by Don Franks
Poverty, inequality – really – aren’t politicians paid to sort that stuff ? Why can’t they just get it together and come up with something fair and sensible? A cold rainy 2020 morning, a headline showing promise. “Green Party’s $8b plan would guarantee an income of $325 a week, and pay for it with a wealth tax on millionaires”. In Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson’s words, a plan “about creating a society where we can all move forward – not just the wealthiest few.”
The policy outline looked supportive of her claim. After-tax payment of $325 would go to every adult not in full-time paid work – including students, part-time workers, and the unemployed.
It would be topped up by $110 for sole parents, with the current best start payment expanded from $60 per child to $100 per child, and made universal for children up to three instead of two.
The Green’s guaranteed minimum income plan would cost $7.9b a year – roughly half what is spent on NZ Super, but almost twice what is spent on current working age benefits.
Paying for all this would be a wealth tax, of one percent on net wealth of over $1 million and two percent for assets over $2 million.
Targeting those most able to pay, this tax would affect only the wealthiest 6 percent of citizens. In the form of an annual payment it would only apply to those owning assets outright – not someone who still had a mortgage on their million-dollar home, for example. It would only apply to the worth of those assets over the threshold – so would only be one percent of $100,000 if someone had net wealth of $1.1m. Applying on an individual not household level, it would not hit couples who jointly-own more than $1m in assets but less than $2m. Household goods worth less than $50,000 would be exempt from being counted as an asset – meaning cars and the like wouldn’t count.
So, some levelling, aiding the worst off. But sensible, not too tough on those best able to help out their ailing sisters and brothers? That’s how some saw it. Council of Trade Unions Secretary Melissa Ansell-Bridges said the Green Party’s plan to tackle poverty would “create a place that is fairer for all”. Daily Blog writer Martin Bradbury enthused: “The middle class woke identity politics, which has been so toxically alienating for the Greens and is why they have been floundering in the polls, has been sidelined in favour of genuine social justice in welfare and a real economic philosophy of taxing the rich”. Child Poverty Action spokesperson Janet McAllister said hopefully: “The Greens have set a high bar, and we look forward to seeing similarly thoughtful packages from all the parties”.
National’s Finance spokesperson Goldsmith didn’t oblige. “Rather than celebrating Kiwis doing well, the Greens seem to want to punish them,” he stated. ACT leader David Seymour had even less enthusiasm. “At a time when we need to get New Zealanders back to work, the Greens want to suck the life out of the economy”, he told Newshub. “This kind of European socialism will only prolong the economic pain.”
Government finance minister Grant Robertson’s rejection of the plan was politically craftier. Labour, he said, was committed to reducing poverty but would have its own election policy.
With their senior coalition partner unwilling to wear a bar of it, the Greens moderate wealth redistribution lies dead in the water. Where, it must be said, it deserves to be, so detached is it from workers’ and bosses’ real life.
After obligatary fulminating against taxes in general, right-wing blogger David Farrar noted: “Of course the super wealthy will pay nothing. They will have all their assets in trusts. This asset tax will just affect the prudent retired person or small business owner who has managed to save some money, but don’t have fancy lawyers to hide everything in trusts.”
More to the point, chronic worker poverty is not rooted in distribution but production. Inequality is regenerated daily by legal, invisible theft. Business profit comes from value created by wage workers over and above the value of their labour power, appropriated without compensation by capitalists. In a system where it’s legal for capitalists to reduce or destroy workers’ jobs as they please, with police and troops available to enforce the unequal relationship.
Glaring inequalities inherent in the system can’t be smoothed out by election promises. They can only be upended by illegal rebellion of the majority dispossessed.