Envirologue by Dave Hansford

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Envirologue: What has Neoliberalism Done for You Lately?

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  • Rob Stowell, in reply to Tinakori,

    You’re kind’ve right – the threshold for 66% wasn’t terribly high. Dad was a university lecturer, well but not extravagantly paid, and some of his income was taxed at the top rate. But it’d be ridiculous to say we weren’t comfortably well-off.

    as a young journalist on an evening paper working lots of hours outside of the standard working hours it took a very high proportion of all that extra money.

    That might just be because you had a strong union. You probably got double time for some of those hours; time and half for others, and non-taxable allowances for meals. Paying 66% tax when you’re on double time isn’t so dreadful :) Today’s underpaid junior toilers are lucky to get any of those things.
    Why is it a bad thing that a junior journalist, or a freezing worker, or a port worker who worked holidays and extra hours could hit the top income bracket? Doesn’t seem so terrible to me.

    Whakaraupo • Since Nov 2006 • 2110 posts Report Reply

  • Rich Lock, in reply to Steve Curtis,

    Well there was the Auckland rail double tracking and electrification and the new electric trains that finally are coming into service.
    The Auckland Hospital was totally rebuilt to replace 3 smaller ones
    At the moment there are 100s of millions spent by Watercare on new sewer and freshwater mains- largely out of sight, but still happening.
    There was the $700 mill 700KV main powerline from Auckland to just norh of Taupo, and big upgrade of the Cook St cables and substations.

    I appreciate that you're not writing an essay and that this is just a webforum, but four projects over 30 years is not a particularly impressive hit rate. Plus which, they're all more-or-less Auckland-specific, rather than national projects. The hospital example is also only applicable to south of the bridge, North Shore having it's own hospital.

    If I recall correctly, there was a fairly big stink over the way the water/sewage issue was handled around the tme of the super-city, Rodney having his fingers in the till or something similar (I may be mistaken). Plus which, I also recall the main water pipe runing north into the city bursting a few years back, so I wouldn't be suprised if a lot of the money spent on the pipes is basically 'sticking plasters' to keep a cranky old system running the best they can.

    And your use of the word 'finally' in relation to the trains? That's kinda indicative, don't you think?

    back in the mother countr… • Since Feb 2007 • 2728 posts Report Reply

  • Rob Stowell, in reply to BenWilson,

    we insist on making human slog or blind luck the only path

    Or ruthless cunning – that sometimes works :)
    But yeah – I love the idea of a UBI, because it slices away at the puritanical insistance on a ‘work ethic’ (at least for the poor; the rich have always been as idle as they please.)
    People protest it’d lead to noone doing anything. I think that is wrong – stuff needs to be done, and people will do it, if the incentives are there. But also ‘so what’?
    What if the idle ARE happy? Maybe that’s the state we are by nature supposed to enjoy? The hunter-gathering we evolved for is supposed to have involved considerably less work hours than most people do today. And if that’s really the case, maybe we should live lives of maximum idleness* – leavened with the pursuit of whatever else makes us happy?
    *there’s a certain amount of work that just must be done – we’d need to reward that very well, and to share it out. (And of course idleness might well include many chosen leisure pursuits: singing in harmony, making tapestries, building boats, climbing mountains, discovering planets, preparing the perfect noodle soup.)

    Whakaraupo • Since Nov 2006 • 2110 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to Rob Stowell,

    he hunter-gathering we evolved for is supposed to have involved considerably less work hours than most people do today.

    10-20 hours a week, I recall reading somewhere. I like UBI as a concept. Has any nation done it yet?

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19740 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to Tinakori,

    I suspect this was why the appeal of the Douglas tax changes reached deep down into the working population.

    Until the job losses and cuts in state services became apparent, eh.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19740 posts Report Reply

  • tussock,

    On the 60c tax rate...

    http://rankinfile.co.nz/rf98_Tax66cMyth.html

    So there was high inflation in the late 70's that parked a bunch of factory workers in the top tax bracket by '82, which Muldoon fixed by lowering taxes and adding a new surcharge bracket higher up (rather than just shifting the brackets).

