding themselves from a handout.  Awesome.

Related reading:  Danyl’s view of the speech, with this fantastically brilliant point:

Although it occurs to me that developing left-wing policies is pretty easy in 21st century New Zealand. You just look about for the top dozen-or-so catastrophic market failures, pick one, think of the most blindingly obvious solution, and there’s your policy.

Big questions for Westpac

I literally stood speechless in front of my TV as this advertisement played.

What was that, Westpac?  You think it’s “easy” for us to ask “big questions” like “should women have basic human rights” and “should same sex couples have basic human rights” and “should we participate in imperialist wars overseas”?

The fact one of your hijacked film clips shows women protesting for the right to vote might have provided an important clue on that one.

You think those questions are comparable to getting a fucking tattoo?  You think it’s funny to play on the significance of women’s suffrage by equating it with (to you) the silliness of women’s bodily insecurities?

You think people whose loved ones are in serious conditions in hospital are going to be relieved that at least you’re there to exploit their hopes … oh, and totally offer them great interest rates on their term deposits!

Are we really meant to be impressed that you think you have any kind of right to co-opt important moments in our history to make a trite little joke about “asking the little questions” about our money?

The biggest questions, of course, are rhetorical:  How did Westpac manage to trump even BNZ’s bullshit moralising?  When did banks who have been caught red-handed ripping off New Zealanders decide it was a great idea to market themselves as high-minded deep-thinking philosophers?

Why aren’t they marketing themselves on integrity, good customer service and decent rates and fees instead?  I guess that one answers itself.