Today the Dom-Post has the results of an (unscientific) poll showing that National’s return to surplus has overwhelming public support. It’s an indication of how utterly our public debate and understanding of these issues is dominated by National’s rhetoric. Getting out of debt is important to do if you’re an individual and you’re going to retire and have no income at a fixed point in time, and it’s nice if you’re a corporation, because surplus helps you maximize shareholder returns – but if you’re a nation-state with a robust economy then being in debt really doesn’t matter very much.
Put it this way: it would be nice to have a surplus – but it’s not more important than:
- reducing our massive private debt
- reducing our superannuation liability
- reducing unemployment
- reducing the loss of skilled workers to Australia
- increasing our anemic wage growth
- improving business productivity
- improving our capital markets
- improving our savings rate
- adding value to our exports
And that’s without getting into ‘ideological territory’ like reducing inequality or addressing carbon emissions. So while getting back into surplus is a nice thing to do, it’s probably not even the tenth most urgent problem the government needs to address.
But rushing back to surplus involves doing a bunch of stuff English wants to do anyway – privitise assets, slash the public sector, make the governments revenue base more regressive – which is why it’s his top priority and all of the serious, real issues facing the New Zealand economy are being completely ignored.