    After the '85 wage round by the new Labour government (everyone's wages used to be fixed by agreement between unions and the state, under compulsory unionism) a bunch of people ended up in the surcharge bracket, but the rate was slashed in '86 and replaced with GST.

    So by 1980-82 and again in 1985/86, a lot of people in civil service and factory jobs were paying a good bit of their wage to a 60% and then 66% top tax rate. That's 30 years ago so they're all retired or dead now, but it's also true.

    So the 86 tax changes did reduce taxes on middle class families at a time of stark new uncertainty in employment, but they also massively cut taxes on the rich (from 66% to 33%) and left us with a very low top tax bracket which we have to this day, at a modest $70k which over half the workforce beats, and much the same from $48k.

    Ancient top tax rates here would have started at the equivalent of ~$200k or more, no one's going to cry if you drop 60% up there, other than the odd cabinet minister.

    Since Nov 2006 • 611 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to BenWilson,

    typically the lucky rather than the sloggers

    and the deliberate rather than the accidental.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19740 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Rich Lock,

    If I recall correctly, there was a fairly big stink over the way the water/sewage issue was handled around the tme of the super-city, Rodney having his fingers in the till or something similar (I may be mistaken). Plus which, I also recall the main water pipe runing north into the city bursting a few years back, so I wouldn’t be suprised if a lot of the money spent on the pipes is basically ‘sticking plasters’ to keep a cranky old system running the best they can.

    There has been a core of opposition to the Watercare Services model since it was corporatised in 1992, most notably via Penny Bright and her allies on the Water Pressure Group, but there is no doubt that it rescued a water and sewage system that had been neglected for decades – chiefly because successive tory councils deferred maintenance and improvement so they could promise lower rates.

    Given that it charges for an essential service (and is now a CCO), it’s perhaps not really a great example of old-fashioned public provision, but it is still 100% publicly owed – despite the absurd recommendation that it be sold off in the “Birch Report” prepared for the first John Banks council. (The Birch Report was frequently absurd.)

    Among other things, it has conducted the Mangere Wastewater Treatment Plant upgrade, described thus in this Otago University course paper:

    From 1998-2005, the Mangere Wastewater Treatment Plant upgrade constituted the biggest environmental restoration programme ever undertaken in New Zealand (see figure 6). The project cost $450 million and represented the largest infrastructure investment in a generation. The treatment plant provided uninterrupted services during the upgrade. The completed plant uses primary (mechanical), secondary (biological) and tertiary (filtration and ultraviolet radiation) methods to treat wastewater and has the capacity to meet Auckland’s growing population needs for the next 30 years. New technologies that were implemented in during the upgrade have created a 10,000 fold reduction in pathogens in treated wastewater that is discharged into the harbour, allowed for the 500 hectares of oxidation ponds to be returned to the Manukau Harbour as well as initiating the restoration of 13 kilometres of shoreline (see figures 7 and 8) along with reducing the water treatment cycle from 21 days to 13 hours in length (Wastewater information sheet 1, 2012).

    It was a lot more than a sticking plaster.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22848 posts Report Reply

  • Rich Lock, in reply to Russell Brown,

    Yes, that clarifies my very badly made point. Although as you note: "[it] had been neglected for decades – chiefly because successive tory councils deferred maintenance and improvement so they could promise lower rates."

    And it's troubling that sell-off recommaendations are being made. They don't tend to die off quietly on the first knock-back, driven as they are by neolib ideological zealots. I'd not be surprised if this recommendation mutates and resurrects at some point in the next few years.

    Which feeds into my broader point that there is never any reversal. The pattern is a cut here, a sell-off there, with the gradual accumulation of publicly built and funded infrastructure in private hands. Occasionally there's an over-reach, and one or two attempts may get refused the first time round, but often not on the second or third try, and often not if it's done stealthily enough (the UK NHS, for example).

