OnPoint by Keith Ng


Don’t let them eat cake

National’s “we’re not so bad” rebranding was always going to be a problem. I doubt that either Key or English has a single bone in their bodies that would support raising the minimum wage, and yet, they’re positioning themselves to make – at least – a token increase.

The key message here, as the Herald helpfully leads with, is that “Prime Minister John Key appears to be sympathetic…”

But he shouldn’t be.

A recession isn’t some nebulous evil that lurks in the ether. It has tangible effects of reducing demand for exports, making credit harder to obtain, blah blah blah – or it doesn’t. For a salary earner with a steady job, the recession is not going to seep through the window and eat his money.

Wage levels may rise slower (or not at all), but they’re not going to fall. The December figures from the Quarterly Employment Survey shows that the average hourly earning is up 5.5% from the previous year. Wages have not fallen.

Sure, the working poor who are still working are still poor – but it’s the working poor who can’t get work that we should be worried about.

What *has* fallen the most is overtime hours, by a whooping 11.1% in the last year. At the same time, the total paid hours (the number of hours of paid work by everyone in the country) is down by 1.4%, the number of part-time workers is down 3.4%, and the number of full-time workers is almost stagnant.

These numbers paint the picture that you’d expect. Businesses are taking the brunt of declining exports, consumption and investment. They try to cut costs by cutting overtime hours, not hiring new staff, and trimming back the hours for temporary employees.

It’s that last group who are now on the plank, and if the minimum wage increases, they will be the ones who are most expendable and relatively expensive. Increasing the cost of hiring people will just force these businesses to cut back on hours, or push them into lay-off territory.

Nor will the supposed benefits be worth squat. If you raise the minimum wage by 10% ($1.20) and cause, say, 1 in 20 of those minimum wage workers to lose their jobs, the other 19 are not going to spend their additional earnings. Rather, they’re going to freak out about people getting fired, and get even tighter with their spending.

Increasing the minimum wage is not inherently a bad thing, but to do it now, when so many businesses and their employees are tethering on the edge is a seriously bad idea. The social harm done by the job losses would far outweigh the $20 or $30 it might mean for those other families.

If Key and English were serious about maintaining living standards for low-income families and using their spending to stimulate the economy, it’s pretty straightforward: Working for Families.

Dude, it’s like, right there.


Don't get me wrong, I hate boy-racers as much as the next guy.

“Excuse me, do you know that your muffler doesn't muffle, you’ve got a leaky valve going *pssssh* all the time, and that you're in the wrong gear? Also, did you run over a Christmas tree? You have some lights stuck to the bottom of your car.”

But are boyracers “a matter of priority”? Really?

More importantly, Collins says she's considering crushing boyracers cars as a purely punitive measure. It's colourful, poetic, and... well, pretty damn sweet, but it's hardly fair. Boyracers might be young, stupid and dicks, and they might be all that in a particularly obnoxious way, but that doesn't mean we should single them out for exceptional punishment more than any other group of drunken yoofs who are young, stupid and dicks.

I hope Collin’s just doing a bit of sabre-rattling before they settle on something a little less poetic and a little more reasonable... though did I mention that it’s pretty sweet?

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