Culture of nastiness


    I’ve been pretty concerned about my profession at this tenuous time in New Zealand history. Mainly because our daily news is so overlaid by a daily claque of polarising political narratives through which we are being forced to wade. Sententious pronouncements of opinion polls a year out from the election and endless drivel about this or that issue that will “come home to roost” for Labour come election time are only the tip of a toxic iceberg which may sink us all.

    Earlier in the year, Stuff journalist Andre Vance called out our “culture of nastiness” and the insults that had replaced arguments in political debate.

    Now evidence of this collective harm is showing up in polls digging down into the polarising narratives that are chopping away at the generosity and compassion that got most of us through Covid.

    New Zealand’s social cohesion is being torn apart, mainly by the ongoing unequal distribution of wealth and housing inequity that most of us believe is at the heart of this decline, political analyst Dr Bryce Edwards said this week.

    “Allegedly, our government spending is out of control.

    “It isn’t,” he said. “Sure, government spending has risen from a freakishly low 27 percent of GDP pre-Covid, to 31 percent now. But that’s tipped to fall, given that much of the rise was linked to financing the wage subsidies and other supports that kept the economy ticking over during the initial onslaught of Covid.

    “In addition, there were huge social deficits in public health, housing, education, poverty, defence and security, and national infrastructure – all of which had been left festering by the previous National administration.” said Edwards.

    “Even so… Finance Minister Grant Robertson has hardly run wild with public spending. Far from plunging the country into debt, our 31 percent ratio of public debt to GDP leaves us in far better shape than Australia (36.1 percent) Germany (59.8 percent), Canada (71.8 percent) and France (98.1 percent).

    “Over in the USA, the home of capitalism, the Americans are looking down the barrel of public debt rising this year to 124.9 percent of GDP. Meaning: New Zealand could easily have borrowed more and spent it on meeting social needs without scaring the credit agency horses. But appeasing the gods of inflation has demanded otherwise.”

    I first met a serious Jacinda-hater at a party on Waiheke sometime between her first and second terms as prime minister. She had been a familiar figure on Waiheke as a hard-working Auckland Labour MP and had long been a target for the ilk of Matthew Hooton and the various talkback radio hosts who are now daily newspaper opinion-writers.

    The rage that she had “done nothing” was as visceral as it was unbridled in a well-heeled man with a suite of investment properties from which he expected handsome capital gains.

    Since then, there has been an estimated transfer of a trillion dollars to the wealthy, largely driven by Covid money printing, while housing has become even more of a crisis for those at the bottom of the economic pile.

    Gratitude would be in order, but I doubt he has been appeased, any more than he was by the fact that for nine preceding years, prime minister John Key had reigned as if oblivious to political obligation or compassion for those trapped in the startling wealth inequalities and stagnant wages stamped into an unsuspecting welfare state by the neoliberalist dogma of the 80s and 90s.

    Remember that these are problems – and the culture – that we resoundingly voted in a Labour government to tackle.

    The well off had done well and it was time to rebuild social equity, one would have thought.

    Simple lies often trump complicated truths, and it’s easy to conclude that capitalism doesn’t work for the general good anymore; not in the way it did in my lifetime up until the 1970s. Redistribution is an option. Scandinavians pay around 50 percent in tax but get wraparound public services, cradle to grave education and personal economic security for their money. Not so hard, really. They even have time and respect for rich social lives.

    Weren’t we once the world’s social laboratory for progressive ideas?
    • Liz Waters

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