    Genuine question: has anything that was ever privatised ever ended back up publicly owned? The East Coast rail franchise int he UK was taken back into public control a few years ago, and then as soon as it started turning profit, was re-privatised.

    back in the mother countr… • Since Feb 2007 • 2728 posts Report Reply

  • Rob Stowell,

    Air New Zealand. NZ Rail. Both run down and badly needing investment.

    Whakaraupo • Since Nov 2006 • 2110 posts Report Reply

  • Roger Lacey, in reply to ,

    I’m finding that the more I think about this, the more I understand how much I don’t know about economics.

    It's the same for economists. The ones who stand up and claim to know what's happening are generally just pushing their own theories. They take the credit if their predictions come true and blame outside factors if they don't.

    Whatakataka Bay Surf Club… • Since Apr 2008 • 148 posts Report Reply

  • Sofie Bribiesca, in reply to BenWilson,

    I've no time right now to comment at length,

    Ooo-kay, well, when you get a moment ;)

    here and there. • Since Nov 2007 • 6796 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen, in reply to Rob Stowell,

    Why is it a bad thing that a junior journalist, or a freezing worker, or a port worker who worked holidays and extra hours could hit the top income bracket? Doesn’t seem so terrible to me.

    To be fair, while I'm strong on raising taxes and particularly for the well off, I'm not suggesting anything like the lower thresholds that Tinakori is talking about.

    They aren't necessary now we have GST anyway.

    For example last election there was a huge drama about how Labour's policy would tax us all and steal all our hard earned money. In fact what was proposed was a higher rate that kicked in at $150k (I think). If any freezing worker is earning that I'd be amazed.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4460 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen, in reply to Rob Stowell,

    The hunter-gathering we evolved for is supposed to have involved considerably less work hours than most people do today.

    Please remember hunter gatherers died young.
    Any estimates of their work ethic are wild guesses at best.
    And evolutionary arguments to justify behaviour are usually utter bollocks.

    We can talk about this stuff without such rationalisations.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4460 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen, in reply to Russell Brown,

    still 100% publicly owed

    Awesome typo :)

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4460 posts Report Reply

  • Rob Stowell, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    Please remember hunter gatherers died young.
    Any estimates of their work ethic are wild guesses at best.
    And evolutionary arguments to justify behaviour are usually utter bollocks.

    Sure, let's not romanticise prehistory - or use evolution to justify behaviour. But just as silly to ignore it in when trying to understand who and what we are. Recorded human history is so short.

    Whakaraupo • Since Nov 2006 • 2110 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen, in reply to Rob Stowell,

    But just as silly to ignore it in when trying to understand who and what we are.

    I just don't think it's necessary to invoke evolutionary arguments in this discussion. Especially given the level of uncertainty in the validity of the data.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4460 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    Any estimates of their work ethic are wild guesses at best.

    Yup, there would be enormous variance, depending on the conditions. A starving animal will do every thing it can all the time to get food. A big predator sitting over a kill can do nothing all day except lie around, eat, drink, and sleep. If you hit an extremely rich area of food then idling for months on end is possible. If times are very tough then struggling from dawn until dusk to scratch up food and shelter might be necessary. We see fluctuations like this in the natural world now, with massive herd migrations totally changing the food sources in an area from one season to the next, as rainfalls cycle entire regions from desert to lush plantations, or snowfalls meaning basically nothing growing for a good 6 months.

    Minor adaptions could mean massively extended periods of either the feast or the famine, possibly even for years or decades at a time until some new problem arises, some new rebalancing. A new hunting technique, a new symbiosis with another animal, a new prey emerging in large numbers or a new predator for your normal food.

    Humans developing the ability to adapt extremely rapidly via tool use and possibly speech probably meant that new feasts could be found quickly. But our main competitors would be other humans who could soon turn that feast back into a famine.

    So in the end, who knows? Average human workloads in the range of working all the time to none of the time (ETA: Just like they are now).

