Friday, 22 June 2012

Ideology and Asset Sales

It’s been a month or so since my last post.
The reason for this absence hasn’t been a lack of ideas or of things to write about but, rather, that in writing this blog I’ve had to wade through others people’s blogs and involve myself in discussions.

In doing so, I’ve come across some of the vilest people I’ve ever had the displeasure of encountering – not just vile but dishonest, snivelling, arrogant, self-important ideologues who lie, distort facts and ignore breaches of behaviour on their own side while demonising it from other.

This comes from both the Right and Left of the political spectrum and caused me such consternation that I had to back off for a while in wonder at how simple politics can turn people so ugly.
I am not concerned with what people say to me but and rather bemused at why they say it. 

On one such Left wing site I’ve been referred to as a “tory” a “conservative” and “Right-winger” and once – bizarrely – as “John Key’s boyfriend”.
Meanwhile, on Right-leaning site I was accused of being a “commie and a far Left Marxist” – with one nitwit even suggesting that, because I am misanthropically-minded, I must be a libertarian.
What’s the truth?  They can’t both be right, can they?
Well, truth be told, neither claim is right.  I am neither politically Left or Right.  I have the view that political ideology sours conversation and poisons the mind – causing one to dispense with reason and rationalise all actions into the Left/Right spectrum.
For example:

You disagree with me on point X? You must be a leftie Marxist greenie! 
You support policy Y? Get out of my sight you fascist Nazi!

That sort of thinking is not only unhelpful, but it is polarising to the point of making even the simplest choice in an election treasonous to a certain segment of the voting population.

In my time as a voter I’ve voted for nearly every political Party in New Zealand – outside a few single issue Parties like the ALCP – because I’m not one of those people who says “I’m a Labour man!” or “my family always vote National!” Rather, I spend a long time considering my vote and – even with the most concerned meditation on the topic – still have paroxysms of indecision in the polling booth on Election Day because I try make my choice as pragmatic as possible and in an election with so many variables that can be difficult at best.

I never like to tell people who I voted for because, as far as I’m concerned, it’s irrelevant.  Firstly: if I argue an issue I’m giving my opinions, not the position of the Party that received my vote.  If proven wrong, I’ll change my opinion on the issue – unlike the ideologue, who has the insane ability to ignore what they’ve been shown to be wrong and continue to spout the misunderstanding while knowing it’s wrong.

Secondly – and what bothers me most – is that revealing who you voted for allows strict idealogues to discount your opinions as ’Right/Left spin‘.  No matter how factual your comment, you’ve been placed in a box where you can safely be ignored because you are the opposition – meaning you’re automatically wrong and should only be addressed with scorn.
I try to be as a-political as possible and vote with my head, not with my emotion.

It is because of ideology that I am now very much against National’s proposed selling down shares in SOEs.  I was never too concerned by asset sales, and the main arguments against said sales – well, the most vocal of arguments at any rate – were pretty much off-base.

Some people scream quite loudly that National has no mandate which is – unfortunately for them – untrue.  National won the governance of New Zealand for a second term in a lawful, democratic manner on a campaign that included a promise to carry out these sales.  A main plank of Labour’s 2011 election campaign was: “A vote for National is a vote for asset sales” because they also knew that if National got in they’d gain the mandate to sell them.
Others complain that power prices will soar but – given that power prices have been shooting up for the past decade – this argument rings rather hollow to my ears, particularly when places like the US have much cheaper power and almost no publically-owned power supply (EDIT - Citation needed. Quite possibly not as I suggested...TheContrarian).

As I stated: the arguments against asset sales, and the sales themselves, never gave me much cause for alarm.  What has alarmed me is National’s insistence at going ahead when it looks more and more like a bloody stupid thing to do.  New Zealand is an indebted nation, like many, and if National wants to pay down debt there are several things it can do, quickly and pragmatically, before having to sell up.

I am in a high/top tax bracket and would be more than happy to have my tax go up a percentage point or two.  I’m not going to pretend I’m OK with paying more than 40 percent nor do I think the rate should be returned to where it was before, but I don’t mind paying a bit extra to slow New Zealand’s growing debt.  I can afford it and, while it wouldn’t dent my bank balance much, it would provide relief for others.  

I also think that the retirement age is going to need to increase at some point so you may as well begin staggering it now – when you can do so incrementally – instead of hitting a point in the future when you have to do it in one big whack (United Future actually has a very interesting Super policy).  Also, a capital gains tax isn’t all that bad an idea, though I think Labour’s method of implementing it while using the income gained from it before any had actually been gained was a complete disaster as a policy and I also think 15% is too high. If they had said 5% across the board the idea may have got a little more traction.

These policies, for someone like me who enjoys his low tax rate and doesn’t want to see a capital gains tax, are some of the decisions that need to be considered whether you like them or not.  To entertain the thought of something you may ideologically oppose, but realistically may need, is a reasoned and rational position to take in Government.  All I see from National, however, is blind ideology – a blind ideology that we didn’t see in the first term when National was arguably more centrist.

This is why I can no longer be OK with asset sales because to do so, for me, is to support an ideologically-driven policy that seems further and further away from a rational response to New Zealand’s debt.

I am aware of some of the potential responses that an ideologue could take with my pragmatic approach to politics.  The Right could accuse me of being a communist for wanting to raise taxes on the ’job creators‘, while the Left my view me a fascist for being financially comfortable and not wanting to increase taxes to level they see as appropriate for someone on my salary... but the people who think like that will do it anyway, no matter what you support.