I’ve been saying for a while that ‘neoliberalism’ – ie a belief in the efficacy of free markets, the distortionary evil of taxes and benefits and the minimalisation of the state – is dead. There are still a few adherents drifting around the fringes of politics that truly believe, but this budget seems like a good time to mark that in National the doctrine is obsolete. National believes in massive intervention in the economy, mostly in favor of their political donors but also in response to signals from their polling and market research, and English has raised or introduced so many taxes I’ve lost count. I don’t know what we’re supposed to call this mode of government, exactly, but it ain’t ‘neoliberal’.
So, on one hand the opposition can put this budget down as a victory. They’ve made a big deal about the housing crisis and child poverty, and the government’s main policy changes have been the introduction of a capital gains tax and an increase in benefits to beneficiaries with families. Forcing your enemies to adopt your rhetoric and policies is a huge win.
On the other hand, the opposition looked like clueless losers yesterday. What kind of left-wing politician opposes the gutting of the KiwiSaver kickstarter – pretty much the definition of middle-class welfare – to tackle child poverty?
And I hate that Labour’s bought into National’s rhetoric about the cosmic importance of getting back to surplus. I get that they see it as a chance to damage Key and English on their economic credibility – but it totally buys into National’s framing of government as a small business where the critical thing is to balance the books. We just saw an election in the UK in which Labour became deficit hawks, because they thought the public would like it, and they still got utterly slaughtered.
And Little’s speech was just awful. ‘Gene Simmons’? ‘Fiscal gender reassignment’? Why did he think it was a good idea to reference a source of internal division within his own party? What a mess.
The kids on the social media like to use the phrase ‘hot take’ to describe commentary that is hysterical and uninformed, and that’s what we got from the opposition parties yesterday, gouging their own eyes out with horror at a budget filled with ideas they’ve been demanding for years. Ridiculous.