    The important question for us is not how much could we work, or how much have we historically worked, but how much do we want to work, and how much do we want work to be something we are forced to do, rather than just wanting to do. Because as a species now, we are nearly in the position of the entire range that primeval humans had forced on them being something we can just choose amongst*. So long as we can control our population, we can basically choose how much work we do, from none all the way through to all the time.

    *I mean choosing collectively, here. Obviously the rich have been able to choose not to work forever. Which makes them possibly the best case study as to the optimal condition – being freed from want, what work output do rich people maintain for the best, happiest, most fulfilled lives? It’s isn’t obvious that the answer would be zero – that could be a recipe for isolation and depression, a common problem for the rich, just as it is for the unemployed poor. And there are plenty of rich workaholics too – we would want to assess how well they’re living too.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10657 posts Report Reply

  • Tinakori, in reply to Sacha,

    Well the job losses in the private sector, especially in agriculture were driven by changing terms of trade which meant we got far less for what we exported. Governments tried to prop up agricultural producers and encourage other industries but that was never a long term solution. Freezing works closing down was a symptom of the long term lack of demand for what sheep and beef farmers produced and not a temporary blip in market conditions. When your largest export industry is on the ropes everyone suffers - farmers, processing workers, and all the service industries supporting agriculture. It also makes it much harder to sustain high taxation and highly inefficient government owned entities like the railways and the post office. It's no mystery why things changed and very little of it had to do with ideology.

    Wellington • Since Jul 2013 • 118 posts Report Reply

  • mark taslov, in reply to BenWilson,

    Now a violent resetting of the world order really isn’t an option.

    As a total global event it never has been, but as a localized action it absolutely is an option. It’s no secret that our army is made up 4290 full-time specialist professionals, we have over 11,000 police staff, we have about 230,000 licensed firearms owners with about 1.1 million firearms and we have 3000 gang members.

    Likewise it’s no secret that the over the last 15 years, successive Governments have collectively put countless hours towards legislation surrounding electronic surveillance, terrorism, foreign fighters, warrantless surveillance etc. So many hours and so much emphasis has been put on these issues that it’s not unusual for an average voter to suspect that the thrust of this time consuming legislation is geared not so much towards keeping tabs on 1 or 2 (30 or 90) radicals, but to keeping tabs on the population as a whole. We hear terms like mass surveillance bandied about and we allow politicians to allay our concerns, but at the end of the day, who are we kidding? With the figures quoted above and the time and effort already spent preempting violent action, I think it’s admissible to speculate that our Government at least construes the violent resetting of our country to be a very real option.

    That significant time which could have been better spent creating more opportunity and equality is instead being repurposed to protecting the status quo is ample indication as to just how much confidence successive Governments have in the direction they are leading the country, which is not an advocacy as much as an observation. The observation is simply that when you’re running utopia in the manner it’s accustomed to then you shouldn’t be wasting a decent portion of that valuable time looking over your shoulder. Which is all rather by the by in terms of your original quote Ben, but a branch presented itself and for me the crux is that for the haves, violent action will never present itself as a viable option, however regardless of this, when a society produces enough heads with a feeling of nothing to lose (and nothing to gain) then the scales will tip, for the have-nots that option is never off the table.

    My strongest feeling reading through the posts here is that there is a decent split between those dealing with economics and those focused more on anthropology. Perhaps it’s my bias, but some of these economic focused posts do seem to be dealing primarily in negatives, losses, and for whatever reason I do feel that to an extent some are neat manifestations or perpetuations of neoliberal ideology, to the extent that our woes are presented as economic as are their solutions, which in its way could be taken as indicative of scant regard for underlying ideological issues; underlying issues which economic stopgaps won’t heal, underlying ideological issues which provided the necessary foothold for neoliberalism’s adoption and localisation.

    One quote that caught my eye was Stephens’s

    New Zealand once boasted one of the most egalitarian societies in the world

    Though I’m unclear as to who you were quoting Stephen, I’d love to know more about this, as your response to the quotes resonated with me. As a frowny lad growing up in the ‘84 I have a - boohoo- vivid recollection of getting mocked in class – because my parents were too poor to buy me a BMX – by a kid whose mum went on to run a provincial newspaper and whose dad went on to become a prominent councilor – again it’s a negative economic/ materialist point but…- as such I have absolutely no recollection of this time when New Zealand was one of the most egalitarian societies in the world, or how that must have felt. What was different, when did the change occur? Political intrigue aside, what was the propulsion system? Dallas?

    More specifically, beyond economic considerations, I’d particularly love to hear more about the attitudes, aspirations and culture of that egalitarian era in order to better understand how they fermented to produce an environment in which mantras such as “greed is good” could develop such magnificent legs and flourish accordingly.

    Te Ika-a-Māui • Since Mar 2008 • 2281 posts Report Reply

  • mark taslov,

    I'd like to see a country where everyone is equipped to build a house, via primary and secondary education, to build, to pave, to wire, connect, power and plumb, to regulation standards. Compulsory or at the very least offered. I'd like a Government prepared to set aside land - which they have a bit of - in order for us to build on, with reasonable proviso, as is there fundamental task. In preparation for humans who to want to shelter ourseLves. And cooking, domestic johs, handiwork - sewing. Compulsory or at least offered right through till year whatever in our 'Education' system.

    So that we are equipped to cook like Gordon Ramsey, or at the very least confident to enough to attempt to cook Gordon's or Jamie's, Alison's dishes. This media driven shame doesn't help much either, the second class citizens unable to afford to eat out. Via Jones. Old Jonestown Jones. Not everyone wants to be Amish but it'd nice to have more options, like being able to build our own, modern, shelter.

    Perhaps an education system promoting these basics might be less likely to produce the personality types who would exploit these basic human needs, at the very least it would make it considerably harder to do so.

    Te Ika-a-Māui • Since Mar 2008 • 2281 posts Report Reply

  • John Farrell, in reply to Tinakori,

    The removal of overtime payments, encouragement of individual contracts, continual casualisation of work, zero hour contracts....nothing to do with ideology?

    Dunedin • Since Nov 2006 • 499 posts Report Reply

  • mark taslov, in reply to ,

    That's right Steven, I recall Joe and Ian providing some links last year, I've no idea how such things would work in less communal terms, or exactly what the deals offered then were, I can think of avenues that could be explored such as Government sponsored building work-schemes for school graduates, in return for a house on graduation from the scheme or whatever. I imagine there's any number of ways such skill-sets and knowledge could be harnessed, least of all for our own peace of mind and safety post-natural disaster.

    Primarily I'm interested in the role education plays in shaping our futures, the skills we should be expecting to come out of our compulsory education system with - skills not wasted on the youth - and the values we wish to instill. I noticed I ommitted any number of other courses I'd like to see in my list above, anything from furniture manufacture, automotive engineering, tiling, basically anything that can empower significant numbers to build and maintain rather than just consume.

    DeepRed's having difficulty with his teeth, while there's some info online for DIY dentistry you don't hear about many people offering such a service - not on the streets, despite dentists being, for the most part, exceedingly well paid sculptors.

    Te Ika-a-Māui • Since Mar 2008 • 2281 posts Report Reply

  • mark taslov, in reply to Kumara Republic,

    If you start one of those pledge/ donation accounts I'd be happy to donate a bit for you to get the treatment you need. Not that I can afford much, but I know from experience how much of a distraction and frustration teeth can be and would be more than happy to help.

    Te Ika-a-Māui • Since Mar 2008 • 2281 posts Report Reply

  • Rich Lock, in reply to Rob Stowell,

    Air New Zealand. NZ Rail. Both run down and badly needing investment.

    Which nudges up the other point: Too big to fail. And the associated sub-point about privatising the profit and socialising the risk.

    back in the mother countr… • Since Feb 2007 • 2728 posts Report Reply

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